Tough to gird loins after long slog

17:00, Aug 01 2014

We visited Planet Key, witnessed collective brain fade, and saw ministers, MPs and leaders come and go.

We had a referendum on the sale of assets but only after they had mostly been flogged off, we watched a string of MPs make prats of themselves, and we learnt that the nation’s spooks had probably been operating outside the law for years.

National’s second term in Government has been three years of highs and lows, seen its fair share of controversy – on both sides of Parliament – and tested John Key to the point that he even contemplated quitting, according to a new biography.

But throughout it all there seemed to be one constant – voters have stuck like barnacles to National and Key.

In contrast, nothing chucked at National by its opponents has stuck.

We’ve had Milk-gate (Judith Collins and Oravida), Gate-gate (Gerry Brownlee and airport security), Waiter-gate (Aaron Gilmore and a late night out at Hanmer Springs) and Spy-gate – basically anything to do with the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).


There have also been ministerial resignations, state-owned company bailouts, leaks, inquiries, U-turns, court cases, hubris and show-downs.

And just for good measure there was Novopay, tainted milk, mass privacy breaches, heads rolling in the public service and public service leaks.

And the polls ended about where National’s second term began – stuck around the 50 per cent mark, making the Key Government’s teflon label well deserved.

But it was not all scandal and controversy.

The hard graft of rebuilding Christchurch continued, long after everyone stopped believing it would be easy, Bill English clawed the economy back into surplus a few years ahead of schedule, we emerged from the dark shadows of recession to become the envy of many other countries, and a bill legalising gay marriage saw us come of age after it passed by an overwhelming majority – unaccompanied by the rancour and division that had marked the civil union debate nearly a decade before.

But MPs must now put that all behind them.

After the usual scramble of last-minute legislation, official document dumps, and political point-scoring this week, Parliament has been mothballed for the duration of the election campaign.

The next time we see our politicians they will be in full campaign mode, kissing babies, pressing the flesh and making outrageous promises that they may or may not keep.

So what will the 2011-2014 Parliament be remembered for?


- ‘‘One of the messages that I had was that this bill was the cause of our drought. Well, in the Pakuranga electorate this morning, it was pouring with rain. We had the most enormous big gay rainbow across my electorate.’’ – National MP Maurice Williamson during debate on the Marriage Equality Bill legalising gay marriage.

- ‘‘Zip it Sweetie.’’ – Social Development Minister Paula Bennett slaps down her Labour counterpart Jacinda Ardern.

- ‘‘The GCSB. The only government department that will actually listen to you.’’ – Anonymous.

- ‘‘What didn’t he know and when didn’t he know it?’’ – NZ First leader Winston Peters questioning John Key’s knowledge of the Parliamentary Service’s actions in relation to them accessing a journalist’s email and telephone records.

- ‘‘You think I came up the river on a cabbage boat. – ACT leader John Banks responding to media questions about donations by internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom to his Auckland mayoralty campaign.

- ‘‘Why are you going red, prime minister?’’ ‘‘I’m not. Why are you sweating?’’ – a feisty exchange between Dotcom and John Key at a select committee hearing on GCSB legislation after revelations the spy agency spied on the German illegally.

- ‘‘If there was a dickhead that night it was me.’’ – National MP Aaron Gilmore apologises for an incident during which he got intoxicated and called a waiter a dickhead at the Heritage Hotel in Hanmer Springs. Gilmore resigned from Parliament over the incident.

- ‘‘When you build a whare, if you see a huhu grub, you’ve got to toast or roast it, otherwise your whare will go pirau (rotten).’’ – former Labour MP Shane Jones on David Cunliffe after a stormy party conference during which Cunliffe was accused of trying to roll his predecessor David Shearer.

- ‘‘[It’s] not a good space to be’’ – Justice Minister Judith Collins announces she is taking a break from Twitter after lashing out at a press gallery reporter and threatening to dish the dirt on media following a torrid few months in the public eye over her links to exporter Oravida, a big player in the Chinese market.

- ‘‘If that’s the way [the prime minister] thinks then I have pretty little option but to resign.’’ – Williamson again, after it emerged he phoned police to inquire about a case involving a wealthy Chinese donor. He resigned as building and construction minister.

- ‘‘When I stop and think and read it all over again I think, hell, did this really happen in New Zealand?’’ – Bernie Monk after reading a damning commission of inquiry report into the Pike River disaster which killed 29 men.

- ‘‘I don’t know that much about Planet Key, but my expectations are it would be a lovely place to live. It would be beautifully governed. Golf courses would be plentiful. People would have plenty of holidays to enjoy their time. And what a wonderful place it would be.’’ – Key responds to questions on the Banks donation saga about life on the mythical Planet Key.


- NZ First MP Richard Prosser for his ‘‘Wogistan’’ rant suggesting young Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to travel on Western airlines because ‘‘most terrorists are Muslims’’.

- Labour MPs Phil Goff, Annette King, Kris Faafoi and Clayton Cosgrove who were wined and dined by SkyCity at its corporate box for a rugby test despite railing against its deal with the Government for a convention centre.

- Key for labelling Wellington a ‘‘dying city’’ while talking to a business group in Auckland and lamenting that ‘‘all you have there is a government, Victoria University and Weta Workshop’’.

- Conservative Party leader Colin Craig for his inability to decisively rule out wackier conspiracy theories like those involving chem trails and the moon landing. ‘‘I take an undecided stand on anything where I don’t have evidence for or against,’’ Craig explained.

- Key again, this time for making international headlines after it was reported he labelled star footballer David Beckham ‘‘thick as batshit’’. Key later told Parliament he didn’t use the word ‘‘batshit’’.

- David Shearer who signed the death certificate on his leadership of the Labour Party after a stunt in which he flourished a couple of dead snapper in Parliament. He was gone two days later.

- Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee for by-passing Christchurch airport security and boarding his flight to Wellington via a side door because he was in a hurry and didn’t have time to queue like other people.

- Labour leader Cunliffe whose comment to a Women’s Refuge symposium that he was ‘‘sorry for being a man’’ did not do him any favours among the 50 odd per cent of New Zealanders who are male.


- Gilmore: His resignation for threatening to get the prime minister to have a waiter sacked brought to an end a short-lived political come-back after he lost his seat in 2011 and came back off the party list to fill a vacancy.

- Don Brash: The former National leader resigned as ACT leader after a disastrous campaign at the 2011 election saw the party returned with just one MP.

- Banks: Another former National MP whose return to Parliament under the ACT banner turned shambolic after Dotcom revealed he donated to his 21010 Auckland mayoral campaign. After resigning as a minister and ACT leader Banks eventually resigned from Parliament after a judge found him guilty of filing a false electoral return.


- John Key for forgetting that he phoned an old school mate, Ian Fletcher, to suggest he apply for the job as director of the GCSB.

- The GCSB who, according to Key, suffered a brain fade itself for failing to check Dotcom’s residency status before putting him under illegal surveillance. As a New Zealand resident, Dotcom was outside the agency’s brief.

- Banks whose string of memory failures in relation to Dotcom included failing to recall that he was flown to the big German’s Coatesville mansion in Dotcom’s distinctive black helicopter.’

- Shearer for forgetting to declare a New York bank account worth at least $50,000.

Cunliffe who attacked Key for living in an expensive house and suggested he leave his ‘‘leafy suburb’’ of Parnell to see how other people lived. Cunliffe was later forced to defend his own $2.5 million Herne Bay ‘‘doer-upper’’.


Here are some of the more memorable stories from the last three years.

- Foreign land sales and Crafar farms: One of the first decisions facing National in its second term was whether to approve the sale of 16 dairy farms to a subsidiary of Chinese owned Shanghai Penxjin. The application was controversial and dogged by legal challenges but eventually went through as a joint venture with State-owned landcorp.

- Novopay: Thousands of teachers and school support staff were wrongly paid, or in many cases not paid at all, after Australian company Talent2 took over management of the school payroll system. Government fixit man Steven Joyce was eventually tasked with sorting out the mess, which was eventually resolved this week – it hopes – by the Government taking over the system.

- The tainted milk scandal: In one of the biggest threats to the New Zealand economy in years, dairy products including infant formula were withdrawn in more than seven countries after Fonterra suspected botulism from a dirty pipe tainted an ingredient. It turned out to be a false alarm.

- Whistleblowing: ACC client Bronwyn Pullar revealed that thousands of confidential patient details had been mistakenly emailed to her in a mass privacy breach. The scandal saw a cleanout at the ACC board and Cabinet Minister Nick Smith was forced to resign his ministerial portfolios after it emerged that he had written a letter in support of Pullar’s ACC claim while he was the minister in charge. Pullar was a close friend.

- Spooks: A leaked report revealing the GCSB may have illegally spied on more than 80 New Zealanders undermined confidence in the nation’s spy masters and forced legislative change. Caught in the fallout were minister outside Cabinet Peter Dunne, who was accused of leaking the report and forced to resign, Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance, whose phone, email and swipe-card records were accessed to try and find out how she obtained the leaked report, and former Parliamentary Service boss Geoff Thorn who lost his job for handing over her details to the leak inquiry.

- Sell, sell, sell: Supposed to be the jewel in Bill English’s Budget, the asset sales programme flogging off up to 49 per cent of the state energy companies was as disappointing as it was unpopular, with final proceeds coming in well below the top end of the Government’s expected $5 billion to $7 billion range. It did not help that the Government was forced to take Solid Energy off the shelf after its financial collapse. A Maori water-rights challenge was another blow to the Government after it forced a delay. A referendum overwhelmingly opposed the asset-sales process but came too late to make a difference.

- Classroom ructions: Education Minister Hekia Parata seemed to lurch from crisis to crisis after a backlash from middle New Zealand forced a screaming U-turn on a plan to increase class sizes, followed by a debacle over Christchurch school closures, some of which were reversed by the courts. The abrupt resignation of Education Secretary Lesley Longstone saw the Government lure former top civil servant Peter Hughes back from a sabbatical to right the education ship.

- Gay Marriage: There were tears, hugs and cheers of jubilation as politicians voted 77 votes to 44 in favour of legalising same-sex marriage. Many of those who voted against civil unions in 2004, including Key, voted for same-sex marriage nearly a decade on.

- Diplomatic fallout: Plans to slash budgets and allowances at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade sparked a near revolt and a witch-hunt for the culprits behind a series of sensitive leaks. But it was diplomats of a different sort who were back in the headlines recently. News that Malaysia invoked diplomatic immunity to bring home a Wellington-based staffer facing sex charges had the Government scrambling to point the finger of blame elsewhere.

- Christchurch: After winning a resounding mandate in Christchurch at the last election the Government has been under mounting pressure over the pace of the rebuild, its tense relationship with a previously dysfunctional Christchurch City Council, a frozen insurance market, a housing shortage and red zone payouts. 

- Labour pains: Phil Goff’s resignation after Labour’s 2011 defeat was supposed to set the scene for a new broom and new generation to lead the party to victory in 2013. But the caucus thumbed its nose at the rank and file by picking relative novice David Shearer to lead the party rather than grassroots favourite David Cunliffe. It paid the price when the grassroots revolted and imposed new rules on the caucus, forcing Cunliffe on them after Shearer was rolled in the face of poor polling. They will find out on September 20 whether the gamble paid off.