Key talks down Brash Cabinet role

01:07, Apr 29 2011
FRIENDSHIP TESTED: Don Brash and Rodney Hide at the press conference announcing Hide's resignation after a Brash-led coup.
FRIENDSHIP TESTED: Don Brash and Rodney Hide at the press conference announcing Hide's resignation after a Brash-led coup.

Prime Minister John Key has all but ruled out a finance portfolio or a role as deputy prime minister for incoming ACT leader Don Brash.

Key made it clear he considered Brash's views too extreme for either role, saying he had a strong view about the direction of New Zealand and it was "moderate and centre right" .

But he would not rule Brash out of other Cabinet portfolios should National govern with ACT's support after the November 26 election.

Key has also suggested all bets may be off in Epsom after Brash confirmed former Auckland mayor John Banks was being lined up for the seat.

National had previously signalled an accommodation with outgoing ACT leader Rodney Hide in Epsom to help get the minor party back into Parliament should its share of the vote slip below 5 per cent.

Banks played a pivotal role in Brash's political come back and says he wants to return to Parliament as Epsom MP.

"I want to play a role, I want to contribute."

Key said today he was yet to decide whether National should endorse Banks in Epsom.

''That's something we will have to go away and give some thought to. We haven't done that in any great detail. But one of the statements that Dr Brash has made is that Epsom's not of great significance to them any more, so maybe that's no longer an issue.''

Yesterday Brash seized control of ACT after rolling leader Rodney Hide in an extraordinary coup that will see him lead the party from outside Parliament till the November 26 election.

His bid was sparked by fears Hide would lose his Epsom seat and ACT would disappear from Parliament, leaving National without a natural coalition partner.

Brash will be ratified by the ACT caucus and board at a special board meeting in Auckland tomorrow. He will then outline his plans to lift ACT's polling after wooing its MPs with a promise to attract more money and votes.

Policies put up by Brash's rejected 2025 Taskforce on closing the gap with Australia are likely to form the centrepiece, including slashing state spending and taxes, bringing back interest on student loans, raising the pension age, welfare changes and abolishing universal subsidies for GP visits.

It is a remarkable comeback for a man who left Parliament demoralised by the publication of private emails calling into question his motives and raising questions about his backers while he was leading the National Party.

Allegations of an affair with businesswoman Diane Foreman were the final straw, causing his marriage break-up and his resignation from Parliament.

Brash has confirmed he and former wife Je Lan are back on friendly terms and rejected speculation he and Foreman had rekindled their relationship.

Hide phoned Brash early yesterday to say he was resigning after it became clear he no longer had the numbers in caucus.

At a midday press conference, Hide said he was "immensely proud" of the ACT party and would remain a minister in the Government.

He did not say whether he hoped to stay on after the election but Brash has made it clear he sees no place for Hide. One possibility is Hide replacing the ailing Roger Kerr at the Business Roundtable.

Key says there is no reason for Hide to relinquish his portfolios for now.

Brash and Banks hatched their plans for a comeback about four months ago but the decision to make a run for ACT was not finalised till last month, when Hide offered Brash the co-leadership, which he rejected.

Brash and Banks confirmed yesterday there had been talks with people within the wider National Party, but would not say who. But there had been no talks with Key or his inner circle.

Brash has made it clear he expects a seat around the Key Cabinet table if National needs a coalition ally in the second term.

He confirmed he planned to speak to Key or chief of staff Wayne Eagleson and said he would assure them that ACT's confidence and supply agreement with National stood. He saw no reason for Key to call a snap election.