Former PM John Key tops Queen's Birthday honours with knighthood for services to the state
Former prime minister John Key, who was instrumental in reinstating the titles of knights and dames, has received one of the top honours in today's Queen's Birthday list.
Key, who was prime minister for eight years from 2008 until his surprise resignation in December, has been made a Knight Grand Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit which brings with it the title of Sir John.
But he said he still expected people would call him plain John.
"The cap fits - so absolutely John."
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"The thing I really like about it isn't that people would call me Sir John - because I think most people will call me John - but the real issue is for Bronagh, I always thought she was a great ambassador for New Zealand in that she's always a person that never wanted to court the limelight but she was a huge rock of support and did a fabulous job. The fact that she'll be Lady Bronagh is something I really like."
However Key will be in Singapore on Monday when the honour list is revealed, as he carves out his new career on the speaking circuit and in the corporate and charity world, and he will not catch up with Bronagh to celebrate until they meet in Sydney on Tuesday where he will join Prince Harry at an event to mark 500 days until the start of the veterans' Paralympics-style Invictus Games in Sydney.
But the two are planning a holiday in the south of Italy soon after.
Key said as the architect of the move to reinstated titles, after they were scrapped under Helen Clark's government, he felt he should accept that level of award, rather than an Order of New Zealand (ONZ).
"I was rung by Prime Minister Bill English and offered the GNZM which is a level one offer that comes with a knighthood. Obviously if in principle I had wanted to take the Order of New Zealand I could have done that, but it would have been pretty odd for the person who brought back titular honours to have turned one of those down."
He had been a strong believer in titles, not out of self interest but because they were very popular.
"When we changed it, 85 per cent of all the people that had the right to convert to having a dame or knighthood took that up. And the honours system's never been more popular so I think New Zealanders like the principle of it."
He said he was humbled by the award.
"But I see it as a result of the fact that I had a fantastic cabinet and caucus and millions of New Zealanders voted to allow me to be prime minister. So in reality on my own I couldn't have done this and it's an honour that has to be shared amongst all those people. I hope those who supported me and the government can take some pride in what's been achieved."
Key was first elected as an MP for Helensville in 2002 and became leader of the National party in 2006. His citation lists his achievements in trade and international issues and in leading the government during the Christchurch earthquakes, Global Financial Crisis and a range of economic, social and environmental reforms.
It also notes his championing of the national cycleway and the significant number of treaty settlements on his watch, as well as his role in "initiatives focused on enhancing New Zealand's sense of nationhood".
The highest profile of those was probably his unsuccessful campaign to change the flag, which was rejected in a referendum.
Key said given the option of today's knighthood or a new flag he would "love both" but would pump for a new flag.
"To me it just symbolised what I thought was really important about New Zealand clearly demonstrating to the world it was making its way in the world under its own steam. But in the end you don't get those choices in politics... so you learn on politics to enjoy your victories and learn from your defeats."
Key said the speaking circuit was "great and it pays well and you are always around tremendous people," but he did not see that being a full-time job and he preferred the challenge of the boardroom.
In his new life after politics Key has been appointed to the Air New Zealand board and has two other director's jobs pending, with one as chairman, but he cannot yet name them.
He has also taken a role advising a $200 billion United States corporation on its investments in China as well as an advisory role with a New York fund manager, the names of which he would also not disclose. He has previously revealed a role as a representative of Japanese billionaire Dr Haruhisa Handa.
THE KEY MESSAGES
On a knighthood versus an Order of New Zealand:
"Obviously if in principle I had wanted to take the Order of New Zealand I could have done that, but it would have been pretty odd for the person who brought back titular honours to have turned one of those down. It's fairly logical given I brought them back that that would probably be the honour they would offer me so there's no point in dressing it up for anything that it's not. I think that was the logic that went through the committee's mind. They would have probably benchmarked that against Helen Clark who got the Order of New Zealand which is a level one honour or other prime ministers that have had level one honours."
On the advantages of being "Sir John":
"I don't think it changes much in NZ. People will know me as a three term prime minister, they'll have their views on whether I did a good job or bad job - hopefully - it's a positive view ... internationally by the level of feedback in the last six months since I have been out of politics I think it's pretty fair to say I have been pretty well received overseas. There have been a huge number of offers that I myself would never have really thought would come my way. So I don't think it changes an awful lot but it's a lovely thing to have and it's a nice thing for the family."
Will his children Max and Stephanie call him "sir"?
"I very much doubt it. It would be nice if they do but knowing the kids they'll be treating me just as normal and taking my advice when it suits them and ignoring it when it doesn't."
On the criticism that people get awards "just for doing their job".
"If you are brutally honest and intellectually fair about the thing every prime minister has an honour... It's just which one that you either get offered or accept. When it comes to the honours system... in my experience there's about 190 people on the list. Often what really touches their hearts are the stories of the 92-year-old nun that lives in Temuka that gave her life to serving the people of that community rather than necessarily those who are at the top of the tree in terms of the honour pecking order. To a certain degree there are people (whose job leads to them) to some honour and that can be anything from an All Black or sports person right through to a politician. I don't think most people would begrudge that. In terms of doing that job, it's a job that requires enormous commitment from a lot of people, not least being my family, so I gave everything I could through eight years at the top."
What criteria did he apply when he chaired the honours committee:
There's a sort of set formula if you like. And generally for a level one honour it has to be someone at the highest level that has nationwide impact. That's what determines the level of honour that you get. The lower down... the aisle the more regional in nature or localised in nature it is.
On whether he would rather have the knighthood or the new flag he campaigned for:
"I'd love both. I guess I don't get given the choice. Maybe the new flag, in that to me it just symbolised what I thought was really important about New Zealand clearly demonstrating to the world it was making its way in the world under its own steam. But in the end you don't get those choices in politics. The public had a good and fair chance to consider what they wanted and on a majority basis they decided to retain the old flag. So you learn in politics to enjoy your victories and learn from your defeats."
On life after politics:
"Thoroughly enjoyable. I don't look back and think, 'gosh I made a bad mistake leaving'. Nor do I look back and think 'gosh I should never have been there'. I fell really good about the time I spent as prime minister. Like anything, you inevitably forget the hard days and the tough bits and the times when you felt under the pump and remember the remarkable experiences that you had. Everyone says I look a bit younger and that's probably because I have been getting more sleep. Instead of getting up at 5.40 in the morning I'm probably getting up at 6.15. I'm definitely in bed a little bit earlier and I'm doing more exercise and that always helps. I never felt like I was drowning under it - in fact I quite enjoyed all the cut and thrust that went on, but there's a level of pressure that's there that you don't get when you're not there. That might change for me as I assume different roles in the corporate world. At the moment it's been a fairly cruisy run."
On his new career as well as the Air NZ directorship:
"I've got so much I really don't know what to do with. I'm doing some stuff for (Japanese billionaire Haruhisa) Handa in Singapore, a charity, and then to Sydney with Prince Harry for the announcement of 500 days before the launch of the Invictus Games in Sydney."
Two more board appointments in Australia and New Zealand will soon be announced. "I am doing something in China for a big US ($200b) corporation - they've just got some issues there and they're making this multi-billion dollar investments there - well it's certainly $15b investment - so I am doing some work for them. And I've gone on the advisory board of a big fund out of New York so that takes me up to London and New York theoretically four times a year though I can phone on a little bit. I have really been saying no, or putting on hold, a whole host of other things because I am not 100 per cent sure how busy I'll be with the three board appointments one of which I'm chairing in probability."
He has also been on the speaking circuit, the latest with accounting firm PwC talking about the Australian Budget to a crowd of 2500 in Brisbane and 1000 in Perth. And he has set up his own company, but doesn't want to do speaking full time. "It's great and it pays well and you are always around tremendous people. But realistically there's nothing quite like having the pressure of really having to make a difference on the board of a company or certainly if you are chairing a company you are pretty engrossed in how its doing and I still find that really interesting."
On a future as a political commentator:
"I haven't been acting as a Monday morning quarterback for Bill and the team. From time to time I ring or they ring me and help them a little bit, but they've gotta get on with it and they are doing a mighty fine job from what I can see. My general view is that I am not going to become the thorn in the side of any government, certainly not a National one. I 100 per cent support what they do. Even if there is a change of government... I always think those former politicians who do that cut a lonely sort of a figure - it's almost like when you are there get on and do it, when you're out let other people do it, even when they are not from your political persuasion. It's not like I'm afraid to say anything. I've made a few comments about TPP and Donald Trump and the inability to get that over the line. But it's not my intention to put my head above the parapet in a major way when it comes to politics. I had a great run when I was there but I don't know whether it would be fair on anyone if I did that."
Yes, but what about the Budget?:
"I really think it was an outstanding Budget and I think it an election-winning Budget. It was very skilfully executed by Steven Joyce. The numbers people will receive via that Budget are large. I remember when we worked really hard to try get the tax cut package so it looked at $50 a week. And while the tax element of the Budget is in some cases around $20-odd dollars - $1000 a year - when you add in some of these big numbers around Working for Families and particularly the Accommodation Supplement they are huge numbers. It showed National - it certainly started that way under me and it's continued under the new PM - that they are very focused on the voter-rich middle ground and that's where you have to be if you want to win elections.
So will National win?
"I think they're in the box seat to win. As we have seen in the UK in recent days, polls can tighten up... but given how strong the numbers are so close to an election we are certainly in a very strong, a very good, position to see National re-elected. I can't tell you what the make-up of the final government would look like, and in the end they still have to put that together and make it happen. But if I was a National supporter I would be feeling a lot more confident than a Labour one."
But what will Winston Peters and NZ First do?:
"I don't think anyone knows which way Winston's going to go, including Winston. History shows he has gone with the biggest party and he's been fairly consistent on that front. It'll be easier for him to do a deal without me being there I would have thought. I don't think that was a deal breaker in itself. It wasn't the factor that made me step down, I just think inevitably a little bit easier. He'll come along with the demands that he historically always has and we'll see either who can form a government or who meets them. But there are no guarantees even for Winston. He was talking a big game in 2014 and in 2008 and on neither of those occasions did he get over the line and put himself in a position to form a Government. So the fact that Winston Peters says he will be the king maker doesn't mean he will be."
On a game of golf with former chief of staff Wayne Eagleson on Thursday while Eagleson's new boss Bill English was in Samoa:
"The cat was away in Samoa, so the mice will play. Yep, i beat him and I rubbed it in the whole way there and back. I was humble in my victory. I won by heaps - I lost count. Bigger than the surplus was."
On Donald Trump's new word "covfefe". What does it mean?:
"It could be a spelling mistake from Donald Trump. Other than that I've never heard the word. From someone who has made up their own series of words I'm hardly one to criticise I've got a soul mate. I've got form: Afghanistanian."
And you have been spotted driving a new motor - a Bentley?:
"It started life as a bit of a joke; I was going to buy one; but it ended up as a reality in the garage. It's a beautiful car I have to say. A Bentley Continental V8 GT. I never had a car when I was PM. Now I've got to drive myself. I was in a Crown car the other night for the first time since I left Parliament - I went to the China business awards so it fits the criteria. It felt quite strange actually. How times change."
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