John Key: Man in the hot seat

FACING THE MUSIC: The main in the hot seat, John Key.
FACING THE MUSIC: The main in the hot seat, John Key.

John Key's hairdresser is a staunch National supporter who "wears blue underpants and a blue tie. And I have blue eyes. I am so National I have blue blood". Phillip Millar also tends the PM's garden as well as his hair.

These facts came to light after the Sunday Star-Times put 50 questions to the prime minister from readers and from famous Kiwis. Key's replies, which cover everything from the identity of his hairdresser to mining in national parks, from Maori issues to the brain drain and personal happiness, are published today at the halfway point of the government's term.

Millar, co-owner, with wife Anne, of Headquarters hairdressers in Remuera, has cut the PM's hair since he returned to New Zealand from his overseas career in finance. Key is a popular client.

"He's got the most amazing people skills – people relate to him and he relates to people. He's very confident and relaxed in his own persona," Millar said on the phone from Vietnam, where he is on holiday.

The Millars have become family friends of the Keys, who all get their hair cut at the salon. Daughter Stephie Key had also worked for the business, taking photos of models."We live four doors along from them," says Millar. "I do his garden as well. I'm really a hairdresser, but I do a little bit of trimming and snipping. I can snip the topiary and I can snip the hair."

He had always supported Key and discusses politics with him. They have never disagreed. "I'm just boring – I'm like a sheep," Millar explains. However, "I did ask him to restore knighthoods – and he acquiesced. I don't know if it was on my behalf, but I'll take the credit, OK?"

Key's haircut was his own preference and was "very natural", Millar said. Some people might not like it "but you can't win in this world. There's always some bugger going to criticise you".

Other questions put to the PM by the Star-Times include former Telecom boss Theresa Gattung's "What book has changed your life?" Key's reply: "Any books on parenting teenagers would certainly qualify as the `most useful' books I have been reading lately."

In reply to a question from Business Roundtable boss Roger Kerr about what governments should do, Key said: "I am not overly ideological about the role of government; I believe in what works."

Author Keri Hulme wanted to know what would give Key the most satisfaction on his deathbed. Actor Robyn Malcolm, who plays working-class Westie matriarch Cheryl West in the TV show Outrageous Fortune, had a question about inequality.

And a prominent sportswoman asked to spend a day on Key's personal staff.

Here are the 50 questions:

1 Sir Colin Meads, former All Black: Do you think you are doing too much for the Maori people? Is it just to keep their votes?

We are putting our focus and energy into the settling of historic claims and the sense of grievance it conjures, so we can move on into the next phase of this country's history. I think it would be a betrayal of Kiwis' basic sense of decency to forget the past and the legitimate claims of iwi. But at the same time I am determined New Zealand will not become stuck in that past. I am optimistic the next phase can be characterised by better race relations and an even more strongly united sense of our shared aspirations as New Zealanders.

2 Theresa Gattung, former CEO of Telecom: Which living person do you most admire and what book have you read which changed your life?

Bill Gates would be up there, although there are many people from all walks of life I admire.

With Bill Gates, my admiration is not only for what he's achieved, but also for what he's given back. He is a real philanthropist, and humble with his success.

Any books on parenting teenagers would certainly qualify as the "most useful" books I have been reading lately.

3 Sam Neill, actor: Like many New Zealanders I have been impressed by your political savvy as PM and I particularly like the non-divisive, moderate tone you have adopted. It seems surprising, therefore, to see you stray into sacred-cow territory – the proposed mining of national parks, and this incredibly inept handling of water issues in the South Island. You must know these are the sort of mistakes that get governments thrown out. I hope this is not the case, but are you losing your touch?

I recognise both of these issues are complex and have generated an emotive response.

On water, it's no secret we want water to be allocated in a more efficient way and the appointment of commissioners to oversee Ecan will address that.

That does not mean "at all costs". In appointing the commissioners, we have ensured a balance of agricultural, environmental and electricity expertise to match the challenges facing Environment Canterbury.

On mining, what we are looking at is responsible mining for jobs and growth.

We are still in a submission process, but can I point out there are already 82 mines on the conservation estate, approximately 74 of which were issued by the previous Labour government.

We were elected to lift New Zealand's economic performance and I remain confident we can do that in a way which balances our environmental responsibilities with our economic opportunities.

4 Bishop Brian Tamaki, head of Destiny Church: Would you consider a tri-annual forum to receive advice from proven senior spiritual leaders on matters pertaining to the health and wellbeing of our country and NZ families?

I regularly meet with church groups across all denominations to discuss areas of mutual concern.

5 Sir Stephen Tindall, philanthropist and founder of The Warehouse: If over the next 15 years overseas mining companies manage to extract say $5 billion worth of minerals from our conservation land, how many actual dollars will the citizens of NZ get back via the government in royalties after the remediation costs?

We are working on this. As I pointed out earlier, we are in a submission process. However, we are confident New Zealanders will retain enough of the value from mining to make this viable. The whole point of this exercise – if it goes ahead – is to lift New Zealand's economic performance.

6 Ken Burns, Sunday Star-Times reader, Auckland: Who cuts your hair?

Phillip Millar at Headquarters, Remuera.

7 Oscar Kightley, film-maker and comedian: Pacific heroes Michael Jones and Inga Tuigamala gave you their support, and that of their supporters, because they thought that, under National, Pacific people would be owning factories and not just working in them. When do you think that will happen?

Lifting New Zealand's economic performance will help all New Zealanders, and I know that is also what Inga and Michael believe. Michael has said publicly it was my aspiration to bring all New Zealanders forward, including Pacific people, which convinced him to support us. I know our strong commitment to economic growth in the Pacific nations, including business mentoring, is important to New Zealand's Pacific people.

8 Kerry Prendergast, mayor of Wellington: When the Auckland super city is up and running, it will undoubtedly have huge influence with central government. How would you reassure the rest of New Zealand that they will not be overlooked when competing with such a powerful body for limited resources?

All New Zealanders have a stake in ensuring Auckland is running well because of its role in our nation's economy. But no one underestimates the importance of areas outside of our largest city. All cities, towns and communities add to the special make-up of our country and contribute to our nation's wealth. Communities outside Auckland have their own priorities and a vision for their own futures, which is why government ministers meet regularly, both formally and informally, with local authority leaders on a range of issues. That face-to-face interaction has always taken place, and always will.

9 John Banks, mayor of Auckland: Do you share my confidence that a greater Auckland can become the aspirational capital of New Zealand? If so why?

I am proud to call Auckland my home. It is a world-class city which often ranks among the best places in the world to live. However, it is not without its problems. For instance, traffic gridlock alone is estimated to have cost the economy billions of dollars. That is why the National-led government is committing more to fixing the city's roads than ever before, and it's also why the government has moved on the recommendation from the Royal Commission for a single council with the ability to get things done for ratepayers.

10 Greg Fleming, chief executive of the Maxim Institute: Are there any issues you care enough about that you would be willing to lose all your political capital for them?

I have some bottom lines, and I care deeply about many issues, not least of which is education. I have said I would resign as PM if superannuation entitlements were ever cut. However, political capital is important because it is a measure of how well the public is receiving your policies. Democracy demands the involvement of voters in all the decisions you make, so it can be a balancing act. Likewise, we have three support partners whose views must be balanced against our own. That is the nature of MMP government.

11 Keisha Castle-Hughes, actor: When are you going to show us your vision for how New Zealand can grow in a way that doesn't irreversibly damage our environment and climate?

Balancing our environmental responsibilities with our economic opportunities is a cornerstone of all our policies. It guides what we have done in changing Labour's emissions trading scheme. It has guided us in terms of changes to the RMA and government environmental agencies. Unfortunately, there's been a lot of misinformation circulated about National's environmental intentions by our political opponents.
All we can do is keep pointing to the fact that a cornerstone of our policies is balancing our environmental responsibilities with our economic opportunities. As minister of tourism, I am well aware of the need to be cognisant of these issues.

12 Tukoroirangi Morgan, chairman, Waikato Tainui: Would the government reconsider its position on including Maori as bona fide councillors on Auckland's super city in the wake of the government's recent announcement supporting the United Nations' Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? If not, why not?

The government has set up a Maori Advisory Board to work with the new council. However, if the Auckland Council determined that it wanted Maori seats, there would be nothing stopping that.

13 Te Radar, comedian (aka Andrew Lumsden): What causes you more stress, financial gambles on currency speculation or holding together disparate political groups?

Different jobs, different stresses. If I had to choose, I would say being prime minister is more stressful because the decisions made by the government of the day can impact on the lives of everyone. It's a big responsibility.

14 John Ansell, designer of the famous "Iwi-Kiwi" billboards for the National Party election campaign in 2005: If you're genuine about closing the Tasman wage gap, why are you driving up New Zealanders' power and petrol prices with an emissions trading scheme, when Australia and all other countries have deferred their climate taxes because so much of the science is fraudulent?

I believe human-induced climate change is happening. Further, by refusing to implement the ETS proposed under the former Labour government, we have halved the fuel and electricity costs facing businesses and households.

New Zealand, as a responsible international citizen, and as a country that values its clean, green environment, must act to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. However, this must be in ways that result in the least cost to society and the economy.

15 Peter Elliott, actor: How difficult is it to reconcile the recent success of New Zealand's ideological stance on nuclear issues with President Barack Obama, when the National Party vilified and ridiculed the instigators of our anti-nuclear policy?

Just days after becoming leader of the National Party in November 2006, I announced my unswerving support for New Zealand's anti-nuclear legislation. I said then that under my leadership the anti-nuclear legislation will not change, and it won't. New Zealanders are proud of the anti-nuclear policy, and it is iconic. As I said in 2006, I believe in that position and see absolutely no reason for change.

16 Lewis Holden, chair of Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand: Will you allow public nominations for the next governor-general, who you'll need to appoint in 2011, perhaps even opening the office up to election?

Your suggestion is interesting, but I have no plans for public nominations.

17 Maire Leadbeater, veteran anti-nuclear campaigner: As the leader of an anti-nuclear nation recently invited by President Obama to attend the conference on nuclear disarmament, how do you justify the fact that the NZ Super Fund invests our taxes in companies – such as Boeing – which manufacture nuclear arms delivery systems? Shouldn't we be like Norway, which bans investment of its pension funds in these companies?

NZ Super Fund investment decisions are for the fund guardians to consider and I believe they have appropriate judgement to invest ethically on behalf of the fund.

18 Andy Tookey, Give Life NZ: New Zealand has the lowest organ donor rate in the developed world. Would you consider providing incentives, as some other countries do, to increase the number of people who are prepared to be organ donors? Examples are: paying for organ donors' funeral expenses, giving registered donors priority on the waiting list, and giving realistic lump sum compensation to living donors?

Last year saw an increase in the number of people who donated organs. We are not going to create a market for human organs by paying people to donate. To do so would create significant ethical issues. For some years New Zealand has paid a sickness benefit to qualifying organ donors for up to 12 weeks until they recover.

19 Rick Boven, director of the New Zealand Institute think tank: Do you regard the relatively large number of disadvantaged people in New Zealand as an economic cost or as a productivity improvement opportunity?

I don't regard the group you are talking about in the terms you describe. In 2007 I talked about a growing underclass in New Zealand, where the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have been broken. I will continue to take steps to address this issue. One of the ways we can help build opportunities for young people is through education.This focus on education and skills is why, for example, we are rolling out National Standards in Year 1-8 state schools so we can give parents clear information on their child's progress.

20 Roger Kerr, executive director, Business Roundtable: Unlike your predecessor who famously said, "The government's role is whatever the government defines it to be", you have endorsed the concept of limited government. What do you regard as the proper limited role of government?

A vital role of government is to improve the living standards of New Zealanders. Sometimes it can do that by funding or providing services itself; sometimes by keeping out of the way of private enterprise. I am not overly ideological about the role of government; I believe in what works.

21 Ms C May, Sunday Star-Times reader: Why are MPs' children given privileges such as subsidised travel, when the children of beneficiaries are potentially made to suffer if their parents' benefits are cut?

The travel allowance is intended to go some way towards mitigating the periods of time MPs are absent from their children. On the assertion about benefit cuts, if the writer is referring to recent welfare changes under Future Focus, we are asking some beneficiaries for a small obligation to seek work in certain circumstances. Should there be genuine attempts to meet obligations to seek work, benefits will not be cut. As part of the same package of changes, we are increasing the abatement rate for beneficiaries from $80 to $100 per week so they keep more of what they earn before their benefit is affected. This applies to those on temporary benefits and is aimed at encouraging part-time work.

22 Keri Hulme, writer: When on your deathbed (and may that be many decades away) what would give you most satisfaction? Knowing that you were a good family man; that you made a great deal of money; that you were prime minister of Aotearoa-NZ; that you did your mother proud; that your actions bettered our country, by and large, or that something that is especial and has no publicity is your gift to the world?

It would give me the most satisfaction knowing I had been a good family man.

23 Tim Shadbolt, mayor of Invercargill: Invercargill believes it has played a critical role in finding a cure for diabetes and Huntington's disease after raising a herd of Auckland Island pigs, the purest mammals on Earth. Do you believe our pigs will fly?

They may do! I'm told you are a strong advocate for this. I understand you have eyed the potential for Invercargill to have a multimillion-dollar pig-breeding industry of Auckland Island pigs, which would provide tissue for trials involving pig-cell transplants on type 1 diabetes at Middlemore Hospital. I hope the trials go well.

24 Mike King, comedian: I do a lot of work in mental health – would you consider a private-public partnership that helps people through the maze, focuses on collaboration, self-help, reduces the burden on services and is low-cost, easy to use and administer?

The government is always looking at ways to improve services, and we are promoting the use of public-private partnerships in health. Examples of improvements we are making to mental health services include health professionals sharing electronic notes and having immediate telephone access to specialist mental health advice.

25 Peter Chin, mayor of Dunedin: When will the government be required to meet the same levels of transparency it demands of local government – especially since the increasing costs of such central government imposed compliance (annual plans, consultation etc) become a further burden to be met by ratepayers?

Central and local government are not directly comparable, but the process of accountability and transparency seems to me to operate in a similar way. For example, both central and local government are subject to the Official Information Act. Through that, expenditure by government – no matter whether it is central or local – can be scrutinised publicly.

26 Don Nicolson, president of Federated Farmers: Do you categorically know if our assumed "clean-green" and "sustainable" brand is a primary reason why consumers in the growing markets of Asia, the Middle East and Africa buy New Zealand food products and if not, why not?

As I said in a speech to Federated Farmers last November, we ignore environmental concerns of our overseas customers at our peril. I said then that environmentally aware consumers across Britain and Europe were increasingly demanding higher environmental standards for the food they buy.

America's largest supermarket chain, Walmart, is introducing a Sustainability Index. It includes factors such as the impact on natural resources, energy and climate change in the manufacture of its products. I believe consumers in other markets like the ones you cite will increasingly become sensitive to environmental concerns. I do not believe we can differentiate between those types of markets.

As I said to the conference last year, regardless of your view about the environment or climate change, the opinions of your consumers will ultimately decide how well your products sell.

27 Ruth Lim, Sunday Star-Times reader, Christchurch: You went through the public school system and seem to have fond memories of your time there, as evidenced by your recent visit to Burnside High. You have also done very well in the business and political world since. What are your reasons for sending your own children to private schools?

I believe all New Zealanders should have the freedom to make choices, especially when it comes to issues like education and healthcare. New Zealand has excellent schools and one of the reasons for that is different schools are able to cater for students' various needs. My children enjoy their schools – they're a good fit. As all parents know, if your children are happy at their school it makes a big impact on their all-round wellbeing.

28 Dr Graham Redding, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand: At the same time as the government is moving to "toughen up on crime" and attend to victims' rights, what sorts of things do you think could or should be done to tackle the high rate of reoffending in this country and better serve the goals of restorative justice and the rehabilitation of offenders?

The one thing a lot of our prisoners have in common is they are repeat offenders. Over 90% of all offenders starting new prison sentences in 2009 had a previous history with Corrections. If we can stop their reoffending then we'll make a real impact on the number of offenders in our prisons.

Some prisoners cannot be rehabilitated, and the government has an obligation to keep the community safe from repeat, violent offenders. But for others, turning to crime is often the result of them being poorly equipped to live law-abiding lives. Drug and alcohol problems and a lack of even basic work skills are huge impediments to offenders turning their lives around.

For those who are willing to change we have a responsibility to support them and offer them every chance to do so.

The government is fulfilling its promise to double the number of places for drug and alcohol rehabilitation and give employment, job skills and literacy training to an extra 1000 prisoners a year.

29 Robyn Malcolm, actor: The income disparity between New Zealanders is growing and there is an obvious correlation between low income and poor indices in society, ie, crime, family breakdown, family violence, low education etc. What are you going to do about this?

I want to see all New Zealanders reach their potential and succeed – and that means getting things right from the very start of someone's life. Lifting achievement in our schools helps build opportunities for young New Zealanders, which is why we're focusing on getting more children into early childhood education, and rolling out National Standards. This emphasis on education continues to secondary and tertiary levels, and recognises the fact young New Zealanders will want to choose from a range of options. We're addressing the drivers of crime, with a raft of new legislation being passed which is designed to give greater powers to the police and to protect Kiwi families. We are also reforming our social services, principally through Future Focus and Whanau Ora, to help people back into work and to take charge of their wellbeing.

There's no one policy the government can use to solve society's ills – but we can do as much as we can to create an environment which helps all New Zealanders to live fulfilling lives.

30 Denis Dutton, professor of philosophy, University of Canterbury: We continue to lose our smartest, most imaginative and entrepreneurial young people to Australia, the UK, and the US. New Zealanders have a tiresome repertoire of self-delusional excuses for this ("They will come back to raise families", "We can replace them with Zimbabwe-trained professionals", "If they are so greedy, who needs them", etc). Our loss of university-trained citizens is near the top of the OECD. What three initiatives would you put in place to staunch New Zealand's haemorrhaging of its best young talent?

Ensuring New Zealand remains a lifestyle choice for returning New Zealanders and new migrants means developing a package of initiatives which will endure. These include an attractive tax system, incentives for businesses, and world-class health and education. New Zealand will always see its young people doing an OE. While many come back home, there will always be those who settle into a new life overseas, and we can't begrudge them seizing those opportunities. However, we can continue to develop a suite of policy initiatives to ensure we can compete with other countries to attract not only our own best and brightest, but the very best in the world.

31 Jo Randerson, writer: What do you believe enables a happy and healthy existence, and how do your government's actions contribute to the possibility of such a life for all New Zealanders?

New Zealand's a great country and this government has a vision for ensuring it continues to grow positively for the benefit of all Kiwis. We believe, with a bit of help, New Zealanders can achieve their aspirations. On the economic side of things, we're developing a growth-enhancing tax system, better public services and we're reforming regulations to reduce red tape. We're also encouraging innovation through science, research, technology and an increasing number of strategic trade arrangements. Our over-arching aim, socially, is to help people take control of their wellbeing and livelihoods to secure better futures for themselves and their families.

This begins with ensuring quality early childhood education is accessible to as many Kiwi parents as possible, and carries through to having the best education choices available to our young people. For the country's parents, we want to make sure they are given the support to make the choices that work best for their families. I don't believe in the government trying to run the lives of New Zealanders, but I do believe we can create an environment which encourages all of us to thrive.

32 Andrew Ferrier, chief executive officer, Fonterra: The world's population is growing significantly and production may even struggle to keep up with the global demand for food. The world needs a consensus on how to increase economically and environmentally sustainable agricultural production. New Zealand is likely to be an ideal place to increase this output. How does the government influence the creation of such a global consensus, and how will it work to ensure that we can step up our growth, both economically and sustainably?

New Zealand is a world-leading agricultural producer and has a major role to play in this area through the provision of primary sector innovation and expertise.

Getting the balance right between increased food production, and our environmental responsibilities, is critical. Science is the key area through which we can do this and that's why New Zealand developed and is playing such a major role in the Global Research Alliance, a global initiative aimed at reducing agricultural emissions while increasing farmers' productivity.

The government also has a number of significant initiatives under way, including the Primary Growth Partnership, the Domestic Centre for Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research and the Primary Sector Greenhouse Gas Footprinting Project to help our vital agricultural sector step up its economic growth into the future while meeting its environmental obligations.

33 Jason Gunn, broadcaster: How come when Anzac Day falls on a Sunday there's no public holiday on Monday? Next year it's even worse, because it falls on Easter Monday. I don't think the Anzacs should have to share their day with the big JC. What are you going to do about it?

April 25 is a significant date in New Zealand's history. It is the date, and the events that occurred on that day in 1915, as well as subsequent sacrifices by New Zealand military personnel overseas in both that war and other conflicts, which we commemorate. I believe New Zealanders have the utmost respect for what Anzac Day represents, and wouldn't want to Monday-ise such an important day in our history.

34 Judy Bailey, former TV newsreader: Given that we know that our experiences and relationships in the first three years of life have a direct bearing on crime, family violence and physical and mental health, and given that we know we get dramatically better value for money by focusing our spending on the early years, how is your government shaping social policy to reflect that evidence?

For New Zealanders to have every chance of success, it's vital we help every Kiwi child get the best possible start in life. We're committed to making sure early childhood education is widely available to children from all areas of society, along with pre-school health care. At the same time, it's important we instigate policies to make sure parents are supported to be able to give their children what they need. Our social policies aim to give parents the power to do just that.

35 Anglican Archbishop Brown Turei, Pihopa o Aotearoa, and Archbishop David Moxon, senior bishop of the New Zealand dioceses: The National and Maori parties seem to be working well together – so does that suggest a model for successful local body government? At the local level, could there be partnerships of elected regional representatives sharing governance with elected tangata whenua representatives? (The Anglican Church here relies on a related style of governance – and we find it very fruitful.)

This government believes communities are best placed to make decisions about tangata whenua representation for themselves, which is why there is nothing stopping councils from adopting arrangements including Maori seats. Many councils already have effective working relationships with iwi/tangata whenua and that is something which is unlikely to change.

36 Jonathan Temm, president, New Zealand Law Society: With prison musters rising and the "Three Strikes" initiative likely to increase them further, what strategies are planned to address the causes of crime and to reduce rates of imprisonment?

Drug and alcohol problems, coupled with a lack of life and work skills, can really put offenders on the back foot if they want to turn their lives around. We have a responsibility to helping those who want to helped, and this government is doing just that. We are fulfilling our promise to double the number of places for drug and alcohol rehabilitation and give employment, job skills and literacy training to an extra 1000 prisoners a year.

The path to prison usually starts well before adulthood, however. A significant portion of our policy efforts are focused on reforming sectors like education, state housing and justice. I believe reform in these and other areas will help in our goal of giving young people better opportunities.

37 Jane Yee, blogger: What is the first thing you like to do when you walk in the door at home after a rough day at the Beehive?

Relax with my wife, Bronagh, and my children, Stephie and Max.

38 Mark Solomon, chairman, Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu: Do you see a role for government to partner with iwi, business and NGOs to resolve intractable social and environmental issues, and why?

The government works with an array of interest groups from all areas of New Zealand society, and that collaboration can produce outstanding results. There will always be a role with this government to work with iwi, business and NGO groups on certain issues.

Governments can't govern without the input of the people who have elected it to do so – which is why we consult on issues and meet with a wide range of people. During my time as an MP and as prime minister, I've worked with a lot of different groups and individuals, and I think it's made an impact on my career and how I view different issues.

39 Bob Parker, mayor of Christchurch: As a former Christchurch resident what is your commitment to Canterbury infrastructure and what role do you see Christchurch playing as a city in the future?

Christchurch is one of our major cities and sound infrastructure is critical to keeping the local, and national, economy moving. Better roads, broadband and other infrastructure are priorities for this government, which is why one of the major projects for 2010 is starting state highway projects in Christchurch, and other areas of New Zealand. Christchurch will always be an important hub, nationally and internationally, for New Zealand, and I know the city will turn on an amazing party for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

40. Valerie Vili, sportswoman: Can I be your bodyguard for a day in exchange for teaching you how to throw the shot put?

Val, I would love it if you were my bodyguard but I reckon my usual guys would worry you'd show them up. I'd be happy to take a shot-putting lesson any time but I don't think I've got quite the throwing arm you have.

41. Pat Walsh, vice-chancellor, Victoria University: How will you ensure that universities' resources are increased so they can continue to make an important economic and social contribution to New Zealand?

The government already spends an unusually high amount on tertiary education by OECD standards as a percentage of GDP. Our universities already receive the lion's share of direct government funding in terms of tertiary education.

The government's focus is on improving the quality of expenditure and getting more bang for the taxpayers' buck. As part of the upcoming Budget, we will move money away from areas of poor value spending. We want to improve the value of government expenditure on student support, for example, by linking student loan eligibility to performance.

Out of that exercise, universities may end up with a little more, but primarily we are going to need to help with ways to improve non-government funding sources through things like international education and research links.

42. Michael Laws, mayor of Whanganui: One of the primary reasons Labour was voted out of office in 2008 was a perceived political correctness that dominated its political thinking. Is the National government not guilty of the same – with its decisions on parental smacking, the spelling of Whanganui, the repeal of the seabed legislation, its embrace of Whanau Ora and its relationship with the minority Maori Party?

One of the government's priorities this year is to make significant reforms in social sectors like the welfare system, education, the justice system, health and state housing, to deliver better results. All New Zealanders deserve a future with less unemployment, welfare dependence, crime and all the social problems that go along these. To secure this brighter future, we have to get to grips with some of the big issues in these areas which have long been left unaddressed, and we need to tackle these issues as a nation. If National, with its confidence and supply partners, can make headway in these issues, then all New Zealand will benefit. But I don't believe it's something National should do alone – having the support of our political partners and New Zealanders across the spectrum is crucial. One thing I believe strongly is that there is no room in New Zealand for separatism. And, although there will be bumps along the way, we need to acknowledge that this is the only way forward.

43. Gareth Morgan, economist and investor: What is the single most important policy advance, to your mind, if NZ is going to have any chance of closing the income gap with Australia?

I have always maintained there is no one silver bullet. It will be a raft of policies that lift New Zealand's economic performance. Reforming our tax system in a fair and equitable way is one. Reducing red tape, boosting infrastructure such as broadband, electric rail and road networks, driving better performance in the public sector, and encouraging innovation, particularly in science, are others. This will be an ongoing programme, year-on-year.

44. Phil O'Reilly, chief executive, Business New Zealand: We're a nation of small businesses, but we really need to develop more global-sized firms like Fonterra to secure our economic future. What are the two most important policy levers you would pull to increase our chances of growing more global companies?

To grow more successful companies in New Zealand, we have to be a better place to run a business. And that doesn't happen with just two policy levers – we actually have to do hundreds of things well as government, so businesses have the confidence to invest, grow and create higher-paying jobs

That's why we have been busy in a whole lot of policy areas from the RMA to trade agreements, to tax to transport, to science to electricity, to education to capital markets, to local government to broadband, and so on. With action in all those areas we increase our chances of growing more successful, internationally competitive, bigger businesses.

45. Helen Kelly, president, Council of Trade Unions: Why won't the government do more in the job creation space when the small initiatives to date have been successful, are cost-effective, and benefit the country as a whole, and particularly when unemployment is higher now than it was when these initiatives were started? Why not, for instance, expand schemes like Community Max or Job Ops or similar schemes or invest in assisting people who are unemployed to gain the skills they need to re-enter the workforce?

You must remember we inherited an economy in recession – it's now been growing for nearly a year – that's a good start. To date, Job Ops has provided 4539 positions for young people with little or no qualifications, keeping them connected to the workplace and earning a wage. The scheme was designed to help young people through a recession by providing a subsidy to employers to take them on. It has been hugely successful. The Community Max scheme was designed also to assist young people into subsidised positions working with communities on local projects. This scheme has also been very popular with young people and the community; both have been a great success.

Both Job Ops and Community Max were designed as time-limited, targeted initiatives to mitigate the effects of a recession on young people who lack the skills, qualifications or experience to compete in a tight labour market. The government is giving consideration to the future of these schemes.

The government is also working with employers through industry partnerships to link beneficiaries with jobs – with good results. Every week over a third of those who walk into Work and Income looking for a benefit don't end up needing one because of an intense focus on matching jobs with people as fast as possible.

46. Karlo Mila, poet: "The Clubhouse" in Newtown, Wellington, which provides frontline support services for those with mental health and addiction problems, many of whom are homeless, has been told it is facing funding cuts. Your government is making significant changes to what Jenny Shipley once called the "modest safety net". What metaphor would you use to describe your government's approach to the relationship between the state and those unable to meet their own needs?

The government boosted funding for mental health services in the previous financial year by $85 million to $1.181 billion, and district health board funding for mental health services will still be ring-fenced. The focus for mental health funding is on covering the full spectrum of care, which includes prevention, primary care and specialist services at the frontline.

Any funding decisions relating to "The Clubhouse" are made by the district health board that funds them. District health boards are in the best position to determine how services should be delivered in the most effective way to get the best results for those in need.

In response to the second part of your question, I believe it is a basic role of the state to help those genuinely in need. I don't see that changing.

47. Selwyn Pellett, businessman: In business a CEO is hired who knows his craft, understands his chosen market and knows how to extract value from it in the interests of all his shareholders. The corporate goals are almost always achieved with a clear inspiring vision that all stakeholders buy into it. If this is the prescribed business wisdom for success (strong, strategic and inspiring leadership) and you are the head of our business party, do you think that New Zealanders should also demand this of our prime minister?

Running a business is one thing, running a country is another. There are obviously some similarities but it is the job of a prime minister to articulate a vision for where the country is heading, why we want to get there, and how. Voters demand that of political leaders, and that is what I am focusing on.

48. Peter Murnane, Waihopai protester: Why do you allow the Waihopai spy base to operate on New Zealand soil, costing taxpayers about $40 million a year and sending information to our partner the US, which illegally invaded Iraq, killing countless civilians; allows prisoners to be tortured; and uses depleted uranium, a radioactive weapon of mass destruction, which will increase cancers and birth defects far into the future?

The current and former heads of the Government Communications Security Bureau have already responded to these allegations made by yourself and others.

49. The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference: Given the government's proposed changes to welfare and to the international aid delivered through NGOs, what do you consider the role of the NGO sector to be in future?

NGOs are vital for delivering aid and assistance around the world to people who might otherwise miss out. This government's focus is on helping the poorest people in the world, particularly those in the Pacific region, and NGOs will always play an important role in delivering those services.

50. Peter Jenkins, Sunday Star-Times reader, Auckland: Why not raise taxes on alcohol and cigarettes (by 50% at least ideally)? It would bring in much-needed extra revenue when your government is facing a severe deficit, and help reduce crime and health issues – surely a win-win?

The government is well aware of concerns around alcohol-related health and crime problems, and we're taking steps to combat those problems. Tobacco excise tax has recently been raised significantly and the government is currently considering the recommendations made in the Law Commission's review on alcohol.

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