John Key – inspiration for Australia’s next prime minister

by Toby Manhire / 27 March, 2013
The NZ leader has “the essential quality of public trust” that Australian counterparts lack.
Honest John: How Tony Abbott must envy Key's trustworthy eyes.

New Zealand can boast an impressive trade in human exports to Australia – in the form of a migratory flow that has bedevilled both this government and the last.

And now even the prime minister is being imported by the Lucky Country. Or, at least, his image is.
According to a column by Sydney Morning Herald political editor Peter Hartcher, the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, is jealously gazing over the Tasman at John Key.

“On first blush, the conservative Prime Minister seems an unlikely role model,” writes Hartcher.

But his track record, and consistently high popularity polling, makes him a hugely attractive figure.

Australian conservatives have followed the Key experience closely. Indeed, his two election campaigns were managed by the Liberals' electoral strategists of choice, Crosby Textor. Key is on close terms with Tony Abbott.

The Liberal party leader and likely prime-minister-in-waiting has been sending his lieutenants across the Tasman to take notes.

Abbott's shadow minister for finance and deregulation, Andrew Robb was at a conference in NZ at the weekend, speaking about the opposition's plans but also seeking ideas.

''The main lesson of John Key is that he's made a particular point of focusing only on things he said he'd do,'' says Robb. ''First, he established a mandate for a policy programme and assiduously not stepped outside it.

''But second, if issues come up, he says he'll take that to the next election,'' and establish a mandate for it. In a world of great uncertainty, says Robb, voters crave certainty and leaders need to deliver it.

At the heart of Key’s popularity in the eyes of Liberals, and Hartcher, is “the essential quality of public trust”.

Some of Key's lessons of mandate and competence may travel to Australia, but he stands on a political platform neither Tony Abbott nor Julia Gillard enjoys – trust. Personal trust created by his life story, and political trust earned through competence.

Gillard has proved unable to establish trust, and, if he wins power, Abbott will have to earn his.


Related content:

UK pundit names John Key as top "conservative hero"

Tory MEP toasts John Key - or "Low Key"
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