He led NZ through financial crisis, 2011 quakes

New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key entering the General Assembly Hall to speak during the 71st United Nations General Assembly in Manhattan, New York, US, on Sept 20, 2016.
New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key entering the General Assembly Hall to speak during the 71st United Nations General Assembly in Manhattan, New York, US, on Sept 20, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

WELLINGTON • The nickname "Teflon John" has stuck to New Zealand's unflappable Prime Minister John Key when little else did.

The self-effacing Mr Key has sold himself and the country over eight years in power with an outward optimism and ability to shrug off trouble - traits that have carried him on a rags-to-riches rise.

Born in Auckland on Aug 9, 1961, Mr Key was a boy when his father died and his mother took her young son and his two sisters to Christchurch. She worked multiple jobs and raised them in public housing.

Mr Key completed a Bachelor of Commerce degree at Canterbury University in 1981, before going into investment banking.

It was a career that took him to Singapore and London as a foreign exchange dealer for Merrill Lynch, and made his fortune, but also earned him the nickname of "The Smiling Assassin" after he sacked 400 staff at the company's London office. He was invited in 1999 to sit on the Foreign Exchange Committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and also studied management at Harvard University.

 

In 2001, he returned to New Zealand with his wife Bronagh and two children, to fulfil a long-held ambition: to stand for Parliament.

Mr Key will be remembered for steering New Zealand through its economic recovery after the global financial crisis of 2008 and the Canterbury earthquakes that killed 185 people in February 2011.

But he also leaves the country with a raft of problems, many of them persisting from the previous centre-left Labour Party government. These include a housing crisis that is rippling out from Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, child poverty and persistent criticisms of expanding economic inequality.

Most recently, doctors, police, teachers and other essential public servants have been voicing growing agitation at diminishing resources after eight years of government belt-tightening, while Mr Key has talked up the prospect of tax cuts.

Along with these issues, his government has successfully weathered public disapproval over unpopular policies such as selling state-owned utilities and an embarrassing, failed bid driven by Mr Key himself to change the national flag.

With his centre-right National Party rarely polling much short of 50 per cent - unprecedented for a third-term government in New Zealand - its success is often attributed to Mr Key's uncanny ability to brush off contentious issues.

XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2016, with the headline 'He led NZ through financial crisis, 2011 quakes'. Print Edition | Subscribe