I have a brother who lives in Tokyo and I was able to catch up with him when I visited there last year when I attended a Japan-New Zealand Partnership Forum, on behalf of Maryann Street our trade spokesperson. It is a real positive in terms of international trade that the opposition is able to send our counter-part to such events – regardless of who is in government. I think it enables trade ministers-in-waiting to have a good overview of the role, which is important because you do need to be able to hit the ground running straight after the election result is declared and the portfolios allocated.
One of the events I attended was a breakfast in the fabulous Rugby Ball that showcases New Zealand in a spectacular way. When it comes back to New Zealand for the World Cup, it is a ‘must see’.
I called my brother recently to wish him a happy birthday and we chatted about the occasion. He said ‘what was it the PM said that stopped us in our tracks?’ I hadn’t forgotten what he said. In fact I remember looking at my brother at the time and saying ’did he say what I just thought I heard him say?’ and he nodded. We were gobsmacked. I reminded him what it was. After the call I googled the NZ journalist who was there that morning and I found nothing. So here’s what happend:
John Key was talking about how easy it is to travel round big cities like Tokyo when you are a Prime Minister – indicating he was getting used to the cavalcades – no problem. But then he sidetracked to tell one of his kid stories, which he usually does – there is a John Key formula to these off the cuff speeches. This story was about how, when he and his daughter were in Beijing, she had indicated how she would like to go to Tiananmen Square. So this was arranged and they were taken down there. When they got there his daughter asked him why there were no people in the Square – he looked around and then – as he told the assembled crowd of expats and Japanese guests - he thought to himself that he almost expected to see a tank – oops – and then said he realised that the Square had been cleared so he and his daughter could visit – laughter.
I assumed this would be reported, because it is the sort of casual remark that could cause offence and, even though he had only been in the job for a year, no Prime Minister should take that risk. But as I said nothing was reported…maybe the journalist didn’t hear him…maybe she did…maybe she didn’t think the public of NZ are entitled to know the sort of gaffes that inexperience allows…maybe she thought it was ok because he had only been in the job a year. Unless she owns up, we will never know why she let him off the hook. Personally I don’t think she should have done so.
It’s the one thing we never had to worry about with Helen, because she never let us down on the international stage. Tragically this is only one example which could well become the norm with someone who knows nothing more than to smile and wave when they are out of their depth.