Brian Edwards Media

Why “Better late than never!” does John Key no credit.

However many additional Syrian refugees the Government agrees to welcome to these shores, it will do the Prime Minister no credit.  This will have been a victory for public opinion and the media – for the letter-writers to the newspapers, the talk-back callers  on radio, the politics reporters, leader-writers, columnists and cartoonists who took a stand on an issue of principle that demanded something more than dispassionate reporting.

It would be nice to think that this tide of sympathy for the plight of the Syrian refugees was what persuaded John Key to change his mind and approve a special intake of these dispossessed men, women and children. But that scenario strains credibility. Why did the Prime Minister have to be persuaded at all? Had he not seen the heart- rending television coverage of a desperate people in flight for their lives? Why prevaricate and why then change your mind?

Well, the simple answer is that Key realised he was losing electoral support, that the country was not behind him and that the political fallout from maintaining his position on the Syrian refugees could prove terminal.

Well, better late than never. But however many additional Syrian refugees the Government finally agrees to accept, the indisputable fact will remain that it was political expediency and not human sympathy that motivated the Prime Minister’s change of heart. And that does him no credit.


  1. On the nail!

  2. Agree.

  3. And the daily two minute hate of the evil Emmanuel Goldstein – er, John Key, begins.

  4. John Key is like a flag – whichever way the prevailing wind blows.

  5. Yes I think it looks particularly bad and IS callous that JK didn’t do the humane thing given his mother’s experience of having to flee Nazi Germany and finding refuge in England……..

  6. “Why did the Prime Minister have to be persuaded at all?”

    Umm, because good government policy is usually determined ahead of time. Our quota of 750 refugees (plus subsequent family re-settlement)/annum has been in place since at least the early 2000’s, so the government considers it, on balance, a good one.

    Also, domestic issues such as the Christchurch earthquake and the shortage of housing in Auckland (a legacy of the GFC among other reasons) means our infrastructure is currently under strain.

    There are also currently something like 50 million refugees worldwide. The Syrian crisis is just another escalation – no matter how seemingly immediate, pressing and poignant it appears to TV viewers. No matter how many we can accommodate – 750, 1000, 1250 – is still a drop in the bucket. We could expend all our treasure, and still make little dent. But whatever we do – and we do alreadt do something – is a contribution.

    Even churches and social agencies have policies to apply and ration resources in the face of need – no matter how seemingly pressing. Yet Key has much more earthly responsibility than any bishop or aid worker.

    Therefore I expect him to balance the requirements:

    What is our existing policy?

    Is it good?

    Is there scope to change it?

    What can we afford?

    What will we have to give up?

    What is the opportunity cost?

    What is the public expectation?

    You may dislike that clinical process. For the average person, when faced with an immediate need we respond…or we would like to think we do. Fair enough.

    Nonetheless it is not what I expect from Key, as he is a Prime Minister, not one of Mother Theresa’s sisters of mercy…or simply “Caring Kiwi of Herne Bay”, moved by the coverage.

    Question: If you are so moved, how come you haven’t previously made yourself aware of the pressing nature of the international refugee crisis? Is it only because it is on the boob tube?

    • You know nothing about my previous knowledge of the Syrian refugee crisis or anything else. Nor do you have any knowledge of what material contribution I might have made to this or any other cause. Don’t lecture me from a position of ignorance.

      Where your whole argument fails is that the Prime Minister had made his reluctance to increase the Syrian refugee intake patently clear over the last few days. What changed that was public and media pressure.

      • Sorry Brian.

        I assumed that was the case given your previous decision not to post on the subject of refugees extensively and at length…ever.

        Glad to see this is a passion of yours.

        My whole argument fails? Even if media and public pressure was a factor…so what? I seem to recall previous posts on this site lamenting that Key wasn’t prepared to listen to public opinion on the matter of asset sales. So which is the complaint? A PM who doesn’t listen to public opinion…or one who does?

        Seems to me Key’s willingness to take into account public opinion is a legitimate concern – as NZ are now to take refuges above the quota, then, as was revealed today, our support services will be “stretched”. Which means, whatever else, it will need public buy-in to make it work effectively.

        Plus, it is plausible Key was also buying time so his officials could come back with the quality assesment it was do-able. But then, as neither of us were in his office, and saw how it all panned out, we are both in (to quote you) “a position of ignorance”.

        • The only officials in Keys office of late advising him on public opinion is The Flag Consideration Panel.

          • Great sound bite.

            Pity it doesn’t fit the facts…but then that was probably not the intent.


            “”Today’s decision is an appropriate response. Official advice is an immediate intake of any more than the extra 100 announced today for this year could put unreasonable strains on services, affecting the quality of resettlement outcomes for all refugees in New Zealand,” he (Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse) said”.

            Some advice for the opponents of John Key: Learn, like him, and Helen Clark before him the value of under-promising and over-delivering.

            • Your advice is laughable.

              It appears many others would rather accept that Key changed his stance only because of the volume of public response to the plight of the refugees. And this time it was not just the ‘lefty’ opponents of Key calling him out but good old middle NZ.

              Key only delivered to keep happy those that butter his political toast.


                Let ‘em.

                And I’m not saying he didn’t.

                I’m simply saying it ain’t necessarily the “only” reason.

                But I’m glad to see I’ve brought happiness and laughter to your life, even if just for a while.


                  I’m happy most of the time and my outlook on life is mainly sunny. Your hyperbole often can only make me laugh.

    • Sigh

      You are so right Kimbo, there are so many things to reason and worry about that it all becomes just too, too, hard, just sooo, sooo, hard. And what about the money! Heavens, we have already spent $26m on our flag, there just may not be enough left for people!
      I know, instead of responding to the very real human needs of refugees of a war torn region (like mum and dad did after WW2)lets spend months having a reasoned discussion about it. Perhaps then the problem will simply go away, Mr Key will be able to smile and say that he is not bothered, and we can all have a lie down instead.

      • Seems a better policy than the alternative of running around in a circle responding reactively to whatever media fashion deems is the current humanitarian concern as your first mode of government.

    • Actually Kimbo although we would all like to think that government policy is arrived at on the basis of rational consideration of the facts, the current quota of 750 was set (as you rightly say) in the early 2000s not on any rational basis at all but as a response to Winston Peters rampaging about and (deliberately?) conflating the immigrant and refugee quotas. He also fudged the definition of what was a ‘permanent resident’ in one of his diatribes against “Asians” (who do not exist as a culture or ethnicity us such but make a very good bogey man). It’s actually a reduction on the quota we had previously. I’m sorry to say that Helen Clark dropped the ball on that one

  7. Like a flag in the wind.

  8. Does him no credit, as you say. The worrying thing is the populist politics. There is never a plan on anything. There is no integrity there are no guiding principles or values on anything – merely populist politics.

  9. Would this be the same political opportunism that Andrew Little and James Shaw from the Greens were displaying on The Nation on Sat. morning with their miraculous sudden need to try and push emergency bills through Parliament today knowing they could never succeed?

    • Why could they “never succeed”? Because of the Prime Minister’s evident unwillingness then to contemplate increasing the Syrian refugee intake perhaps?

      • because they knew that the govt. would vote them down as they contradicted govt.polcy as of the weekend….but as we know that has all changed.

  10. Prime Minister John Key is doing just fine. He has a responsibility for the security and well being of NZ and its citizens. I believe he is carrying out those responsibilities with due diligence.

  11. Sorry BE can’t agree here. The PM has a duty to the nation to talk to all the agencies involved and consult cabinet in response to a very complicated, fluid situation rather than a populist, knee jerk reaction the Opposition and media have done. I think his response is considered, reasonable and workable.

  12. I think this is more balanced coverage:

  13. I am reminded of Helen Clark’s statement in her Reeves lecture the other day, about the power of civil society mobilised. That power was mobilising and has pushed a reluctant John Key into the minimum possible to get us off his back. I hope that mobilisation doesn’t cease, and that more can be achieved.

  14. There are now more refugees in the world than anytime since WW2. 52 million. As an underpopulated and wealthy first world country we could take more. Last year New Zealand recorded a net gain of 5,700 migrants. Lets at least replace these with refugees.

    • 14.1

      So you would stop New Zealanders returning home to achieve this?

    • What’s a refugee? Someone who flees their homeland to a safer place because they are persecuted, or someone who flees their homeland to a safer place for refuge, but then carries on fleeing from Turkey…ok place…to Hungary…better place….to Austria….even better….Germay….BEST! Are we talking refugees, or economic migrants?

  15. nope -no need.

  16. Public opinion is indeed a wonderful thing. In the 1980s we had ‘bash a Pomme week’ and in 1987 a scurrilous article appeared in an overseas NZ paper for potential immigrants by a leading left wing figure on Indian grocers which presumably reflected opinion about Indian dairy owners at that time.

    Earlier this yers it was removing the keys from Asian drivers. Last month we had the Labour Party calling for the evil Chinese to be banned from NZ. Now we shed tears over the plight of refugees.

    I wonder what the next populist cause will be. Yes let’s welcome the Syrian refugees as long as in 10 years time we do not have the Labour party leader bemoaning the fact that house buyers in Auckland have Arabic sounding names.

    Yes, public opinion is indeed a wonderful thing.

    • so?! Whats your point? Or are you like you wonderful leader…and have absolutely no point at all!

      Yes lets not worry about poor peoples scrambling from the war torn country….lets just denigrate anyone who cares and spend out time flag watching……..or even more funny….thinking of Nationals Legacy….

      • My point is that public opinion which seems to have swayed our leader is fickle. In a year’s time those who like you bleat about “poor people” could just as easily be complaining about their presence. I also object to the hypocrisy of those who one moment are calling for us to be rid of the evil Chinese and the next moment are dripping sympathy for Syrians. In the case of the political left I suspect the former has more to do with the fact that the Chinese have money and the in the case of the latter the Syrians are poor. Come the day when we have a wealthy Syrian middle class the political left will start bleating about that.

        I rarely trust ‘public opinion’ and I trust even less those who slavishly follow it.

        My views on the rights and wrongs of admitting the refugees have nothing to do with my argument.

        • I believe, “The mob” is the phrase you are referring to.

          One moment in tears with hearts open…the next angry and demanding retribution…and at all times scrutinising the thoughts, motives and actions of everyone to ensure they really belong to…the mob.

    • “Public opinion is indeed a wonderful thing.”

      Indeed it is – sometimes. I mean – like – conducting internal polls (Curia and David Farrar anyone?) plus a few focus groups and discovering that the bulk of public opinion is against you, and for increasing the refugee take in NZ. So John Key responds with the minimum amount he
      thinks he can get away with?

      As you say Brian Edwards “it was political expediency and not human sympathy that motivated the Prime Minister’s change of heart.”

      All very cynical but then we are dealing with the most cynical government ever to grace the NZ treasury benches.

  17. My opinion is that New Zealand’s policy on refugees needs a drastic rethink. My opinion is largely informed by the work of journalist Tracey Barnett, particularly her book The Quiet War on Asylum.

    The Syrian crisis is in the news and the pictures are, or should be, sensational – though it took the image of an child’s body to tip ‘public opinion’ when we have been watching coverage of the carnage for months and years.

    Curiously I have some sympathy for the prime minister on this occasion. He confronts the queer paradox of having to back down on a topical issue in response to public sentiment about an issue where his determined policy is bonkers but passively supported by the majority (that we are already doing our bit and should increase the annual intake of 750…because…boat people.).

    His team’s skilful manipulation of populist sentiment seems to have been run over by populist sentiment.

    There’s no pleasing some people.

  18. For years it has been known that a five figure number of children die every day in the world from preventable causes – war, disease, and starvation mostly – and no-one responds or even appears to give diddly squat. Then a single child’s body is washed up on a beach and suddenly we are over-whelmed with compassion for the wretched of the earth. I wonder how many of those who have offered a bed to a refugee Syrian would as willingly do so for those who are living in overcrowded conditions in South Auckland? What a bloody farce!

  19. For a rather more intelligent analysis, try this:

    • “A rather more intelligent analysis” than what?

      Alan, I am sure I will corrected if I am wrong but this post by BE reads to me more about the PM’s inability to make a decision unless it has been vetted for political gain rather than the refugee problem itself.

      • 19.1.1

        Even on that score the post fails. Without public support the Government cannot tackle the real problems, complex as they are. Therefore it must move to retain public support even when the demands are merely symbolic and futile in the broad scheme of things.

    • When I want to have as laugh/ I read the Daily Telegraph

      • 19.2.1

        As good a way to ignore the substantive issue as any, I guess.


          I thought “fair enough” so I read the item you were recommending. It didn’t seem to me to add anything of special merit to the debate. It just seemed the usual piece of right wing blether that you can find at any time in the Daily Telegraph. Obviously I missed its merits. Would you care to point them out to me?

      • I read a wide variety of publications and blogs left and right wing. I absorb all opinions and assuming the argument is well presented even if I disagree I do not have a good laugh.

        You Tony are the sort of person for whom I have a certain contempt. You read opinions that accord with your own and boost your ego but close your mind to any opinion that is contrary to yours. I consider you to be part of “the mob”

  20. For me the telling moment, when John Key was announcing his change of stance, was that he quickly gave the exact cost of each refugee, down to the nearest $100, if i remember correctly. And then the total cost of $X x 750. It would appear that for him, money is ALWAYS the bottom line. I find this sad in this circumstance.

  21. It would have been ok for Key to admit that on a humanitarian basis that an increase in refugee admittance was a possibility, with logistical issues to be examined before a definitive answer would be made(as Kimbo rightly identified) .He chose to say No until he decided that there was something in it for him.This is not my understanding of what makes a Leader.It only highlights the ethical desert which exists within him.

  22. This topic sees the blog suddenly looking like many of the political blogs. Someone suggests fallibility in John Key and his supporters attend with fervour to defend him.

    Maybe the pique and resentment is cover for them feeling let down in the refugee situation. I’m sure they expected that he could walk on those troubled waters, wave his arms around, and à la some sort of loaves and fishes style trick, the masses would be saved.

    Those disillusioned need not be concerned of the flaw and regardless of that failure to meet their expectations can be happy that he is very close to perfect.

    The others, the mob who often suggest facets of Key fallibility, can lament that any virtual perfection in their leader is in something as meaningless as politics and not in something as meaningful as humanity.

    • Nope, not disillusioned Key did not perform miracles. I don’t expect that – just competence.

      But I am amused by your otherwise-tedious pop-psychology.

  23. Was it political expediency or a common sense change in policy to match a sudden shift in the public mood after the publication of particularly heart rending photos?

    Was this a cynical move or is Key just being an effective politician doing his job, and responding to changing circumstances?

    You be the judge, no doubt your choice will depend heavily on your pre-existing opinion of him.

    • It is not a Prime Minister’s job to respond emotionally like a man or woman in the street. It is his/her job to steer policy and resources with logic and insight to best satisfy all the competing claims for attention and action.

      It’s that simple, but that complex.