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New Zealand Prime Minister John Key (left) with his Fijian counterpart Voreqe Bainimarama in Suva last June. He said then he wanted to “reset” ties with Fiji. Image: Fiji Times

Former National Party leader Don Brash has condemned the man who ousted him for the party’s leadership, saying on New Zealand national radio John Key – who resigned in a surprise announcement yesterday – has achieved “almost nothing of major significance” in his eight years as prime minister.

Brash named Judith Collins as his personal preference to become the country’s next leader, saying Bill English, another former party leader, is the only person suitable to be finance minister.

English is preferred by Key and was named in his resignation announcement.

Brash was deposed as National leader by Key in 2006, after bringing the party to the cusp of victory at the 2005 election.

Speaking on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report, Brash said Key had “actually left many big challenges undealt with” upon his resignation, including the country’s housing crisis.

“He’s tinkered with the housing issue, and we now have some of the most unaffordable houses in the developed world.

He had also failed to narrow the gap between New Zealand and Australia’s income levels, while not living up to the “one nation for all” credo against so-called special treatment for Māori.

“One of the things that the next National Party leader faces is a real challenge from NZ First which is saying the things which National used to say.”

Asked to give Key a score out of 10, Brash told Morning Report: “Five, because I mean, he hasn’t been disruptive, indeed he’s done almost nothing of major significance in the eight years.”

‘Poisoned chalice’
Writing for Television New Zealand, political commentator John Armstrong warned that the leadership role may be a ‘poisoned chalice’ for Key’s successor.

“In his passage from state house to Premier House, John Key has been the talking and walking embodiment of what the old welfare state sought to create,” he writes.

“The bountiful cradle-to-grave help handed to the poor was not just about equality. It was also about equity.

“That was the notion that everyone could become Prime Minister given the opportunity, no matter how humble their family background or financial circumstances.

“It was the function of the state to provide the means – be it free education or whatever – to enable individuals to break through the ceiling imposed by poverty and exploit their full potential in whatever career they chose to follow.”

Key grabbed that opportunity with both hands, writes Armstrong.

“The welfare state head been created with the purpose of being a safety net for those who had lost their jobs in the private or state sector, such as those who were thrown on the employment scrap heap in the wake of Labour’s adoption of free-market policies in the 1980s.

‘Market whizz kids’
“It was most definitely not intended to be a recruiting agency for money market whizz Kids like Mr Key who were the real beneficiaries when it came to making fast money out of the financial bubble that such ‘Rogernomics’ policies were responsible for artificially inflating.”

However, Key had learned the lesson from what happened to his predecessor as prime minister, Labour’s Helen Clark.

“Voters ultimately turn against a prime minister and do so with an ever greater and meaner vengeance the longer that person has been in the job.”

The surprise resignation has thrown New Zealand into an era of uncertainty with a general election due next year although National are ahead by more than 20 points in opinion polls.

The ruling National Party will choose a new prime minister and party leader next Monday.