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John Key: I'm not 'profit-crazed'

Wednesday 28 Jan 2015 10:07 a.m.

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Prime Minister John Key has defended his Government's record on supporting the arts, following a stinging attack from acclaimed author Eleanor Catton.

Catton, winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize for her West Coast-set novel The Luminaries, told reporters in India that she's struggling with her identity as a New Zealand writer, and is "very angry" with the Government.

"Coming and being an ambassador for my country when I feel that actually my country is not doing as much as they could for the intellectual world in general, but for the literary arts... It's just a slightly complicated position to be in," she said.

"At the moment, New Zealand, like Australia and Canada, [are dominated by] these neo-liberal, profit-obsessed, very shallow, very money-hungry politicians who do not care about culture. They care about short-term gains. They would destroy the planet in order to be able to have the life they want."

Speaking on Firstline this morning, Mr Key said her views were "sad" because a lot of taxpayer money has been spent on backing New Zealand's literary sector.

"We were the Government that for instance was part of being country of the year that was host of the [2012 Frankfurt Book Fair], for instance. Actually I remember us getting some criticism for putting in so much money into that particular event."

He says Catton's association with the Green Party has clouded her views. Catton publicly backed the Greens before last year's general election.

"At the end of the day, Eleanor Catton is pretty well-known as being associated to the Green Party. Those views are views of the Green Party," says Mr Key.

"I happen to think it's a bit sad, because she doesn't clearly see much value in the Government, but I see tremendous value in her. I think she's a great writer, she's been doing wonderful things. She was a well-deserved winner of the Man Booker Prize award.

"So look, it's just a bit sad really that she's mixing politics with some of the other things that she's better-known for."

Mr Key also points out Catton was named in last year's New Honours List, when she was named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

The Prime Minister has recently been in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, where inequality was a hot topic. He says rather than caring only about short-term gains, as Catton believes, there is "tremendous respect" for New Zealand's recent economic achievements.

"It's growing, it's producing jobs, its incomes are rising; today we are going to give a speech that talks about allowing and ensuring that more vulnerable families, who are very low-income families, get access to a home. That's hardly the speech of a completely profit-crazed Prime Minister."

Mr Key will this afternoon deliver his State of the Nation speech, where he talk about the Government's plans to sell off thousands of properties owned by Housing New Zealand. At present, he says 30 percent of applicants for a state home want a one-bedroom place, which make up only 9 percent of HNZ's stock.

"We have a complete mismatch of what is actually required."

He promises that more New Zealanders will actually get income-related rents under the changes, rather than fewer.

"The mix of who owns those homes will change, and as part of that we will sell some to community housing providers, but only because we believe they're adding value and can actually make a difference. I don't think we should get to a point where we have a monopoly on being the only provider of income-related rent subsidised homes."

Mr Key is set to deliver his speech at 12:30 in Auckland.

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