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Key's priorities: Economy, education, the flag

Monday 22 Sep 2014 9:09 a.m.

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John Key says growing the economy, reforming the education system and changing the New Zealand flag will be the three primary focuses of his third term as Prime Minister.

The National Party was re-elected at the weekend in a historic landslide, the first time under MMP any party has achieved an outright majority.

But despite strengthening his grip on power, Mr Key is determined to keep his MPs' arrogance incheck and stick to what's worked for them over the past six years.

"One of the strong commitments I'm giving is staying to that centre line, not veering off to the right now, even if we have an absolute majority," he said on Firstline this morning.

"There will be times that people will say, because they disagree with whatever policy we've got, 'oh, they're showing arrogance'. That's what the Opposition will do. But it's not so much whether they say it; it's whether they public feel it, and we'll need to make sure we stay very connected there and [keep] our feet on the ground."

To do that, despite National having enough MPs to pass any legislation it wants, Mr Key will be seeking to cut deals with not just his usual friends in United Future, ACT and the Maori Party, but Winston Peters – but is realistic about getting the New Zealand First leader on board.

"We may try to reach out and have a discussion with them but I think that's probably not likely," Mr Key told Radio New Zealand. "The reality is, just reading the tea leaves, I think it's more likely that Mr Peters will say: 'I want to try to fulfil the role of being leader of the Opposition now.'"

Ministerial positions are likely for United Future's Peter Dunne and the Maori Party's Te Ururoa Flavell, but new Epsom MP David Seymour may have to wait a bit longer.

Over the next three years, Mr Key says it's "the economy, stupid" that will be his number one priority, along with a continued push to lower the numbers of people on benefits.

"That's what drives the capacity for families and the Government to make choices and to have flexibility and confidence… As households transition from welfare to work, that is by far the most successful way of lifting their income. That's not to say there aren't some working families that are not doing well either, but certainly the capacity to move people from welfare to working will help."

The past six years have been rocky for the education system, with teachers often clashing with the Government over issues such as National Standards, Novopay and charter schools. But Mr Key says there is more work to do

"Education reform is important, because if we really care – and I think as a country we do – about helping those who are the most vulnerable, then they certainly benefit from educational reform. Across the board in general, it's the most important thing for our youngsters."

The third focus for Mr Key in his third term as Prime Minister – and one he wants to get out of the way quickly – is changing the New Zealand flag.

Mr Key is known to favour an All Blacks-style silver fern over the current colonial-era design.

"We want to have the referendum and I want to embark on the referendum relatively quickly," he says.

"I want that issue dealt with in 2015. New Zealanders either need to decide yes or no, and we need to give them a proper, thorough constitutional process."

Mr Key also appears to keen to shed some of the baggage from the party's second term, welcoming the resignation of former staffer Jason Ede, a central figure in Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics, and saying former Justice Minister Judith Collins won't be back as a Cabinet minister in the short-term.

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