Sir John Key opens up on ponytail-gate in candid ABC interview

Sounding relaxed and affable on Australian radio, Sir John Key has spoken about the moments that defined his time as Prime Minister, including acknowledging the irony of his popularity rising after it emerged he had pulled on a waitress's ponytail.

In the interview with conservative commentator Tim Switzer on ABC, Sir John sounded comfortable as he addressed the housing crisis, the failed flag referendum and ponytail-gate.

Looking back on his time as Prime Minister, Sir John said while "not everyone loved the Government," those who did "rusted on."

"They just stayed committed to what we were doing. They were just rusted on. They still are," he said, perhaps sticking to the cookware theme that had him labelled 'Teflon John' for his resilience in the polls.

One of those moments that failed to 'stick' to Sir John was a waitress's allegation of repeated ponytail pulling over a six-month period, for which Sir John apologised.

Sir John told Switzer it wasn't one of his finest moments.

"There was a local cafe I went to. There was a bit of tomfoolery with a waitress. All very good-hearted, but in hindsight, one of them wasn't a big supporter of mine and went to the media."

In what was probably the stickiest moment of the 30-minute interview, Switzer asked what he did with the ponytail:

Sir John: "Oh, I tugged it."

Switzer: "And you're Prime Minister of the country."

Sir John: "Yeah, like I say, I did some dumb things."

Switzer: "Very unorthodox. But your poll numbers went up."

Sir John: "I became more popular. Obviously it was a misjudgement of the situation but not meant to be in any way the way some people want to portray it. It was meant to be light-hearted. It was meant to be bit of a joke."

John Key with Bill English in Parliament.
John Key with Bill English in Parliament. Photo credit: Newshub.

An issue that has arguably been more damaging to National in the long term is the housing crisis, particularly in Auckland. 

Buried in an argument about why the global financial crisis is to blame for the housing situation was an admission National has been playing "catch up" on housing.

"When I first became PM in '08, no one really wanted to buy a house. Developers were going broke, builders were going broke, interest rates were very high," he said.

"So for the first three years I was Prime Minister, there was absolutely no pressure on the system."

He said by the end of 2011, interest rates had "fallen dramatically".

"It's very difficult to catch up quickly, and when you have what is fundamentally a land supply issue as much of a building issue, it took a lot longer to consent than we'd like. We made a lot of changes and we're getting there," he said. 

He said the Auckland housing market has stabilised and construction rates have reached historic levels.

When asked about his decision to step down as Prime Minister, Sir John said he didn't want an election campaign dominated by the question of how long he would stay.

"I thought if I was honest and said six months or a year that would not be acceptable," he said.

"Better to go when they want you to stay than stay when they want you to go, and there is a point at which the public decide for all of the great things you might have done, they want a bit of change."

He said the New Zealand public "wanted continuity and a bit of freshness".

By allowing Bill English to come through as Prime Minister, Sir John said he thought that had been delivered.

At the end of the interview, Sir John chose to play his favourite song, Dave Dobbyn's 'Loyal'.