Opinion: John Key stoked it's Turnbull not Abbott

Prime Minister John Key (Simon Wong / 3 News) and new Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull (Getty)
Prime Minister John Key (Simon Wong / 3 News) and new Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull (Getty)

You will never hear it publicly, but privately John Key will be quietly stoked Tony Abbott is gone.

That's because the gaffe king is gone - no more embarrassing Aussie cousin acting like a clown at global leadership barbecues.

Key liked Abbott on a mate level but there is no question that Malcolm Turnbull is a much better fit.

Abbott's latest clanger was getting caught on camera laughing at a joke about climate change just after getting back from the Pacific Islands Forum where the threat of rising sea levels was one of the main issues.

Key won't miss having to stick up for Abbott over this low-level idiocy.

Once Key stops basking in Turnbull's praise of his leadership, he will rather enjoy his Australian counterpart's more moderate social views and of course their similar backgrounds as merchant bankers who made their dough before politics.

But what Key will like most is that Turnbull offers a chance at a stable relationship with his Aussie counterpart. As Key pointed out today, Vanuatu is the only democracy that's had a leadership turnover like Australia.

Key built a strong relationship with Julia Gillard, then she was gone. Abbott arrived and Key put in the spadework but he looked like a goner the whole time.

The simple fact is political relationships take time.

It goes like this: Leaders have a meeting, they try and get traction on something, officials go away and work on it, then there's another meeting... And so on and so on... Then the Australian leader changes and it can be back to square one.

I've seen it plenty of times: Key did a deal with Gillard to take boat-based refugees off Australia under New Zealand's refugee quota - whatever happened to that?

The joint Australia-New Zealand force in Iraq was all over the shop, it was like the two countries couldn't get on the same page.

The latest is Australia shipping home Kiwi-born criminals before there is even any plan for how we will deal with them when they land. Surely we can have a better relationship than this?

One key area in the Key-Turnbull relationship will be on the foreign affairs front, particularly the war against Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and now Syria.

Abbott was really gung-ho with his "death cult mantra" but Turnbull is much more cautious and has warned against overstating the threat.

With the joint force in Iraq, there is now always a question when Australia goes somewhere, if New Zealand will follow - as with Australia's recent decision to extend its bombing into Syria. 

I always got the feeling that Key didn't want to look too close to Abbott's 'warmonger' image and that's one of the reasons it never got an official Anzac badge.

So I think Key will be pleased that Turnbull is way more moderate on the IS issue.

Another critical area is Australia's economy. As one of our two biggest markets we need Australia to be rowing in the right direction. Abbott and Joe Hockey appeared to have bailed overboard. Key will be hoping that Turnbull, and likely new Treasurer Scott Morrison can help it get its economic management mojo back.

Key and Turnbull have similar merchant banking backgrounds, the same moderate-conservative political views and similar economic management credentials.

It should be a barbecue made in heaven. The question is how long Turnbull gets to hold the leadership tongs.

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