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'Get over yourself': John Key tells Australian politicians to move on

The Guardian logo The Guardian 6/06/2017 Elle Hunt
Former New Zealand prime minister John Key said it wasn’t ‘very dignified’ for former leaders to keep expressing their views. © AFP/Getty Images Former New Zealand prime minister John Key said it wasn’t ‘very dignified’ for former leaders to keep expressing their views.

John Key, the former New Zealand prime minister, has some advice for Australian politicians who can’t move on from their old jobs: get over yourself.

Key received a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday honours on Monday, six months after his shock resignation from the top job. Key spent two terms as prime minister and 10 years as the leader of the National party, and was replaced by Bill English.

He gives advice to his successor when it’s wanted – but it’s a “bit sad” when politicians just can’t let go, he says.

“You see a bit of it in Australia – people that just feel as though they have got to constantly be commentating, and I just don’t think I’ll do that. I just don’t think it’s very dignified,” he said.

“It’s really like you need to get over yourself if you do that, I think ... you’ve got to let people get on and do their jobs.”

Key did not specify an Australian politician he had in mind, but his comments may have been made in solidarity with the incumbent prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, with whom he has a well-established “bromance”.

Key’s comments could apply equally to former party leaders Tony Abbott, Mark Latham and Kevin Rudd, who have been vocal in their criticism of governments after relinquishing the leadership, or after leaving politics.

Abbott remains a Liberal MP two years after he was ousted by Turnbull, whose leadership and decisions he regularly critiques. Last month he said Australia had become “part of the weak government club” and the Turnbull government’s budget was not as good as his much-criticised 2014 budget.

Latham, a former Labor leader, is a political commentator who now largely snipes at both major parties from the right. In April he wrote that Turnbull was “living in a world of delusion” and “had become a bit player: the political equivalent of a cud-chewing cow watching the passing traffic”.

Rudd, another former Labor leader, criticised Turnbull’s plan to ban some asylum seekers from entering Australia in an opinion piece in Fairfax in November.

“I have kept silent on domestic policy debates for the past three years. But this one sinks to new lows,” he wrote.

Four months earlier, Turnbull had refused to endorse Rudd’s bid to replace Ban Ki-moon as UN secretary general. Rudd said Turnbull had failed to express his view that he was unqualified for the position “in the multiple conversations” they had had on the matter in the past.

Rudd was previously accused of undermining his successor (and predecessor) as Labor leader, Julia Gillard, after she ousted him in 2010.

Key, for his part, is joining the board of Air New Zealand as director from 1 September.

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