A man-to-man account.

Early September 2010, the week after the magnitude 7.1 earthquake, John Key visited Civil Defence’s Addington Welfare Centre, at which I was a volunteer on night shift duty. His media circus brought bright lights, excitement and temporary levity into what felt like an enormous, rocking and booming, crowded and cocooning, concrete ship afloat a sea of aftershocks. This centre opened then closed on the morning of 23 February 2011 – the day after Christchurch’s devastating 6.3 killer quake – too damaged to continue and thus questioning its selection in the first place. Pioneer Stadium opened immediately as replacement, where our now merged CD area teams – Spreydon-Heathcote and Riccarton-Wigram – could get greater experience in our cooperative roles. But that is another story, and this one is about my second meeting with John Key, now New Zealand Prime Minister.

The first time I met John was once, and only once, in the winter of 1983 at the University of Canterbury. It was in the cold shadow of the James Hight Library, by the outdoor bicycle stands to its south, on a crisp and clear winter’s morn between lectures – a classic Christchurch frost day.

John and I knew each other’s face from around campus. I was in my second year but he had been there longer, as I recall.

John was on his way into the Economics department in the James Hight tower, and I was on my way back from a tutorial in the History block. Spontaneously and in passing, we introduced ourselves into a familiarisation chat that kept us warm, where there was no sunshine.

John was outgoing, a bit shorter than me, yet genial and ready for befriending fellow students: a big personality inside.

I don’t recall much of the content of that 20+ minute exchange, except that we just learned who the other was. Memorable was the fact that the Commerce versus Arts difference between us did not obstruct appreciating each other’s frank openness and enthusiasm for learning. This was memorable for me as a rare time when I actually met a Commerce student! šŸ™‚

But I liked John, and remember his story of coming up through the state school system – as I had – well enough. I admired his dedication to academic endeavour that we shared at the time. I therefore identified with Key, to an adequate degree, and, on wishing each other well with our studies, we parted – equally content with some well-spent socialisation time I am sure.

Our lives have diverged greatly since that meeting, including travel, so back to 8 September 2010:

Campbell Live had Mr Key on camera from 7pm, and after that he toured the residence and cafeteria, meeting everyone possible one by one. Eventually the queues he navigated ran thin, and I was able to place myself for the handshake. This would be just as memorable a meeting as our first, 27 years earlier approx.

“Prime Minister, I think we were at university together”, I said. “Oh,” he beamed, “what is your name?” …

“Yes I remember you”, John Key replied, which made me – a lowly city council civil defence volunteer – smile ear-to-ear too! I had some profile as a student politician, so that may have been why I was recalled.

“What are you doing now?” John Key asked me. “Well actually,”..

..”I was the Canterbury region’s Civil Defence and Emergency Management portfolio chair, until you took our ECan council jobs away. I could be really useful right now, if I were given my job back”, I responded.

“Hmm. We’ll see”, or similar, was John Key’s deficient dismissal.

Canterbury still awaits a proper answer from this prodigious alumni. And the situation is now urgent.

Whatever should happen next in our inter-personal engagement, John, let it be well-known that you were first to cast a political stone, and that this was both morally low and unnecessary.

John Key’s identification with a particular set of rural robbers, ahead of ethical process, marks him for a limited future career.