New Zealand's prime minister and his choice of transport, and Australia's renewed efforts to get people on their bikes.
Since he was elected last November, ending nine years of Labour rule under Helen Clark, New Zealand’s prime minister John Key has been quick to portray his party as thrifty and socially aware, as reflected in his relatively modest transport.
New Zealand prime minister John Key has acknowledged the international recession by instructing his Cabinet ministers to follow his example and move their bookings from first class to business class for international travel. The edict is a typically populist gesture from Key, whose CV could have been written by central casting. Born in public housing and raised in straightened circumstances by his widowed seamstress mother, Key went on to make his fortune working for Merrill Lynch in London before returning to enter politics eight years ago.
Key is a political pragmatist, constantly breaking the mould of a conservative politician since he came to power last November as leader of the National Party. He floated state intervention to help iconic companies through the recession (they decided not to take up the offer) and backed a national cycle route project despite deep scepticism from colleagues.
All this has helped to cement his popularity with the electorate. His government’s approval rating is high, at 54 per cent. Key is an easy traveller, with the ability to switch off and fall asleep in an instant. Like his predecessors, his travel arrangements are modest. He invariably uses Air New Zealand for long-haul flights and air force planes or helicopters are available for internal travel. He drinks little alcohol on long-haul flights, but once on the ground, happily took part in traditional kava-drinking ceremonies on a recent Pacific islands visit.
Most of Key’s travel is by Air New Zealand on commercial airliners. A Royal New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757-200 is sometimes used for South Pacific travel, including this July’s tour.
The Air Force has two 757s, painted military grey, with a kiwi symbol on the tail. They were upgraded last year so that they could be stripped for an all-cargo role, have regular economy-class seating for troop transport, or have VIP modules. Key very occasionally uses the ageing Iroquois helicopters at his disposal, but these are to be replaced from next year by the European-made NH90. For remote trips he uses a Beech King Air B200.
Key uses a chauffeur-driven silver BMW 730ld, one of 34 in the VIP Transport Fleet, which comes under the auspices of the Department of Internal Affairs. The vehicles provide transport for Cabinet ministers, judges, departmental heads and visiting leaders and VIPs.
The BMWs last year replaced Ford Fairlane vehicles after trials including fuel efficiency. Ministers are allocated a taxpayer-funded self-drive car for their personal use but Key has declined this perk. Key has reduced his carbon footprint by replacing his Holden Calais with a 2008 Suzuki Swift, largely because his daughter Steffi, 16, will be the major user.
Efforts so far (such as using fetching outfits, see picture) have failed to get Australians on their bikes. In 2008, cycling accounted for 1 per cent of journeys. And while Sydney’s population grew by 21 per cent in the last 20 years, the number of cars grew by 58 per cent. But this summer, the city launched an A$76m plan, including creating more safe cycle lanes and offering free breakfasts for city cyclists. “Cities around the world have found that safe, separated bicycle lanes dramatically increase cycling numbers,” says Sydney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore. The aim is that 10 per cent of trips in the metro area will be on two wheels by 2016.
Correction: In our report on Sydney last issue we mistakenly said that the local council and not the state government is responsible for the Western Metro railway project. We should also have stated that the Lord Mayor is married with two children. Apologies.
As Australia flexes its military muscle and eyes the growing Chinese influence in the Pacific, it should also think of gaining friends by funding an Australian school and university brand throughout the region. Sydney High or Shang High? We know which we’d choose.