5 May 2015

PM escapes ponytail pasting

5:40 pm on 5 May 2015

Prime Minister John Key walked into Parliament today expecting to be mocked about repeatedly pulling the ponytail of a waitress at his local cafe in Parnell but emerged largely unscathed.

Mr Key was out of the country when the story broke and was not here when Parliament sat last week.

Today's Question Time was the first opportunity Opposition MPs had had to question him about this conduct, and there was an expectation there would be a fiery exchange.

But Mr Key was spared the tough time he might have prepared himself for.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little began by asking Mr Key if he enforced high standards for his ministers, including himself.

"Yes, however with respect to my actions at a Parnell cafe, my conduct clearly upset the staff member in question. I sincerely apologised to her at the time I became aware of that and I have continued to do so publicly," Mr Key replied.

Mr Little then asked whether Mr Key accepted that repeatedly pulling a woman's hair was unworthy of any grown man, let alone the Prime Minister.

"Yes, I accept I misread the situation. I have apologised for that," Mr Key said.

Mr Little had more questions.

"Does he accept that through his embarrassing and weird behaviour he has now made the office of Prime Minister of New Zealand an international laughing stock?"

Mr Key replied: "No but I do accept I have to take responsibility for my own actions."

Mr Little then asked Mr Key about his management of other ministers and MPs, including whether he still agreed with his statement that former National MP Mike Sabin had been close to being appointed a minister.

Mr Key said he did, and that Mr Sabin had been a very thoughtful and hardworking MP who could have made a good minister.

That response prompted this final question from Mr Little.

Judith Collins

Judith Collins Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

"Isn't it true that he is allowing ministers off the hook because he has lost his moral authority and that's why Judith Collins is sharpening her knives?"

Mr Key replied "no".

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters was also interested in a possible promotion for Ms Collins.

"Does this mean that his subterranean standards are so low that Judith Collins, despite the appalling Oravida scandal and numerous gaffes, is soon to be welcomed back into Cabinet?" Mr Peters asked.

Mr Key had a ready answer.

"The great news on this side of the House is that we have a caucus full of talent and opportunity. Judith happens to be one of them."

Ms Collins, who has said she wants her ministerial job back, sat in her backbench seat smiling.

Mr Key may not have been smiling during Question Time - but he was not as embarrassed as he might have feared.