John Key’s final speech to Parliament was neither profound nor particularly memorable.

It wasn’t that funny – the best lines were his recollections of responses from David Cameron and Bill English.

It was, though, spot on for the man and the politician. Quick, matter-of-fact, in the vernacular and heartfelt for those he cared about.

Key rattled through his life and times at Parliament, finishing just in time for the holy grail 6pm TV news shows. He was received well by the Opposition – Labour’s Andrew Little had promised a respectful farewell for someone like him who had served in high office.

Key in turn threw no politicised messages across the chamber. He even admitted to having watched, as a new MP, and taken notes from Winston Peters orating in the House.

He addressed the economic, natural and man-made disasters, international and political challenges his eight years as Prime Minister and 15 years as an MP encountered.

Regrets? The failed flag referendum, his conscience vote against civil unions, the failure of the TPP to get over the line, and the fact the Kermadec sanctuary was not possible in his time.

Pride? Weirdly, he opened with the 90-day employment trial, but added ultrafast broadband, support for the film industry (so the Hobbit movies weren’t made in London), balancing the books, school reporting to parents on kids’ achievement, making the breast cancer drug Herceptin available to women, raising benefits in real terms, targeting pest free NZ by 2050 and succeeding in so many Treaty of Waitangi settlements.

He gave his tightest colleagues singular praise: Gerry Brownlee for “literally saving” a city, Steven Joyce for constant advice on the day’s events, Bill English for loyalty, capability and perceptiveness.

It was a rapid-talking, not quite mangled, tearless, matter-of-fact 25 minutes.

The anecdotes about David Cameron and English were typical of a man comfortable to joke against himself.  

While in the Marshall Islands at a Pacific Forum, Key had to take a call from Cameron and ended up doing so on a fishing boat 1.5km out to sea, the phone ringing just as he hooked a tuna.

As Key tried to talk, the effort to land the tuna made an unseemly row. Cameron asked “What the hell is going on there?” Key: “I’m about a mile out to sea off the Marshall Islands and just hooked a tuna.” Cameron’s reply: “God, I wish I ran a small country…”

The English story followed Key having made a parachute jump from 12,000 feet late last year with the SAS training group over Whenuapai. When he landed safely he texted his wife, then English: “I’m alive”. English replied “Bugger”. Then, a moment later the deputy texted again: “Gonna give it another go?”

Key told Parliament: “At that point I realised he had just a little bit of ambition.”

He did deal with the serious. The carnage in Christchurch after the big February earthquake. The mine deaths at Pike River. Key told the families: “I sincerely wish you could have been provided with the closure you deserved” but added “I never in my time as Prime Minister saw a credible and safe plan to achieve that”.

There was no mention of the latest Nicky Hager revelations about NZ soldiers allegedly killing civilians in Afghanistan. But Key lingered on his praise for our servicemen and women. “I want to again salute the bravery and commitment of those who have died serving the national interest.” The New Zealand military were professional, dedicated and highly regarded around the world.”

He finished, as all good ones do, saluting his family, addressing both daughter Stephie and son Max with personal praise and encouragement and with a direct, unvarnished “I love you” to wife Bronagh.

“That’s it. It’s been a privilege and an honour.  Good bye and good luck.” 

The House gave him a standing ovation – the back corner of the Opposition parties’ benches somehow seemed conspicuously sparsely attended – and English and then Labour leader Andrew Little shook his hand. One-by-one. Not in a famous, Key-style three-way.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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