New Zealand government outlines agenda that includes surplus, flag vote, new terrorism rules

Associated Press

New Zealand's prime minister laid out a three-year government agenda Tuesday that includes returning the country's books to surplus, conducting a vote on whether to change the nation's flag, and tightening the rules on terrorist fighters.

Prime Minister John Key, whose National Party won a decisive election victory last month that saw it return to power for a third consecutive term, outlined his plans at the ceremonial opening of the nation's 51st Parliament.

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In accordance with New Zealand parliamentary tradition, Key's opening speech was delivered by the governor general, Sir Jerry Mateparae. Many of the policies had been previously announced.

Key said his administration would return the books to surplus and reduce government debt as a proportion of the economy. He also promised modest tax cuts and spending increases, and to focus on increasing the supply of homes. Frothy home prices, particularly in Auckland, have worried lawmakers and prompted the Reserve Bank to impose mortgage lending restrictions.

Key said the government would continue to pursue free-trade agreements with South Korea and the countries, including the U.S. and Japan, that comprise the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.

He said the government would hold a public vote on whether to change the flag, which many people consider a relic of a colonial past. Key also said the government would review its rules on terrorist fighters returning from conflict zones, who currently don't always face consequences.

"The rapid rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant poses international, regional and local risks which the government will respond to in a responsible way," Key said in his speech.

Key also said New Zealand would represent the interests of small states on the U.N. Security Council, which it will join Jan. 1 as a non-veto-wielding member, serving through 2016.

In last month's election, Key's National Party won 47 percent of the vote and 60 of Parliament's 121 seats. It has formed a governing alliance with several smaller parties.