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If you were John Key playing cards, you’d have to feel you’re holding onto a pretty crap hand at the moment.

The economy’s not that great, the earthquake’s timing’s really bad, and we’re having to borrow a fair bit of money just to keep things ticking over.

You might say ‘ah the World Cup’, but the thing that undermine’s that is that ‘can we’ hope and despair lurking in the minds of those who care.

For in spite of Key’s role as top dog, at the moment he doesn’t really have the ability to stoke any sort of fire, put the pedal to the metal. There’s very little he can actually “do”, as opposed to comment on, observe.

Except now.

The announced retirement of Wayne Mapp in the role of Minister of Science and Innovation is an opportunity for John Key to actually do something constructive and – comparatively quickly.

He can do it without spending more money.

He can become the Minister, form an Innovation Council, drive a reshaping of the ‘ideas to income engine’ we need to foster as a country. By adopting and adapting (i.e. copy what’s worked well elsewhere), he can build excitement around possibilities, and linkages to pull them off.

John Key should play this card now, especially now.

The reconstruction of Christchurch (to become the Copenhagen [as in cycling] comparison of the Southern Hemisphere?) doesn’t need his hands-on attention.

We much more need for Key to lead the reformation of our economy, and innovation backed by science, is the only way to do that.

By creating much more of an innovation ecosystem that develops high value businesses, many of them based on our biological expertise, Key can kickstart an evolution.

He would be perfect to lead it, understanding better than many the financial requirements and drivers, the teamwork required to turn something little or middling into something big.

Some people might say that he’s close enough to the sector having Peter Gluckmann as his chief science adviser.

But that’s wrong. Sir Peter’s the eyes and ears, driver and promoter of some excellent changes so far, but we need more.

Key needs to drive, and put the foot to the floor.

By doing so he can help make an innovation ecosystem that encourages exchange between the science/academic/industry sectors, that sees businesses and investors knocking down the doors of research institutes (larger, virtual as well) for new ideas.

He can encourage the development of networks and connections that enable New Zealand ideas and products to get into overseas markets.

By becoming Minister of Science & Innovation, John Key can effect the most benefit for New Zealand.

The Christchurch earthquake is an unfortunate event, but more than ever, catalyses the opportunity for a step change in the way we approach things.

Go on John.

Drop tourism, it’s not a high-value earner.

Take up the reins where you can make most difference.