By Alex Tarrant
National's attacks on Labour appear to have worked over the past week, with Bill English's party jumping six points to 46% in the latest 1 News Colmar Brunton poll. Labour, meanwhile, has slumped seven points to 37%.
See all coverage of the final leaders' debate below, including reaction from Ardern and English.
The Greens have recovered one to 8%, while New Zealand First could be staring down a repeat of 2008, when they missed out on the 5% threshold - they're at 5% - down one. It might be Peters' Northland seat that keeps them in the frame at this rate. The Maori Party was steady on 1%, ACT weaker on 0.3% and TOP steady on 2%.
In terms of seats in Parliament, 1 News reported this would correspond to National: 58, Labour: 46, Greens: 9, NZ First: 6, Maori Party 1, and ACT: 1. However the Maori Party has been shown to be ahead in two of the seven Maori electorate seats, so might return two MPs to Parliament. ACT on 0.3%, but with the Epsom seat, could create an overhang, meaning we're looking at a 121 seat Parliament - 61 seats still needed.
English wasn't taking the numbers for granted, saying the polls were all over the place. Meanwhile, Ardern said she thought Labour still had momentum.
It is thought that the two parties' own internal polls show them closer, with National in front. A big number to remember is the undecides - they're at 13%, down only one point from a week ago.
On the preferred PM stakes, Bill English was out in front by 37 to 31.
The New Zealand dollar jumped over half a US cent to over 73.7 USc right after the poll was released - indicating financial market relief that English would be leading a government, even if that included the prospect of Winston Peters.
Tax top of the agenda
Both parties continued their stoush over their respective economic and tax offerings on Wednesday. National's Steven Joyce continued to pump the line that the average Kiwi worker would be $1,060 a year worse off under Labour than National, given Labour's promise to row back on already-legislated for tax cuts from 1 April.
"They say it would be spent in health and education, but in fact it would be put towards their very expensive free tertiary education policy. Taxpayers already meet about 80 per cent of the cost of tertiary education. Labour claim to be concerned for family incomes but they simply want to make hard-working kiwis pay more tax," Joyce said.
In response, Labour's Grant Robertson said he was calling out National "for running a campaign that is an affront to democracy and the principles of honesty, decency and fairness. They need to pull down the attack ads and apologise to New Zealanders."
“We’ve seen it in Steven Joyce’s fictitious $11.7 billion hole, in National’s complete fabrication that Labour would raise income tax, and the divide National has raised between urban and rural New Zealanders. Labour’s income tax policy is clear: no New Zealander will pay more income tax in the future than what they are paying now. We have also been clear that now is not the time for tax cuts. Now is the time to invest in health, housing and education."
New Zealand First's Winston Peters was in Ashburton trying to grab back some of the rural vote that English has obviously attracted with his constant touring of the regions.
"National supporters need to seriously reflect and consider New Zealand First because: We will not support Labour ‘s proposals to widen taxes or increase the taxes we currently have; and we will not support Labour’s proposals to widen the scope of the Emissions Trading Scheme either," he said.
Final leaders' debate from 7pm
Debate - latest on top.
8:00pm - latest:
Mood of the boardroom
Hosking puts to English that business no longer fear Labour and the Greens, and agree now isn’t the time for tax cuts. Also that National hasn’t been as robust and dynamic as they thought.
English says that was editorialising. Says one business leader texted him and said he’d gone and voted National. The Mainfreight chap was “just wrong” and he had benefited very well under this government, English says. People are entitled to their opinions and he’s entitled to disagree with them.
Ardern jumps in – you can have that stability and growth, but also we need vision about the challenges we face. We’ve had nine years to test what future under National would look like. Using this to call for change for Labour – we’ll know what National will deliver so give us a go with a different approach, she’s saying
“You discovered poverty last week.” That’s quite a good one. English is asked if he’s been asleep at the wheel – is he only just waking up now and thinking ‘oh we better spend some money.’
English raises National’s social investment approach. Ardern asks why then are kids sleeping in cars and there are rising amounts of homeless. Why are they only moving on poverty after nine years.
Hosking raises people living in hotels, cars, and social issue problems. To say it’s not getting worse is delusional, he says. English says 50,000 kids on first of April, and another 50,000 in two or three years. National also has better solutions on environmental and social issues.
Lowest number of sole parents on the benefit, he says. Ardern asks why then are there more kids in poverty.
English says he’s enjoyed the campaign – it’s shown two different visions for NZ’s future. National has used the opportunities of surpluses to now deal with important challenges.
Ardern says she’s run a positive campaign because New Zealanders agree on resolving tough issues. Affordable housing, clean rivers and accessible healthcare. It all adds up, she says.
That’s it. Hope you enjoyed it. Reaction to follow.
Hosking brings up claim that this campaign is a lolly scramble which has confused people. Is that fair? Ardern says it doesn’t feel different in terms of the amount of policy out there. Both parties might have left it a bit late. But Labour’s also putting out exactly how they’ll pay for it.
Was Joyce’s fiscal hole thing ok to do because it found out Labour has nothing left to spend above and beyond existing promises? Ardern says that’s not true – they’ve got $2.2bn over four years. English says that’s a lot different from what National has left.
Labour put out a fully costed manifesto, Ardern says. “We were transparent on that.” Joyce and English completely fabricated the fiscal hole story – no one had agreed with them on it – and it had confused people, Ardern says, “It did neither of us a favour.”
We’re looking each other in the eye now saying they’re each right. English says he’s run more budgets than most people. Hosking raises that not a single economist agreed with him. Labour will bring in more debt and tax at a time we’re having surpluses, English keeps going.
Ardern now back in – she’s been out on the road saying he’d been a competent finance minister. But now he’s being disingenuous. “I cannot believe two days out from an election you continue to mislead people.”
Ardern is asked if she’d jettison the Greens if that would allow a government with Winston Peters. The Greens still get the first call – (this doesn’t mean a deal)
English has a new line – Labour can’t jettison the Greens because of the MoU. Ardern says a phone call doesn’t mean a stitched up and done deal. It’s not a locked in coalition agreement, Ardern says. They’ll try and form a government if they’re in a position to do so, but the first call just means it’s a conversation.
Now to National – ACT won’t work with NZF, and Maori Party has said that too, Hosking says. English says if they get biggest vote, then onus is on them to try first and show they can have a majority because they’re the incumbent.
On Peters trading people off, English says “cut out the middleman.” He doesn’t like the idea that Peters decides who the government is.
Ardern says she’s been consistent this campaign focussing on lifting Labour’s party vote. Hosking says 36% or 42%, if they need Peters then they still need Peters. She says it does depend on what vote Labour gets in terms of how much sway it has.
English is asked why he’s not more open about who he’ll go with. He says obligation is to form stable, strong government. The best way to get that is a strong party vote for National in this case, he says.
English says he knows Peters well and has worked with him before, even though he can be a bit challenging. If that’s what it takes to form strong stable government, then that’s what they’ll do.
Is it really the biggest election issue, Hosking asks. Ardern says it is – every stop she does in every town and city includes people coming up to her regarding waiting lists.
Labour is promising to restore what hasn’t been put in over the past nine years to account for inflation and population growth – Middlemore and Waikato have ‘full signs’ on their doors.
Hosking asks English why health is the biggest issue. He says it’s always the biggest issue no matter what the spending is on it. On Dunedin waiting lists and the prostate situation, he says there seemed to be particular circumstances about the way that service had been run. Hosking doesn’t think he’s answering the question. Sometimes in a large health system things don’t go as they should, English says.
It’s possible it’s about resourcing, but often it’s about decisions and judgements made under pressure, English says.
English says National has increased health spending from $12 billion to $17 billion over the last seven or eight years. Ardern asks if they’ve funded for inflation and population growth. English says they have, but adds it’s not all about what you’ve spent. Ardern is throwing GP waiting times at him.
Is if funding or infrastructure? English says you do need more funding all the time because demand keeps growing – it’s always the single biggest chunk of new spending in every budget. Ardern says doctors and nurses are having to work extra shifts. Raised one GP who had to keep his shift open until midnight because there were no mental health workers to take the patient.
So why isn’t Labour throwing even more at health? Ardern says all they’re saying is put in enough to lift for inflation and population growth.
English says that “we need to try something different” – uses this to argue it’s not just about more funding. Need to try e-therapy over face-to-face – it’s just as good, he says. Ardern says he had nine years to spend it, and he responds they did put in $5 billion extra.
Free trade and foreign house buying
7:26: Back into it trade agreements and Labour’s desire to renegotiate the Korean free trade agreement. Ardern says she can legislate to ban non-resident foreign buyers within Labour’s first 100 days – there might have to be carve-outs while the agreements are renegotiated, she says.
[Alex says: So some foreigners won’t be allowed to buy property, but the ones we have trade agreements with will be able to still until renegotiation takes place?]
English says he doesn’t think South Korea would take any notice. It was a hard-fought, five-year negotiation.
Ardern asks English if they sought a carve out. English says NZ thought it couldn’t achieve such a position and that National wasn’t focussed on it. “We run a small open economy,” he says. Open to investment and trade, to get access to other markets.
Ardern says she thinks the government just didn’t have concern over it. So why is she concerned, Hosking asks – throwing out the 3% of properties are bought by non-resident foreigners. She replies that this doesn’t include properties bought by trusts or companies.
Why not try and renegotiate, she asks. Our friends and allies will understand the rationale for that.
Onto the rural urban divide. English says Labour and the Greens have had a go at rural regions, selected them out and threatened them.
Quality of water will become an urban issue eventually because urban water is worse than rural stuff, he says – we’ll want to be working with urban people on cleaning that up, too, he says.
Ardern is asked why rural NZ has got offside with here. She believes there’s unity over the issue of clean waterways. Labour is targeting water bottlers, and there is a flow on effect from that, she says. Says the money will be given back to the communities it’s taken from
Farmers will benefit from NZ being viewed as clean and green, and farmers are environmentalists, she says. They themselves – the Waihou and Piako rivers need as much work as ever. The division seen has been stoked during this campaign, but not by Labour, she says.
English is asked why water quality kept getting worse over National’s nine years. He says work has been underway for five or six years. Government has made every effort with the land and water forum, and Iwi, he says.
Labour and the Greens had hopped on a populist bandwagon, he says. Meanwhile, National is already doing something about it. 90% of waterways are fenced on farms. It’s a random tax targeted at a handful of people when there are more widespread issues around nitrates and e-coli. This means it’s more sensible to go down the existing route of nitrate budgets.
Ardern is asked about Winston’s stance that the water tax wouldn’t be allowed. She says “It’s our policy.” Not doing coalition negotiations as well, she might well have added. The vast majority of farmers won’t be affected, she claims.
7:10: And we’re off. This is a more intimate debate – no crowd clapping or anything.
English first why is he winning? People were focussing on the real differences and visions for New Zealand, he says – National has been attracting some voters back but there’s a few days to go. English says he believes it’s neck-and-neck between the two parties, rather than National in front so much.
Ardern is asked if she’s snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. She replies that she agrees with English that it’s neck and neck. The election will be decided by turnout, she says – will people get out to vote on election day? Labour isn’t complacent and will fight to the end she says – talks about optimism and New Zealanders wanting change and not running on auto-pilot.
Has she peaked? No it’s still neck and neck once support partners are put in, she says. Generational change? Ardern reckons young people are enrolling and voting. But if people are worried about their enrolment status, they need to go and vote early, she says. Can't enroll on election day.
English on the young vote: We’ll find out on Saturday. He’s trying to get out and meet as many people he can. Says people focussing on what policies will do for their families, businesses and the country.
Undecideds? English says the volatility in the polls shows there is a large undecided vote out there. (Tonight’s poll had undecideds at 13%).
Ardern is asked whether Labour’s tax stance is the kicker for Labour falling. No, she says. Tenfold the discussion has been health over tax. Bill and his team have stoked up a profoundly unfair debate on income tax, she says. The negative campaign from National has had an effect, she says.
English says it’s also a campaign over the next three years, which includes legislated income tax reductions. He’s using this to argue that Labour would raise income tax rates. People on the average wage on 1 April next year will pay $1,060 less tax a year, he says. Labour will have to get support to change the law.
Ardern rolls out the line that $400 million worth of the tax cuts will go to the top 10%. She tries to call him out for a campaign saying Labour would raise taxes. No one will pay more tax than they are today, she says.
On Labour’s tax working group, she’s asked whether it was a mistake not to rule changes out until after 2020. She says she listened to the people but is keeping the desire for urgency. She says she stands by pushing so hard, but also finding the balance. “I still stand by the work we’re undertaking.”
English is asked about the Auckland fuel crisis – how much of it was his fault? English says it’s down to those private companies involved. The government is taking responsibility for helping fix it. He brings up the review from 2012 after which the amount of fuel stored in Wiri in tanks was doubled.
Hosking puts to Ardern that Labour were also told about this in 2005. Bill says we can afford $2 billion in tax cuts, she says. But in 2012 he couldn’t find $57 million for a second pipe. She says Labour would increase storage or a second pipe. English says National would expect the airlines and private companies to do that.