Prime Minister John Key (right) and Labour Leader David
Cunliffe go head to head at the TVNZ leader's debate. Photo
Labour supporters will be breathing a sigh of relief
after the first leaders debate last night between Labour leader
David Cunliffe and Prime Minister John Key.
Mr Cunliffe has seen his party's support, and his own, slip
in recent opinion polls but lately his personal stakes have
been slowly increasing.
Text support for the One News Leader Debate, moderated by
Mike Hosking, was overwhelming in favour of Mr Key.
However, Mr Cunliffe remained on message throughout the
debate, despite getting flustered during the session on
overseas land sales and not answering some questions.
For his part, Mr Key stood relaxed with one hand in his
pocket, showing his grasp of not only National's policies but
also a good understanding of what Labour and the Green Party
But, as in Dunedin two weeks ago, Mr Key's face told a
different story - one of stress or pressure.
Mr Cunliffe quipped the Prime Minister should take ownership
of his own policies, rather than interpret Labour policy.
Undoubtedly, much will be made of Mr Cunliffe's smile which
was plastered on to his face last night, but the Labour
leader proved sharp with some one-liners, usually the forte
of Mr Key.
Mr Cunliffe revived a previous political quote about a
''block of cheese tax cut''.
Mr Cunliffe was also generous but cutting with a particular
comment regarding the average wage and tax cuts.
''No-one is criticising John for getting New Zealand through
the worst of the crisis, but people are asking where to from
here and where's my share?''
The debate started with questions on dirty politics and how
the respective leaders rated the campaign so far for dirty
Mr Key rated it a five, turning the issue back again to a
Mr Cunliffe rated it a six and said unsavoury ministerial
behaviour would not be tolerated if he was prime minister.
After a relatively gentle start, the debate deteriorated in
the second section, when Mr Cunliffe could not answer how
10,000 houses a year would be built without skilled builders.
Mr Hosking pushed hard to find where Labour's KiwiBuild
houses worth $360,000 would be built, claiming Labour could
not defy the market and that the policy would turn parts of
Auckland into ghettos or dumps.
Mr Key was not asked the same question and was left to
criticise Labour's so-called ''wish list''.
Mr Key also caught Mr Cunliffe out on capital gains tax when
he pointed out farms and businesses would be be included in
any new tax and the Lochinver Station, the subject of much
debate about prospective Chinese ownership, would be
worthless under Labour's policy.
Mr Key had the stronger finish of the debate, and that point
will stick in the minds of voters.
Mr Hosking asked both men to rate their performance and that
of their opponent.
Mr Key said he was not there to rate David Cunliffe, as he
was not a political commentator, saying the political contest
was about ideas and policy.
Mr Cunliffe hoped he was speaking to New Zealanders about
things that mattered to them and said he always respected Mr
Key but they had different ideas.
''He is the past, we are the future,'' Mr Cunliffe said.