Key gets better of debate

Prime Minister John Key took on Labour leader David Cunliffe in the second leader's debate of the 2014 general election campaign in Christchurch tonight. Photo / Martin Hunter

Prime Minister John Key bounced back from a poor performance last week to get the better of Labour leader David Cunliffe for most of last night's leaders debate hosted by Stuff.co.nz and The Press.

Mr Key had the better of Mr Cunliffe for most of the debate, excluding part of question time.

Mr Key looked smiling and relaxed as he first stood behind the podium and gained strength as the debate progressed.

While Mr Cunliffe was not disgraced in the debate in St Margaret's College auditorium in Christchurch, he lacked the flair and good humour Mr Key used to his advantage during a wide-ranging debate before an audience made up of supporters from both parties.

Even the booing and heckling was limited as Mr Key smiled and joked, unlike the One News debate, when the future of former justice minister Judith Collins may have been on his mind.

Mr Cunliffe adopted a statesman-like debating style.

The one-line comebacks the Prime Minister is known for in the House came back to him last night.

He played heavily on his Christchurch background, being brought up in a state house and how proud he was to call Christchurch his home town.

When Mr Cunliffe raised mould in state houses, Mr Key said he lived in a house made fastidiously clean by his mother.

He mowed the lawns. Personal responsibility played a big part in keeping the house in good order.

Mr Key confirmed tax cuts for small to modest-income earners would be announced next week. As part of a fiscal announcement, the Government would confirm maintaining surpluses, continue to reduce ACC levies and pay off debt.

There would also be room for tax cuts for low and modest earners, he said.

In return, Labour would introduce five new taxes to pay for the $30 billion of promises.

''Labour and the Greens are the Usain Bolt of spending money - the Olympic champions.You will get a gold medal but you won't pay down debt.''

When pushed on how much people would receive, Mr Key fudged the answer, saying whether it was $10, $20 or $30 a week, it added up to $500 or $1000 a year, money which could be spent on important things.

In a discussion about the minimum wage, Mr Cunliffe said Labour would raise the level to $16 an hour from the current $14.25. Mr Key said National had raised the minimum wage every year he had been prime minister.

But Department of Labour figures showed if the wage went up to $16 an hour, 16,500 people would lose their jobs.

''You might want to send 16,500 people to the dole queue but I won't,'' Mr Key said.

Messrs Key and Cunliffe got into a heated conversation about whether New Zealand had a capital gains tax after Mr Cunliffe said a CGT would mean more money going into productive industries rather than property speculation.

Mr Key was adamant people who bought and sold houses were chased by the Inland Revenue Department to pay the tax.

On every issue, before the break, Mr Key had the upper hand. On questions about Canterbury, Mr Cunliffe got rounds of applause and cheers for his stance on his party's plans for the rebuild, including threatening to override the insurance industry, similar to what he did as a communications minister by forcing the separation of Telecom.

''We are going to build 10,000 houses in Canterbury through KiwiBuild'', he said to which Mr Key yelled out ''Rhetoric is cheap, delivering is much harder''.

Mr Cunliffe accused Mr Key of playing the schoolyard larrikin at a time when real Canterbury families were suffering.