Prime Minister John Key came closest to being kicked out
of a local debate in Helensville last night after breaching
strict rules that prevented candidates criticising one another
or their rivals' parties.
The joint Helensville/Te Tai Tokerau candidates meeting at
the Kumeu Baptist Church will be the only local meeting Mr
Key attends and his arch rivals Laila Harre, the Internet
leader, and Hone Harawira, the Mana leader, had hoped to use
it as a platform to tackle him.
Ms Harre had even brought along her own security in case
things got out of control. The police were present, too.
Ms Harre managed to get in a swipe at Mr Key, but she did it
So it was the Prime Minister who ran foul of the rules first
when he began talking about the superannuation age and
Labour's policy of free GP visits for over 65s. It took
convener Holly Ryan a while to interrupt and give him his
When he tried to argue, she said, "Do you want to leave now?"
Ms Harre's first dig was when she recalled her own political
beginnings during apartheid protests in the 1980s.
"And I remember which side I was on!" she said, referring to
Mr Key's memory failure on that topic. Asked about a local
roundabout, she said: "I'll leave that to your local MP, who
won't have the pressures of high office after September 20."
It earned her a boo from many in the room - the locals had
earlier wanted to know what she would do for Helensville,
given she was a local candidate. Her answer: "Change the
After the debate, Ms Harre and Mr Harawira said the Prime
Minister should have been evicted.
"He broke the rules time and time again," Mr Harawira said.
Ms Harre said a different set of rules seemed to apply to Mr
Key. "I thought it was one strike and you were out. He had
three strikes and he was still in."
During the debate, the Prime Minister was asked about
religious education in state schools and said it was up to
boards of trustees, not the Government.
The other candidates also managed to get a word in before the
largely good-natured crowd.
After Mr Key spoke about motorway developments, Mr Harawira
questioned priorities such as spending on roading when
children were living in poverty.
"No offence to the people from Kumeu, who now have a roadway
to the airport, but seriously, we could have done away with
the tunnel, we could have done away with the Holiday
The best one-liners went to Act candidate Phelan Pirrie and
Labour list MP Kelvin Davis.
Mr Pirrie was asked about charter schools. "They're all doing
very well, except for the one run by a trade union."
Mr Davis was asked if raising the top tax rate would send
highly educated people overseas. He replied that it wasn't
taxes that drove people overseas, "it's low wages".
Even Independent Penny Bright got a good-natured cheer after
having to battle to get into the debate.
But it was always going to be tricky taking Mr Key on in his
home turf, where he has a 21,000-vote majority.
The other candidates learned a lesson: the early bird gets
The meeting was so hotly anticipated that the church hall and
an overflow hall were full an hour before the debate started
- leaving many candidates' supporters out in the cold.
Judging from the applause for Mr Key, National voters got
Other candidates included Corie Haddock for Labour, Kennedy
Graham and Marama Davidson for the Green Party, Andrew
Williams for New Zealand First, Te Hira Paenga for the Maori
Party, Stephen Berry for Act and Deborah Dougherty for the