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Labour leader Jacinda Ardern (left) and National's Judith Collins at last night's debate. Photo:...
Labour leader Jacinda Ardern (left) and National's Judith Collins at last night's debate. Photo: Getty Images
It was billed as the night the election campaign would heat up, but the first debate between Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and National leader Judith Collins struggled to simmer, let alone reach boiling point.

Both leaders were on their best behaviour, although Ms Collins’ eyebrows got a good workout, frequently arched as she shook her head at Ms Ardern’s answers.

The two walked into TVNZ’s Auckland studio having heard the results of a 1News Colmar Brunton poll which had Labour down 5% to 48%, but still with a high enough percentage to govern alone if New Zealand voted that way on October 17.

Ms Collins, meanwhile, had to sound optimistic about National’s 31% - down 1% - and the seeming loss of her party’s bedrock support to Act New Zealand, which polled 7%, its highest rating in 17 years.

Ms Ardern said MMP elections had never resulted in a single-party government, and she did not expect that to change.

Ms Collins said her campaign had been stalled by the second Auckland lockdown, but felt she had regained momentum since National’s official campaign launch on Sunday.

"I think we can show we have a much more positive vision for New Zealand, particularly around building the economy and having a proper border agency in place."

Ms Collins, who clearly had the most to gain as well as the most to lose in her first debate as National leader, easily held her own against the Labour leader, and as the debate wore on became more confident in interjecting and challenging the record of her Government.

Playing heavily on her humble rural upbringing and experience as a small business owner, Ms Collins had the best one-liners of the night, including a snipe at Ms Ardern at her failure to implement a capital gains tax and a zinging challenge to her on border control.

"With people coming from areas where there is no Covid-19 at all, we would give them the same treatment that Ms Ardern is giving to the Australian rugby team. We would treat them like they were equals."

She took on Ms Ardern in her pet area of interest, child poverty.

"This is nonsense. Last election Ms Ardern stood here and said she came into politics wanting to end child poverty, and what has happened?

"Children living in material hardship, those numbers have gone up by 4100 and that was before Covid."

Ms Ardern defended her record, saying that when the Government was elected seven out of nine measures of child poverty were getting worse, and three years later seven were now improving.

"Judith is talking about just one of those [statistics]."

Ms Ardern was solid throughout, although she did not hit the rhetorical flourishes of which she is capable.

She was strong in defending her party’s tax policy, and criticised National’s planned tax cuts, saying, "I do not need a tax cut."

Her Government’s approach to Covid-19 had meant New Zealand was back to some sense of normality, and she would maintain a "stamp it out" approach to the disease, she said.

She cited the new Dunedin Hospital as an example of Labour’s "double duty" approach to infrastructure projects.

"Right now we are demolishing the buildings on the site of the new Dunedin Hospital, that will create thousands of jobs, and we have also invested in shovel-ready projects for people to train at the tech, training that we need to build that hospital.

"We get a double whammy of both building a new facility and training our young people."

The debate was an even contest, which traversed issues such as employment, climate change, poverty, taxation and agriculture.

Ms Collins perhaps edged the debate narrowly, but neither leader would have left the podium dismayed about their performance.


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No surprises, the PM spoke of hope and feelings while Collins spoke of actually getting something done. Jacinda promised three years ago to rid NZ if poverty- it has got worse. And let's not talk about Kiwibuild, simply hopeless. Less warm fuzzies please and lets actually do something

I guess we all hear what we want to hear and this observation speaks not to the debate but the lies and deceitfulness of the National Party. 3 years ago, right up to the election they were denying a housing crisis. 9 years of inaction, of totally abandoning the construction industry and leaving a such a disabled infrastructure that it is no wonder that first attempts by Labour to put some life into the industry faltered. The current Govt has made giant strides in clawing back some semblance of order. Yes there are still problems and there is a lot of work to be done, but the crisis, that National denied, has gone. No-one talks of a housing crisis these days.
Next poverty, To state that Labour said it was going to get rid of poverty is a blatant lie and this commentator knows it. Poverty will always be a problem in a capitalist, free market system, the system needs poverty for the rich to maintain their wealth. But the worst impacts of poverty are being addressed by this Govt, not ignored as they were by National. There have been many key initiatives introduced in the last 3 years and all social agencies are reporting big improvements across the board.

Reality check. Labour have achieved virtually nothing in 3 years. Not much chance of them doing more in the next 3 when they only have a couple of MPs of ministerial quality.

Reality check, 9 years in power does not equate to 3 years in power and cannot be compared, nor does it equate to governing when dealing with a worldwide crisis. It usually takes more than one 3 year term for the country's problem areas to start showing signs of improvement and that is during the good times. But then there have not been good times for some time now. The Construction industry took a beating with leaky buildings, earthquakes and a shortage of trade qualified staff. A shortage that was due to the trades sector being torn apart by a bad decision nearly 30 years ago that all but ended apprenticeships; requiring a substantial rethink and rebuild and now the worldwide pandemic. Through it all there have been considerable funding shortfalls to the health and education sectors while successive governments try to "balance the books".

I watched for 2 minutes. The continuous interruptions when someone else is talking drive me insane. It seems part of what humans do. Even the moderator. Not very sophisticated. Gave me a headache, back to reading my book.

Same old attitude of business as usual; sniping, campaigning and complaining instead of the genuine silver bullet ideas. Not interested!

Leaders debate? Yawn...

I agree, the debate never fired. I put this down largely to the way in which the facilitator, John Campbell, managed himself and the situation. While I would have to say he did better than Hoskings in previous years, his bumbling, stuttering and at times almost incoherent questioning ruined any chance of the "debate" becoming a spectacle. It seems NZ TV interviewers do not understand what a debate is and have lost the skill of asking open questions.
In any event, the importance of a leaders debate is questionable. NZ is governed by the Cabinet, and while the party leader chairs that august body and hands out the portfolios, they do not rule over it like some sort of autocrat. It is the integrity and capability of the cabinet team that is important, not the ability or charisma of the leader.

To say Ardern is supposed to be a PR guru and can't do anything wrong she was a true reflection of herself last night; hot air and no substance. Collins was by far the more accomplished of the two providing us with some hope in dire times.

The main looser of the debate was TVNZ. They have already decided that the other parties are irrelevant and it's a two horse race. Then decided that the most important person on stage was infact John Campbell who was just dreadful, jumping all over the place never pinning down the leaders to actually answer a question, even when he eventually got round to asking one. Collins just chewed him up and spat him all over Jacinda who looked liked she had swallowed something nasty!
What a waste of time.

This is a waste of time. The people of NZ are hungry and suffering. The restaurants are closed. The landlords cannot rent. The schools are termination jobs. This government hopes everything goes back to normal. Sweden never locked down or closed its borders. They are fine. If you have a good healthcare system you can handle the pandemic.If have terrible healthcare system like the US; you cannot. This government attempted to hide its poor healthcare system policies by pretending that the virus did not exist. It does, it is here, and it not going anywhere and we cannot sit here cut off and isolated from the world, starving.

A healthcare system run down by continuous underfunding through previous governments, not just this one.

They have no idea to restore the economy. They will not admit the hard truth that NZ needs international tourism, students, and investment to survive. They are pretending that the COVID is somehow to blame for failed policies and fake promises.

No one is pretending anything, Covid is real, the entire world economy is taking a hit because of it and tourism is down everywhere not just NZ. Fake Promises? Not convinced that this statement holds water.

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