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Mr Peters walked into the "dance of the desperate" with New Zealand First up 1.4% in the latest 1News-Colmar Brunton poll — not enough to see it back in Parliament, but enough to add some weight to his claim of a late surge in support for his party.
"We will defy your polls," Mr Peters told moderator Jessica Mutch McKay, as he defended NZ First’s role in government but also reheated his rhetoric on curbing immigration and the threat posed by Chinese funding of New Zealand parties.
With the debate being just an hour long — and a quarter of that taken up with advertisements —it was difficult for the five leaders involved to assert themselves.
Green Party leader James Shaw was steady and reasoned, while Maori Party co-leader John Tamihere pushed his party’s fight in the Maori seats rather than any claim for party votes.
"The Labour Party Maori members are all on the list and they are all into Parliament already."
Act New Zealand leader David Seymour — the minority leader with the greatest certainty of returning to Parliament on current polling — battled to make his presence felt, but was an obvious alternative to his rivals.
Advance NZ co-leader Jami-Lee Ross was fixated on ending Covid-19 lockdowns, to the obvious derision of his rival politicians.
"Closed borders will hurt New Zealanders more in the long-term than the virus ever would.
"We need to learn to live with the virus as a country and Advance New Zealand has policies that would do that," he said.
Mr Ross went on to defend Advance NZ holding a mass gathering during Level 2, saying lockdowns did more damage than the virus and led to job losses and suicides.
Mr Shaw then interjected with the line of the debate, telling Mr Ross the suicide rate had actually fallen.
"You should not believe everything you read on the internet."
Mr Seymour said there was no silver bullet to fix the economic issues posed by Covid-19, an answer which had most of his rivals laughing as Mr Peters had said the same thing during the previous commercial break.
"What we need is for one New Zealander to offer another New Zealander a job hundreds of thousands of times.
"One way you can stimulate that is to temporarily reduce GST from 15% to 10%."
Mr Peters shot back that Act’s founder had introduced GST and its second leader was part of a Cabinet which had increased it to 12.5%.
"Now he’s asking us to believe that he’s going to take it down to 10% ...
"The biggest thing for us is how we handle debt."
Mr Shaw, whose Green Party dipped 1% to 6% in last night’s poll, said his party needed to be returned to Parliament to work with Labour.
"If the Greens don’t make it back in, we do run the risk that one party will have all the power."
While they would remove "Greens" and put their own parties in that sentence, that would be a sentiment with which the other four leaders would agree.