Key and Cunliffe lock horns

The economy, housing and foreign investment featured while Dirty Politics barely got a look in as Prime Minister John Key and Labour Leader David Cunliffe locked horns in tonight's first televised leaders debate of the election campaign.

Mr Cunliffe went into tonight's debate on the back of two dispiriting poll results which showed support for his party slipping but gave a confident performance against an initially nervous looking Mr Key.

Dirty Politics was raised by moderator Mike Hosking at the start of the hour long debate but Mr Cunliffe let the opportunity to score hits on Mr Key over the issue go by.

The debate moved quickly to the economy which Mr Cunliffe said had not delivered for most New Zealanders despite recent growth.

"We seem to have missed for many people the party and we're going straight to the hangover."

Dismissing that as nonsense, Mr Key, in a line he repeated later in the hour long debate, pointed to National's record on economic management and pointed to the future.

"New Zealanders can see that we're on the cusp of something very special for this country and they want to be part of that."

Mr Cunliffe called National's HomeStart programme, which gives homebuyers bigger grants for towards a deposit on new home "pouring petrol" on a fire.

Mr Key counterpunched by saying he had taken a good look at Labour's KiwiBuild scheme to build 100,000 homes saying it would "take years and you build a couple of thousand homes".

On foreign investment in farmland, another emotive issue for voters, both used disputable numbers to make their point.

Mr Cunliffe said over a million hectares of farmland had passed into foreign ownership under National, a number which relies on gross totals.

Mr Key, who by that stage was looking more assured, in turn said the Overseas Investment Office estimated only 1 to 2 per cent of rural land was in foreign ownership -- a number that actually represents the amount that has passed into foreign ownership in the last nine years.

Mr Cunliffe argued Labour didn't want New Zealand farms and houses "to be speculative playthings for foreigners, we want them to be for kiwi families".

Mr Key countered that New Zealand had to allow some foreign investment.

"If we say no to foreign capital whether its ultimately going into businesses or a little bit going into land then we have to say no to a stronger economy and the things a strong economy will deliver".

- Adam Bennett of the NZ Herald

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