Plenty of huff and puff as leaders battle to get their jabs in

Labour and National are both up in the latest poll, at the expense of Act and the Greens. Image:...
Labour leader Chris Hipkins (L) and National leader Christopher Luxon. Image: NZ Herald
Chaos reigned in the Newshub leaders' debate last night, as Labour leader Chris Hipkins and National leader Christopher Luxon fought to see who could yell over moderator Paddy Gower the loudest.

Mr Hipkins was immediately more feisty than he had been during the first debate, defending Labour’s record on law and order and deriding the alleged downgrading of police resources under the previous National government, and then repeatedly interjecting while Mr Luxon was trying to explain his party’s policy to reintroduce boot camps to claim that they did not work.

"In Australia the gangs are reacting to the law changes that we want to introduce by forming their own political party. Here they only have to vote for Labour and that’s just what they’re doing," Mr Luxon said.

"You don’t give gang members who are hooking our children up to meth $2.7 million for rehab services."

To which Mr Hipkins retorted: "So why did [former National prime minister] John Key introduce it in the first place?"

"It was introduced under John Key’s government. If it was so wrong, why did they do it?"

Mr Luxon replied: "I know that you are keyed up and I appreciate that you have got to come out here and have a bit of a fight".

"That’s good. Let’s do that, but let’s do it respectfully."

After further sparring Mr Luxon suggested Mr Hipkins was acting so petulantly that he needed a hug, which got a laugh but which might also have been a misstep as Mr Hipkins shot straight back that he would not need to keep challenging Mr Luxon if he would actually answer any questions.

However, Mr Hipkins then wasted his momentary advantage when asked if New Zealand was a racist country, by replying that certain parties were playing the race card.

"Is one of them in this room?," Gower asked, and Mr Hipkins’ response that "he certainly wants to work with people who are", went down like a lead balloon.

"We are not a racist country but there are people in New Zealand who are racist," Mr Luxon replied.

The National leader had already had to repair some missteps of his own, having backflipped on a comment that young MDMA users were not criminals but then saying that he thought MDMA cases should be managed through the Crimes Act, and also copping some mickey when asked how his policy to crack down on gangs would work if another National policy, to confiscate their patches, was in place and meant that gang members could not be recognised.

He also performed poorly when asked about potentially working with New Zealand First. Having said earlier this week that he would be prepared to call its leader Winston Peters if that was the way the votes fell, his refusal to answer the question by saying that he did not know Mr Peters well sounded lame.

Mr Hipkins, who needed a much stronger performance after a lacklustre first debate, was indeed better — particularly after his earlier rambunctiousness wore off — and he edged Mr Luxon in this debate.

However, his rival will also have reason to be pleased with his performance — he avoided a knockout blow and got a few decent jabs in himself.

The big winner of the night were people who are potentially susceptible to bowel cancer, as both leaders committed to reducing the age when free bowel cancer screening begins in New Zealand to 45, the same age as in Australia, although they could hardly do little else as the question had been asked on behalf of a young woman with a terminal bowel cancer diagnosis who was in the audience.

The big loser was anyone who likes complete sentences, as neither leader allowed the other to get too many out.