Gloves come off as Robertson and Willis show their leaders how it's done
The finance chiefs went head to head in a brutal and bruising Q&A debate.
Mōrena, and welcome to The Bulletin for Monday, September 25 by Catherine McGregor. Presented in partnership with Z Energy.
In today’s edition: I’ll work with Winston, Luxon confirms; why are party leaders so reluctant to discuss the crisis in Queenstown?; and why the days of politicians being mobbed in public are long gone. But first, was this the most interesting election debate so far?
Grant Robertson and Nicola Willis at the Q&A studio debate (Photo: Q&A)
Tempers flare in the TVNZ studios
Grant Robertson and Nicola Willis are two of the best debaters in the House, so it came as no surprise that their Q&A head-to-head on Sunday was so spirited. Perhaps “heated” is a better word – their economic debate was a robust exchange of ideas that bordered on bad-tempered, marked by frequent bouts of extended cross-talk. Willis, who came armed with a pile of documents as a prop to help bolster her points, came across better than Robertson, Duncan Greive writes. The finance minister “came off a little grouchy, regularly interjecting with muttered retorts while Willis spoke – a parliamentary style of debate that felt off, given their close proximity, seated around a table”. Both finance chiefs represent a different, perhaps more ideological vision for their party from the “more sanded down Hipkins/Luxon version”, Greive writes. “Ultimately that was the underlying sadness of this prickly encounter between two smart, principled people: that the country might have been better served if they were instead fronting the leaders’ debate.”
Who would deliver a surplus sooner?
As for what was actually discussed, the debate focused on familiar topics from the campaign so far. Willis attacked Robertson over the government’s alleged profligacy and preference for funding “backroom bureaucracy” instead of frontline public service workers. Robertson attacked Willis over the holes in National’s tax plan, and her claims that they could deliver both tax cuts and a surplus without deep cuts to public spending. She promised that National would be able to deliver a surplus earlier than Labour but, Thomas Coughlan notes, only because she is certain that a Labour government would fail to meet its projected 2027 surplus date. National is promising a surplus in 2027 as well. Putting Willis’s assumptions aside, “the 2027 pledge means for the first time in a long time, National has been unable to promise a rosier fiscal trajectory than Labour,” Coughlan observes.
The mystery of the simultaneous migrant parent policies
No matter the government, surging net migration – which is on track to add almost 2% to New Zealand's population in 2023, according to some economists – could be a key factor in any potential economic turnaround. In a remarkable example of political mind meld, National, Act and Labour all released immigration policies aimed at migrant parents and grandparents on Saturday. All three visas – Super Visa (Labour), Unite Visa (Act) and Parent Visa Boost (National) – would allow parents to stay at least five years, with differing requirements for family support and eligibility for NZ Super and other entitlements. RNZ has a good rundown of the details of the various proposals. Labour is also promising amnesty for overstayers who have been in the country for 10 years or more. Labour’s plan (including some other tweaks to the immigration settings) has had a mixed response from advocates. Migrant Workers Association President Anu Kaloti said the amnesty would see “very little uptake and benefit” because a 10 year threshold is too high.
State housing and state highways both in the policy spotlight
The weekend’s other policy announcements revolved around some nice round numbers. Labour promised 6,000 new public homes by 2027, on top of the 21,000 homes it’s on track to deliver by 2025. Serendipitously, Max Rashbroke is investigating the politics of state housing on The Spinoff this morning, asking the question: is it really as simple as “Labour built state homes, and National sold them off”? Meanwhile National has promised to reinstate 100kph speed limits that have been reduced to 80kph, and return 30kph sections of roads to 50kph. It would also increase speed limits to 110km/h on the Kapiti Expressway and Transmission Gully, and on the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway if a current review finds that would be safe. “Although Labour has had a single-minded focus on safety, alcohol and drug use is the number one contributor to road fatalities,” said transport spokesman Simeon Brown, adding that National would step up roadside alcohol and drug testing instead.
Good in the Hood is back!
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I’ll work with Winston, Luxon confirms
One of the biggest political question of the campaign has finally been answered. Yes, National will work with NZ First – but only if it really has to. Chris Luxon will make the announcement in a prerecorded video later this morning, but media outlets have got hold of the transcript early. Luxon says his “strong preference” is for a National-Act government. “However, if New Zealand First is returned to Parliament, and I need to pick up the phone to Mr Peters to keep Labour and the coalition of chaos out, I will make that call.” He says he believes that, when push comes to shove, “Chris Hipkins [would] ultimately do exactly the same thing” – that’s despite both Hipkins and Winston Peters publically ruling out any governing arrangement with each other. Act’s David Seymour has said he refuses to sit at the cabinet table with Peters, but is open to working with NZ First outside of cabinet. As the Herald’s Claire Trevett notes, at last week’s minor party debate both said they would find a way to co-operate if they had to, “but Seymour in particular made it clear he would not enjoy it”.
Where’s the urgency on drinking water?
Andrea Vance has been on a tear of late, publishing a series of fired up columns about the dire state of political discourse as we head towards the election. This week’s Sunday Star-Times column (paywalled) is on the “stonking great elephant in the room” that none of the party leaders want to talk about: what’s gone wrong with our drinking water. Prompted by the cryptosporidium outbreak which has so far made 30 Queenstown residents seriously ill and forced a citywide boil water notice, Vance asks why Luxon and Hipkins don’t want to talk about the fact that water systems across much of the country are teetering on the edge of collapse. “For almost all the last parliamentary term, Three Waters dominated political debate,” she writes. “Opposition to Labour’s reforms was the foundation of National and ACT’s resurgence. Now, she says, none of the parties seem much interested in water reform, despite the disaster unfolding in Queenstown.
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