Kia ora koutou.
After a somewhat muted start, the election campaign has kicked into gear this week with a poll sparking jostling among the minor parties and panic for the pro-cannabis campaign.
We saw signs of National’s Judith Collins embracing calls to bring back “Crusher” in the second leaders’ debate, but even her addressing the PM by the diminutive “dear” (which drew an audible gasp in-studio) could not eclipse long-awaited confirmation from Jacinda Ardern that yes: she has smoked cannabis. (But did she inhale?)
The past week has also seen a steady stream of policy announcements, with Labour pledging to make mental health support available to schoolchildren (and teachers), to not only phase out single-use plastics but invest in finding a solution, extend the life of Southland’s Tiwai Point smelter, and strengthen laws against hate speech.
National has vowed to crack down on corruption by doubling funding to the Serious Fraud Office, to tackle unemployment by incentivising retraining, and child abuse by making non-disclosure an offence. It would also establish New Zealand’s first mental health minister as part of its “zero suicides” strategy. (You can keep track of policy announcements with the Policy tool.)
And so to the rest of the week ...
‘A bit more of a pub quiz feel’
So was the PM’s verdict on the second Newshub Leaders Debate, hosted by Patrick Gower at Auckland’s Q Theatre on Wednesday. After last week’s conspicuously bloodless sport, Ardern was more energised, cutting across Collins to stress her experience on the national Covid response and defend her action on gangs.
Collins was quick with the quips, likening meat-free Mondays to “communism or fascism” and extending (arguably unnecessary) praise for Donald Trump’s moves in the Middle East: “Better than war, don’t you think?” She also reiterated her readiness to reform the Resource Management Act, to work with Act’s David Seymour as deputy, and to appear on the cover of Vogue (“Any political leader who says they wouldn’t is a liar”).
But as Radio New Zealand’s Jane Patterson remarked, there were more than a few points on which the leaders agreed: subsidising sanitary products, extending the parliamentary term to four years, gender-neutral toilets in schools, a Kate Sheppard statue in Parliament, and an inquiry into the Pharmac regulatory agency.
Bryce Edwards, political analyst and researcher at Victoria University, also noted the lack of a “real big-picture ideological contest”. He said: “It’s not that the leaders were exactly the same, but the differences weren’t that stark.” It may have entertained, but it speaks to Laura O’Connell-Rapira’s point in the Spinoff after last week’s debate: what do we expect of a presidential-style debate in a country with the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system? (It could, of course, be worse.)
Speaking of MMP – Monday’s 1News Colmar Brunton poll has separated the minors from the minnows, with good news for the Greens, and Act presenting an obvious partner for each of the major parties. Stuff reports that the Greens’ lift to 7% has caused concern within National that some of its voters might strategically switch to Labour to stop the Greens forming a coalition. The Greens’ James Shaw has already been pushing those who want Ardern returned as prime minister to make their party vote Green.
With Act moving up to 8%, it is now polling as the third-largest party behind National, enough to bring 10 MPs to Parliament. Seymour has already stressed the caucus’ diversity: “two Ngā Puhi ... two vegetarians ... men and women … one South Islander” (though he would not say if any were climate change deniers). He has also dropped two of Act’s more controversial policies, to lower (!) the minimum wage and charge interest on student loans.
Collins has been clear: Act’s job is to destroy New Zealand First. Winston Peters might have already done it himself, with NZ First polling at just 1%. Neither a Stuff editorial nor legal commentator Andrew Geddis were convinced by Peters’ claim on Tuesday to exoneration over the New Zealand First Foundation donations scandal (The Spinoff has an explainer).
Something’s gone bong
Ardern’s revelation in the leaders’ debate that she smoked cannabis “a long time ago” – quite the advance on her 2018 statement: “I was once a Mormon and then I wasn’t” – follows calls for her to make her position on the upcoming referendum clear. Support for the cannabis legalisation and control bill appears to be going backwards, with Saturday’s 1News Colmar Brunton poll finding 35% would vote in favour, down from 40% in June.
National’s Simon Bridges has said pot could prove New Zealand’s “Brexit” moment. (Britain says: if only.) But while the Nats’ entire caucus decided in August to vote against, Ardern has so far refused to reveal how she will vote (though she supports the End of Life Choice Act, polling on 64% in favour). Stuff’s Mike Yardley has accused the PM of “feigning neutrality” on cannabis reform while Henry Cooke says it is “ludicrous”.
Ardern’s silence stands in stark contrast to former prime minister “Auntie” Helen Clark’s enthusiastic “yes” (check out her Instagram plea: “Hey! Millennials!”) and to some reflects her inaction on issues affecting Māori and Pasifika. As Emmaline Pickering-Martin writes for E-Tangata: the current system only works for the privileged. Collins, meanwhile, smells blood (or something else).
What the polls say
Sunday’s Newshub-Reid Research poll shows Labour on 50.1%, down 10.8 points from the last poll at the height of Covid recovery, but able to govern alone. National is up 4.5 points on 29.6%. Ardern is by far the preferred PM with 53.2% versus 17.7% for Collins. Most voters would trust a Labour-led government under Ardern (55.1%) over a National one under Collins (34.9%).
Monday’s 1News Colmar Brunton poll has National up 2% to 33%, and Labour down 1% to 47% – necessitating a coalition with the Greens to govern. The Māori party polled there at 1%.
The first Māori Television Curia Research poll of the Te Tai Hauāuru electorate found Labour’s Adrian Rurawhe to be preferred over the Māori party’s Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, casting doubt on the party’s chances of returning to Parliament.
Overseas voting is now open. As Tracey Lee of the Every Kiwi Vote Counts campaign says, only an estimated 1 in 10 eligible overseas New Zealanders voted in the 2017 election. If that applies to you: why not do it right now?
Advance voting starts from Saturday. The same day, at 9.30am, Newshub presents the “Powerbrokers debate” between Seymour, the Greens’ Marama Davidson and the Māori party’s John Tamihere.
On 7 October at 8.30pm, Gower moderates The Cannabis Question for Newshub.
Picture of the week
I’m often accused of being too nice.
Judith Collins admits to at least this one personal failing in response to an audience member’s request at a GreyPower meeting in Nelson that she lean into her “Crusher” persona. (As RNZ’s delightful Craig McCulloch reports: careful what you wish for.)
i just want someone to look at me the way james shaw looks at this butterfly pic.twitter.com/vk2hrhs8Gs— Alex O'Connor (@aoc_nz) September 28, 2020
The Greens’ James Shaw seemed charmed to be interrupted mid-speech about climate change at the Otago museum’s tropical butterfly forest in Dunedin on Sunday evening, likening it to his Bernie Sanders moment. (Perhaps more: Is this a pigeon?)
Green wunderkind Chlöe Swarbrick was on form at the TVNZ young voters’ debate on Monday per RNZ’s report, not holding back on house prices or, indeed, her Act and National opponents. The crowd was receptive to her suggestion of what to be done with statues of historical figures deemed racist: “Put them in a racist garden,” said Swarbrick.
Ka kite anō au i a koutou …