‘Game on’ for Jacinda v Bill

Th e ‘Jacinda eff ect’ and the implosion of support for the Greens has transformed the election campaign and could change the Government, a fresh poll shows. BERNARD HICKEY reports for Newsroom.

Jacinda Ardern

The resurgence of Labour at the expense of the Green Party and a small fall for National means the election is ‘game on’ with a real chance of the Greens falling out of Parliament and a change to a Labour-New Zealand First Government.
The shift in the landscape was reinforced in a spirited final debate before the adjournment of the 51st session of Parliament yesterday and the effective start of the election campaign. Jacinda Ardern declared the contest was “game on” in a relentlessly aspirational final speech telling the Government to get out of the way so a Labour-led Government could do a better job.
The chances of that change of Government effectively increased with the results of a TVNZ Colmar Brunton poll released last evening showing Labour up 13 points to 37% and National down three points to 44%. New Zealand First fell one point to 10%, while support for the Greens crashed 11 points to 4%, which is below the 5% threshold needed under MMP for a party to be in Parliament without an electorate MP. Unless Labour somehow ‘gifts’ an electorate to the Greens, that level of support would see the Greens out of Parliament for the first time since 1996.
The poll taken over the last five days also showed Ms Ardern’s support as preferred Prime Minister jumping 24 points to 30%, which put her on the same support level as Bill English, who rose two points. Winston Peters fell three points to 7%.
Ms Ardern’s elevation to the leadership just 17 days ago has electrified the contest, along with Metiria Turei’s decision last week to step down as Green Party co-leader after a divisive and potentially fatal decision by her party to use her own experience of welfare fraud to launch a debate about welfare reform.
There is now a prospect of Mr Peters choosing Labour as a coalition partner without needing the Greens, a situation he is seen as much preferring. National’s ebbing poll support and the anaemic position of its support partners leaves it in danger of falling just short of being able to govern with its support partners in the same arrangement it has had for the last nine years. National would need to come cap in hand for support from Mr Peters to win a fourth term with the support levels seen in the TVNZ poll.
The sense of a shifting momentum was evident on the final day in Parliament, where a clearly ebullient set of Labour MPs cheered and gave a standing ovation to Ms Ardern’s adjournment speech. She gave a fluent and direct performance in responding to the Government’s first speaker, Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee, who focused his speech on Labour’s tax policies, rather than the Government’s record.
Perhaps surprisingly, given Mr English had been in Wellington earlier in the afternoon, National chose not to put its leader up for the final clash in the debating chamber with Ms Ardern. There will be at least four televised head-to-head debates between Ms Ardern and Mr English before the election (August 31 and September 20 on TVNZ, September 4 on TV3 and September 7 in Christchurch for The Press and Stuff) and this adjournment debate was the first chance to see them debate at length face to face. Mr English did not front.
Ms Ardern gave a taste of her approach in question time, calling on the absent Prime Minister to adopt Labour’s proposal to fund an extra 80 mental health workers to deal with traumatised children in Christchurch.
“If he wants this to be a truly great country for children, as we can be, will he commit the resources needed to help kids and give them a chance for a better future? Because if he will not, I will,” she said to applause from behind her.
Finance Minister Steven Joyce, who was standing in for Mr English, said the Government had already acted on mental health in Christchurch.
“The way we are doing exactly that is by having a strong economy so that we can afford to provide the services. If the member wants to get into Government and tax the heck out of the productive economy, then she will find she has a lot fewer services she can fund, compared with today,” Mr Joyce said.
Mr Brownlee gave a taste of the Government’s attack lines over the next five weeks, focusing on Labour’s plans for a regional fuel tax, water levies and a potential capital gains tax.
In one of the first sharp attacks on Ms Ardern by a senior Government figure, Mr Brownlee said that “apart from the new smiley face, nothing has changed at all nothing has changed at all”.
An agitated and at times breathless Mr Brownlee said Ms Ardern was stuck between the rock of her own caucus and the hard place of the Government’s economic record.
“We are going to get a speech shortly, and I will bet the economy does not feature, other than to have a look at it with a bit of a squinted eye, from a bit of a distance, and to simply say: ‘We could do it better’,” he said.
“When Labour members have to explain that their $18.8 billion worth of promises, so far, will be paid for from higher taxes, from higher mortgage rates, and from higher costs on all New Zealand families, simply saying, ‘We can do it better, so just do it with us,’ is not going to work.”
Mr Brownlee called on Ms Ardern to be clearer about Labour’s plans for water royalties and a capital gains tax, which she has said she is open to in a first term if a tax working group recommended it.
“I would suggest to Jacinda Ardern that she should today tell the House the terms of reference that she will give to that bunch of left-wing economists to work out the tax system,” he said.
Ms Ardern described Mr Brownlee’s speech about her as “some kind of awkward flattery” and repeated a previous line about beginning the “campaign of our lives”.
“Campaigns are about change. They are about what is possible, and September 23 marks opportunity, and September 24 marks the beginning. They say in politics that campaigns are lost by those Governments that are in charge, but this time this election will be won by us because this is our moment,” Ms Ardern said.
“This is our moment to show that even if the odd New Zealander feels okay or even if they feel indifferent we can be better. This Government has achieved what it came to do, and now it is time to do things differently. That means we do not have to accept having the highest homelessness in the OECD. We do not need to accept that. We do not have to accept declining homeownership, as the Government has done. We do not have to accept that it will be a given that children, particularly in winter, will do their homework in a car by torchlight,” she said.
“We also do not have to accept that there will be families who are now at Te Puea Marae. In particular, a mother of nine, who thinks it is her fault that she has lost her rental accommodation. That is a family in work who can not find housing. That we do not have to accept. We do not have to accept the highest teen suicide rates in the OECD or children not being able find mental health care, and we certainly do not accept 70,000 young people not being in employment, education, or training. It will never be a given for this party that 60% of our rivers will be degraded and unswimmable. That will never, ever be acceptable on our watch.
“We believe things can be better, and under Labour they will be better.”
Ms Ardern finished with a warning to voters about National scaremongering about Labour’s policy.
“You will hear policies that do not even exist being thrown around this House and thrown around this debate,” she said.
Earlier, Mr English visited Mana College and an employment expo in Porirua. He then went on to an enthusiastic welcome while visiting the Porirua shopping centre.
He was asked for numerous
selfies and was greeted warmly by both shoppers and workers in the mall.
Mr English has yet to reach the heights of John Key’s selfie-fests during mall visits, but the response from voters was warmer than some had expected and he was at ease with the locals. He lives in Wellington and his wife Mary is a GP in the Porirua area.
Both party leaders now head to the key election battleground of Auckland. Mr English is expected to open a new road and Ms Ardern is due to put up some billboards in her Mount Albert electorate. Mr Peters will be campaigning in Tauranga and then host an event for the local Indian community in Auckland in the evening.
Ms Ardern is set to launch Labour’s election campaign in Auckland on Sunday.

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