Review: TVNZ's Minor Parties Leaders Debate
The much anticipated Minor Parties Leaders Debate occurred on TVNZ tonight. As Clare Robinson stated at the very beginning, this debate was bound to be interesting, and in many ways offered much more than the previous leaders debates between Goff and Key. First, there is the issue of National's potential coalition partners: ACT still very much flailing following an absolute abomination of an election campaign beginning with in-fighting and then dovetailing into speculation of Brash's post election replacement as leader, United Future's attempt to hold onto Ohariu by its nails with Dunne not looking positive in the polls, and the Maori vote splitting with Mana rising as a challenger to the Maori Party. Then there was also the scandal the Greens have had over the last few days, which has drawn much more attention than the Maori Party's Mongrel Mob scandal, and the rise of Winston in the polls to position NZFirst within striking range. While the reaction shots were nowhere near as potent as the grimacing that occurred on Maori TV's first Minor Leaders Debate, this one still delivered, even if the first half was largely a rehash of their previously released policies.
Guyon Espinor appeared to have taken criticisms that he was not a strong enough chair in the Leaders Debate to heart, and within the first five minutes was not giving the leaders an inch as he tried to get out of them their single economic policy that would improve the country. Dunne struggled to provide a single policy that would lift the economy, saying that it had to consist of an overall approach. The Greens cited the abysmal amount spent on Research and Development as a major cause for concern (1.3%). Mana and Maori fought it out over who had the Financial Transactions Tax first - while the Maori Party have had it since 2005, Harawira was far more eloquent in his explanation of its importance. Peters also somewhat fluffed this discussion, saying very vaguely that he would look to the policies of successful countries and treble them. Greens and Mana appeared to tie on this issue.
Brash, unsurprisingly, said ACT would cut all Kiwisaver subsidies, which prompted some dissent among the others, with Dunne responding that slash and burn policies belong in the 1980s and 1990s, but lining himself up for his coalition support by stating his preference for welfare cuts. NZFirst said that we needed to look at tax pain and share the gains and there was no sound case for selling assets. Greens predictably said that they would look at the $20 billion National are intending to spend on motorways, much of which is not fully costed (bringing light to an issue that has not had a lot of attention so far in this campaign). Maori said that they would invest in the job market, and Harawira said that he would be out in the streets if the system operated in a way that continued to benefit only the wealthy, which was greeted with a round of applause. Harawira often drew applause in this debate, evidencing how he is actually beginning to come much more comfortable in a leadership role and has a good way of summarizing issues in a clearly understandable way.
When asked on the potential of Greens to become a coalition partner with National, Norman answered that they could work together on water and irrigation, and that the OECD approved of their plans. This was focussing on the minutia over broader agreements, which again signaled that the Greens could really only go blue within a confidence and supply agreement and aren't likely to be at the table this election (however, even Whaleoil is now predicting the election to go to Labour and the Greens in 2014, meaning that good results this time will be a good platform to build from).
A discussion of the minimum wage also brought out the ideological differences between the parties. Brash mirrored the exaggerated dramatics of the National Party's unfortunate tendency towards hyperbole over the last week when he said that the minimum wage was entirely arbitrary and we might as well set it at $30 an hour if we attempt to raise it by $1.25. Winston then stepped into his zone of showmanship, claiming that Brash demonstrated "economic nihilism and economic anarchy" and that Brash's extreme statements were not mirrored by the experience in Norway and Scandanavia, and that Brash was depending on "conservative pennies from heaven".
Winston and Brash appeared during some parts of the debate to be still stuck in 2003, most notably when the issue of race was brought up. Brash's assertions that Maori were treated with privilege sounded like a rehash of his Orewa speech, except this time they were not greeted by applause but instead received with groans from Turia and Harawira. Brash's bizarre argument for the abolition of the Maori seats rested entirely on Tauranga, which he said the only candidate who was not Maori was from the ACT Party, which was met with much laughter.
ACT said environmentalism was something that rich countries practiced and New Zealand was poor, sharply distinguishing himself from all of the other parties.
The inevitable issue of the tea tapes came up, which made Brash even more uncomfortable, and he was promptly backed into a corner having to confess that he did not care what they discussed. Harawira channeled Bomber when he pointed out that the Covert Surveillance Bill rushed through under urgency meant that politicians could spy on civilians, but "when the media do their job, they call the cops". Winston made much political mileage by playing to his constituency and making numerous references about the logistics of dumping a leader like Brash after a party has been elected and then how this would affect his constituents, in the veiled comments about "people like Brash when they don't have a job".
Perhaps the funniest moment of the night was the look on Winston's face when Tariana said she wouldn't go into a coalition with ACT: gobsmacked. But it did reflect that the weakest leader at the moment is Brash, who is hanging around ACT and by proxy National's neck like an albatross. The text votes reflected this, with Winston scoring the highest at 36% and Harawira following behind at 27%. Not releasing the tapes is going to backfire on ACT, and he is really beginning to feel the heat.