The debate over the debate

It’s Tuesday, October 3 and welcome along to The Spinoff’s election live updates. We’re now just 11 days out from polling day. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund.

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The debate over the debate

It’s Tuesday, October 3 and welcome along to The Spinoff’s election live updates. We’re now just 11 days out from polling day. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund.

Get in touch with me on

Learn more about the political parties and what they stand for at

The agenda

Support our election coverage

The Spinoff’s coverage of the 2023 election is powered by the generous support of our members. If you value what we do and believe in the importance of independent and freely accessible journalism – tautoko mai, donate today.

Oct 3 2023

Simon O’Connor vs Brooke van Velden will go to wire in Tāmaki – new poll

Brooke van Velden and Simon O’Connor are in a tight race, according to a new poll.

Following a poll last week which depicted Chlöe Swarbrick in a battle to hold on to Auckland Central, another seat in the city has been confirmed as balanced on a knife edge. In a battle among the parties of the right in Tāmaki, sitting MP Simon O’Connor leads Brooke van Velden, but by the whiskeriest of whiskers.

The National incumbent, an outspoken social conservative and Tāmaki MP since 2011, has the support of 40% among decided voters, ahead of his challenger, the socially liberal deputy leader of Act, who registers 38% backing in the Curia poll for the Taxpayers’ Union. That gap is within the margin of error.

Labour’s Fesaitu Solomone trails on 14%. Of the full 400 surveyed, 13% were undecided.

Brooke van Velden and Simon O’Connor are in a tight race, according to a new poll.

Among those who are decided on the party vote in the seat that was once Rob Muldoon’s stronghold, National is at 49% (up 12 points on the 2023 election), Labour 20% (down 19 points), Act 14% (up two) and Greens 8% (no change).

Asked to name the the most important local issue which could impact voting, 28% said law and order, and 21% pointed to cost of living.

The poll was undertaken between September 18 and 28.

‘I voted’ stickers not offered this election due to lack of demand – EC

Orange Guy and Pup (Photo: Electoral Commission)

There’s been a strong outpouring on social media after it emerged that polling booths wouldn’t be handing out the orange man “I voted” stickers during this year’s election.

And while many have claimed this to be a new decision, the Electoral Commission told The Spinoff the stickers weren’t actually given out during the 2020 election, which was delayed due to Covid-19.

“The Electoral Commission last had ‘I voted’ stickers in 2017, although some overseas voting places may have excess stock that they are using up,” a spokesperson said. Some overseas voters, such as former PM Jacinda Ardern, were given a sticker this year as well.


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A post shared by Jacinda Ardern (@jacindaardern)

According to the commission, this decision was made because “fewer people [wanted] stickers after they voted”.

But there’s hope for those of us who liked the little physical reward for exercising our democratic right. “We’re seeing a few people on social media missing them. We review our voting processes after each election, and we will have a look at this again.”

This time around, a “collection of online gifs” have been created that can be shared online. “You can find these on the Electoral Commission’s GIPHY profile by searching Vote NZ on, or by clicking here: Electoral Commission NZ GIFs – Find & Share on GIPHY.”

Early voting opened yesterday and so far over 50,000 people have already visited a polling station. Labour leader Chris Hipkins, who is in isolation with Covid-19, told The Spinoff he hasn’t decided when he’ll be voting – but would like it to be in his own electorate of Remutaka.

Christopher Luxon voted yesterday, though as he is not actually a resident of his Botany electorate, he had to cast a special vote for his caucus colleague of Paul Goldsmith in Epsom.

More than 50,000 people cast ballot on first day of advance voting

Lots of voting questions and lots of answers! (Image: Archi Banal)

The first day of advance voting yesterday saw 56,557 people cast their ballots, according to the Electoral Commission. That’s a big drop on day one of advance voting in 2020, when 92,434 people took part. Given the exceptional, Covid-impacted circumstances of the last election, however, a more instructive comparison may be 2017, when 39,570 votes were lodged on the first day of the advance period.

In 2020, two out of every three votes in total were cast ahead of polling day itself. More than a million people had competed advance voting with a week to election day. The previous election, in 2014, just over 47% of votes were cast ahead of election day.

About 400 advance voting centres are operating so far around the country.

We’ll keep tracking the advance voting statistics as they emerge, and comparing with the equivalent tally in terms of the days till polling closes.

Wellington Town Hall repairs could cost as much as $330m

The cost of repairing Wellington’s Town Hall has blown out again, with projections now forecast at $250-$330 million, up from a previous estimated completion cost of $182m. 

The Town Hall has been closed since it was damaged in the 2013 Seddon earthquake. The first cost estimates for repairs were $43 million, but this has steadily increased ever since due to further complexities in the repair and wider cost increases in the construction industry. 

Wellington mayor Tory Whanau said the new cost estimates were “extremely tough to hear, but not unexpected”.  

“The Town Hall is an old, fragile, complicated heritage building built on reclaimed land – and the project team keep encountering new structural and ground conditions that are significantly impacting costs,” she said.

“We are dealing with challenging economic conditions – but we are more than half-way through the project which was started by a previous council. There’s no way we can turn back. We must see it through to completion.”


Councillors will vote on the increased spend at a meeting on October 25. The council could opt to cancel the repairs or demolish the building, but it’s now stuck in a sunk cost problem: with $182m already spent, cancelling the project would mean money down the drain and nothing to show for it. 

“The community wanted the council to seismically upgrade the building and reopen it as a world-class music venue. It is highly unfortunate that this comes at a considerable cost, but we will have to confront this reality. We can’t leave it sitting there unfinished,” Whanau said.

Luxon maintains he can’t reschedule debate, offers alternatives for Hipkins

Ben Thomas on Chris Luxon: ‘very strong at the set pieces but struggled to string phases together’.

National’s Christopher Luxon has defended his decision not to move his schedule around in order to attend a leaders’ debate in Christchurch.

With Chris Hipkins testing positive for Covid-19, tonight’s Press debate can’t go ahead. Hipkins had made himself available after he leaves isolation, but Luxon said his schedule was too jam-packed.

“I’m not turning up to a debate tonight because the prime minister has Covid,” he told reporters in Christchurch. “We’re in the last week of a campaign and it’s pretty hectic.. but we’ve got a debate locked in at TVNZ.”

Luxon suggested that if Hipkins wanted to have a debate with “someone who disagrees with him on most things” he should be Zooming in with his own MPs David Parker and Ingrid Leary to discuss tax. Parker, the former revenue minister, was an advocate for a capital gains tax that was ruled out by Hipkins. And at a recent candidates event, Leary reiterated that she also backed a capital gains tax but “Labour will not be doing that while he’s leader”.

National’s campaign chair Chris Bishop has suggested that Hipkins may be rolled in order for new taxes to be proposed by Labour.

“We’ve got a week to go in this campaign, we are flat out, we are full on,” Luxon said today, adding that his itinerary has been locked in for some time.

Asked whether he would rather work with Winston Peters or TOP’s Raf Manji, Luxon wouldn’t answer. He instead reiterated his preference to work solely with Act.

Weet-Bix will be back at The Warehouse, confirms Sanitarium

(The Spinoff)

The stand-off between Weet-Bix manufacturers Sanitarium and The Warehouse has ended, with confirmation today the breakfast cereal will be back in store.

Last week, The Warehouse went to the Commerce Commission after being told Weet-Bix would be pulled from its stores nationwide over the weekend. The retailer claimed it was the only outlet affected by “supply” issues at Sanitarium and was seeking answers.

In a statement today, Sanitarium confirmed it would begin supply The Warehouse again. “To supply the retailer, [Sanitarium] has decided to reduce allocation into export markets to release the capacity to supply Weet-Bix to The Warehouse. This decision comes after a reassessment of its already constrained supply of Weet-Bix to Sanitarium’s core and long-standing Pacific and Asian markets,” said Sanitarium’s general manager Michael Barton.

“We apologise for any concern created for our loyal consumers. The demand from all our markets, including the Pacific and Asian markets, has risen in the last couple of years exceeding supply capabilities and resulting in supply constraints” he said.

“We have tried in that time to prioritise allocation of Weet-Bix to service all our customers, including New Zealand’s grocery, non-grocery, hospitality and export markets”.

Sanitarium said it remained confident it had not breached the Commerce Act but would continue discussions with the Commerce Commission. “The industry process of stock allocation when supply is constrained is complex. Our view is that adopting a simple ‘fair’ pro rata allocation across all our customers, including export customers, could in this situation result in a reduction of supply to Aotearoa.”

A weet-bix pack on a red background
(The Spinoff)

In response to the news, The Warehouse’s CEO Nick Grayston said he was “relieved and delighted”.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the support and encouragement we’ve received over the last week from all over New Zealand. Kiwis have made it loud and clear just how much fairness and choice matter to them and we’re 100% committed to making groceries more affordable,” he said.

The day ahead

It was meant to be debate day round three, but instead the campaign lurches on without another leaders’ showdown.

Here’s where the major parties are today.

  • Deputy prime minister and senior Labour Party MP Carmel Sepuloni is picking up the PM’s responsibilities in Christchurch, where The Press debate was planned to take place. First up there’s an aerospace announcement, following by a visit to an apprenticeship boost employer. Later, there’s a university visit, a public walkabout and a visit to Labour Party HQ to meet with volunteers on the ground.
  • Chris Hipkins will Zoom into a media stand-up this afternoon as well from his Auckland isolation hotel room.
  • Also in Christchurch today is National Party leader Christopher Luxon who begins with a policy announcement in Rolleston. From there he’ll visit a retirement village and then head out for a walkabout.
  • Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson is on the campaign trail in Wellington today. She’ll spend the morning at Victoria University with party volunteers and meet with students. Later, she’ll be in Newtown to visit an “urban farm”.
  • Act Party leader David Seymour is in Waikato to launch his party’s primary industries policy.

The Bulletin: Luxon describes referendum on Treaty principles as ‘divisive’

As recently as last week, Act leader David Seymour reaffirmed his party’s position on a referendum on co-governance, proposing “that the next government pass legislation defining the Principles of the Treaty, in particularly their effect on democratic institutions. Then ask the people to vote on it becoming law.”

Christopher Luxon appeared on The Hui yesterday afternoon and got pretty close to ruling the proposition out. Host Julian Wilcox challenged Luxon to rule out a referendum under his prime ministership. Luxon replied, “Yeah, it’s not our policy,” describing a referendum on the Treaty as “divisive” and saying he would not support it. “I think it is divisive and not helpful,” he said.

Luxon further clarified his comment at the TVNZ leaders’ debate where he said National invented “by Māori, for Māori”, saying it was a “misspeak”, and he meant to say they were advocates for it. He also reiterated his opposition to Te Aka Whai Ora, the Māori Health Authority. National has pledged to scrap it.

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Covid-stricken Chris Hipkins still really wants to debate Chris Luxon

Image: Archi Banal

Covid-stricken Chris Hipkins has told RNZ he’s “on the mend” and is looking forward to being back on the campaign trail in a few days time.

It’s expected Hipkins will leave his self-imposed isolation on Friday after first testing positive for the virus on Sunday.

“If you look at what we do on the campaign trail, we shake hands and meet a lot of people in a short space of time,” said Hipkins of why he decided to stay in isolation, despite the Covid rules being lifted a few months back.

During what was a surprisingly friendly encounter on Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking Breakfast, the PM explained his Covid treatment regime: Powerade and Berocca. He joked that the sausage roll campaign diet probably hadn’t helped. “I’ve managed to dodge [Covid] until just now… I’m looking forward to a bit more exercise when I’m out of here.”

On the debate over The Press debate and whether it will go ahead, Hipkins told RNZ that National’s Christopher Luxon needed to be able to adapt to changing circumstances. “One of the things about being prime minister is unpredictable things do happen,” said Hipkins. “I think my plans have constantly had to change as the circumstances and the challenges that we faced have changed all of the time.”

According to Labour’s Sarah Pallett, Luxon was offered alternative debate days on Friday night through until next Tuesday and turned them all down. “The PM thinks Christchurch is important. The the South Island is important. So do I,” she wrote on Twitter.

Hipkins agreed that it was important to keep face with the people of the South Island, given this debate was the only one intended to address South Island-specific issues. “We’ve said we would have another of our senior team debate him, [Luxon] said no to that, we said we’d reschedule the debate, he said no to that.”

As the final stretch of the campaign begins, Hipkins said he was feeling a “huge amount of momentum” even from his locked down hotel room. However, he noted there had been a significant amount of abuse against candidates and MPs, particularly those from ethnic minorities. “We are seeing… particularly our Maori MPs and candidates subjected to more abuse and in some cases outright racism than they have been in the past,” said Hipkins, who pledged to “condemn it… call it out… and lead by example”.