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Recession avoided: Prefu defies expectation

It’s Tuesday, September 12 and welcome to another busy day on the campaign trail! This is The Spinoff’s election live updates and I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund.

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Recession avoided: Prefu defies expectation

It’s Tuesday, September 12 and welcome to another busy day on the campaign trail! This is The Spinoff’s election live updates and I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund.

Get in touch with me on

Find out what the political parties are campaigning on at

The agenda

Sep 12 2023

National opens early lead in race to reclaim Northland – new poll

New cabinet minister Willow-Jean Prime (Photo: Getty Image)

After three years as a Labour seat, Northland looks to be going back to blue.

A new Taxpayers’ Union – Curia poll shows an early and comfortable lead for National’s candidate Grant McCallum. He’s on 43%, while Labour incumbent Willow-Jean Prime is well behind on 18%. New Zealand First’s Shane Jones is on 13%, former National MP turned Democracy NZ candidate Matt King is on 4% and Act MP Mark Cameron is tailing on 2%.

When adjusted to take into account undecided voters, McCallum is on 49% and Prime is on 20%.

Despite this, the poll shows that Prime has the highest name recognition in the region with 45% of those polled able to identify her as the Labour MP. Jones had 42% recognition and McCallum 42%. Until 2020, Northland had historically been a National seat, though was briefly held by New Zealand First’s Winston Peters.

Prime holds the slimmest majority in the country. She beat Matt King by just 163 votes at the last election.

The poll also reveals that 75% of those who voted for King now intended to vote for McCallum, with just 5% planning to vote again for King under his Democracy NZ banner. 39% of Prime voters would vote for her again with 22% saying they would vote McCallum.

The Curia poll had a sample size of 400 from 5,000 randomly selected phone numbers and the results were collected on Sunday.

New cabinet minister Willow-Jean Prime speaks to media
Willow-Jean Prime (Photo: Getty Image)

Today’s top stories from the campaign (and beyond)

Before I clock off for this afternoon, here are some of today’s top stories from the world of domestic politics.

Labour’s forthcoming fiscal plan will be ‘relatively modest’, says Hipkins

PM Chris Hipkins fronts a press conference. (Photo: Marty Melville/AFP via Getty Images)

Don’t expect any hail Mary policies from Labour over the rest of the election campaign.

Chris Hipkins has teased his party’s overall fiscal plan in the wake of today’s Prefu, signalling smaller and more affordable promises.

Speaking to reporters in Christchurch, Hipkins said that while the policies still to come would be “relatively modest”, the numbers would all add up. He said that was something National couldn’t say and its tax plan had continued to fall apart.

“We are winning the battle against inflation… National is proposing a plan that will see inflation stay higher for longer,” said Hipkins.

On the Prefu, Hipkins said there was “real reason for optimism” and the next five weeks of the campaign would be spent hunting for “every vote we can”.

“The New Zealand economy is turning the corner, it’s been a really rough time for New Zealand,” said Hipkins.

National says economy needs a ‘rebuild’ as Prefu forecasts delayed surplus


The opposition’s taken aim at what it calls “economic mismanagement” by the Labour government, and argued the economy needs an overhaul.

Today’s pre-election fiscal update showed a long term recession had been avoided, but that debt was going to peak higher than previously anticipated and not return to surplus until 2027.

National’s Christopher Luxon said the economy wasn’t working for New Zealanders.

“New Zealanders deserve better. Wages have been growing slower than inflation, the fortnightly cost of a $500,000 mortgage has increased by $750 in the last two years, and food prices have been increasing at rates not seen since the 1980s,” he said.

“It is clear that Labour is out of ideas and has no plan to turn things around. New Zealand can do so much better.”

Luxon called today’s economic update a “distinctly New Zealand problem” and said that no other country in the Asia-Pacific region has been in a recession (though today’s update signals that won’t be a long term issue).

Greens cite state of government books in renewed call for wealth tax

Julie-Anne Genter, right, with Marama Davidson (Photo: Getty Images)

The Treasury’s pre-election economic and fiscal update (Prefu) is further evidence of the need for a wealth tax, says the Green Party.

While the state of the books was slightly better than expected, it was “completely ridiculous” that both Labour and National were “resigned to cutting back spending and public services instead of making the tax system fairer”, said Greens finance spokesperson Julie-Anne Genter in a press release.

In today’s Prefu release, Robertson said Labour’s “balanced economic plan” would not result in “deep cuts in the public services” should it win another term in government. In August, the current government announced a programme of “clamping down on spending on consultants and contractors” at public agencies, which it said would result in savings of $4 billion. National, meanwhile, has promised tax cuts paid for in part by requiring spending reductions from selected government agencies and the removal of public transport subsidies.

Genter described National’s plan as “a cynical, ideological push to gut our public services”, saying “only the Green Party has a fully costed, robust, coherent plan to make things better for everyone in Aotearoa.”

Prefu shows recession sidestepped, surplus forecast for 2027

Prime minister Chris Hipkins and finance minister Grant Robertson

The government has dodged a bullet with today’s pre-election fiscal update, or Prefu, signalling a recession has been avoided.

Treasury is forecasting average annual growth of 2.6% between 2023 and 2027, the addition of 105,000 new jobs and wages to grow faster than inflation, said finance minister Grant Robertson.

“The economy is 2.9% bigger than a year ago and close to 7% larger since the start of the pandemic in 2020. The number of people in work rose by 113,000 in the June year – 69,000 more than forecast in May’s budget,” he said.

But it’s not all good news. The return to surplus projected in this year’s budget has been pushed back a year from 2026 to 2027, after several years of anticipated deficits. This year it is expected to hit $10 billion, while next year’s predicted to be even higher – $11.4 billion – and up from the $7.6 billion forecast in this year’s budget. It’ll eventually drop down to $1.6 billion in 2026 before hitting surplus the following year.

Treasury said recent tax levels had “fallen short of expectations”, which in turn lead to a weaker fiscal position.

Meanwhile, inflation is expected to drop down within the normal range by the end of next year. In the meantime interest rates are forecast to remain elevated.

Robertson said today’s update showed the economy was “turning a corner” but acknowledged the challenges remained real. “New Zealand continues to feel the ongoing ripples of the 1-in-100 year economic shock from the global pandemic. Earlier this year, the country also experienced its second largest natural disaster,” he said. “The economy is holding its own in an uncertain global environment.”

Treasury predicted the unemployment rate would peak at 5.4% in 2025. “Slow economic growth is forecast to continue over the next eighteen months as high inflation necessitates high interest rates. Domestic inflationary pressure has remained persistent, and with ongoing domestic demand pressure, interest rates are expected to remain at their current level over the next year in order to reduce inflation,” said a statement.

“High interest rates are expected to constrain economic growth to a quarterly average of 0.4% over the next year.”

Act’s David Seymour said the state of the books showed why a change of government was necessary. “Prefu shows Labour has no plan for paying off debt, no plan for turning things around, every year forecast the country borrows more and more until we lose first world status,” he said.

As noted by, today’s Prefu also signals tighter budgets for successive governments. While New Zealand’s fiscal position was forecast to improve, government budgets for the next 15 years would need to be smaller than this year’s. The official update from Treasury doesn’t paint a rosy picture for the next few years.

“Households and businesses are expected to remain under pressure. Subdued house price growth and easing labour market conditions will dampen households’ wealth and incomes, constraining growth in household consumption,” the statement reads.

“For businesses, rising costs and subdued domestic demand will weigh on investment, offset partially by the North Island weather event rebuild. Meanwhile, the outlook for real government consumption, a measure of goods and services provided by the government, remains much flatter than has been previously experienced.”

It’s nearly Prefu time

The government’s books will be opened in just a few moments, setting the scene for the final few weeks of the election campaign.

Chris Hipkins seemed to be warming up the public for some less than good news during his morning media round, but also suggested things might not be as bad as some had warned.

For a quick explainer on what the Prefu, or pre-election fiscal update is, check out the Herald.

Otherwise buckle in as everything is revealed from 1pm.

Watch: Young Act has all the answers


Despite both his parents being Labour voters, Ollie Murphy became a staunch Act supporter while he was still at high school. “I’ve never wanted to be in politics, but with the direction the country was going in, I felt like I had to,” he says. Now, he is number 28 on the Act party list and believes that “the smaller the government, the bigger the citizen.” The latest episode of Youth Wings follows Murphy as he escorts David Seymour around Whangārei in his Dad’s ute and prepares for the biggest debate of his political life with a little help from fellow Act party member Felix Poole (Youth Wings season one).

Full year of open border sees record net migration


The year ending July saw record net migration of 96,200, according to new Stats NZ figures out this morning.

It takes into account a full year since Covid-related border restrictions eased and was driven by net gains of non-New Zealand citizens entering the country.

It reverses a net migration loss of 14,500 in the year ending July 2022.

“The record net migration gain in the July 2023 year follows 12 months of a fully open New Zealand border and equates to a net gain of about 19 people per 1,000 population,” Stats NZ’s Tehseen Islam said.

The previous net migration peak of 91,700 in the March 2020 year was partly due to many travellers prolonging their stay in New Zealand as a result of Covid-19.

However, this year’s figures include a near record loss of New Zealand citizens. Over 39,000 citizens left the country, approaching the record of 44,400 set in the February 2012 year.

How can a candidate be running for two different parties?

Outdoors Party Co-Leader Sue Grey addresses a rally at Parliament on 3 June 2020, attended by people protesting Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown measures, 1080 pesticide use, the rollout of 5G and other conspiracy theories. Photo by Lynn Grievson/Newsroom/Getty

If you were perusing the Policy website, you may notice that Sue Grey, the controversial lawyer turned conspiracy figurehead, is listed as both an electorate candidate for the Outdoors and Freedoms Party in the West Coast Tasman region, while also cropping up on the list for the umbrella movement Freedoms NZ.

It’s not the first time that candidates have cropped up under the banner of different parties in the same election, but it’s an interesting technicality.

I asked Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis to explain how this is allowed to happen:

Under the Electoral Act, a party may register with the Electoral Commission (and thereafter appear on the ballot paper) with a number of “component parties” making up its membership. This is what Freedoms NZ has done – on the register of political parties it lists NZ Outdoors and Freedom Party, Rock the Vote NZ and Vision NZ as being component parties.

The NZ Outdoors and Freedom Party remains a registered political party in its own right. In theory, it could also run a list of candidates and have a place on the ballot paper, but this would obviously be silly as it would split the vote between it and Freedoms NZ.

Hence, Sue Grey is the leader both of Freedoms NZ and the component party, NZ Outdoors and Freedom Party. This isn’t unprecedented. For instance, between 1991 and 2002, Jim Anderton was the leader of the Alliance Party (and was elected to parliament as such), while also being the leader of the New Labour Party (one of the component parties that made up the Alliance Party).

Outdoors Party Co-Leader Sue Grey (Photo by Lynn Grieveson/Newsroom/Getty)

The day ahead

Here’s your look at what’s on the election campaign agenda today:

  • Down in the south, Labour Party leader Chris Hipkins is spending the day in Christchurch. He’s just wrapped up his morning media round and will soon meet with local pharmacists to tout his party’s free prescription policy. Later, he’ll join volunteers for a walkabout and visit Rollickin’ Gelato for the requisite appearance scooping ice cream. This afternoon he’ll speak at the Canterbury Cancer Centre.
  • It’s been an early morning for National Party leader Christopher Luxon as well. He’s been with volunteers in Petone this morning and Lower Hutt. He’s visiting Mexicano Corn Chips in Taita this morning and will then return to parliament to prepare for this afternoon’s Prefu.
  • Green co-leader James Shaw is this morning celebrating the launch of 44 electric buses in Auckland.

Moving away from the political leaders, today is also Prefu day. That’s the pre-election fiscal update and will reveal the state of the government’s books ahead of election day. That’s due out at 1pm. We’ll have all the details shortly after that and can expect reaction from across the political spectrum.

Labour MP faces complaint over election brochure

Shanan Halbert meet shoppers at the Northcote Shopping Centre on June 7, 2018 (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Labour MP Shanan Halbert​ is facing a complaint to the advertising watchdog over claims made in an election brochure being distributed around the Northcote electorate.

Halbert’s campaigning to retain the Auckland seat that he won by about 3,000 votes during the 2020 election.

In the advert, as reported by Stuff’s Tova O’Brien, Halbert claims Labour has secured “1,700 new warm, dry homes as part of the Northcote Development”. But those new homes aren’t due to be completed until 2026.

In 2020, Halbert faced similar complaints over a brochure that stated the government had built “over 600 houses” in the Northcote community, when in reality it was just 74.

Halbert said he stood by the flyer as it referenced both things he had achieved over the past terms and pledges he had made for the future.

The issue was raised during the prime minister’s media run this morning. Chris Hipkins told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking he wasn’t aware of the advert but believed it was acceptable to advertise on things that had been promised.

But by the time he appeared on Newshub’s AM, Hipkins appeared to have been fully briefed on the situation. “1,700 new homes is something we can be incredibly proud of,” he said. “The [Advertising Standards Authority] will have a look at it but I’m not going to make an apology that we are campaigning on things we are going to do as well as things we have already done.”

A handful of Labour MPs and candidates have faced claims of misleading or hyperbolic remarks during this election campaign, such as Willie Jackson claiming National would “get rid of” the minimum wage and Andrew Little saying the opposition would “sack all the teachers”.

Shanan Halbert meet shoppers at the Northcote Shopping Centre
Shanan Halbert meet shoppers at the Northcote Shopping Centre on June 7, 2018 (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Labour pledges free cervical screening

Labour is promising it will make cervical screening services free to all women and people with a cervix aged 25-69 years if elected. Research done for the National Cervical Screening Programme in 2019 found over 85% of people who develop cervical cancer in New Zealand either have never been screened or have been screened infrequently.

Alex Casey did a great job explaining the current situation, in March this year. Unlike breast and bowel cancer screening, which are free for those who are most affected by the diseases, the lack of fully funded cervical screening costs has persisted as an anomaly. “The current screening programme is delivered by primary care and has never been fully funded with most people making a co-payment that can be up to $100,” said Labour’s women’s health spokesperson Willow-Jean Prime. Te Whatu Ora is also rolling out the new cervical screening self-test today, called HPV Primary Screening, which has been proven to identify those at a higher risk for human papilloma virus (responsible for 99% of all cervical cancers) much earlier than the current test. Casey has you covered again, with this explainer on how it works.

Hipkins campaigns on ‘mood for change’ – and says he’s offering it

Chris Hipkins at the Labour Party campaign launch, Aotea Centre, Auckland. Photo: Fiona Goodall/Getty

Chris Hipkins says there is a “mood for change” in New Zealand – but has argued that his party is offering that change.

Last night’s Newshub Reid Research poll showed the mood for change appeared to be swinging in favour of National, and quite significantly. The party was up into the early 40s, with Labour now trailing by 14 points in the mid-20s. When support parties are added in, the right bloc of National and Act would hold a comfortable majority.

After being introduced against the backdrop of Elton John’s “I’m still standing”, Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking pressed Hipkins on why the poll had showed such a surge for National.

“The polls are not where we need to be, we’ve got a job to turn those numbers around over the next five weeks. Yes, we’re going to be campaigning on the risk of a change of government,” Hipkins said this morning.

“I recognise that the party as a whole is not connecting with the public… I acknowledge it’s been a difficult time for New Zealand but there is reason for optimism. I do acknowledge there is a mood for change as well, we’re offering change as well.”

Hipkins took aim at the “coalition of cuts and chaos” over on Newshub’s AM and suggested some of National’s rise in support had come from Act as opposed to Labour. Act was down two points, but Labour was down nearly six. “The campaign is just starting and I acknowledge we were the latest to this… we’ve had some big challenges as a government that we’ve been dealing with,” he said.

Chris Hipkins at the Labour Party campaign launch, Aotea Centre, Auckland. Photo: Fiona Goodall/Getty

Asked on RNZ why Labour’s major policy announcements haven’t resonated with the public, Hipkins said he believed a lot of people still weren’t aware of those pledges. And he believed people weren’t aware of the risks from a National-Act government either. “A National-Act-New Zealand First government wants to turn the clock back and readopt many of the policies that got us into this mess in the first place,” he said. “They want to turn the clock back and pretend the mistakes we’ve learnt from as a country never happened.”

This afternoon’s Prefu – the pre-election fiscal update – will confirm the state of the government’s books ahead of October 14. While Hipkins wouldn’t pre-empt the release of that information, he told Newstalk ZB there was reason for optimism. “The international ratings agencies have indicated they’re confident New Zealand is in a good shape to rebound. They’ve given us a big tick,” he said.