A wide view of the Auckland University Debating Society election debate (Alex Braae)

Every moment that mattered in the year’s first real election debate

We’ve just had a taste of how the election campaign is going to go this year, with a raw and rowdy debate at the University of Auckland. Alex Braae recaps it.

Unfortunately for voters, one of the most exciting versions of these big, multi-party free for alls has now already been and gone. Every year, the University of Auckland Debating Society holds a version of this, and it’s always a bit ruckus. This year there was extra edge, stemming from the fact that everyone involved is basically fighting for their political careers. Seven politicians were on the stage, and a fair few of them are going to finish the year either not in parliament, or worse – twiddling their thumbs in opposition.

The auditorium wasn’t a space for detailed policy prescriptions or analysis of how parties with opposing views could find common ground. No, this was about combat, and not just with each other – the politicians also had to deal with legions of young activists hoping to make a name for themselves with a good sledge. Here are the highlights.

Jack Tame’s land acknowledgement introduction.

What an orator – he should be running. He began by describing himself as the third choice host, and negged The Spinoff editor Toby Manhire as the “thinking man’s Paddy Gower.” Folks, it’s all true.

Tracey Martin performing some incredible debating judo on a Green supporter noting Shane Jones’ recent racist comments.

Honestly, it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Martin appeared to be totally trapped, waffling on about how not everything written in the media could be believed, before stunning the audience by saying “Shane Jones was wrong.” Of course, she clarified by saying he was referring to a historical situation, and was wrong to not note that – but somehow it took all of the sting out of what should have been a disaster. 

Tracey Martin following up later on by telling the Young Greens off for accusing NZ First of blocking climate action.

Earlier in the night, she warned Jack Tame that she knew his mother. Then she pretty much told the entire Young Green contingent that she had dinner with their father (James Shaw) regularly.

Geoff Simmons speaking extremely slowly in his introduction.

The TOP party leader only started talking fast when pointing out the various social channels potential voters could follow the party on. It…. was…. rather…. odd….

Elliot Ikilei’s vocal projection.

I’m pretty sure the New Conservative deputy leader’s microphone wasn’t even turned on for his introduction, and he still managed to get heard over the fairly regular boos.

David Seymour opening with a Ben Harper quote.

Bloody hippie.

The boring question and answer session about the government’s economic response to coronavirus.

The moment when Jack Tame forgot he wasn’t on Q&A. Bombed terribly, no fun.

The uncomfortable thoughtfulness that accompanied the discussion of the End of Life Choice bill.

For a brief moment, pretty much everyone on the stage was transformed. They were no longer hacks and bastards, they were people facing incredibly difficult choices, who somehow had to navigate through them every day. The heckling stopped. People really, truly listened to what those they disagreed with had to say. Fortunately, it didn’t last.

The moment when Ricardo Menendez March started getting heckled.

The Green representative arguably had the least claim to being on stage, as he was neither an MP nor in a leadership position in his party. And for the first half he seemed a bit over-awed. Then someone in the audience broke into his answer about social housing – “how are you going to pay for it?” And March came alive, suddenly enthusiastic and animated in discussing exactly how property owners should be heavily taxed on capital gains.

Jack Tame ruthlessly using the audience as a setup to a tough question.

“Show of hands – who here is middle class?” he asked. Almost all of the hands went up. Then he turned to Labour’s Michael Wood – “so, why should the taxpayer be subsidising the middle class through free university fees?”

John Tamihere not even bothering to turn up.

Treated both the voters and a University Debating Club with the respect that he clearly feels they deserve (perhaps correct on both counts?) 

The moment in which a whole lot of Young Greens cheered at Goldsmith’s suggestion that the government had blocked more housing (at Ihumātao) than they had built (through Kiwibuild)

Clapping at the explicit moment when someone talks about housing being blocked amid a wider housing crisis is pretty alienating, no matter the circumstances. 

The moment when Young ACT absolutely erupted at David Seymour listing other cities experiencing housing crises of their own.

I mean, far be it from me to accuse ACT on Campus members of being tone-deaf, but if anything they outdid the Young Greens here. 

Geoff Simmons driving a wedge between ACT leader David Seymour and ACT on Campus.

Simmons liked the ACT on Campus policy to legalise drugs, and he was very, very sorry to see David Seymour didn’t feel the same way. 

The woman who screamed when National was mentioned as the current highest-polling party.

Settle down, there’ll be no enthusiasm left for the campaign trail at this rate.

The guy sitting in front of me who at one stage threw his head back in laughter with such enthusiasm that he bashed his skull on those folding lecture theatre desks behind him.

That’s the spirit, lad, you don’t need those brain cells. 

Michael Wood calmly demolishing a bag of potato chips before the debate got underway. 

Looked like Ready Salted from a distance, which is objectively one of the lesser flavours. Wood still went hundies on them. I couldn’t see if he offered one to Tracey Martin, but I’m going to assume he didn’t. Coalition problems? Probably.

The moment in which Michael Wood came extremely close to saying “we live in a society”. 

You love to see it. 

Youth turnout:

The auditorium wasn’t full, and in fairness it was a big room. But still, it’s election year. It would be a real shame if youth interest in politics was totally confined to relentlessly partisan enthusiasts.



The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.