Election Live, September 30: Ardern and Collins go head to head in second leaders’ debate

Welcome to The Spinoff’s Election Live for September 30, bringing you the latest on election 2020 and other NZ news. The essential campaign dates are here. For all you need to know about the cannabis referendum click here. For the assisted dying referendum click here. Explore the parties’ pledges at Policy. I’m on stewart@thespinoff.co.nz

9.10pm: That’s a wrap

The debate proper is over now, with some post-match analysis coming up on the telly, so we’ll leave the live updates there. But stay tuned to thespinoff.co.nz for the verdicts from our cracking team of political pundits.

BTW: Ardern was posting to her Instagram in the ad breaks:

9.00pm: Peters, Trump, and lols

Asked whether Winston Peters was goneburger, Collins quipped, to laughs from the audience: “As a Christian I do believe in miracles, but he ain’t going to be one of them.”

(For more on Collins’ theological perspective, see Hayden Donnell’s take from earlier today.)

Gower moved on to world politics, asking the leaders about Donald Trump. Ardern refused to say he was a dangerous influence, saying if the democratic process delivered him, she would work with him.

Collins then said Trump had been doing better than all previous US presidents on working with Israel and avoiding war.

Gower asked each leader to describe each other’s brands, with Collins damning Ardern with faint praise: “I think she means well… she’s a good communicator.”

Ardern said Collins was “very assertive in a debate”, to which Collins responded “damn right”.

Asked if she’d ever referred to Collins, in private, as “Crusher”, Ardern said no, to which Collins replied, “oh, isn’t that sweet”, with Ardern muttering “I’ve used other words”. Much laughter ensued.

Gower then fired a round of quick questions at the leaders. Should we change New Zealand’s name to Aotearoa? Both leaders said not right now. Should we have four year electoral terms? Both said yes.

Asked about Gloriavale, Collins said “I think it sounds really weird”.

8.45pm: Judith Collins doesn’t believe in communism

Gower asked the pair how many times a week they eat meat. Both said a couple, but when Gower clarified that fish was included, they both indicated it was more.

Neither party leader was keen to confront the indisputable fact that meat consumption contributes to climate change, with Ardern careful to avoid alienating any carnivorous potential voters watching, saying if people wanted to eat meat, “let’s be the meat they choose” (presumably meaning meat from New Zealand, rather than her human constituents). She did concede that for health reasons, “there’s nothing wrong with New Zealanders cutting back on meat”.

Things got a big weird at this point, with Collins saying, in reference to the idea that people should perhaps eat less meat, that she didn’t believe in communism.

Both leaders sparred over whether to declare a climate emergency, with an exasperated Ardern turning to Collins, who spoke about the importance of oil and gas, asking, “What’s your plan”? Collins replied: “What for, dear”?

“The world is changing, unfortunately Judith Collins doesn’t want to change with it,” said Ardern.

Collins, looking to reference a famous quote from Ronald Reagan during his 1984 debate, said: “If she’s bringing up my age, I’ll bring up my experience.”

“It’s not age, it’s ideology, and yours is outdated,” retorted Ardern.

8.35pm: Gimme one word…

Gower asked the leaders to describe director general of health Ashley Bloomfield in one word. Collins said she’d never met him, but went with “competent”, while Ardern chose “considered”.

Asked to describe New Zealand’s health system, Collins opted for “generally a good system”, which is generally not regarded as one word. Ardern said “broken”. Collins denied the health system was racist, but did say “there are some racist people in New Zealand”.

8.30pm: Ardern says Green School funding was right thing to do

Gower asked the leaders about their thoughts on te reo Māori, with Ardern saying her own learning journey hadn’t progressed as far as she would like. She admitted that in her heart, she would like to see compulsory te reo in schools.

Collins said, “I want all New Zealanders to want to learn te reo with their children. Many New Zealand families are happy for their family to learn te reo.” Asked if she needed to improve her own efforts with the language, Collins said she probably did, adding that her MP Harete Hipango was doing her best with her but “it’s a work in progress”.

Asked about the Green School fiasco that prompted Greens co-leader James Shaw to apologise, Ardern said she believed it was the right thing to do to fund the school, because it was an infrastructure project that would create many jobs. Collins laughed heartily.

8.20pm: Secret ad break intel

Toby Manhire reports from the audience:

During the break David Talbot, Ardern’s pollster, has joined her on the stage for a pep talk. He’s glancing at his phone and grinning. Judith Collins popped off to the wings so I can’t tell you whom she’s chatting with.

8.15pm: Child abuse and cannabis

Asked if they would remove the right to silence in child abuse cases, Collins gave an emphatic yes, getting a round of applause from the undecided audience who had hitherto reserved their claps for Ardern, who, conversely, said she wouldn’t remove the right to silence.

On gangs, Collins said she’d set up a “gang squad” and implement firearms prohibition orders. Ardern said she’d address “the desperation that leads to our young people thinking that’s a future”, which garnered a few whoops from the crowd. 

Things got heated at this point, with Collins saying gang membership had increased 30% while the Labour government had been in power, and Ardern countering by saying police numbers had declined on Collins’ watch as police minister – and she had ”no credibility”. 

Gower then moved to the cannabis referendum, asking both leaders whether they’d tried it. Collins said no, Ardern said yes, a long time ago. 

Collins said she’d be voting no in the referendum, and Ardern continued to refuse to say which way she’d go – to the obvious frustration of Gower.

8.00pm: Zingers galore

After the first commercial break, Gower asked the leaders about large companies posting big profits after claiming the wage subsidy, as The Spinoff’s Duncan Greive wrote about here.

Ardern said it was morally wrong, but she wouldn’t change the law to make them pay it back. Collins, on the other hand, would change the law so they had to pay it back.

The leaders sparred over government debt, talking over each other in a far fierier exchange than any seen in the first debate. Both said they would build the economy to pay the debt back, with Collins pushing her tax cut policy, and Ardern retorting by calling it an irresponsible “sugar hit”.

Collins clearly rankled Ardern at one point, with the latter tersely saying, “Judith, if I may, modelling a little bit of good behaviour on the stage if I may.”

As Gower tried to cut to the commercial break, the pair continued to spar, with Ardern jibing “deep breath”, and Collins responding, as Gower said the cannabis referendum would be discussed next, “that’ll be a deep breath”.

7.45pm: Ardern comes out firing

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has interrupted National’s Judith Collins three times as often in the first 10 minutes of this debate as she did in the entire first debate, on one occasion prompting Collins to admonish, “Manners!”

It’s a clear change in tact for the current prime minister, who was described by commentator Ben Thomas as “strangely hesitant” last time.

Tonight’s debate opened with facilitator Paddy Gower proposing a hypothetical scenario in which director general of health Ashley Bloomfield informs the prime minister – be that Ardern or Collins – that community transmission is back, this time in Christchurch. What would you do?

Collins began, saying she’d put Christchurch into lockdown but not the rest of the country, but insisting there would be much better contact tracing and border control under her reign.

Ardern said she’d move Christchurch to level three and the rest of the country to level two, as happened when community transmission reemerged in Auckland in August. When Gower said that would restrict everyone’s family gatherings to 10 people, she responded that that was better than not spending time together at all because of Covid-19 casualties.

Collins said she’d take the advice of health officials but would be reluctant to place restrictions on the rest of the country, and Ardern cut in to say that would be to do what she would – level three for the city with community transmission and two for the rest of the country, adding that following public pressure to keep the rest of the country open would be putting people at risk.

Asked about a Pacific travel bubble, Collins repeatedly mentioned Sāmoa, but resisted the urge to throw in a “so tālofa”.

Leaders’ debate bingo (or drinking game if you insist)

If you’re tuning into Newshub’s leaders’ debate that’s happening right now, don’t forget you can turn your watching experience into a fun game with our handy bingo card, designed by the one and only Toby Morris. If you’re some form of weeknight hedonist, you may wish to turn it into a drinking game.

7.30pm: The debate kicks off

The Spinoff’s editor Toby Manhire is in the audience of the debate. He’s sent this dispatch:

I’m at Q Theatre where they’re spreading the 100 audience around the room. Patrick Gower, the debate host, is chatting with the crowd, most of whom are undecided voters. Annabelle Lee-Mather, Mihi Forbes, Mike McRoberts and Sam Hayes are here, not sure if they’re undecided voters or not but they’re immaculately dressed. The format is in the round, with Gower, Ardern and Collins all standing at podiums.

7.00pm: What to expect in the second leaders’ debate

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and National leader Judith Collins will face off in the second leaders’ debate of the campaign at 7.30pm tonight on Newshub.

Last week’s debate on TVNZ was a fairly uninspiring affair, most memorable for Collins’ now iconic “so tālofa” comment and the complete absence of any reference to anything Māori.

Will tonight’s head-to-head, presided over by Paddy Gower and with a real live audience – as opposed to last week’s John Campbell-helmed, audience-less affair – bring forth more zingers? Here’s hoping. The Spinoff’s deputy editor Alice Neville will be watching in the office and bringing you updates here, while editor Toby Manhire will be in the audience downtown at Q Theatre – along with, apparently, the Taxpayers’ Union’s “debt monster”, seen below parking his car nearby.

6.45pm: ‘Move to NZ’ searches surge during Trump-Biden debate

Google data shows a significant increase in people in the United States searching the words “move to New Zealand” today – coinciding with the chaotic debate between presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

According to TVNZ, it was searched more times in the two-hour period of the debate than at any other point within the last week, with most interest coming from Hawai’i, Oregon and Colorado.

5.30pm: ‘A hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a trainwreck’

Our video wizard José Barbosa has collated the best reactions to the absolute shitshow that was this afternoon’s US presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden – which was, ah, yeah. Just watch the video.

3.30pm: A video you need to see

I was in the room when Winston Peters revealed New Zealand First was taking the SFO to court, and the three minutes it took for him to start speaking were the longest of my life.

Here, José Barbosa provides an insight into Peters’ mind during those 180 seconds.

3.00pm: RNZ, Stuff, challenging name suppression in NZ First Foundation donations case

Let’s head away from the insanity of the US presidential election and come back home.

RNZ and Stuff are heading to court to try reveal the identities of the two people charged by the Serious Fraud Office in relation to the NZ First Foundation donations investigation.

The two people cannot be named due to an interim name suppression order, but the SFO confirmed they are not sitting MPs, candidates or party members.

2.30pm: ‘Keep yapping, man’ – US debate instantly becomes chaos

The first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden has turned to chaos approximately three minutes after it started.

Moderator Chris Wallace introduced the two candidates and began discussion on Trump’s Supreme Court selection, Amy Coney Barrett. Very quickly, however, the debate devolved into President Trump repeatedly talking over Biden and the moderator.

Biden, as exasperated as those of us watching, told the president to “shut up” and then encouraged him to “keep yapping”. You can’t make this up.

1.30pm: Watch – Trump and Biden go head-to-head

The first 2020 presidential debate will be live in about half an hour’s time. We’ll have coverage here on Election Live and across The Spinoff this afternoon, and you can tune in below.

Watch here:

1.00pm: One new Covid-19 case, in managed isolation

For the fifth day in a row there are no new community cases of Covid-19 to report.

The Ministry of Health’s announced one new case in managed isolation: a person who arrived from France via Singapore on September 25. They tested positive on around day three of their time in managed isolation and have been transferred to the Auckland quarantine facility.

There are 17 people isolating in the Auckland quarantine facility from the community, which includes nine people who have tested positive for Covid-19 and their household contacts.

One person remains in Middlemore hospital, in isolation on a general ward.

Since August 11, contact tracing team has identified 4,073 close contacts of cases. All have been contacted and are self-isolating or have completed self-isolation. This number has dropped since yesterday due to records being identified as duplicates in the system, the ministry said.

There are now just 44 active cases in the country, with 12 previously reported cases considered to have recovered. Of those, 30 are imported cases in managed isolation facilities, and 14 are community cases.

The total number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 is now 1,480. Yesterday, 4,969 tests were processed, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 960,559.

12.45pm: Another zero day? Ministry to give Covid-19 update

Yesterday saw another day with no new community cases of Covid-19. It’s been five days since the last case outside of managed isolation – a household contact who was in self-isolation.

As RNZ reports, that’s been the only case linked to the Auckland cluster in the last two weeks.

The Ministry of Health will be sending out its update at around 1pm and I’ll have all the details for you here.

12.30pm: You can vote now (if you’re overseas)

Advance voting opens in New Zealand on Saturday, but if you’re an eligible voter abroad, you can do so in the general election and referendums now.

If you’re one of the roughly 67,000 voters enrolled at an overseas address, your best option is to download and print voting papers here and then upload them to the site.

In some countries, voting in person at an overseas voting place will also be an option, but “there won’t be as many overseas voting places open to the public as usual, which reflects what is happening overseas with Covid-19. The situation is different in each country and we need to follow local guidance to keep voters and staff safe,” said the chief electoral officer, Alicia Wright, in a statement.

A full list of voting places, information and options can be found here.

12.10pm: Poll shows Labour up on East Coast, National hits back

A new poll showing Labour’s East Coast candidate ahead of National’s has been labelled “dodgy” by the Opposition.

The poll, published in the Rotorua Daily Post and commissioned by Labour, has Kiri Allan on just over 40%, compared to National’s Tania Tapsell on 35%. It’s the first time in 15-years that a Labour candidate has polled ahead of National’s in the seat.

However, it’s prompted a critical response from National’s deputy leader Gerry Brownlee, who has questioned the methodology of the poll.

“The poll was conducted for the Labour Party by controversial political research company Community Engagement Limited,” Brownlee has claimed.

“Australia’s Sunday Telegraph uncovered Community Engagement Limited was conducting push polling in key marginal seats in last year’s Australian Federal Election, asking loaded questions about Labor’s political opponents to gain sham poll results, which would then turn up in the media.”

It’s claimed by Brownlee that the company is run in New Zealand by two ex-Young Labour presidents, one of whom works in a taxpayer-funded role in Jacinda Ardern’s office.

Brownlee said Labour has “serious questions to answer” if it is using push polling, which he called a “dodgy and coercive political tactic”.

“Labour’s campaign is faltering and leaking push polls to try to get candidates over the line is pretty desperate stuff,” Brownlee said.

The poll also showed Labour leading for the party vote in the East Coast seat, at 50%, with National sitting second at 31%.

11.45am: Trump to take on Biden in first presidential debate

Deputy editor Catherine McGregor writes:

This time four years ago, it was political neophyte Donald J Trump vs Washington veteran Hilary Clinton and the talk of the night was Trump’s “birther” attacks on Barack Obama, Clinton’s “lack of stamina”, and Trump’s tax returns.

Today (at 2pm NZ time), when President Trump meets former vice president Joe Biden in the first of three presidential debates, the subjects sure to come up include the president’s response to the pandemic, Biden’s “lack of stamina” – and Trump’s tax returns.

The latter issue broke back into the headlines on Monday, when the New York Times announced it had acquired the tax documents Trump had long kept hidden, publishing a bombshell investigation that revealed Trump had paid only US$750 in federal taxes for the first two years of his presidency, while carrying debt of more than US$421m.

Biden is sure to use the revelations as a cudgel to attack Trump as out of touch with blue-collar workers, and as a failed businessman who has failed to protect the US economy.

Meanwhile the Trump camp, having belatedly realised that lowering expectations of Biden by painting him as senile was not great campaign strategy, is now arguing that a strong showing by him today will be the result of performance-enhancing drugs, being fed the questions in advance, or through the use of an earpiece.

The latter conspiracy theory sprang up in a coordinated Facebook campaign earlier today, and was quickly amplified by Fox News and then by the Trump campaign itself.

Today’s debate will be 90 minutes without any commercial breaks. The moderator is Chris Wallace, who works for Fox News – but who also a few months gave Trump one of the most brutal grillings of his presidency – and the debate topics he’s chosen are “The Trump and Biden Records,” “The Supreme Court,” “Covid-19,” “The Economy,” “Race and Violence in our Cities” and “The Integrity of the Election”. Expect fireworks.

11.30am: National’s $3000 tax cut claim ‘mostly false’

National promised its policy of temporarily cutting taxes would see New Zealanders earning between $50,000 and $70,000 get an extra $3000 back in their pockets.

However, an AAP fact check report has debunked this claim, reporting that many middle income earners wouldn’t receive this much back from the tax cut.

“To get a $3000 benefit from the tax changes, a person would need to have an income of over $62,640,” AAP claimed.

Using the National Party’s own tax calculator, it was determined that someone on an income of $50,000 would have a total tax saving of $893, while those on $60,000 would save $2,560.

11.10am: Cutting benefits off the table – Collins

Talk of a National-Act coalition has increased over the past few weeks, with David Seymour’s party creeping up the polls to become the third highest party.

Yesterday, Judith Collins confirmed David Seymour could become deputy prime minister in a prospective coalition. However, she’s today ruled out implementing Act’s controversial benefit cuts.

“We’re not going down a cutting of benefits for people who can’t put food on the table, we’re not going to go down that mine,” Collins told RNZ this morning.

However, Collins suggested there were a few topics the two parties could agree on. “Particularly around RMA reforms, around freeing up housing, getting people into houses in the first place by allowing the private sector to do its job,” she said.

10.40am: Act would slash DHB numbers by more than half

The Act Party’s launched its health policy this morning, with leader David Seymour calling for an independent review of Pharmac’s operating model and cuts to the number of District Health Boards.

“The decisions made by Pharmac can mean life or death. Having access to the right medicines can make the difference in someone’s quality of life, whether they experience chronic pain or whether they’re able to work.  We have to get this right,” Seymour said.

“The Pharmac model and operating framework was set up 27 years ago and there have been no material changes to it since then.”

The party’s also calling for a cut to “bureaucracy” in the health system, including a reduction in the number of DHBs from 20 to six – four in the North Island and two in the South.

“This will save approximately $50 million per year in overhead costs which can be put towards patient care,” Seymour claimed.

“We would implement a national fully integrated IT platform for healthcare procurement and the supply chain. There are many IT and procurement conflicts between too many DHB’s which is jeopardizing patient care. We can do better, and quickly.

On the campaign trail

Here’s where our political leaders are. Spoiler, they’re all in Auckland:

  • Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern and National Party leader Judith Collins are in Auckland today ahead of tonight’s Newshub leaders’ debate.
  • New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is also in Auckland, touring Mangere, Otahuhu and Onehunga (including a visit to Dress Smart).
  • Act Party leader David Seymour is launching the party’s health policy this morning in Auckland with deputy Brooke van Velden.
  • Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson is in Ōwairaka this morning for a public event at Māra Hūpara, Traditional Māori Playground. In the afternoon she’ll be in Ponsonby for a series of visits, before appearing on the Child Wellbeing Election Forum panel in the evening. James Shaw is in Porirua, before heading up the coast to Ōtaki.

8.05am: Debate day – Ardern and Collins to face off again

Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins will be going head-to-head for the second time in tonight’s Newshub leaders’ debate.

It follows two more polls – one showing Labour could govern alone, and another showing they’d need the support of the Greens. Neither poll saw a route to power for National.

Speaking on Newstalk ZB today, Collins warned Ardern against “upping the sass”. There’s been some suggestion Ardern might choose to go on the defensive in tonight’s debate, following a more subdued performance last week.

Collins also asked Ardern to “correct the record” over comments she made about the Serious Fraud Office.

“There’s obviously a little history there with the Opposition leader [Collins] and the SFO – as a previous minister, her engagement with the SFO led to her job loss,” Ardern said yesterday. The comments, though technically accurate, prompted Collins to say she was “disgusted”.

Meanwhile, a new NZ Herald poll released today showed that a majority of respondents trusted Labour to handle the Covid-19 response and keep the virus out of New Zealand, but more believed National could rebuild the economy.

7.45am: ‘One law for NZ First’ – Peters responds to SFO charges

Winston Peters said it seems like it’s “one law for New Zealand First and different applications of law for everyone else”, following the announcement that charges had been laid against two people related to the NZ First Foundation. Peters and the party had attempted to stop the announcement coming out until after the election, in a move that was rejected by the court.

Now, he’s announced the party will be taking the Serious Fraud Office to court over allegations that it had abused its statutory powers (see more in The Bulletin).

Two people have been charged with “obtaining by deception” in relation to donations provided to the New Zealand First Foundation. Neither is a minister, sitting MP, or candidate in the upcoming election (or a member of their staff), or a current member of the New Zealand First party.

Appearing on Newstalk ZB, Peters criticised the SFO’s decision to announce the decision about his party so close to the election, when there remains ongoing investigations into National and Labour.

Strictly speaking, the SFO has already laid charges in relation to the National Party donations investigation, with a trial date set for next year. However, an investigation in relation to donations made to the Labour Party in 2017 is ongoing.

“The timing of its decision to lay charges against the foundation constitutes a James Comey-level error of judgment,” Peters told a press conference last night.

Questioned on whether he had shot himself in the foot by having a foundation in the first place, Peters said: “the foundation is the same design and identical structure… as the National Party’s foundation.”

7.40am: Top stories from The Bulletin

Just days before voting starts, we got an update yesterday on the Serious Fraud Office investigation into the NZ First Foundation. Toby Manhire has put together a cheat sheet with all the information we got at 5pm yesterday evening, along with the background of the issue. The SFO put out a statement, and I’ll quote it here in full, because it is a short one:

The SFO has filed a charge of ‘Obtaining by Deception’ against two defendants in the New Zealand First Foundation electoral funding case. The charges were filed on 23 September.

The defendants have interim name suppression and so cannot be named or identified at this time. We note, however, that neither defendant is a Minister, sitting MP, or candidate in the upcoming election (or a member of their staff), or a current member of the New Zealand First party.

The SFO has no further comment.

In a press conference, NZ First leader Winston Peters said the lack of charges against anyone within the party amounted to a complete exoneration of NZ First, and denounced the timing saying it “raised serious questions about the Serious Fraud Office.” He said NZ First lawyers would be taking the SFO to court on allegations that it had abused its statutory powers. He also insisted that the NZ First Foundation is completely separate from the party itself. “Total exoneration for everyone in my party is clarity, and I’m happy with that,” said Peters. Political editor Barry Soper told Newstalk ZB that the party had attempted to gag the SFO from releasing details of the charges that were filed until after the election.

The suggestion that the NZ First Foundation is completely different to the party is a bold one. The two trustees of said foundation are Peters’ personal lawyer Brian Henry, and former NZ First MP Doug Woolerton. As Radio NZ reported last year, the foundation also made loans totalling almost $200,000 over several years to the party itself. Electoral law expert Andrew Geddis said last night on Checkpoint that the nature of the foundation was unique, and that the foundation in his opinion was “set up as a shadow way of gaining donations and running the party.” If you’d rather read the thoughts of Professor Geddis than listen to them, we’ve published an article by him on The Spinoff.

7.30am: Yesterday’s key stories

The Serious Fraud Office announced it had charged two people in connection with its investigation into donations and loans made by the NZ First Foundation. No NZ First MPs, employees nor candidates were charged, and leader Winston Peters said the party had been fully exonerated.

However Peters vowed to take legal action against the SFO, arguing that the timing of the announcement so close to the election was deeply unfair to the party.

Meanwhile National said it would rename the SFO the ‘Serious Fraud and Anti-Corruption Agency’ and double its funding if elected next month.

In a raft of health policy announcements, Labour said it would raise the emergency dental grant to $1000 for people on low incomes, make mental health support available to all primary and intermediate school students, and increase funding to Pharmac by $200 million.

There were two new cases of Covid-19, both in managed isolation.

The man who escaped managed isolation by means of a bedsheet rope spent around eight hours exploring different parts of Auckland on foot, it was revealed.

Advance NZ filed an injunction against Mediaworks over the party’s exclusion from this weekend’s minor party debate.

Public transport would be free nationwide for those under 18 or over 65, and half price for students, under the Greens’ transport policy.

Read yesterday’s top stories here.



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