Jacinda Ardern launching Labour's re-election campaign at the Auckland Town Hall (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Now the election campaign really starts

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Labour launches campaign while National releases list, frantic final days at parliament wrapped, and new poll shows Shane Jones in trouble in Northland.

Some would say the campaign has been underway for months in a proxy form, but officially, it’s now all on. The parliamentary term has finished, and press releases from the government are now coming out on party letterheads, rather than their ministerial stationery. As such, today’s Bulletin will be almost entirely focused on election stuff (at least in the first half) and tomorrow we’ll get back into some other news.

The Labour Party has held a rally at the Auckland Town Hall to launch their campaign. Toby Manhire was there, and it was clear from Jacinda Ardern’s speech that she intended to run on the record of Covid-19, and other such crises over the term. According to the piece, it was a simultaneously more confident, and more muted event compared to the party’s 2017 launch.

After all, the Labour Party still hasn’t really come out with all that much new policy to take into the election. In some ways, that’s understandable – their record in government is what they’ll run on, after all. But not everyone is welcoming the ‘small-target’ approach – in particular, Newsroom’s Bernard Hickey argued last week that Jacinda Ardern’s government could achieve so much more with the political capital they currently have, rather than opt to run as competent managers of the status quo. There was one new policy announcement – a $300 million package aimed at helping unemployed people into jobs, which as Newshub reports is effectively an extension of a previous National initiative.

Speaking of National, that party now has a list to take into the election. The NZ Herald’s Amelia Wade has taken a useful look through who is up and who is down, and there will be a lot of MPs or highly touted candidates who (on current polling) will have no choice but to win their constituency. One surprise rise in the list is profiled by Newsroom’s Sam Sachdeva – 26th placed chartered accountant Nancy Lu. Among the big falls is list MP Alfred Ngaro, who last year flirted with the idea of setting up a breakaway party of his own – he’s likely going to have to beat Phil Twyford in Te Atatu to remain in parliament.

Meanwhile, the party has picked a new candidate to run in the Rangitata electorate, in place of disgraced MP Andrew Falloon. The winner of the nominations is Environment Canterbury councillor Megan Hands, who has a background in farming and environmental management. The Timaru Herald reports that one reason she has for standing is to see more mothers in parliament. There’s still no word on a candidate to run in Nikki Kaye’s old seat of Auckland Central.


An exciting development for The Spinoff: We’ve now got merch for sale! You can check out everything we’ve got on offer here, but among other things we’ve got tea towels, pens, coffee cups, and T-shirts for sale. You can also buy copies of The Spinoff Book, which we released at the end of last year, featuring dozens of the best pieces of writing to appear on the site over our first five years.


The last day of the parliamentary term was a pretty hefty one. Justin Giovannetti was there to see a range of law changes get signed in, from the heaviest of possible topics, to the likes of expanding the movie classification system to on demand platforms. In all, the government passed “about 190” pieces of legislation over the course of their term, which as a number isn’t really here nor there – because as the piece notes, everyone also had to grapple with some massive challenges and crises over the last three years.

Meanwhile, Andrew Geddis took the time to write about one of the laws that got repealed last week – part 4A of the Public Health and Disability Act. He explains the significance here:

“I know that doesn’t sound very exciting. However, for some people – the family members of profoundly disabled individuals who spend their lives providing their loved ones with care and protection – it is a really big deal. And for the rest of us, it represents one of those moments when we can see why political activism of all kinds actually matters.”


Can Shane Jones win Northland for NZ First, and in doing so keep his party in parliament? On results from a Colmar Brunton Q+A poll released yesterday morning, the answer would appear to be no, continuing a long run of never actually Jones never actually winning a seat. He was languishing on just 15%, behind National’s Matt King on 46%, and Labour’s Willow-Jean Prime on 31%. A note on the poll – it only took in about 500 voters, as opposed to most nationwide polls which are more like 1000, so there’s a reasonable margin of error there – Winston Peters has already come out and called it “unscientific”.

An interesting angle on it all – the party vote was also taken, and Labour was outpolling National. In fact, King’s personal support was almost ten points ahead of his party. There’s been a reasonable amount of discussion about what a nationwide party vote swing against National could mean for individual electorate MPs, and I wonder if this is a sign that many of them will personally survive. That in turn raises the very remote possibility of an ‘overhang’ – in which there end up being more than 120 MPs in parliament. Of course, it’s no good speculating on that until you the voters have decided.


The Green Party has launched a policy aiming to eliminate the oversubscribed social housing waiting list within five years, reports Interest. Effectively, they want to greatly extend the borrowing limit for social housing agency Kāinga Ora, so that it can ramp up the number of houses built each year. The social housing waitlist has been hitting new highs with numbing regularity over the last few years, even as more houses get built. The party’s wider housing policy also includes significant new protections for tenants, reports Newsroom.


With Act currently polling higher than they have in decades, the party is right now in line to bring in about 6 MPs. The NZ Herald (paywalled) has looked down the list to give an idea of the backgrounds of the people who could be heading to parliament – be honest, you’ve probably only heard of David Seymour, so this sort of biographical detail is useful. Deputy leader Brooke Van Velden also went on Newshub Nation over the weekend, giving a quick pitch interview about Act’s economic and mental health policies.


Todd Muller has given his first formal interview since resigning from his brief and tumultuous term as National leader. The Bay of Plenty Times (paywalled) journalist Kiri Gillespie got the interview, with Muller about to start campaigning to hold onto the seat. He discussed the anxiety and panic attacks that led to his dramatic resignation, and the recovery process that has followed since.


I think by now people have a pretty clear idea of where I stand on the cannabis referendum. But for those still on the fence, this debate on Newshub Nation might have a clarifying effect. The arguments both for and against legalisation are put by MPs Chlöe Swarbrick and Nick Smith respectively. Neither argues that it’s a good thing for people to smoke cannabis, and I genuinely believe Smith is sincere in his convictions. But the arguments against legalisation basically come down to a combination of prohibition and wishing it away (which has never worked, and never will) while the pro-legalisation side is seeking to control and regulate what already exists.


Three new parties have formally been registered by the Electoral Commission: They are Advance NZ (who we’ve heard a bit about recently,) the Heartland Party, and the TEA Party. Their logos and registration details can be found on the Electoral Commission website.


Finally for this section, I am delighted to hear that a few political parties will also be getting on the road in a very real way. Both NZ First and [redacted party, still under embargo] will be doing nationwide bus tours over the next month, which is by far the best way to campaign, and I hope to cross paths with them at some stage. Remember, if you’ve got events coming up that you reckon I should try and get to, email thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Robyn Malcolm as, from left to right, Cheryl West, Pam in This Town, and Ellen Crozier (Image: Tina Tiller)

Right now on The Spinoff: Toby Manhire reports on high-rolling real estate agents in the US hawking paradisiacal pads in New Zealand. Michael Andrew has a bleak business feature about a previously popular Auckland backpackers that is slowly going under. Laura O’Connell Rapira writes about a short film giving a message from 2040, about what needs to happen now to get there. Freya Sawbridge writes about the reality of long-term Covid illness, which she’s been experiencing since March. Catherine Delahunty writes in anger about the granting of a new mining permit in the Coromandel. Sam Brooks meets Robyn Malcolm, who still has so much more to do.

And in a few other bits of politics:Phoebe Carr and Max Harris argue that managed isolation fees will disproportionately hurt Māori, and is wrong in spirit. Leonie Hayden interviews Marama Davidson, an MP who has to combine being both inside and outside the tent. And Hayden Donnell makes a series of predictions about the upcoming election which, well, it’s Hayden making them, so you be the judge.


For a feature today, a look back at a piece that I think was among the standouts of what The Spinoff produced last time around. We’re going to hear a lot over the course of the next five weeks in terms of promises and pledges, and some will be much more believable than others. But as Danyl Mclauchlan wrote at the time, that’s sort of exactly what the way politics is done has conditioned politicians to do in response. Here’s an excerpt:

When trying to answer Gower’s original question Bill English was clearly aware that he lied all the time – Gower went on to question him about his role in the Todd Barclay affair – but English seemed reluctant to lie about the fact that his role compelled him to lie. “None of us is perfect Paddy,” he admitted before pivoting wildly and gushing, “What’s also important is trust in a team and we’ve got a great team!”

Jacinda Ardern worked in the prime minister’s office under Helen Clark. She’s been an MP in Parliament for nine years and knows that a core requirement of her job is following the unwritten rules and lying convincingly to everyone’s face all the time. She also knows that one of the rules is that she has to pretend this isn’t the case so in answer to Gower’s question she put on a huge, sincere grin and announced, “I believe that it is possible to exist in politics without lying and by telling the truth,” and assuring Gower that she’d “never told a lie in politics”, before spending the rest of the evening effortlessly gliding away from awkward questions, confidently prefacing all of her subterfuge and evasions with “Let me be absolutely clear.”


Something not election related, at long last: It is my sad duty to inform every reader in the North Island that there will be nothing to play for in Super Rugby Aotearoa next weekend, except measly pride. That’s because the Crusaders have put it away with a week to spare, after a typically impressive comeback win over the Highlanders yesterday afternoon. It means they’ve effectively won four titles in a row, and puts Scott Robertson right into the conversation as the most successful domestic coach of all time.


That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme




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