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The BulletinOctober 13, 2023

Hipkins goes for the jugular in last-ditch debate attack

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Some critics think his Sam Uffindell remark crossed a line. Others say it was the kind of aggression that this campaign has been sorely missing all along, writes Catherine McGregor in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Hipkins refuses to ‘calm down’ in bad tempered final debate

That’s all, folks. With last night’s Luxon/Hipkins head-to-head, debate season has drawn to a close as the parties ready themselves for a final, desperate day of election campaigning. Ironically enough, the standout moment of the TVNZ debate happened before the leaders were even at their lecterns, according to NZME editor at large Shayne Currie. Instead of a convivial handshake and light pleasantries, Currie reports, Hipkins whispered to Luxon as he shook his hand: “Are you going to answer any questions tonight?” The aggressiveness set the tone for Hipkins’ entire debate, variously described by commentators as “snippy”, “OTT” and “akin to a young Mike Tyson”. “Hipkins tore unsteadily along the line between surgical striking and losing his cool,” writes Ben Thomas in The Spinoff’s debate review, “giving every impression that he thought if he could just summon enough performative anger it could sink National’s campaign.”

He may have taken it too far, but most Spinoffers still think Hipkins emerged victorious – but only just. He won “because Luxon was so ill-equipped to deal with the cross-talk that his answers were drowned out”, opines Stewart Sowman-Lund. Madeleine Chapman bucks the trend by calling it for audience member Agnes, who was responsible for “the only time it felt like both leaders were caught off guard: a real person with real experience of hardship asking them to explain themselves.”

Was the PM out of line with Uffindell attack?

Hipkins was on the attack throughout, but it was the “bed leg” moment that really blew viewers’ hair back. His reference to National MP Sam Uffindell’s alleged use of one to beat a fellow school student caused a “burst of applause and an intake of breath,” writes Toby Manhire. “But it crossed some kind of line, to start rattling through backbenchers’ reputations.” Others were more enthusiastic. The line “wasn’t to everyone’s taste”, writes Thomas Coughlan in the Herald, “and in fact, by ‘going there’ Hipkins may have put some off – but for those with similar tastes to mine, it was devastating.” To Coughlan’s Herald colleague Steve Braunias (paywalled), just as remarkable were Luxon’s repeated appeals for Hipkins to “calm down”. A “pathetic rejoinder”, says Braunias. “It’s a leaders’ debate. Stay calm somewhere else.” Of the four Herald commentators who gave a verdict, three picked Hipkins as the winner. For what it’s worth, 70% of respondents to their online poll gave it to Luxon.

The day ahead, and some campaign report cards

So what’s on the schedule for the final day of campaigning? Hipkins will be in Labour’s heartland in South Auckland in a last bid to mobilise voters and volunteers, before flying back to Wellington for election night. Luxon is in Rotorua this morning, before weaving through the upper North Island, fronting a rally in Morrinsville, and ending the day in his electorate of Botany, The Press’s Luke Malpass reports (paywalled). As it’s the end of term, time for a report card. On Stuff, Tova O’Brien hands out scores for each party’s campaign. Among a sea of fives, sixes and sevens out of ten, one party reigns supreme: NZ First: “National gave Winston life but it was Winston who Winstoned his way to polling power,” says O’Brien. “Like a thoroughbred timing his run down the final straight. You can love or loathe his policies and rhetoric but there’s no denying his campaign game is 10/10.” The Herald’s Media Insider, Shayne Currie (paywalled), also has a campaign review, rounding up the highlights and lowlights according to a panel of experts – plus their score predictions for NZ vs Ireland.

Debate performances propel Tākuta Ferris to rising stardom

He wasn’t on the stage last night, but in a just world we’d see much more of Te Pāti Māori candidate Tākuta Ferris, a last-minute sub at this week’s Press Leaders’ Debate who promptly went semi-viral on Twitter/X with a forceful speech in defence of te Tiriti and another on climate change from a Māori perspective. Ferris is standing in the southern Māori seat of Te Tai Tonga but is running a long way behind incumbent Rino Tirikatene. And at fifth on the party list, he’s highly unlikely to make it into parliament that way either. MP or not, he’s enough of a rising star to get a “Who is Tākuta Ferris?” piece by Glenn McConnell in Stuff. Even more auspiciously, he scored a ringing endorsement from Annabelle Lee-Mather on the latest episode of Gone By Lunchtime. His performance in debates has been “absolutely phenomenal”, she says, calling him and Hana-Rāwhiti Maipi-Clarke “the future of Te Pāti Māori”.

Special election edition of The Bulletin for Sunday

A reminder that Anna will be back on Sunday morning with a special election edition of The Bulletin, rounding up all the news and reaction from the night before. Remember also to send in your dogs at polling booth photos (info@thespinoff.co.nz) for our all-day, all-dog, no-politics live blog tomorrow, which will transform, Wonder Woman-style, into rolling election night live updates once polls close at 7pm.

Keep going!