Chrises Hipkins and Luxon will face off in tonight’s TVNZ leaders’ debate (Image: Archi Banal)
Chrises Hipkins and Luxon will face off in tonight’s TVNZ leaders’ debate (Image: Archi Banal)

The BulletinSeptember 19, 2023

Loud whispers in the wings as leaders prepare to debate

Chrises Hipkins and Luxon will face off in tonight’s TVNZ leaders’ debate (Image: Archi Banal)
Chrises Hipkins and Luxon will face off in tonight’s TVNZ leaders’ debate (Image: Archi Banal)

Social media comments create drama for Labour and National ahead of tonight’s first debate, while National’s potential supporting acts continue to pull focus, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Who has the harder job tonight?

On the main stage tonight, we have Labour leader Chris Hipkins and National leader Christopher Luxon participating in the TVNZ leaders’ debate. The Herald’s Claire Trevett offers a preview (paywalled), writing that all Luxon has to do is survive and “not give people a reason to believe he can’t handle the top job”, while Hipkins has to convince viewers that Luxon isn’t cut out for the top job. Trevett argues that on that basis, Hipkins has a harder job. The debate kicks off at 7pm on TVNZ 1 tonight. We’ll be liveblogging it on The Spinoff. As a former high school debate champion who was notorious for not doing any prep, I am Switzerland when it comes to ruling on the apparent debate preparation regimes of both leaders.

National and Labour both wading through candidate social media sludge

Ahead of the debates, the critical supporting acts and the side dramas are proving to be a distraction. Both National and Labour have had candidates outed for holding anti-vaccination and anti-science views. National’s Hamilton East candidate Ryan Hamilton has said he no longer holds his anti-fluoridation views and while Luxon says the comments made by Hamilton were “entirely inappropriate and wrong”, Hamilton would remain the party’s candidate. Labour list candidate Deborah Rhodes was found to have shared views about the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. The vaccine is highly effective at protecting against multiple strains of HPV, several of which cause a range of cancers. Rhodes, who sits at 72 on the list and is unlikely to see the inside of parliament, made the comments on Facebook in 2019, describing the vaccine as “poison”, saying it sterilised boys, was “genetically engineered” and contained “altered DNA”. She has said she no longer holds those views. Hipkins said he is “happy” to look into social media posts.

‘Nah, I don’t want to be part of it’

While Christopher Luxon continues to rule out the hypothetical of needing NZ First to form a government, Winston Peters and Act’s David Seymour are attempting to one-up each other on relitigating the role of the country’s founding document. Peters says Act is too soft on treaty issues (paywalled), while Seymour reiterated the call for a referendum on the Treaty at his campaign launch. The Herald’s Audrey Young provides some salient analysis (paywalled) of the policy differences between National and Act, noting the parties’ differing positions on the Treaty as an area of difficulty. The re-emergence of race and treaty issues as a political football isn’t without democratic consequences. Speaking to Eugene Bingham, Iwi Chairs Forum spokesman Te Huia Bill Hamilton says the impact on Māori when they become the footballs again is simple. “They don’t vote,” says Hamilton. “Our people just say, ‘Nah, I don’t want to be part of it’.”

a split screen with an orange sign with an arrow and the words "voting"; on the other side an old-fashioned photo of a woman looking surprised
Image: Tina Tiller

‘We need to protest and participate’

If all this leaves you feeling uninspired, disenfranchised or shaking your heads, Nadine Anne Hura does a beautiful job of exploring the reasons people don’t vote this morning, speaking to people and not experts or politicians. ​​Mike, a retail salesperson from Porirua told her “Politicians are all as bad as each other. I don’t want any of them. Politics is a load of crap. You can’t believe anything anyone says.” Hura offers hope, describing a duality and offering up a reason to vote, no matter how weary you might feel. “Participating in the election – voting – doesn’t mean that we don’t also continue to protest and resist. There is duality to everything. That’s the lesson. We need individual strength and collective strength. We need to protest and participate.”

Keep going!