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Chris Hipkins and Christopher Luxon at the first TVNZ leaders’ debate of 2023 (Photo: Andrew Dalton/TVNZ)
Chris Hipkins and Christopher Luxon at the first TVNZ leaders’ debate of 2023 (Photo: Andrew Dalton/TVNZ)

The BulletinSeptember 20, 2023

A draw and a win for Chris

Chris Hipkins and Christopher Luxon at the first TVNZ leaders’ debate of 2023 (Photo: Andrew Dalton/TVNZ)
Chris Hipkins and Christopher Luxon at the first TVNZ leaders’ debate of 2023 (Photo: Andrew Dalton/TVNZ)

Nobody bottled it last night, but voters probably didn’t walk away with much new information or inspiration. David Cunliffe made an appearance sporting some fetching facial hair, 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.

A civilised dual

Two men named Chris met last night, on the 130th anniversary of women’s suffrage, in a purple-lit studio, to thrash it out in the first leaders’ debate of the 2023 election campaign. Did we learn a lot? Not really. The only new policy that got dropped was Labour leader Chris Hipkins saying he would ban fizzy drinks in high schools. To catch up, here’s our live blog from last night. By way of an upside, it provided a good antidote to claims that this election is the dirtiest and most negative yet. The leaders might get asides in on the campaign trail, there might be MPs going rogue on Facebook and Twitter and the attack ads might be, at best, on par with attack ads gone by, but the debate was less pistols at dawn and more of a fairly civilised dual between two men who are quite alike.

The verdicts

Nobody needs any more rugby analogies in their post-debate assessment after last night, so I will stick with formal debating language. By and large, the adjudicators i.e. a bunch of people from The Spinoff including me, and other media commentators are calling it a draw as a standalone event but a win for National leader Christopher Luxon in the broader context of the campaign. Mad Chapman actually called the win for former Labour leader David Cunliffe who participated in the post-debate panel sporting some fetching facial hair. According to the New Zealand Schools’ Debate Council, there’s no such thing as a draw in debating and a winner must be declared. All five adjudicators from the Herald (paywalled) gave the debate to Luxon but its assessment opens with the Herald’s political editor Claire Trevett calling it a “snoozefest” so that’s damning with faint praise. Serial protester/gatecrasher, Angry Fence Man aka Karl Mokaraka was outside the studio at the start of the night and the Media Insider, Shayne Currie, rounds out his verdict by suggesting he suspects even he gave up and went home before the end of the debate. RNZ’s Jane Patterson described the debate as a low-energy affair with no one being able to declare victory. As Newsroom’s Mark Jennings notes, the leaders themselves both gave themselves an eight out of 10 for their performances. Jacinda Ardern and Bill English gave themselves a six – seven out of 10 in 2017 in the Newshub leaders debate.

The clangers

Many were surprised to hear from Luxon that National invented the concept of “by Māori, for Māori”, although as Newsroom’s Jo Moir writes, Luxon later clarified that by saying National was a “big supporter of it” and his comments were in the context of when National was last in government. ​​Mana motuhake and tino rangatiratanga very obviously predate the last National government and the anglicised “by Māori, for Māori” phrase has been in use for quite some time. Hipkins, a former health minister, was his most animated on questions around the Māori Health Authority, co-governance and health inequities. Luxon also had to quickly clarify a comment during the debate that suggested he supported free lunches for all students in state schools. Personally, I’d like to see both leaders stop suggesting renting is a halfway house on the way to home ownership and deal with the reality that one-third of the country rents. The Greens were quick to whip a tweet out reminding people of their strong rental policy platform.

Cost of living still the number one issue for New Zealanders

We didn’t get a lot from the leaders on the cost of living last night. Luxon quipped about Labour’s GST-free fruit and vege policy by saying “beans and carrots” twice. Bananas also got a look in which might have been the most bananas moment of the evening. There was some sparring on the efficiency of National’s tax cuts, talk of how better off median wage earners would be and Luxon, quoting the Little River Band, told a young hospitality worker who probably isn’t earning a median wage that “help was on its way”. Both leaders contributed to the fallacy that recycling is a way to reduce emissions. The latest Ipsos New Zealand Issues Monitor was released last night and once again identified the cost of living as the key concern for New Zealanders. The release isn’t great news for Labour with New Zealanders identifying National as the party best equipped to deal with inflation and the cost of living, and seven other issues. On that, economist Shamubeel Eaqub had more firepower in comments he made recently to The Guardian, criticising both parties’ platforms and telling The Guardian “You’re not going to be able to solve a global inflation problem with local solutions.” “Do we have a competitive economy, competitive markets, and a competition authority that’s really strong and powerful? The answer is we don’t, but that stuff is not sexy and it’s not a vote-winner,” he said.

Finally, if our live blog and quick-fire reckons aren’t enough for you, you can chase all this by tuning into the Gone by Lunchtime Megapod from 9am today. Ben Thomas and Annabelle Lee-Mather kick the day off with host Toby Manhire and then I’ll be joining Manhire, Mad Chapman and Duncan Greive around 10am this morning to chat about the debate. Manhire will be live-streaming all day until 9pm. The guest list is impressive. It could be Manhire’s biggest achievement of 2023 or his deepest regret. Tune in to find out.

Keep going!