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Judith Collins watches Jacinda Ardern during the first TV debate of the campaign (Getty Images)
Judith Collins watches Jacinda Ardern during the first TV debate of the campaign (Getty Images)

The BulletinSeptember 23, 2020

The Bulletin: Poll, debate set tone for the campaign

Judith Collins watches Jacinda Ardern during the first TV debate of the campaign (Getty Images)
Judith Collins watches Jacinda Ardern during the first TV debate of the campaign (Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Politics nerds rejoice with both a poll and a debate, a remarkable story of a high finance world crashing down, and travel agent industry up against it.

The top-line figure is clear – Labour still has a massive poll lead over National, more than a month after the last one was taken. But as the latest One News Colmar Brunton survey shows, both major parties have taken a bit of a hit, with minor parties capitalising. Labour is down five points to 48%, and National is down one point to 31%, which is still the sort of massive gap that will be hard to pull back with just under a month to go. In terms of the preferred PM stakes, well, you can probably guess that Ardern is still miles ahead of Collins.

However, Act and the Greens both appear to be gaining over the campaign. Act has surged two points to 7%, which if that holds will be among their best ever election results. And the Greens are up a point to 6%, giving them a narrow but crucial buffer against the risk of dropping under the MMP threshold. NZ First meanwhile are languishing on 2%, equal with the New Conservatives. The Opportunities Party and Advance NZ have both gone up a point to 1%, where the Māori Party are also sitting. In terms of the complexion of parliament, Labour would be in a position to govern alone, but would potentially be able to call on the Greens in a pinch. An interesting detail: 14% of those surveyed either didn’t yet know who they’d be voting for, or refused to answer. Those aren’t necessarily the sort of numbers that could change the outcome, but depending on how they break it could certainly change the makeup of parliament.

For the New Conservatives and TOP, the result isn’t quite enough to get them into the minor party debate, which will be bitterly disappointing. That required a poll result of 3%, or an MP in parliament over either of the last two terms. It means that debate will be contested by NZ First, the Greens, Act, the Māori Party, and Advance NZ (who qualify through former National MP Jami-Lee Ross.)

As for the two major party leaders, they faced off in their first TV debate last night, moderated by John Campbell. We’ve got a range of verdicts on who had the better of the exchanges, and to what degree. The consensus among pundits seems to be that basically Collins outperformed both expectations and Ardern herself. Politik reckoned Ardern was “curiously subdued” – a phrase that came up a lot about the Labour leader. Three out of four NZ Herald political writers called it for Collins. And Stuff’s Luke Malpass suggested that while Ardern might have lost, Collins didn’t really do much to win over potential voters either. We’ll have more to come on all of this, with an episode of Gone By Lunchtime being recorded early this morning. Of course, all of these takes are from people who think about politics all day every day, so if you watched the debate and aren’t normally a particularly political person, I’d love to hear your impressions of it –

Meanwhile a whole other debate was taking place last night in Queenstown. Radio NZ’s Jo Moir was there to see the five finance spokespeople from each party go at each other, describing it as more of a brawl than a debate at times. Based on crowd reaction, she called this one a win for Act leader David Seymour, who is on a bit of a roll at the moment.

Here’s a remarkable story of a world of high finance coming crashing down around the ears of someone at the heart of it: The NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Matt Nippert and Kurt Bayer have looked into the Serious Fraud Office investigation around Penrich Capital, founded by Kelly Tonkin, who now appears to have basically nothing to his name. But the alleged fraud covers places all over the world, and the Cayman Islands, and could eventually be considered as even bigger than the Ross Asset Management case, which is the largest ever of its type in New Zealand.

The travel agent industry is right up against it right now, as two recently published pieces show. Business Desk’s (paywalled) Rebecca Stevenson has reported on pessimism setting in for House of Travel, which is finding much less joy in the domestic tourism boom – a crushing setback after doing record business last year. And Checkpoint revealed last night the results of an initial Deloitte report into STA travel, which appears to have used customer deposits for cancelled trips to cover wages and rent, before plunging into insolvency.

A good piece on an area of regional New Zealand where things aren’t as economically dire as they could be, given the circumstances. Stuff’s Taranaki reporter Robin Martin has looked at fortunes of the towns of Hāwera and Stratford. They’re benefitting both from big revitalisation projects, but also in a more general sense the farming and rural economy is holding up quite well. It has led to the suggestion from Shamubeel Eaqub – he of the infamous ‘zombie town’ epithet from almost a decade ago – that provincial areas might actually come through this recession better than the big cities.

The National party’s fiscal hole just got deeper again, for the third day in a row. Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan has the latest round, with the party appearing to double-count $3.9 bn set aside for its transport package. However, finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith has denied there has been a mistake in this instance – it all gets a bit complicated, so it’s better to read the story for yourself to get the details.

The Green Party has announced a push for increased protection of oceans, and a ban on bottom trawling in some areas. Newsroom’s Farah Hancock has covered the policy announcement, which takes something of a carrot and stick approach – bans on some practices, along with $50 million in funding for fishing vessels to adapt. Once again though, the party hasn’t been drawn on whether it is a ‘bottom-line’ for coalition negotiations – instead they’ve added it to their list of ‘absolute priorities’. At a certain point, they might have to give a clearer steer on what exactly they’d demand if the opportunity comes up.

Comparisons have been made on the various arts policies of each party, ahead of an election forum. Sam Brooks has been asking around about funding levels and pathways, particularly in light of a pandemic which has shattered a lot of the traditional ways for artists to make a living. There’s going to be a live-streamed forum on the topic tomorrow night, with details at the bottom of the story.

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Image: Tina Tiller

Right now on The Spinoff: Duncan Greive has conducted an excellent and illuminating interview with National leader Judith Collins. A trio of academics have written an affirmative case for Otago medical school’s affirmative action policy. Colin Gavaghan of Yes for Compassion argues that the End of Life Choice legislation is about a law that is safer than many others on the books around critical care. Josie Adams explains what on earth is going on with the Auckland harbour bridge. Michelle Langstone had a strange and wonderful day out at Rainbow’s End. And Madeleine Chapman is talking holes in her latest meme coverage column.

For a feature today, a regional story about water from the start of the month I never found a place for. Hawke’s Bay Today (NZME paywall) has reported on a council decision around the use of below-ground water in the drought-prone region. All the while, speculation continues about whether the controversial Ruataniwha Dam will make a comeback. Here’s the intro to give you a taste.

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council has voted to prioritise a trial of using water below the ground to help solve Central Hawke’s Bay’s water shortage woes.

It comes after a councillor’s claim that it, and other councils in the region, were giving life to a “rotting corpse” by continuing to support a group that wanted to build the Ruataniwha dam.

Farmers in Central Hawke’s Bay have been hit badly by drought this year and argue water storage is needed to improve flows for river life through summer and provide certainty for irrigators.

But a $330 million plan to build the Ruataniwha dam, a project planned as a solution to the problem, was blocked by the Supreme Court in 2017, despite almost $20m of expenditure by HBRC on consents and planning.

In sport, a hard look at the commercial strategy of NZ Cricket, now that times have got very tough for the organisation. Writing on Business Desk (paywalled,) former international Glenn Turner has hit out at a culture of overspending and deficits at the organisation, amid a ‘cargo cult’ mentality that there would periodically be big windfalls from playing against India. Incidentally, Turner has an interesting looking book out, which you can browse here.

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