Kia ora koutou.
“I’ve been having an awfully fun time, can you tell?” So said Judith Collins on the campaign trail in Dunedin yesterday. But, as Charlotte Graham-McClay writes, it is clear she has inherited a difficult job, and would love to be mobbed by selfie-seeking fans in the same fashion as Jacinda Ardern.
She has sought to skewer the PM on her post-Covid recovery in the face of the latest poll that has put her another percentage point behind. Ardern, Collins said, would offer voters “love and a hug” in the wake of the global pandemic. The National leader would offer them “hope and a job,” she said, pledging a better economic response.
This week saw further differentiation emerging between the two leaders, most evident at Tuesday night’s Press leaders’ debate. “There goes the unity moment,” said Ardern after a fleeting agreement with Collins on the night. With one week until the election, this most recent head-to-head was the most boisterous yet.
However, tensions have been boiling over in Collins’ party, with her apparently “improvising” some policy decisions causing consternation within the National caucus.
Among National’s commitments this week were a target unemployment rate of 4% by 2025, emergency legislation to build more housing and a rent-to-own scheme, $600m over three years on water storage infrastructure, and an inquiry into Auckland Council (more on that later).
Labour’s policy announcements included banning conversion therapy, moving to make buses zero-emissions, market studies to interrogate the cost of groceries and construction, and a fiscal plan largely unchanged from the Treasury’s preview last month.
Don’t disrespect Sāmoa
The third leaders’ debate in Christchurch on Tuesday night saw Collins and Ardern appear almost as “caricatures of themselves”, down to their different vehicles – a BMW vs an electric vehicle – and their contrasting definitions of “woke”: “huge self-awareness” vs “a lot of nonsense”. (Guess who said what.)
But if they were both playing to type, Ardern’s went down more favourably with the crowd. Collins seemed on edge, hitting back at Ardern for a factual correction on Sāmoa’s Covid response: “Don’t disrespect Sāmoa!” Collins later said she felt “possessive” of the Pacific nation because – as she has made abundantly clear – her husband is Sāmoan. (In The Spinoff, Leonie Hayden wrote that Collins needed to stop using Sāmoa as her “personal campaign football”, while Madeleine Chapman offered to pay her 500 tala to do so.)
The testy exchange prompted booing from the crowd and set the scene for an “almost angry” debate, wrote Radio New Zealand’s Jane Patterson, from which Ardern emerged the victor (if only by the audience’s enthusiastic response) by highlighting her government’s successes and “economic head start”. She demanded Collins show her “what will be cut” to afford National’s year-one budget of $800m. Collins, in turn, was “jumping down Ardern’s throat” over how she voted in the election-day cannabis referendum, wrote Steve Braunias.
A quiz on the cost of living, however, left both leaders somewhat stumped. Asked to give the price of a litre of milk, a leg of lamb and a copy of the Press newspaper, Collins defended her and Ardern’s incorrect answers: “I’d say that Ms Ardern and I probably haven’t been doing the shopping lately.”
Judith goes it alone
The debate came after a challenging 24 hours for Collins. Her announcement of an inquiry into Auckland Council – made during her two-hour Leaders Breakfast with Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB on Monday morning – caused disgruntlement within her party to spill over, with an anonymous MP accusing her of making policy up “on the hoof”.
In an email leaked to Newshub, National’s Auckland Council spokesperson Denise Lee criticised Collins’ proposed review as “highly problematic” and said her being bypassed was a “shockingly bad example of poor culture” within the party. The anonymous National MP said Collins was “creating division” – a point Labour’s Grant Robertson was quick to seize on, challenging Collins to prove her assertion that the policy was worked on “for weeks” before she shared it on air.
During last week’s debate, RNZ reports, Collins seemed to have improvised several policy announcements, with inquiries into the government agency Pharmac and the Christian community Gloriavale, abolishing the guns register, and free sanitary products in schools not appearing in official party policy documents.
Collins’ suggestion she would pass a law to claw back Covid-19 wage subsidies from big businesses that had profited from them inappropriately was met with criticism from Business NZ and the Council of Trade Unions, after which she seemed to soften her stance.
Collins has defended these calls as within her rights as a leader: “It’s important to understand we don’t have leadership by committee, we have leadership.” But RNZ’s Patterson suggests the approach could put relations with her caucus at risk at a crucial moment in the campaign. Indeed, Collins’ description of government sums up her MO as party leader: “Parliament can do pretty much anything it likes if you have the majority.”
But Ben Thomas writes in The Spinoff that the report of the Nats “coming apart at the seams is overhyped”.
And we’re off
Between when advance voting opened on Saturday, and late Tuesday, nearly 375,000 votes had already been cast. If you are overseas, and have yet to vote, you can find out how to do so here.
Voting stickers featuring the iconic “Orange Guy” have been scrapped by the Electoral Commission due to the potential Covid-19 risk. “Of all the things Covid-19 has taken from me, this perhaps stings the most,” joked one tweeter. (Pens, however, will be supplied.)
“If a moment so far could sum up Collins’ campaign, it’s how she attempted to present herself as the conservative Christian candidate with photographs of her praying before she voted in what must be New Zealand’s emptiest church,” wrote James Nokise for the Guardian. “A generous analysis would say it was referencing Heinrich Hofmann’s Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. But it looked like she was praying to the sanitiser bottle in front of her. And the bottle didn’t know how to overcome a 14% deficit in the polls.”
Collins has denied attempting to politicise her faith, blaming the “evil media” for invading her private moment instead of staging a photo opp. Newsroom’s Tim Murphy assesses the evidence, while The Spinoff’s Justin Latif considers its potential impact.
Ka kite anō au i a koutou …
The post NZ election weekly briefing: policy on the run, a woke debate, voting begins appeared first on The Guardian.