As it happened: Leaders Debate - John Key vs David Cunliffe

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John Key and David Cunliffe Source: 1 NEWS

National leader John Key and Labour leader David Cunliffe went head to head on TV ONE in their first televised debate of the election campaign.

7.04pm:Mr Key won the coin toss to speak first. Moderator Mike Hosking asked on a scale of one to 10 how dirty the campaign has been, with 10 being dirty and 1 being clean.

7.07pm:Mr Key says there's been one issue in the campaign and it's been pretty robust. "But elections are a contest of ideas. They're a serious matter about the future of our country, our economy, law and order, health the environment, the things that really matter. My sense going around NZ in their workplaces, sports places is that's what they're focused on. Pressed by Hosking, Mr Key says "it's probably a 5, somewhere." on the scale of dirtiness.

"In the campaigns I've run '08, '11 and now '14 there's always been these sort of distractions."

7.15 pm:Mr Cunliffe ranks the campaign dirtiness "probably about a 6". He says he thinks "New Zealanders have worked out that John isn't going to be telling the answers to the questions that they want to hear. The authorities are now investigating and New Zealanders will make up their own minds about what they think about the lack of frankness."

He says he believes the polls "which are already poised on a knife-edge" will move more towards Labour and the centre left as Labour talks to people about its "positive policies" and how it can help them.

7.23pm:Mr Key says: "If David thinks this is the big issue of the campaign, the sort of side shows and a bit of muck raking, then I think he's missing the point because New Zealanders... care a lot about whether they've got a job, about the education system and the health system."

Mr Cunliffe says: "I agree with John the real issues are the ones that are affecting people in their homes and their families and workplaces.

7.30pm:On TVNZ's Vote 2014 page, Andrew posts: "The voters want to know about policy, and they want answers about National's actions in Dirty Politics."

Tanz writes: "Cunliffe needs to concentrate on what he and the Labour Party are prepared to do for NZ rather than constantly comment on what National didn't do."

Sophia Macdonnell posts: "Child poverty is soaring in New Zealand and yet John Key is seriously trying to tell us that New Zealand is "splendid" place. A country isn't a business mate."

7.33pm:Mr Key says: Our polling is about 50% and we have Labour polling down."

7.40pm:In a video question, Jim Bennett of Whakatane says over the last two weeks that nation has been appalled at the revelations of Dirty Politics. "How will you as PM ensure that all MPs in a government you lead conduct themselves with the highest integrity?"

Mr Cunliffe says the first step is for him as PM "to hold all my ministers to account for behaviour which is becoming of a minister. And and a lot of New Zealanders want to know why my opponent has still got Judith Collins serving in his cabinet. If she was a minister in my cabinet she'd be gone end of story."

Mr Key says he's been PM for six years. "In that course of time I've set high standards. Ministers have been sacked, ministers have resigned because I've encouraged them to do it. I've disciplined ministers. I'm always fair, I look at it from different accounts and in my view I've called it about right."

Mr Key says Labour's polling is suffering because the party is not talking about what voters want to hear. "They are distracted and I think New Zealanders who are watching this show will be screaming at their TV sets: 'This is a Government that's delivered very well - but tell us what you're going to do for a third term in those critical issues'." Mr Cunliffe wants to know what Mr Key is going to do with Judith Collins.

Mr Key says Dirty Politics is a book that's politically charged, from the left, done to discredit the right.

7.45pm:Mr Key says he doesn't think Judith Collins is potentially trouble on the leadership. She's worked extremely hard as a minister, she's made a couple of mistakes but ministers do make mistakes form time to time, he says.

7.50pm:Hosking asks Mr Key what's the most surprising political view he holds. Mr Key says: "I think for a lot of people it'd be my support of gay marriage because I come from the centre right of politics and a lot of people wouldn't have expected that.

7.55pm:Mr Cunliffe says people are "wondering where their economy went". They haven't seen any dividend out of it. Almost half of New Zealanders didn't get a pay rise last year "and now John's Treasury forecasts are saying growth rates are being cut in half".

"We seem to have missed for many people the party. They're going straight to the hangover," Mr Cunliffe says.

Mr Key says it's nonsense that half of people didn't get a pay rise. "This economy is doing well. The The vast overwhelming bulk of the economy would have got pay rises."

Mr Key says this month only 80 New Zealanders left for Australia and it was 50 the month before. "I know their names. That's the number we are down to."

Mr Cunliffe tells of a woman he met in Papakura who told him she works 60 hours a week to feed her two kids and she hadn't had a pay rise since Helen Clark was the PM.

8.00pm:On TVNZ's Vote 2014 page Suzy posts: "I can't see myself ever being able to own a home on one income with two kids to raise. How will these leaders help those like me? It's all well and good helping those that can....what about those that can't?

Amber writes: "We have advertised regularly for staff and we pay way above the minimum wage. People just don't want to work. You may want to, but many we have interviewed have said they want to work less than 40 hours a week so they can pursue extra curricula activities."

MattDunn comments: "If business can't afford to pay a reasonable wage for a fair days work. They aren't the businesses New Zealand need. End of."

Kelvin posts: "The question that needs to be asked is "how has unemployment been lowered?" Removal from benefits doesn't mean they have jobs."

Viewers were asked to vote on the question: Which leader impressed you the most in tonight's debate?

The question drew 45,898 responses, with 61% voting John Key as the most impressive and 39% being most impressed by David Cunliffe.