The two women vying to be New Zealand’s Prime Minister went head-to-head for the final TVNZ Leaders’ Debate just days out from election 2020 – clashing over the Greens’ wealth tax policy, child poverty and eventually finding common ground after each turned to compliment the other.
The debate, moderated by 1 NEWS political editor Jessica Mutch McKay, saw the revelation that Jacinda Ardern would not stay on as leader should Labour lose the election. Ardern also said she would see out a full term if her party wins.
Judith Collins said she thought she was doing "a very good job" being National's leader with the backing of her party, adding she would stay on as leader if she loses the election.
Collins and Ardern took to the stage an hour after the latest 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll, in which Labour remained in a commanding position at 46 per cent - but not enough to lead without support from the Green Party - and National trailing behind at 31 per cent.
Before the debate took a complementary turn, the pair had a tense exchange over Collins’ claim Labour would adopt the Greens’ wealth tax policy, should the parties form a Government.
Collins said Ardern would implement the wealth tax “if she gets a chance”, pointing to KiwiBuild and light rail as “broken promises”.
"I'll tell you this, time and time again at the last election debates Ms Ardern and Labour promised so many things and hardly no delivery.
“The Greens have extremely expensive promises.”
Ardern accused Collins of being “mischievous and frankly desperate”, calling it “sad”.
"This has been happening for two weeks now. It’s a desperate political strategy to try and get votes and it’s wrong. We said we would campaign on fact and play it straight.
“I have made my view absolutely clear. New Zealanders deserve absolutely certainty on tax policy. I have given my word here.”
Mutch McKay asked if Ardern would bring in a transformational Government, as promised in 2017.
“I believe we have been,” Ardern said. “Change, real change, require steps that bring people with us.
“I am not done yet.”
Collins said that child poverty had gotten worse under Labour – Ardern was quick to deny this, saying there had been improvements to seven of the nine child poverty indicators.
Collins said material hardship was still an issue plaguing many New Zealand children.
“She promised to end child poverty,” Collins said. “When you’re talking about transformation change, things have just gotten worse.”
Collins said National would also “like to” meet Labour’s promise to halve child poverty by 2030.
“We’re happy to do that. If we can possibly do that, yes we will.”
“I won’t say we’ll bring down the price of housing but we will increase supply,” Collins said, adding National would reform the RMA and implement mass consenting to speed up the process.
Ardern said she stands by what her Government had done in power, but said “we need to keep building”.
She said for many people their home will be their asset, but affordable housing for first home buyers had not been built at the rate that was needed.
Both leaders agreed change was needed.
Ardern says Whānau Ora was working to prevent more uplifts of children from their parents. She says initiatives like these would help turn around "devastating" statistics for Māori.
Collins says it was important to address issues like intergenerational poverty and welfare dependency.
Allowing RSE workers from Pacific Islands to enter
Ardern said that would be something Labour would look at, but said Kiwi jobseekers need to be prioritised.
Collins said National would bring them in urgently, if elected.
“We can’t wait around. The horticulture industry can’t wait around, their fruit needs to be picked when it needs to be picked.”
The pair were asked if their faith would play a part in their Government.
“I’ve always been someone who has been what I call a liberal Anglican,” Collins said, adding she always remained humorous.
Ardern said she did not subscribe to any particular religion but was raised in one, saying she respected others’ religions.
Mutch McKay asked Collins and Ardern to use the opportunity to say something to each other they had not yet been able to.
“I’ve never had a chance to thank Judith for the speech she gave after March 15,” Ardern said. “In the House she gave an incredibly sincere, authentic speech about the need for us to move on gun law reform.
“I found it particularly powerful.”
In reply, Collins praised Ardern for how she had taken on the role as Prime Minister.
“I just think anyone who takes on the job of Prime Minister has to put their heart and soul into it and Jacinda has been doing that.
“I don’t think anyone should take the job lightly and I think we can say that’s a great thing.”
Electorate deals and polling
On if Labour would ever consider doing an electorate seat deal like National and ACT have in Epsom, Ardern said Labour have “seen no need for that”.
“You've seen those parties polling strongly anyway. That local representation matters for us.”
Collins was asked about National’s polling at 31 per cent – and said that “a good chunk of those people will make their minds up on election day”.
“There's a lot of people looking and thinking, ‘Just how bad is the economy going to get?’ I think there'll be a lot of people coming saying, 'Yes, we want to vote National.'”
Life outside politics and what they bring as PM that no one else does
Collins said she would like to write another book and described the job as Prime Minister as an “utter privilege”.
She said she brought experience in government and also in small business and public company directorship.
Ardern said she would like to work around politics - if not directly, as a politician - and children.
On what she brought to the job, she said there was an “acute awareness we’re in this job as a privilege”.
“I never take for granted I am here. No matter what crisis is thrown my way, I will give everything to this job.”