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Election 2020: Monopoly, pot lucks and debates

Earlier in New Zealand's election campaign, Finance Minister Grant Robertson started his day with a no-holds-barred debate with the man who wants his job - opposition finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith.

Grant Robertson and Paul Goldsmith play Monopoly at Wellington's Thistle Inn. Source: Thistle Inn

In a tense 25-minute debate on Radio New Zealand, Mr Goldsmith said Mr Robertson was a lecturing trainspotter.

The Labour man retorted the National party's economic plan was illiterate, a shambles, and chaotic.

The pair traded blows again at lunch, in a second debate for a business publication.

And they finished the day by playing Monopoly together at a Wellington pub.

This is democracy, New Zealand style; where fiscal fisticuffs is followed by beer and banter.

"It wasn't even tense," Mr Robertson told AAP of their Friday night at the Thistle Inn.

"It was just a relatively nice way to end the day."

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The pair competed for Auckland's Queen Street and Wellington's Lambton Quay, the most expensive properties on the New Zealand monopoly board, as part of a charity auction for the Cancer Society, raising $10,000.

"I hadn't played monopoly since I was 12. It's not something I do a lot," Mr Robertson said.

Despite presiding over the country's books at one of the most challenging times in New Zealand's modern history, he is finding time to engage.

Robertson holds Wellington Central by a colossal margin, but he's committed to at least 10 electorate debates on top of his finance duties.

"The Aro Valley (suburban debate) had 55 people in the hall and a few more online," he said.

"The smallest I've done was in a church and had 10 or 12 people there. They can get pretty small."

Last night alternative PMs Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins squared off in Christchurch for the third of four leaders debates.

In other hotly contested seats, the debates come thick and fast.

"If you're talking panels and debates, for the electorate and different subject matters, I reckon I've done almost 50," Chloe Swarbrick, Greens candidate for Auckland Central, told AAP.

Auckland Central is the most interesting race, where Ms Swarbrick - a political prodigy at 26 - is forcing a three-cornered contest.

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"Our politicians are among the most accessible in the world," she said.

"In the 2017 election I went to around a dozen different pot lucks at different flats to yarn to people and get your finger on the pulse ... that sort of meaningful engagement matters.

"People expect to know their local MP."

There are leaders debates, electorate debates, issues debates and on Tuesday night, Maori Television is also hosted a Maori-language debate for candidates across the spectrum.

The country seemingly can't get enough.

Despite Covid restrictions, an age of heightened security, and a well-held feeling of fatigue in a tortured year, engagement is still strong.

Not that New Zealand's democracy is perfect.

Last week at a debate for the seat of New Plymouth, the Labour candidate was chastised for his homosexuality.

Ms Swarbrick says public abuse is rare.

"That comes in emails and social media. I've never had that in real life. It's always veiled in anonymity."

Mr Robertson was forced to shut down a man shouting conspiracy theories while wearing a Make Ardern Go Away hat in another finance debate, but these interventions seem like exceptions in New Zealand's robust democracy.

"They're a great part of democracy and being a local MP," he said.