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TVNZ leaders' debate: Judith Collins and Jacinda Ardern battle on wages, tax and poverty

Jobs, wages and helping those struggling in the Covid-19 fallout dominated TVNZ’s first leaders’ debate for 2020 that saw tense exchanges between National's Judith Collins and Labour's Jacinda Ardern. 

Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins. Source: 1 NEWS

The pair. who both want to be New Zealand's Prime Minister. had their election promises picked apart, debated and questioned, with John Campbell hosting the debate less than a month out from October's election.

Tax

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CGT had once been a cornerstone policy for the Labour Party leader in her 2017 election campaign. Source: 1 NEWS

Campbell accused the pair's tax policies of being "essentially almost meaningless".

"Aren’t you both lazily kind-of conforming to Labour Party and National Party orthodoxy?"

Last week, National released its promise to temporarily slash income tax

Campbell said a person on the minimum wage would only get an extra $8 a week, with those on lower incomes more likely to spend additional money.  

Collins said the focus on those earning more was due to middle-income earners who were "really suffering and we believe that does need to be improved".

She said those earning over $90,000 a year, who would get an extra $58 a week under her policy, would spend it. 

"I shouldn’t get a tax cut right now, I shouldn’t," Ardern said. "Tax cuts are irresponsible."

When pushed by Campbell about Labour's promise to add a top tax rate that would only impact two per cent of earners, Ardern said, "we do think we do need an additional tax rate".

"This time now is not the time to have huge uncertainty around tax policy, but now it the time to invest in those on our lower wages".

Collins said it was "all very well to say increase the minimum wage when people are losing their jobs… small business owners can’t pay the bills now".

Poverty and minimum wage

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Meanwhile Jacinda Ardern says investing in those on the lowest wages is “what makes a difference.” Source: 1 NEWS

Aorere College head girl Aigagalefili Fepulea'i-Tapua’i asked the pair what they would do to stop young people dropping out of school to support their families. 

"I understand," Collins said, when she talked about her husband who tried to leave school at 15.

"We've got to get people into trades, educated and to make sure we have jobs people can go into."

Ardern said she did not want "any young person feeling that they need to leave school but I understand how strong that draw would be to support their family". 

She said it was important to make sure their family members have a decent wage so they don’t just "survive but they strive", adding moves such as lifting the minimum wage and paying a living wage contributed to that. 

"Small businesses owners can’t afford constant rises," Collins said. 

Child poverty

Ardern said while in Government, Labour had implemented changes that made "a big difference". 

"But there is more to do. We won't do it overnight. We're a country where every child deserves to grow up in a family that can feed them, and deserves to grow up in a warm dry home."

Collins said that was "nonsense". 

"Last election, Ardern stood here and said she came into politics to end child poverty. And what's happened? Children are living in material hardship, those numbers have gone up... that was before Covid-19."

Ardern said they had improved seven of nine child poverty measures, and that moves such as implementing free food in schools would make a difference to material hardship. 

"I am not done on child poverty."

The future and energy:

Campbell asked what Collins and Ardern's children would be grateful for in 20 years. 

Ardern said one of the biggest challenges New Zealand will face is climate change - "and we have to prepare our country for that".

She spoke of using it to create jobs and spoke of Labour's promise to move to 100 per cent renewable energy by supporting projects like pumped hydro at Lake Onslow

"That’s just nonsense," Collins said. "All that will happen is electricity prices will go up."

"Small businesses want to know we’re not going to increase electricity prices."

Ardern said that it would bring prices down. 

Border:

Ardern said it had to be acknowledged that New Zealand's Covid response "has been successful because of strength at our border". 

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The National leader says the horticultural industry is crying out for staff. Source: 1 NEWS

She said the number of Kiwis returning has begun to decrease, which could see specialist workers to come in.

"Yes, we have a stamp it out regime. That’s how in a global pandemic we can get back to as normal as possible."

Ardern said the country needed to make sure it was supporting areas with skills gaps - "but right now we will have to accept there are limitations".

Collins said that was "not enough" as horticulture was "crying out for specialist staff". 

Collins said National's border plan, which was released in full today, offered a promise to establish a border protection agency, a co-payment regime for returnees, opportunities for skilled professionals to enter the country and to make sure people return a negative test before getting on a plane.

"This can’t continue, we can’t continue to take the police off their work…unless we have a border protection agency where someone is in charge."

She said National would give skilled workers same treatment that "Ardern's given to the Australian rugby team"

The 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton poll: Released today, the poll saw National on 31% and Labour on 48%.

Collins was asked by Campbell about National's low result - "You were the broom that was supposed to sweep Labour out," he said. 

Collins said a combination of border issues, the second Covid wave and the temporary halt to campaigning "made people think, we better just stay" with the status quo.

"We only had our launch on Sunday, we’re getting back out there. We’ve got a fight on," she said. 

On her 18% preferred PM result compared to Ardern's 54%, Collins said leaders of the Opposition often polled as preferred PM in the late teens, "and some would crawl over broken glass to get there".

"I never give up."

Lowering the voting age: 

Collins said she did not support lowering the voting age, but Ardern said she would not rule it out. 

"But let’s get civics right first."

Ardern promised more civics education in school in 2017 before the last election. 

Their vision for New Zealand:

Collins said loves New Zealand, "that’s why I do what we do".

"I look at our country, and I think there is a better way.

"And that better way is about growing our economy, getting the money that we need for health and education and everything else that we require."

Ardern said that "for the huge challenges the world and indeed New Zealand faces right now, there is also enormous opportunity - a chance to build back better and stronger".

"Now is the time to invest in our people and their skills and training to create jobs to look after our environment and also support growth in the economy."

Closing statements

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1 NEWS’ political editor Jessica Mutch McKay and academic Jennifer Lees-Marshment analyse the first leaders’ debate. Source: 1 NEWS

Collins says Labour will "muddle along" with "hopeful thoughts" if re-elected. She says National has a real plan to build the economy.

She says this means tax cuts for middle-earners who were "struggling" and getting rid of the RMA to build more houses.

Ardern says Labour is investing in people to re-train and is supporting small businesses.

She says a Labour Government would bring stability and look after future generations.