'This is a classic MMP drag race we're entering into, where every vote will count' - Megan Woods
The Parliamentary term came to an end this week after a tumultuous term, and Labour and National's election campaigns are launching this weekend - with just six weeks remaining before the big day.
Knowing voters will ultimately decide their future, the parties spoke about their position and plans for the coming campaign - and considerations for any negotiations afterwards.
The incumbent Labour Party is campaigning for a third term but it will be an uphill battle, with the latest 1News-Verian poll predicting National and ACT could comfortably form the next government. Labour gave voters a taste of its campaign strategy this week, warning of cuts and changes under a potential National-ACT government.
Labour campaign chair Megan Woods tells RNZ's Katie Scotcher campaigns are a contest of ideas and "we will run a positive and a clean campaign - but that does not mean that we will not engage in a robust contest of ideas".
"The guarantee we make to every New Zealander is that we will play the ball - not the person - but we should be holding National and ACT to account for the ideas that they're putting out there," Woods says.
"I actually think the campaign is in really good shape, and I think that, you know, we've been in this situation before. It feels a bit like 2005 - there's everything to fight for. We need to be re-elected so we can ensure the gains we've made are bedded in and we can continue to make those positive changes for New Zealand."
She says the polls are not surprising, major rival National's party vote has barely shifted in the past year, and there is plenty of time left in the campaign.
"We've seen a poll a couple of weeks ago that put a two-party swing of about four points between it - that's kind of margin of error stuff. This is a classic MMP drag race we're entering into, where every vote will count. The field and the ground campaign will be absolutely critical, and that's where we've put a lot of energy."
For a party that lost 23 seats in the last election - down to 33 - you might think polls predicting a rise to 47 seats would make National confident heading into the campaign. On the contrary, campaign chair Chris Bishop tells RNZ's deputy political editor Craig McCulloch it is going to be a tight race.
"Elections are always tight," he says. "We're up on our foils now, we've released a great tax plan - the Back Pocket Boost - and so we enter the campaign with cautious optimism. But ultimately, New Zealanders will get to make the decision on October 14."
He says the gameplan is simple: run hard on the economy.
"We are in recession, inflation is high, debt levels are rising, households are really doing it tough, and they're being increasingly smashed by a cost-of-living crisis that shows no sign of abating. So our message is to party vote National to rebuild the economy and to take action on law and order and improve health and education."
National has been criticising Labour's likely reliance on the Greens and Te Pāti Māori to form a government as a "coalition of chaos", but the left has been pushing back - with warnings National may need NZ First as well as ACT. Bishop says it is a case of "wait and see".
"Many polls have [NZ First] not making it back into Parliament. What is undoubtedly true is that there will be a Labour Party and a Green Party and Te Pāti Māori in Parliament ... a government made up of those constituent parts would be a chaotic government, and it would be a high-taxing, high-spending government."
He says Labour is resorting to scurrilous lies, and attacks on its opponent.
"Frankly, it's pretty disreputable when they don't have six years of a good track record to defend, so they're just going to attack the National Party. We're very proud of our campaign and proud of our policies that we've released so far. Christopher Luxon is doing an outstanding job."
- Parliament adjourns with speeches full of pre-campaign attacks
- Coalitions, confidence and supply: What you need to know
- Election 2023: RNZ's guide to party policy
National's likely governing partner ACT is expected to grow its caucus again after 14 October. Its leader, David Seymour, told RNZ's political editor Jane Patterson the party's strong preference is to work closely with National.
"ACT and National around the Cabinet table, implementing a work programme to turn this country around ... we know what our values are, we know that our long-term survival as a party depends on us being true to those values and so you won't see us selling out to get the baubles."
He says there is a possibility National would not be prepared to "truly share power", and ACT would consider sitting on the cross benches if need be.
"That will be gruelling and challenging, no question, but we're prepared to do it if the alternative is taking the baubles of office and letting our voters in New Zealand down. So yep, I've done it before - I turned down being a minister to do End of Life Choice and I'm getting it drummed into our team that we may have to do that again to achieve our real goal: which is not getting a title, or a limo, but actually making New Zealand a better place."
The Greens are another minor party with sights set on the Cabinet table. Co-leader James Shaw tells political reporter Giles Dexter they are going into the campaign in "the best shape that we have been in for as long as I have been running general election campaigns".
"We've spoken to somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 New Zealanders in person already - and I don't just mean we've knocked on their doors ... we're running really strong campaigns to win seats not just to keep Chlöe [Swarbrick] in Auckland Central but in Wellington Central and Rongotai and others as well, where we think we've got a chance."
He says it is up to the voters, but people are responding well to their policies. Their priorities come as no surprise.
"We have just started the momentum building on de-carbonising our economy and starting to get some action around what it takes to build up some resilience to the effects of climate change like Cyclone Gabrielle and so on, I think it is going to take the next term to really get that momentum going.
"At the same time ... if you look at the great challenges that we also have around biodiversity and endemic poverty in this country, we have not solved those problems with incremental action, you know? In fact, every time you choose to try and solve a problem incrementally, what you're actually choosing to do is to keep the problem in place."
Te Pāti Māori
Te Paati Māori may hold the balance of power come election night. I asked co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer how the co-leaders would approach negotiations.
"It's just too close, and ... you see it on our billboard: we've got a koha, we've got a door, that reflects Aotearoa hou. From our perspective, it will be a values-based discussion, and nothing will move from that."
Formerly known as The Māori Party, the organisation has changed significantly since a decline in vote saw them lose all seats in Parliament in 2017. Ngarewa-Packer says that loss means they know they need to look broader than the three-year political cycle - and as a result they don't see themselves in the "kingmaker" position some polls have suggested they could be in after the election.
"We keep hearing that, and Rawiri and I sort of have little giggles to ourselves, because I think we see ourselves as a movement that's grown, a people's movement, and something that reflects transformational change in Aotearoa. So I guess if that happens we'll probably, yeah, be extremely humbled, but we've never seen that as being our end game."
She says for them, the ideal outcome is growth: more MPs, more staff, more resources.
"I think that's what our people deserve after the support that they've given us for the last three years, I mean it's just been amazing. But I also would like to see that, however it lands, that it lands with a government that doesn't have anything like ACT near it - because the marginalisation of people who struggle every day just to live with dignity is something that I would be absolutely revolted to see Aotearoa supported."
In this week's Focus on Politics, RNZ's political team speaks to each party in Parliament about their strategy for the campaign.