29 Aug 2014

Leaders tussle over tax, housing

7:40 am on 29 August 2014

The leaders of National and Labour have had their first ever one-on-one televised debate, covering topics from the Dirty Politics scandal, to farm sales to tax cuts.

David Cunliffe, left, and John Key.

David Cunliffe, left, and John Key during their first leaders' debate on TVNZ on Thursday. Photo: TVNZ / GETTY IMAGES

The hour-long Television New Zealand debate began with the issue that the National Party leader John Key had been keen to avoid - the book Dirty Politics, which details behaviour within the National Party and of its associates.

Asked to rank the dirtiness of this campaign from one to 10 - Mr Key gave it a five, Mr Cunliffe a six.

Mr Key said he felt Labour was being distracted by the scandal and that was evident in its poll results.

Mr Cunliffe responded: "I think the public would like to know what the Prime Minister is going to do with Judith Collins."

He went on to say he would have fired the Justice Minister, Judith Collins, if he were in charge.

David Cunliffe, left, and John Key, with moderator Mike Hosking.

The debate ranged from Dirty Politics to tax cuts, housing policy, assets and farm sales. Photo: TVNZ / GETTY IMAGES

National still crunching numbers on tax cuts

Debate moderator Mike Hosking pushed Mr Key on whether National would deliver the tax cuts it had hinted at.

"I certainly hope so because I want to reward New Zealanders for hard work."

But Mr Key said that National was still crunching the numbers, to see how much leeway there might be for any tax cuts.

He said earlier this week that it was possible National would outline its intentions relating to tax in the next few weeks, but it would not reveal a specific programme.

Mr Cunliffe questioned whether significant tax cuts would even be possible - saying National did not have the money.

"What the Prime Minister's not telling New Zealand, but what Bill English tried to tell them, is that he's got less than $500 million a year head-room.

"Divide that by the number of taxpayers in the bottom and middle tax brackets and people get a block of cheese a week if they're lucky."

During the debate, Mr Cunliffe was pushed on whether a Labour government would buy back state assets.

He said that was not Labour's intention, as there was not enough fiscal headroom.

Housing numbers 'don't stack up' - Labour

David Cunliffe, left, and John Key.

David Cunliffe, left, and John Key. Photo: TVNZ / GETTY IMAGES

Housing prices and supply were also debated.

Mr Cunliffe questioned the maths after Mr Key said National would deliver 90,000 homes.

"The numbers don't stack up," Mr Cunliffe said.

Sales of farmland to foreigners has been a hot issue and Mr Cunliffe was adamant sales of farms like Lochinver Station to foreigners should not be allowed, as it priced potential New Zealand buyers out of the market

Mr Key said the reality was New Zealand needed to strengthen and grow the economy and it needed foreign investment.

"You have to ask yourself this question, are we better off with a bit of capital coming in?

"I have always said as Prime Minister I will not support foreign investment in New Zealand unless it creates jobs and opportunities."

After the debate, Mr Key was asked how Mr Cunliffe compared with previous Labour leaders he has debated.

"Helen Clark was more knowledgeable about policy if you want me to be perfectly honest, when I came up against her she had been Prime Minister for nine years," he said.

"She was always going to be pretty ferocious on that stuff.

"In a lot of ways David Cunliffe's probably a bit stronger than Phil Goff, that would be my read of it."

Mr Cunliffe said he had no other leaders' debate to compare it to.

"I was probably a bit nervous at the start but I felt like, in the end, I hope I've done justice to the needs of New Zealanders and the views that they've been giving us out on the campaign trail."

There are two more televised debates to come, one on TV3 and another on TVNZ, two days before the election.

Visit our Election 2014 page

Watch Radio New Zealand's video profiles of John Key and David Cunliffe