2 Oct 2020

Week in Politics: Polls point to Labour, Greens alliance

7:28 pm on 2 October 2020

By Peter Wilson*

Analysis: The latest polls favour a Labour/ Greens coalition government, the Serious Fraud Office lays charges in the New Zealand First Foundation case and Jacinda Ardern raises her game in the second leaders' debate.

James Shaw and Marama Davidson, Grant Robertson, Winston Peters, Jacinda Ardern, Judith Collins and David Seymour

Clockwise from top left: Greens co-leaders Marama Davidson and James Shaw, Grant Robertson, Winston Peters, Jacinda Ardern, Judith Collins and David Seymour. Photo: RNZ

Two opinion polls published this week pointed to a Labour/ Greens coalition government being formed after the election.

Newshub's Reid Research poll was the first, showing Labour with 50.1 percent support, National 29.6 percent, the Greens 6.3 percent and ACT 6.5 percent.

There were huge swings compared with Newshub's previous poll in July which gave Labour more than 60 percent and showed National abysmally low at just over 25 percent. National rejected those figures at the time and said the poll was a rogue. The latest figures indicate it probably was.

With 50.1 percent Labour could govern alone but it would want the Greens alongside to give it a solid majority.

The second was the 1News Colmar Brunton poll which showed Labour on 47 percent, down one point, and National on 33 percent, up two points. The Greens were on 7 percent and ACT on 8 percent. Labour would be just short of a majority and would need the Greens to form a government.

National's gains indicated party leader Judith Collins has chipped away at Labour's lead but she'll need to take an axe to it in the next two weeks to catch up.

In both polls NZ First was below 2 percent and would be out of Parliament.

Another survey this week revealed one reason why Labour is in a strong position. The NZ Herald-Kantar poll asked voters which party they trusted most to manage the response to Covid-19, and the result was 58 percent Labour and 24 percent National.

Asked which party they trusted most to keep Covid-19 out of New Zealand, 57 percent said Labour and 24 percent National.

When it came to rebuilding the economy the response was reversed, with 43 percent favouring National and 39 percent Labour.

Peters rubbished over SFO claim

The Serious Fraud Office's announcement that it had laid charges against two people in the NZ First Foundation case drew a fierce response from Winston Peters.

The SFO said those charged with "obtaining by deception" were not ministers, sitting MPs, candidates, current party members or staff.

Peters said this meant the party had been exonerated and he lashed out at the SFO for its timing of the announcement calling it an "appalling intrusion" into the election.

Stuff called him out on that, headlining its report "Bluster, Bravado and Bulls…"

"While Peters was claiming complete exoneration for himself and his party, court documents show when the SFO told the party it would be making an announcement on the matter last week, NZ First made a last-minute bid to have the court halt the announcement," Stuff reported.

"It succeeded for a few days. The party then tried to have the whole matter suppressed until a new government was formed. It failed."

The report said Justice Matthew Palmer decided NZ First did not have a "particularly strong" case and "the public interest in transparency outweighs the inconvenience of the announcement to NZ First".

Peters timed his press conference to coincide precisely with the SFO's announcement. The Herald's Audrey Young wrote: "He was once again Peters the persecuted against powerful elements who were out to destroy him. Nothing is ever his fault."

Young said it wasn't crystal clear until some way into the press conference that in fact charges had been laid against two people in connection with the foundation, a body which has raised many donations for the party.

"It wasn't clear at all during the press conference that Peters had sought to suppress the information about the charges reaching voters before the election," Young said.

Winston Peters speaks to media after the SFO announcement.

Winston Peters talks to media about the SFO's announcement. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

On Morning Report, Susie Ferguson asked Peters: "Why did you go to the High Court last week to try to gag the SFO?"

Peters replied: "I didn't try to gag the SFO, quite the reverse."

He went on to explain that when the SFO told the party's lawyers it was going to make an announcement it refused to say what the announcement was about. The party then went to court and demanded information. When it had the information it secured the "admission" that no NZ First ministers, MPs or candidates were involved.

That, he said, had made it clear that the party itself had been "totally exonerated".

The foundation was set up by the party and an investigation by RNZ earlier this year revealed it had paid NZ First's bills to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The two people charged have name suppression until the first court hearing on 29 October, well after the October 17 election.

RNZ and Stuff have gone to court to try to get it lifted earlier. To find out why that's important read RNZ's political editor Jane Patterson's power play.

Read the full article here

Parties back longer parliamentary term

The second leaders' debate on Wednesday night saw a more assertive and energetic Jacinda Ardern turn up to face National's Judith Collins. She was in a give-as-good-as-I-get mood and the debate was much livelier than the first.

It mostly settled into known Labour vs National policy positions from both of them with Collins pushing her case for better border management and saying she would lead a government that would keep Covid-19 out.

Ardern stood on her government's record and said the elimination strategy wouldn't change. The Herald survey, published on the morning of the debate, would have assured her that she's on the right track with voters.

They did agree on one thing - Parliament's term should be extended by a year to four years. After Ardern had said she supported that, Collins remarked "let's do it then".

They could, because between them there would be the numbers needed to change entrenched electoral law - a 75 percent affirmative vote.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and National leader Judith Collins during the Newshub leaders debate. 30 September 2020.

Jacinda Ardern, left, and Judith Collins both gave the tick to a four-year term in Parliament. Photo: Screenshot / Newshub

Following the debate ACT said it would support extending the term. The Greens thought it should go to a referendum.

It might not be popular, however, and that's why the main parties have been reluctant to push the issue in the past. There was a referendum in 1967 when 68.1 percent of voters rejected extending the term and another in 1990 when 69.3 percent turned it down.

The argument in favour is that a three-year term is short by international norms and doesn't give governments enough time to get their longer-range policies working properly.

All the parties continued to pour out policies during the week, big and small.

Labour rolled out its health policy, promising to make mental health support available for all primary and intermediate students and increase dental health grants. There's an extra $50 million for Pharmac in the mix as well.

Finance spokesman Grant Robertson released Labour's fiscal plan, which didn't have much new in it other than the already announced increase in the top tax bracket.

Robertson said he was setting aside twice as much as National to deal with basic cost pressures, adding a touch of campaign rhetoric: "There is no costless decision here, we are not prepared to return to the approach that the previous National government took which saw our schools and hospitals run down."

National promised to set up a strategic policy on water storage and spend $600 million on planning and infrastructure over three years.

Collins gave an assurance there would be no benefit cuts in any coalition deal with ACT.

*Peter Wilson is a life member of Parliament's press gallery, 22 years as NZPA's political editor and seven as parliamentary bureau chief for NZ Newswire.

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