7 Oct 2020

Election 2020: Party leaders reject accusations of planted supporters

6:36 pm on 7 October 2020

What seem to be strategically placed supporters greeted National leader Judith Collins on the campaign trail today, a tactic New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says all parties - except his - are using.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters campaigning at Orewa Community Centre in Auckland on 25 September.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says all the other parties are planting supporters on the campaign trail to garner support and positive media attention. Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

Labour's Jacinda Ardern has denied using "plants" on the campaign trail, and National's Judith Collins says she meets genuine supporters every day.

Collins was faced with relatively empty streets on the campaign trail in Ponsonby this morning, except for what appeared to be strategically placed supporters along the way.

National's Auckland Central candidate Emma Mellow was asked whether the walkabout was staged.

"I've got a lot of supporters here in Auckland central and they wanted the opportunity to come and meet Judith so I invited them along," she said.

"I think it was quite clear when they've got signs on their fences that they're not regular members of the public, that they're supporters."

National's Auckland Central candidate Emma Mellow

Emma Mellow Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Peters, who was at a media conference for his law and order policy, took the opportunity to call out his political opponents for planting supporters on these walkabouts, to make sure they were getting a good public reception along the way.

"They're all doing that ... uniquely New Zealand First doesn't play those sorts of games," he said.

"It's rent-a-crowd and you're falling for it - with respect you media are falling for rent-a-crowd people holding up the National and the Labour and the Greens' and everyone else's banner."

Asked if Labour and the Greens were doing it he said "of course they are, you all know it", but flatly denied New Zealand First was doing it.

"Do you see me doing that? No, because this is a campaign of true believers and we're going to come home ... I'm surprised you ask the question of New Zealand First because when have we ever done it?"

Ardern, whose walk in the Octagon in central Dunedin was fairly deserted - apart from a few shops to duck into - rejected the idea she had ever done it.

"No, if I've ever spoken to someone on the side of the street it's assuming they're a member of the public, they may well be a Labour supporter but it won't be with prior knowledge," she says.

Signs paperwork

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern in Christchurch this week. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

She said her focus was on Labour's campaign, not other parties'.

"Parties will have their own ways of campaigning. That's not how we campaign. I will from time to time go and greet someone and find that they're a Labour supporter but to the best of my knowledge we don't do that."

Collins said she was not worried about it.

"I'm never worried about that because I meet genuine supporters every day. And I'd say all those people are genuine supporters, particularly if they've got signs on their fences.

She has just come off the back of two days of coverage about caucus leaks and party disunity, and deflected back to the tried and true: the economy.

"What was obvious to me was that there were very few people, very little foot traffic on Ponsonby Road and that tells me that there is a problem and that problem is that businesses are shut, people are simply not out and about much.

National Party leader Judith Collins campaigning in Gisborne on 24 September, 2020.

Judith Collins on the campaign trail. (file photo) Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"Even just looking past some of the cafes that we didn't go into, hardly anybody there. At this time of the day you'd expect them to be full so I actually think that's showing a downturn in the economy, obviously even hitting here in Ponsonby."

She also deflected from direct questions about internal strife in the National Party.

"I think actually what's really important is everyone's focused on what all of our supporters are focused on which is an economy that's tanking, I'm happy to talk about tax cuts, I'm happy to talk about the economy and I'm happy to talk about growing the economy.

"I think it's really important that everybody understands that this is not a time for trivia, it's a time for seriousness."

Asked if his party was using stand-ins, ACT leader David Seymour said no - he did all his own stunts and it was the first he had heard of it.

"We don't have the resources for that sort of operation ... I just find getting out and listening to voters, being sincere, is the best way to ultimately get votes.

"I just think you've got to run your own campaign and, you know, if Judith's got many more friends than expected in Ponsonby Road good for her."

He rejected Peters' accusations that his party was using rent-a-crowds.

"I'm not sure that renting a crowd's even legal, but if Winston Peters is renting a crowd - some of his supporters supplementing their pension - good on him ... isn't it always the case with Winston, it's always someone else's fault."

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