Single title - Regional Programme Australia and the Pacific
Following Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s decision to postpone the date by four weeks, New Zealand is scheduled to hold general elections on 17 October 2020. With less than two weeks to go, it is high time for KAS Australia to provide a pre-election update.
The New Zealand Parliament was dissolved on 6 September and the Government has been operating in caretaker mode since. Overseas voting for registered voters outside the country commenced on 30 September, and registered voters in New Zealand may vote in advance since 3 October. The preliminary results from the two referendums (legalisation of cannabis and end of life choice) are due to be released on 30 October, and the official election results will be declared on 6 November.
The latest Newshub Reid poll conducted between 16 and 23 September shows that the governing Labour Party remains well ahead of the National Party and would thus continue being able to govern alone, should this turn out to be the official election result:
Labour Party 50.1%, (down by 10.8% compared to its previous poll)
National Party 29.6% (up by 4.5%)
ACT Party 6.3% (up by 3%)
Green Party 6.5% (up by 0.8%)
NZ First 1.9% (down by 0.1%)
Newshub’s headline reads: “Judith Collins' one chance to become prime minister is slipping out of her grip.” We are also told that the Labour Party’s earlier all time polling high (60.9%) was thanks to the Covid-19 recovery (in terms of near elimination of the virus). While the result was “yet another bonanza” for the Labour Party and its leader, it would - despite a “massive money scramble tax cut policy” - be a “kick in the gut” for the National Party, which would bleed voters to ACT. Polling at more than 5%, ACT would no longer need a deal in regards to the Epsom seat but could be represented in Parliament again in its own right. The same would be true for the Green Party which had “galvanised despite its green school cataclysm”. According to media reports, the Greens’ leader, James Shaw’s, decided to offer public funding to a private school located in a region affected by the Government’s oil and gas moratorium, in spite of the party’s own policy not to do so, and only later reversed his decision. NZ First, led by Foreign Minister Winston Peters, was the poll’s other “casualty”, despite its leader’s “best attention grabs” the party was a “goneburger”. While other minor parties were - as usual closer to an election - starting to improve their polling results, they would not play any role in the formation of the country’s next government.
The 1 News Colmar Brunton poll carried out between 23 and 27 September sees the Labour Party at 48% (down by 5% compared to its previous poll), the National Party at 31% (down by 1%), the ACT Party at 7% (up by 2%), the Green Party at 6% (up by 1%) and NZ First at 2%. Jacinda remains by far the preferred prime minister (steady at 54%), with Judith Collins having the support of 18% (down by 2%) of voters who participated in the poll.
Major party leaders’ debates
The Conversation reports that the first debate between the Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern and the new National party leader Judith Collins was “a fair and largely evenly matched contest, covering the COVID-19 response, border control, health, housing, employment, income inequality and climate change. When asked what they would like New Zealand to look like in three years’ time, Judith Collins replied that her party would offer a better way (recovery) [than the Labour Government] by growing the economy, providing better funding for health and education, and encouraging young New Zealanders to stay in New Zealand and to help build the economy, in particular, in technology and related sectors. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern response was that while the pandemic represented a great challenge, there was also enormous opportunity to rebuild [the economy] better and stronger. She announced investments in people’s skills and training and the creation of sustainable jobs that would support economic growth.
The second debate took place on 30 September and started off with questions on the coronavirus outbreak, the economy, if the health system is racist, child abuse and housing. The NZ Herald writes about the debate that “the gloves were off in a fiery, high-energy debate … .” The first round dealt with the coronavirus response, opening of border and travel bubbles. While Judith Collins promoted a travel bubble with Australia by Christmas, Jacinda Ardern refrained from giving an exact date. Since then two Australian States have agreed on a one-way travel bubble with New Zealand. As of 16 October, New Zealanders will be permitted to travel to New South Wales and the Northern Territory without having to undergo 14 days of mandatory hotel quarantine, provided they did not spent time in a coronavirus hotspot in the 14 days prior to their departure. A hotspot is defined as any place with a rolling three-day average of three cases a day. Jacinda Ardern continued to take a more cautious approach in regards to Australians wishing to travel to New Zealand, with the earliest possible mutual bubble remaining around Christmas. As far as the pandemic is concerned, the two party leaders affirmed their commitment to its elimination and belief in a future vaccine. While Jacinda Ardern relied on her successful record to date, Judith Collins pointed to Taiwan as an example of how to handle the disease without necessarily locking down the country.
There was also a heated debate about climate change, with Jacinda Ardern announcing she would declare an emergency, if elected. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that both would support New Zealand moving from three to four-year terms. Judith Collins and Jacinda Ardern also discussed domestic policy issues such as re-naming the country to its Maori name (Aotearoa, or land of the long white cloud), housing and gender-neutral bathrooms in schools. Given that New Zealand was the first self-governing country in the world to introduce the women’s right to vote, it was unsurprising that they agreed on erecting a statue of Kate Sheppard in Parliament. In terms of foreign policy, Judith Collins reportedly praised US President Donald Trump for his role in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates decision to open diplomatic relations with Israel, saying the deal was preferrable to war in the Middle East. The Sydney Morning Herald concluded that even though she faced an uphill battle to claim victory, Judith Collins had demonstrated that she would leave nothing on the table. The New Zealand Initiative’s take of the debate was that it was a spirited, energetic and punchy one. The contenders disagreed often but without name calling, and did not even shy away from agreeing on issues such as parliamentary terms, Pharmac or not renaming the country at this stage. In sum, we are told, Judith Collins may have won this round of debate.
The Press Leaders Debate between Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins is scheduled to take place on 6 October in Christchurch. Stuff NZ expects a “raucous, town-hall-style debate with a big and lively audience”.
The final debate is scheduled to go on air on 15 October.
Pre-election economic and fiscal update
The New Zealand Treasury published its pre-election economic and fiscal update on 16 September. The NZ Herald reported that while the impact of the pandemic was not as bad as feared, there was “profound uncertainty ahead”. In any case, the impact of the country's extremely strict coronavirus measures, in particular, the nationwide lockdown between 25 March and 8 June, would be severe enough for the major parties to render the economic recovery the focus of their election policies and campaigns.
The National Party virtually launched its election campaign on 20 September. Judith Collins called for a policy change, criticising the Labour Government for being eratic and offering short-term solutions only. She announced that the National Party, if elected, would invest significantly in education, transport and healthcare infrastructure. A National government would abolish the Resources Management Act (RMA), which would strangle development when it was needed most, and and replace it by an environmental standard act and a planning and development act, which would deliver clarity and speed. She also raised the issue of intergenerational debt, which her party would turn into intergenerational ethics, and the need to manage the vast debt. The latter would be met by massive tax relief for households and businesses to help them get through the crisis. There would also be changes made to the depreciation rules for businesses. A government led by her party would grow the economy, not the bureaucracy. The policies would grow smart, high paying jobs, springboard businesses out of difficult times and boost long-term employment. They would see New Zealand reach its full potential as a small technology powerhouse and keep New Zealanders safe during the pandemic.
The Labour Party launched its re-election campaign in Auckland’s Town Hall on 8 August. There were more than 1000 supporters attending the event. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern started her speech with reflections on the Labour Party's achievements in the last three years before turning to current issues and policies. Watch a recording of her full speech here.
Radio New Zealand’s Guide to Party Policy For General Elections 2020 provides comprehensive information on all parties’ election policies.