The political divide between Left and Right over Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics scandal took centre stage in a candidates debate held in Wellington's strategically important Ohariu electorate.
When questioned about the ethics and integrity of politics in the book's aftermath, incumbent MP Peter Dunne, the UnitedFuture leader, said he would not read it and labelled it "muckraking".
It was a sentiment that drew the biggest cheer from the 150-strong crowd at Johnsonville's Malvina Major Retirement Village yesterday, the large majority of whom were residents.
Dunne was backed in discounting the book by National candidate Brett Hudson, who said it was "simply scaremongering" and a deliberate attempt by Hager to derail National's election campaign, which focused on job creation, better pay and a strengthening economy.
Candidates from the Centre and Left took a different view. Labour's Virginia Anderson said the fallout from the book threatened to undermine New Zealand's position - alongside Denmark - as the least corrupt country in the world.
NZ First candidate Hugh Barr was more pointed, calling the scandal an "abysmal" indictment on the state of politics. He said Hager had done the country a "great favour" by showing voters that "you can fool all of the people all of the time".
Dirty Politics centres on allegations of behind-the-scenes collusion between National Party insiders, including former Cabinet minister Judith Collins, and Right-wing blogger Cameron Slater.
Green candidate Tane Woodley said it seemed strange, given Collins and Slater were both "extremely litigious", that nobody had been sued over the contents of the book.
Ohariu, along with Auckland's Epsom seat, is crucial to National's chances of securing coalition partners. Despite National having candidates in both electorates, voters are encouraged by the party hierarchy to vote for Dunne in Ohariu and ACT candidate David Seymour in Epsom, in what Barr called a "cling-on" voting strategy.
Barr said National had reneged on previously agreed post-referendum changes to the MMP system to close the loophole and make the system more honest.
Dunne said voters could make up their own minds about the tactic, which Anderson called an undemocratic "rort" - a position Hudson disputed, saying National had always been clear about what coalition partners it worked with.
The candidates gave general policy outlines and were questioned by the audience, who also asked about the decriminalisation of abortion, changes to income tax and GST, and water metering.
Dunne has held the seat, under its various guises, since 1984.
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