Leaders debate reveals more even contest

01:08, Sep 03 2014
David Cunliffe at the leaders' debate in Christchurch.
IN ACTION: David Cunliffe at the leaders' debate in Christchurch.

Call it a tie.

Prime Minister John Key and David Cunliffe went head to head in the Press leaders debate in a far more even contest than the first televised TVNZ debate.

In the old-style town hall debate, Cunliffe wound back the level of interjection that characterised his win in the first debate.

But Key stepped up his performance, using humour far more and probably shaded him through the first half - though risked appearing "smart-alecky" at times.

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The debate sparked up when the topic turned to poverty and lifting children out of it.


Cunliffe talked about a planned $2 rise in the minimum wage, but Key said that would just cost jobs as would the Greens' even higher minimum wage policy.

"You want to send 16,500 people to the dole queue David."

But Cunliffe said United States' studies had showed no relationship between higher minimum wages and job losses - and if you put money into people's pockets they spend it helping the economy.

>Replay: As it happened

Cunliffe referred back to his time as minister and his achievements but Key said he had failed.

The audience laughed at Cunliffe when he said the difference from last time on housing policy when Labour was in power, when there was a housing bubble, was he was the leader and they had a new manifesto.

But they also laughed at Key when he said he had fixed the poor maintenance of state houses and they groaned when he talked about his state house upbringing for the second time.

Key said National would release its fiscal plan next week but reiterated any tax cuts would be modest and aimed at low and middle income earners.

He hammered the point that Labour would add five new taxes and tried to reprise the "show me the money" moment from his 2011 debate against Phil Goff asking Cunliffe if his capital gains tax would apply to houses in trusts.

But Cunliffe avoided answering, turning the topic instead to Labour's broader tax plan. His advisers told media in the break that the tax would not apply to the family home oif it was in a trust.

Speaking to media after the debate, Key clarified his attack on Cunliffe regarding Capital Gains Tax applying to family homes that were owned by a trust. 

"My read of the [Labour policy] is that if you own a family home and it's in a trust, under Labour you will be subject to a capital gains tax because that policy says that you don't pay a capital gains tax on a family home... if you are the owner/occupier. 

"But, of course under a family trust the trust is the owner."

Key said he'd received a "ball park" figure from an unnamed tax specialist that 300,000 Kiwi homes were in trusts. 

The latest Census figures showed that was closer to 215,000.

But Cunliffe rejected criticisms that he was not across his own policy during the debate, after he was unable to answer Key's allegations regarding homes in family trusts.

Cunliffe clarified to media after the debate that Labour's policy placed emphasis on the "family home" rather than legal ownership.

"I've learned to check my facts and John Key got it wrong. A family home does not incur capital gains tax [under Labour], whether it is owned by a trust or not."

Cunliffe said an "expert panel" would decided whether a homeowner was selling a primary residence. 

Talking on the nature of the debate, which saw more interaction than last week's one, both leaders said the town-hall style was more engaging. 

Cunliffe faced criticisms last week for interjecting over Key too much, but said he was the victim this time around. 

"There was more of that than I would have liked, to be honest. I felt in the end that I had to assert myself in order to get a fair share of time. I did that towards the end."

Key said it was a "spirited" debate.

"I think people enjoyed the debate, and they enjoyed the fact that we were talking about those big issues." 

Dirty Politics saga

The first half wrapped up with a debate about the dirty politics saga, with Cunliffe denying he knew about Nicky Hager's book before it was released - and when Labour set its "vote positive" campaign theme.

Key said he was comfortable with the workings of the intelligence agencies and was not concerned about what Kim Dotcom would release in the days leading to the September 20 ballot.

Cunliffe started the second half well, and dominated when the topic turned to

Christchurch and the rebuild although he at times became "preachy".

When a Press reader asked why for her undeveloped red zone land she only received 50 per cent of its value as a payout - that had cost her $100,000. 

After Key's explanation Cunliffe said Labour would pay out 100 per  cent to her not only because it was fair but because it was time for Cantabrians to be able to move on.

Key said it was a "negative perspective" that little in the blueprint for the rebuild were underway, and lot had been achieved.

He said Key was acting like "a school yard larrikin" by interrupting him and promised to build 10,000 houses in Canterbury in four years.

Key said delivery was much more challenging than making promises and the CBD was "booming and nearly full" to more laughter.

But Key got a cheer when he said Cunliffe's plan for a board overseeing CERA "would really speed things up".

He said he hoped Gerry Brownlee would continue to be his minister responsible for the recovery after the election.

Cunliffe said Clayton Cosgrove would be his minister responsible for the rebuild.

He said the best parts of the Christ Church Cathedral should be saved for future generations.

Key said the cathedral had been an icon of Christchurch and as it was it was a reminder of the enormity of what had struck Christchurch.

But he said the land belonged to the Anglican church and it should work with the Christchurch people over its future.

The government should not say the land should be taken off it.

In their final wrap-ups Key said New Zealand was on the "cusp of something special" and he would like to lead the country there.

Cunliffe had the last word calling for a fair deal, and a decent wage for all workers, aided by lifting the minimum wage and addressing the low home ownership rate.


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