Goff alleges National has secret police plan

Labour leader Phil Goff has used the final televised leaders' debate to lob a grenade at National by claiming a secret plan exists for a freeze on police recruiting.

Mr Goff made the claim during the TVNZ debate last night and said police had been told to keep the plan secret till after the election.

Mr Key was unable to say during the debate whether or not the claim was true but said any such decision would be "operational" and police were having to live within their budgets, like all other government departments.

He said after the debate he had heard nothing of the plans and did not trust Mr Goff's claims.

Mr Goff said National was running down police numbers.

"It's a very serious matter to defer recruitment for all of next year. That means fewer police officers on the beat, that means we're less safe."

Mr Goff said he got his information from "a reliable source".

Mr Key said police needed to save money, "like every department". Police got new money in this year's Budget. "That's why I'm saying, I wouldn't rely on what Phil Goff is saying."

Mr Goff and Mr Key debated alcohol reform, law and order, asset sales and coalitions during the hour-long debate.

National is facing a ramped-up campaign against asset sales by its opponents in the final week of the election campaign. Mr Key said he was standing by his plan to sell a part-stake in state-owned assets if he won a second term.

The only other answer was to run up more debt.

He was confident 85 to 90 per cent of the shares would remain in New Zealand hands.

Earlier, the Greens had suggested they may use their muscle after the election for leverage to stop National selling assets.

That would suggest the Greens might seek to do a deal with National if a back-down on asset sales was on the agenda.

Last night Mr Key refused to rule out picking up the phone to the Greens if they held the balance of power – but said after last night's debate that in that scenario, the Greens would definitely go with Labour. "We need to deal with reality."

Meanwhile, Mr Goff spelled out his conditions for any deal with NZ First leader Winston Peters, who has said he won't do a deal on confidence or supply with either National or Labour.

Mr Goff said Mr Peters would have to give Labour his vote on confidence and supply because the alternative was instability.

Mr Key revealed that he had promised the Maori Party there would be no move to get rid of the Maori seats as long as he was prime minister.

"I gave a commitment to the Maori Party that that process would be in the hands of Maori as long as I'm prime minister and we've got this relationship with them ... there's no way the Maori seats will be gone in the time I'm prime minister."

The Maori Party and National have become close allies in government – but last night, Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples dismissed suggestions that a coalition with National was a done deal. "We have said that we are prepared to work with any party that supports us on our kaupapa. Our aim is to get the best deal we can for Maori, using whatever leverage we have," he said.

"The fact is that no-one knows who might form a government until after the election."

The Maori Party would consult its membership before making any decisions on coalitions.

The Dominion Post