Final leaders' debate chaotic, messy and loud

Last updated 05:00 18/09/2014
David Cunliffe and John Key

DEBATE: David Cunliffe and John Key had their final televised debate on Wednesday.

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The final leaders' debate of the election campaign came down to an argument about numbers.

Labour leader David Cunliffe insisted he would be able to govern with NZ First and the Greens and wouldn't need the Internet Party - but his numbers didn't add up.

National leader John Key rejected descriptions of his potential coalition government as a five-headed monster - even though the latest poll last night suggests National would need ACT, UnitedFuture, the Maori Party and NZ First or the Conservatives.

But the most memorable line was from John Key when he was asked by moderator Mike Hosking about coalition options and likened National to steak, and the Conservatives to lamb chops.

"If you want steak, go to the supermarket and buy steak," Key insisted.

He also delivered the best punchline when he was asked what he had learnt from the campaign.

"Expect the unexpected," was Key's response.

With just 30 minutes to make their case to voters, the final debate was always going to be frenetic - but in the end it was also chaotic, messy and loud.

Key started out on the back foot over questions about mass surveillance and revelations, by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, that Kiwis are being "watched".

Key was forced to reiterate that "there is no wholesale or mass surveillance of New Zealanders by the GCSB [Government Communications Security Bureau]".

But he could not give an assurance that New Zealand's Five Eyes partners were not spying on Kiwis - and Cunliffe said that did not give people enough clarity.

On coalition options, Cunliffe claimed that National was dependent on "a ragtag of Right-wing weirdos".

Key, meanwhile, insisted Cunliffe was dependent on "Dotcom". It quickly degenerated into a "No, I'm not, yes, you are" exchange before Hosking stepped in.

Other exchanges were of a similar vein. Cunliffe insisted Labour would win Trevor Mallard's Hutt South seat; Key said National's Chris Bishop would take it.

Cunliffe said Labour would win Palmerston North; Key wouldn't concede that but did admit that National was likely to lose Napier to Labour's Stuart Nash.

But both leaders were in agreement that the election campaign had not done either of them any favours.

Cunliffe said his regret was that there had been "so much static from other outsiders that it's taken a bit of air from us".

Key said that a big regret was that there had not been a chance to have discussions on core issues such as health, education, and the environment.

"Too much time has been spent on one individual [and] on things people don't really care about."

Talking after the debate, Cunliffe lamented it wasn't a full hour. "There were no knockouts but I think we were ahead on points."

Key said the debate was "fast and furious". "In the end the big issues really are who can provide stability in the future . . ."

That wasn't Labour, he said.

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