Mahuta crowd favourite in Hamilton
It was the last-minute underdog, Nanaia Mahuta, who won the hearts and votes of Hamilton tonight at a Labour leader’s debate.
A packed out Clarence St Theatre was host to the four Labour Party candidates vying for the top job before the winner is announced on November 18.
Mahuta, David Parker, Andrew Little and Grant Robertson fielded questions facing New Zealand during a live filming of TV3’s The Nation and as part of country-wide roadshow tour.
Voting devices given to about 200 members of the audience saw Mahuta’s popularity jump from 36 per cent at the beginning of the debate to 45 per cent at the end.
A somewhat rigid Parker, the acting Labour leader, raked in the lowest score, going from 14 per cent to 13 per cent after the debate. Robertson started off around 30 per cent and dropped to 23, while Little went from 21 to 19 per cent of the audience vote.
The candidates’ critical view of Prime Minister John Key’s decision to deploy military training troops in Iraq attracted applause from the crowd.
Parker said he was not convinced New Zealand should lend its hand to armed efforts in Iraq and suggested different methods of defence.
“We should be encouraging all nations to block the supply of arms, of money, of people to Isis.”
Mahuta said the prime minister was yet to give confidence to New Zealanders that action was justified.
“New Zealanders need to be respected, they need to be confident that if we’re going to go into something [against] Isis it needs to be supported by UN resolution, and it simply isn’t,” Mahuta said.
Regarding spying, Little said 48-hour surveillance windows without warrants may have to be accepted for our safety.
“But I think we trust our security agencies to get it right.”
Robertson was applauded when he disagreed, and said the 48-hour window was not justified.
“We need these agencies in New Zealand but I think warrant-less security for 48 hours is far too far.”
Darryl Smith, a former Waikato Regional Councillor and ex-chairman of the Hamilton West Labour electorate committee, said his preferred pick to win the race changed over the night from Mahuta to Little.
While unsure whether any candidates had the skills to face the country’s current leader, the former Labour party member thought Mahuta and Little could form a leading duo.
“I think the Labour Party could do something like the Greens and Maori and have co-leaders.”