Live Blog: Leaders go head to head

9:05 pm: Goff first - main points:

He believes in New Zealand and is proud of it.
Too many people leaving.
Wants to own our own assets.
Wants a country that pays its way in the world.
Invest in skills - pay the first year of the dole to an employer if they take on an apprentice.
One New Zealand not one divided.
A Government that will take the hard decisions such as raising pension age.
A fair New Zealand where everyone gets a living wage and pays their fair share of taxation.
Should not leave a debt for future generations because this one would not do the right things.

Key - Main points:

Proud of this country.Great place to grow things, and innovative.
Wants to leave New Zealand in better shape than he found it.
Reward effort and support people in need.
Who won?

On first and final impressions from someone typing madly in the front row?

Key had the audience eating out of his hand - a showman in top form.

A clear victory for the PM.

8:56 pm: Goff says he has been a minister long enough to know that fiscal responsibility is important and Labour paid off the debt.

"Yes there will be a bit of extra debt ... and we will be back in surplus by 2014-15.. and we will still have those assets."
Time for the final words from the leaders.

8:52 pm: Key is playing the exasperation card and asking again about the $14b.

So Goff plays the asset sales card again.

8:48 pm: Tracy Watkins asks why Labour wants a $5000 threshold that gives everyone $10 a week including Goff and Key who did not need it.

Goff says he is also putting up the top rate to $39,000 so the better off will pay more. Good answer.

Goff says the pension age must increase. And it is no good hiding from that. "You need to have the guts to take the hard decisions."

8:45 pm: Key: It's 8.45 and when I go to bed I still won't know where the $14b is coming from. "Big new tax coming from Labour."
Goff brings up the GST broken promise again.
Key says half the time what you see on TV is to a completely different question.

He says when he said he would not put up GST he said that he was saying he would not put up GST to balance the books.

And high income earners consume more so they pay more GST - so with the tax switch the government had made the wealthy paid more GST and paid more from the extra tax on property investment.

He says he kept his word.
Goff starts listing the changes not flagged: GST rise, cuts to KiwiSaver and Working for families.

8:37 pm: Key: Getting to zero by 2022 is very hard. "You have to cut $14b worth of expenditure."

"We want to release $5-7b ...."
Goff laughs at the word "release", and asks again who wants to sell Orion Energy. Two hands go up.

8:35 pm: Key: the Goverbment has closed loopholes and there is no money to come from ring fencing losses and profits on speculative housing investment. "He is going to borrow it from China."
Goff says Labour will release full costings. "It will demonstrate to you and anyone else we will be in surplus by 2014-15 the same as you. And we will get Crown debt back to zero by 2022."

8:33 pm: Key is starting to mock Goff. "Where is the $14b?"
Goff says he is against bludgers on the tax system and on benefits. He says he will put a capital gains tax on speculators.

"Why should wage and salary earners pay tax on every dollar they earn ... but people pay big capital gains and pay tax at all. We will have a CGT so we do not have to sell our assets."

8:29 pm: Key says interest rates are low, but $17 billion more debt will put pressure on them.
Goff says interest rates are low because the economy globally is in trouble.

"They are caused because people are out there with no money to spend.

"By 2014-15 ... we will be back in surplus - the difference is we will still have the assets that deliver a great return for New Zealand."

He asks who wants to sell Orion Energy - which returns $1 million to rate payers every week. No many takers for the idea. Gets the longest applause so far.
Key: You are clapping for a tax you do not know about.
Goff: Like the GST increase you said you would not do.
Key: Three weeks and three days from the election David Cunliffe has not brought any costings.

So Key starts totting up the costs ... and ask how the money will be raised. CGT raises little short term.

"Show me the tax revenue. There has to be another tax there has to be. What am I missing?"

8:23 pm: Key shares a chat he had with Barack Obama about the real unemployment rate in the US. And he is back to the $17 billion worth of extra debt he claims Labour will run up.
Goff gets a big clap for saying: "Why is it when greedy people... cause a global crisis ... it is the low and middle income eanrers who pay for it."

8:19 pm: Key: "Is a fair New Zealand one where you pass a policy where people are going to lose a job..." Such as at the local cafe.

He says jobs will go if the minimum wage rises without productivity gains. "I was at a business yesterday ... that hired 67 people and they would sack some people if the minimum wage went to $15."

If it was free to increase the minimum wage, why not go even higher?
Goff: "That's the worst argument I have ever heard. That someone should get less than a living wage so you pay a few cents less for your muffins."

He says everyone should pull in their belts a notch, not just the poor. 100,000 New Zealanders have left for Australia where they pay better wages.
Key: At least I didn't lose 300,000 as Labour did when they were in Government.

8:14 pm: They're off!
Mark from the audience asks Key - How will you close the rich-poor gap and is it possible.
Key: Most recent data in 2010 argues the gap is narrowing slightly. The target should be those on low incomes and what is driving those low incomes. Most poor are in welfare based homes. "The plan has to be ... to try and help them into work."

He says 43,000 jobs created in the last 12 months and the Government is on track to create 170,000 over next four years. He says Labour policies of capital gains tax, charges for the ETS and lift the minimum wage to $15 is not the way to do it.
Goff: Society is poorer with so many poor. Kids in poverty do not get an even chance in life. "You have got to start with sufficiency of income." He rattles off Labour's tax policies.

"$13 an hour is not a living wage. I couldn't live on it, you couldn't live ion it. If we are going to have tax cuts let's not do it at the top, let's do it at the bottom... with a $5000 tax free band. ... and take the GST off fresh fruit and vegetables."

8:00 pm: Half way impressions from Tracy Watkins and me - Key is getting more laughs and is winning the one-on-one exchanges. He looks quicker on his feet and full of conviction. But Goff's core messages are winning more sympathy from the audience. Key is ahead.
Starting the second half on the economy in a few minutes.

7:55pm: The debate takes a break for the audience to stretch their legs.

7:52 pm: Key says the tax cuts and his tax policy help the entrepreneurs.
Goff: 40 per cent of the tax cuts went to the top 10 per cent. But at poorer schools parents could not afford the help the kids need.
Key says "good point". Then he scores a strong point by asking: So why did National have to take immunisation rates from 70 per cent to 90 per cent, and insulate far more homes?

7:47 pm: Question from thepublic on education funding - Will they, for the university and other institutions, maintain funding "at the level necessary to maintain current staffing levels"?
Key: A long answer ... ends with a promise to look at things case by case. It may be some schools close and others will be substantially smaller. Want an outcome fit for a resurgent Christchurch.
Holden: University wants $130 million.
Key: The institutions themselves admit there are some changes they need to make. He cannot say yes to every element of every wishlist "or the deficit would be bigger than it already is".

Key does his characteristic suck in through his teeth that he uses when he is not so happy with the answer he has just given.

Goff attacks, but Key comes back with "Phil is not being intellectually honest about the deficit" because half of the $18.4 billion was for Christchurch and Labour has not put out costings yet.

"Ours is for a bloody good reason."
Goff: If you are in tough times you do not borrow to give tax cuts to the better off. He again uses his line from the previous debate that he got $300 from the tax cuts and Key was "even more generous to himself" with a $1000 a week tax cut.

7:40 pm: Tracy Watkins asks: Labour policy on collecting EQC levy through rates - what will it cost?
Goff says the Government is already tripling the EQC levy "and I did not criticise that". But EQC should no longer be voluntary. "We should make sure eveyone contributes to that."
Key: That would divorce that part of insurance from the insurance companies. EQC law is outdated. We are going to have a review, but there has to be a better and different way of handling EQC.
Goff: The $100,000 cap on EQC payments was set 18 years ago - it is now outdated."There will have to be changes to that cap."
Key: Only a small number do not have insurance.
Very polite exchanges now...

7:34 pm: Goff asks Key - how long would it be before the Government intervened? "We have intervened - on AMI," says Key. But private sector insurers were starting to come back in.

He reminds Labour it signed up all the finance companies in 2008 "and we copped it from these guys".
Exchanges are getting tetchy for the first time.
Goff cites Auditor-General's report that criticised this Government for not capping the finance company liability.

7:31 pm: Key - All the geotechnical data is on the website, but not house by house because it would take ages - and gets a blow in at Goff's plan to lift the retirement age.

Goff goes off the earthquake to rebut it with official report saying GST or tax have to increase or the pension age would have to increase to make it affordable.
Fist public question: Will you look to replace the Christchurch City Council with a commissioner to speed things up.
Goff: Would not be my first action; that would be to engage the Government in the process. He goes back to insurance issue and asks how long will the recovery be delayed before the Government steps in.
Key says he stepped in on Ecan but would not on CCC. Yes, there are frustrations and he accepts that, but there is a lot of respect for Mayor Bob Parker. CERA boss Roger Sutton also doing a good job.

7:26 pm: Goff says Labour supported AMI support. But what about giving the geotechnical data to families that is being given to the insurance companies. Goff for the third time talks about a person he had been talking to who had a complaint. A clear tactic by Goff to personalise the issues and show he is listening to "the ordinary people".

7:25 pm: Key - Insurance is starting to come back to the region. ING is but others need to also. "We can't force them but we can cajole them." He reminds the audience that the Government stood behind AMI.
First heckler gets well and truly ignored by Key.

7:24 pm: Goff - If insurance companies are not going to insure your property, how are people to get on with their lives? The insurance industry can't just take. They have to be good corporate citizens. "John!! (is Goff watching this?) The role of government is to make that happen."

7:19 pm: Key - There is land supply in Christchurch. Some 45,000 sections would be released after changes to consenting. "There is a lot of sections available or potentially avaliable."
Hey what happened to the "John" and " Phil" from the TVNZ debate - they are talking to the audience not addressing each other.
Key gets his first applause for saying the alternative was a Government that didn't care.

7:16 pm: Key says the Government set aside $5.5b in the earthquake fund ... but have to keep a balance and be fair to the rest of the country.
Goff: 10,000 people chasing sections is not the normal functioning market if there is not the supply of sections. So Government should buy land and make sections available.

Goff gets first applause of the night by saying if you are not going to do something don't promise it - people banked the promise that they would get the value of their upgrades.

7:12 pm: Question to Key on the payout to Red Zone residents. He talks about the size of the earthquake, the economic impact and the number of claims. The package was firm, simple and clear  - to buy homes at ratable value, or buy the land. It's not absolutely perfect "...but you would not find another Government in the world that was so generous."
Goff says it's not possible for the Government to do everything, and "we can't promise to do everything people want or even deserve". But says Brownlee broke a promise to preserve equity - but the ratable value is often lower than commercial value and a replacement property will cost more. "There is market failure here." There is a role for the Government to intervene.

7:07pm: Goff says the hardest of times have brought out the best in people; Cosgrove and the student army get a name check. He says the country needs a better solution than lowering wages and selling assets.

7:05 pm: Opening two minutes statements: Key first.

Key reminds the audience of his background and family links to the city - and tells the city how proud he is of its handling of the earthquake. "For as long as I am PM I will be totally committed to the rebuild."

7:04 pm: Press editor Andrew Holden and Fairfax Political Editor Tracy Watkins welcome the audience. Watkins says the campaign is surprisingly exciting - with the parties putting up policies that are traditionally unpopular. Debate will start with the earthquake and the second half will be on the economy.

Key and Goff take the stage.

7:00pm: 600 packing in as well as a good turnout of MPs: Burns, Gilmore.... Gerry Brownlee and Clayton Cosgrove are a safe distance apart.


Senior political journalist Vernon Small live blogs from tonight's debate between National leader John Key and his Labour counterpart Phil Goff, hosted by The Press.

It is the South Island's only leaders' debate of this election and begins at 7pm.