Key, Goff square off in Christchurch

FACE-OFF: Labour leader Phil Goff stares at his National counterpart, John Key, at the Press 2011 election leaders' debate in Christchurch.
FACE-OFF: Labour leader Phil Goff stares at his National counterpart, John Key, at the Press 2011 election leaders' debate in Christchurch.

Prime Minister John Key and Labour leader Phil Goff have gone head-to-head in a town hall debate dominated by the economy and the Christchurch rebuild.
 
The first half of the The Press debate, in front of about 600 people at Christ's College Hall, was given over to earthquake policies, with Key under fire from Goff over the government's payout to red zone residents.
 
The leaders then turned their attention to the economy, when Key pressed Goff on his spending promises, which he said adds up to a $17 billion hole.
 
Key told Goff: ''It ain't there son, there is no tax revenue. Show me the money.'' He told the audience Goff was going to borrow money ''from the Chinese".
 
Later he said: ''It's not magic, if you spend it, you have to earn it.''
 
Goff defended Labour's policies, arguing that capital gains tax and a tightening up on tax evaders will bring in more cash. And he pledged to provide full costings. He also repeatedly blasted Key over plans to partially sell off state owned assets.
 
The pair also traded blows over honesty after Goff called Key a liar during a TV debate earlier in the week. ''You called me a liar, that's cool,'' Key said.
 
The leader of the opposition got off to a strong start by taking Key to task over red zone payout. He got the first applause of the evening with the line ''if you are not going to do something, don't promise it. The government should buy up land and make sections available and release geo-technical data to residents as well as insurance companies," he told the audience.
 
Key defended the government's offer to buy homes at rateable value or purchase the land as ''firm, simple and clear.''  Although not perfect ''you would not find another Government in the world that was so generous." And he pointed out 95 per cent have taken up the deal.
 
Tapping into residents frustration and winning support from the audience, Goff also asked how long before the government will intervene in the insurance market.
 
Key pointed to a bailout for insurance company AMI: ''We have intervened - on AMI,'' and said private insurers will return to the market. He struck a blow by reminding the audience that Labour signed finance companies to the credit guarantee scheme in 2008.''
 
When the debate turned to the economy, Key was in more comfortable territory. He claimed Goff was ''not being intellectually honest'' about the size of the debt New Zealand is facing.
 
Around $9 billion - half of the deficit - amounted to spending on Canterbury.
 
He dismissed Labour's plans to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, arguing employers, such as cafe owners, would be forced to shed jobs.  Goff attacked Key's argument: "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."
 
Goff said he was a minster for 15 years and knew ''fiscal responsibility is important''.
 
"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."
 
He also repeatedly attacked Key for breaking his promise not to raise GST in 2008.

After the debate, Goff said Labour had already said how much its new capital gains tax would provide in revenue - $500m by 2016 and by 2020, $1.5b.

"We've got our financial spreadsheet that will be released. But we're just tallying up the last of the issues in terms of the final policies that we will have to release. We'll release it when we're absolutely confident about what it shows," Goff said.

"We'll pay down our debt by the same time that National will, but the difference is that we'll still own our assets."

Goff rejected the figures Key had said Labour would spend, calling them "phoney accounting".

He criticised aspects of Key's approach saying debating gimmicks were "all he's got to go on".

"He's behind on the Christchurch situation, that was clear. ... And the asset sales aren't popular."

Key said Mr Goff had not been able to explain where the money for Labour's promises was coming from.

"I've been struggling to work out where that is coming from. We've been trying to get to the bottom of those numbers for days," Key said.

"That's what this campaign is about - who has economic credibility."

Key said he thought the debate had been carried out in "a reasonably respectful way".

"There was a bit of fun between the two of us but it wasn't nasty or anything and I think it made for entertainment for people."

- Fairfax NZ

KEY HAS THE FLOOR: National leader John Key at the Press 2011 election leaders' debate in Christchurch.
KEY HAS THE FLOOR: National leader John Key at the Press 2011 election leaders' debate in Christchurch.