The minor parties leaders faced off last night with political veteran Winston Peters declared the viewers' favourite.
The Greens, ACT, New Zealand First, the Maori Party, the Mana Party and United Future all took part in the 90 minute discussion on TVNZ.
In a post-debate viewers poll, New Zealand First's leader Mr Peters was judged the star performer on 36 per cent - almost ten points ahead of Mana's Hone Harawira, in second place.
Mr Peters had narrowly scraped into the show - having just made the 3 per cent threshold set for parties outside Parliament.
And although far from strong when outlining his party's economic plans, he maintained the momentum gained over his attacks on ACT's Don Brash and National leader John Key over the teapot tapes.
Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia was bottom of the pile, with just 3 per cent of the vote. Another parliamentary warhorse United Future's Peter Dunne - who famously turned the TVNZ worm in 2002 - also failed to inspire viewers gaining just 7 per cent.
The closest the leaders came to a serious clash was the needling of Ms Turia by Mr Harawira over the 'Hone Heke' financial transactions tax and coalitions deals.
Ms Turia emphasised her party would not work with ACT - but said this would not rule out a coalition deal with National after the election. "We could work with anyone ...except ACT."
Mr Harawira said he was not "overly-fussed" about Mr Key - but Ms Turia chipped in "you wanted to work with them."
Under discussion was the economy, the minimum wage, race relations, the environment and MMP. The racy election dramas of the last week were also thrashed out.
Dr Brash and Mr Peters sniped over a $15 minimum wage. Dr Brash said raising the rate from $13 would lead to higher unemployment. Mr Peters accused him of "economic anarchy".
"It's orthodox economics, Winston," Dr Brash replied.
The pair were also at odds over the secret teapot tapes, with Mr Peters wasting no opportunity to bait his rival.
Dr Brash said taping the conversation was "unethical and probably illegal". He said he didn't care if his Epsom candidate John Banks discussed the party's leadership with Mr Key.
"Of course we've talked about it ... he's assured me that we are going into this election together and that I'm the leader," he said.
In feisty form, Mr Peters said the release of the tapes was in the public interest. "That's the price you pay for fooling around with the public and fooling around with democracy."
He said Mr Key had "lost is rag" over the issue, pointed to Mr Key's hasty exit from a press conference yesterday. In arguably the stand-out line from the debate he quipped: "He spat the dummy in front of the people that loved him, namely the media."
Although he wouldn't say if he'd heard the recording, he added: "They contain evidence that the party that dumped the last ACT leader is looking to dump the present ACT leader and in doing so they also dumped down on old people."
Ms Turia said the conversation was private and shouldn't be made public. United Future's Peter Dunne and Greens co-leader Russel Norman both want the tapes out in the open.
On race relations, tensions between Mr Harawira and Ms Turia again came to the surface.
Ms Turia accused Dr Brash - who called for the scrapping of Maori seats - of "fear mongering" over race relations.
Mr Harawira, who received a warm reception from the studio audience, told her: "Tariana, the racism that we rejected in Don Brash in 2004-2005 is the reason why the Maori Party should be rejecting any possible coalition with ACT in 2011. Racism. Racism is rampant in this country."
The Emissions Trading Scheme also elicited strong responses, with Mr Peters calling it "Wall Street profiteering". Mr Harawira said it was the silliest idea he had ever heard of, and Dr Brash called it "nuts".
VIEWERS POLL RESULTS
Which leader impressed you most?
Don Brash - ACT 14 per cent
Peter Dunne - United Future 7 per cent
Hone Harawira - Mana 27 per cent
Russel Norman - Green Party 13 per cent
Winston Peters - NZ First 36 per cent
Tariana Turia - Maori Party 3 per cent
- © Fairfax NZ News
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