Key promises 'issues' election

LISTEN UP: Prime Minister Helen Clark, pictured last month, has called a press conference and is expected to announce the date of the election.
LISTEN UP: Prime Minister Helen Clark, pictured last month, has called a press conference and is expected to announce the date of the election.

National Party leader John Key says he will run a positive campaign and offer voters a government that will focus on issues that matter to them.

"This election is not about the past," he said at a press conference after Prime Minister Helen Clark had announced a November 8 election.

"It's not about the old political battles of the past 20 or 30 years. It's about New Zealand's future, it's about the future of New Zealand families, it's about seizing the opportunities of a new century in a positive, optimistic way."

Mr Key said National would run a four to five-week campaign and he was not going to use it attacking Miss Clark.

"The voters will decide that – they've had nine years of her," he said.

Mr Key said he would release National's tax policy in the first week of the campaign and it would sit alongside other core policies like health, education and law and order.

Mr Key said he was not worried about leading his first campaign against the vastly experienced Miss Clark.

He thought his private sector background gave him the ability to bring a fresh approach to politics and government.

Mr Key did not want to dwell on the Government's problems and Winston Peters.

"I think New Zealanders are sick of sideshows. They're struggling with an economy in recession ... on November 8 they have a chance to rule a line under the past three years and choose a fresh start."

Mr Key said he expected there would be "a lot of red ink" when the Treasury delivered its pre-election fiscal update and he promised National would be prudent, strong managers of the economy.

The fiscal update will be released in the first two weeks of next month.

The Prime Minister's announcement today was also welcomed by other political parties, and business communities.

Winston Peters said New Zealand First was ready to fight for its policies the length and breadth of the country.

The Greens said they hoped it would be an election based on policy and not personal attacks, and the Maori Party said it was looking forward to the campaign getting under way.

ACT said the election could not come quick enough and United Future said November 8 would provide the opportunity for a new mandate and a fresh start.

Key Auckland business group, the Newmarket Business Association, said it was delighted the Prime Minister had finally announced the election date, saying not knowing was bad for business.

Helen Clark used her announcement at the Beehive this afternoon to contrast Labour and National, saying the election would be about which party deserved the trust of voters.

"This election is a tough choice between a government which has shown it can make the tough choices and an opposition which flip flops on almost every major issue that emerges," Miss Clark told a packed news conference.

"National's evasiveness, flip flops, and secret agendas show it cannot be trusted.

"We in Labour will be talking about our vision for the future of New Zealand. Labour is ambitious for New Zealand. National is ambiguous."

She said she would roll out new policies in areas including health, education and housing in the coming weeks.

Miss Clark cited cheaper doctors' fees, Working for Families, and interest-free student loans as some of the Government's successes in this term.

She said National's record showed it stood for a radically-different, backward-looking agenda.

"It's clear that National and its leader cannot be trusted with the future of New Zealand."

There will be a five week campaign. 

Miss Clark said Parliament would be dissolved on October 3 - allowing for a five-week formal campaign. Writ day would follow on October 8. Nomination day would be October 14, then the general election would be on November 8.

The naming of the date comes after a tumultuous week for the Government, during which Miss Clark seemed poised to sack key ally Winston Peters as a minister.

His future is in doubt after shipping billionaire Owen Glenn gave compelling evidence, including phone and email records, to back his claim that Mr Peters asked for a $100,000 donation towards his legal fees. Mr Peters has denied the claim, but failed to give similar corroborating evidence on Wednesday.

There was good news for the Government, however, as the Reserve Bank yesterday initiated a bigger than expected interest rate cut which saw an immediate fall in home loan rates at most major banks.

With the economy likely to be a major election battleground, Labour will also be hoping for a lift once the first round of tax cuts take effect from October 1.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen said he thought those two factors would help pull the economy out of recession.

On Wednesday, they also finally managed to pass the landmark Emissions Trading Scheme legislation after months of wrangling.

Miss Clark said sustainability would be a major plank of Labour's campaign, but it would also roll out major health, education, housing and economic policies over the next few weeks.

Labour will also be buoyed by recent polls which show the gap closing with National, including a Roy Morgan poll last week which put the two major parties just six points apart.

Parliament goes into recess next week. MPs will then return for a final two-week session before Parliament is dissolved.


- Parliament dissolves on Friday 3 October.

- Writ Day is on Wednesday 8 October.

- Nominations Day is Tuesday 14 October.

- The election is on Saturday 8 November 2008.

- The official results and writs must be declared and returned by Saturday 22 November 2008.

- The 49th Parliament must convene no later than Saturday 3 January 2009.

- with NZPA