Key attacks spend-up pledges to lure voters

Last updated 22:25 21/09/2008

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National Party leader John Key has warned that there is no room for a lolly scramble this election as the world economy faces uncertain times.

But his call for scrutiny of Labour's "big-spending promises" will also force scrutiny of National's spending promises, expected to set aside more than the $10.6 billion Labour plans to spend on tax cuts in the next four years.

National has already said its tax-cut plans are unaffected by the downturn.

Both main parties are weighing up what promises to release on the campaign trail; last election, Labour countered National's tax cuts with policies including interest-free student loans.

But the promises of the smaller parties could be equally crucial; though a Fairfax Media-Nielsen poll on Saturday showed National had an 18-point lead, any closing of the gap during the campaign would mean National or Labour would need the support of one or more minor parties to govern.

The Green Party revealed yesterday its transport policy, which included $1 off-peak public transport fares within urban centres and 50 per cent discounts for children, students and beneficiaries.

The Maori Party, meanwhile, reiterated its hopes of removing gst on food and scrapping tax on income under $25,000.

Speaking on TV One's Agenda programme yesterday, Maori Party MP Hone Harawira dismissed suggestions that those two policies alone would cost $5 billion and said they could be funded by the tax on cigarettes.

There are signs, meanwhile, that the Maori Party is positioning itself to hold a more pivotal role in the next government - Mr Harawira said yesterday its supporters were ready for it to "be a player".

"They want us no longer just to be sitting on the cross benches and that's big for us."

The Maori Party could hold the balance of power on election night if it wins four or more of the Maori seats - and Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia told The Dominion Post the party was weighing up the nature of any post-election arrangements it might enter.

It would not rule out either National or Labour before the election.

But she made it clear the party wanted more power to make decisions for Maori.

"There is no doubt that what we are considering is where will we get the most influence without having to give up our independence and that's a bit of a balancing act.

"We certainly want the opportunity to make change and not for any reason other than it is in the interests of this country."

Her comments suggest that the party will seek ministerial portfolios in any future deal.

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"You do have to be able to drive whatever it is that you are trying to [change]. And that's really what the Maori Party is grappling with right now."

Mr Key told a road transport forum yesterday that the country was facing "challenging economic conditions" and that could have serious effects on the economy for some time yet.

"This is not a time for a big- spending government with a careless attitude towards the public purse."

- The Dominion Post

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