New Zealand is at a crossroads, with a fractured and divided society, a widening gap between the haves and have-nots, Labour leader David Cunliffe says.
Responding to Prime Minister John Key’s traditional statement as Parliament resumed today, Cunliffe said New Zealand had a government that was out of touch "and out for its mates".
Sounding increasingly hoarse after having to speak over shouting National MPs, Cunliffe told Parliament "those in the middle are struggling and the poor are going backwards" under National.
"What is going to be that prime minister’s legacy when he finishes up later this year, just how is he going to be remembered?" he said.
"Well, it won’t be for that visionless, defensive speech.
"It wont be for Hawaii, aka, Planet Key, the place where there’s lots of golf courses but no toilets which won’t be easy for the president of the United States or his security detail."
He attacked National over its fiscal management, saying it had never run a surplus, whereas Labour ran one for nine years in Government.
This year would be the last gasp of "an old, tired, failed way of doing things".
"John Key will go down in history by what the international press call him; unidentified guest."
The Key government had "fine-tuned business as usual while every day more and more Kiwis find themselves struggling".
The economic recovery, meanwhile, rested on the success of New Zealand’s dairy exports and insurance cheques to rebuild Christchurch.
Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the 2014 election represented a turning point in history.
"The result of this election will either be a forward-looking, progressive, reforming government in the tradition of Seddon, Savage and Kirk; or a hard-right throwback government, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Ruth Richardson."
Earlier, in his opening statement to Parliament today, Key made it clear National would be campaigning on its record in Government.
"The Government is continuing to implement its plan to build a faster-growing economy with more jobs and rising incomes, and to support New Zealanders and their families," he said.
"The plan involves returning to surplus and then reducing debt, pushing ahead with a wide-ranging programme of microeconomic reforms to create a more productive and competitive economy, driving better results and better value for money from public services, and supporting the rebuilding of Christchurch.
"This plan is working.
"After much hard work, the Government is effecting a remarkable turnaround in the books with the latest forecasts showing a budget surplus in the next financial year - 2014-15 - after which government debt begins to fall."
Key also outlined the Government's programme for the year including measures to crackdown on tax evasion by multinationals.
He also said that after a succession of "zero" Budgets, the Government would allow $1 billion for new spending in its May Budget, growing at 2 per cent a year for future Budgets.
While the return to Parliament will see a step up in the political jousting and begins the countdown to the election, there was a brief moment of consensus when MPs united to congratulate teenage singer Lorde on her double Grammy success.
Key told Parliament Lorde had achieved "something no New Zealander has", and her success was "remarkable".
"Yesterday this talented young woman made New Zealand sit up and take notice," he said.
Cunliffe said all New Zealanders were proud of Lorde's achievements - "her lyrics and what she stands for resonates with all young New Zealanders."
Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell also praised Lorde - but admitted "Beyonce still does it for me".
NEW MPS SWORN IN
The return to Parliament also saw two new MPs sworn in - National MP Joanne Hayes, replaced Katrina Shanks who resigned to become chief executive of the Funeral Directors' Association, and Labour MP Poto Williams replaced Lianne Dalziel who resigned to campaign and win the Christchurch mayoralty.
- Fairfax Media
Who do you think won Key v Cunliffe's second debate?Related story: Debate a more even playing field