Stark choice between two major parties

JOHN HARTEVELT AND ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 05:00 25/11/2011
JOHN KEY
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax NZ
NATIONAL LEADER: John Key.
Labour leader Phil Goff.
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax NZ
LABOUR LEADER: Phil Goff.

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The country is set to go to the polls facing its starkest choice between the two major parties in a decade.

After a recession, two massive earthquakes and now an unfolding European debt crisis, neither Labour nor National is offering big-spending promises.

Instead, Labour's prescription centres on a capital gains tax and compulsory savings scheme, and National's on partial asset sales and fiscal austerity.

Latest polls last night pointed to a historic first under the MMP (mixed member proportional) voting system, with National on 50 per cent – enough to govern alone – in two major surveys. Labour faced its worst result since 1996, with 26 per cent support in one poll and 28 per cent in another.

The Green Party scored in the double figures again and is on track to add up to six or seven extra MPs.

Labour leader Phil Goff last night admitted the party had struggled to get one of its most controversial policies across to voters.

"I think that a lot of New Zealanders only got the message that the retirement age will go up, not the time frame and not the exclusion of people who physically just weren't capable of continuing to work," Mr Goff said.

The surprise move to push for an increase in the pension age from 65 to 67, by two months a year starting in 2020, was announced as part of Labour's savings package four weeks ago.

The package also included a policy to make KiwiSaver compulsory in 2014 and an immediate resumption of contributions to the national superannuation fund – a policy that would cost $6.1 billion over four years.

The cost of super fund contributions became a flashpoint in the campaign, with National leader John Key charging that it added extra debt that was unaffordable and illogical.

National would resume contributions when the Government's accounts returned to surplus, which was expected in 2014-15.

Mr Key, on the first day of a campaign bus tour of the North Island, yesterday continued his focus on debt.

While some people had "apprehensions" about National's partial asset sales plan, they could "understand the logic" of needing to buy more assets and upgrade infrastructure without adding more debt, he said.

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People were "adamantly opposed" to Labour's proposed capital gains tax, he said.

Mr Goff said Labour's internal polling had initially shown more people were against the tax than for it, but the mood had shifted.

The Green Party, which called for the tax before Labour decided on it, has also moved for policy gains on savings. Co-leader Russel Norman announced at the Greens' campaign launch that they would chase a "public option" KiwiSaver account, run through the super fund with drastically reduced fees.

The Greens have unusually left open the prospect of a deal with National if it is re-elected tomorrow, although any deal is unlikely to be more than a memorandum of understanding, as opposed to a formal coalition.

While the Greens would go to Labour before National, Mr Goff's best hope of becoming prime minister tomorrow would appear to be a comeback by NZ First, which Mr Key has ruled out as a partner.

Mr Goff starts his final campaign journey today to Rotorua before stopping for a barbecue in South Auckland tonight. Mr Key is going to Auckland, where he will wind up at a function in his Helensville electorate.

- Fairfax NZ

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