Leaders showed ‘a lot more energy and fight’ in second debate

Analysis – The second leaders’ debate sparked up the election campaign, with Jacinda Ardern finally fessing up to using cannabis – albeit, a long time ago.

When asked in the past, she’s alluded to it, once saying “I was once a Mormon and then I wasn’t, that’s how I’ll put that”. Her admission was one of many highlights of a debate that was the polar opposite to last week’s lacklustre performances.

Today, both the Labour leader and her National counterpart Judith Collins brought a lot more energy and fight to the debate, canvassing questions on policy, promises and character.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and National leader Judith Collins during the Newshub leaders dehate. 30 September 2020

Photo: Screenshot / Newshub

Moderator Patrick Gower ran a tight ship at first but allowed the debate to loosen up as it progressed, but kept the two leaders in check with binary questions and challenges for both.

Covid-19

The leaders were asked what they would do if there was community transmission in Christchurch on Christmas Eve.

Collins said she’d lock down the city, see how far it had spread and the put into action the Covid-19 response plans National would set up if it were elected.

“I think you do have to put people’s health first.”

She would be “very concerned” to put the rest of the country into level 2. “So you have got to be very careful about this.” She would keep the North Island open “unless we have advice otherwise”.

Ardern said she’d do what she had already done in real-life. “I would move to a lockdown, a short one to assess the situation.”

She would put Christchurch into alert level 3 and other parts of the country into level 2.

She said not putting the North Island into level 2 would put people at risk, and that she had seen the advice – and that is the risk of an outbreak spreading is high.

They were asked about travel bubbles – a trans-Tasman one and a Pacific one.

Collins said it would have to be “safe”.

“No-one is getting on a plane to New Zealand under my government without getting a Covid test first.” She would open up the country to Australia by Christmas on a state-by-state basis if it were safe.

Ardern said there had been enormous pressure to open the borders – especially from National. She said Christmas would be possible but that depends on case numbers in Australia.

As for the Pacific, Collins would open up New Zealand borders when the islands wanted to and when it was safe.

Ardern said Covid-19 was much trickier than the leader of the opposition was making it out to be and that testing before flying did not mean that people do not have the virus. She wouldn’t put a date on opening up to the Pacific.

This was the point at which Collins made her first interruptions, clearly annoying Ardern.

The wage subsidy

Up until now, the debate had been run fairly fast and tight, but the wage subsidy saw the two leaders properly clash for the first time.

They were asked about large businesses that took the wage subsidy, fired people, then posted profits.

Ardern said it’s morally wrong.

Collins said if people don’t need the money they shouldn’t take it, and if they have, pay it back.

Collins would try to get it back if she was prime minister. “We may have to change the law. I would say we have a lot of support in Parliament to do that.”

Ardern says she stood by the wage subsidy.

The $1.7bn subsidy ran on a high-trust model, she said, adding that the government was pursuing those that might have used the fund illegally.

Collins said the rules were wrong, and Ardern asked her to say what was wrong with them – but Collins wouldn’t say.

Ardern said it was the first time she had heard that National did not support the wage subsidy.

How do we pay back Covid-19 debt?

Collins said by growing the economy and stimulating growth with a 16-month tax cut.

Ardern said that was irresponsible. “We should be investing in our people, in their skills” and that the economy was already growing – especially for exports.

Ardern took command for a bit, explaining the government’s approach to debt, before being cut off by Collins. That prompted Ardern to ask Collins to “model a bit of good behaviour on the stage”.

Things were continuing in the fast and loose theme by this point, and after Collins scored a few shots at Ardern, Collins was asked how many errors Paul Goldsmith had made in his economic plan.

Newshub National correspondent Patrick Gower moderating the network's leaders debate between Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and National leader Judith Collins.

Moderator Patrick Gower didn’t let either leader off the hook during the debate. Photo: Screenshot / Newshub

Ardern was asked if Labour had failed on housing

This prompted a laugh from Collins, but she was immediately asked how anyone could trust anything she said given housing prices skyrocketed while she was in government.

Both were asked if they wanted house prices to drop.

Ardern said she didn’t “want them to grow”. Collins said in “some cases” they would have to go down.

The debate moved quickly through a question about child abuse and another about gangs – that one ended with Ardern and Collins trying to shout over each other.

Cannabis

The two leaders were asked if they had used it before.

It was a yes from Ardern – “a long time ago” – that answer was a first from her. Collins said no, and said she’d vote against cannabis in the referendum.

Ardern still won’t say how she will vote. Collins said Ardern did not deserve the right to silence on the issue, pointing out she has said how she’ll vote on euthanasia.

“New Zealanders deserve an answer,” Collins said.

Green School

Collins and Ardern were asked if it was wrong that the Green School got $11.7 million. Collins said was. Ardern said it was not.

Health

Continuing the theme of quickfire questions, the mood was lightened when the pair were asked to describe Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield in one word.

“Competent,” Collins said. “Considered,” Ardern said.

Collins’ one word reply to the healthcare system in two words was “generally good”.

Ardern said “broken” – before seizing an opening and getting stuck into how she’d inherited an underfunded system, saying she would need “another term” to fix it.

They battled though some questions on drug funding before being asked: “Is the health system racist?”

Ardern said it was “clearly biased” and not working for Māori. Collins didn’t think it was racist.

Climate change

The pair both said they ate meat about twice a week, but asked if they’d consider eating less in a bid to do their bit for climate change, here’s how they replied:

Ardern said if we were scaling back on meat, we should make sure the meat we do eat is from New Zealand.

Collins said: “I’m not going to tell people how to eat. I’m not into communism.”

Pushed on climate change, Ardern said it was an emergency and promised to declare a climate emergency if re-elected.

Ardern also said the world was changing and that Collins’ ideology was not.

A quickfire end to the end of the debate

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and National leader Judith Collins during the Newshub leaders debate. 30 September 2020.

The pair were having a good time towards the end. Photo: Screenshot / Newshub

The two leaders were asked a series of quick questions, spanning the spectrum from Winston Peters to trees.

This was where the mood lightened and both got in a few laughs and even appeared to get on for a while.

A quick question on Peters – is he irrelevant, they were asked?

A yes from Collins, who ruled out working with Peters after the election. “I’m a Christian and I believe in miracles, but he won’t be one of them.”

Both said they’d support four year terms in government, that they’d rule out any new taxes in the next term, and that we should put up a statue of Kate Sheppard at Parliament.

They were asked about their respective brands and here, Collins said she’d like to be on the cover of Vogue like Ardern.

Ardern in turn said she’d never called Collins “Crusher”. Her favourite tree is a pōhutukawa, while Collins’ is a kōwhai.

Collins has never been to the Chatham Islands while Ardern has never been to Stewart Island.

And things then ended on a question about whether we should have a new flag – a joke, Gower promised.

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