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Lively leaders’ debate with a few surprise commitments

Opinion Piece

A feistier contest but still no knockout blows — that seems the general reaction to last night’s second leaders’ debate between National leader Bill English and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern.

Both managed to get some telling barbs at each other.

Ardern had English on the back foot by pressing on with housing issues, although he countered with the fact the market had flattened and claims “the houses are coming”.

English had Ardern going backwards with his questions on taxes and a claim that a capital gains tax was inevitable if Labour was to meet all its spending promises.

Perhaps the surprise of the night came when English committed to reducing child poverty by 100,000 — 50,000 with the Families Income Package from April 1 next year, and the same number from a likely similar package two-and-a-half years from now — which was something not heralded before and seemed to be spur of the moment.

Ardern responded by saying the reason she was in politics was to eliminate child poverty.

Her big commitments were a repeat of John Key’s pledge to resign as prime minister if the age of eligibility for national super was to rise under her watch, and to retaliate against Australia if it continued to disadvantage New Zealanders — for instance by having Australians here treated as international students.

The irrepressible Paddy Gower drew some fire out of both and also injected a note of humour, such as when he quizzed them about what job they might offer Winston Peters.

Verdicts on who was the winner on the night are probably guided by people’s party allegiance. Essentially it was another close contest, where the leaders articulated key differences in their offerings as the next government.

Ardern has done herself no harm and can continue to push the “vision thing” over business as usual in the rest of the campaign. English has shown himself to be polished and assured, as when he responded to Gower’s jibe about his previous record election defeat by saying “I got up again”.