With so many allegations of "dirty politics" flying back and forth, it feels like the election campaign has been going for weeks and voting day cannot be far away. Alas, the campaign has barely begun and still has five weeks to run. National, still the overwhelming favourite in opinion polls, will not even launch its campaign until next Sunday and, as we report today, its choice of venue is interesting.
Rather than return to the SkyCity convention centre where National's previous launches and recent annual conferences have been held, the party is going to the Manukau Events Centre, deep in Labour's territory.
It suggests that National has high hopes of dislodging voters unimpressed with Labour at present and comfortable with John Key. He has particular hopes for a Polynesian vote, having appointed Pesata Sam Lotu Iiga to his ministry this year. If Key cannot change those voters' traditional allegiance they might at least not vote against him. A non-vote can affect the result.
But there is reason to hope his purpose is more positive. By launching in South Auckland, the Government may intend to make a statement that its next term of office would be aimed at lifting the lives of the lower paid. With the economy enjoying strong growth and good prospects for the years ahead, steps should be taken to see that everyone's incomes are lifted.
The Prime Minister hinted after the Budget in May that tax cuts could be offered for low and middle-income brackets at the election. The Government has given itself room within its forward expenditure allowances for tax cuts that might not put its projected surpluses at risk, though its first surplus is not looking promising at present.
Much might depend on the Treasury's pre-election fiscal update this week, but it would not be a complete surprise if tax cuts at lower income rates are the centrepiece of National's campaign launch next weekend. Labour, meanwhile, prefers to use the projected allowances for free medical care for superannuitants and pregnant women among other promises at its campaign launch in Auckland's Viaduct Event Centre last Sunday.
Once both major parties have put their programmes in front of the voters, the campaign will take on more substance. The past few weeks have been marked by an unedifying chant, a cheap racial joke and a book that attempts to smear Key by association with an unsavoury blogger. "Dirty politics" it may be to assist attacks on the opposition, but voters will decide.
National needs to offer something better.