Dunne wins debate by a hair

By Derek Cheng

Peter Dunne constantly looked natural when seizing every opportunity to speak.
Photo / Mark Mitchell
Peter Dunne constantly looked natural when seizing every opportunity to speak. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It was a Peter Dunne victory by a hair quiff over Metiria Turei, while Don Brash and Pita Sharples were unable to stamp their mark on the first minor party leaders' debate this morning.

It's always hard to come across as authoritative when five people are squabbling for their 20-seconds' worth. They can either take the debate by the scruff of the neck, or wait politely for the speaking baton to be passed on.

As the debate on TVNZ's Q+A moved from the age of superannuation eligibility to youth unemployment to asset sales, United Future's Peter Dunne constantly looked natural when seizing every opportunity to speak, without talking over the others or looking like he was hogging the pulpit.

Several times in the debate when speakers were interrupted by host Paul Holmes, it was Dunne who took the initiative and chimed in with his two cents.

In contrast the infinitely polite Act leader Don Brash - who in 2005 defended his hesitancy during debates with Helen Clark as not wanting to interrupt a woman - constantly looked like he was bursting with things to say, but he never had the boldness to inject himself.

Few will applaud him for his courtesy. Most will see him as too timid to shout from the rooftops the policies that he says the country so desperately needs.

It was a worse look than Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, who similarly only spoke when Holmes handed him a chance, but he did not look as hopeless as Brash simply because he didn't look like he had much to contribute outside of this window.
But it's one thing to be authoritative. It's another to be convincing, and Mana leader Hone Harawira's slogans of "feed the children" and "people before profit" will only get him so far.

Dunne showed his experience in using slogans - "fairness and choice" - to compliment a degree of policy-speak, notably on his idea of a flexible superannuation scheme starting as early as age 60, and in arguing that the debate over state asset sales was wrong because, under National's proposal, the Government would still hold a majority share.
Greens co-leader Metiria Turei also mixed slogans and policy well, sticking to the Greens core message of cleaning up the rivers, lifting children out of poverty and a greener economy.

But she came across less convincingly on issues where the Green stance is grayer; for superannuation eligibility, it seems to be "we're open to discussion", while on its tax-free zone for the first $10,000 income, it seems to be "if it doesn't happen it's okay because it's not a priority".

Her speaking has improved markedly since taking over the co-leadership, and she often used pithy interjections - a gentle "that's not true" to whatever Don Brash said - and warm laughter.

She guffawed to the heavens at Brash's argument that the private sector run businesses better than the state. And she smiled disarmingly when she and Brash turned to face each other for a more personal disagreement on how to make New Zealand a high wage economy.

Just when it seemed the two of them were going to smile each other to death, Holmes cut them off, and Dunne, once again, was right there to scoop up the mess.

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