Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Leaders' conflict surfaces in debate

Minor party leaders Brendan Horan (from left), Hone Harawira, Winston Peters, Russel Norman, Te Ururoa Flavell, Peter Dunne, Jamie Whyte and Colin Craig. Photo / Getty Images
Minor party leaders Brendan Horan (from left), Hone Harawira, Winston Peters, Russel Norman, Te Ururoa Flavell, Peter Dunne, Jamie Whyte and Colin Craig. Photo / Getty Images

New Zealand First's Winston Peters' ongoing rivalry with the Conservative Party's Colin Craig featured in last night's TV One minor parties leaders' debate as Act leader Jamie Whyte, Internet Mana's Hone Harawira and independent MP Brendan Horan struggled to get traction.

With eight leaders appearing, the debate was tightly moderated by host Mike Hosking who at the outset said leaders would be ejected for bad behaviour.

It wasn't long before Mr Peters and Mr Craig clashed, with Mr Peters firing off the same lines he'd been using all yesterday on the campaign trail that a vote for the Conservatives was a wasted vote.

And "you can't buy love and you can't buy an election" he said in a barb at the more than $1 million Mr Craig has poured into his campaign.

Of those intending to vote for the Conservatives rather than NZ First, "the sooner they come home the better", Mr Peters said.

Mr Craig fired back that Mr Peters hadn't taken the opportunity to advance one of their shared policies - binding referendums - when in Government.

Mr Craig and Mr Peters continued their arguing throughout one ad break.

Afterwards, Mr Craig said his rival needed to grow up, and his taunts that the Conservatives wouldn't get into Parliament were off the mark.

"There's a guy who I think everybody understands will be lucky to see out one more term.

"And I've got an entire career ahead of me."

Mr Craig also showed signs of growing political street fighting skills during the debate against United Future's Peter Dunne who when defending his inability to improve his vote in recent elections said his party had "never set out to be spectacular".

"You've succeeded then," Mr Craig interjected.

Meanwhile the debate saw Green Party co-leader Russel Norman say he was not prepared to accept he didn't have a chance of becoming finance minister in a coalition with Labour.

That prospect was ruled out by Labour leader David Cunliffe several weeks ago.

But Dr Norman said it would depend on the support his party received in the polls. "The way it goes voters get to decide and we negotiate after that."

Asked about his party's bottom line, Dr Whyte said his party didn't have any.

Mr Harawira was relatively quiet during the debate, choosing not to interject as others were talking.

However, he was visibly irritated when Hosking suggested Internet Mana wanted to decriminalise cannabis. "Just a bit of clarity - dope and decriminalisation have nothing to do with Internet Mana."

Top of his party's priorities was the elimination of child poverty.

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell continued the low key but firm approach he showed in the earlier debate this week.

He batted away criticism that his party had been burned in its coalition with National, defending "the huge gains for Maori across the board" his party had achieved including getting the issue of child poverty "at the forefront of Government thinking".

Mr Horan endured what looked like an uncomfortable debate as he was questioned by Hosking as to whether he had any right to be there at all as a list MP who had been thrown out of his party.

Winners

Fran O'Sullivan

Winner: Russel Norman
Russel Norman was ruthlessly on-message demonstrating the media-savvy skills that marked him as the de facto leader of the Opposition while Labour worked its way through three leaders in three years. Norman was frank that the Greens expect Cabinet influence proportionate with their numbers in a Labour-led Government. He saw host Mike Hosking coming and did not allow himself to be backed into a corner on coalition bottom lines - particularly on deep sea oil drilling. Norman relentlessly pumped the Greens' mantra - "a cleaner, fairer, smarter New Zealand". It resonates across the spectrum. He was principled but also demonstrated flexibility. The perfect junior coalition partner-in-waiting and clear winner.

John Armstrong

Winner: Winston "Biggles" Peters

We did not learn much that was new. But we did learn that Winston Peters had once harboured ambitions to be a fighter pilot. It explains a lot. The NZ First leader promptly climbed into his Sopwith Camel and began strafing anyone who flew too close to spouting the same line he was running. Less like Top Gun and more akin to Snoopy versus the Red Baron, Peters still saved enough ammunition for his main target - Colin Craig. Along with Act's Jamie Whyte, the Maori Party's Te Ururoa Flavell, Internet Mana's Hone Harawira and Brendan Horan, the Conservative Party leader did not get much of a look-in during the debate. Peter Dunne and Russel Norman were solid and sensible, but not spectacular. The most impressive debater was Mike Hosking, however.

Toby Manhire

Winner: Te Ururoa Flavell

What a contrast to the convivial dinner-party debate the other night. Lined up like garish, symmetrical Kraftwerk tribute acts, the eight men - all men - growled and scowled away. Winston Peters swung his sledgehammer at a wobbly, cruelly-lit Colin Craig: don't waste your vote on them, Peters said. But he'd left his charm in the Chinese restaurant. Russel Norman was stoic, though you know he'd rather not be mixing it with the "minors". Jamie Whyte was as flabbergasted as ever, Hone Harawira strangely muted. And who's that? It's Brendan Horan! Very little to like, but Te Ururoa Flavell left some calm and dignity in the room.

- additional reporting Nicholas Jones

- NZ Herald

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