Two more earthquakes, a failed fuel pipeline, election claims and counter-claims - this is no time for complacency.

The sooner the election can be put to bed and an energetic and focused Government gets down to work, the better.

This has been one of the longest election campaigns in New Zealand's recent political history. After nearly seven weeks on the road, the political veneer is wearing thin. The oxygen has been sucked from the leaders' campaigns by other significant realities.

Last night's leaders debate was the final clash ahead of Saturday's polling day. National was ahead in TVNZ's poll on 46 per cent compared with Labour on 37 per cent.


Expect the trend to be clear early on Saturday evening given the huge numbers who have already voted.

Here are three issues that are top of mind for me.


Jacinda Ardern's "relentless positivity" started to wear thin last week as the lengthy campaign exposed some understandable weaknesses which can be boiled down to lack of experience.

Ardern is a sensation. She has hit the issues that concern New Zealanders such as housing affordability. But she has come unstuck on the detail and over-reached with her unnecessary Captain's Calls - this has played into Labour's poll decline.

I was struck by analysis released by Professor Claire Robinson (aka "Spin Professor") who has produced very useful work after each election since 2011. In an article Robinson wrote for the Spinoff she looked at the press image coverage of both Ardern and Bill English in two periods: the two-week period August 5-20, starting not long after Ardern became leader of the Labour Party, and the final three weeks of the campaign. She pointed out she was only looking at newspapers she had included in her 2011 study as they had turned out to be adequately representative of the whole country.

Her research showed that from August 5-20 there were 94 images of the two major party leaders. English featured in 23 images (24.5 per cent); Ardern featured in 71 images (75.5 per cent). English had 13.3 per cent of front-page images to Ardern's 86.6 per cent. As Robinson wrote, that was quite a discrepancy, but it was also understandable because New Zealanders deserved to know more about the new "history-defying leader of the Labour Party".

In the final three weeks of the campaign (Robinson wrote this with five days still to go) the coverage was more equitable. Between September 4-17, 111 images were published. Fifty (45 per cent) were of English; 61 (55 per cent) of Ardern. Wrote Robinson, "while she still has a small advantage when it comes to front-page images they are on an even playing field, both having 10 ( 50 per cent).

Robinson's figures also show how the news media's focus on "Jacindamania" gave the Labour leader a head start.

The lengthy campaign has also enabled the country to get to know more about English. But to lead New Zealand successfully for a National-led fourth-term in Government he needs to develop a laser-like focus, ditch the time-servers by energising his Cabinet and tackle the issues that worry New Zealanders, particularly housing, with urgency.

Ardern has intimated she would be comfortable with exploring accessing China's ability to manufacture at scale to ensure New Zealand moves more quickly to catch up on infrastructure and the housing build. What's stopping National "going to the world" to ramp up a solution?

The point is, new solutions are needed - and fast.

My choice: Bill English.

New Zealand's place in the world

First, NZ's security posture.

The next Prime Minister will have to focus on the North Korean situation. US President Donald Trump has not hesitated in ramping up the rhetoric in response to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's missile launches, labelling him "rocket man".

Across the Tasman, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has backed Trump's fiery language where he said the "the whole country will be wiped out" and "many, many thousands of innocent people will die" if the regime attacks the US or its allies. NZ is one of those allies.

Relentless positivity will not cut it in this environment.

There are some hard choices ahead and it will require a deft touch to work through the dilemma facing a Government that also does not want to get on the wrong side of China, particularly also at a time when academics and media are focusing on Chinese exercise of soft power in New Zealand.

Second, trade.

NZ has carved a reputation as being in the vanguard of the pro-trade nations. Not a protectionist. Finalising TPP 11 will be a major milestone if it can be brought off.

What New Zealand does not want to do is be faced with renegotiating a raft of FTAs simply to solve a housing issue. There are other more pragmatic avenues which will deal with the housing matter.

My choice: Bill English.

Switzerland of the South Pacific - or not?

John Key talked about how New Zealand was on "the cusp of something special".

Key meant a New Zealand that was outwardly focused; a major drawcard for nationals of other countries to live and invest here - in effect completing the transformation from a backwoods nation where many Kiwis, including the vast number that live in Australia, sought to emigrate from.

That transition is underway.

But there are social problems that have to be dealt with fast.

The next Government faces the delicate balance of ensuring New Zealand continues to transform into a hot country where people want to build their lives (and not escape from), but at the same time mount an inclusive catchup.

This is harder: Jacinda Ardern (by a whisker).

Pity the pair are not in the same camp.