Saturday night's Battle for the North wasn't so much a battle as a series of minor skirmishes as 11 candidates made a last-ditch effort to sway undecided voters ahead of the October 17 general election.
The event, organised by Kaitaia-based Te Hiku Media, saw would-be MPs from the region's three electorates face a mix of rapid-fire queries and questions tailored to specific candidates.
An audience of about 200 at Kerikeri's Turner Centre watched the debates which were also livestreamed to a bigger audience with panel discussions between each session.
The hosts were journalist Heeni Brown and teacher/district councillor Moko Tepania.
A large number of candidates and questions meant there was little time for in-depth discussion but there were occasional insights into candidates' character and beliefs. Some of the most revealing answers came as they were quizzed about the referenda on cannabis and the End of Life Choice Act.
First up was the Whangārei electorate where former GP Shane Reti (National) is being challenged by Moea Armstrong (Greens), Emily Henderson (Labour) and David Wilson (NZ First).
Their topics included a proposal to merge most of the country's district health boards (opposed by Reti because Northland's needs would be subsumed by Auckland, though he agreed with getting rid of the boards' elected members), student loans (according to Wilson, "the stupidest thing ever brought in by National") and moving the Ports of Auckland to Marsden Pt.
They also jousted over a stalled social housing plan at Puriri Park which, depending on who you believed, was in the wrong place or a victim of nimbyism.
Reti played up National's "steady hand on the tiller" and experience in rebuilding the economy after crises, and said a four-lane highway to replace the "death trap" south of Whangārei would be the region's biggest economic driver.
Armstrong, however, said a four-lane highway was "just so last century" and would quickly fill up with cars and drive up CO2 emissions. She called for high-speed rail between Whangārei and Auckland instead.
Henderson said the four big projects mooted for Northport were "absolute winners", starting with the Navy dry dock, and a Labour government would continue investing heavily in rail to shift trucks off the roads, reduce potholes and cut CO2 emissions.
Wilson said the $300 million dry dock should go ahead only when the country could afford it and dismissed National's plan for a public-private partnership, saying vital defence infrastructure shouldn't be privately owned.
Tepania quizzed Reti on National's plan to bore a tunnel through the Brynderwyns but the MP gave an answer about his favourite four-lane highway instead.
In the two-way Tai Tokerau debate the Māori Party's Mariameno Kapa-Kingi dominated sitting MP Kelvin Davis (Labour).
Davis appeared frustrated when he didn't have a chance to answer a question and when Brown talked over his closing statement, apparently mistaking Davis' claim there wasn't enough time to list all of Labour's achievements for a complaint about the way the debate was run.
The pair agreed on the need to devolve Oranga Tamariki's work to iwi but clashed over statues and making te reo compulsory at schools.
Davis wanted the language normalised but said he didn't support compulsory te reo at schools, as much as he'd love to see that happen.
"If we force compulsion on anyone there could be a backlash and do more harm than good."
Kapa-Kingi, however, said Māori had to be "bold and brave" and asked why anyone would "second-rate their own language".
They also clashed over the End of Life Choice Act with Kapa-Kingi saying she was opposed while Davis talked about a tangi a few days earlier of a koro whose declining health had made life unbearable. That man should have been given a chance to die peacefully and with dignity, Davis said.
Kapa-Kingi took Davis to task, saying it was not appropriate to share that story at a public meeting, until the audience called on them to "haere tonu" (carry on) the debate.
The final debate featured five candidates contesting the Northland electorate: Mark Cameron (Act), Shane Jones (NZ First), Matt King (National), Willow-Jean Prime (Labour) and Darleen Tana Hoff-Nielsen (Greens).
Tepania's first question, about the Māori response to Covid-19, was directed at the current MP.
King said he could understand why isolated communities wanted to put up checkpoints.
"But they're illegal. You can't have one group of people stopping another group of people going about their lawful business."
That sparked a fiery response from Prime, who said Covid required a team response from NZers. Instead King had filled social media with inflammatory comments and caused unnecessary division.
Tana Hoff-Nielsen called the checkpoints a "beautiful" effort to protect kaumātua and kuia, while Cameron said blocking transit routes was illegal and Jones criticised Ngāti Kuri for preventing access to Cape Reinga.
Throughout the debate Jones spoke as if he was addressing a crowd of 20,000 without a microphone. His favourite phrase of the night, used in relation to bureaucracy, was "pettifogging nitpickers".
On kickstarting the economy, Jones wanted Ports of Auckland shifted to Northland while Prime and Tana Hoff-Nielsen called for more local processing instead of exporting raw products. Cameron called for more engagement with the private sector to secure the borders against Covid.
All five said the RMA needed to be reformed and all agreed on the seriousness of the housing crisis, though not on how to fix it.
King said the market would fix it, given the right conditions, while Prime favoured government-backed rent-to-own schemes.
On legalising cannabis, Jones said no ("You have to give up smoking but you're going to legalise dope?") while Tana Hoff-Nielsen and Prime said yes. They said the drug should be treated as health issue not a crime, and the current law disproportionately harmed Māori and Northland.
King was against legalisation because he had seen the drug's effect on young brains during his policing career, while Cameron said it was a freedom of choice issue.
Other topics included methamphetamine, suicide, water storage, and whether multinationals such as Facebook and Google should be forced to pay tax.