Four of the five party leaders were fighting for their political lives — but seemed more content to jab at each other than try to land any big hits in last night's TVNZ debate.
The heads of New Zealand First, the Greens, Māori Party, and Advance NZ had to swallow difficult poll numbers just an hour before they took the podium in TVNZ's Auckland studio.
Only Act's David Seymour — whose party scored 8 per cent in the latest 1 News Colmar Brunton poll — could breathe easy heading into the debate.
Seymour took criticism from all sides during the one-hour debate, in particular over his support for a contact tracing card and his plan to reduce benefits to pre-Covid levels.
At one stage, NZ First leader criticised Act and Seymour for not having modern economic ideas. "I can't believe Winston Peters is calling me out of date," Seymour said, later labelling Peters as a "silver fox".
Seymour had argued that New Zealand needed to get "Taiwan-smart" with new technology like a CovidCard so it could maintain elimination without lockdowns.
Green Party co-leader James Shaw said it was "extraordinary" that a libertarian party would support such an encroachment on civil liberties.
The Greens dropped to 6 per cent in the Colmar Brunton poll — close to the 5 per cent threshold to return to Parliament. Shaw urged people to vote Greens to avoid a one-party government. "If we do not make it back into Parliament, you run the risk of one party having all the power."
All party leaders except Advance NZ leader Jami-Lee Ross said they would get the Covid-19 vaccine once it was available, though none of them believed it should be mandatory.
NZ First leader Winston Peters played down his party nudging up to 2 per cent in the poll, saying it was "people out there who will decide the election". He also said he was against lowering the 5 per cent threshold.
Shaw, though, was keen to drop it down to 4 per cent and Māori Party co-leader John Tamihere also said the threshold was too high.
When asked for innovative ideas to stimulate the economy, Tamihere said Māori could not currently participate in the economy because many of them went to decile 1 schools and left without a qualification. He wanted Māori children educated the same as children in decile 9 and 10 schools.
There was a rare meeting of minds between Tamihere and Peters when the Māori Party co-leader said he wanted to curb immigration to ease pressure on housing.
"Better late than never," smirked Peters, an immigration hardliner.
Ross, whose party was only at 1 per cent in the polls, criticised what he felt was the Government's "lockdowns at any cost" response to the pandemic. But he was also grilled about his "irresponsible" rallies during lockdown and whether he was fit for Parliament given he was facing fraud charges laid by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
Ross, a former National MP, portrayed himself as a whistleblower, shining a light on his previous party's suspect donations. That led to the debate's funniest moment, when host Jessica Mutch McKay said he and Peters had something in common — both of their parties were dealing with the SFO. The camera zoomed in on Peters' face, and he was not impressed.
• Check out the ZB Leaders Breakfast with Peters, Shaw and Seymour.