Claire Trevett - Herald political editor
I’m sorry, but what a snoozefest the two contenders to be Prime Minister treated us to in the first TV debate.
The only new things we learned were that both of them bought their own first homes in their early 20s and that Christopher Luxon likes to do his doctor’s consultations by Zoom.
A moment of excitement came towards the end when Luxon was asked what he personally had done to address climate change, and he said his family had “embraced recycling some time ago”. He added “my wife owns the most famous EV in New Zealand” - so at least we know he can laugh about himself.
Otherwise, both fought their corners predictably and evenly.
Both men gave themselves an 8 out of 10 for their performance afterwards – and it was very nearly a draw.
They get an A+ for delivering the set-piece lines they have now been delivering for months but neither had a transcendental moment or delivered a killer blow.
Luxon defended landlords and lambasted gangs, refused to release his tax costings and attacked the Labour government’s delivery record on pretty much everything.
Chris Hipkins defended his record on Covid-19 and lambasted National’s tax cuts costings and boot camps.
There were some vigorous moments – an early contretemps over National’s tax cuts policy and a few lukewarm zingers.
Luxon very nearly pledged to roll out free school lunches nationwide, but was saved by adding the word “targeted”.
Hipkins did have the courage of his convictions to mount a strong defence of the Government’s co-governance measures and to challenge Luxon strongly on it. He deserves points for that.
But Hipkins had a record to answer for, whereas Luxon could stick to what he wanted to do rather than what he hadn’t done.
The “you’ve had six years” line was on high rotation from Luxon – and very hard to answer.
Better luck next week, Hipkins.
Winner: Christopher Luxon
Shayne Currie - NZME editor at large
During the first ad break of the debate, Chris Hipkins approached the audience, shaking hands with several seasoned political journalists. A couple said they couldn’t remember him doing that before, in any setting. Perhaps he was still shaking off nerves.
He was asked how he thought the first segment had gone. “Oh, it’s all right.”
Hardly a ringing endorsement but likely a sentiment shared by hundreds of thousands of viewers. “The battle of the bland,” one colleague texted.
Aside from the quick-fire questions - where the leaders agreed on many of the answers - the night barely fired. There was little inspiration, and virtually no vision for the future of our country. Is this what we’re in for, for the next three years?
Christopher Luxon had the lines – “You’ve had six years!” - more presence and authority in the studio. He won the debate on that basis, but it was no knockout. They danced around each other for too long.
Hipkins was surprisingly subdued for much of the night, struggling to hammer his messages home.
He only sparked up in the final 30 minutes. His best moments were when he faced Luxon directly, tackling him on whether landlords would really pass on tax breaks in the form of rent relief to tenants.
Serial protester/gatecrasher Karl Mokaraka was outside TVNZ at the start of the night – I suspect even he’d given up and gone home before the end.
Winner: Christopher Luxon
Audrey Young - Herald senior political correspondent
Chris Hipkins made better use of facts, such as the actual wages that have been lifted for nurses, for example, and the different approaches to addressing young criminals – an 80 per cent success rate for Labour’s wrap-around response versus an 80 per cent failure rate for National’s boot camps.
Christopher Luxon, despite saying he doesn’t do bumper stickers, relied more on glib slogans such as his answer to tackling the climate emergency: “You’ve got to have a plan and you’ve got to get things done” and his dismissal of GST off fruit and vegetables as “a couple of cents off your beans and carrots”.
They were in sync on many issues and both declined to answer questions about a hypothetical invasion of Taiwan by China. The question was too bald.
Hipkins got in a couple of good challenges such as pressing Luxon as to whether landlords would pass on the gains they would make under National to tenants.
Neither actually excelled. But Luxon dominated the debate, both time-wise and in his assertiveness. Probably because of the questions, Hipkins was almost always on the defensive, offering nothing new.
Luxon was better but only by a small margin.
Winner: Christopher Luxon
Thomas Coughlan - Herald deputy political editor
Christopher Luxon won tonight’s debate. He was more confident, articulated his plans more concisely, and did a better job wrestling Chris Hipkins to the ground when he was on a roll. He even managed to dial down his repetitive management consultant speak.
Some of Hipkins’ problems were to do with policy rather than performance.
Hipkins’ basic message was a strong one, New Zealand cannot go forward by winding things back, but Hipkins did not cut in on Luxon enough to make that point, and when Hipkins did have the mic, he didn’t make his points clearly enough.
Take health. Labour has an arguably stronger policy on training new doctors than National. Labour promises to train more doctors, faster and at lower cost, getting to 874 doctors training a year by 2027. National wants to build a costly new medical school, getting to just 759 doctors a year by 2030.
Hipkins has a strong point to make there, but he dilly-dallied so much he didn’t make it.
There was another instructive moment. Answering a question from 23-year-old Sky about unfairness in the tax system, Luxon, a multi-millionaire landlord, was able to very convincingly argue that it was Labour’s unwillingness to adjust tax brackets that were unfair.
He’s right, that actually is very unfair, but the greater unfairness is, of course, the taxation of wealth. Also for Hipkins, he boxed himself into a corner on that issue by ruling out any policy to address it.
That particular answer was historic. It’s a rare thing for a multi-millionaire to beat a Labourite on the issue of tax fairness.