Don’t know who to vote for? Tired of all the campaign noise? There are only two days to go and then it’ll be all over.
There are several parties to choose from but realistically only six are likely to enter Parliament: National, Labour, the Greens, Act, NZ First and Te Pāti Māori.
A vote for anyone else would be exercising your democratic right, but your choice will almost certainly fall short of making it into Parliament.
All parties have released their policy platforms, and the easiest way to vote is to choose which party best represents what you want to happen in New Zealand.
Or you might be passionate about particular issues. Not sure who wants to do what? The Herald has policy comparisons across the six parties on housing, tax (including income tax), Māori priorities, health, social welfare, education, transport, climate change and law and order.
Or maybe you’re drawn to a particular leader, especially having tuned in to the final leaders’ debate on TVNZ last night, or any of the recent minor party leaders’ debates.
But the shape of the next government will also involve more than one party.
A National-Act coalition is one possible outcome, though the chances of this have diminished in recent weeks.
Without the self-proclaimed handbrake of NZ First, Act would have more leverage on issues that NZ First would otherwise block, such as partial asset sales or a referendum on the Treaty of Waitangi principles. National’s tax package might also be easier to get over the negotiating line, given NZ First leader Winston Peters’ traditional opposition to allowing foreign buyers a piece of the New Zealand residential housing pie, and his view that National’s new online gambling tax isn’t credible.
The most likely outcome - according to polling trends - is a National-Act-NZ First governing arrangement. And while it’s impossible to know what shape this road would take (given how the votes are still yet to be counted), a flavour can be seen by where the parties do or do not align. They have similar ideas, for example, around a more punitive criminal justice system, a harder line on beneficiaries, and shifting the balance towards farmers rather than environmental regulation, and towards employers rather than employees.
The same polling trends show a four-way arrangement with Labour, the Greens, Te Pāti Māori and NZ First may also end up with the numbers to govern. But Peters and Labour leader Chris Hipkins have repeatedly ruled each other out in every way, shape or form. So the other road is paved by a Labour-Green-Te Pāti Māori partnership, which has a very slim - though improving - chance, based on current polling.
Assuming Hipkins kept his promise of no wealth tax this term, the Greens would likely push Labour on drug law reform, improving access to affordable medicinal cannabis, expanding Fair Pay Agreements, more public transport subsidies, and stronger environmental protections and climate change action.
Te Pāti Māori also wants an overhaul of drug laws, which are widely seen as no longer fit for purpose. In general it wants rangatiratanga (self-determination) and has called for a Māori Justice Authority (funded with 50 per cent of the Corrections, Police and Courts budgets), a Māori ACC Authority, a Mokopuna Māori Authority (with $1b in funding from Oranga Tamariki) - all aimed at improving outcomes for Māori while ensuring a voice at the highest decision-making level.
Given Hipkins’ justification of the Māori Health Authority, he should have no philosophical objection to more indigenous independence in other public services, although he said he wasn’t proposing them “at the moment”. He has also said he would be open to reviewing drug laws as well as looking at decriminalising cannabis use, having voted to legalise it in the 2020 referendum.
Expect both the Greens and Te Pāti Māori to push Labour much harder on implementing the recommendations of the He Ara Oranga report into mental health and addiction, the report from the welfare expert advisory group, and the Turiki! Turiki! justice report from the Safe and Effective Justice group - all of which have been gathering dust to varying degrees.
There are also some areas of broad political consensus across the right and the left, such as the need to build more houses, to use immigration over the short-term to hire more doctors and nurses, to fill our massive infrastructure holes, and to focus on essential subjects in education.
But there are also clear areas where there’s a sharp fork in the road. Which way you want to go depends on what you think is best for the country, and whose crystal ball you believe.
Cost of living, taxes and crystal balls
This is the biggest issue of the election, and the unwritten rule under most MMP governments has been that the larger party’s tax plan has prevailed.
What National’s tax package means for you depends on factors like whether you have children, but in general terms someone who earns $40,000 would get an extra $112 a year, rising to $800 a year for a $60,000 salary, and $1043 a year for an $80,000-plus salary.
National also wants to give tax breaks to landlords by restoring interest deductibility on rental income (the most up-to-date figures show this costing $100m a year more than National says), a 15 per cent foreign buyer tax on residential property worth more than $2m (economists say this would generate about $450m a year less than National says), and an online gambling tax (questions remain over whether this is do-able and, if so, how much it would raise).
Act and NZ First have indicated they don’t think National’s tax package is credible but, along with the general public, are yet to see National’s detailed costings.
Any revenue shortfall - and there is no certainty on whether there would be any - could be made up by trimming the public service beyond what National has planned for. This would also put more downward pressure on inflation, all other things being equal, which might work in National’s favour given the Goldman Sachs analysis of its tax package potentially pushing interest rates higher.
National’s crystal ball says it can do all those things while bringing inflation down, not pushing up house prices, and not negatively affecting frontline public services.
Act wants to cut the public service to 2017 levels, which would mean slashing 15,000 jobs, while also cutting whole agencies or ministries. NZ First also thinks there is room for trimming, but hasn’t put a figure on it. Its manifesto says it wants government “must haves” not “nice to haves”.
Act and NZ First would want a high price for supporting the tax package, and there is wriggle room; National has budgeted $9.9b over four years in unallocated operating spending, and $8b in unallocated capital spending.
In pitching to swing voters, both National and Labour want to boost Working For Families, the in-work tax credit, and an increase in support to make childcare cheaper.
They both say they want to grow the economy but not end up with growth based on booming house prices and record migration. The Herald’s business editor at large, Liam Dann, has sized up Luxon’s and Hipkins’ plans to boost productivity and says: “Neither was able to offer any great detail on specific policies that will drive that change.”
Labour has a 10-point plan for the cost of living, though some of it is broad rhetoric such as “creating jobs and growing wages”, “bringing inflation under control”, and “reducing power bills” (at least for the latter there is some plausible substance - increasing home insulation).
More substantively, it wants to extend the lunches-in-schools programme (though Treasury says it has no effect on attendance and little benefit for Māori students), expand free basic dental care to under 30s (with rollout starting next year despite questions over workforce capacity), remove the $5 prescription fee (which National would keep for the poor), and have free or subsidised public transport for young people.
Labour wants to remove GST from fruit and vegetables, even though this would benefit the wealthy more (the Taxpayers’ Union says Labour underestimates the increase in demand by $100m a year, which Labour rejects). Questions remain over whether supermarkets would pass on their savings to consumers (advice to the Government says not all of it would trickle through, while the policy has been widely panned by economists).
The same questions hover over whether landlords would pass National’s tax-break savings on to tenants, thereby reducing rents (despite a government report saying wage growth and the supply and demand for housing are the main drivers of rent prices, rather than tenancy laws or tax breaks for landlords).
A major problem for the Greens and Te Pāti Māori is that much of their spending plans would be funded by the wealth tax that Hipkins has ruled out for next term. One concession he could offer would be to consider campaigning on one in 2026, but Hipkins has said there’s no way it would be implemented this term.
Labour is also under huge pressure to stay within its spending promises, something it has been unable to do, blaming the pandemic, natural disasters and easing cost of living pressures. Finance spokesman Grant Robertson has gone so far as to say he won’t go over his spending promise unless there is another cyclone or similar event.
Labour’s crystal ball says it will spend within its limits and the economy will continue to grow, but not so much that interest rates need to stay higher for longer.
Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori may have more common ground than the triumvirate on the right, but that might mean little if there’s no money left to spend. If Labour implemented its policy platform, there’d only be about a $1b a year left over for new spending.
A National Party promise to decouple benefit increases from average wage growth would save $2 billion over the next four years, but by the end of the decade, hundreds of thousands of people would get more than $50 a week less than they otherwise would under Labour.
Act leader David Seymour doesn’t oppose National on this, while Peters said: “The whole plan for the future is building this economy back as fast as possible”.
This is also National leader Christopher Luxon’s answer when asked about the impact of this change on poverty - which generally has downstream effects on education, mental health, crime, employment, housing: that a growing economy lifts all boats, including those on benefits.
Economist Cameron Bagrie echoes Luxon’s sentiment about a growing economy, but adds that using headline inflation - which National used in its fiscal plan - could mean beneficiaries go backwards in real terms because it includes goods and services they don’t typically use.
Luxon says inflation is the most appropriate measure, given it’s about keeping up with the cost of living. It would also incentivise beneficiaries to find work, he says.
Treasury forecasts show wage growth dropping from 6.9 per cent this June to 3.7 per cent in 2027. Inflation is currently 6 per cent, and forecast to fall to 3.8 per cent in June next year and then below 3 per cent in subsequent years.
Labour would continue pegging benefit levels to wages, which Child Poverty Action Group economist Susan St John says would allow beneficiaries to maintain living standards relative to workers and those on superannuation.
Auckland City Missioner Helen Robinson said poverty disproportionately affects Māori, Pacific people and women.
“Let’s acknowledge the impact of colonisation and racism, and speak to that,” she told the Herald.
“The evidence is that we need to mark it [benefits] to wages because wages grow faster than inflation. I would also go one step further just to add that our current benefit levels - I want to acknowledge this current government and the increase they gave (in 2019) - but it’s not enough. The people who are on benefits are suffering deeply.
“This election is an opportunity to actually have a clarion call to say, ‘let’s value and look after people who don’t have access to resources’. There are multiple costs of not doing that. People are dying, people are hungry, people don’t have homes.”
There’s a general divide between the right, which says locking up criminals for longer will make the public safer because they can’t hurt anyone when behind bars, and the left, which says that spending longer behind bars will make them more dangerous and will cause more harm to the public in the long-term. The latter is in part based on prisons being an expensive training ground for further offending, as described by chief science adviser for justice Dr Ian Lambie.
Everyone agrees that recorded crime is rising and people who can be rehabilitated should be rehabilitated, which is another way of saying that some people need to be locked up to keep the public safe (though Te Pāti Māori wants to abolish prisons by 2040).
But where that line should be drawn is where parties differ.
The right triumvirate wants harsher penalties on gangs and serious young offenders, and to tighten how much of a sentencing discount judges can give by restricting - or scrapping, in Act’s case - the use of cultural reports. They expect the prison population to rise.
National and Act want a return of Three Strikes, and while this particular law isn’t mentioned in the NZ First manifesto, there is specific support for “mandatory minimum sentences for serious violent and sexual offenders”. NZ First also wants a review into low-level offending with an increase in fines for shoplifting or texting while driving.
It also joins the Greens and Te Pāti Māori in supporting wrap-around, “by Māori, for Māori” services to help unstable families who often experience intergenerational trauma (National also wants to do this via its Social Investment programme), but successive governments have fallen short in terms of helping society’s most vulnerable in the critical early years.
The left triumvirate back specialist courts (also supported by the previous National government) - including the Rangatahi and Pasifika Youth Courts, and the Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment courts - which steer those who admit their offending away from prison towards tailored community support and rehabilitation. There are indications that these are better at reducing reoffending.
Research also suggests that greater use of non-custodial sentences in the Youth Court, which started under the last National government, has led to significantly less contact with the justice pipeline among the same cohort as they became young adults.
The Greens specifically highlight poverty as a driver of crime, and tout its universal basic income as one of the remedies - but the lack of a wealth tax leaves a giant hole in funding such universals.
There’s a lot of noise in this one.
Hipkins says National, Act and NZ First have adopted the divisive language of Don Brash when he was National’s leader in 2004, and almost led them to victory in 2005 after his infamous Orewa speech.
He said they’ve been race-baiting - which those parties have all rejected - by using specific rhetoric including “the special privileges for Māori” narrative, “one law for all”, and the call to “end race-based policies”.
Seymour has said he doesn’t want any racists to vote for Act, though he conceded someone who is anti-Māori might be drawn to such rhetoric in the same way Te Pāti Māori rhetoric about superior genes might appeal to someone who is anti-Pākehā.
Hipkins: “I believe that non-Māori have nothing to fear and everything to gain from Māori having more self-determination, better health outcomes, better education outcomes or co-governance arrangements.”
He essentially acknowledged systemic racism - conscious or otherwise - by endorsing efforts in the public service to use ethnicity to improve the poor outcomes that Māori experience, which are prevalent in health, including surgery waitlists, education, justice, housing and welfare. Such inequitable outcomes are well-documented, and are the main reasons Te Aka Whai Ora - Māori Health Authority was created, along with ensuring an indigenous voice at the decision-making table.
Asked about a similar authority for justice or education, Hipkins said: “We’re not proposing those right at the moment”. He then talked about the great work in education supporting “by Māori, for Māori” solutions at a local level, which is exactly what Luxon says he wants to support.
“Local iwi want to deliver and deploy services and resources on the ground in their local communities,” Luxon said on Saturday. “That’s what we believe, as a party that’s built on localism and devolution. That’s what we have in common [with Māori].”
The difference, Luxon says, is that he wants those to be delivered under a single public service, such as the Ministry of Education in Hipkins’ example, rather than under the Māori Health Authority, which he says creates two separate systems. He has pledged to ring-fence the $170m freed up by scrapping the authority for iwi-based services.
Luxon, Seymour and Peters are all opposed to Māori having legislated seats at the table for Three Waters reform or on local authorities. They think a needs-based public service would address Māori inequities better than one that takes account of race as well as need.
Luxon appears to see supporting “by Māori, for Māori” services as not inconsistent with a system based on need, not race. He has also “absolutely” talked about the importance of giving a voice and representation for Māori at decision-making levels.
He received a tentative endorsement after visiting the Te Puna Hapori site, a hub that will provide a range of whānau-centric wellbeing services, in Whanganui last week.
“Our position is pretty straightforward. We want to ensure that the decision-making, resourcing etc is made here within our hapu and iwi,” Te Puna Hapori governance group co-chairman Ken Mair told the Herald.
He said he was supportive of Luxon’s message of local solutions to local problems.
“We can’t move without some mad bureaucrat in Wellington telling us this is the way to do it. The voices of Māori must be heard and, more importantly, understood and implemented. The present system, and historically, has failed to do that.
“We were certainly on the same page around decentralisation, or as he put it localisation and devolution, with making our decisions here within Whanganui with our values, through our lens. I think we were clearly on the same page in regard to that.”
He said Luxon appeared willing to listen, but whether anything would change for the better - assuming Luxon becomes Prime Minister - remained to be seen.
Derek Cheng is a senior journalist who started at the Herald in 2004. He has worked several stints in the press gallery and is a former deputy political editor.