Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins had a fiery clash over climate change and dairying in the third leaders' debate tonight, with Ardern saying National was putting New Zealand's "clean, green reputation" at risk.
Collins countered by saying there was no such thing as a free lunch and agriculture was a powerful economic injection, during The Press debate in the Christchurch Town Hall tonight.
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"We need to wake up ... we have to pay for health, we have to pay for education," Collins said.
"Understand this: there is no free lunch for us in this world. We are a little country that has to fight for every trade deal."
Ardern retorted that farmers were already part of the climate change conversation that was making New Zealand a world-leader, despite the country's tiny relative contribution to global emissions.
"Unless we move on this, we will be left behind and we will lose our brand. Dairying is doing well ... as we work on these environmental issues together.
"It is a sad day when we give up on our reputation of being clean and green."
Neither guessed the price of milk right (about $3.40) or lamb (about $40) but managed to name the cheapest Netflix package at $11.99.
Ardern and Collins face the media after the debate
The political leaders spoke to media afterwards, answering questions on a range of points raised during the debate.
Ardern came out first and spoke to reporters saying "we will see cuts to health and education" under National's plan.
"Voters are going to decide what are our strengths and weaknesses."
Ardern says a policy manifesto is still on the way.
On transport, Ardern said the price point for EV cars was still high for people at $60,000, but it was important to set up the infrastructure for them.
She would not pick a winner for tonight's debate.
When it was Collins' turn to face the media, she offered her opinion on the debaters' performances.
"I feel it was a very good debate, I think politics won," she said.
Collins defended her and Ardern's lack of knowledge of household prices, saying they were both so busy they probably hadn't done the shopping in a while.
She said tax cuts "may be a sugar hit on her salary" referring to Ardern's quip, but not for ordinary people.
Collins said she felt very connected to Samoa and protective of it. Samoa had travel restrictions related to Covid-19 before New Zealand, she said.
On Brownlee she said "what you see is what you get, he's not going to sugercoat anything".
Collins said she would do some research on gay conversion therapy but her number one message to parents was "accept your children".
"Rainbow people are part of the economy," Collins said, adding she believes people shouldn't be discriminated against.
She said the country should come together to talk up New Zealand's produce.
"We produce the best food in the world."
Collins says she wasn't trying to avoid saying she had a BMW. She says she also has an E-Type Jaguar and she and her husband collect classic cars. But she says she wants to get an EV and was in the process of getting a plug put into her garage.
She is looking at a Tesla and a Hyundai.
Collins said Ardern's policies have no pathway toward a reasonable level of debate.
"Ms Ardern calls them captain's calls, I call them leadership calls," she said on fast policy decisions.
She finished up her appearance with a parting comment on the debate: "It was fun wasn't it? Shame we only do it every three years."
National leader Collins was up first in the debate earlier tonight, acknowledging Ngāi Tahu and the people of Lake Ohau.
She also acknowledged Ardern and Gerry Brownlee because of his "special relationship" with The Press, a quip about their previous clashes, garnering a few laughs.
She said the most important issue was the economic recovery, and everyone in Christchurch knew about "going through tough times".
She mentioned National's temporary tax cuts, "an adrenaline pump into the heart of the economy", but it was also important to build infrastructure for "our children and our grandchildren".
Labour leader Ardern said a global pandemic probably felt like the last thing Canterbury needed, a place that had already faced disaster and terror.
"We've learnt from that, and we need to use that now in the wake of Covid-19 and our rebuild."
She said the quake rebuild took too long and there was still more to do.
She stressed the Government's Covid-19 response, and though it hadn't been perfect, the results gave the country an "economic head-start".
"There will be opportunities we need to grasp hold of."
The future needed to include wins for the environment and communities, she said.
"A change of course and instability risks the progress we are making right now ... it's about jobs, it's about training."
Ardern was asked what she would do differently in January if she knew then what she knows now.
She said every leader would have acted differently, but New Zealand was still among the first to close the borders and lock down, and she would have probably done those things sooner.
Collins said National was calling for the borders to close in February, a month before it happened, and "we were told we were scaremongering". She said the response was talking about hygiene, which drew a shake of the head from Ardern.
Collins said Samoa went a month earlier than New Zealand, and when Ardern said that was incorrect, Collins said: "Actually, don't disrespect Samoa," drawing applause as well as heckles from the crowd.
Ardern said National had criticised the government response including calling for the border to Australia and China to be opened, and that every leader in recent times had different stances.
Collins said it shouldn't be "silly talk about who said what when", but about how to build the economy, and about border controls which should apply to Australian rugby players as they do to everyone else.
Ardern said without lockdowns, New Zealand would have to live with Covid-19, which would be "much much worse".
Lockdowns should only be a last resort, Ardern said.
Collins responded by saying Ardern was being "ridiculous" and the second lockdown would have been avoided if border-facing staff were being tested as they should have been.
"I'm not going to have Ms Ardern stand there and just reinvent history," she said.
Ardern said it was "a dreamland" to think Kiwis coming back to New Zealand wouldn't have Covid-19, and it was not correct to say the outbreak had come from the border.
"Where did it come from? A rock in your garden?" Collins retorted.
Ardern said National thought putting Brownlee in charge of the border would magic away Covid-19, drawing a laugh from the audience.
She said dairy and kiwifruit were seeing exports increase, to which Collins replied: "Oh, now you like dairy."
Ardern said a tax cut was "an unaffordable sugar hit that is just not right for these times."
Collins said a tax cut would encourage people to build the economy alongside other policies, including building infrastructure.
"We would never have agreed to a Green School, a private school ... those people deserve an apology."
Ardern retorted by highlighting the amount of operating allowance in National's first year of its fiscal plan - $800m.
"What will be cut?"
Asked about the $14 billion left in the Government's Covid response plan, Ardern said there needed to be reserves to support small businesses if there was another resurgence.
"We have to prepare. We have to have it ready and available."
She said the National Party was planning on spending all of it, but Collins said it was "all borrowed money".
The wage subsidy costs as much in a week as building a new hospital, Collins said.
Asked about the $8 billion hole in National's fiscal plans, Collins said the figure was wrong, and said it was important to acknowledged that the mistake over $4b was admitted to.
Ardern said it was unclear what National would cut, but Collins said nothing would be cut.
"If I may answer the question," Ardern said at one point when asked about Labour's numbers, prompting laughter from Collins.
On international tourism, Collins said it will take some time "to come back".
People in Rotorua were unhappy during a recent visit because Aucklanders were in lockdown and couldn't visit, she said.
"We can't go down this path of more and more wage subsidies with no more work.
Ardern said tourism will need to be reimagined.
"They want sustainability."
It was about having tourists in a way that didn't leave a mark, she said.
On dental issues and a sugar tax
A paediatric dentist asked the leaders via video footage about taxing sugary drinks and regulating food marketing.
Collins said she grew up in an area without fluoride, but her son only had one filling after being brought up with it in the water.
She wanted to pass a bill that allowed local authorities to put fluoride in the water.
Ardern said there weren't the numbers in the government to pass that bill, and Collins said: "You could have asked us."
Neither Collins nor Ardern supported a tax on sugary drinks.
Both leaders talked about dental care being free for under 18s, and Ardern said more dental buses were needed to improve access in rural areas.
On Canterbury DHB
In 2017, Ardern came to Christchurch and promised to improve the relationship with the Canterbury DHB.
Ardern said she wasn't going to sack the board, and rebuilding the relationship "has been tough". She mentioned the $180m bailout from the government, and the health sector needed to be resolved. Labour has agreed to enact some recommendations of the Heather Simpson review.
Collins said the government has stopped negotiations around the CDHB's deficit.
Ardern interjected: "And you cannot disown what has happened here. It is a legacy issue."
Collins said the senior leadership left because "they couldn't take it anymore" and it "needed to be sorted out pretty fast".
The Health Ministry was a "bully", she said, and the relationship needed to "start again" - but she wouldn't say she would sack the board.
Ardern said it was about health services in the region. "Let's not lose sight of that ... we know it's about more than money."
Ardern said some issues were still being worked through with the help of the government bailout.
Asked about the historic underfunding under National that had contributed to the current issues, Collins said more money was put into the DHBs every year in the National-led Government.
Ardern: "Some years there was no funding from capital infrastructure. Some years there was nothing."
Collins: "Who built the new hospital? Oh that was us."
On swimmable rivers
The debate then moved to how Selwyn's local river had been "chernobylised" despite the best efforts of farmers.
Collins said the rivers in Canterbury were different to those in the Waikato, and water standards needed to be tailored to the regions.
She said regulating nitrate levels in rivers would depend on the region, but nitrate should be in the soil rather than the rivers.
Ardern said Labour had policy on fencing and nitrate levels to make rivers swimmable within five years.
She alluded to National's previous statement that water regulations would be "gone by lunchtime", which was walked back later and changed to a review.
Collins said the Government had rushed through the standards on the last day of Parliament, prompting Ardern to say "that is factually untrue", adding that the legislation was the end of a long process.
Ardern said she still wanted mass transit for Canterbury, having previously talked about commuter light rail to Rolleston. It would still happen "if the community support it".
Collins said a four-lane highway to Ashburton was needed, and it was part of National's $31b transport plan.
"Really well," Collins said when asked how that would help climate action.
Ardern countered by saying National had used coal-fired power stations, but Collins said: "You're the one that used all the coal. We used the gas."
Collins said she drives a petrol BMW. Ardern drives an electric vehicle.
Ardern said 21 per cent of emissions were in transport, and it was about low emission vehicles, not just EVs, as many of those were too pricey. People also needed choices to cycle safely and take the bus.
Collins said people with EVs shouldn't have to pay fringe benefit taxes, and having a third of the Government fleet being EVs would make a difference.
Letting EVs use the bus lanes would also incentivise their use, Collins said, and she wanted to buy an EV.
Ardern said it was more about EVs, but also about 100 per cent renewable energy. New Zealand was blessed with geo-thermal, hydro, wind and solar energy sources.
"We have the potential to export green energy. The opportunity here is enormous for us."
Collins: "Ms Ardern is actually the one burning the coal, bringing it in from Indonesia."
On climate change
Asked if New Zealand should lead the pack on climate change, Collins said "we already are leading the pack" because New Zealand made up 0.17 per cent of global emissions.
Farmers were also leading the pack, she added.
Ardern agreed New Zealand was leading the pack but for different reasons.
New Zealand was "doing our bit" because of carbon budgets and the Zero Carbon Act despite the tiny portion of global emissions New Zealand makes up.
"I still have not heard what National's plan to tackle climate change is ... they criticise every policy and yet that's the only way we will meet our Paris targets".
The debate fired up over climate change, with Collins saying "we need to wake up" and dairying was a huge injection into the economy.
Ardern: "Unless we move on this, we will be left behind and we will lose our brand. Dairying is doing well ... as we work on these environment issues together."
Collins: "We have to pay for health. We have to pay for education. Understand this - there is no free lunch for us in this world. We are a little country that has to fight for every trade deal."
Ardern: "It is a sad day when give up on our reputation of being clean and green."
On a longer parliamentary term
The debate moved into a four-year parliamentary term, with Ardern quipping about how easy it was to move from a place of discord to a place of unity.
Ardern said she'd be happy to talk to Collins and National about it, and Collins said it would need to go to a referendum.
Collins said if Ardern was so open to working together on a four-year parliamentary term, why hadn't she done so on the fluoride bill - drawing heckles from the crowd.
"And the unity moment has gone," joked Ardern.
Both leaders agreed that it was too soon to move to a republic when the Queen dies, though Ardern said she thought it might happen within her lifetime.
After the debate's intermission, the conversation went to audience questions.
Asked about gay conversion therapy, Collins wouldn't give an answer on banning it, but said every parent should be grateful for their child.
"You are who you are," she said.
Ardern again wouldn't say how she would vote in the cannabis referendum, and said she would say how she voted after the election.
Collins said Ardern voted for it.
"Answer the question," Collins said repeatedly.
Asked about the number one thing to battle climate change, Collins said it was to grow the tech sector.
Ardern said the Zero Carbon Act would make the "single biggest difference", but there were a number of issues including industrial heat.
"I don't know how data centres are going to help climate change."
Collins: "You don't understand technology if you think it's a data centre. I should take her to some tech places."
Asked about "wokeness", Collins said it meant a "lot of nonsense", and Ardern said it meant "huge self-awareness".
On Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Ardern said it was about more than settlements and listed several things Labour was focusing on to help Māori, including New Zealand history education in schools.
Collins said of course Ardern did not want to talk about settlements because National had 56 of them.
Collins said education was important when asked about improving Māori outcomes.
"That's what makes a difference, education."
Someone from the crowd cried out: "Not your type."
"That's Megan Woods out there," Collins retorted.
Ardern: "She'd be more welcome chipping in than Gerry Brownlee, I would say."
Ardern said early interventions were needed to prevent youth suicides, and pointed to the Mana Ake programme that aimed to help mental health in primary and intermediate schools in Canterbury.
Collins said there needed to be a Minister of Mental Health, which would be Matt Doocey, and she agreed with mental health support in schools.
Youth suicide rates were twice as high as the road toll, she said.
It was a "no" from both leaders on a universal basic income.
On coping with an ageing population, Collins pointed to National's tax cuts and putting money into health but growing the export economy.
Ardern said she won't move the retirement age from 65, and pointed to the winter energy payment.
On Oranga Tamariki
Asked about Oranga Tamariki uplifting babies and critical reviews around its processes, Ardern said no one wanted a child to be removed from a home.
"What we've got to do is work earlier."
Oranga Tamariki were often brought in when the situation was already dire, she said, and earlier interventions were being rolled out.
"It is going to take us some time to turn the ship around, but I'm very positive we can do it."
Collins pointed to National's first 1000 days policy, giving mothers $3000 to spend on their children.
"I am distraught every time I hear yet again of another child being hurt in their home. I don't want kids killed in their own homes or being frightened or beaten. I don't think any politician could ever wish that."
Ardern said no one would disagree with help in the first 1000 days, pointing to the Best Start payment and the extension of paid parental leave.
Collins said paid parental leave didn't make a difference if families were not working.
"And Best Start does and you're proposing to cut it," Ardern replied.
On cost of living
Asked about the cost of two litres of milk, Ardern said $4.50, Collins said $6 - it's $3.40, according to the moderator.
On 2kg of lamb ($42) - Collins said it was $28, Ardern said $20.
They were both in the ballpark on the starting salary for a primary teacher (around $49k) but struggled to pinpoint a registered nurse's starting salary ($54k).
Both Collins and Ardern guessed the correct price of the cheapest Netflix package - $11.99.
On housing, Ardern said the supply needed to be increased by requiring councils to "build up and out", supporting progressive home ownership, and continuing Kiwibuild and building state houses.
Collins said Kiwibuild was a "shame", and the RMA needed to be gone.
Ardern said there had been nine years under National with no RMA changes, state houses sold (some to community housing providers), and allowing foreign buyers into the market.
Collins said almost 20,000 people were on the state housing waiting list.
Collins, in her closing statement, said this was the most important election in a generation, and National would put net debt at 36 per cent of GDP by 2034.
She said the economy had to grow through infrastructure, including private and public transport.
It was about putting a second harbour crossing in Auckland, and building roads including for buses because "strangely enough" buses run on roads.
She asked what the cost of light rail in Auckland was, saying it wasn't Monopoly money, but money that kids and grandkids had to pay back.
Ardern said no matter how short-lived the unity moments were tonight, she considered they were lucky to be here.
"Who's better placed to keep New Zealand safe?"
She said the government had responded well to Covid-19, and everyone played a role in that success.
"Now we need to make the most of that economic head-start."
She said political parties were "too focused on themselves" and often lost sight of what matters.
Now was the time to build the foundations for the future, she said.
"Let's stick together and let's keep moving."
How it works
Tonight's debate was moderated by The Press editor Kamala Hayman and Stuff's political editor Luke Malpass, and there were also questions from the audience as well as a chance for the leaders to question each other.
The first leaders' debate, hosted by TVNZ, had no audience, while the second, on Newshub, had a small group of socially-distanced watchers.
Tonight's debate had an audience of 750 people, and included a 15-minute intermission with a discussion that includes Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce CEO Leeann Watson and Canterbury University political lecturer Dr Lindsey Te Ata o Tu MacDonald.
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Before the debate started, Extinction Rebellion and the Gloriavale Leavers' Support Trust held protests outside.
The Trust supporters demanded an inquiry into its claims of "modern-day slavery, exploitation, unsafe work practices, poor education, health neglect, coercion, oppression, physical and sexual abuse, and illegal activities".
In the previous leaders' debate, Collins said she supported an inquiry but Ardern said she did not.
Meanwhile Collins came into the debate on the back foot following a leaked email from National MP Denise Lee.
Collins had said the previous morning that she wanted to review Auckland Council, prompting an email from Lee to the caucus calling Collins' comments "highly problematic" and a "nightmare".
Lee added that for Collins to bypass her when it came to a policy for which she is the spokeswoman showed "incredibly poor form and displays a shockingly bad example of poor culture".
Collins has pushed back on this suggestion she was making up policy on the hoof.
She said the Auckland Council issue was something the campaign team has worked on for weeks, and she had spoken to Lee about the email.
Lee released a statement today saying that it was an internal email, and she accepted Collins' decision about the policy and unreservedly supported the leadership.
This morning Ardern declined to comment other than to say that there were internal issues with National and Labour was focused on its own campaign.
She said she was looking forward to the debate because it was a chance to discuss, among other things, local issues in front of a large crowd of Cantabrians.
In recent times those include the $180m bailout from the Government for the Canterbury DHB, which has the highest level of deficit of any DHB in the country.
The Ministry of Health and the CDHB have been at odds over the cause of the deficit, and in recent weeks David Meates and six other senior managers quit the board.
This morning Collins released National's economic development policy, including no increases to the minimum wage next year and a target of 4 per cent unemployment by 2025.
Ardern has in pre-Covid times also looked to a 4 per cent target, but this morning she said she wanted people who were job-ready to have jobs.
Tonight's debate follows last week's Newshub leaders' debate, moderated by Patrick Gower, and TVNZ's debate, moderated by John Campbell.
There is one more leaders' debate, moderated by TVNZ's political editor Jessica Mutch McKay, which takes place next week.