Claire Trevett - Herald political editor
“I know you’re keyed up, and I know you came out here for a bit of a fight,” National Party leader Christopher Luxon said at one point early on in the debate and he was right.
That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Labour leader Chris Hipkins was definitely most improved after a flat performance in the earlier 1News debate. This time he’d come prepared. He had a big hit, with a vile quote allegedly from a NZ First candidate which he put Luxon on the spot over, trying to force him into defending his willingness to work with NZ First.
But Hipkins was ruthless in pushing home uncertainty about National’s cuts programme, its costings and exposing Luxon for dodging away from questions.
Luxon also performed well and was a bit more relaxed – his offer at one point to hug Hipkins had vague echoes of former PM Sir Robert Muldoon saying “I love you, Mr Lange” in his 1984 election debate.
But the debate did serve to highlight once again all the questions that Luxon is not willing to answer, from the costings for the tax package to anything to do with Winston Peters.
Hipkins also tried to skirt around some questions: his soliloquy on the price of a $1 orange changing was one of the more entertaining moments and Luxon later quipped “I’m still thinking about his orange”.
But overall Hipkins’ experience and ability showed more in this debate.
On the substance – from gangs to climate change – Luxon was very National and Hipkins very Labour. Hipkins acquitted himself strongly on the gangs’ issue after Luxon said he’d expect the police to go in and break up a gang tangi. However, it also gave Luxon the good line of the night, when he said gangs here don’t have to form their own party: they simply vote Labour.
Winner: Chris Hipkins
Shayne Currie - NZME editor at large
Finally! Some spark, energy and zingers.
While the two Chrises, Hipkins and Luxon, insisted they hadn’t taken MDMA in their lives, someone had obviously injected something into the Coke Zeros ahead of Wednesday night’s debate. Maybe it was simply the sugar that one of them wants to ban from school drinks.
“Let me just say,” said audience warmer-upper - The Traitors NZ winner Sam Smith - during the first ad break, “this is already 1000 times better than that other debate.” The 200 or so at Q Theatre fiercely agreed.
Where has this Chris Hipkins been for the past six weeks? He has managed to transform his debating and television presence in the space of eight days - uncompromising, relentless, and, at various stages, funny.
Luxon was no slouch himself, perhaps playing rope-a-dope where he needed, while outshining Hipkins in critical areas such as health. He was a little patchy in other areas, notably the gangs.
He had a couple of cracking one-liners himself. “This is turning into The Chase,” said the National Party leader at one stage. “It’s better than The Chase!” said Newshub moderator Paddy Gower.
It was indeed. Many will say Gower won the debate, of course. The ringmaster, playing up to a boisterous crowd, driven by nervous energy at the start, refusing to allow the leaders to ramble or make party political broadcasts. He was superb.
Luxon was weakest on questions around Winston Peters; it appears to be the most fertile ground for Labour to explore in the next two-and-a-bit weeks.
Asked simply by Gower if Peters was good or bad for the country, Luxon replied: “I don’t know him, Paddy.”
This is the man he could well be coalescing with, come October 15.
He’ll need to get to know him, real quick.
Hipkins won the night – for his debating skills, his edge, and his willingness to simply not back down. But will it be enough to win the election?
Winner: Chris Hipkins
Audrey Young - Herald senior political correspondent
Patrick Gower kept it real. At times the debate resembled a State of the Union speech in the US with Gower as president, injecting real-life stories into the debate, and the real people being projected from the audience into screens at home. Other times he was like an auctioneer, with Chris Hipkins or Christopher Luxon matching a policy commitment the other had made.
Hipkins started badly, interjecting too often on Luxon but that was always on the cards after being too passive in last week’s debate.
Luxon was cruising to begin with. Then it changed. Hipkins highlighted the absurdity of Luxon wanting police to break up a gang funeral to enforce a ban on patches. And after that, he kept challenging Luxon when he wouldn’t answer questions.
When Luxon accused Hipkins of being too negative, Hipkins turned it back on him, saying if he actually answered the questions, he wouldn’t have to challenge him. The audience liked that a lot. The point was reinforced when Luxon wouldn’t say whether Winston Peters was good or bad. “I don’t know him,” Luxon said. “Everybody knows Winston!” said Gower who was even better this time than he was three years ago with Jacinda Arden and Judith Collins.
Peters deserves a prize for injecting himself silently into the debate. Technically, it was a close debate, but politically Hipkins made up so much ground, and created a strong impression that Luxon doesn’t answer questions, that he is the winner.
Winner: Chris Hipkins
Thomas Coughlan - Herald deputy political editor
Chris Hipkins was a different man this debate.
Last week, he seemed resigned to his fate. This week, perhaps smashing a few Coke Zeros in the green room, he was energised and on the attack. In each segment, he made quite a strong case for his Government and his record.
Hipkins had a much better game plan for this debate. In the first debate, Luxon gave very broad press release-like answers to questions. If the moderator didn’t choose to press him on these, they went unchallenged.
This week, Hipkins decided that he would step into the role of moderator, taking the risk of talking over both Gower and Luxon to push the National leader into some difficult corners. He exposed uncomfortable parts of National’s gang policy, arguing convincingly that it would lead to brawls between gangs and police, and, quite crucially, he punished Luxon for his flaccid position on NZ First. His decision to read a racist quote from an NZ First candidate in the debate was the closest we’ve come this election to a “show me the money” moment so far.
Luxon performed well too - and tried to counter Hipkins by accusing him (somewhat hypocritically) of excessive interrupting. Hipkins countered this by saying if Luxon was more clear in his answers he would not need to interject so much.
It flipped Luxon’s critique on its head, and possibly got the audience wise to the fact that Luxon, for all his talking, did not necessarily give convincing answers.