In today's email we launch our election coverage.
1. It's 'game on' for Jacinda vs Bill
Today we ramp up our coverage of the election after the dissolution of Parliament last night signaled the beginning of a campaign that is now a real contest.
Last night's stunning poll results on TVNZ reinforced just how much the electoral landscape has changed in the last month. And Jacinda Ardern's adjournment speech in Parliament against Gerry Brownlee just reinforced the vivid contrast now facing voters.
There is now a much higher chance of a change of Government on September 23.
The 'Jacinda effect' and the implosion of support for the Greens has transformed the election campaign. The resurgence of Labour at the expense of the Green Party and a small fall for National means the election is 'game on' with a real chance of the Greens falling out of Parliament and a change to a Labour-New Zealand First Government.
The shift in the landscape was reinforced in a spirited final debate before the adjournment of the 51st session of Parliament on Thursday and the effective start of the election campaign. Jacinda Ardern declared the contest was "game on" in a relentlessly aspirational final speech telling the Government to get out of the way so a Labour-led Government could do a better job.
The chances of that change of Government effectively increased with the results of a TVNZ Colmar Brunton poll released on Thursday evening showing Labour up 13 percentage points to 37 percent and National down three points to 44 percent.
New Zealand First fell one point to 10 percent, while support for the Greens crashed 11 points to four percent, which is below the five percent threshold needed under MMP for a party to be in Parliament without an electorate MP. Unless Labour somehow 'gift' an electorate to the Greens, that level of support would see the Greens collapse out of Parliament for the first time since 1996.
The poll taken over the last five days also showed Ardern's support as preferred Prime Minister jumping 24 points to 30 percent, which put her on the same support level as Bill English, who rose two points. Winston Peters fell three points to seven percent.
Ardern's elevation to the leadership just 17 days ago has electrified the contest, along with Metiria Turei's decision last week to step down as Green Party Co-Leader after a divisive and potentially fatal decision by her party to use her own experience of welfare fraud to launch a debate about welfare reform.
There is now a prospect of Winston Peters choosing Labour as a coalition partner without needing the Greens, a situation he is seen as much preferring.
National's ebbing poll support and the anaemic position of its support partners (Peter Dunne is in deep trouble in Ohariu and Te Ururoa Flavell faces a real battle against Labour's Tamati Coffey in Waiariki) leaves it in danger of falling just short of being able to govern with its support partners in the same arrangement it has had for the last nine years.
National would need to come cap in hand for support from Peters to win a fourth term with the support levels seen in the TVNZ poll.
2. Jacinda vs Gerry in Parliament
The sense of a shifting momentum was evident on the final day in Parliament, where a clearly ebullient set of Labour MPs cheered and gave a standing ovation to Ardern's adjournment speech. She gave a fluent and direct performance in responding to the Government's first speaker, Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee, who focused his speech on Labour's tax policies, rather than the Government's record.
Perhaps surprisingly, given Bill English had been in Wellington earlier in the afternoon, National chose not put its leader up for the final clash in the debating chamber with Ardern. There will be at least four televised head-to-head debates between Ardern and English before the election and this adjournment debate was the first chance to see them debate at length face to face. English did not front.
Ardern gave a taste of her approach in question time, calling on the absent Prime Minister to adopt Labour's proposal to fund an extra 80 mental health workers to deal with traumatised children in Christchurch.
"If he wants this to be a truly great country for children, as we can be, will he commit the resources needed to help kids and give them a chance for a better future? Because if he will not, I will," she said to applause from behind her.
Finance Minister Steven Joyce, who was standing in for English in question time, said the Government had already acted on mental health in Christchurch.
"The way we are doing exactly that is by having a strong economy so that we can afford to provide the services. If the member wants to get into Government and tax the heck out of the productive economy, then she will find she has a lot fewer services she can fund, compared with today," Joyce said.
Later, Brownlee gave a taste of the Government's attack lines over the next five weeks, focusing on Labour's plans for a regional fuel tax, water levies and a potential capital gains tax.
In one of the first sharp attacks on Ardern by a senior Government figure, Brownlee said that "apart from the new smiley face, nothing has changed at all—nothing has changed at all."
An agitated and at times breathless Brownlee said Ardern was stuck between the rock of her own caucus and the hard place of the Government's economic record.
"We are going to get a speech shortly, and I will bet the economy does not feature, other than to have a look at it with a bit of a squinted eye, from a bit of a distance, and to simply say: "We could do it better," he said.
"When Labour members have to explain that their $18.8 billion worth of promises, so far, will be paid for from higher taxes, from higher mortgage rates, and from higher costs on all New Zealand families, simply saying "We can do it better, so just do it with us", is not going to work."
3. National preview tax attack line
Brownlee called on Ardern to be clearer about Labour's plans for water royalties and a capital gains tax, which she has said she is open to in a first term if a Tax Working Group recommended it.
"I would suggest to Jacinda Ardern that she should today tell the House the terms of reference that she will give to that bunch of left-wing economists to work out the tax system," he said.
Ardern didn't shy away from the economy in her speech and gave an early indication of how she would respond to the focus by National on its economic achievements.
She said a stronger economy had to mean people felt they were better off, which meant the Government had to focus on productivity.
"Currently having two-thirds of people in work, with wage packets that are not keeping pace with inflation, is unacceptable to the Labour Party. A strong economy is not just measured by GDP, it is measured by how people fare. And if you ask New Zealanders whether or not they feel better off and whether they are going forwards or backwards, I can predict the answer that they will give you," she said.
4. 'It's game on, Gerry'
Ardern then taunted the Brownlee and National to essentially, 'bring it on'.
"If you want to talk about the economy this election, then "game on"—"game on". On the Labour side, we actually have an intention to lift our economic sights and, Mr Brownlee, that starts by talking about productivity. In fact, the Governor of the Reserve Bank, Brian Fallow, and Bernard Doyle from JBWere, just in the last week, have all raised the fact that productivity in New Zealand is hugely problematic, and this Government has done nothing about it—absolutely nothing about it. This is where our weakness and our vulnerability lie. Where is the investment in lifting the skills of our workers?"
Ardern described Brownlee's speech about her as "some kind of awkward flattery" and repeated a previous line about beginning the "campaign of our lives."
"Campaigns are about change. They are about what is possible, and 23 September marks opportunity, and the 24th of September marks the beginning. They say in politics that campaigns are lost by those Governments that are in charge, but this time this election will be won by us because this is our moment," Ardern said.
"This is our moment to show that even if the odd New Zealander feels OK or even if they feel indifferent we can be better. This Government has achieved what it came to do, and now it is time to do things differently. That means we do not have to accept having the highest homelessness in the OECD. We do not need to accept that. We do not have to accept declining homeownership, as the Government has done. We do not have to accept that it will be a given that children, particularly in winter, will do their homework in a car by torchlight," she said.
"We also do not have to accept that there will be families who are now at Te Puea Marae. In particular, a mother of nine, who thinks it is her fault that she has lost her rental accommodation. That is a family in work who cannot find housing. That—we do not have to accept. We do not have to accept the highest teen suicide rates in the OECD or children not being able find mental health care, and we certainly do not accept 70,000 young people not being in employment, education, or training. It will never be a given for this party that 60 percent of our rivers will be degraded and unswimmable. That will never, ever be acceptable on our watch.
"We believe things can be better, and under Labour they will be better."
Ardern finished with a warning to voters about National scaremongering about Labour's policy.
"You will hear policies that do not even exist being thrown around this House and thrown around this debate," she said.
5. Bill popular in Porirua
Earlier in the day, English visited Mana College and an employment expo in Porirua. He then went on to an enthusiastic welcome while visiting the Porirua shopping centre.
Our intern Andre Chumko went along with his smart phone to capture the selfies.
English was asked for numerous selfies and was greeted warmly by both shoppers and workers in the mall.
English has yet to reach the heights of John Key's selfie-fests during mall visits, but the response from voters was warmer than some had expected and he was at ease with the locals.
He lives in Wellington and his wife Mary is well known in the area as a GP.
6. Coming up on the campaign trail...
Both party leaders head to the key election battleground of Auckland later today.
English is expected to open a new road and Ardern is due to put up some billboards in her Mt Albert electorate.
Peters will be campaigning in Tauranga and will then host an event for the local Indian community in Auckland in the evening, which I'll be attending.
Ardern is set to launch Labour's election campaign in Auckland on Sunday.
But the next big set piece on the trail is Treasury's Pre Election Fiscal Update (PREFU) on Wednesday August 23. It will be released at midday and is expected to give both Labour and National around $1.5 billion extra to spend. That will be a key moment. Ardern has signalled extra tertiary education spending, while Joyce has suggested extra Auckland infrastructure spending.
The first leaders debate is on August 31 on TVNZ and will be moderated by Mike Hosking, despite the protests of Peters and quite a few others.
Then TV3 has its leaders on September 4. The leaders then travel from Auckland to Christchurch for the Press/Stuff debate on September 7.
The final leaders debate is on September 20 on TVNZ.
The election is on September 23.
Winston Peters has said he will make a decision about which party he 'crowns' to be in Government by October 12, which is when the writs with the final election results are returned.
Stay tuned for our regularly updated Election 2017 articles on Newsroom Pro. We will produce a fresh one each day with the events of the day as we count down to the vote and Winston Peters' self-imposed deadline for deciding who will be in Government.
There are 35 days to go.
7. Rod Oram's column
Rod Oram has taken a look at the big corporate event of the week -- Fletcher Building's results -- and finds big problems with corporate governance.
He delves into the weeds of the result and covered chairman Ralph Norris' briefings to media and analysts. It is not a pretty picture.
Go here to Newsroom Pro for an early look at Rod's weekly column, which goes up on Newsroom Pro first every Friday morning.
8. Weekend Reads
Especially for subscribers over the weekend, here's a few longer reads on economic, social and political issues of the week. Please feel free to email me (just hit reply) with suggestions for next week.
We have a savvy set of subscribers who are always telling me new and useful things that I like to share. My mobile number is also at the bottom of the subscriber emails so you can also just text me or phone me with a tip that is safe from the prying eyes of the OIA.
Usually I don't link to videos, but this is an essential 22 minutes of coverage of the Charlottesville clashes from Vice. Many thanks to one our readers for pointing this out to me. It helps explain why so many Americans from all sides of politics were so upset with Donald Trump for failing to condemn the white nationalists' actions in Charlottesville.
It also helps explain the near complete isolation of Trump from both his own party in Congress, corporate America and the US military, who essentially declared him persona non grata this week.
This from Carl Bernstein on CNN was instructive: "I think there's considerable evidence that there is a consensus developing in the military; at the highest levels in the intelligence community; among Republicans in Congress; including the leaders in the business community" that President Trump "is unfit to be the President of the United States."
Trouble is also brewing for Trump's muse, Steve Bannon, who egged the President on with his self-destructive comments on the the Charlottesville clashes. This American Prospect article where Bannon dished the dirt on the rest of the White House and the alt-right could prove a Scaramucci moment for him.
But it's his comments on America and China that are the most alarming for us.
“We’re at economic war with China,” he said. “It’s in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow.”
Sheesh.Scaramucci was right in his description of Bannon, which is too graphic for your spam filters.
Water quality is set to be one of the big three or four issues in this election campaign, alongside housing, migration and mental health. Until now, the debate has largely been between New Zealanders. The rest of the world has largely believed the 100 percent pure campaign and have yet to get down and dirty with the issues of nitrates, phosphates, campylobacter and the quirks of Overseer.
The Wall Street Journal published a deeply reported piece this week on the environmental challenges posed by New Zealand's dairy boom.
Here's the lead: "This South Pacific country markets itself to international tourists as “100% pure,” but a rapid expansion of its dairy industry is endangering its clean, green image. The shift threatens to pit the nation’s No. 2 export, tourism, against dairy, its No. 1."
Here's the killer quote for all the fly-fishing billionaires who read the Wall St Journal this week:
“Fifteen years ago, when I started to guide in the region, there was not a river where I would hesitate to have a drink of the water,” said Serge Bonnafoux, a fly-fishing guide. “Nowadays there are only rivers in remote areas, where I know there are no cows above me, where I will drink.”
The future of work and the transition from manufacturing to services in a globalised age is one of those tectonic shifts underneath many of the big issues of our time. One of the themes is the growing proportion of jobs in low paid services jobs in hospitality and aged care. The Atlantic has published a useful piece on how "Restaurants are the new factories."
"Four of the five best years for restaurant growth on record have happened since 2011. Restaurant jobs have grown faster than the overall economy every month for the past seven years," Derek Thompson writes. "The trend is speeding up, but it’s not clear that we should cheer it—or whether it’s sustainable. Jobs are jobs, but these ones don’t pay very well. The typical private-sector job pays about $22 an hour. The typical restaurant job pays about $12.50. That’s one reason why the Fight for 15 movement to raise the minimum wage has targeted the restaurant industry."
This ties in with the other big story: low inflation. The latest minutes from the US Federal Reserve showed again this week that the inflation everyone expects in a growing economy at its apparent limits is just not coming.
We could easily see a new Reserve Bank Governor make some different judgements about both macro-prudential and monetary policy that allow interest rates to fall to get New Zealand's own inflation rate up from the bottom of its target range.
A key moment will be the Fed's September meeting where it is expected to begin selling its stockpile of bonds back into the market. Here's a Bloomberg preview of what that moment might do to global markets.
Have a great weekend.
PS. Here's one fun thing (and apologies to Julie Anne Genter for highlighting the typo).
Julie Anne Genter tweeted this yesterday just before the appalling poll result for the Greens: "What a Nelson! Look forward to taking #cannabis #transport #climate and #Mentalhealth at River Kitchen tonight with @MattLawrey 5.30-7pm."
And the Tweet of the day when to Philip Matthews: "Can a rock stop the Labour roll?"