Election 2017: National resorts to new roads spending as support drops to 40%

Updated

There are 34 days to go until the election on September 23. Winston 'Kingmaker' Peters has said he will decide which side will form Government by October 12. Montage by Lynn Grieveson.

A ghost of Labour's past has made a special appearance at the party's campaign launch in Auckland, with Helen Clark thrilling a large crowd. There had been rumours Clark would make a speech, but she left that up to new leader Jacinda Ardern.

Beforehand National opened up the transport spending war, with Bill English announcing the next generation of 'Roads of National Significance'. It will see $10.5 billion largely spent in the regions, with both Labour and the Greens scheduled to make their own transport announcements on Monday.

Meanwhile, the Jacinda effect was on full show this weekend as she opened up her home and her relationship with TV presenter Clarke Gayford to public view and prepared for Labour's official campaign launch in Auckland. Stephen Joyce and Grant Robertson continued their sparring match on Q+A over the economy, following a similar match-up on Saturday between Amy Adams and Phil Twyford who fought out a noisy debate over housing on The Nation. Also, a new UMR poll reportedly showed National down three points to 40 percent and Labour at 37 percent.

There are 34 days until the election.

Labour's two female leaders in one spot

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark made an appearance at Labour's election campaign launch, but left the speaking up to new leader Jacinda Ardern.

There were rumours Clark would speak, but it was Ardern who told the large crowd (many who had queued around the block) in a speech that twice called on the memory of former Prime Minister Norman Kirk that if she formed a government it would be driven by expediency and opportunity, not fear.

She promised to "revolutionise education" - but with no detail yet on the promised big policy announcement to follow this week's pre-election opening of the books.

Climate change, she said, would be her political generation's "nuclear-free moment. - and I am determined that we will tackle it head-on".

On housing, she said: "Housing affects everything.... a warm, dry, decent home is a right."

She then quoted a saying from Labour icon Kirk "that I really treasure. He once said that people didn't want much, just 'someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work and something to hope for'." She fronted the issue of what change she can bring to Labour and the direction of policy.

"So the question for all of us, for you and me -is this: "Now what?" And one of her answers was: "Now we be bold and now we be brave"

She said Labour would change the Public Finance Act so every Budget had to state not just surpluses and deficits.

"You will hear about how many kids we have lifted out of poverty. We will do the same when it comes to showing our progress on challenges we have postponed for too long and yes, that includes the environment and climate change. Because when we hold ourselves to account, you can hold us to account."

'Roads of Significance' expand

Bill English has made an infrastructure pitch to the regions, announcing the next generation of the 'Roads of Significance' programme.

There are currently seven roads in the programme, which pours funding into the routes and includes developments such as Transmission Gully and the Auckland Western Ring Route.

English made the announcement with Transport Minister Simon Bridges, revealing 10 new routes that would make up the future programme. They are expected to cost about $10.5 billion, compared to the $12b invested in the original seven.

The cash will come from the infrastructure investment spending announced in the Budget. Many of the routes are rural, which are sure to please those living outside the main centres.

The projects are: Wellsford to Whangarei; East West Link in Auckland; Cambridge to Tirau; Pierre to the foot of the Kaimai Range; Tauranga to Katikati; Napier to Hastings; Manawatu Gorge; Levin to Sanson; Christchurch Northern Motorway; and Christchurch to Ashburton.

Foreign buyer caveat for Labour to sign TPP

Sunday politics kicked off this morning on TVNZ's Q+A with Finance Minister Stephen Joyce and Labour counterpart Grant Robertson again going hammer and tongs over the economy.

When asked whether Labour would sign up to the now American-free Transpacific Trade Partnership (TPP), Robertson said the main stumbling block was foreigners buying New Zealand property. This would have to be renegotiated before putting the deal back on the table, he said.

The pair also argued back and forth over housing, LVRs, and productivity. Joyce acknowledged the average price of a house in Auckland was too high, but noted prices were now flat or falling. Robertson defended Labour's tax plans and said the housing problem was too big to ignore: "We're not going to sit on our hands and do nothing about it". Interestingly, both Joyce and Robertson ruled out Winston Peters' idea about pegging interest rates to the US dollar (similar to Singapore).

National down to 40 percent in UMR poll

Private polling done for the Labour Party by UMR has National falling three percentage points to 40 percent in the week to Thursday August 17, while Labour rose one point to 37 percent. That's according to the NZ Herald's Claire Trevett, who also reported that the Greens were steady on eight percent.

These results matched broadly with those from the Colmar Brunton poll released by TVNZ on Thursday and conducted from August 12 to 16. It found National down three points at 44 percent, while Labour was on 37 percent (up 13 points from its previous poll). The big difference was the Green support, which fell 11 points to four percent in the Colmar Brunton poll.

Roy Morgan also released the results of its monthly poll taken on August 13, which showed National down half a point to 42.5 percent, Labour up 2.5 to 32.5 percent and the Greens down 4.5 percent to nine percent. Roy Morgan found support for New Zealand First rising 3.5 percent in the last month to 11.5 percent.

A noisy housing debate

Social Housing Minister Amy Adams and Labour Housing spokesman Phil Twyford hammered away at each other for a good 20 minutes on The Nation on Saturday on the issue of housing, and in particular the lack of state houses.

The debate focused on the just how many people were homeless, what that meant, how many state houses National and Labour promised to build, and whether there was actually a housing crisis.

The debate moderated by Lisa Owen kicked off with a reference to this week's report by the Salvation Army on the need for an extra 2,000 to 2,500 social houses to be built each year for the next decade.

Adams said the Government would be building 6,000 new state houses over the next three years, while Twyford said Labour planned to build a net extra 1,000 per year until demand was met.

Twyford said the Government had presided over a net reduction of 3,000 social houses over the last nine years. Adams said there had been a net reduction in the number of state houses of 1,200, but there were an extra 2,000 state-funded social houses because of the Government's extra subsidies for houses owned by non-government organisations.

They also clashed over the recent Yale study showing New Zealand had the worst homelessness rate in the OECD. Adams said the study also showed that if New Zealand measured homelessness in the same way as Japan then it would be one of the best in the world.

There was also debate over what exactly homelessness was. Twyford cited an Otago University study showing over 41,000 were classed as homeless, which includes people living in garages, caravans and with friends. Adams referred to the study's more limited measure of 4,197 people classed as being 'rough sleepers' living on the street or in cars or an improvised dwelling.

Twyford was challenged on why Labour planned to build 1,000 a year when the Salvation Army said more than 2,000 a year were needed. Adams was challenged on whether there was a housing crisis. She described the situation as "housing pressure."

The Labour spokesman was also repeatedly asked about Labour's views on a Capital Gains Tax, which Jacinda Ardern has refused to rule out in Labour's first term. He stuck to that line.

Steven Joyce also jumped on Twyford's view that median house prices should be three to four times income if the housing market was working properly. Joyce said this meant Labour wanted to halve house prices. That's certainly not what Twyford said or meant.

It's clear National plans to focus its attacks on Labour's plans for water royalties, a regional fuel tax and whether it may introduce a Capital Gains Tax.

'I certainly wouldn't rule it out'

You know an election campaign is really underway when a new leader of a party opens up (parts of) their family life for public view. Jacinda Ardern invited the NZ Herald's Kim Knight and photographer Doug Sherring in to her home with TV presenter Clarke Gayford for an 'exclusive first combined' interview published on Saturday.

We found out that Gayford both washes and dries the dishes and has taught Ardern to 'speed-jig' for kingfish.

Knight cut straight to the chase and asked Gayford whether they might get married. The following exchange came across a little awkwardly.

"I certainly wouldn't rule it out," Gayford said, adding his previous relationships had fizzled out around the three-and-a-half year mark.

"I've been really worried that was going to happen...," he said.

Ardern's response: "You've just made that so much worse, darling."

Gayford later sent Knight an email to clarify: "Honestly, I couldn't imagine life without her now, and I've got no doubt that we will get married at some stage, it was just a weird thing to have to verbalise, as if I was giving the game away by saying that, somehow. It's a pretty strange time for us both. I just want to be the best partner I can be, in the background, gently nudging her to the greatness I know she's got inside her."

Protests in Dunedin

Meanwhile, National Leader Bill English and Health Minister Jonathan Coleman were forced to leave Dunedin hospital early on Saturday by pay equity protestors, TVNZ reported. They were there to announce plans for a new Dunedin hospital at a cost of over $1 billion.

Quotes of the day:

Amy Adams on National's performance on social housing vs Labour's from 1999 to 2008: "It’s crocodile tears from Labour, who sat there in government for nine years, did nothing for chronic homeless, did nothing for emergency estates.

Phil Twyford in response: "Rubbish Amy. You’ve been in government for nine years. You’re blaming a government that was elected 18 years ago."

Jacinda Ardern on Clarke Gayford's fishing show exploits:

"Often I hear him telling other people about his shark encounters and I have mixed views on whether I want to know."

Numbers of the day:

$10.5b - The projected spend on 10 new national 'roads of significance' announced by Bill English and Simon Bridges.

40 percent - UMR's measure of support for National, down three points in a week. National was also down three points, but to 44 percent.

663 - The number of applications for emergency grants for people to stay in hotels in the week to August 11. That was down from a peak of 895 in the week ended June 16, Amy Adams reported in her debate with Phil Twyford.

Coming up

August 20 - Labour has its formal campaign launch event on Sunday afternoon in Auckland.

August 23 - 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.

August 23 - The final day for people to enrol to vote regularly. Anyone enrolling after August 23 will have to cast a special declaration vote.

August 31 - The first leaders debate on TVNZ.

September 4 - Then TV3 has its leaders on September 4. The leaders then travel from Auckland to Christchurch for the Press/Stuff debate on September 7.

September 7 - The Press/Stuff leaders debate will be held in Christchurch

September 11 - Polling booths open for early voting.

September 20 - The final leaders debate on TVNZ.

September 23 - The General Election.

October 12 - 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.