Election 2017 Live: Troops in Afghanistan rears head again


Labour leader Jacinda Ardern stirs the political pot in Auckland. Photo: Tim Murphy

There are 30 days to go until the election and New Zealand's military involvement in Afghanistan is again in the news cycle after United States President Donald Trump's announcement he would increase troop numbers.

The New Zealand Government has said it will make an announcement "shortly" (pre election) about any increase in its numbers in the country after a NATO request for two more military officers.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said she was not privy to the information available to the Prime Minister but was cautious. "Labour's instinct is to exercise great caution in these matters and to operate in a multilateral way and carve our own path. I would act cautiously; my inclination would be to act with extreme caution. At this stage I would be very hesitant."

The Greens urged against increasing New Zealand's Afghanistan involvement, stating it would suck our troops into a dangerous and lengthy deployment with no clear end in sight.

Aside from Afghanistan, voter bribes continue to flow on the campaign trail. Christchurch are next on the cards, with Prime Minister Bill English announcing extra funding for the city's planned stadium. Meanwhile, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern donned the traditional hair net for a photo op, and claimed she was unsurprised by the Greens' decision to stand a candidate in Ohariu.

The political day is expected to be a bit quieter than yesterday, which was full of announcements and developments centred on economics and business.

Treasury's Pre-Election Fiscal Update revealed a smaller "lolly jar" than expected, scuppering any Government plans to announce extra tax cuts while Labour also ruled out any tax cuts, but also threw cold water on introducing a new higher tax rate for high income earners.

Sparks were also flying at a Business NZ election conference, which saw aggressive comments from both Labour and NZ First.

Winston Peters was forced to rein in his MP Richard Prosser after he told the crowd NZ First would buy back shares in the electricity companies if in power, while Andrew Little told the business audience to "get with the programme".

A Christchurch carrot

The rebuild of Christchurch's stadium has been a hot topic, just behind the plight of the city's cathedral.

A plan for a 25,000 seat facility with a fixed roof and retractable playing field has been recommended at a cost of $496 million, but just how it would be paid for remains murky with the Christchurch City Council only having $253m budgeted.

The puzzle became clearer today, with Bill English and Greater Christchurch Regeneration spokeswoman Nicky Wagner announcing an extra $120m in funding for the stadium.

Flanked by several other local MPs, including Gerry Brownlee and Amy Adams, at the temporary AMI Stadium, English said the money was on top of the $59m already committed by the Government.

He said he was confident that a combination of sponsorship and local support would make up the increase, and the Government's preference was to build a fully enclosed 30,000 seat stadium.

Wagner said the funding would enable work to start next year.

“A new stadium will provide Canterbury with a flexible venue that will attract a wide range of sports, entertainment and hosting events to the city and increase the number of visitors to the region,” Greater Christchurch Regeneration spokesperson Nicky Wagner said.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern is in Christchurch on Sunday and could make a similar pledge.

Ardern not surprised at Greens bite-back

In an unexpected move, the Green Party announced it would stand a candidate in Ohariu after Peter Dunne's surprise announcement that he would not contend the seat.

Dunne pulled out of the running earlier this week, dealing a blow to National's plans of forming a Government from its current support partners.

This was awkward for National who had only been campaigning for the party vote, asking their supporters to vote for Dunne as electorate MP instead. With Dunne gone, Labour's Greg O'Connor was seen to be the front-runner.

But last night Green candidate Tane Woodley surprised attendees at an Ohariu candidates meeting by announcing he was entering the race.

Although only planning to campaign for the party vote, Woodley will likely take votes away from O'Connor and make the race a lot tighter.

The Greens had not stood a candidate under the MOU signed with Labour in an attempt to unseat Dunne, but felt this was no longer necessary after his resignation.

At a campaign stop at Rongomai School, Otara, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern professed to be unsurprised by the Greens decision to re-enter the fray in Ohariu following United Future leader Peter Dunne's withdrawal.

Her office had been told in advance on Wednesday evening of the Greens' bid to compete directly with Labour's Greg O'Connor.

"Obviously the circumstances have changed and that does not surprise me at all," she said. "We did not expect anything else."

If people were looking to vote strategically, which had been the case in Ohariu in elections past, then she thought there would be no real difference to the Ohariu result.

"It is the same as every other seat we are standing in. We are all still separate parties. Every seat's in the same position."

Asked how the Greens' actions fitted with the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the parties last year, Ardern defined the MOU as: "a message to voters that if we are given the opportunity we will work together in government."

She professed every confidence in O'Connor to win the electorate vote.

It remains to be seen if Labour will reach an agreement to withdraw one of its candidates from an electorate in an attempt to secure the survival of the Greens, who are polling dangerously low.

A classic photo-op

Yesterday Prime Minister Bill English donned the obligatory election-campaign hair net for a photo opportunity and today was Jacinda Ardern's turn.

Ardern's morning campaign stops were at a Salvation Army food charity "Feed the Need" in Mt Wellington where she, Manukau East MP Jenny Salesa and Ardern's eminence grise, departing Labour veteran MP Annette King, helped prepare lunches for students of Rongomai School in Otara.

Hair net in place, Ardern quipped she had worked in a food kitchen in New York and knew the drill as she stirred soup in a large vat, put the lids on hundreds of plastic soup containers and unloaded bread.

Her group then went with the food to Rongomai School, the leader joining a group of children sitting cross legged on a big blue tarpaulin on the playground to eat the fruits of her labours.

The photo opportunities were all about her personal and campaign emphasis on children and poverty. Feed the Need produced 1500 lunches yesterday and supplies hot food twice a week in winter to a number of schools, including Rongomai.

The Feed the Need general manager, , said the number of lunches produced "seems like a lot but there's a lot more need out there."

Asked if she'd be happy to be put out of business by Ardern's government, she said she'd welcome any government changing the level of need so her work was redundant. Was that realistic possibility? "Other countries do it. Why can't we?"

Ardern told the assembled Rongomai students: "I've worked alongside Feed the Need for a few years now but I've never had the opportunity to have food with one of the schools. Can I join you for lunch?"

Later, she declared her soup "actually delicious".

In short...

TVNZ's Mike Hosking, who will moderate the station's political debates, is under media pressure after his snafu on Wednesday night's Seven Sharp. Hosking gave viewers incorrect information about voters being unable to vote for the Maori Party unless they were enrolled in a Maori electorate. News reports suggest Hosking will make a "clarification" on the show tonight.

Coming up...

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.

Updated: 4.50pm