Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8: Previewing tonight's crucial debate; Winston triples down; Wheeler defends his record

In today's email we preview the crucial first debate between Jacinda Ardern and Bill English.

1. Jacinda vs Bill (round one)

Tonight's debate on TVNZ between Jacinda Ardern and Bill English will be most of the voting public's first chance to see them directly up against each other and could easily be a deciding moment on the campaign trail.

It will be the first chance to see if Ardern can stay as disciplined and 'relentlessly positive' as she has been since her elevation to the Labour leadership just 30 days ago.

Ardern hasn't put too many feet wrong in her few tests so far. She has batted back most questions without getting too bogged down or tied up by the detail.

But this will be her first full one-on-one leaders debate against English. There were a few chances in Parliament during Question Time to see them up against each other in the debating chamber and Ardern acquitted herself well.

But English is steeped in the world of policy and has plenty of attack lines to run, particularly since Ardern has left herself open on a few areas where Labour's policy is not fully fleshed out.

English and his campaign manager Steven Joyce have already tried out some of those attack lines on the campaign trail, mostly around tax. The potential for a capital gains tax in Labour's first term will be a particular target.

Other than repeatedly ruling out a tax on the family home, Ardern has repeatedly said she does not want to get into the detail of what such a tax might look like, preferring instead to point to the potential recommendations of a Tax Working Group she would set up once in Government.

English is likely to challenge Ardern on the possible structure and exemptions and push Ardern to rule out the potential for a capital gains tax to turn into a death duty.

John Key's needling of David Cunliffe in the debates in 2014 on exactly what a Capital Gains Tax might look like was effective, partly because the then-Labour leader was unable to nail down issues around family trusts and what might happen in the event of inheritances.

Ardern was careful to rule out the prospect of a new higher tax rate on those on high incomes after last week's PREFU in an effort to shut down National's momentum on the issue of 'Jacinda's list of new taxes'.

The questions around the Capital Gains Tax and water royalties will be crucial moments. Labour's water royalties idea is also not vacuum packed and tight enough to avoid infection with detail introduced by National.

English may also push Ardern on Labour's migration policies, which haven't featured much on the campaign trail. They were laid out by Andrew Little in June. He was familiar with the detail and had been driving the migration story hard. Ardern has been noticeably less prominent on the issue and softened the edges of the rhetoric. English may try to insert a wedge between her and the policy of cutting net migration by 20,000 to 30,000 a year. She will also have to be right across the detail, which is tricky on migration at the best of times.

But aside from the policy, the optics of the night will be important. The contrast between English and Ardern will be under the spotlight in the studio.

Ardern cannot help but be a fresh face and a big smile for the television cameras, while English is a familiar and well worn one for people who have watched him as Finance Minister for more than eight of the last nine years.

Will voters want a face for change, or a face for stability?

I'll be in the TVNZ studios in Auckland to cover the debate from 7 pm to 8 pm and will be running live coverage on Newsroom Pro and Newsroom. I'll also be there for the 'after match' interviews with the leaders and the media scrum. Newsroom's Tim Murphy will also be writing his impressions on the night for Newsroom.

2. Winston triples down

Winston Peters did his best yesterday to hog the spotlight for as long as he could on the pensions leak issue, effectively tripling down on it with a statement during the day and again during a debate on the economy in Queenstown.

Standing next to Steven Joyce, Peters again accused National of leaking the information and breaking the law, which Joyce again denied.

Peters statement was more specific and dialled up his anger and legal threats to 10.

He accused public servants and National of breaking their own 'no surprises' policy.

He said the policy specifies that ministers only be briefed where they need to make decision, rather than on operational matters. In this case, it was only an operational matter that did not require a ministerial decision and had been resolved, he said.

"Both civil servants and Ministers have broken the rules here in what is a nasty piece of underhand, political skulduggery, hatched against New Zealand First and its leader," Peters said.

“The chronology of events is in meshing this government in what is clearly a dirty conspiracy, which by definition is where two or more set out to break the law," he said.

“None of these people are going to get away with it."

3. 'Show us the letters'

But there still remain questions unanswered around the issue, largely because Peters refuses to release the documents that would justify his argument that it was a simple mistake that both MSD and himself could have made.

The trouble for Peters is that there were repeated opportunities for him to notice and correct the error.

Newsroom's Tim Murphy and Melanie Reid, who broke the detail in the story about the Peters being billed $18,000 for the over-payments, interest and penalties, reported on Newsroom yesterday that Peters should have been sent multiple letters over the last seven years that gave him a chance to see the mistake and do something about it.

Every year, certain groups of superannuitants are sent a form or a letter from the Government asking for confirmation of their relationship status and living situation.

One year it is a 'Change of Circumstances' form, to be filled out. The next it is a letter saying what the pensioner's marital status and living arrangements are listed as and asking for immediate notification if they have changed.

The Change of Circumstances forms are to be completed if a change of relationship status or residential arrangements has occurred.
But the other documents - letters sent in alternate years - are unambiguous, almost unmissably specific, in their questioning.

The form states: "It's important that we have the right details so that you are not underpaid or overpaid ... If the information we have about you is correct, you don't have to do anything. But if any of the information below has changed or is not correct, please let us know as soon as possible."

Then in bold, presumably for the elderly with challenged eyesight:

Please check the following details to make sure they are correct.

The two critical lines are:

**Relationship Status: You are single

Your living situation: You are living alone.**

Peters was receiving the single payment. For much of the time he was single and sharing (which would have been a lower weekly sum) until his partner Jan Trotman applied for her own superannuation at 65 this year and another category again would have applied for the MP.

If the information each year was not correct, a superannuitant is provided with the "NZ Super line 0800 552 002" or they are directed to their local Work and Income office. For Peters that would have been in Queen St, in the central city, about 3km from his home.

David Seymour's comment in last night's debate spoke for many on the issue: "Winston mate, just give them the files. Then we can all move on."

4. 'In my defence'

But there were some other things going on in the political economy yesterday.

Graeme Wheeler carried out his last act as Reserve Bank Governor yesterday, making his final speech before he steps down on September 27 and is replaced by Acting Governor Grant Spencer. Wheeler had previewed the speech as a defence of his five year term during the Monetary Policy Statement news conference earlier this month.

The speech to the Northern Club in Auckland was titled "Reserve Bank policy a key driver in economic performance" and was unapologetic in saying the bank's monetary policy had played a key role in creating five years of above-trend GDP and employment growth.

He defended his signature moves: the rate hikes in 2014 that had to be reversed and the three rounds of LVR restrictions applied since 2013, which politicians of all sides have criticised in some form or another.

He said New Zealand's flexible inflation-targeting framework remained relevant and he emphasised the importance of continually reassessing policy settings.

Referring to the 2014 rate hikes, he said the Reserve Bank and both international and local forecasts expected stronger growth and inflationary pressures. That did not happen because of a slump in oil and dairy prices and he defended the decision to hike, which some have described as a mistake. Prime Minister John Key was sceptical at the time.

"Central banks do not expect to be able to accurately forecast commodity prices. What matters is that central banks make sensible decisions on the basis of the information available, reflect carefully on the views held by financial markets and key institutions, remain open-minded, carefully assess new information as it becomes available, and change their forecasts and policy settings when it considers it appropriate," Wheeler said.

"We are satisfied that the Bank met these tests," he said.

5. 'Don't lift the LVRs too early'

Wheeler also pushed back gently against Bill English's recent comments about the need for the LVR restrictions to be relaxed and challenged the perception that first home buyers had lost out.

He pointed to statistics showing the share of purchases by first home buyers are now buying about 21 percent of homes sold, which is where it was in 2013 before the restrictions. (See the chart above)

He also cautioned against an early lifting of the rules.

"LVRs are not expected to be a permanent measure and the conditions for their removal would be: signs that financial stability risks have eased; and a degree of confidence that these risks won’t worsen again when LVRs are removed," he said.

"On the former measure, the financial risk picture is improving. Banks are carrying a lower share of high LVR mortgages as a result of the LVR limits having been in place, and the slowdown in house price inflation is positive - although prices remain very elevated relative to incomes and rents.

"However, the underlying drivers of housing demand (population growth, low interest rates) remain strong with housing demand still outstripping supply. There is a risk of a housing market resurgence (and a sharp lift in high LVR lending) if LVRs were removed at this time. The Bank will continue to review developments, bearing in mind that removal could be made in stages as a safeguard to a resurgent market."

Spencer was part of the team that introduced the LVRs and he has defended them staunchly as the head of the bank's department responsible for them. But his term will end within six months of the election and a new Governor may have a different view.

6. Quotes of the day:

David Seymour at the Queenstown finance debate:

"The most successful country at banning foreign buyers is North Korea."

Steven Joyce to Winston Peters and David Seymour, who constantly feuded during the debate: "Come on you two, you're like a couple of chihuahuas."

7. Coming up...

Jacinda Ardern will be visiting students in Manukau this morning before spending the rest of the day in debate preparation.

Bill English has campaign events in Auckland through until mid-afternoon, although he has been doing his debate prepping with Bill Ralston for weeks now.

May the best party leader win.

8. One fun thing

Here's the tweet of the day:

Ben Uffindell:

"How f**king great would the debates be if they were moderated by Winston Peters?"

Hopefully that got through your sp*m filters... :)