Election 2017 Live: Race to the top tightens in latest poll


Labour leader Jacinda Ardern poses for a selfie with a fan at the Avondale Sunday market. Photo: Tim Murphy.

With just under three weeks to go until Election Day, Labour has continued to close the gap on National, with a new poll solidifying NZ First's kingmaker status.

The gap between National and Labour continues to narrow in the race to September 23, with a new poll placing the election outcome up in the air.

The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll has continued the trend of Labour’s resurgence - albeit not to the same extent of Monday’s One News-Colmar Brunton poll that showed the party ahead of National for the first time in over a decade.

Instead, the Newshub poll has National narrowly ahead with 43.3 per cent (down 1.1 per cent) to Labour’s 39.4 per cent (up 6.3 per cent).

With the focus on the major parties, the “major minors” both recorded drops: NZ First on 6.6 per cent (down 2.6 per cent), with the Greens on 6.1 per cent (down 2.2 per cent).

TOP recorded 1.9 per cent, the Maori Party 1 per cent and ACT 0.6 per cent in the poll, with a margin of error of 3.1 per cent.

The result would mean both National and Labour would need NZ First to govern, with Labour also requiring the backing of the Greens.

The preferred Prime Minister stakes have also tightened, with Prime Minister Bill English (30.1 per cent) and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern (29.9 per cent) in a virtual dead heat.

Parties turn to old favourites

With just 20 days until Kiwis go to the polls, both major parties turned to their traditional staples on a Sunday of policy announcements.

However, National's pivot to law and order, in the form of a crackdown on P, has already sparked controversy over whether gang members have fewer human rights than others.

Speaking at the Higher Ground drug rehabilitation facility in Te Atatu, English and Police Minister Paula Bennett announced National would invest $82 million over four years to tackle the rise in P use through a crackdown on gangs and more rehabilitation services.

“Gangs are increasingly pushing dangerous drugs into our communities and we are committed to stopping them, locking them up and seizing their ill-gotten gains,” Bennett said.

National would spend $42m on doubling the number of drug dog teams, increasing the maximum for manufacturing and distributing synthetic cannabis from two years to eight, and introducing mandatory police vetting for anyone working at a port, mail centre or airport baggage centre.

It would also impose new requirements for gang members on a benefit, allowing it to be cancelled if they couldn’t explain how they owned expensive assets, while introducing a new offence of “wilful contamination” for people who contaminated rental properties with P.

Another $40m would be spent on drug treatment and education services, including 1500 extra in-patient drug treatment places and new treatment, prevention and education services from NGOs and iwi.

“Serious drugs like methamphetamine and the gangs who peddle them are a scourge on our society,” Bennett said.

The crackdown would be funded in part by $40m from the proceeds of crime, and another $42m of new funding.

Human rights hubbub

However, the issue of greatest controversy was a proposal to allow police to search the houses and cars of the most serious gang members at any time to ensure they didn't have firearms, using a new firearms prohibition order.

Bennett acknowledged the orders, proposed by the Government earlier this year, "have got some controversy around them" but would be subject to stringent oversight.

"You [police] can apply via the [police] commissioner and the commissioner is responsible for ensuring they don't overuse this power, because it is a unique power to be able to search at any time."

National had received advice on the human rights implications of the orders, which would "probably" breach the rights of some criminals, but the party felt it would be justified given they would have had to have been already convicted of a serious violent offence and had a firearms charge.

Asked outright whether criminals had human rights, Bennett responded: "Some have fewer human rights than others when they are creating a string of victims behind them...there is a different standard."

English indicated he was comfortable with the policy, but said it would go "right through the proper process" at Parliament, including select committee submissions, so it could be tested properly.

There has already been a backlash from human rights advocates. Responding to Bennett's quote on Twitter, Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford said: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. What we fought WW2 to preserve. What NZ declared in 1948."

Labour's rental rights push

Under both Andrew Little and now Ardern, Labour has not been shy about highlighting housing as one of the most critical areas for Kiwis this election.

Having already announced an array of housing policies, including a pledge to build 100,000 affordable homes over 10 years and a crackdown on property speculators, Ardern has turned her focus to renters’ rights.

“It is not uncommon for renters to be forced to move as often as once a year. Families are living with a level of stress and anxiety, with often very little notice that they have to move on and find a home in a tough rental market.”

Speaking at the house of long-term Auckland renters, she said Labour would extend landlords’ notice periods from 42 days to 90, so tenants had more time to find an alternative property.

Rent increases would be limited to once a year, instead of every six months, while letting fees would be abolished and the formula used to set rents would need to be specified in a rental agreement.

Labour would also abolish “no-cause” rental terminations, although landlords could still evict tenants for bad behaviour or through the Tenancy Tribunal.

“We want our rental system to be fair, and take away stress for both tenants, and landlords,” Ardern said.

Tenants and landlords would be allowed to agree fixed-term leases of 12 months or more with minor alterations to the property, such as putting up shelves, allowed in exchange for double bond and the tenant returning the property to its original state at the end of the lease.

Ardern said the party would also pass Little’s Healthy Homes Bill into law, setting minimum standards of heating and insulation, with landlords offered $2000 grants to help meet the criteria.

“This package has been designed, based on international examples, to get the balance between tenants and landlords right,” Ardern said.

Moved eight times in a decade

Ardern made the policy announcement from the couch of Amanda and Ed Lipsham's rented Henderson home, sitting alongside them and children Jahvann, 11, and Nevaeh, 9.

She said Labour wanted tenants to have more time, more certainty rather than the current 42 days' notice termination of the rent agreement and 'no cause' ending by landlords.

The Lipshams have moved eight times in the past decade and four times in the past three years.

Ardern said Labour was "absolutely committed to New Zealanders having the opportunity to put down roots and have security".

Amanda Lipsham said of the combination of bond, advance rent and letting fee: "When you are consistently having to move that is difficult for most families."

Ardern said Labour realised landlords could have legitimate reasons to want tenants out so the party would change the law to codify "antisocial behaviour" and also make urgent Tenancy Tribunal hearings better resourced and available.

The home visit and announcement - Ardern brought the muffins and the morning tea was surrounded by cameras at close quarters - came about by local MP and housing spokesman Phil Twyford meeting Amanda Lipsham through a charity.

Smith attacked over poison drop

Nelson MP and Environment Minister Nick Smith has complained to police after having rat poison rubbed on his face at the city’s weekend market.

Smith said his family was also threatened by a pair of protesters at the Nelson Market on Saturday morning, in relation to planned drops of poison at the nearby Brook Waimarama Sanctuary.

The Nelson MP told Stuff he was not harmed by the incident, showering to remove the poison afterwards, but found it unnerving.

"The situation became quite frightening when it escalated from verbal abuse and throwing rat poison at myself and volunteers to physical shoving and rubbing rat poison over my face and clothes.”

Smith told Stuff the protesters walked away after police were called, but threatened to poison Smith and his family.

"I'm quite tolerant of peaceful protest but this has gone too far and I have lodged a formal complaint with police...you get a bit of lip, that goes with the turf but this went too far.”

Updated: 6.17pm.