Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8am: Poll shows tight 'drag race'; English slaps down Bennett on gangs' comment; Labour's plan for Generation Rent

The latest opinion poll confirms Bill English's view that the election is a drag race between Labour and National. Photo montage: Lynn Grieveson

In today's email we look at the latest polls and the latest news from the campaign trail.

1. A very tight drag race

Newshub's Reid Research poll last night showed support for Labour surging close to that for National, although not quite as far as last Thursday's Colmar Brunton poll showed.

The Reid Research poll had 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) in a poll taken over the last week. Labour was at 43 percent and National in the Colmar Brunton poll.

Both party leaders suggested last Thursday night that the poll broadcast on TVNZ just an hour before the debate probably overstated Labour a bit and understated National. But they are clearly now neck and neck, and Bill English's regular comments in recent days about a 'drag race' between the two major parties are clearly playing out.

The "major minor” parties continue to fall away, with the main focus on whether the Greens will make it back into Parliament and over the five percent threshold.

Whether they can is crucial for two reasons. Firstly, a Green-free Parliament takes away a potential partner for Labour and increases New Zealand First's power in any post-election negotations. Secondly, the Green vote is then 'wasted' and would be redistributed at the proportions of the remaining bigger parties in Parliament, potentially giving National an extra boost if they get a higher share than Labour.

Last night's Reid Research poll showed both of the 'major minor' parties 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.

Another key factor in the result will be the scale of the wasted vote for TOP, assuming it does not get over five percent. Big wasted votes for Green and Labour with National in the lead could help National win in its own right with a result in the mid to low 40 percent range, assuming the Maori and ACT parties were able to maintain their positions.

The Reid Research result, if replicated on September 23, 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, similar to the Colmar Brunton result.

2. English rebukes Bennett

The main focus this morning was on yesterday's comments by Paula Bennett about how gang members had fewer human rights than other New Zealanders.

Clearly concerned about the effects of the comments, Bill English effectively backed away from them and Bennett in an interview this morning.

Bennett made the comments when challenged over National's policy to allow police to search the houses and cars of gang members at any time to ensure they didn't have firearms, using a new firearms prohibition order.

Bennett said 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, who was also at the news conference, appeared to defend her comments when he said: "It's good that we don't have a written constitution. It's enabled the country to deal with all sorts of issues in a practical effective way."

Bennett's comments were immediately criticised, including by the Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford, who sub-tweeted a report of Bennett's comments with this comment: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. What we fought WW2 to preserve. What NZ declared in 1948." He was referring to the UN convention on human rights.

Jarrod Gilbert, a University of Canterbury sociologist who specialises in studying gangs, described the comments as cynical and dangerous in an Op-Ed for the NZ Herald.

"What is being proposed here is quite clearly breaching the Bill of Rights Act of New Zealand and what's more the government is quite aware of that and is seemingly incredibly comfortable with it," Gilbert later told RNZ.

"That's not only troubling, it ought be seen as sinister, and it ought be called out for the nonsense that it is. If this is genuinely what Paula Bennett believes she is not fit for the job," he said.

English appeared to back away from Bennett's comments in an interview with Susie Ferguson on Morning Report.

He said Bennett had been referring to legal rights rather than human rights.

"It's just not the right way to describe human rights," he said.

"She understands the policy the right way, but it was a discussion about the legal rights of particular people, not the human rights of New Zealanders. Sometimes we just don't say the right thing. That happens."

3. A tougher gang policy

Earlier yesterday, National had appealed to its own base and New Zealand First voters with a policy of both cracking down on P-dealing gangs, but also boosting funding for rehabilitation.

Speaking at the Higher Ground drug rehabilitation facility in Te Atatu, English and 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 sentence 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.

4. A plan for Generation Rent

Meanwhile, Jacinda Ardern turned her focus on the campaign trail yesterday to renters’ rights.

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.

“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,” she said.

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 rights,” Ardern said.

5. A quiet cup of coffee

Ardern made the policy announcement at Amanda and Ed Lipsham's rented Henderson home, along with 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.

Newsroom's Tim Murphy attended and took these pictures. He later wrote this piece for Newsroom about the practice of taking selfies on the campaign trail.

6. A Geonet upgrade

Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva reports this morning the Government has given the green light to a 24/7 natural hazards monitoring service, after the response to last November’s Kaikoura earthquake raised fears about a lack of readiness for a major disaster.

Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith and Civil Defence Minister Nathan Guy will this morning announce the upgrade of the GeoNet monitoring service, replacing the current on-call system which came in for criticism after the magnitude-7.8 shake.

Goldsmith told Sam the new 24/7 service would be fully operational by the end of 2018, improving the speed and quality of hazards monitoring.

“The simple way to describe it is going from what we have at the moment which is having somebody on call, to having somebody at the desk - I think it’s a good step to take and it’s absolutely timely,” he said.

“From having somebody on call to having somebody in position, the outcome, the goal we’re looking at is basically halving the time, so twice as fast in terms of assessment of tsunami threat down to about 15 minutes is the goal, and twice as accurate.”

Sam's piece on the upcoming announcement was published first on Newsroom Pro.

7. While you were sleeping

In the wake of yesterday's hydogen bomb test by North Korea, Donald Trump tweeted early this morning that: "The United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea."

Clearly referring to China, such an escalation would be disastrous for the global economy and the Asia Pacific region in particular. We all just have to hope the US administration doesn't actually do it.

8. One fun thing

Yesterday I tweeted out this chart in Rod Oram's weekend column that referred to New Zealand's nitrogen balance having worsened by more than any other OECD country in the 20 years to 2009. It was retweeted over 200 times and generated quite a discussion in 28 comment threads.

I asked whether anyone had noticed this major worsening of nitrate leaching.

The best response was from a twitter account purporting to be The Whanganui River (which now, by the way, has the legal status of a person under law):

"I f***ing noticed."