Newsroom Pro's 9 things at 9: National surges to poll lead; Ardern accuses National of 'fake news' on tax; Jet fuel crisis eases

In today's email, we look at how the penultimate poll showed National's concerted attacks on Labour's plans for 'seven new taxes' bearing fruit, wrestling momentum away from Labour and blunting the 'Jacinda Effect'.

1. National back in the lead

There are just two days of campaigning to go and the final public poll will be released tonight.

If the results of Newshub's Reid Research poll due at 6pm are anything like the same poll taken a week ago then National will be confirmed as having re-taken poll position at the last minute in a race to a coronation.

Last night TVNZ's Colmar Brunton poll showed National has surged back into a nine point lead over Labour. The poll taken between Saturday and Tuesday found support for National rose six percentage points to 46 percent in the last week, while support for Labour fell seven points to 37 percent.

Green support rose one point to eight percent and New Zealand First fell one point to 4.9 percent. The Opportunities Party edged up to 2.3 percent, its best result of the campaign. The Maori Party was at 0.5 percent and the ACT Party at 0.3 percent.

Jacinda Ardern's standing as preferred Prime Minister fell three points to 31 percent, while Bill English rose five points to 37 percent.

The Colmar Brunton poll is now more in line in with Reid Research's poll published last week, which showed National on 47.3 percent and Labour on 37.8 percent. The Reid Research poll also found New Zealand First at six percent and the Green Party at 4.9 percent. TOP was at 0.3 percent, the Maori Party was at 1.1 percent and ACT at 0.6 percent. The final Reid Research poll is expected to be released on Newshub tonight at 6pm on TV3.

The latest poll showed National's concerted attacks on Labour's plans for 'seven new taxes' appears to have borne fruit over the last couple of weeks, wrestling momentum away from Labour and blunting the 'Jacinda Effect'.

Her decision last week to reverse her 'captain's call' to leave open the possibility of a capital gains tax (excluding the family home) in Labour's first term was a tacit acknowledgement it was hurting Labour's support among home owners and small business owners. National's suggestion it would become an inheritance tax and questions about how small businesses built off the family home were enough to worry many. Labour will have seen the reaction in its own private polling and focus-grouping.

National's push in the regions to portray Labour's water royalty as a dangerous new tax that 'picked on' farmers appears to have served a double purpose of reinforcing Labour's tax plans to urban voters and pulling back conservative regional voters who may have been thinking of voting for New Zealand First.

National's surge this week has come partly at the expense of support for New Zealand First, although Labour's momentum has clearly stalled. The Colmar Brunton poll showed the Greens bouncing out of the danger zone at five percent, although it's worth noting that the polls have tended to over-estimate Green support by a couple of percentage points and under-estimate New Zealand First support by a similar amount.

If last night's results were replicated on election night then a variety of permutations of new Government are possible. A National-Maori-ACT Government is theoretically possible if the Greens don't make it into Parliament, given the redistribution of Green and TOP votes.

A Labour-Green-Maori Government is possible if New Zealand First fail to make it back into Parliament. A Labour-New Zealand First Government is possible, although less likely than it seemed a couple of weeks ago. A National-New Zealand First combination now looks the most likely if these poll results are replicated on Saturday. There remains a possibility National could govern alone if New Zealand First and Green were both to fall under the threshold, which would see more than 10 percent of the vote that is wasted redistributed to the main parties.

The key variables remain whether the Greens make it back in, whether New Zealand First again outperforms its polls, whether New Zealand First make it back in, the size of the wasted TOP vote and how many Maori Party MPs will make it into Parliament.

The number of variables is large enough and the swings in the polls in recent weeks have been wild enough that confidently predicting a particular flavour of Government is a fool's errand.

We'll all be up late on Saturday night glued to the Election Results pages.

2. Ardern accuses English of 'fake news'

One of the features of the debate on the campaign trail yesterday was the increasing anger emanating from the Labour camp over National's use of attack ads over tax and its continued (and discredited) use of the $11.7 billion fiscal hole allegation.

Earlier in the day before last night's final TVNZ leaders' debate, Jacinda Ardern accused National of spreading lies about its tax plans and its budget forecasts.

Ardern warned Bill English against using 'fake news.'

Asked about the debate, Ardern said she hoped National would not play the old style politics of misinformation or alternative facts about Labour's policies.

She said she would deal in reality - "not the fake news that the National government has created.

Finance spokesman Grant Robertson then point out a statement saying voters had a choice between Labour's "optimism and honesty and National's relentless lies."

He referred to National's latest video advertisement released today that talked about "Labour's tax surprise" increasing taxes by $1,060 per year for anyone earning over $52,000 a year. It is referring to Labour's plan to reverse National's planned tax cuts announced in the Budget.

“They’ve so run out of their own ideas that all they have is negativity and deception. National’s latest campaign ad today is yet another example of their desperate attempts to smear Labour," Robertson said.

“I’m calling National out for running a campaign that is an affront to democracy and the principles of honesty, decency and fairness. They need to pull down the attack ads and apologise to New Zealanders," he said.

“National’s campaign has been a succession of lies to the New Zealand public, a campaign of sowing fear around the country. They have deliberately set out to deceive New Zealanders at every turn. We’ve seen it in Steven Joyce’s fictitious $11.7 billion hole, in National’s complete fabrication that Labour would raise income tax, and the divide National has raised between urban and rural New Zealanders."

Joyce was unapologetic about the 'Tax Surprise' advertisement.

"Labour would legislate to overturn the currently legislated tax threshold changes so they no longer come in on 1 April," Joyce said.

"That means workers on the average wage would be $1060 a year worse off. In anyone's language workers on the average wage would be paying more tax under Labour than under National," he said.

"Labour's tax surprise' makes it very clear what's personally at stake in this election."

Ardern was also aggressive on the issue in the debate last night.

She demanded English look her in the eye and repeat Joyce's claim about the $11.7 billion hole.

Moderator Mike Hosking also ridiculed English for standing beside the $11.7 billion claim. English was unapologetic, pointing to the tightness in Labour's spending projections beyond health and education, without formally repeating the $11.7 billion figure.

Newhub's Political Editor Paddy Gower rightly called out National for deliberately spreading mis-information."

3. Another one-all draw

Last night's final debate was another strangely subdued affair in TVNZ's studios and was again driven by the moderator, Mike Hosking, rather than the guests.

Time counters noted Hosking spoke just as much as Ardern and English.

Ardern and English were both spirited and said they had had enjoyed the campaign. There were no 'knock-out' blows from either that I could see, although those who thought before the campaign that English would not make a strong impression were again wrong.

It began with an exchange over National's attack ads and Ardern was clearly affected by the surprise of the big swing to National in the poll broadcast just an hour earlier. She warmed into the debate as it went on and made strong points on housing, poverty and the need to renegotiate New Zealand's Korea free trade deal to ban foreign buyers towards the end.

But she was strongest and Hosking was most hostile to English when the debate then moved onto health.

Ardern said voters had raised mental health as the major issue to focus on during the election campaign.

"Middlemore has a full sign on it. So does Waikato. There is such resonance on it when you raise mental health," she said.

Hosking focused on the debate about health funding and reports about problems at the Waikato DHB and the Southern DHB. Ardern repeatedly asked English about underfunding of health.

There was also an exchange over potential coalition partners, with Ardern appearing to edge away from Labour's Memorandum of Understanding with the Greens about discussing a coalition with them first. She said she would give the Greens a call first, but would not commit to offering a full deal first.

English also pushed back at the idea that New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters would decide who was in Government.

"I don't like this idea Mr Peters has that he decides who the government will be," he said, calling on voters to vote National to be sure to keep it in Government.

"I'm suggesting to voters that they cut out the middle man."

I saw the debate as a one-all draw and unlikely to shift the momentum one way or the other. It's also notable that nearly 700,000 people had voted by 2pm on Wednesday, which is more than twice as many as had voted at the same stage in the 2014 election.

4. 'A sit down without a knock-down'

Newsroom's Co Editor Tim Murphy also saw the debate as inconclusive.

This was an underwhelming affair from all involved, he wrote last night in this piece for Newsroom.

TVNZ had Jacinda Ardern and Bill English seated at a peculiar white monstrosity they'd dug up from some old telethon set somewhere. And they'd gone for a duelling interview rather than a debate, with host Mike Hosking more glib and impatient with politics after a couple of weeks sick in bed.

At the last debate Hosking opened with this to English: "Why are you losing?".

"Last night he turned that into "Why are you winning?" English was too campaign-worn to claim anything, reckoning the race is still neck and neck," Tim wrote.

"He exuded calm in the first half of the debate; almost nonchalance, possibly a bit of boredom. Grinding out a historic fourth term can do that to you.

"Ardern, on the other hand started a little tense and looked frustrated at times by Hosking's weird riffs at her. She came with a word - 'autopilot' - to undermine National's lack of leadership in government over nine years, which she deployed in her first answer and her final statement. In the past few days she'd been using 'drift'. Certainly English did seem to be on autopilot in the opening stanzas at the great white stage prop of a desk.

"English bizarrely claimed night was day, that the sky was green and that 'everyone' agreed with Joyce that a hole existed.

"Ardern several times had to flatly contradict Hosking's certitudes. 'No, I don't believe that actually,' she said to a question of whether, over a single malt whisky she'd concede Labour's strategy to leave big tax decisions to a Tax Working Group rather than offer definite policies now had undone her campaign.

"The other raw nerve for Labour late in this campaign, poked at this week by a farmers' protest in Ardern's home town of Morrinsville, is the party's policy to put a water levy on bottlers and irrigators. Hosking and English tried to pinch that nerve again, but Ardern, irritated, kept saying she had targeted bottlers and New Zealanders wanted them to pay their fair share.

"She was having none of the allegation that Labour had caused an urban-rural divide by its actions. 'The division we have seen in this campaign has been stoked, but not by me,' she said, looking across the table.

"New Zealand First's leader Winston Peters had earlier in the day said his party would not support a water tax. The Labour leader's response: 'That's our policy. We are sticking with our policy.'

"Throughout the debate, Ardern - and Hosking in a couple of questions - argued National had had its nine years and problems still existed. English tried to turn it around by saying with a strong economy, National was now equipped to take on these social problems. His 'toolkit' has certainly been painstakingly, slowly, put together.

"When Hosking claimed health was 'allegedly' the most important issue for voters, Ardern seemed perplexed by his detachment from the people she'd been having selfies with all over the country. English, too, gave him a political lesson: 'It's always the biggest issue.' The Prime Minister thought it made it to that place because of people who'd had a bad experience in the system.

"When English kept hammering Joyce's line about Labour having 'nothing left' to spend because of its fiscal hole, Ardern came close to her first personal insult: 'I have been out on the road saying you have been a competent finance minister - but for you to continue that line of attack is deliberately misleading.'

"Clearly he'd lost any, small, regard she could muster for him."

See Tim's full piece on the debate here at Newsroom.

5. National ahead in its own poll

Bill English visited the big end of town yesterday afternoon where he spoke to lawyers and business people at the Shortland Street headquarters of law firm Minter Ellison, having earlier walked through the Viaduct to talk to voters and take selfies.

Sources told Newsroom that National’s latest internal polling has it at 43 percent and Labour at 39 percent. NZ First and the Greens were both on 6 percent. But there were suggestions from those close to National that its figures had softened overnight.

At a media conference afterwards, English acknowledged that it was a very tight race and that other parties were likely to be crucial if National was to form a government.

“I’m confident, but knowing there is an awful lot of hard work to go [in the last 2 days of campaigning]. This is a very tight election. A drag race between the two main parties, and I don’t think anyone can be confident until they have seen the numbers come in, but even then, it may be sufficiently close that it takes a couple of weeks of counting to determine where the country goes,” he said.

English refuted suggestions that his visit to the law firm showed a marked contrast in campaigning styles between him and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, who was visiting a food bank in Mangere.

“I’ve been to a lot more places than the Labour campaign, visited workplaces, welfare agencies…this is the first time I have been in corporate offices, but there are votes there as well, and we are keen to present people with the choice that they are going to be making between building on the strengths with National, or slowing the economy with Labour.”

6. Jet fuel crisis is easing

After a couple of days of drama and escalation, the jet fuel crisis eased yesterday.

Energy and Resources Minister Judith Collins, Mobil NZ's CEO David McNaught, Auckland Airport CEO Adrian Littlewood and Airline Representatives Board Executive director Justin Tighe-Umbers held a news conference at Auckland Airport yesterday afternoon to announce the jet fuel crisis had stabilised and that emergency measures to restrict jet fuel supply were expected to be lifted next Thursday.

Tighe-Umbers said airline cancellations were slowing as the airlines adjusted to the limit of taking 30 percent of their daily fuel needs, with many arranging stopovers in the Pacific or Australia, or using extra planes to bring in extra fuel from other airports. He said Air New Zealand had resumed ticket sales and expected its domestic network to be stable without cancellations because of the fuel issue from tomorrow.

Littlewood said there had been 39 cancellations at Auckland Airport today, taking the total since Sunday to 110. That represented five percent of the usual flights through the airport.

"The airlines have done a fantastic job of rehousing passengers onto other flights," he said, noting there were now very few customers left in the lurch.

McNaught, who was speaking on behalf of the fuel industry, said supply of petrol and diesel into Auckland was still healthy and that Z Energy had now restocked 95 octane fuel for all but a couple of its stations. They would be fully stocked from tomorrow, he said.

The industry had increased the number of trucks bringing in petrol and diesel from Marsden Point to 14 trucks a day from two trucks a day, while there were 34 trucks bringing in fuel from Mount Maunganui every day, up from 12 normally. He said the Auckland Council was looking at whether jet fuel could be barged from Marsden Point to the tank farm at Wynyard Wharf, although it was still checking whether the tanks previously used for chemicals could be safely refitted for jet fuel.

"The ground fuel supply into Auckland is still healthy," he said.

He said the airport had originally had eight days worth of jet fuel in stock and the move to reduce to a regimen of 30 percent of usual allocations per day had extended that amount on hand to 20 days worth of fuel, starting last Sunday.

That would in theory give the airport enough fuel to last until October 7 without any further supplies.

However, the Marsden Point refinery was testing loading jet fuel onto trucks today and the industry and the Auckland Council was looking at setting up the tanks at Wynyard Wharf to handle jet fuel. However he noted a single A380 aircraft needed 250,000 litres to refuel, while a single truck tanker could only bring in 25,000 litres, which meant the pipeline ultimately needed to be restored.

Collins said she had been assured that fuel would start flowing through the repaired pipe from early next week. McNaught said this meant he expected the 30 percent restriction to be in place only until Thursday September 28th, before it was progressively lifted to 100 percent.

Collins did not address the issues of whether the Government or the industry could have prepared better or had other contingencies in place, saying there would be a full investigation. English said in the debate later in the day that the fuel industry, the airlines and the airport would have to pay for any upgrades to make infrastructure more resilient.

7. Getting to grips with Gisborne's problems

Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva and Shane Cowlishaw were in Gisborne yesterday as they drive up the country from Wellington to Auckland for this weekend's big events.

Sam took time out to talk to the locals about the region's big issues.

"Stand on one of Gisborne’s main streets for long enough, and it’s easy to get an idea of what Bill English referred to recently as the town’s 'growing pains'," Sam reports.

Logging trucks thunder along the tarmac at regular intervals, a sign of the growing forestry industry which has led to calls for improved roading. Yet in a number of areas, Gisborne’s pains appear to be from more than simply growth.

The region has one of the highest levels of both socioeconomic deprivation and unemployment in the country, while at 0.7 percent it made the second-smallest contribution to national GDP in 2016.

A desire to lift Gisborne off the bottom rung led mayor Meng Foon to join the leaders of the Far North and Rotorua earlier this year in asking the Government to hand over a wide array of functions typically run by central government agencies.

Foon says people in Gisborne are feeling “buoyant” when it comes to the economy, with sectors like forestry, horticulture and tourism on the rise.

However, with the unemployment rate high and some in the community dealing with family issues and substance abuse, something different is needed - hence his suggestion of a special economic zone, with the highest tax rate set at 19 per cent and other incentives to encourage investment.

“We’re never going to get to the middle or three-quarters of the way if we’re not treated specially. Give us a 10-year time period, let us prove ourselves, and once we’re up and our GDP [is], hey, we’re back to normal, but at least the government doesn’t actually have to look after more unemployed people, more people on drugs - we’ll just be lifting ourselves out like a phoenix, eh," Foon told Sam.

See Sam's full story here on Newsroom Pro
, where it was published first yesterday.

8. Fact-checking English on income and exports

Bill English has claimed on the campaign trail that incomes have risen twice as fast as the rate of inflation in the last nine years. He also said exports are diversifying.

Rod Oram has fact-checked both claims and finds English is mostly wrong on incomes and just plain wrong on exports.

He is right on income on two of the four main measures from Statistics NZ. But wrong on the other two. Moreover, he ignores the negative impact fast-rising housing costs have had on households, Rod reports.

See Rod's full report on Newsroom Pro, where it was first published.

9. Some fun things

Here's some twitter comedy as we stumble towards the big day on Saturday. By the way, there was an earthquake in Wellington yesterday. Apart from the political ones...

Cori Gonzalez-Macuer: "In true Wellington form, I legit didn't feel the earthquake because of how loud the dubstep in Burger Fuel was."

Katie Bradford: Bill's lines of the campaign. "The economy is not some building in the sky" and "Its hard to be Green when you're in the red."

UMR's Stephen Mills on the Colmar Brunton poll: "Wow. Massive 13% swing in a week. Is taxscaremania more powerful than jacindamania?"

Thomedy: "Next election's debates will be held in Mike Hosking's study, the two leaders sitting in front of him while he sips wine and berates them."