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Contrasting styles, some substance: five experts on the first TV leaders’ debate of NZ’s election

23 September 2020

Prime Minister and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and National Party leader Judith Collins have met for the first televised debate of the 2020 election campaign. UC's Professor Bronwyn Hayward was one of five experts watching the debate closely for what it revealed about policy, performance and the likely tone of the campaign to come.


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Professor Bronwyn Hayward, Political Science and International Relations at University of Canterbury, looks at how climate and inequality were addressed in the televised NZ leaders' debate


In the 2017 TVNZ election debates, no one was asked about climate change once. Thankfully it was raised early this time by Ardern and hammered home in questions — but the answers left a lot to be desired.

Collins played to her base, repeating the claim that New Zealand is so small, whatever it does won’t make a difference (it will), and that farmers feel bagged by the Greens and Labour (they do). It was left to Ardern to offer more substance and collaborative pathways forward: incentives for reducing emissions, cleaning up rivers (including urban rivers).

But beyond a bit of banter about electric vehicles, neither leader had a policy to fundamentally reduce our transport emissions. Pumped hydro schemes may help create jobs and provide stable energy supply over dry years, but neither tackled how we will afford the costs that are coming for homes and infrastructure exposed to sea level rise.

COVID-19 consumes us right now but climate change hasn’t gone away and neither has inequality. Again no one really answered the question posed by head girl of Aorere College, Aigagalefili Fepulea'i Tapua'i, about the stress on low-income school communities where students have to choose between study or taking a job to help their family.

There were gestures towards answers. Collins made the most direct connection, saying, “My husband is Samoan and had to leave school”, but had no solution. Ardern gestured towards raising the lowest incomes but didn’t make a firm commitment beyond saying, “I am not done with child poverty.”

The futures of young New Zealanders hang on what happens next.

To see what other experts had to say on the debate, read the original article published on The Conversation.

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