Wellington, September 22,2023
Calling them minor parties may be a misnomer.
The ACT, Green, Māori and New Zealand First parties have a major role in forming a post-poll coalition government in New Zealand.
Opinion polls show neither Labour nor National can govern alone in the aftermath of the general election set for 14 October 2023.
But the big takeaway from the debate between the leaders of the minor parties held on Thursday in Auckland was that ACT’s David Seymour and Winston Peters of New Zealand First will likely be busy “sorting out” one another around the Cabinet table, if elected.
Seymour, who kicked off the debate by recapping his party’s plan to trim Labour’s “wasteful spending,” came under a pincer attack by Green Party’s Marama Davidson and Māori Party’s Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, who saw his spending cuts as disadvantaging Māori.
The debate never veered from being Māori-centric.
Te Paati Māori’s Ngarewa-Packer wanted to “flip the tax system” to align it with her earlier observation that “we [Māori] were raised in a system not designed for us.” She wanted to “take GST off all kai [food].”
But Peters argued preferencing Māori did not promote equality and shifted the focus to the runaway profits reaped by banks and supermarkets.
Peters noted the wealth tax proposed by the Greens and Māori Party would lead to capital flight and more young people going overseas, which would take New Zealand “straight into the Third World.”
After a brief aside on superannuation, which saw Seymour alone advocating a change to the law, the debate turned to law and order.
Bizarrely, the word “retail” was dropped, and with it went any reference to the loss of life and property suffered mostly by ethnic Indian dairy and convenience store workers for whom ram raids had become a grim fact of life.
Instead, the debate centred on the plight and rehabilitation of gang members.
“The biggest victim of crime in this country is Maori and Pasifika,” Peters proclaimed authoritatively.
He wanted gangs outlawed and criminals let out “with ankle bracelets” and “slaving it off for the next three or four years to pay back their debt to society.”
Seymour claimed to have cost-effective strategies in support of imprisonment and additional prison beds.
But Ngarewa-Packer highlighted the plight of Maori women jailed for “crimes of poverty.” She believed “being tough on crime and soft on poverty is not the way forward,” adding, “We can’t prison our way out of justice.”
Davidson argued for community support that gave gang members “something to lose, something they belong to,” in order to reduce crime.
The moderator then made a plea on behalf of the victims of “white-collar criminals,” which effectively pushed the victims of ram raids and violent burglaries out of the discussion. The debate lost its way from that point on.
It’s fair to say the powerbrokers’ debate around law and order fell short of expectations for New Zealanders who faced or witnessed growing crime in their neighbourhood.
On coalitions, Peters ruled out working with Labour, but appeared to give the nod to Seymour and Luxon. However, Seymour had grave doubts about joining hands with Peters. The Greens and Te Paati Māori struck a kinship around wealth tax.
The powerbrokers’ debate shored up Winston Peters’ reputation for being sharp with his tongue. He told the “adults in the room” to “keep their trousers on.”
The debate will be remembered for little else.
Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington