Wellington, September 26,2023
Cost of living, Rainbow community rights and Winston Peters’ bathroom policy stoked heated exchanges at the Young Voters’ debate telecast on Monday night.
Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick set the tone by denouncing the “boring, bland proposals from [the] two Chrises.” She harped on her party’s inter-generational plan for climate action that “will make our grandchildren proud,” while feisty Lee Donoghue of New Zealand First wanted to put the “K back in iwi,” in line with his party chief’s inhibition to label Maori as indigenous.
Labour’s Arena Williams pushed her party’s cost of living package as Brooke Van Velden flaunted ACT’s progressive credentials.
At 21, Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke of Te Pati Maori (TPM) was positioned to be the youngest MP to enter Parliament since 1853, if elected. She is also the grandniece of Hana Te Hemara, who was among the group of early activists who submitted the petition to Parliament calling for Maori to be recognised as an official language of New Zealand.
Cost of living
Erica Stanford projected a mature presence at the debate and touted the National Party’s blueprint on healthcare and education. However, she was challenged on her party’s proposed tax plan that put just $20 per fortnight back in the pockets of minimum wage earners.
“That is nothing to sniff at,” Stanford chided the tittering audience. “Everyone in our tax package will get some relief, but we need to reduce the cost of living at the root symptoms,” she added.
TPM’s Maipi-Clarke said her party’s plan to tax the wealthy would end poverty overnight. But NZ First’s Donoghue disagreed. “We want education and not indoctrination. Hating on the wealthy is not going to get you there,” he noted.
A show of hands established that four of the six speakers owned homes in New Zealand, with at least one owning more than one property.
ACT’s Brooke Van Velden was defensive while answering the charge that her party favoured landlords. “We are on the side of renters. But if landlords have more costs put on them, that transfers on,” she explained. But Green MP Swarbrick argued rent controls were “entirely feasible. It is just a case of political willpower,” drawing applause.
TPM’s Maipi-Clarke said Maori faced racism in the housing market, adding, “Buyers can’t even get their foot in the door if they have a Maori last name.”
Next up, Labour’s Williams found herself fending off a joint onslaught from National’s Stanford and NZ First’s Donoghue on free dental care for under 30s, citing paucity of funds. But Williams argued dental care “is really important and it is really important to invest in this for under 30s.”
On mental health, Greens’ Swarbrick said “it is about squashing discrimination and alleviating poverty,” while National’s Stanford pointed out that “the worst thing for a young person with mental health issues is to be on a waiting list.” National was committed to having a minister of mental health “so we are accountable for it.”
All candidates agreed there was a climate emergency, except NZ First’s Donoghue who thought the term was “alarmist and Kiwis are sick of it.”
Donoghue and Greens’ Swarbrick sparred over Winston Peters’ pronouncement on public toilets. Peters had announced his party would, if part of the next coalition government, pass law requiring public toilets to provide clearly demarcated unisex and single-sex bathrooms.
“We are not on another planet,” Donoghue said, in an obvious reference to National Party leader Christopher Luxon’s comment about Peters.
“People are concerned about this [issue],” Donoghue said, adding, “More kids now are trans-gendering or transitioning than ever before.”
Swarbrick noted the trans community was “facing hate because of comments from his party.”
“I think political leaders need to turn down the temperature on this,” Swarbrick added.
Clearly, Winston Peters in his characteristic fashion had lobbed a divisive gender issue on the campaign trail just weeks prior to the general election slated for 14 October 2023.
Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington