Thursday 24 November: The John Key Cart in cruise control

by Toby Manhire / 24 November, 2011
Poll gloom for John Banks. Collins says she'll quit if Goff police-freeze claims proven. Police execute search warrants.



On Radio New Zealand National, Checkpoint leads at 5pm on the man sentenced to five months’ home detention for assisting his mother’s suicide. Second is the chief ombudsman refusing the Greens’ request to release the Treasury advice on asset sales and foreign ownership (see 4.20pm). Next, Judith Collins’ response to Phil Goff’s allegations about a police recruitment freeze (see 11.10am). And that’s followed by news that Radio New Zealand is yet to have a search warrant executed, unlike TVNZ, TV3 and the Herald on Sunday, all of whom have handed over material related to the teapot tapes investigation to police.

One News opens with John Key walking out of a restroom in Bulls, or somewhere. “A comfort stop, as John Key goes on his bus tour,” teases the newsreader. “But will he be comfortable after our new poll?”

Who writes this stuff? Really.

They don’t lead on loos or polls, but with yesterday’s dramatic chopper crash in Auckland, in two parts – first, the pilot survivor; second, what went wrong? Then to the poll (see details below). Then off on the John Key Cart, whence the ever obliging Jessica Mutch communicates National’s message: don’t be complacent, get out and vote. Fifth is the chief ombudsman refusing to release The Stuff. Then the police recruitment deferment.

Further down the bulletin, we visit Waimakariri, where Phil Goff was today, and where Labour say dirty tricks are afoot with Act having withdrawn their candidate to give National a boost. They deny that. Finally the electorate road trip heads to Mount Roskill. I drove through Mount Roskill today, as it happens, taking my mum to the airport. I got a bit of a shock – look, a billboard with Phil Goff on it! – before I twigged that we were in Phil Goff’s electorate

Over on 3 News, the chopper crash leads. Then their poll (details below), with Duncan Garner trying his hardest not to say that the teapot tapes fiasco hasn’t damaged Key. Says Key, alongside his cart: “There’s lots of commentators in New Zealand who can decide whether I got things right or wrong,” he says, and off camera Garner, I feel certain, is stabbing a pencil deep into his own thigh.

Then the Epsom poll (again see below), and that’s followed by the police recruitment story.

On TV One’s Close Up, it’s old chestnut night. Body Language Expert time! The usual inane stuff, and: “I don’t think all the way through the first [debate] and not much in the second one did John Key use Phil Goff’s name,” says Greg Boyed to the BLE. The BLE replies: “Well, he doesn’t want to engage with him ...” Bollocks. Live blogging the first debate, I wrote: “Goff is doing a good bit of hand waving, but Key’s benign smile is immovable. He’s calling his opponent ‘Phil’ a lot. Don’t think Phil likes it.”

Later in Close Up, out on the street to read people pledges and see if they can match them to parties. On the three biggest parties, they can. Well done. On the smaller parties, they can’t. And, frankly, if you found people in a vox pop who could accurately pick out United Future policy I’d be deeply worried for the country.

A damp squib top of the Campbell Live show. A quirk of electoral rules means Act and National have a bit more space on the ballot paper in Epsom. Non-story. Later, a more interesting piece, looking at the new faces in the Green party likely to make it into parliament. Sympathetically done, so the Greens will be pleased. But, to be honest, I doubt many people know any Greens beyond the leader, Metirussel. And finally a piece from Darfield in Canterbury, where the dairy farmers, apparently, think the great peril is those bloody Greenies.

That’s all. Good night.

6.10pm: POLLS (updated)

3 News / Reid Research

National 50.8% (up 0.6)

Labour 26% (record low, down 1.4)

Greens 13.4% (record high, up 0.4)

NZ First 3.1% (down 0.4)

Conservatives 1.8% (up 0.7)

Maori party 1.5% (up 0.2)

Mana party 1.1% (up 0.1)

ACT 1% (down 0.1)

United Future -

Undecideds, up by 3% to 12%. When undecided voters were pressed on preference, National's number overall dropped to just under 50%, while NZ First went up to 4.1%.

Preferred PM: Key 49 (NC), Goff 12 (up 2)

In Epsom an NBR/Reid poll puts John Banks on 37%, trailing The Reluctant Frontrunne Paul Goldsmith on 46%.

One News / Colmar Brunton

National 50% (down 3)

Labour 28% (up 2)

Greens 10% (down 3)

NZ First 4.2% (up 2)

Conservatives 2.4% (up 1)

Maori party 2% (up 0.4)

ACT 1.7% (up 0.1)

Mana party 1% (up 0.1)

United Future 0.1% (down 0.7)

Preferred PM: Key 52 (down 1), Goff 15 (up 2)

Perhaps John Key would have been better off having a cup of tea with Colin Craig and Rodney. Sorry, with Craig in Rodney.

A full roundup of the evening bulletins later.

4.50pm: Two final polls are expected at 6pm this evening: one from One News/Colmar Brunton and another from 3 News / Reid Research. Could there be a surprise in store?

4.30pm: They're keeping a tight rein on the JohnKey Cart. Andrea Vance of Fairfax tweets:

It's not as if NZ bus drivers ever cause political embarrassments.

4.20pm: The Green party co-leader Russel Norman has challenged John Key to release advice from the Treasury over the sale of asset and foreign ownership, following the ombudsman's office confirming today the decision not to release the remaining documents.

"The only explanation for National refusing to release advice on foreign ownership of foreign assets is that it contradicts what they have been saying in public. It proves they have something to hide," says Norman in a statement.

The ombudsman's ruling is here (PDF).

4.05pm: Labour campaign spokesman Grant Robertson has identified three "missing promises" in National's manifesto. From the press release:

Health: maintain subsidies for GP visits and keep the cap on GP fees.

Tertiary education: retain restrictions on the amount by which institutions are able to annually increase fees for publicly-funded courses.

Housing: keep income-related rents for state house tenants.

“If National backtracks on any one of these three policy commitments - let alone all three - it will have a significant adverse impact on thousands of Kiwis and their families,” Grant Robertson said.

3.45pm: Listener Live's favourite forecaster, Philip Duncan, has blogged about the electoral commission's guidance on weather reporting on election day. He writes: "We'll be telling any readers in wet, windy or cold places that, 'If it's stormy now, here's the best time to get out and vote.'" We'll be checking for anagrams, Duncan.

3.25pm: Further to the entry at 2.45pm, Gareth Hughes has been campaigning for the Greens in Ohariu, though asking for their party vote rather than the electorate vote. He's voting in Welly Central, and Green candidate James Shaw is getting his vote.

3.05pm: Brash has been reading Lewis Carroll (inventor of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, need I remind you) - and another man desperately seeking the one-seat seal-breaker, Peter Dunne, seems to have REM on the brain.

The United Future man from Ohariu warns in a press release of a "nightmare scenario ... a Labour-Winston-Greens-Maori Party-Hone Harawira-Annette Sykes-John Minto catastrophe.“

And I feel fine.

2.55pm: Don Brash's speech today on closing the gap with Australia begins like this:

Lewis Carroll once said, "If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there."

Curioser and curioser.

2.45pm: Public service announcement.

The polls open in 33 hours and 40 minutes, but you can vote now if you want to. For details select your electorate on this page.

One person who has already voted is Green MP Kevin Hague - and he tells me on Twitter, during an exchange about the rules on voting day, that he voted Green for party, but gave his electorate tick not to his own name, but to the Labour candidate in the marginal West Coast Tasman, Damien O'Connor.

2.15pm: John Key interrogated by Alan Patridge. In Waikanae, natch. (h/t Lyndon Hood)

1.40pm: Mum, I need your help is an intriguing website set up by Ian Allan for the election, encouraging people to enrol, vote and think. It's left-leaning, though not partisan. Why mums? "Because, when we're searching for answers, it tends to be the wisdom and nurturing hearts of our mums that guides us."

12.45pm: BLOGGERS

A National-Green coalition? “It’s political suicide. It won’t happen. It makes more sense for Labour and National to go into coalition together than it does for the Greens to sit at the Cabinet table with Judith Collins and Steven Joyce,” writes Danyl Mclauchlan at the Dim-Post.

Kiwiblog’s David Farrar enumerates “10 positive reasons to vote National”.

Whaleoil aka Cameron Slater accuses the Herald newspapers of a “shameful selection of coverage and blatant attempts to affect outcomes”.

At Pundit, Andrew Geddis offers some grains of salt to sniff while reading any commentary on the Bradley Ambrose non-decision.

On yesterday’s ruling, see also Steven Price at Media Law Journal.

“I don’t think I can recall an election in NZ conducted under such a cloud of extraordinary and dubious circumstances as this one,” says Anthony Robins at the Standard, pointing to the police search warrants, the teapot tapes, and the unreleased Treasury documents related to asset sales.

The public are opposed to asset sales, and so are the financial analysts, writes Gordon Campbell at Scoop.

And Gareth Renodwden at the climate-change blog Hot Topic castigates National for its environment policy. He also notes – inarguably, I’d say - this:

Climate policy — beyond some facile jockeying for position on the details of a watered down emissions trading scheme — has hardly figured in the campaign of either of the major parties. It has certainly not been fought over, or accorded the prominence you might expect of an issue that is going to shape human destiny over the next century.

At times like this, you can either laugh or cry. I choose laughter.

It might be added, what’s more, that the Greens have hardly thrust climate change to the front of their campaign.

12.20pm: The leaders of the two main parties are on the buses in the final few days of the campaign. The National team are heading up the north island aboard a John Key cart. Phil Goff is in the south island till tomorrow, whereupon he will travel on a Goffmobile from Rotorua to Auckland. More on the RNZ site, if you must.

12.05pm: A report in the Press highlights a warning from the Electoral Commission that in certain circumstances it could be an offence to write about the weather on Saturday.

11.55am: Labour can reasonably complain that some of the grief they've been getting over their grasp of numbers is unwarranted. But given the scrutiny they should be more careful about their Twitter feed, which chucked out the following string of tweets within the space of a minute late last night:

11.45am: Felix Marwick of Newstalk ZB has written some blistering posts in recent weeks. His latest is a set of predictions about the result - "more commonly referred to by scientists as WAGs (wild ass guesses). It's worth a read.

11.40am: An angry Home Brew Crew video, "Listen to Us", (contains language that may offend) takes aim at the National party. "A striking work of political speech," says Russell Brown.

11.20am: Judith Collins has now been on Newstalk ZB, reiterating her rejection of Phil Goff's claims (see 7.15am) and promising to resign if his allegations are proved true. The commissioner certainly was not leant on to delay the announcement about deferrals, she says. "He's not a person who would ever indulge in political activity and, frankly, I would never ask him to do so."

Plunket loves it - and he's clearly relishing his new (ish) talkback home. "I don't think I've ever seen an example of a political story being so untrue," he declares. And he asks his listeners: "Do you think Phil Goff should quit if his source is shown to be a bag of hot air?"

Judith Collins has also issued a press statement here.

11.10am: John Drinnan at the Herald writes on the Electoral Commission's guidelines on election day coverage. I've probably banged on about this enough, but one thing to note is that the Electoral Commission have repeatedly pointed out that they won't be out there hunting for breaches - which to the letter of the law could include a political tweet from someone with a couple of dozen followes, or a comment on a Facebook page - but that they will look at those that come to their attention, whether through a complaint or coverage in the media. They'll then decide whether to put it into police hands. (The police, of course, have a good bit of spare time, according to the PM, so I bet they'd be thrilled to go after scores of social media mavericks.)

10.25am: As I noted, Kathryn Ryan didn't raise with Goff his claim from last night's debate of a police recruitment freeze - which has been disputed this morning by National's law and order spokesperson Judith Collins (see 7.15am). But Sean Plunket asks him about nothing else in a testy exchange on Newstalk ZB Wellington.

Who's your source, Plunket demands. "I can tell you the source is reliable, and you know as a journalist you don't reveal your sources." Judith Collins was forced to admit there would be no January intake, he says. There will be none in February, either - and he's hearing from "other journalists" that budgetary pressures could mean further cancellation of recruitment.

Do you have any proof that there was a political instruction not to talk about the deferral until after the election? "I was told the information was not to be released."

You better tell us who your source is, then, says Plunket. Because you're starting to look like Winston Peters, "who is known for baseless claims for political gain."

The two men talk over one another for what feels like a full 30 seconds or so. "I'm going mate, I've got another appointment," says Goff - and after a quick burst of debate, he's gone.

"Clearly doesn't want to get into it," says Plunket, before launching into an angry denunciation of the Labour leader. His source says it's going to be cancelled, it's not, it's going to be deferred. His source says it's for budgetary reasons, and there's no proof of that. And he tells us it wasn't announced for political reasons - again no proof. "So Phil Goff, I think, defending the indefensible," says Plunket. "The best thing he should do is release his source, otherwise he's talking through a hole in the head ... Well I'm sorry, Mr Goff .. It would seem to me your source is a crock .. Maybe your source is telling you what you want to hear."

10.05am: Kathryn Ryan has been hosting Phil Goff in the final of her interviews with party leaders. It ran to 45 minutes, and while it was substantial and reasonably comphrehensive, there was nothing new there - and no mention of the police recruitment claim, surprisingly - so I shan't bore you with a long summary. Also, I've been having a gossipy chat over email on a totally different matter, which means I didn't write much of it down.

Goff is keen to hammer the asset-sales line - the sales would be "irrevocable" he said (twice) if National are elected on Saturday.

There is a long journey round the houses on Labour's fiscal plan and the reliability of the numbers therein. "The figures are difficult to pin down," says Ryan - and readers of this blog know the feeling.

On potential coalition deals, Goff restates his refusal to work with Hone Harawira. On the basis of his performance in his campaign, Harawira seems like an ideal partner for Labour, but clearly Labour have decided his reputation is so stained in some minds that they have to wedge that door closed. Not even a confidence and supply deal with Mana, says Goff. "I'm not going to form a government at any cost."

9.55am: The editor of records (presumably not secretly) a visit:

And here's the 3 News story to go with that.

9.40am: Police have arrived at TV3 to execute a search warrant. We know that the police are at TV3 because seemingly half the journalists there have tweeted that the police are at TV3.

9.25am: Phil Goff is on Nine to Noon - a summary soon. Meantime, here's the morning paper review.

9.00am: What a crowd. Leaders of six minor parties are on Morning Report, with Geoff Robinson and Simon Mercep sharing the chairing duties. "Why do you bother?" Robinson asks Don Brash of Act, and then Peter Dunne of United Future - and he (Robinson) sounds genuinely baffled as to why they would bother. Hone Harawira of Mana attacks - or laments is probably a better word - that the last 15 years have been controlled by "the free-market gurus"; "radical change" is needed.

Russel Norman's answers I can just about lip synch now: the three priorities, the highly-unlikelys. Still, full marks for consistency.

Much of the first part of the debate centres on tax. Brash and Dunne lambast Labour's capital gains tax plan. Norman defends it - Labour nicked the Greens' policy, he says. Dunne and Peters have a row. Peters: "Peter has sat on so many fences he's done himself permanent injury..." "I've been consistent throughout ..." Harawira promotes the "Hone Heke" (transaction) tax. Rubbish, interjects Brash, it's never been introduced anywhere in the world, because it doesn't work. It was tried in British Columbia 35 years ago, says Peters. But it didn't work, says Brash. No, but it has been introduced - "You've got to know your tax, Don."

We're the only party here that have produced detailed fiscal plans, says Norman. None of the other parties has. I like Warren Buffett and Sam Morgan, says Winston Peters. "You've got no numbers," says Norman. "Where are your numbers?" Which sounds familiar.

Don Brash reminds us he used to be the Reserve Bank governor. "With respect," says Peters, you weren't a very good one. Norman and Dunne have a wee debate about loan to valuation ratios, and commuters across the country retune their radios. Harawira simplifies things: It's about "shaking the bloody tree", he says. And "feeding the children." Norman: "Yeah, but you don't have a plan."

Winston Peters is waving his arms (it sounds that way, at least), arguing for an export-led economy, with Brash and Dunne buzzing around him asking for pesky things like facts and examples. "It's my answer, Don," Peters says, at least four times.

Hone Harawira repeats his demands that the Maori party need to issue a "clear declaration about whether they want to hang out with Act". Te Ururoa Flavell, who is sitting in for the Maori party leaders - and is on a phone line so hasn't been as involved as the rest - says they have no deal with Act: confidence and supply arrangements are made with the senior party, not the support parties. "Any suggestion we have an agreement with Act is an outright lie."

Norman says they're happy with their campaign, and could win as many as 17 or 18 seats. How well will NZ First do, asks Geoff Robinson. "We'll do far better, far, far better, Mr Robinson, than you people think we will." Dunne says he's been out there talking to people, and on that basis he thinks they'll get three or four seats. "That's a dream!" says Mr Robinson, as if he's been watching that Australian film The Castle. Us, too, says Brash. we could get three, four, even, "five MPs is an absolutely realistic target". And the rise of NZ First is going to help them. "Oh, cut it out, Don!" That's Winston, and things are getting lively. "This idea of demonising Winston Peters ... is not going to work."

"Listen to that carry on," says Flavell. People would be better off coming to the Maori party, where they work together, rather than "yelling at each other", in a commonsense approach. Common sense? You've "purloined" my line, says Dunne.

7.45am: Herald on Sunday editor Bryce Johns is on Morning Report describing the visit of the police to their offices. Lawyers met them at the door and handed them a box with three or four items he says - containing, it's safe to assume, the teapot tapes - there was nothing provided, however, that would compromise any sources. Only three people at the paper have heard the tape, says Johns. He dodges a question about whether they have retained a copy of the recording. It is unlikely, he adds, that they would publish a trasnscript while a police investigation is under way - he has no quarrel with the police, but, he says, in a pitch for the moral high ground, it is unfortunate that despite their ethical decision not to print, the prime minister has "painted" them in such a way.

7.40am: A new article on the global news wire service Reuters sports the headline: "Unflappable Key set for crushing win in New Zealand". And because it's about New Zealand, it begins almost comically:

The resort of Taupo on New Zealand's North Island, a magnet for tourists thronging ski slopes, fishing holes and thermal spas, looks certain to back Prime Minister John Key's National Party ...

7.15am: After the news, a pugnacious Phil Goff is on Morning Report, trying to drive home this police-recruitment point. His source is reliable and well-informed, he says. The announcement has been held until Monday - a "dishonest" exercise. He's followed by Judith Collins, National's law and order spokesperson. Goff is "completely wrong" and "desperate", she says; she has spoken with the police commissioner, and the only reduction in recruitment would be as a result of low attrition - morale is "so high", she says, that fewer police are quitting. There will, she says, be no reduction in numbers of frontline police.

7.10am: Morning Report leads on RNZ with the claim Phil Goff sprug on John Key in last night's debate: that there was, he'd been told, a planned freeze in police recruitment for next year (see 8.10pm). The second item also comes out of that debate: John Key's assurance that he was able to guarantee that a proportion of shares in asset sales remained in New Zealand hands (see 7.15pm). And then the search warrants being executed by police over the teapot tapes. TVNZ and the Herald on Sunday have already had visits from the constabulary; TV3 hasn't been contacted, while RNZ remains in discussions.

On TV One's Breakfast, Goff's allegation over police recruitment is also leading - Key "left it unanswered", we're told. Next up is that helicopter crash on the Auckland waterfront, followed by the dispute over a dead body.

On TV3's Firstline, top of the bulletin is a review of last night's debate, with Key stressing Labour's "reckless spending" and Goff emphasising National's asset sales. Then the "carnage" of the chopper crash, and the Pike River inquiry.

6.50am: Morning. Forty-one hours of campaigning to go, if I've counted that rightly. Or two days, you might say.

All the bulletins, the papers, the blogs, and the last-gasp campaign stunts, coming soon. For yesterday's action, go here; for last night's debate go here; for an index of the last four weeks, go here. Get in touch in the comments, on Twitter (@listenerlive) or email,
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