With just over a week to go before the election, expect a busy weekend as parties campaign hard for votes. Last night’s poll did little to clear up who is leading this race. Meanwhile, the Saudi sheep controversy has reared its head again, both Labour and the Greens have pledged their support to te reo in schools and ACT has announced a tough on crime policy to try and grab some votes. Shane Cowlishaw reports.

The wildly-swinging polls have been confusing for the public and last night’s Colmar Brunton poll on TVNZ did little to help.

It showed Labour on 44 percent (up one point) and National on 40 percent (also up one). The Greens were up to seven percent, meaning Labour could govern with the Greens alone.

However, it followed TV3’s Reid Research poll from a few days earlier that had National on 47.3 percent and Labour on 37.8 percent.

Confusing, yes. But what it really shows is just how close this election is going to be.

Saudi sheep farm in news again

A controversial Saudi sheep farm deal is back in the news after two years, following a news report that the Government’s claims it was necessary, to avoid the risk of being sued, were untrue.

RNZ reported that the Government’s assertion it received legal advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade regarding the deal, was false.

The deal involved $11.5m being spent on an agribusiness hub and sheep farm in Saudi Arabia. It was in partnership with businessman Hmood Alali Al-Khalaf, who owned the farm.

The farm fit-out was described by Al-Khalaf’s business partner as compensation for New Zealand’s ban on live sheep exports for slaughter.

But in information released to RNZ under the Official Information Act, two years after the initial request was made, the Ministry revealed “it did not seek or provide advice on the extent of the risk of a claim in the New Zealand courts for compensation from the Al-Khalaf Group against the Government”.

Both Labour and the Greens have hit out at the revelations.

ACT’s reparation plan

Looking tough on crime is common vote-winning ploy and with a week until the election ACT has revealed a policy to pay reparation owed to victims immediately.

Under the plan victims would get immediate payment at sentencing, paid for by the offender who would have their wages or benefit docked if necessary. An offender’s property could even be sold under the proposal.

Leader David Seymour said the time it took for payments to be made meant the victim was continuously being victimised.

“Ministry of Justice figures show that criminals who owe millions of dollars in reparations routinely ignore court orders to make even the smallest payments to their victims. In February 2017 accumulated reparation debts equalled $122 million. In 2016 courts ordered $30.4 million dollars of reparations, with only $23.3 million being paid.”

Greens double down on transport

Having already announced proposals for a raft of ambitious rail projects, the Greens have boosted their transport plans for Christchurch.

A new policy announced this morning would see $418 million spent in the Garden City creating a network of rapid public transport lines, a city-wide bike share scheme, and safe cycling infrastructure.

The plan would include three rapid transit lines to be built by 2022. They would include an airport line connecting the CBD to Riccarton, the University, and the airport, a northern line connecting Rangiora to the city, and a southern line connecting Rolleston to the city.

Cycling would also be a priority in the city, with $135m spent on creating safe cycling routes. The default speed limit outside schools would be lowered to 30km/h.

Transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said the airport line would use high-capacity electric or hybrid-eclectic buses separated from general traffic, with the trip taking less than 30 minutes. It could be upgraded to light rail over time.

The northern and southern routes would be rail services connecting to the airport line in the CBD.

“These are the first steps towards creating a congestion-free, rapid public transport network for Christchurch. Ultimately we expect more rapid public transport lines would connect to other parts of the city.”

Funding for the plan would come from shifting money away from some of the motorway projects within the National Land Transport Fund.

The announcement follows the Greens commitment to building a light rail route between the Auckland CBD and the airport, and a similar route in Wellington.

Questions hang over National MP’s vetting

The issue of Dr Jian Yang’s background continue to bubble away.

A joint Newsroom/Financial Times investigation revealed his connections to Chinese military intelligence. At a subsequent press conference, he admitted he had taught spies English.

A piece by Foreign Affairs and Trade Editor Sam Sachdeva, published first on Newsroom Pro last night, has raised further questions about the vetting process that let him enter Parliament.

Several Chinese experts suggested there were questions to answer about how Yang became a New Zealand citizen and then an MP.

Chen Yonglin, a Chinese diplomat who defected to Australia over a decade ago, said Yang would had to have been supported by the Chinese government when he moved to Canberra to study.

While studying in Canberra, Yang was president of the city’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association, which Chen said suggested he had “obtained full confidence from the Chinese embassy” as the association had ties to the Chinese government.

The Chinese government spent a lot of money in other countries on overseas infiltration and “controlling the Chinese community”, he said.

Chen said New Zealanders “should be worried” about Yang’s background and how he was allowed to become a citizen.

“Has the New Zealand SIS done its job in allowing such a suspicious background, this military background to become a citizen of New Zealand?

“If his background was KGB, would New Zealand allow him to [become a citizen]?”

You can read Sam’s full piece here.

Labour join Greens in te reo pledge

Yesterday the Greens pledged $160 million to boost the reo Maori in schools, and now Labour has announced their own support of the language.

The Greens goal is that have a senior te reo teacher for every 200 pupils at primary school by 2030. To help achieve this the number of scholarships for people who wanted to teach the language would be doubled.

This morning Labour’s Deputy Prime Minister Kelvin Davis said the party would commit to a target that by 2025 every child during ECE, primary school, and intermediate school had te reo integrated into their learning.

“We will also ensure that by 2025 every student at high school, once at the point they become able to choose their own subjects, has the opportunity to learn te reo Maori.”

To do this it would also double scholarships for teachers and provide courses for 3000 current teachers. An initial $14m over four years would be provided.

Coming up

English’s flight to Kaikoura has been cancelled due to high winds. He will spend the day in the Wellington region, visiting a cafes, a shopping centre, and a school. He will make an announcement with Simon Bridges late morning.

Ardern is in Dunedin, again putting the spotlight on climate change. She will do a media stand-up at a home affected by flooding, then tour Otago University before addressing high school students.

September 20 – The final leaders debate on TVNZ.

September 23 – The General Election.

October 12 – Winston Peters has said he will make a decision about which party he ‘crowns’ to be in Government by October 12, which is when the writs with the final election results are returned. That is assuming the current polling is replicated on election night.

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