With three days to go, the last TVNZ-Colmar Brunton poll has found National has surged into a nine point lead over Labour. Tim Murphy, Mark Jennings and Bernard Hickey report from the campaign trail.

The poll found support for National rose six percentage points to 46 percent in the last week, while support for Labour fell seven points to 37 percent. Green support rose one point to eight percent and New Zealand First fell one point to 4.9 percent. The Opportunities Party edged up to 2.3 percent, its best result of the campaign. The Maori Party was at 0.5 percent and the ACT Party at 0.3 percent.

Jacinda Ardern’s standing as preferred Prime Minister fell three points to 31 percent, while Bill English rose five points to 37 percent.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, the election debate focused on infrastructure stresses in the midst of a jet fuel crisis, although officials said this afternoon the crisis was easing. 

Jacinda Ardern campaigned on homelessness and low wages in South Auckland and warned Bill English against using “fake news” in tonight’s debate. Bill English spoke to lawyers in Auckland about the polls, with National’s own poll putting it four points ahead of Labour. 

Final televised debate

Ardern and English engaged in a simple and seated final debate in TVNZ studios without an audience. It was hosted by Mike Hosking.

It began with an exchange over National’s attack ads about Labour’s plans to repeal National’s tax cuts. In their advertisements, National has accused Labour of planning an income tax hike.

Ardern accused English and National of trying to mislead voters with the advertisement. English responded that National was pointing out that Labour would remove the tax cut.

The debate then moved onto health.

Ardern said voters had raised mental health as the major issue to focus on during the election campaign.

“Middlemore has a full sign on it. So does Waikato. There is such resonance on it when you raise mental health,” she said.

Hosking focused on the debate about health funding and reports about problems at the Waikato DHB and the Southern DHB. Ardern repeatedly asked English about underfunding of health.

There was also an exchange over potential coalition partners, with Ardern appearing to edge away from Labour’s Memorandum of Understanding with the Greens about discussing a coalition with them first. She said she would give the Greens a call first, but would not commit to offering a full deal first. 

English also pushed back at the idea that New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters would decide who was in Government.

“I don’t like this idea Mr Peters has that he decides who the government will be,” he said, calling on voters to vote National to be sure to keep it in Government.

“I’m suggesting to voters that they cut out the middle man.”

Labour angry at ‘fake news’

Labour accused National of spreading lies about its tax plans and its budget forecasts. Jacinda Ardern warned Bill English against using “fake news”.

Asked about tonight’s debate, Ardern said she hoped National would not play the old style politics of misinformation or alternative facts about Labour’s policies.

She said she would deal in reality – “not the fake news that the National government has created”.

Her strategy would be “same as for all the other debates – just lay out the case for change” and emphasise how important every voter’s voice could be.

Ardern said Labour was very hopeful and confident about Saturday night’s result and believed it had done everything it could to be in a position to win.

Finance spokesman Grant Robertson said voters had a choice between Labour’s “optimism and honesty and National’s relentless lies”. He referred to National’s latest video advertisement released today that talked about “Labour’s tax surprise” increasing taxes by $1060 per year for anyone earning over $52,000 a year. It is referring to Labour’s plan to reverse National’s planned tax cuts announced in the Budget.

“They’ve so run out of their own ideas that all they have is negativity and deception. National’s latest campaign ad today is yet another example of their desperate attempts to smear Labour,” Robertson said.

“I’m calling National out for running a campaign that is an affront to democracy and the principles of honesty, decency and fairness. They need to pull down the attack ads and apologise to New Zealanders,” he said.

“National’s campaign has been a succession of lies to the New Zealand public, a campaign of sowing fear around the country. They have deliberately set out to deceive New Zealanders at every turn. We’ve seen it in Steven Joyce’s fictitious $11.7 billion hole, in National’s complete fabrication that Labour would raise income tax, and the divide National has raised between urban and rural New Zealanders.”

National ahead on its own polling

Bill English visited the big end of town this afternoon where he spoke to lawyers and business people at the Shortland Street headquarters of law firm Minter Ellison.

It is understood that English talked about the latest polling. Sources told Newsroom that National’s latest internal polling has it at 43 percent and Labour at 39 percent. NZ First and the Greens were both on six percent. But there were suggestions from those close to National that its figures had softened overnight.

At a media conference afterwards, English acknowledged that it was a very tight race and that other parties were likely to be crucial if National was to form a government.

“I’m confident, but knowing there is an awful lot of hard work to go [in the last two days of campaigning]. This is a very tight election. A drag race between the two main parties, and I don’t think anyone can be confident until they have seen the numbers come in, but even then, it may be sufficiently close that it takes a couple of weeks of counting to determine where the country goes.”

English refuted suggestions that his visit to the law firm showed a marked contrast in campaigning styles between him and Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, who was visiting a food bank in Mangere.

“I’ve been to a lot more places than the Labour campaign, visited workplaces, welfare agencies … this is the first time I have been in corporate offices, but there are votes there as well, and we are keen to present people with the choice that they are going to be making between building on the strengths with National, or slowing the economy with Labour.”

Jet fuel crisis easing

Energy and Resources Minister Judith Collins, Mobil NZ’s CEO David McNaught, Auckland Airport CEO Adrian Littlewood and Airline Representatives Board Executive director Justin Tighe-Umbers held a news conference at Auckland Airport this afternoon to announce the jet fuel crisis had stabilised and that emergency measures to restrict jet fuel supply were expected to be lifted next Thursday.

Tighe-Umbers said airline cancellations were slowing as the airlines adjusted to the limit of taking 30 percent of their daily fuel needs, with many arranging stopovers in the Pacific or Australia, or using extra planes to bring in extra fuel from other airports. He said Air New Zealand had resumed ticket sales and expected its domestic network to be stable without cancellations because of the fuel issue from tomorrow.

Littlewood said there had been 39 cancellations at Auckland Airport today, taking the total since Sunday to 110. That represented five percent of the usual flights through the airport.

“The airlines have done a fantastic job of rehousing passengers onto other flights,” he said, noting there were now very few customers left in the lurch.

McNaught, who was speaking on behalf of the fuel industry, said supply of petrol and diesel into Auckland was still healthy and that Z Energy had now restocked 95 octane fuel for all but a couple of its stations. They would be fully stocked from tomorrow, he said.

The industry had increased the number of trucks bringing in petrol and diesel from Marsden Point to 14 trucks a day from two trucks a day, while there were 34 trucks bringing in fuel from Mount Maunganui every day, up from 12 normally. He said the Auckland Council was looking at whether jet fuel could be barged from Marsden Point to the tank farm at Wynyard Wharf, although it was still checking whether the tanks previously used for chemicals could be safely refitted for jet fuel.

“The ground fuel supply into Auckland is still healthy,” he said.

He said the airport originally had eight days worth of jet fuel in stock and the move to reduce to a regimen of 30 percent of usual allocations per day had extended that amount on hand to 20 days worth of fuel, starting last Sunday. That would in theory give the airport enough fuel to last until October 7 without any further supplies.

However, the Marsden Point refinery was testing loading jet fuel onto trucks today and the industry and the Auckland Council was looking at setting up the tanks at Wynyard Wharf to handle jet fuel. However he noted a single A380 aircraft needed 250,000 litres to refuel, while a single truck tanker could only bring in 25,000 litres, which meant the pipeline ultimately needed to be restored.

Collins said she had been assured that fuel would start flowing through the repaired pipe from early next week. McNaught said this meant he expected the 30 percent restriction to be in place only until Thursday September 28th, before it was progressively lifted to 100 percent.

Collins did not address the issues of whether the Government or the industry could have prepared better or had other contingencies in place, saying there would be a full investigation. (See lower down for more discussion on the issue of infrastructure investment and resiliency.)

Ardern works at a foodbank

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern turned her campaign to one if its paramount themes this morning – poverty and homelessness.

Visiting the Mangere Budgeting Services, she was briefed by its chief executive Darryl Evans on families needing foodbank boxes, living in cockroach infested motels funded with government money, and families of up to 11 people living in caravans or garages.

Ardern helped pack food boxes, including sanitary and healthcare products, “luxuries” like jam and honey and milk vouchers.

Afterwards she said the Mangere and South Auckland community could not face three more years under National.

Jacinda Ardern helps pack food boxes at the Mangere Budgeting Services. Photo: Tim Murphy

She pledged regulation of boarding houses and said that motels would be used by Labour if it had to, but only for the short term.

Issues raised at the centre “provided a good snapshot of the things we are campaigning on at this election,” Ardern said.

She said Mangere had extreme housing stress and Labour would move fast to begin building state houses.

Back to basics

At a First Union rally at Mt Smart, Ardern told union members Labour’s campaign had deliberately been “back to basics”.

“The importance of unions and the representation they give working people – that’s at Labour’s heart. That’s what continues to sit at our heart.”

“In many ways I feel this election is where we are going back to basics.”

She did not detail however, Labour’s plans for workplace law reforms.

Instead she spoke on housing, health and work skills and training.

Turning the word “risk” back on National and its leader Bill English – who claim Labour would put the country’s economic success at risk – she said letting National continue meant the risk of more “drift and indifference”.

Ardern told the workers, many in hi-vis gear: “In the past year, of the people who got an increase in their pay packet, two-thirds did not get enough to cover the cost of living.”

“If you feel like you are going backwards, it is because most New Zealanders are.

“In this election we have the chance to change.”

She was cheered over Labour’s policy to raise the minimum wage straight away to $16.50 an hour and when she mentioned abolishing letting fees and making learner driver training free in schools.

“Labour has different priorities than National. We do.”

As she left the podium the outgoing First Union leader Robert Reid asked the audience to raise their hand if they’d already voted. Perhaps a tenth had done so.

“Keep your hands up” Reid urged them. If there’s someone who hasn’t got their hand up, hit then until they put their hand up.”

It was Ardern’s second and final public outing of the day, leaving the afternoon clear to prepare for tonight’s TVNZ leaders’ debate.

Unionists leave the rally at Mt Smart. Photo: Tim Murphy

Ahead of tonight’s debate

Asked about tonight’s leaders’ debate, Ardern said she hoped National would not play the old style politics of misinformation or alternative facts about Labour’s policies.

She said she would deal in reality – “not the fake news that the National government has created.”

Her strategy would be “same as for all the other debates – just lay out the case for change” and emphasise how important every voter’s voice could be.

Ardern said Labour was very hopeful and confident about Saturday night’s result and believed it had done everything it could to be in a position to win.

Bill English in the Viaduct

National leader Bill English went down the ‘meet as many people as I can’ track in the final days of the campaign.

Today, he went on a lunchtime walkabout in Auckland’s Viaduct area.

English abandoned his jacket but not his tie in the warm sunny weather and shook as many hands as he could.

Many of those he spoke to were foreign or domestic tourists sightseeing on Auckland’s waterfront.

All wanted photographs with the relaxed-looking English, who had lunch at a popular cafe at Britomart with his wife Mary. 

An awkward jet fuel crisis

Auckland’s jet fuel crisis is turning into an awkward reminder of the stresses on the big city’s infrastructure after years of very strong migration and just as many years of under-investment.

The scale of the disruptions and its unfortunate timing in the week before the election is proving embarrassing for the Government, even though it can’t be blamed for the digger strike that caused the crisis in the privately-run fuel supply system.

Air New Zealand started restricting ticket sales and cancelled dozens of flights yesterday. It said today it had cancelled 41 flights in total, but noted the situation was stabilising after it had introduced a range of measures to save fuel and move it around the country, including by sending wide-bodied jets to Wellington with crew alone to refuel. It also noted that it did not believe the issue would materially affect its 2017/18 financial result.

Airlines started offloading non-perishable export freight and the Government told staff and MPs to postpone essential travel yesterday.

Perhaps ironically and definitely accidentally, Bill English confirmed the travel restrictions while traveling to Blenheim with his entourage and media in tow. The optics of Bill English making chocolate in Blenheim were not great on a day when petrol stations in Auckland ran out of 95 octane petrol and emergency trucking rules were declared. Mayor Phil Goff even said on radio this morning he was prepared to use the traffic lights to clear a path for fuel trucks, which would in turn worsen the congestion on Auckland’s roads.

Both television networks featured the ‘jet fuel crisis’ in breathless terms last night and the line-up of their items focused on both infrastructure deficits and the pain of population growth on health systems.

One TVNZ piece on the death of a newborn at a stressed Waikato Hospital was particularly distressing, while another featured a letter from Wellington GPs worried that stretched mental health services were costing lives. RNZ has regularly featured items about funding shortages at DHBs that have cost lives in recent days.

The underlying narrative in the political debate in recent months has been that a tight-fisted Government got caught napping by a population surge that has put immense pressure on the nation’s transport, housing, health and education infrastructure.

In recent weeks the political debate has been more focused on Labour’s tax policies and other issues, but the ‘jet fuel crisis’ has instead flipped the coverage back to the infrastructure issues in the crucial week before the election. The pipeline is unlikely to be working until next Tuesday.

To be fair to the Government, the fuel leak could have happened without the population surge and both colours of Governments over the last decade have made similar decisions not to invest in ‘belt and braces’ style double-ups of infrastructure to increase resilience. The usual cost-benefit analysis has judged the returns lower than the risks.

‘We’re failing to manage growth’

But comments from Auckland Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Barnett yesterday about a failure to manage growth captured the mood and highlighted the scale of the infrastructure deficits.

“It is another example of our failure to put in place a management plan to take account of the increased scale and demand Auckland’s growth has created,” Barnett said.

“The Wiri fuel depot capacity is still at the level of demand of 2012 – demand has grown 30 percent since then, but not the planning or management to accommodate that growth,” he said.

One feature of the 2012 advice to the Government about the risks of relying on a single Refinery to Auckland (RAP) pipeline and the Wiri terminal was that a terminal outage (say through an explosion) could mean Auckland Airport would be without jet fuel for 12-18 months.

That 2012 advice recommended a potential emergency direct pipeline between the pipeline and the airport that bypassed the terminal at a cost of $15 million. Air New Zealand also advised it wanted more jet fuel storage at the airport at a cost of up to $60 million. In hindsight, both of those infrastructure spending items seem low-cost ways of risk mitigation for an airport that is now at the centre of New Zealand’s commercial life and its tourism industry.

Barnett’s frustration was evident.

“Yes we need to fix the latest issue with speed and urgency, but of equal importance, we need to accelerate decision making and provide infrastructure for today’s population and its demand and provide for ongoing growth,” he said.

“We have to stop living in the past, and get beyond an expectation that the scale of infrastructure needed to cope with our growth is good enough – it isn’t.”

Labour would look at second pipe

Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern saw the opportunity to refocus the debate back on the Government’s infrastructure performance without over-committing to big new spending on a second pipeline. She and Robertson said the Government had the necessary capital on hand if necessary.

“I am worried that from cabinet papers in 2012 that vulnerability with our fuel supply was raised years ago,” Ardern told reporters in Wellington on the campaign trail.

“Instead of looking into options to make sure we had resilience and the infrastructure we needed, instead a handbook and a technical working group was created. Obviously, that hasn’t been sufficient, and now motorists and those who are trying to move around the country and exporters are paying the price,” she said.

“Work should have been done to ensure we were more resilient than this. One pipeline and one digger and New Zealand grinds to a halt.”

Asked if she would commit a Labour Government to a full second pipeline to Marsden Point, she said: “I think we need to look at options to build our resilience. Whether that’s storage or additional pipelines, work clearly needed to be done.”

The Government has called in military tankers, drivers and ships to help supply Auckland with petrol and diesel, but is not able to replace the jet fuel transported through the only line between the Marsden Point refinery and the Wiri oil services terminal near the Airport.

Fuel supplies for trucks and cars in Auckland remain in place, although Z Energy reported over 10 of its service stations in Auckland had stopped supplying 95 octane fuel as it prioritised movements of 91 octane petrol and diesel, which 90 percent of vehicles can use.

Removing restrictions for tankers

Judith Collins said the Government was actively supporting industry efforts to address the disruption.

She said weight restrictions have been lifted by 15 per cent for fuel tankers, along with removing restrictions on when fuel can be delivered to service stations and truck stops, allowing fuel tankers to use bus and transit lanes and extending the permissable driving hours where it was safe to do so.

Air New Zealand also announced it flew a wide-bodied 777-200 aircraft to Wellington from Auckland with just crew to pick up fuel before a long-haul flight from Auckland.

It said this was partly due to declining supplies in the Pacific. In recent days, long haul flights have been stopping in Fiji and elsewhere to top up on fuel.

Coming up…

Bill English is on RNZ National with Kathryn Ryan for an extended interview this morning.

Both English and Ardern are campaigning in Auckland before the final election debate on TVNZ tonight. Shortly before the debate at 6 pm, TVNZ will release the results of its final Colmar Brunton poll.

Judith Collins is holding a media briefing on the fuel pipeline at Auckland Airport at 2pm.

Newshub (TV3) is expected to release its final Reid Research poll tomorrow night.

(This story has been corrected to remove reference to reporters not being allowed into the event. Reporters left the event early.)

(Updated at 8.20 pm)

Leave a comment