The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

a tale of two debates - part II

Carrying on from Part I, here's a report on the second debate, held at St Peter's Anglican Church in Pakuranga on Tuesday night.

A much smaller bunch of candidates - Pita Paraone (NZ First), Michael Wood (Labour) and Ian McInnes (United Future) reprised their roles, while Maurice Williamson* (National) and Keith Locke (Greens) joined in. Yep, not a chick in sight on those candidate seats.

The focus of the debate was foreign policy issues. Candidates had five minutes each to talk on the question "Is NZ a good global citizen?" and then there were questions from each of the sponsoring organisations, United Nations Association of NZ, Oxfam and Amnesty International. And then the floor had its chance.

It was an interesting floor actually - much smaller crowd than the previous night, even though it was a bigger venue. I think roughly half the crowd were Labour or National members, the rest were interested not-for-profit types.

The chairing was well done, although he started by reading out potted histories of the candidates that were generally quite dull (BSc in this, Masters in that, likes swimming and reading, blah blah blah). He also stuffed up quite a few bits on Wood's (don't know about the others) but there really wasn't an opportunity to correct him as it was straight into the candidates' speeches, McInnes first.

Locke I found disappointing. I've heard him speak much better, and on the two occassions that he was riled during the evening he was actually very good, but most of the time it was a dull delivery. He certainly knew his stuff though.

As it was a much smaller number of candidates than the previous evening each got to talk for longer, which was good and bad. McInnes seemed unsure of his ground so shoe-horned in things that were only vaguely related to the topic, while Pita Paraone again simply read from the NZ First policy manual. He did seem to loosen up a bit during the questions which was good.

Maurice is a good speaker, no doubt about it, and the fact that he and Wood were mostly one after each other meant that much of the focus was on their interaction. They sparred quite a bit, and Williamson's body language was very anti-Wood, legs crossed almost to the point of turning his body around, not even looking at his rival until quite some way into the evening, etc. The difference in height also made for some strange moments at the podium, as whoever went second had to radically alter the tilt of the microphone.

Moments of interest:
- Paraone said NZ First strongly committed to NZ remaining nuclear-free, and McInnes made the same noises, meaning this would be off the agenda for a first term National Govt (they'll need the time to change public opinion anyway)
- Williamson proudly stated he is an "absolute acolyte" for free trade, and at another point said that labour standards were not necessary in free trade agreements as free trade is enough on its own
- when asked about the attempts by the USA and UK to redefine torture, Williamson made a strange crack about the National caucus being torturous, which he repeated later, and Paraone also tried to get in on the same joke. Seemed like a funny way to get people to vote for your party to me, to imply that being in its caucus is an unpleasant experience.
- Maurice was also absolutely glowing about Don Brash when an audience member pointed out that National have had four different leaders for the last four elections, proclaiming that Brash will be PM for several terms.
- the National and Labour candidates had a scrap over how National worked out their 1991 benefit cuts, with Wood claiming they asked a nutritionist to work out a budget for a diet for the minimum calories needed to survive and then National cut this by a further 10%. Williamson was incensed at this, but I'm pretty sure I saw the evidence on Someone Else's Country (or maybe it was In A Land of Plenty).
- Keith Locke made a point about politicians in the USA being bought by corporates and lobby groups and Williamson was behind him nodding in agreement
- someone in the audience raised an issue about the French building a nuclear power plant in Noumea, but no one else seemed to know what on earth he was on about

It was a good debate and I wish there had been more in attendance. There was quite a lot of hanging around afterwards, with the National and Labour supporters curiously circling each other and getting into arguments about the Exclusive Brethren and petrol prices.

But the one single thing I will always remember from this debate was the hanging in the church which stated boldly:

Do you love me? Feed my sheep
Update: Labour candidate Michael Wood's take on the two debates can be found here.

* Please note that Maurice Williamson Millenium Model differs greatly in appearance from the photograph supplied

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