As the conflict in Israel and debate over the Indigenous Voice to parliament dominates headlines, preparations have been underway for a key event taking place at Australia’s doorstep this weekend.
The same day Australia heads to the polls for the Voice referendum, Kiwis will cast their votes in New Zealand’s general election.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins’ centre-left government is seeking to be elected for a third term at Saturday’s election, after losing charismatic leader Jacinda Ardern.
The former Prime Minister, who stepped down in January, took to Instagram on Thursday to urge Kiwis to vote for Labour in the neck-and-neck election.
“I just got off the phone to friends back home who were telling me just how close this election is turning out to be, which means your vote could be a deciding vote,” said Ms Ardern who is currently in the US to take up a fellowship at Harvard.
“So if you believe in reducing child poverty not increasing it; if you believe in acting on climate change, not ignoring it; if you believe in strong health and education services then vote for Labour,” she said.
“Make sure you go out and use your Voice this weekend, it could make all the difference.”
Ms Ardern earlier weighed in on the election when she told viewers in a Facebook live video that the Labour government needed a third term to build on its work in tackling child poverty and inequality.
“Labour has had two terms in office. Long enough to make progress but not long enough to finish the job, and our country needs them to finish the job,” she said.
“So I would encourage you to look again to those simple principles and what you believe in and vote for that.”
Mr Hipkins has struggled to keep up support in the face of a severe cost of living crisis and multiple cabinet scandals.
He is also battling a sense that, after two terms in office, New Zealand may be ready for a change.
According to pre-election opinion polls, his Labour Party is lagging behind the conservative National Party and barely cracking 30 per cent of the vote.
“It’s been a tough three years for New Zealand,” Mr Hipkins admitted early in the campaign, as the Covid-19 pandemic’s aftermath was still being felt and inflation hit six per cent.
“We go into this campaign as the underdog. We’re going to turn this around and we’re going to win,” he said.
But Mr Hipkins has struggled to emulate Ardern’s popularity, which gave the party a landslide victory in 2020.
Ms Ardern won praise for her decision to swiftly close New Zealand’s borders during the pandemic, resulting in one of the lowest Covid-19 death rates in the world.
Her handling of dual 2019 disasters also won international acclaim. That year, a white supremacist attack on Christchurch mosques left 51 dead, and a volcanic eruption claimed 22 lives.
Opposition leader Chris Luxon, a former airline executive, is waiting in the wings to take over.
His National Party could win enough seats to form a coalition government with the ACT party, although recent polls suggest they may also need the support of more populist New Zealand First.
“The result is in the hands of the New Zealand people. That’s why I keep saying if they want change they have to step up to the plate and party vote National to make that happen,” Mr Luxon said Thursday on the campaign trail.
Mr Luxon has criticised the Prime Minster’s leadership, asking how he could run the country if he couldn’t control his cabinet.
Mr Hipkins has admitted to a “messy” few months in government, during which a quartet of ministers either resigned or were sacked.
Both Mr Luxon and Mr Hipkins are trying to woo voters with a promise of lower household bills.
Mr Hipkins has offered a 10-point plan including free prescriptions and basic dental care for the under-30s, plus scrapping tax on fresh fruit and vegetables.
Mr Luxon is promising tax cuts worth up to NZ$125 ($117) per week to an average-income family, partly paid for by a controversial plan to tax top-end luxury homes bought by foreigners.
– with AFP