MsArdern said she wanted New Zealand to lead the fight against climate change. Picture: AP/Nick Perry
MsArdern said she wanted New Zealand to lead the fight against climate change. Picture: AP/Nick Perry

Key issues in the 2020 NZ election

WHAT COULD DECIDE THE 2020 NEW ZEALAND ELECTION?

* PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS

Despite the policies in the party platforms, modern elections distil to a battle of leaders - and on this front, Labour can be most confident. In Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand has a modern, likeable, capable prime minister. Her effort to soothe a hurting nation following the March 15 terrorist attack was authentic and appreciated by the nation. And so, for National, the task is to diminish her standing. The alternative prime minister, Simon Bridges, regularly paints Ardern as a ditherer, as all compassion and no action, and incapable of landing major policies. So far it isn't working; preferred leader tracking polls have Ardern well in front, and Kiwis are far from enamoured by the idea of prime minister Bridges.

* THE INFRASTRUCTURE DEFICIT

National's most effective line of attack on Labour has been on infrastructure. Ardern's government has abandoned a pledge to build 100,000 homes in 10 years - known as Kiwbuild - after falling embarrassingly short of targets. Roads and transport links, particularly in Auckland, fall well below expectations. National's brand on delivery is strong. Labour's counter, a trite "nine years of neglect" referring to the previous government, doesn't bite, but a $NZ12 billion ($A11.6 billion) infrastructure announcement in January aims to address this.

* INEQUALITY BITES

Fiscally and economically, New Zealand is in rude health. Growth is strong, with major indicators above OECD averages. Bumper government surpluses have allowed for investment. But many Kiwis are being left behind. The sight of hundreds of poverty-stricken families waiting in the rain overnight to apply for welfare assistance shocked the nation last winter. Hardship grant applications are at all-time highs. The government has tinkered with family support and tax settings rather than increasing welfare despite calls to do so. Poverty also feeds another red-hot issue - the rise of gang activity, particularly in the regions, which Bridges has made his signature issue as leader.

* WHAT'S WINSTON PLANNING?

Campaigns always throw up twists in the tail, and you can be sure Winston Peters has a few planned. The wily mainstay of New Zealand politics since his election more than 40 years ago, Peters loves to take centrestage and antagonise. Despite opposing views on immigration and social issues, his NZ First party's decision to back Labour handed them government - where their presence is a moderating force on the otherwise centre-left government. But polling isn't good for Peters' populists; they need to poll above five per cent to retain their numbers in parliament and they are skirting dangerously close to that figure. So expect some vintage Winston this year.

* CLIMATE CHANGE

The issue that helped Kevin Rudd win government in 2007 and has played a part in every Australian election, and in the demise of every political leader - Labor and Liberal - since, will barely rate a mention on the Kiwi campaign trail. Labour and the Greens will campaign on the achievement but there's no battleground issue here as National's decision to support the government's Zero Carbon Bill through parliament neutralised the issue politically. Farmers will protest at new obligations to curb emissions but they are not stringent. The level-headedness of New Zealand's climate politics is quite apart from Australia, where pockets of scientific denial still inhibit major parties and unprecedented bushfires set the agenda squarely for a year of unhinged debate.