Election 2017 Live: More roading announcements as poll gap widens

With just over two weeks to go, the chance of a new Government is stronger than ever. Shane Cowlishaw and Sam Sachdeva report.

National has announced further spending on roading projects, as fresh polls show the gap between them and Labour widening.

Speaking in Auckland, Prime Minister Bill English and Transport Minister Simon Bridges revealed Mill Rd, running from the airport through the logiticis corridor, will become a State Highway.

This will mean the $955 million redevelopment project will be taken off the Auckland Council's books and be paid for through the National Land Transport Fund instead.

A raft of further promises were also made, including working with the council on a mass transit solution between the CBD and the airport while protecting the route, building the third main rail line and extending electrification to Pukekohe, and starting construction on the East-West Link State Highway.

It also wants to accelerate the AMETI eastern busway and Reeves Rd flyover.

National's transport spending will include $10.5 billion on another set of Roads of National Significance, as well as $600m to fix the worst black spots in the country and $267 to improve commuter rail in Auckland and Wellington.

“National’s transport policy will continue to see record levels of investment in Auckland to support the city’s growing transport needs. We have a track record of delivering world-class projects on time and on budget," Bridges said.

“We are today releasing our transport policy that delivers for all New Zealanders and will provide the country with the transport system it needs.

Polls spell trouble for National

You could be forgiven if you're suffering poll and debate fatigue, there has definitely been quite a few this election.

But they are useful for gauging the public's mood and a poll conducted forNewsroom is interesting reading.

It puts Labour on 45 to National's 30 percent, with New Zealand First on 11, the Greens 6, TOP and the Māori Party 2, with Act on 1.

The poll of 550 voting age people was conducted between Monday and Wednesday this week.

Undertaken by international survey firm SSI, it has a margin of error of 4.4 percent and does not involve phone interviews. Rather, it is a random sample from SSI's nationwide panel and those polled are invited to participate, rather than opt in.

Among women, Labour scored 53 percent support to National's 23 percent. The gap illustrates the impact of leader Ardern, who was also popular with younger voters.

Last night's Colman Brunton poll put support for National at under 40 percent for the first time in 12 years.

It's a significant swing and, barring any further political bombshells, it looks increasingly likely that Labour will form the next Government.

The potential is growing for a simple coalition involving either Labour, the Greens and Māori, or Labour and New Zealand First. The strength of Labour and the solidity of New Zealand First's support suggests the latter is more likely.

Although Labour's lead is only four percentage points, the slide in National's support and the ability for Labour to avoid having to convince Winston Peters to join a Government that includes the Maori Party and the Greens (who he loathes separately and jointly) makes a change of Government now the most likely scenario.

Ardern dodges one of the biggest pitfalls

The Stuff leaders debate has a dangerous reputation for derailing leaders.

In 2011 it was Phil Goff and 2014 David Cunliffe, both being destroyed at the hands of John Key before a 'town hall' audience.

But last night Ardern managed to emerge relatively unscathed.

A big difference was that she enjoyed the support of the crowd, where in previous debates the audience was skewed towards National.

After a brief video montage showing just how much has changed in the last three months, with resignations aplenty, the two leaders strode out on stage to face an energetic crowd of about 700 Cantabrians.

Clad in a dark suit and light blue tie, English said he was unworried by Ardern’s momentum, seeking to frame the Labour leader as light on substance in an attack he has used with increasing frequency.

“Now the stardust has settled, you’re starting to see the policy...as an alternative to a successful New Zealand, you're being asked to vote for a committee.”

Ardern bit back, framing the election as a choice between the “risk attached to the status quo” and the chance for a new approach under Labour.

“This stardust won’t settle, because none of us should settle. Christchurch shouldn’t settle, New Zealand shouldn't settle for anything less than taking on head-on the challenges we face this election.”

There is just one more debate between the two scheduled and English's team will be furiously trying to figure out how to halt Labour's momentum.

Climate change finally makes an appearance

Despite Labour leader Jacinda Ardern coining the memorable phrase "climate change is my generation's nuclear-free moment", there has been little discussion or debate on the issue during the campaign.

This may change today with the party releasing its policy about tackling the problem.

Speaking in Christchurch, Ardern announced she would set a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

This replaces the party's previous goal of reducing emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030.

Ardern said Labour would follow the recommendations of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, and set legally binding emissions reduction targets.

Also inline with the Commissioner's advice, an independent climate commission would be formed to recommend interim reduction targets and identify the best ways to approach each sector.

Labour also confirmed its policy of gradually bringing agriculture into the emissions trading scheme, although farmers will initially receive a generous offsetting of their costs.

“For agriculture, a gradual introduction of the price signal from the Emissions Trading System, starting with giving the sector 90 percent of emissions free, will help bring emissions down without hurting agriculture’s contribution to the economy," Ardern said.

"Government-backed science has made impressive advances in methods to reduce farm emissions without reducing output. We will also ensure that farmers operating at best practice are recognised and directly credited for the reductions they achieve.

As part of the package, government departments and state-owned enterprises would be expected to play their part by exploring low carbon options and using electric fleet vehicles unless there was a good reason not to.

The move to bring agriculture into the ETS will be fought bitterly by the industry, who argue it will financially cripple many farmers.

Ardern, who has put environmental issues to the fore since taking over from Andrew Little, said climate change was "the biggest challenge that internationally we're facing currently".

"We need climate action otherwise down the track we'll continue to see the likes of climate refugees in the Pacific, rising sea levels which impacts on New Zealand."

Ardern said the agricultural sector had to be part of the emissions trading scheme to help meet the goal, although the sector would only pay 10 percent of the costs to help ease the financial pressure.

With the Greens barely above the 5 percent threshold, Ardern denied Labour's push could prove fatal to their chances of returning.

"Yes we have some shared values, that's one of the reasons that obviously we've committed to this memorandum of understanding, but as I've said before all parties should be talking about environmental issues."

Student selfie mob

With Ardern's announcement including a pledge to set up a youth climate change challenge, she went to Hillmorton High School in Christchurch to talk to students.

Ardern told the excitable students there were a number of ways they could contribute to politics if they weren't old enough to vote, such as petitioning Parliament.

She asked students to identify the issues that were important to New Zealand, with clean rivers, house prices and poverty among the answers offered.

Ardern promoted her education policy along with Labour's plan for free driver's licence tests.

There were some more personal questions: Ardern said she had thought about joining the police, but hated doing the beep test - an answer which received an appreciative groan.

She also faced surprisingly tough questions on the party's plans for a water tax, saying it would not have a significant impact on the cost of products.

Afterwards, Ardern was mobbed for the now obligatory campaign selfies.

One girl was visibly trembling as she posed, before running back to her friends to review the results.

Coming Up...

Bill English will spend the day in Auckland where he will open a logistics facility and visit Mangere College.

Jacinda Ardern will make an announcement about climate change at Hillmorton High in Christchurch, before travelling to Northland where she will visit a primary school and an RSA.

Tonight - TVNZ will host a debate with the leaders of all minor parties polling over 3 percent

September 11 - Polling booths open for early voting.

September 14 - TVNZ's youth debate

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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