Minor leaders spar in televised debate

New Zealand's handling of the global economic crisis, and potential coalition partners after the election dominated TVNZ's minor parties election debate tonight.

The leaders of the six minor parliamentary parties took the stage in their only televised debate of the campaign.

Questions and answers covered the economic situation, law and order, child poverty and potential coalition makers and breakers.

It was mostly calm and orderly although old enemies New Zealand First leader Winston Peters and ACT leader Rodney Hide couldn't resist sniping at each other.

Despite that, Mr Peters said he would be prepared to work with Mr Hide if the door was opened to NZ First in a future National-led government.

"Rodney, we'd even work with you, but you'd have to change your jacket."

He said he expected John Key would work with anyone if it was necessary to form a government, despite the National leader ruling him out.

But Mr Hide was less magnanimous, saying he wouldn't work with Mr Peters -- "We've got to have standards in Parliament."

Most of the leaders sang a similar tune when it came to the economy, saying the government needed to ensure the liquidity of the financial system and the flow of money into consumers pockets to shore up confidence.

But Mr Hide called for a roll back in state spending to put the government on a sounder economic footing.

Mr Hide was also questioned on how his party's policies, which include large-scale privatisation of the health and welfare systems -- including scrapping the minimum wage -- would stop New Zealanders fleeing overseas.

He said other ACT policies such as cutting taxes and reducing cost on business by binning the emissions trading legislation would attract people.

Mr Hide was the only leader not to support gradually moving the minimum wage from the current $12 to $15 an hour.

United Future leader Peter Dunne sparred with Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons over the best solutions to stoking the economy.

It came hot on the heels of Mr Dunne citing the Greens' likely position in any Labour-led government as one of his reasons for his support of National.

Ms Fitzsimons said it was the right time to build more state houses and sustainable infrastructure such as rail, but Mr Dunne said it was essential the financial system was stabilised ahead of "rabbits being pulled out of hats because we are panicking".

Mr Peters said high interest rates had left "homes and businesses stretched out like a shanghai".

NZ First wanted to fix that by rewriting the Reserve Bank Act, but ultimately he said the parties and the country needed to work together to pull through the crisis.

Mr Peters refused to say whether he would demand an economic role in a future Labour-led government.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia spelled out the clearest bottom line for post-election talks, saying the Maori Party would not support a party which would not vote with it to entrench the Maori seats.

The Maori Party would consult supporters before making a decision on which party to support.

The Maori Party could be in the position of kingmaker after election night with all other parties appearing to be in either Labour or National's corners.

The Progressives and Greens are lined up with Labour and ACT and United Future with National.

Other leaders said their policies were clear, but their negotiating power depended on how many votes they received.

Ms Fitzsimons said she would "have difficulty" working with Mr Peters after the election, but with NZ First polling around 3 percent she did not expect them back after the election.

Mr Peters said her position was premature.

On law and order ACT and NZ First wanted a tougher line but Mr Dunne, Ms Fitzsimons and Mrs Turia urged more preventive and restorative justice programmes.

Mr Anderton wanted to raise the drinking age.

On the issue of smacking Mr Peters and Mr Hide said Green MP Sue Bradford's legislation should be repealed, while Mrs Turia, Ms Fitzsimons and Mr Anderton said they supported the law.

Mr Dunne said he would make a decision after seeing the referendum result.

All leaders said they would support a referendum on MMP.

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