Jacinda Ardern v Simon Bridges: Fiercest Question Time debate yet

There was thunder and lightning over Parliament on Wednesday - but it was almost more intense inside, where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and new National leader Simon Bridges took part in one of their fiercest head-to-heads yet.

Question Time is a chance for the Opposition to test the Government in areas it may be seen as weak. That was evident on Wednesday afternoon, when Mr Bridges took on Ms Ardern on wide-ranging issues from housing to healthcare and the Budget.

Mr Bridges accused the Government of "manufacturing a crisis" in healthcare that doesn't reflect the reality of New Zealand's healthcare standard.

Ms Ardern held her own, saying she'll stop "blaming the previous Government" when she stops learning about problems like Middlemore, and of surgeries cancelled because of water in the operating theatres - a reference to leaks in Dunedin Hospital.

"We did anticipate this issue. We absolutely did," she said across the Debating Chamber.

"That is why we said no to the tax cuts. That is why we put aside an operating allowance of $2.6 billion when the last Government put aside $1.7 billion.

"We knew problems existed, and we have a plan for them."

Mr Bridges then pointed to the Government's early spending on fees-free post-school training.

"How can her Government justify no new money for nurses when amongst other things she's thrown $2.8 billion at fees-free for students?" he asked.

Ms Ardern said the assumption there was no money for the nurses' pay negotiation is "a fallacy".

Mr Bridges then tested Ms Ardern on regional New Zealand, and the Government's promised introduction of a bill allowing councils to introduce regional fuel taxes.

"How will her Government pay for a tram down Dominion Rd when it's quite clear regional New Zealand rejects having to pay for it with higher fuel taxes?" Mr Bridges asked.

"That is why we are not asking regional New Zealand to pay for it. We've asked Aucklanders to pay for it," Ms Ardern retorted.

"When it comes to the regions, I think they'll be pleased to see... we'll be doubling the money going into regional roads."

Mr Bridges' final topic of attack was the Government's Kiwibuild programme.  

"How's the Government getting on with building those houses?" he asked.

"Much better than the last Government," Ms Ardern responded.