Election 2023 debate moments: Marama Davidson, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer team up in facing bickering David Seymour, Winston Peters

Greens co-leader Marama Davidson and Te Pāti Māori's Debbie Ngarewa-Packer were in lockstep throughout the majority of Thursday's Newshub Nation Powerbrokers debate, high-fiving and encouraging each other.

There was little harmony on the right, however, with ACT's David Seymour and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters bickering and throwing jabs at each other.

"He's not baiting, he's imitating," Peters at one point yelled out amid suggestions Seymour had been race-baiting for votes.

"It's like an arsonist showing up dressed as a fireman, saying, 'I am here to help and fix it all,'" Seymour said of Peters.

But by the end of the night, both Seymour and Peters had suggested they could work together with National post-October 14 if that's the result the people presented.

The quarrelling between the pair prompted Davidson to ask: "Do people actually trust that Luxon is going to be able to manage these two?"

It's a pertinent question given the National Party leader hasn't ruled out working with Peters despite pressure to and as leader Christopher Luxon throws the "coalition of chaos" label at the left bloc.

It was in the areas of race and potential coalition arrangements all four party leaders really fired up in the debate. 

The first 10 minutes especially captured the spirit of the debate and the dynamics between the participants. The initial question directed towards Seymour asked him to explain ACT's policy to abolish so-called "demographic ministries" like the Ministry for Pacific Peoples, Ministry for Ethnic Communities and others.

He gave two answers - one that the Government needed to save money, and second that every department should be working hard for every New Zealander rather than having individual ministries focused on certain demographics. 

Challenged by moderator Rebecca Wright that you can't extract identity from the real world and see people as economic units, Seymour cited Kate Sheppard - the women's rights figure who he earlier this month claimed could have voted for ACT.

"She said all that separates, whether it be race, religion, class or sex, is inhuman and must be overcome. For me, that is a big part of New Zealand's dream of egalitarianism, that no matter how you are born or who you are, you have the same rights and duties."

Seymour then began reciting the Treaty of Waitangi and Davidson sighed.

As Davidson began giving her thoughts - that Seymour appeared to be denying systemic racism in Government - Ngarewa-Packer said to her quietly, "Kia Kaha", the first instance of several throughout the night of one of the two left leaders deciding to tautoko the other.

"What David denies and what he wants to strip away the very agencies who work to highlight where that unfairness and that injustice has actually been. I am proud that the Green Party is always clear of having a plan to make sure everyone has what they need - not the just wealthy few and David's mates," Davidson said.

Ngarewa-Packer said Seymour's exercise was about "race". She said if Seymour wanted to save money, he could look at staff in a department like the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) - Seymour said he could cut waste elsewhere too.

As the Te Pāti Māori co-leader finished her answer, Davidson cheered. The pair high-fived and tapped each other on the arm in support on a number of occasions over the course of the debate.

Ngarewa-Packer later said experts believe the only way to counter inequities is to "address the fact that we were raised in a system that was not designed for us".

"The fact of the matter is not many people are arguing that point, not many people are having problems with inequities, it's just those who are after the votes and are baiting with an anti-Māori rhetoric and have been doing it for three years."

Seymour denied race-baiting but both Davidson and Ngarewa-Packer said he was.

"He's not baiting, he's imitating," Peters then interjected.

Peters took the view "ordinary Māori" were more interested in fundamental services than "woke projects."

"That's the ordinary Māori out there, who are calling out for fundamental things like a safe, affordable home, access to an immediate health system, access to get on the conveyor belts of education and go as far as they like, and first-world wages," he said.

"That's what we stand for, but they are spending all their time on woke projects and no one ever does a thing about those fundamental things, that we have done."

Ngarewa-Packer sighed at Peter's mention of "woke projects".

David Seymour.
David Seymour. Photo credit: Newshub.

Later in the night, the political leaders were asked about their approaches to potential governing arrangements.

The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll showed National and ACT could form a Government if the results were replicated on October 14. But with New Zealand First hovering around the 5 percent mark, there is a possibility Peters' party could end up being required to get across the 61-seat line.

That's raised the question of whether ACT and New Zealand First - particularly Seymour and Peters - could work together in Government particularly interesting.

Peters took aim at Seymour's suggestion ACT may end up only offering National "confidence" and not supply, if the two parties can't fully share power. Seymour's said that's an option but one unlikely to be needed. 

"You can't run a Government where every Bill and Act is going to have to be approved by another party," Peters said. "You'll paralyse the Government. This is the lack of experience in this matter."

However, he went on to say: "This country is in such a serious crisis.

"Me and my colleagues will work with anyone to try and fix it now." (That doesn't include Labour, who he ruled out again during the debate).

Seymour subsequently said: "Ultimately, if a Parliament is elected by the people then you make it work."

But the ACT leader then took a dig at Peters.

"It is not credible for the guy who has had more chances to fix New Zealand's problems than anyone else alive… it's like an arsonist showing up dressed as a fireman, saying, 'I am here to help and fix it all.'"

Peters interjected while Davidson and Ngarewa-Packer huddled together, saying: "We can be trusted."

When Wright began speaking about Peters and Seymour potentially being around the Cabinet table together, Peters said: "He will learn."

Then when Wright asked Seymour again whether he could work with Peters, the NZ First leader yelled out: "Of course he will."

Seymour replied: "I think the question is, can anyone? Nobody has been able to.

"He has fallen out with practically every person he has tried to... This country has serious challenges.

"This guy has had enough chances already. It's not clear why he thinks he deserves another one."

Davidson at one point asked: "Do people actually trust that Luxon is going to be able to manage these two, like for real?"

She then turned to Ngarewa-Packer: "We can be friends right?"

Ngarewa-Packer agreed and said: "You can trust us whānau."

Marama Davidson and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer huddling together.
Marama Davidson and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer huddling together. Photo credit: Newshub.

Te Pāti Māori's co-leader said the party's proposed wealth tax would be one of its bottom lines if it's in a position to help form a Government. Davidson also said a wealth tax was a priority.

In between the quarrelling, each of the leaders put forward their parties' policies on tax and law and order.

On the cost of living, Peters said neither Labour nor National had credible ideas on dealing with rising prices. He instead criticised the supermarket duopoly and expressed a desire for a banking inquiry.

Davidson said it was unacceptable a small number of people have so much money, and said it should be shared better among people.

Ngarewa-Packer spoke of her parties' desire to "flip the tax system", including removing GST off all kai. 

Seymour said New Zealand's economy was a "bare cupboard" and the Government needed to create conditions for people to invest and fund infrastructure better.

Peters interrupted Seymour's answer, saying: "That's enough. There are adults in the room."

He also called Davidson and Ngarewa-Packers' policies "envy politics", which the pair said was "rubbish". Peters said Ngarewa-Packer should "behave yourself". 

Davidson said she would expect more maturity from Peters, to which he said: "I am not a cis, white man, you see".

"Oh Matua," Ngarewa-Packer said.

Winston Peters.
Winston Peters. Photo credit: Newshub.

On crime, Davidson said it wasn't just gangs committing offences and any victim should know they don't deserve it. 

Peters said the biggest victims of crime are Māori and Pasifika and reiterated New Zealand First's policies on gangs, which include outlawing them and designating them terrorist organisations.

Seymour said people who commit crime should be put in prison and thinks the public believe there is value in having people off the street.

Ngarewa-Packer said her party didn't believe in a "tough on crime and soft on poverty" approach.