Labour Party leader Phil Goff says he expects Winston Peters to do the right thing and support a strong, stable government if voters return him to Parliament on Saturday
Mr Goff's comments came after he squared off against National Party leader John Key in TV 3's Leaders Debate on Monday night.
Mr Key used the debate to push his message that a Labour-led government would be unstable if it had to rely on New Zealand First.[image:3843:half:left]
Winston Peters has said his party would remain in Opposition and vote with the Government only on a case-by-case basis.
The last time John Key and Phil Goff faced off in a debate, Mr Key demanded that the Labour leader "show him the money" to pay for Labour's policies. But on Monday night, it was the lack of money in the pockets of struggling families that dominated the early exchanges.
Phil Goff argued Labour's plan to make the first $5000 of income tax-free would help those who need it most.
"Our society hasn't become fairer - the gap between the rich and poor has got wider and wider. When people in the top brackets of our community got $1000 a week in tax cuts and people at the bottom got a handful of dollars."
Mr Goff says National has rewarded the rich, while many families struggle to put food on the table.
But John Key defended his government's record and fired his own shots at Labour's policies.[image:3845:half:right]
"When you say tax cuts went to the top Phil, you know and I know that's not true - they're distributionally neutral. You know that those people that earn more pay a lot more GST, they pay a lot more of the changes we made to property taxes, and across the board they've been neutral.
"Now you also know that if you go and implement your plans and you whack up the minimum wage overnight to $15, you know like I know a lot of those people that you're talking about will lose their jobs."
Phil Goff rejects that argument and says all Labour wants is a decent living wage for a full week's work.
"It's very hard to live on $13 an hour - John couldn't do it, I couldn't do it - and I really don't expect those other people out there to as well."
Mr Goff says Labour would introduce a minimum wage of $15 an hour which the Labour Department says puts about $571 million back into the economy and will benefit small businesses.
But John Key argues that the real solution to higher wages will not be found through legislation - it will come from the business sector.
"We can't magic away the global financial crisis or what's happened in Christchurch. In all of those things we've grown in eight of the last nine quarters, we've created 63,000 jobs, we've started delivering higher after tax wages for New Zealand. Despite what Phil's said, they've actually grown by 10 percent over the last three years."
Coalition partners and return of 'the worm'
Monday's debate featured the return of 'the worm' - an unscientific measure of the reaction of 65 undecided voters, displayed on screen as a form of instant feedback.
Phil Goff had the best of the worm - or the Roy Morgan Reactor as TV 3 called it - for much of the debate, particularly during the exchange on asset sales.
But John Key came into his own as the focus switched to post-election coalition arrangements and he turned his sights on Winston Peters.
"So the message is: if Winston Peters is in your government - because he certainly won't be in mine - he can pull the house of cards down anytime he wants. So New Zealanders watching this programme tonight better get used to getting ready for a new election, because that's the risk."
Mr Goff interjected, saying that was "simply nonsense", before firing back over John Key's relationship with ACT.
"You've actually taken a party that's politically dead and you've tried to breathe life back into it. You've been donkey deep involved and actually manipulating what's happening within."
"No, we're not," Mr Key replied.
The National leader has already ruled out working with Winston Peters and says the country faces a tough three years and needs strong, stable government.
Mr Key said the National Party wants a strong vote and would look to govern with its existing support parties - ACT, United Future and the Maori Party. But Mr Goff questioned the stability of any future National government which depends on the ACT Party for support.
After the debate, both Phil Goff and John Key declared themselves satisfied with their performance. But clearly, Mr Goff wanted to draw a line under questions about Winston Peters.
"Look, I only want to say this once: I expect Winston Peters, if he is elected, to do the right and responsible thing for New Zealand as I would any other party leader and I trust that he will do that."
Phil Goff and John Key will go head to head in a debate for a fourth and final time on Wednesday night.