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Minor parties back in NZ election frame

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By AUSTRALIAN ASSOCIATED PRESS

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's lead has shrunk, but a new opinion poll has the Labour leader well on track for a second term in government.

A TVNZ opinion poll released on Monday - the third reputable poll in a week - has Labour in control of the October 17 election race.

Ms Ardern's party scored 47 per cent, down one point, still well ahead of the opposition National party on 33 per cent, up two.

"(Voters) see the stability that we offer ... now is the time for that stable government," she said.

For the first time in eight polls, and since the arrival of COVID-19, it means Labour will need assistance from a minority party to form government, as is regularly the case in New Zealand.

The Greens are the likely suitor, polling at seven per cent, with Labour's other current coalition partner, NZ

First, slumping to a one per cent result.

Right-wing libertarian party ACT is also on the rise, polling at eight per cent.

Opposition leader Judith Collins, who took the top job in July, took heart from the minor increase.

"We're chipping away. We're keeping on going and I think it's important to have momentum," she said.

On Monday, Ms Ardern ventured to a snow-covered Invercargill to throw a lifeline to an "unviable" aluminium smelter Rio Tinto promised to close three months ago.

The Tiwai Point smelter, on South Island's southern tip, was scheduled for shuttering next year, but Ms Ardern said a re-elected Labour government would seek to extend its operations by three to five years.

"By providing an extended timeframe for the closure of the smelter we protect jobs now and give the community time to consider and plan for future opportunities," Ms Ardern said.

Jobs are a hot issue in the New Zealand election, with unemployment set to skyrocket in the wake of COVID-19.

The smelter, which employs around 1000 Kiwis, uses alumina from refineries in Queensland and Western Australia, exporting 90 per cent of its product.

It is also New Zealand's biggest consumer of electricity, using roughly 13 per cent of the country's power.

Ms Ardern said she would seek to negotiate with Rio Tinto, the majority shareholder of operating business New Zealand Aluminium Smelters, and electricity transmitter Transpower for a better price to extend the plant's life.

Rio Tinto has attempted to sell the smelter for the best part of a decade and received a multi-million dollar government handout in 2013.

The Labour promise follows others from NZ First and the opposition National party to keep the smelter alive.