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Saturday, May 25, 2024

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Opinion: New Zealand needs cross-party consensus on the big issues

Can you believe it’s only been three years since New Zealand’s last general election? So much has happened both here and overseas, and Covid has had such a time-bending effect on us all that it seems much longer since we last voted.

That 2020 election was really quite remarkable. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern managed something never thought possible under our MMP electoral system – she and the Labour Party were reelected with an outright majority. As I wrote back then in an opinion piece, the result was stunning and was largely due to how well the government had steered New Zealand through the worst of the pandemic. 

What also helped Ardern was the abysmal state of the National Party with the equally abysmal Judith Collins as its leader. National was trounced.

In that same piece, I also wrote that National needed to revamp itself and needed generational change and new ideas. Labour on the other hand needed to deliver on all its promises or face defeat in the next election.

Well, that election is upon us, and the situation is very different to 2020. Jacinda Ardern is gone, and it looks like this time Labour is heading for an electoral bloodbath.

It is not entirely Labour’s fault. The pandemic and several disasters have created havoc and our current government, now headed by Chris Hipkins, has had to deal with crisis after crisis. The economic pain and inflationary pressures post covid are a global phenomenon, but the anger and frustration citizens are feeling means our government is being blamed and the people want change. 

Of course, not all of the dire polling for Labour is down to the aftermath of the pandemic. Over six years, the government has failed to implement much of its key policies and projects. Yes, the various crises were implicated in some of that, but attempts to improve infrastructure and deal with a housing crisis have basically failed. Even something as important as Three Waters, which in essence was an important issue was botched. On taking the reins, Hipkins ditched many of the key policy ideas Labour had espoused and that frankly looked desperate. 

So, if as expected Labour loses badly, what will the next government look like? 

Frankly, I think it will look awful. National has not refreshed itself at all. It is headed by Christopher Luxon, a man who I believe has no vision and virtually no personality. The party trots out the usual meaningless slogans and its ridiculous fixation on lower taxes won’t benefit the poorer parts of society. There will probably be cuts to health and education spending, and eventually asset sales.

We’ve seen it all before, there is nothing new, and nothing inspiring. 

What this country actually needs is cross party agreement on the main issues we are facing – housing, climate change, education, infrastructure and an ageing population.

The awful series of storms and flooding that have devastated both rural and urban communities over the past couple of years show that much of our roading and bridges are too old and unfit for purpose. There are major problems with waste water and sewage in Auckland and Wellington. With climate change, those issues are going to get much worse yet policies aimed at fighting climate change are unpopular.

Aotearoa New Zealand is an amazing country in so many ways, but successive governments and politicians on both sides of the political divide have failed to deliver so many things for this country over a number of generations. 

Hope is not lost however, there are interesting ideas we could use. While I wont be voting for them, the TOP Party for instance is pushing the idea of funding preventative medicine at the primary level to mitigate the ever increasing numbers of people ending up in hospital with diseases related to lifestyle. 

Whomever is in power after the 14th of October 2023 has the opportunity to make a real difference for this country. But any policy has to be based on real issues, not some ideological nonsense and the kind of monetarist policies that have lead to increased inequality and neglect. 

We citizens deserve it. 

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