If New Zealand was to get a report card for its performance against other members of the global community, it could look like this:
If excellence is defined by being in the top 10 per cent, we are excellent in terms of being corruption free (second best in the world), overall peace, in terms of societal safety and security, the extent of ongoing domestic and international conflict, and the degree of militarisation (second best).
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However, due to the March 15 attack, our ranking in terms of terrorism risk, is expected to deteriorate considerably, with our previously "very low" rating becoming a thing of the past.
Excellence is merited for our democracy via both the Freedom in the World Index (we have a near perfect score of 98 out of 100) and the Democracy Index (fourth best in the world).
Reporters Without Borders puts New Zealand's press freedom as seventh best in the world; and the World Justice Project ranks New Zealand as eighth best in the world.
Excellence should also be recorded for our achievements in economic, civil and political freedoms, with the Index of Economic Freedom putting us as third best in the world. The Global Gender Gap Report places us as the seventh most gender-equal country in the world.
We are also considered to be happy people, with the World Happiness Report having New Zealand in eighth position.
Our low unemployment would merit a very good or excellent grade. Figures from the third quarter of 2019 suggest a rate of 4.2 per cent. This figure is supplemented with positive increases in income. Thus, in the 10 years to the middle of 2019 the median for weekly earnings from wages and salaries has gone from $760 to $1016 per week.
In terms of some of the tools that drive such economic figures, the Innovation Index had New Zealand drop three spots to 25th in the world, while the Global Competitiveness Report has us in 19th place. Offsetting these achievements, the Doing Business report placed New Zealand, for ease of doing business, as the best in the world.
Although the increase in all of the above considerations are highly commendable, our progress is not in all areas. The Human Development Index, which examines considerations such as life expectancy, education and income, has New Zealand fall to 16th position, with our gross national income, compared to the others, being somewhat of an anchor.
At the worst level, poverty remains deep. Although the overall trend appears to be one of general improvement, figures suggest 23 per cent of children live in households with an income that is less than 50 per cent of the median of equivalised disposable income, after housing costs are deducted. This figure overlaps with 13 per cent of children who experience actual material hardship.
Additional numbers would suggest that homelessness is a large, but not fully mapped problem. At the sharpest end of the difficulty, figures from one night in September of 2018 in the Auckland region alone, 3674 people were without shelter or in temporary accommodation.
With regards to environmental concerns, perhaps a very good grade is merited for the generic indices, but a fail for the climate change ones. That is, according to the Yale Environmental Performance Index, which measures environmental health and ecosystem vitality, New Zealand rates 17th.
In terms of climate change, the Climate Change Performance Index had our country drop to 44th position. Although the Zero Carbon Act was commended, we were classed poorly due to very low performance in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a lack of coherent and systematic policies to make improvements in this area. Similarly, the Climate Tracker Index puts our response, in light of the Paris Agreement, as "insufficient".
For most basic health considerations we would get a grade of average but could do better.
Although smoking rates continue to reduce (from 25 per cent 20 years ago), 14.2 per cent of adults still smoke. Alcohol consumption (including at potential harmful ways, which is about one in five adults) is about the same as it was at the turn of the century; while the prevalence of obesity among adults (30.9 per cent) has remained relatively stable since 2012/13.
Where we merit a complete failure grade is for our suicide statistics. According to the World Health Organisation, which has the global average at 10.6 deaths per 100,000, New Zealand's overall ranking is the 52nd worst, with a suicide rate of 12.1. The problem with this ranking is that it is out of date, and our trend is going in the wrong direction. That is, the New Zealand Coroner figures for 2019, recorded 685 people for the 2018/19 year (compared to 668 the year before). This figure equates to a suicide rate that has increased to 13.93. Within this subset is the highest suicide death rate for 15- to 24-year-olds, out of 19 of the world's most developed countries.
In short, our report contains a very impressive collection of clear excellencies. It also reflects some areas where we need to be vigilant and must seek to improve. However, there are also a few areas of failure that must be addressed if we wish to claim we are the best country in the world.
• Alexander Gillespie is a Professor of Law at Waikato University.