Closing the door on 2022 and stepping out into 2023, is a chance to reflect on events in Godzone, otherwise known as New Zealand or Aotearoa if you listen to Radio NZ.
Where better to begin than in the grounds of our Parliament, highest court in the land. Notwithstanding the 16-year-old thinking of our Supreme Court.
A February protest, an observance ordinarily associated with Waitangi, became a capital event. Speaker Trevor Mallard, thinking it was akin to a hippy festival, tried the Sweetwaters approach. However, turning on sprinklers to relieve his Parliament of political pong quickly led to him into bad odour.
Fusillades of foul language, threats to MPs and public alike meant the protesters’ defence of individual liberties got lost. Police finally marched in. Unable to sway the MPs, the agitators burnt down the precinct playground.
Journalists shuffled on and MPs were shown what a bad Kainga Ora neighbour is like. The public however sniffed the air and sensed that something was awry. The Prime Minister may have won WHO Covid accolades during 2020 but in 2022 that was fish ‘n chip paper.
In the scale of historical significance the occupation does not compare to the 1981 Springbok tour unrest. It revealed, however, the limits of the Covid lockdown mentality and fed doubts about political leadership. After all, effective governance rests upon the bedrock of sound judgement.
For many of us the only judgement in 2022 we hoped to see was the judicial sting applied to the ram raid rats. Hardly a week passed and a fresh outrage took place, shops raided and worse. Juvenile freedom is not a given and a bout of liberty deprivation is surely on the cards in 2023.
The dynamic causing garden variety Kiwis to protest was not confined to Covid picketers. It took shape again in the form of the Groundswell objectors. In this case tractor driving cockies. Alarmed that climate change policy is rigged against them, lacks transparency and their primary export businesses are knackered, their tractors belched to Wellington..
On the matter of cost transparency, who would know? So much of our carbon emissions policy is couched in language inaccessible to the populace. Consequently they are not aware of the impost which may be levied on their households. The climate intelligentsia have failed to lay out the trade offs between these costs and other competing government services such as health.
Our carbon zero agenda is far reaching and the social and economic adjustment is not well understood. The economy however has to continue generating export dollars. Without foreign exchange how will we pay for the electric Kia Niro cars, definitely not with green Kia Oras.
Challenging carbon targets, transgender pronouns, co-governance, Covid bureaucracy, hate speech regulations has become a minefield in the past 12 months. Many avoid these topics not wanting to offend whilst also feeling that such interventions do not fit their view of the future.
Of course evangelisers are not bothered by such doubts, they have a doctrine. The majority of us are not doctrinaire, we live by a far more practical code. However, wasteful bureaucracy, wimpy accountability and double talk from corporates and politicians makes our blood boil. In this regard we have endured a thermal year.
It is often said that foreign policy does not drive voters, however, electoral outcomes certainly impacts the former. Our reliance in 2022 on the Chinese market has increased markedly. Despite new trade deals, this dependence is here to stay. After all, firms trade goods and services not governments. They manage interests.
President Xi Jinping has assumed power for a record third term over the Communist Party. Secure in his status as “ruler for life’' he does not appear to be copying Chairman Mao and killing all the sparrows. Presumably he knows that whilst this avian pest may have pecked the grain it also checked the pests.
Anyway he finished off last year by liberalising the Covid restrictions. A remarkable turnaround from the harsh lockdown regime. Over this coming year, investing in a stable relationship with his regime is critical to our trade fortunes.
Although we have deployed military personnel to train Ukrainian troops, our economic resilience is increasingly an Asian story. Covid hampered regular physical contact but the rest of the world has moved on faster than ourselves. Face is a key concept in all relationships, particularly with our Asian partners.
On New Year’s eve someone in Kaitaia no doubt belted out the tune, ‘tell me about the good old days’. Oh well, we are about to find out, inflation-wise, they were not so good after all. Cost of living, singing for your supper, is a bum note.
As we step from the old to the new year, this already casts a shadow. Empty purses will shade the efforts of all politicians, squeeze Kiwi grocery budgets and challenge banks to demonstrate wellbeing and responsibility.
After a long period of cheap money, a new generation of households will learn the financial lessons of the 1980/90s. Climate change might heat up some Kiwis but it will not compare to choleric voters in election year 2023 if there is no improvement in the cost of living.
- Shane Jones is a former Labour MP and NZ First MP and was the first Minister for Regional Economic Development.