Politics in New Zealand tends to straddle the middle ground. This is unlikely to change much after Saturday, regardless of which party gets the most votes.

The electorate, while it may be in a mood for change, is not so much demanding deep reform as a realignment of priorities.

The two main parties have established a track record of fairly responsible fiscal management. The economic outlook is stable, government debt low and surpluses are projected for some time to come.

In this election the economy has not been the central issue, though tax has had quite an airing. If anything it appears that voters want issues ranked differently. Those looking for an altered focus extend beyond fervent party supporters.


The Herald's Mood of the Boardroom survey last week revealed that the priorities of business leaders were infrastructure, housing, productivity, education and inequality.

Many ordinary New Zealanders would agree that the business wish list needs attention.

But they probably would make a few more demands - water quality, the environment and climate change, public and mental health, the cost of food, and more broadly, the share of the country's wealth.

Many of these issues go hand in hand. Take for instance productivity and living standards. New Zealand's economic productivity performance has been flat for 5 years, which has acted as a brake on incomes.

In nine years GDP per capita has grown by barely 1 per cent a year in real terms, not much more than the OECD average. Average wages have crept up, with the outlook showing little change.

Is it any wonder that an entire generation of young New Zealanders feels excluded from a housing market where property prices are 10 times average incomes?

In the health arena, a squeeze on funding has contributed to the well-publicised problems being experienced in public hospitals and in services such as suicide prevention.

It is to our shame that the youth suicide rate is the highest in the developed world.This has not developed in a vacuum, and is a complex issue tied to other factors such as deprivation, family breakdown and lack of support services. The electorate will not tolerate a government that allows this state of affairs to persist.

Water quality - or the lack of it - has rapidly surfaced as a hot button issue. It jars to see the country promoted as a clean and green destination when millions are needed to make waterways safe for swimming.

Fairly or not, the dairy industry is often blamed for the health of rivers, despite investing heavily in stream protection. The sight of some farmers waving crude signs in Morrinsville this week suggests a lot needs to flow under the bridge before progress occurs.

Finally it is not hard to see links between climate change and infrastructure. A recent study suggested that $19b worth of coastal assets are exposed to sea level rise from global warning over the next 50 years. Will the bill all fall on future generations?

These are not conventional election hip pocket issues, but broader social and environmental concerns. They may not be at the heart of Saturday's election but they will come to define New Zealand.