Three challenges for New Zealand in 2015
Prime minister John Key led his National party to a landslide in New Zealand’s elections in September, adding a seat for its third term: unheard of in modern New Zealand politics. Key and his government are already looking to a record fourth term but much of their success will depend on their ability to tackle some systemic problems.
New Zealand’s gdp growth this year was close to 4 per cent, one of the highest in oecd countries; it was largely fuelled by the rebuild in Christchurch and high commodity prices. But the country’s economy is remarkably dependent on dairy products, the global price of which slipped by 48 per cent in 2014, costing the nation billions. Though that admittedly followed a record high, it is bound to have a slow-down effect on finances.
Cars still trump public transport in Auckland, the country’s biggest city. Water quality has declined in many lakes and rivers, which has been caused by mass irrigation for the dairy industry. This has expanded massively in recent years, converting less intensive farmland into highly productive dairy units. Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation is fighting to control a boom in pests that is threatening the country’s endemic bird population. In addition, the government has announced further exploration for deep-sea oil drilling off the coast of the North Island. New Zealand’s population is tiny and it is a remarkably beautiful country but can it still claim to be “100 per cent Pure”?
Despite record house prices (Auckland’s have increased by 12 per cent in 2014) and a high cost of living, median wages went up by just 1.7 per cent and the number of children living in poverty – thought to be 285,000 – is high. Remarkably for a conservative leader, Key has pledged to tackle the wealth gap but, with tax cuts on the horizon, many doubt the government’s resolve.
Elections to watch
- New South Wales
A state parliament will be elected in New South Wales on 28 March. Premier Mike Baird inherited the role when his predecessor Barry O’Farrell resigned over the undeclared gift of a bottle of wine. A corruption enquiry has wrought carnage among Baird’s Liberal party but the opposition Labor party would require a huge swing to oust him.
State parliament elections are due by 20 June. Polls barely separate the two major parties – amazing when you consider that premier Campbell Newman’s Liberal/National coalition subjected its Labor opposition to a spectacular beating in 2012.
The Pacific archipelago has not confirmed a date for parliamentary elections due in 2015. The vote may be shrouded with existential futility, however. Kiribati is threatened by rising sea levels to the extent that president Anote Tong has suggested buying land elsewhere to secure food supplies in the short term.
City to watch
Western Australia’s mining boom is translating into significant quality-of-life improvements for Perth – but at a price. The city is almost set to unveil the first stage of the Elizabeth Quay waterfront development project, a au$2.6bn (€1.8bn) scheme that will include a new promenade spread over 10 hectares on an estuary of the Swan River in central Perth.
Hoping to avoid the planning and design pitfalls associated with rapid and poorly planned gentrification projects, the Elizabeth Quay scheme has a public-art budget of nearly au$4m (€2.8m). While public art can go a long way, it has not silenced a larger debate about the use of city resources in Perth.
Given the boom in mineral-mining employment, Perth is welcoming immigrants from all over the world. But soaring property values associated with growth are causing some locals to question the cost.
Politician to watch
It seems that 2015 might be the year that Greens leader Christine Milne (pictured) reverses the fortunes of Australia’s ailing third force in politics. The Greens have lost public popularity in recent years but maintain political pull in a fractured upper house.
With Australia’s two major parties backing a potentially lengthy and costly military campaign in the Middle East, Milne has emerged as the strongest opposing voice to the war against Isis.
Milne has the chance to make her party’s left-wing ethics resonate once again with Australians, particularly if things turn sour in the Middle East. She also wants to negotiate a deal with the government to put some “spine and rigour” into its plans for a policy to reduce carbon emissions.