Auckland, December 8, 2023
The title of this column may seem counterintuitive given the year I have had, Labour’s defeat at the election, and some of the difficult issues that our country continues to face – however, I am firmly of the view that in politics and life, the only way forward is to take stock of the good things we have and to build off those strengths where we need to change or improve.
The nature of much of our modern media environment means that we are fed a daily diet of outrage, anger, and catastrophism. This is amplified by modern media’s reliance on social media to drive clicks and revenue. As you scroll through your feed the goal is to catch your eye and make you pause and click. It is a two-second game and thoughtful analysis and commentary don’t have a place here. Instead, it’s about eliciting an emotional response. Whereas a tricky public policy issue might have once been called “a problem” it will now be termed “a crisis.” A politician who carefully criticises the arguments of another will now be stated to have “slammed” their opponent. Fury and outrage are to the fore, with very little room for the good things that are happening or consideration of complex issues with difficult trade-offs.
As such, it is no big surprise that many of us feel that we are surrounded by intractable problems and that our system has little capacity to make things better. For example, a recent public survey in the USA showed that a large majority of people believed that the rate of inflation was continuing to increase. In fact, it has declined from 9% to 3% since July 2022.
Here in New Zealand, there is also much to feel cheerful about. Here are just a few examples:
- Over the past decade, on most measures, child poverty has continued to trend downwards. Low unemployment, Improved access to social housing, and targeted income support to low-income households have lifted nearly 80,000 children out of poverty.
- We are starting to turn the tide on our carbon emissions. Over the past year, our emissions have been the lowest in over ten years through world-leading climate legislation, a functional Emissions Trading Scheme, and focused policies across energy, industry, and transport to move to low-carbon options.
- New Zealand consistently rates in the top three countries for ease of starting and running a business. On average it takes just half a day to start a business here.
- Free-to-air cricket is back for the summer!
None of the above is to say that there aren’t real problems to solve, but as a country, we should feel some confidence that when we put our minds to an issue when we are led by the evidence, and when we focus our resources, we are capable of making things better.
As the new government settles into its term they do face significant issues. Can they keep unemployment low while the Reserve Bank continues to dampen economic growth? Can they keep up the momentum on falling child poverty and emissions? Can they make real progress on New Zealand’s poor productivity record over the past 40 years? Can they find real solutions to turn around the small cohort of young people whose offending and anti-social behaviour has been so distressing over the past two years? As a country we should face these issues with some confidence and optimism knowing that we do have the ability to take on complex issues and fix them.
As a New Zealander, I wish the new government well in doing this.
As a Labour man, I will obviously be here to hold them to account.
My very warmest wishes to you and your families over the Christmas and summer break. I look forward to sharing some more thoughts with you in 2024.
Be safe, be grateful to live in this beautiful country, be cheerful.
Michael Wood is a former Minister of the Crown and was a Member of Parliament elected from Mt Roskill from December 2016 to October 2023.