New Zealand in the year 2017

It has been a year of cyclones, an epic political roller coaster ride, continued outstanding success for our sportsmen and women topped off by warnings about environmental degradation, megathrust earthquakes and mental health. Right from the start one could tell this was going to be a turbulent year. In that respect we have not bee disappointed. So, what happened in 2017 and who were the story makers?

Of natural disasters, after a very shaky end to 2016, New Zealanders were looking forward to a much quieter 2017. In terms of seismic activity we got that, but in terms of floods, cyclones and winter storms this year has been anything but quiet. From the weather bomb that crossed the country in January to Cyclones Cook and Donna in April and May, to the floods in Christchurch in July and the swing back to drought like conditions in the last couple of months, 2017 has just about had it all in meteorological events.

But it is perhaps the politics of 2017 that will make the year memorable. When was the last time in an M.M.P. environment did an Opposition party go from being dead in the water just seven weeks before a fourth term election to credible election contenders? When was the last time one party had so much s(w)ay over the electorate? Without doubt the award for biggest meteoric rise must go to Jacinda Ardern whose Xmas letter – if she writes one – probably went like this: “In March I became Deputy Leader of the Labour Party; in August I became Leader of the Labour Party/Leader of the Opposition; in October I became Prime Minister of New Zealand. How did yours go?”.

But spare a thought – horrible as this might be to some of you – for former Prime Minister Bill English who on election night must have thought “National’s got a fourth term. WOOOHOOO!!!!!” Little did he know how the special votes would pan out and would have gotten as big a surprise – albeit for entirely different reasons to me – when New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters went with Labour. It will be a rocky few years in Parliament as the minority Government tries to see off an Opposition with huge resources.

And there were the sportspeople of New Zealand. The All Blacks might have had an indifferent year despite the win/loss ratio suggesting strongly otherwise, but rugby league hosted its world cup in New Zealand with some potentially huge upsets in the offing – Lebanon vs Tonga; Tonga vs England (a shame about the crowd behaviour following the matches). Top performances from Lisa Carrington (kayak), Sophie Pascoe (pool) and

Domestically there was a wealth of stories for the media to feast on. Concerns elevated by the Kaikoura earthquake in 2016 and continued post-Christchurch earthquake awareness led to scientists warning about the possibility of a huge (magnitude 8.5+) megathrust earthquake in the future. Which was followed by commentary about scare mongering and justifying their salaries.

Other stories included warnings about our exploding electronic waste problem and the complete lack of planning around managing thousands of tons of toxic waste going into landfills. Despite the warnings, it is clear that many people do not understand what e-waste is and why discarding electronics without removing the copper wiring, lead and so forth is not only foolish but environmentally irresponsible.

Another story to New Zealand is an ongoing epidemic of dairy robberies, mainly caused by high tobacco prices or drug fuelled addicts looking for ways to fund their next hit. Nary a week passes without a violent robbery somewhere and the absence of political rhetoric around this during the election was deafening.

And as the Earth takes a final twirl in 2017, despite all that has happened in New Zealand, two modest size islands southeast of Australia look pretty damn good in a world that at times seems to have gone completely mad.

Happy New Year.

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