A turbulent end to a turbulent year (and decade): The New Zealand experience

By the time you read this, New Zealand will have about 39 hours left in the 2010’s. It has been a decade that has seen some of New Zealand’s finest moments as a nation and some of its worst. I look at them here.

2010: It started out looking promising, with the economy looking upwards after the global financial crisis, but ended with 29 men missing presumed dead in a mine that exploded. New Zealand’s Parliament had a poignant moment when Maori M.P. Te Ururoa Flavell led a solemn rendition of Whakaaria Mai (How Great Thou Art)shortly after the explosion was announced. Internal politics was rocked by the sacking of the elected Environment Canterbury council by the Government, which replaced the councillors with Commissioners. Then out of the pre dawn darkness on 04 September 2010 came a magnitude 7.1 earthquake that announced a seismic odyssey that would culminate in disaster the following year.

2011: For many New Zealanders – Rugby World Cup victory aside – this year will be remembered for one thing only: a devastating aftershock of the 04 September 2010 earthquake tore through Christchurch on 22 February 2011 at 1251 hours. 185 killed; 6,000 injured and a damage bill totalling U.S.$25 billion. It was followed by powerful aftershocks on 13 June and 23 December 2011. In these darkest of hours New Zealand rallied beautifully – political divides and regional antagonism’s were put aside to enable the disaster response to continue unhindered. Outside of this Prime Minister John Key swept back into office with a resounding thumping of Labour in the polls, only hindered by the shock return of New Zealand First from 3 years in the wilderness.

2012: Christchurch’s recovery continued slowly, but steadily forward, pock marked by contestable decisions made by the Minister for Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee who – by any realistic admission – had the devils job. 7,000 homes had been condemned the year before, which brought immense pressure on the rental accommodation market. Better fortune was had at the Olympics as the rowers, Valerie Adams and the cyclists gave us one our best medal tallies since Los Angeles in 1984.

2013: New Zealand’s economy continued to be one of the top performers in the O.E.C.D., to the delight of National, whilst Labour squabbled and the Greens and New Zealand First consolidated their gains. The economy, fuelled by explosive growth in dairy farming continued to rebound following the whammies of the Christchurch earthquakes and the G.F.C. Socially, New Zealand took a giant step forward when Labour M.P. Louisa Wall’s Same Sex Marriage Bill passed through Parliament in a 77-44 conscience vote.

2014: A stormy year both inside and out, with New Zealand having one of its stormiest and wettest autumns in years with some locations having already had 3/4 of their average annual rainfall by May. The storms in the sky were matched by National storming to victory in the September 2014 general election, on the back of economic growth, a hard line on beneficiaries. Somewhere among this, the All Blacks continued their dominance as the best rugby team in the world, the Black Caps began to realise that their current bunch were not bad and had the potential to be something special.

2015: The year began with a cricketing spectacle hosted by New Zealand and Australia in the form of the 2015 Cricket World Cup. This briefly – for five weeks diverted the country’s attention from worsening issues around housing, poverty, living expenses and a deteriorating world scene. The National-led Government of Prime Minister John Key continued to consistently out perform Labour, whose civil war eased just enough to accept Andrew Little as its leader. A Rugby World Cup Final win over Australia was happily lapped up by New Zealand in early November.

2016: After years of explosive growth the dairy farming bubble began to show signs of strain. Although demand was not lessening, New Zealanders were beginning to realise there are limits as to how much of the white gold could be produced before a negative toll on the environment began to undermine it. But it was – following another great Olympics, and overall relatively stellar year for sport – a magnitude 7.8 earthquake inland from Kaikoura that happened just after midnight on 14 November, that catapulted New Zealand on to the world stage again. It was followed 3 weeks later by Prime Minister Key announcing his resignation, clearing the way for Deputy Prime Minister Bill English to take over.

 2017: In January Prime Minister Bill English had every reason in the world – except one – to think that he was going to still be Prime Minister come December. National far out polled Labour, which looked like sitting ducks for another electoral thrashing. But no one saw that Andrew Little would suddenly quit as leader, thrusting his young Deputy Leader Jacinda Ardern into the spotlight. It was a master stroke of sorts. Ms Ardern seized the moment. After a quick rebrand began one of the most dizzying stories in New Zealand political history. For decades New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has said he will support the largest party in Parliament, thus giving Mr English reason to think his 56 seats plus N.Z.F.’s 9 were going to form the next Government. Except Mr Peters went with Labour and the Greens to the eternal fury of National.

2018: Perhaps it was a case of being a rabbit caught in the headlights, but for a few months in 2018 the new government had a case of inertia, not quite knowing how to get started. Some Ministers who thought they were fit for purpose quickly began to find out that maybe another three years on the Opposition benches learning might have been useful. The economy continued its slower growth, bounced around by international turbulence as much as uncertainty about the domestic economy. No major policy releases were made on social welfare. Kiwi Build got off to a probably terminally rocky start with only a few homes being built initially. Perhaps the greatest talking point was a decision to phase out oil and gas by 2050.

2019: A year that has been bookended by disaster. On 15 March 2019 in New Zealand’s worst shooting a gun man opened fire in two mosques killing 51 people. The international response – America aside – was hugely sympathetic. But divisions opened up as soon as an amnesty to enable people to hand back high capacity rifles, spare parts and modifications that could enable them to be like the AR-15 used. But it was not all bad news for New Zealand. The Silver Ferns netball team stunned world champions Australia in the 2019 Netball World Cup Final, a match few expected New Zealand to reach, never mind win. The Black Caps cricket team lost to England in the Cricket World Cup Final. In politics though it was a year of missed opportunities for the Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to show her socio-economic policy credentials, with yawning failures on Kiwi Build, poverty and to some extent the economy. With 2019 almost at an end, the onus will be on Labour to deliver on some big promises before the election. But the real news in December 2019 was the sudden eruption of Whakaari (White Island)on the 9th, killing 19 people and leaving dozens suffering horrendous burns and injuries from flying rocks, in a brutal reminder of the dynamic geology under our feet.

Thus comes to an end a turbulent decade in New Zealand. A combination of tragedy and heroism, the exclusive and the inclusive have defined this country in a way that few in 2009 would have even dared to dream.

What will the 2020’s bring us?

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