New Zealand saw in 2021 with the sound of music festivals attended by crowds of thousands of people. The envy of the world, we enjoyed limitless domestic travel, in-person schooling, and the ability to address political issues other than the pandemic. But this came to a crashing halt with the Delta outbreak and soon enough, masking, vaccine, and lockdown policies were once again the major topic of discussion.

With vaccination rates hitting 90% and the drop to orange level, 2022 could be the year Aotearoa rings in freedom once more. However, the Omicron variant threatens to pose a new challenge to the shift back to normality. The Labor government also has to contend with a new iteration of the National Party with Christopher Luxom at the helm. Here is just a narrow selection of issues, policies, and political performances that occurred throughout a 2021 that no one could have predicted.

Issues on Repeat

  • COVID Policy -Vaccine rollouts, mask mandates, and MIQ have proved to be both alogistical nightmare and politically divisive, and the pandemic continues to highlight existing issues in the healthcare system. Recently, protests have occurred in response to COVID legislation, some to an empty Beehive after Parliament was adjourned for the year.
  • Housing Crisis– Continuing the trend of the last decade, 2021 saw prices soar by an OECD leading 30%. The government has attempted to mitigate the crisis with a range of policies, some of which were supported across political lines such as reducing resource consent restrictions and boosting housing supply. Other approaches which sought to disincentive extensive property speculation have been heavily criticized by the opposition.
  • Three Waters– An important discussion debate is being held around how we process drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater. The government has proposed a plan whereby this would be managed by publicly-owned services as opposed to mostly managed by district councils. Currently, this is at the working group committee level and being opposed by many of these councils.
  • He Puapua– This report discussed recommendations on how Aotearoa could better meet the UNs Declaration of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights. Former national leader Judith Collins attempted a high-profile campaign to “demand the debate” around this document, accusing it of being divisive.

Key Policies

  • Mental Health Policy – Kia Manawanui (long-term wellbeing) was a mental health policy framework launched in September that promised to be grounded in Tiriti o Waitangi that aims to employ an upstream approach to mental health.
  • Conversion Therapy Bill – The Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation would make it a criminal offense to compel minors or those without decision-making capacity to receive so-called conversion practices. This bill sparked a large discussion and mass participation in the legislative process with over 100,000 submissions received. It passed its first reading in August with the National Party voting against it, despite pleas from their youth wing to support the bill.
  • Smoking “Ban” – Introduced in December, this policy received international coverage. The graduated ban from smoking, which comes into effect in 2023, would raise the minimum age of buying cigarettes. Some have heralded this as a win for the Smokefree NZ goal, but there have also been concerns raised over the black market, the impact the livelihoods of dairy owners, and the lack of legislation surrounding vaping products.
  • Announcement of a Ministry for Disabled People – established in October by Carmel Sepuloni (Minister for Disability Issues) and Andrew Little (Health Minister), alongside a host of other reforms including the “Enabling Good Lives” initiative and an accessibility governance board. This was created in response to the Health and Disability System Review which found a lack of consultation and assistance beyond healthcare.

Biggest Names of 2021

Images: stuff, RNZ, the Guardian, NZ Herald
  • Chris Luxon – Luxon was first elected in October of 2020, and in a little over a year has risen to the ranks of party leader, ousting Judith Collins to be the fifth leader national has seen since Aderns election in 2017. Before his brief stint as a list MP, he famously spent 6 years as CEO of Air New Zealand and 18 years at Unilever Canada. Despite his inexperience in politics, he is being heralded as the heir to John Key, with a similar business-like approach to politics. His deputy is Niccola Willis.
  • Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer – The general election of 2020 saw the Maori Party back in parliament, and its members have made an impact over the past year, garnering headlines around the world. Waititi’s impromptu haka in response to Judith Collins’s comments about He Pua Pua in the house resulted in him and co-leader Ngarewa Packer being kicked out from the House, and Waititi gained international notoriety for wearing Jordans in parliament. Rawiri and Ngarewa-Packer’s supporters are celebrating the leaders not only for the media attention they bring to indigenous issues but also for their advocacy for true Te Tiriti partnership.
  • David Seymour – If you thought he’d reached the peak of his fame after twerking on dancing with the stars, you’d be wrong. Act currently has its biggest caucus since 2002 and was enjoying its largest support in the polls in history, with its libertarian message resonating with those who oppose COVID restrictions. However, the gain in support for National since Luxon’s transition to leadership has largely come from Act’s support base, so they may struggle to maintain this level of polling as their right-wing turns back to National.

Biggest Political Fall

  • Judith Collins – has been a politician for almost 20 years as MP, and was the leader for over a year. She has had a tumultuous time in Parliament, her time as the Police Minister earned her the nickname Crusher Collins. Judith rose to the position of leader after Tod Muller resigned 53 days after taking the job off of Simon Bridges. The election resulted in the National’s worst defeat in a long time, and she languished at the bottom of preferred Prime Minister polls. Collin refused to resign until her sudden demotion of Simon Bridges, which she claimed occurred with the backing of the party board. This proved to be untrue and within hours resulted in a vote of no convenience from her party. Despite her rapid fall from the leadership, Collins remains in parliament as the MP for Papakura.
Images: Otago Daily Times, Stuff, Scoop NZ

The State of the Polls

Starting the year strong, the Labor-Greens coalition had the support of 54.5% of New Zealanders. Furthermore, the New Zealand Government Confidence Ratings had risen 4 points to 153.5, reflecting satisfaction with the COVID approach.

By December, the Act New Zealand-National and Maori party combined total had edged ahead of Labor and the Greens, with 47% to Labor and the Greens 46.5%. Support for the Maori party reached its highest in five years, and the vote hit a record high of 17.5%. The

confidence rating now sits around 101.5, with a dramatic drop of 8 points. This is the lowest score since Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister.

The Labor government has never been more vulnerable throughout its historically strong term. Both the Party’s and New Zealanders’ futures rest on effective handling of the next stages of the pandemic.