I pondered whether the Jacinda years had had a palpable effect. The land, I wrote, was as beautiful as ever, but everywhere were subtle reminders that the scars remain: a nagging twitch of the social nerves, like an old scrum injury. Travelling through New Zealand’s stunning countryside, I noted, is to be constantly, glaringly reminded of how much Ardern has really torn her nation apart.
As it turns out, it wasn’t just my imagination. The Ardern/Hipkins government has often been criticised for failing miserably to deliver its election promises, but it has one achievement to boast of, at least.
Now, just outside the Top 100 might be something to brag about… if your Dear Leader hadn’t made so much of her “wellbeing budget”. Unfortunately, Jacinda Ardern’s preferred measure of achievement, “Gross National Happiness” has been evaporating faster than Grant Robertson’s Instagram follows.
New Zealand is ranked as being more miserable than countries including Belgium, Canada, Mexico, France, Papua New Guinea, United Kingdom, Fiji, Germany, and our trans-Tasman neighbours Australia.
Maybe the next Bledisloe Cup will make you all feel better about being more miserable than the whinging Poms and the dour Germans.
Or maybe not.
Hanke’s Annual Misery Index (HAMI) was released on Tuesday showing New Zealand had gone from 151st last year out of 156 countries listed, to 104th out of 157 countries. The bank lending rate was blamed as the major contributing factor.
Yeah, about that.
Today’s New Zealand feels like a country that has conspired to make itself poorer at every opportunity […] there is no better example than housing.
There are 52,500 square metres of land per person in New Zealand. 9,600 m², if you count sheep as members of the family, as I believe a great many of you do.
And though such calculations are, of course, ridiculous, they make one thing abundantly clear: New Zealand is a large country with plenty of land but not many people (or even sheep) inhabiting it.
So how come, then, New Zealand’s housing is among the least affordable in the world?
Unlike here in Australia, the vast bulk of empty land in NZ is not uninhabitable wasteland. But that’s enough about Melbourne.
New Zealand’s housing crisis is entirely self-inflicted. It is the result of a combination of rigid planning rules, ridiculous regulation of building materials, and a lack of funding tools for infrastructure […]
New Zealand has ludicrous planning rules which protect ‘heritage’ buildings, some of which are barely a few decades old. It uses “volcanic viewshafts” to protect significant views of Auckland’s volcanic cones (of which there are many). And it limits the ways in which its cities can grow up or out, with the predictable result that they do neither.
It is equally unsurprising, at least to economists, that where supply cannot respond to demand, prices rise.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that NZ should immediately throw open its vast, stunning landscapes to endless urban sprawl. Inflict on yourself a few hours of driving through Melbourne or Sydney’s endless, ugly, fields of McMansions crammed cheek-by-jowl on top of what was once rich farmland, and you’ll see the fallacy of Big Australia. Big New Zealand would be just as ruinous.
But that doesn’t mean that the stranglehold of bureaucracy can’t be loosened at least a little past garrotting stage.
But that was just the start of New Zealand’s self-sabotage.
The Overseas Investment Act is a piece of legislation designed to discourage, rather than attract, foreign capital. It is like a welcome mat that says, “Please wipe your feet, but don’t come in.”
Or, in the words of the Act itself, “The purpose of this Act is to acknowledge that it is a privilege for overseas persons to own or control sensitive New Zealand assets.” And note that New Zealanders are highly sensitive when it comes to defining “sensitive assets”. Practically everything is so designated.
The result: New Zealand only attracts between US$2-3 billion of investment in a good year.
Again, the policy is not inherently bad: as ever, look across the Tasman to see where greedily selling anything that moves, and everything that doesn’t, to China. The same goes for immigration: record-high immigration is fast becoming a hot-button issue for fed-up Australians. New Zealand’s sclerotic visa system, on the other hand, is an over-reactionary stranglehold.
Somewhere in the middle of these policy extremes there has to be a compromise that’s happier than New Zealanders, these days.
Nothing in New Zealand gets done in a hurry. Yes, the health system is falling apart. Okay, many New Zealand children leave school unable to read, write or calculate. And sure, it would have been nice to build that second harbour crossing for Auckland. Or some decent roads, for that matter.
But regardless of how pressing the challenges are, the immediate response is always to do nothing.
Grudgingly followed by a working group. Then garnished with small armies of consultants. Eventually culminating in planning delays and finished with a grand centralisation plan – and even then, rounded off with a botched implementation, a few decades later.
Did somebody say “Light Rail”? Not to mention roads that will just be shut off and forgotten the instant they get a pothole.
It is a tragedy what is happening in New Zealand. This country, more than almost any other, could have been the rising star of the 21st century. With the world’s economic gravity shifting towards Asia, New Zealand is in a good geographic spot – for the first time in its history, actually.
Politically, though, it’s rooted.
Just as well booze is so cheap in NZ: you’re all gonna need it.
Lushington describes himself as Punk rock philosopher. Liberalist contrarian. Grumpy old bastard. This article was first published HERE