State of the Nation 2017
The 2017 NBR Rich List revealed another good year for New Zealand's Wealthiest, for six straight years their wealth had seen a steady increase of between 10 and 20% a year. New Zealand now had eight billionaires, up from five in 2013.
The luxury car market continued to grow and and the property market bubble is still to burst, the average house price in Auckland topped $800,000 in the middle of the year.
After faltering in 2013 and losing several markets, Fonterra returned to similar profit levels and the expansion of dairying had benefited from the new irrigation schemes. The number of cows in New Zealand now totals 10 million (2 cows for every New Zealander), thanks to the changes to the RMA that allowed for the faster growth of the industry.
The redevelopment of Auckland's waterfront was almost complete in readiness for the America's Cup challenge the following year. The development had been assisted by the $80 million of Government funding.
Peter Jackson completed filming the second Discworld movie and three more are in the pipeline. Terry Pratchett's fantasy world had proved as popular as Tolkien's for Jackson. Warner Bros had agreed not to shift the filming to South Africa after the Government provided more tax breaks and tweaked employment laws again.
Bill English claimed that the Government was on track to balance the books in 2020 and stated that the economy had never been better. Umemployment had dropped to 8.5%, down from a high of 10.3% in 2016.
New Zealand's high dollar continued to provide challenges. 2017 saw a number of New Zealand manufacturers close and two shifted their production offshore with the loss of 5,000 jobs. The closure of the Tiwai Aluminium factory had proved particularly difficult and the value of Merdian shares were now half of their original price.
The Government agreed to double the budget for their "Food in Schools" scheme after the Children's Commissioner revealed that 350,000 children were now living in poverty.
Minister for Social Development Paula Bennett continued to defend her tough stance on child abuse despite a number of high profile cases (including a suicide) of people who had been wrongly accused. Bennett stated that despite the odd mistake the welfare of children was still more important. Since the policies had been implemented 10,300 children had been removed from dysfunctional and dangerous situations and put into state care. A number of large residential children's homes had been built to deal with the shortage of foster families.
The Government announced a 30 cent increase to the minimum wage bringing it to $15 dollars but refused to increase the youth rate. Bill English criticised opposition parties for not celebrating the increase to a level they had campaigned on some years before. Green Party MP, Denise Roche, claimed it was a pathetic increase when the living wage had recently been readjusted to $22 in light of the latest CPI release. Food banks around the country are struggling to meet demand as electricity prices soared and housing costs continued to rise. The cost of the Government's accommodation supplement topped $3 billion for the previous financial year.
The housing situation had been alleviated somewhat with the Government's container home initiative. 530 Christchurch families are now living in the 6 container 'estates' around the city and the 11 in Auckland house 1300 families. For the residents' own protection security fences surround all the estates and police patrols increased. Housing Minister Nick Smith claimed the container homes were just a temporary measure to deal with the housing shortage and denied that the sale of state houses was funding the scheme.
Aucklanders protested against the Government's decision to further delay the building of the rail loop. Gerry Brownlee's plans for two more motorways were considered a higher priority to deal with the growing traffic congestion around the city. The 30 cyclist deaths over the past year had been attributed to the growing popularity of cycling and an increase in road rage.
Concern at the state of New Zealand's water is growing with the flipping of Southland's Waituna lagoon and degradation of a number of estuaries. In a Q & A interview Prime Minister John Key claimed that dairying now provides 40% of our export earnings and that a lagoon at the bottom of the country, that few New Zealanders would ever likely to visit, was was of little consequence compared to the economic benefits provided by the dairy industry. "It's a choice between properly funding our schools and hospitals or cleaning a lagoon that no-one really knows about."
A number of environmentalists and scientist Mike Joy have been arrested for suspected terrorist activities. The communications of the group had been under surveillance for some time by the GCSB and some threats against the Government had been discovered in both email and Facebook messages. The Prime Minister voiced concern at the number of scientists and academics who were expressing extreme views and that there would be little tolerance for those who do.
The clean up following the oil leak from Shell's deep sea rig in the Great South Basin is ongoing. Shell has paid $10 million of the costs for the cleanup and the Government has paid $90 million so far. Yellow eyed penguin numbers have been halved.
Financial mismanagement and a number of serious complaints have plagued Partnership (Charter) Schools since their inception in 2014. The Government planned to spend another $10 million in support of the remaining 3 schools. Hekia Parata blamed education union NZEI for the failures.
Jacinda Ardern replaced Andrew Little as Labour Party leader and vowed to lead a strong campaign that would see her party become the second largest again. The Greens have held second position for over a year and had been polling in the mid 20s for most of that time. Since going into coalition with National, New Zealand First had rarely polled above 2% and Winston Peters had announced his retirement.