Effective response to mosque attack
New Zealand’s year was overshadowed by the right-wing terrorist attack on a mosque in Christchurch in March of 2019, which killed 51 people. However, it would be wrong to interpret this horrific incident as a failure of governance failure. Instead, the decisive and swift political response in the aftermath of the attack demonstrates that New Zealand’s political system is equipped with high levels of institutional capacity. Within weeks of the politically motivated mass shooting, the government passed tighter guns laws, rolled out a gun buy-back scheme, and established a specialist unit tasked with investigating extremist online content. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was also widely praised for her sensitivity and compassion in the wake of the Christchurch massacre.
few veto players;
media pluralism a
few veto players;
media pluralism a
Generally speaking, policymaking is facilitated by New Zealand’s Westminster-style democracy, which concentrates political power in the executive and features very few veto players. Even though the mixed-member electoral system – which replaced the old first-past-the-post system in 1996 – produces a moderately polarized party system and typically fails to deliver absolute parliamentary majorities, this does not impede cross-party agreements in policymaking. However, while New Zealand’s political system is commonly regarded as one of the highest-quality democracies in the world, the country struggles with issues of media pluralism. The media market is dominated by (mostly foreign-owned) commercial conglomerates, which place greater emphasis on entertainment than on critical news-gathering. In October 2019, U.S.-owned MediaWorks announced that it was selling its Three TV network (with a significant current affairs element under the Newshub banner), which threatens to diminish media pluralism even further.
Bureaucracy is efficient, transparent
Policy implementation is the responsibility of a highly transparent and efficient bureaucratic apparatus. New Zealand continues to be ranked among the least corrupt countries in the world and performs strongly on a number of other related indicators, such as the availability of and access to government information. Although the regulatory environment is stable and predictable, it can be criticized for lacking some adaptability – in particular, when it comes to responding to new international challenges such as climate change.
Solid economic-policy performance
Economic policy performance was solid in 2019. New Zealand reported record export figures – driven mainly by a booming agricultural sector – and the government presented a surplus budget of NZD 7.5 billion. However, economic growth dropped to 2.1% – the slowest rate since 2013. Business confidence also fell, although regained some momentum at the end of 2019. This has been blamed partly on some rapid policy decisions that did not involve consultation with business, alongside increased regulations governing the insulation of rental properties and an increase in the minimum wage. However, commentators also note that such a decline is not unusual in New Zealand when a Labour government comes into office (similar trends have been noted historically).
Budget focuses on
In May of 2019, the government announced its much anticipated “well-being” budget, which allocates record sums to tackling mental illness, family violence and child poverty. New Zealand is thus the first Western industrialized country to design its entire budget based on well-being priorities and instruct its ministries to design policies to improve well-being. Whether these budgetary measure will be successful in addressing the country’s deep social issues – in particular, the discriminatory gaps that persists between Māori and Pākehā (New Zealanders of European descent) – remains to be seen.
In the area of environmental policy, New Zealand’s 2019 record is poor. The country is one of worst greenhouse gas offenders on a per-capita basis but in 2019 worked toward new Climate Change Response legislation that will initially incentivize a reduction in carbon emissions and, within five years, bring in methane emitters under the Act (although this is not guaranteed if a National government is elected in 2020). In addition, New Zealand struggles with polluted rivers and lakes, and faces a number of critical challenges to its biodiversity.