With Covid-19 currently dominating the political agenda, the Government faces the challenge of keeping a steady eye on the ball on other key issues facing Aotearoa in 2022. University of Otago researchers analyse the year ahead in politics, climate change, housing, and the child protection system in part two of a three-part series on what 2022 might bring for Aotearoa. Read part one here.

“2022 may be the most challenging year for Labour since its election in 2017” – Associate Professor Brian S. Roper, Head of Politics Programme at the University of Otago.

Politics in New Zealand continues, in an international context, dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the resulting economic crisis, high levels of political volatility, intensifying geopolitical competition between the great powers, and an ecological crisis that is, among other things, increasing the prevalence of storms, flooding, and droughts.

Domestically, politics has been dominated by the Ardern Government’s management of the pandemic. According to the Lowy Institute’s March 2021 ranking of the performance of 103 governments, the New Zealand Labour Government was 2nd.

Based on its comparatively effective response to Covid-19, Labour was re-elected in a landslide victory in October 2020, becoming the first political party to achieve a clear parliamentary majority under MMP. National’s disarray in Opposition contributed to Labour’s popularity. Poor polling for then-National leader Judith Collins prompted her replacement by Christopher Luxon in November 2021.

National hopes Luxon will replicate John Key’s popularity, but he lacks Key’s charisma, and his social conservatism is less popular than Key’s social liberalism. Nonetheless, 2022 may be the most challenging year for Labour since its election in 2017.

Although the economy has performed better than many others, inflationary pressures and other negative impacts of Covid-19 make for difficult economic conditions. Finally, the Government’s management of the virus may become less popular as Omicron case numbers soar.

“Our reputation as an environmental leader is faltering” – Professor Lisa Ellis, Director of the Philosophy, Politics and Economics Programme at the University of Otago

This year we decide whether we as a nation are going to be good parents, good neighbours, and good ancestors when it comes to climate policy.

We have made some strong commitments over the past few years, but our actions lag far behind. In 2019 we committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and the following year we declared a climate emergency and pledged that government would be carbon neutral by 2025.

Now that the targets are set, it is time for action. This May will see our first ‘climate budget’ as well as the Government’s first emissions reduction plan; new climate adaptation legislation will follow.

Later this year we have another chance in Cairo to do better on the world climate action stage than we did last year at the COP26 conference in Glasgow.

Our reputation as an environmental leader is faltering; if loss of face doesn’t motivate us to do our fair share, perhaps carbon border adjustments for access to European and North American consumers will do so.

Still, we shouldn’t need the threat of tariffs on our exports to take action for the climate. A low-emissions economy will provide us, our children, our neighbours, and our posterity with better health and a flourishing environment, even as it contributes to reaching our climate goals.

“Everyone needs to live in safe, warm, dry, secure homes” – Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman, Director of He Kāinga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme, at the University of Otago Wellington

Most household wealth comes from owning a house and is passed down through generations tax-free. If your parents don’t own a home and can’t help you out, entering the ever-rising housing market is next to impossible.

Decades of relying on the market has led to an acute shortage of affordable housing. Only half of adults own houses. Māori and Pacific households have even lower rates of ownership, so often live in poorer quality, more crowded rental homes.

Established in 2019, Kāinga Ora is playing an important part in rebalancing the market. Funded in part through long-term wellbeing bonds, it is building large scale, mixed developments, with open spaces, and renewed underground infrastructure. 

Many of these developments are collaborations with Māori iwi and urban authorities and pilot innovations such as engineered timber, modular housing and small grids for sharing solar energy.

Everyone needs to live in safe, warm, dry, secure homes, on uncontaminated land. For our health and the health of the planet, housing should be within walking distance of public transport, parks and schools.

Local and central governments must speed up investment in public transport, walking and cycling networks and update infrastructure to support more compact, affordable housing. This investment will help to buffer families against the inevitable rising price of fuel as we tackle climate change.

“The slow grind of fraying lives, is entirely predictable with many possible solutions” – Associate Professor Emily Keddell, Social and Community Work at the University of Otago

A baby is removed, unnecessarily and with heavy hands, in the public eye.

A girl is killed, and reports about it spark public approbation.

A tired social worker stares at her screen and tries again to submit her report into ageing software. She needs to do two more to meet her targets. Her phone message light blinks accusingly.

A mother agrees to do meth with a friend. Just once, at first. She’s exhausted from all the nights with her three young children, is strangled by debt, and her ex is stalking her. Sometimes she just needs an out.

A boy walks into the garage he lives in with five family members and picks up the remote he isn’t supposed to touch. Dad, around all the time now, caged, smacks him so hard he is thrown against the wall and he runs sobbing to no one.

Both these parents are reported and assigned to the social worker, who is a stranger to them. They join her queue.

Reform often accompanies the first two events – we swing depending on the latest media outrage.

But all the rest are the issues that reform really should grapple with: the work conditions of social workers and whether they help them help people (or not); the economic and day-to-day parenting pressures on people expected to meet children’s needs alone in an atomised society; access to mental health and addiction services; support for parents during lockdowns, jobs lost, little respite; housing that gives adults and children the space they need. Ensuring services have strong relationships with the communities they serve. Tino rangatiritanga for Māori over how services for Māori roll and the funds to make them happen.

Exceptional events are desperately tragic but largely unpredictable. But the slow grind of fraying lives is entirely predictable with many possible solutions – if only we would commit to them, then find out if they are helping.

In the rolling maul of ongoing reforms the Oranga Tamariki System and Children and Young People’s Commission Bill is about to go for its second reading.

It waters down the more independent oversight currently undertaken by the Children’s Commissioner by creating a departmental agency. It runs the risk of monitoring organisational compliance instead of highlighting the drivers of systems contact, and the impact of the child protection system at the population level (proper statistical data), organisational level (how do social workers do their jobs) and personal level (asking people affected about their experiences).

Any new oversight body must retain independence and implement accountability measures that reflect the drivers of system contact and its impacts on those most affected by the child protection system.

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