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a bridge with a gap with the words refugees scams social media and oceans fallind through the empty space
Some policy areas fall through the gaps (Image: Getty Images/Archi Banal)

PoliticsOctober 12, 2023

The policy that doesn’t exist

a bridge with a gap with the words refugees scams social media and oceans fallind through the empty space
Some policy areas fall through the gaps (Image: Getty Images/Archi Banal) is an excellent resource for learning about what political parties are promising to do if elected. But some sections are surprisingly empty. Which ones? And why? 

Not every party has a policy for everything. Some parties – Animal Justice, Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party – are focused on a single issue (exactly the one it sounds like). Others simply aim for broad-spectrum, middle-of-the-road policies that appeal to the (squeezed?) middle voter. Labour and National’s most high profile and fleshed out policies largely fit in this category, although they have other policies around the edges too, like National wanting to create a ministerial portfolio for… space? 

Then there are the minor parties. Te Pāti Māori focuses almost exclusively on policies that promote the interests of Māori. As editorial director Ollie Neas said in an interview with Gone by Lunchtime, Labour and National get media attention because they’re likely to be leading the next government, while the Green Party and Act often have to release policy to achieve the same result. 

Despite the many hundreds of policies released by parties this election, there are also some important areas which have been largely neglected, or have at least been neglected by major parties. Opinion columnists have already talked about the holes in disability and artificial intelligence policy, and Spinoff writers Duncan Greive and Sam Brooks have observed the absence of media and arts policy respectively. From a trawl of, here is a non-exhaustive examination of some of the other missing issues.  

a woman wearing a striped top with long hair medium brown skin and holding a microphone
Golriz Ghahraman, an MP who initially moved to New Zealand as a refugee. Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

Foreign policy, especially aid and refugees

New Zealand is a small country in a big universe – which must be why Christopher Luxon has announced a proposed ministerial portfolio for space. But while Luxon looks to the stars, his party offers very little policy about the rest of the world. National has a few business oriented policies: free trade deals with India and Pacific and Gulf states; recruiting more international students; removing tariffs for international trade. But it has no policies for defence, international aid or refugees. 

While there have been previous high-profile campaigns to increase the number of refugees New Zealand supports, raising the refugee quota to 1,500 in 2020 and creating the community resettlement scheme, there is very limited refugee policy being promoted in this election. TOP says an investor visa could help pay for refugees; the Green Party wants to expand resettlement support and remove the health test limitation for refugees and, along with Labour, wants to add a rainbow sub-category for refugees. Act, New Zealand First, National and Te Pāti Māori have no refugee policy at all. National does say that it will “ensure our foreign aid budget is deployed effectively and in places where New Zealand can make the greatest contribution to humanitarian and economic development efforts,” but this statement is entirely devoid of detail.

A local man carries water bottles as he passes by a collapsed building on February 7, 2023 in Elbistan Turkey – a humanitarian crisis that New Zealand contributed aid to. (Photo: Mehmet Kacmaz/Getty Images)

New Zealand spent $820m on international aid in 2020, which was not even 0.3% of the overall Gross National Income – well below the target of 0.7% set by the OECD. “It’s a small percentage, and the government hitting its target would make such a difference,” says World Vision’s head of advocacy Rebekah Armstrong. 

Much of this aid goes to the Pacific, which has been allocated $1.8b between 2021 and 2024, as well as to humanitarian crises like the Turkey-Syria earthquake earlier this year. While this is a big chunk of money, there are very few policies around how to spend the international aid budget. The Green Party wants money to go to climate change adaptation in the Pacific, and Te Pāti Māori wants to support Pacific leaders. Labour says only that it will “continue providing overseas development assistance”. No other significant party has any public policy about foreign aid. 

“At the moment we are all feeling the crunch of tax and the cost of living, the issues that the parties are campaigning on, but [overseas] these are life and death issues,” says Armstrong. “There are people dying of hunger every few seconds.” Previous elections, in which the refugee quota was more prominent, featured more discussion of New Zealand’s international obligations, Armstrong says, but since Covid the issue has fallen off the agenda – even though the number of global refugees is higher than ever.

A lack of policy makes it harder for New Zealand to address international humanitarian issues. “It puts an increased burden on NGOs and has a direct impact on the significant human rights and humanitarian crisis where children most often pay the price.

a hand overing over a phone cartoon with questionmarks
Romance scams are especially insidious Image: Tina Tiller


New Zealanders lose millions and millions of dollars to scams each year – $4.2m in the last quarter alone. Telecommunications companies, banks and the government are all targeted, and widespread scams erode trust. It seems like an obvious bipartisan issue that the public would support action on, and yet most parties have a blank space for this policy, with only Labour saying it would create an anti-scamming unit. 

“Scams are really bad for business,” Consumer NZ CEO Jon Duffy said in an August interview with The Spinoff. National, which likes to see itself as the party of business, has not yet used this line to support action to prevent scams. 

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Social media

The Labour government spent ages talking about the TVNZ/RNZ merger only for it to be incinerated on the policy bonfire after Chris Hipkins took over. In a term that has seen widespread misinformation, including on social media, no significant party has more than one or two sideways mentions of social media in their policy. Given that nearly every single party has a candidate that has either shared misleading information or said controversial things online, perhaps it’s in all of their interests to make sure that these powerful corporations are being engaged with in some way? 

Labour says it will continue engaging with social media through the Christchurch Call process and Act wants to loosen proposed rules that would let the Department of Internal Affairs regulate what is being said on social media. A plan to make online media safer made waves earlier this year – but discussion of social media has been basically non-existent this election.

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Sea Cleaners
Ocean pollution is one major concern (Photo: Chris Schulz)

Oceans and fishing policy 

While New Zealand is small, the oceans around our islands are large. We have one of the largest exclusive economic zones in the world, covering more than four million square kilometres. It’s important from a business perspective, too: in 2017, the value of the “marine economy” was estimated at $3.8b from shipping, fisheries and offshore minerals – not to mention incredibly valuable ecosystem services

The oceans are also crucial in responding to climate change: water absorbs heat (as catastrophic marine heatwaves have shown). Warmer water impacts land temperatures and rainfall too. Despite this, oceans are a notable hole in some parties’ policy. Labour (which added oceans to the fisheries portfolio in 2020) and the Green Party both have relatively comprehensive oceans policies, which include expanding protected marine areas, protecting the Hauraki Gulf (which advocates have said is “stuffed”) and addressing marine biosecurity risks. 

However, National’s only ocean policies are opposing recreational fishing licences (which aren’t currently in use anyway) and reversing the ban on offshore oil and gas exploration. Act also wants to remove the ban on offshore oil and gas exploration. The party has endorsed ocean action in the past, including the troubled Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, which was initially announced by John Key in 2015. The ocean is mostly blue – it’s missing an opportunity for some branding synergy, if nothing else.

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