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The BulletinDecember 15, 2023

The newsmakers of Aotearoa in 2023


From devastating floods to policy bonfires to one very consequential election, these were the stories that gripped Bulletin readers this year. For the final Bulletin of the year, Anna Rawhiti-Connell and Catherine McGregor present the year in review as seen through The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.


We started the year by delving into what we thought would be a series on the defining issues of the year. We got through the economy, global headwinds and the potential power of the minor parties before Ardern resigned. January then became a blur of that story, policy bonfires, and the disastrous and unprecedented levels of rainfall in Auckland that caused widespread flooding. We publish the Bulletin lead, or main story, on The Spinoff each weekday morning, and new PM Chris Hipkins’ “reset” was the most read of those this year. “Wayne and Rain to carry on” was also widely read, as questions emerged about Wayne Brown’s leadership of Auckland and the city’s preparedness for disaster.

Auckland mayor Wayne Brown and former prime minister Jacinda Ardern (Image: Tina Tiller)


February was defined by the arrival of yet another fatal and devastating weather event. Pictures from Hawke’s Bay, Coromandel and Tairāwhiti flooded news sites. The very best of us shone, and anger rightfully bubbled over about forestry slash and the fallibility of our communications infrastructure. Gabrielle and the previous month’s floods in Auckland moved “climate change adaptation” and “managed retreat” from the hypothetical future to the here and now. There was consensus that these events would knock a country already dealing with pre-existing and interlinked crises. Three leads about Gabrielle were big reads both in the newsletter and on the site.


As Hipkins settled in, policy announcements from both sides of the aisle began to accelerate. The new PM threw another basket of policies onto his bonfire while Chris Luxon promised to find $400m in savings by taking an axe to the public sector. In what was to become something of a familiar routine for Labour, Stuart Nash was sacked after it was revealed he’d repeatedly shared confidential information with donors. The arrival of British “gender critical” activist Posie Parker in Auckland was the subject of our third-most-read Bulletin onsite and is a story that’s still making waves to this day.

Kiri Allan with Stuart Nash in the background
Ministers Kiri Allan and Stuart Nash at a government media standup following the East Coast floods (Photo by Phil Yeo/Getty Images)


Tax policy was the big political story of the month, spurred by the IRD’s major report revealing how little the ultra-rich are taxed. Revenue minister David Parker said it showed the tax system was “fundamentally unfair”, but a risk-averse Hipkins signalled no plans for major changes – putting Parker and the PM on a collision course that would culminate in the minister’s resignation in July. Other April news included the Three Waters rebrand (remember “Affordable Water Reform”?), the axing of Today FM, and Jacinda Ardern’s valedictory speech – the latter covered in our third most-opened newsletter of 2023.


Guest writer Toby Manhire dedicated his May 8 Bulletin to a man putting on a hat in the UK while many cheered. Back at home defections were all the rage, with Meka Whaitiri jumping ship from Labour to Te Pāti Māori and Elizabeth Kerekere resigning from the Greens to sit as an independent. May is budget month, and this year finance minister Grant Robertson needed to show fiscal prudence while also offering a few vote-winning baubles. In the end, prudence won out and the bread and butter budget’s giveaways were largely targetted at low-income earners. Our roundup of the best budget analysis was The Spinoff’s sixth most popular Bulletin post of the year.

Grant Robertson standing in front of the Beehie holding the budget, "budget 2023" price tags have been superimposed over the photo
Finance minister Grant Robertson with the 2023 budget (Photo: Getty Images; additional design Archi Banal)


In June, Bulletin readers were particularly interested in the electoral law changes proposed by the Independent Electoral Review, with that edition coming in at number six in our open rate ranking. News of Michael Wood’s failure to declare his shareholding in Auckland airport in early June became his undoing by June 22, with Wood following Whaitiri and Stuart Nash to the file marked “Ministerial resignations, 2023”. By late June, Hipkins was in China, and news of issues with Kiri Allan began to emerge. It was also revealed that our tertiary education sector was under incredible financial strain, and hundreds of academic staff faced the prospect of losing their jobs.


By July policy announcements were coming thick and fast from all parties, but particularly National. Scrapping Let’s Get Wellington Moving, allowing young renters to use Kiwisaver to pay bonds, the pothole repair fund – barely a day in July went by without the then-opposition trumpeting a new plan or pledge. Nicola Willis scored a direct hit on Labour by revealing the government planned to cut GST on fruit and veges, a policy that Grant Robertson had consistently opposed in the past, and the end of the month brought more bad news for Labour with Kiri Allan’s arrest and subsequent resignation as justice minister.


The countdown to the election began. Polling got worse for Labour, and Hipkins promised a gear shift. The party’s free (up to a point) dental and GST-free fruit and vege policies were announced. NZ First rose from its knock-out in the 2020 election, and the “rule in, rule out” game began. Christopher Luxon was pressed on working with Winston Peters while Hipkins made an unequivocal call. Late August was marked by scrutiny of National’s tax plan.


The first weekend of the month saw the campaign launches of both major parties. An uproar over Weet-bix briefly gripped the nation. Advance voting began. The next big political set pieces were the TV debates, kicking off with a “snoozefest” of a match-up between Hipkins and Luxon that was nonetheless responsible for our seventh biggest Bulletin post of the year. The two leaders returned to the debate stage at the end of the month, and a re-energised PM Hipkins was widely deemed the winner on the night. But was it too little, too late? (Spoiler: yes).

Chris Hipkins and Christopher Luxon at the final leaders’ debate of 2023 (Photo: Andrew Dalton, TVNZ)


October began with the frenetic energy that comes in the last days of an election campaign. National rolled out John Key to try to quash the need to rely on NZ First to form a government. Poll drops and poll bumps littered the news landscapes until the blue wave washed over election night, and the tide went out on the sixth Labour government. Postmortems began, and Te Pāti Māori’s strategic and successful approach to winning the Māori seats was revealed to those who weren’t being directly targeted as voters. Deputy chief coroner Brigitte Windley opened the coronial inquiry into the Christchurch terrorist attacks by asking that those who lost their lives be given voice.

David Seymour and Winston Peters shake hands as new PM Christopher Luxon looks on after signing the coalition deals, November 24, 2023. (Photo by Marty Melville/AFP via Getty Images)


It felt like forever. The big political news story of November was the interminable wait for a coalition announcement – until, eventually, on November 24, the deals were done. By then National’s foreign buyers tax had already clearly bitten the dust; the backstory to its scuppering was the Bulletin’s ninth-biggest onsite post of the year. Also reaching a resolution of sorts was Siouxsie Wiles’ employment dispute with Auckland University, which finally made it to court after 22 months in legal limbo. Public interest was huge – our Bulletin about the case was the second-most-opened of the year. The judge’s decision is expected sometime next year. Onsite, the lead about what a new government might mean for the health system was very well-read. On November 20, with UN Secretary-General António Guterres describing the number of civilians killed in Gaza as “unparalleled and unprecedented”, Hipkins broke away from the caretaker convention and called for a ceasefire in Gaza.


It wasn’t exactly rocket science to pick the state of the economy as a defining issue in January. Still, we close out the year confronting infrastructure project cost overruns, a fall in GDP, and many of the same issues we started the year with. The coalition has moved swiftly to repeal several pieces of legislation, including Labour’s Fair Pay Agreements law. Parliament began with protest, and the story of Māori-led action and resistance is likely to run for some time yet. Technically, we’re cutting out halfway through this month, with next week’s mini-budget likely to dominate headlines. We have faith that Bulletin readers will know where to find the news they need next week, and rest assured, one of those places will be The Spinoff.

Our annual Christmas card of sorts: Anna’s dogs display varying levels of excitement about Christmas, and Catherine dreams of summer in Crete.
Keep going!