Some of the people and issues who will shape the news in 2020 (Photos: Radio NZ and Getty Images)

The Bulletin: What will shape the news in 2020

Good morning, and welcome to the last Bulletin of 2019. Here’s a collection of some of the people and issues who will shape the news in 2020.

It’s the end of another year. I’ve got a few thoughts further down the page on that, but to start with, today’s Bulletin will be about looking ahead. Like we did last year, here’s a bit of a guide to some of the major issues we’ll spend a lot of next year talking about.

The election

Apologies for starting with such an obvious one, but yep, it’s election year in 2020. It’s tempting to hope it will be about something like contrasting visions of how best to deliver economic prosperity, or a contest of ideas about the values our society should be built on. But then again, the 2014 election ended up being about a surprise book launch and a German internet mogul, so it’s fair to say these things don’t always go as planned. But within that unpredictability, there are a few themes that we can probably pick out right now.

Crime and punishment 

The Labour-led government has quite deliberately tried to move away from a hard-line law and order system, instead putting a heavy emphasis on restorative justice and rehabilitation. Aspects of National’s policy platform includes that sort of focus, but they’re much more likely to campaign on getting tougher – particularly on gangs. Expect to see many stories next year that put a human face on both approaches.

Big spending

When finance minister Grant Robertson delivers his next Budget, he’ll have the weight of the sixth Labour government on his shoulders. Their core supporters largely want more spending and investment, and Robertson will need to give them a reason to turn out. A major infrastructure stimulus package was indicated earlier in the month, but it looks for all the world like the government is still holding back reserves for a big election year push. It’s not clear where it will go (we can probably rule out lower GST or income tax cuts) but you can be assured it’s coming.

The referendums

Another guarantee is that we’ll be discussing both cannabis legalisation and euthanasia a lot, because the 2020 election will be a defining moment for both issues. If either get voted down, they’re really unlikely to come back before the public again any time soon, because what politician would want to tie themselves to a demonstrably losing cause? What is less clear is whether either issue will bring non-voters to the ballot box, and if it does, how that will shape the eventual result.

Support partners 

There are currently three parties in parliament who could conceivably be booted out at the election, and a couple of credible contenders to take their place. Any of the Greens, NZ First or ACT collapsing could then have a profound influence on the future makeup of parliament, given MMP tends to deliver narrow margins of victory. Outside of that the Māori Party, Opportunities Party, and New Conservative have all appeared in the polls, suggesting a surge is possible – if unlikely. If media attention this year is anything to go by, there’s a good chance we’ll end up hearing more from Sustainable NZ and Vision NZ, despite neither making any impact in the polls yet.

The other election 

What will politics in New Zealand look like in comparison to the US election? President Trump is almost certain to run again – impeachment or otherwise – and that will be watched around the world. I’m not going to embarrass myself by predicting how this one will play out, because I’m certain that no matter what I suggest, the actual events will turn out to be much stranger.

Outside the election, the economy and cost of living 

It’s much bigger than figures like GDP or the unemployment rate, and sentiment is much wider than indexes like business or consumer confidence. It’s how people feel about their day to day lives, and the unpredictable forces that shape that. The number of New Zealanders living in serious poverty has been pretty dire for this whole decade, and cost increases hit them hardest. As well as that, expect the government to undertake further market studies – like the recently released one into the retail fuel market – as part of efforts to bring the wider cost of living down.

There are signs that economic confidence is picking up again slightly after a very low year, but beyond that, we don’t really know what will happen. We don’t know if the combination of low interest rates and fiscal stimulus will spur the economy and result in even lower unemployment and wage rises. We don’t know what the trading situation for New Zealand exporters will be this time next year. And we don’t know if the economy will be blown off course again by natural disasters like massive storms and floods – an increasingly likely risk in a world affected by climate change.

Speaking of, climate change

Last year I predicted that this would be a defining issue of 2019, not because I’m some sort of prescient genius, but because any idiot can see it’s rather important. What I absolutely didn’t see coming was 150,000 (or potentially more) people marching in the streets about it, many of the events being led by literal children. But perhaps that is to be expected, in a world where signs of environmental breakdown are everywhere. From a local point of view, the near-unanimous passage of the Zero Carbon Act was a huge milestone, and you can expect to see a great deal of interest in how the agriculture industry goes about measuring and pricing emissions. But the actual emissions reductions will still be really difficult without some points of pain.

As for the international situation, expect more of Australia to burn to the ground, and all of the tragedy that will entail. Around the world, heat waves are becoming more intense, and we’re likely to see even further dramatic reductions in sea ice. There are further diplomatic summits planned, but can we really expect them to accomplish much after recent efforts?

Armed police

There has been a trial of armed patrol teams operating this year, along with an uncomfortable number of recent shooting incidents. That police aren’t routinely armed has long been a relatively unusual aspect of law enforcement in New Zealand, but the situation is clearly changing, and worryingly it appears to be through a process of mission creep more than anything else. The thing is, there hasn’t really been any sort of debate about whether this should be happening – expect a lot more of that when the trial comes up for evaluation.

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Right now on The Spinoff: We’ve got a whole lot of Decade in Review pieces to enjoy, and you can browse them all here. But three really stand out for my money – Morgan Godfery on the decade in Te Ao Māori, Josie Adams on the decade in protests and activism, and Alice Webb-Liddall on the great fall and then rise again of the Silver Ferns.

In terms of other stuff, Danyl Mclauchlan has looked back on how a book about Steve Jobs defined the Apple co-founder, changed the tech industry, and ultimately changed the world – and not necessarily for the better. Maria Slade has profiled the founders of Systema, and their new efforts to confront the housing crisis. And On the Rag has looked at Op-Shopping your way through Christmas gift-giving, and how it can be a solution to clothing waste.

We’re now coming to the end of the second year of The Bulletin’s existence, and if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to reflect on it. It continues to be a privilege to write, and I continue to feel incredibly fortunate to have this job. But I’d be lying if I said I really enjoyed reading a lot of the news this year.

To my mind, it has been a year defined by horrors that are deeply unusual for our part of the world. Yes, disasters happen regularly, and it’s easy to bring up examples of previous years. For this year, two events in particular stand out, as somehow something worse than tragic acts of God.

The first was the atrocity unleashed on peaceful people at prayer in Christchurch. For some, the attacks represented the sickening culmination of years of what they had warned about. It has long been obvious that there has been an element of xenophobia and Islamophobia within New Zealand. And I think anyone paying attention would be able to see that we have never been remotely as welcoming a country as some like to think we are. But the thing was, many of us weren’t really paying attention beforehand, either through ignorance or indifference. I do not mean to be relentlessly negative, and at times the response to the attacks was beautiful and inspiring. But I’m not convinced that what happened on March 15 changed New Zealand forever. Hopefully I’m wrong, but at times it already feels like a collective forgetting has started.

And then there was the outbreak of measles, which harmed many in New Zealand, before spreading and killing many in Sāmoa. Not so long ago we had the measles virus on the run, with serious cases rare. Now it’s back, and we have once again allowed our brothers and sisters in Sāmoa – a much more vulnerable population than our own with much more limited medical facilities – to bear the brunt of a deadly virus.

In both of these cases, it’s easy to point the finger at other people. We might say that we’re not the problem (after all, I’m not a racist, nor an anti-vaxxer, etc) and that we shouldn’t share in the blame for it. I think that misses the point entirely. Both disasters feel like symptoms of a breakdown in community, of trust, and in the bonds we can share as a society. We see this internationally, with more and more societies moving to pull up their drawbridges, leaving ever more people outside both the metaphorical and physical walls.

Again, perhaps I am wrong, but it is hard to escape the feeling that a crueler, meaner world is developing, and the 2020s will be worse than the 2010s. We know climate change will bring immense challenges, and stretch and test our societies in ways we can’t possibly imagine at the moment. It is clear from the recent COP25 summit in Madrid that international cooperation hangs by a thread, and it is clear from the fire conditions being endured by Australia right now that these disaster situations can very quickly slip outside the control of anyone and everyone.

My apologies for ending the year on such a bleak note. But for the challenges ahead of us, there is really only one potential solution. We must start rebuilding the bonds that hold this whole experiment in civilisation together, look at our neighbours and see a common humanity, and start thinking of ourselves as part of something greater than a collection of individuals. It could start with something as simple as wishing a stranger a Merry Christmas. But if there is going to be hope to hold on to in the future, collective strength is the only place it will come from.

That’s it for The Bulletin for 2019. Normal service will resume on January 20 – but look out for a Christmas Day surprise in your inbox as well. There are a few people to thank:

First of all, thank you all for reading this year, and especially to all those people who took the time to get in touch. For everyone who has signed up to The Spinoff Members, you’ve helped all of us here make much better work. It helped fund an entire section of journalism around the Local Elections, and the candidate comparison super-tool Policy Local. And seriously, it’s an incredible morale boost for all of us to know that thousands of people have made a contribution. Again, thank you.

Secondly, thank you to Z Energy for coming on board as our new partner, and to Vector for their support throughout the first half of the year. Since we started working with Z, it has been immediately clear that they understand exactly what we’re trying to do with The Bulletin, and their support for that has been incredibly valuable and appreciated.

My colleagues, I continue to be inspired by their work all the time. It is an honour to be part of what they’ve all had a hand in building. And I’m really lucky to be able to fill these Bulletins with fine work from across the industry – as the Say Something Nice About a Journalist series showed.

And lastly, my partner, who continues to support this ridiculous passion of mine for news, thanks to you most of all.

Mā te wā,


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