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New Zealanders rank climate change above Covid this election

Eleanor Ainge Roy in Queenstown
·5-min read
<span>Composite: John Borren/ Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images</span>
Composite: John Borren/ Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

One month out from New Zealand’s general election and the major parties are on the campaign trail, donning high-vis jackets and face masks to visit factories, small businesses and schools around the country.

We asked Guardian readers what issues they would be voting on come 17 October, and perhaps surprisingly, for many, the pandemic took a back seat.

In 90% of the responses, one topic reigned supreme: Dorothy, 71, from Auckland summed it up, in her two-word response to our callout, which garnered hundreds of replies: “Climate change.”

Related: 'There’s still a choice': New Zealand's melting glaciers show the human fingerprints of climate change

In addition to an overwhelming interest in the climate crisis, many also cited persistent wealth inequality, poverty, the environment and a lack of housing affordability as the issues they care about.

With New Zealand officially entering a recession this week, it few said they’d vote on economic policies or jobs. For many, 2020 seems to have crystallised their major priorities, summed up by a Māori proverb that is also a favourite of the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern.

Q He aha te mea nui o te ao? (What is the most important thing in the world?)

A He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata. (The people, people, the people.)

What’s your main election issue? Climate change

“Climate change, climate change, climate change ...” Peter, 60, Blenheim

“Climate change policy – we’ve run out of time for meaningful, structural, societal change. If we don’t act now to reduce emissions any way we can, the environmental and financial costs will be higher by several orders of magnitude. If we don’t do something, everything, now we are all screwed in a monumentally unfixable way.” Elke, 50, Wellington

“It feels like with the pandemic, the issue of the environment, yet again, has been shunted to the side. I will be voting for the first time this year, and it will be for whoever provides the most complete and ambitious environmental plan for our country.” Joshua, 19, Auckland

“Climate action, welfare reform & wealth inequality.” Simon, 29, Mt Victoria

“[This is] an opportunity for New Zealand to take a fresh look at the future direction of our economy in terms of sustainability, climate change and the health and happiness of ALL our people. Time to rethink whether ‘economic growth is good’,” Clint, 71, Auckland

“Simply put, the climate crisis is the only thing on my mind. Before the pandemic, pundits were calling this the ‘climate election’, and it should still be considered so.” Henry, 22

“Climate change, Climate change, Climate change.
Melanie, 52, Auckland


Nurses at Otara Town Centre Covid testing in Auckland.
Nurses at Otara Town Centre Covid testing in Auckland. Photograph: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

“This election is entirely about our response to the global pandemic. We’ve been lucky here to have a very fortunate location, but that would have been nullified if we’d not also had a very competent government. So for me, it will be about stability and consistency.” Danny Walker, 43, Lower Hutt

“Getting and keeping Covid-19 under control. Nothing positive can happen until Covid is out of the way.” Philip, 65, Auckland

“Obviously, who do I trust to manage the Covid-19 response?” Stefan, Northland, 40

“Covid-19. Everything else is secondary. We need to ensure Jacinda Ardern stays our prime minister.” John, 56, Auckland

“This pandemic has shown the importance of science. I will be voting for people and parties who embrace science to underlie their policies.” Aubrey, 34, Dunedin

Poverty, inequality, social infrastructure

A homeless person in Auckland.
A homeless person in Auckland. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty Images

“My experience in working in emergency housing has convinced me of two things, climate change aside: poverty and inequality are the greatest issues facing NZ, and that the solution to this lies in Māori hands, not Pakeha.” Duncan, 56, Auckland

“I’m concerned that poverty, which was a major issue in the previous election, is not getting the attention it deserves this year. In these difficult times, we should not forget about those who are least well-off.” Anonymous

“Family, equality, poverty” Ali, 56, Nelson

“New Zealand is a country locked away from the world, dreaming of a time when Covid has gone away everywhere and its safe to come out from under the bed. I’m looking for any sign of a party that has a plan to re-engage with international travel and sort out the appalling youth suicide and child poverty/illiteracy statistics.” Brian, 69, Wellington

“We’re chucking all of this money at the [Covid] rebuild, but are we actually going to build something worth having? Or will it just be more stuff? Is there social infrastructure we can be investing in? What can we do to build resilience, not just wealth? Also … what the heck is up with Auckland’s public transport?” Alastair, 30, Papakura

“Leadership that acknowledges that neoliberal economics is damaging the world.” Ruth, 71, Bay of Plenty

“A fair kind society, where health, housing, education and child poverty are taken seriously. A Government which puts people first, especially now during Covid, because no economy will succeed if the health of the nation isn’t the first priority.” Sherlee, 79, Canterbury


Related: New Zealand to hold referendum on legalising recreational cannabis

New Zealand will hold a referendum at the same time as the October election on whether to legalise cannabis for recreational use.
New Zealand will hold a referendum at the same time as the October election on whether to legalise cannabis for recreational use. Photograph: Darren England/EPA

“For me, in the 2020 election, the referendums are much more high priority than the general election. I believe it is better to take control away from gangs and a blackmarket from cannabis and give control over to hospitals and people. As for euthanasia, it is something I am very passionate about because I believe strongly in the right to live and to die with dignity. For both these issues, I will be definitely voting yes.” Madira, 20, Auckland

“Against euthanasia bill. Against cannabis. Against handouts, Against raising unemployment benefit – against anything incentivising dependence on social benefits.” Margy, 48, Northland

Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity