We are living in an uncertain world. After the ups and downs of Covid, many hoped we would return to a sense of normalcy, but life is very different now, not just on the home front but across the world, and we are having to deal with a high degree of uncertainty.
Sadly, at this time last year, I wrote that uncertainty was the biggest factor we were facing, with the traffic light system and vaccine passes causing a great deal of stress for everyone. At that time, we were possibly contemplating the return of regional alert level boundaries, and our border with the rest of the world was still closed.
Since then, rapid antigen tests have become widely available, and our borders have reopened to visitors. Vaccine passes and mandates have been dropped, and even mask restrictions have been removed from everywhere except in healthcare settings.
In some ways, we have come a long way and made much progress from those dark days. In other ways though, life is far from ‘normal’.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine, while many miles from us, has affected us a great deal, with its effect on the global economy in terms of rapidly rising energy costs and food prices. With Russia blockading many of Ukraine’s ports, exports of products such as wheat, maize and sunflower oil have been stifled.
Due to the NZ Government placing a 35 per cent tariff on all imports from Russia in response to the war, our primary sector has faced a massive hike in the cost of fertiliser, a good deal of which is imported from Russia, being one of the world’s major suppliers.
In addition, US-China tensions continue to deepen with concerns for military, economic and diplomatic relations between the two power nations.
Here at home, inflation is soaring. Our food prices hit a 14-year high in October, driven by escalating supply chain costs. Fuel prices remain stubbornly high. Mortgage and interest rates are rising. The cost-of-living crisis is only getting worse, and the Labour Government has done little to get it under control.
Kiwi families are having to make difficult choices about which of the basics they have to cut back on, and many families – for the first time in their lives – are having to turn to budgeting services for help.
Business confidence is low, with a recent Forsyth Barr business survey finding that fewer than one in 14 respondents thought the economy was heading in the right direction. Three out of four found the Government obstructive and fewer than one in 10 found it supportive. The key challenges facing businesses are cost inflation, labour availability and regulations.
Meanwhile, more businesses are being shattered by violent robberies, with ram raids up by over 500 per cent. At all the public meetings I have held this year, this has been one of the most often-repeated questions: what would National do about the rising tide of youth offenders like ram-raiders?
In November we announced our Combatting Youth Offending Plan, with National Party Leader Christopher Luxon’s message being that enough is enough: under National, young offenders will face the consequences for their actions.
It’s a four-pronged plan: target serious repeat offenders, create Young Offender Military Academies, back the Police to tackle gangs (because some serious youth offending is being driven by gangs), and empower community groups to break the cycle of offending.
The Young Offender Military Academies will provide discipline, mentoring and intensive rehabilitation for young serious offenders aged 15 to 17 for a period of up to 12 months. This length of time is in order to make a decisive intervention in these young offenders’ lives. The Academies will be delivered in partnership with the Defence Force, alongside other providers.
For the majority of young offenders, New Zealand’s youth justice system works well: 80 per cent of first-time offenders who interact with the youth justice system are dealt with quickly and put back on the right path. For some though, who go on to become repeat offenders and develop links to gangs, a more decisive action plan is needed – a circuit-breaker to prevent them falling into a life of mayhem and misery.
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