The political year has kicked off so here are 10 things to watch out for

The Government will face fresh protests over the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade deal.

The Government will face fresh protests over the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade deal.

OPINION: It used to be one of the more anticipated speeches in the political year. But the opening statement to Parliament is kept so deliberately low key these days even the prime minister can't be bothered reading it out, preferring instead to sledge the Opposition.

This year's statement supposedly laid out the Government's priorities for the year by romping through things that have already been announced or are in train. But as we all know Governments can easily be blindsided by things that are not high on the list of priorities. So here is the top 10 list of things that are likely to dominate the political year.

Spies: The number of reviews and inquiries currently underway into the Government Communications Security Bureau and Security Intelligence Service make it a certainty spooks will remain in the headlines. They include a wide ranging review headed by former Deputy Prime Minister Sir Michael Cullen and lawyer Patsy Reddy aimed at updating Cold War era legislation, an inquiry into allegations the GCSB spied on trade minister Tim Groser's rivals for the top World Trade Organisation job, whether the GCSB spied on Kiwis in the South Pacific and any New Zealand links to the CIA's detention and interrogation practices. A new GCSB director must also be appointed.

Spy agencies will top the political agenda at the start of 2016

Spy agencies will top the political agenda at the start of 2016

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Iraq: Gerry Brownlee's attendance at a military "Counter-Daesh (Islamic State)" gathering in Brussels ups the pressure on New Zealand to contribute special forces to the effort in Iraq. A decision must also be made on whether to extend New Zealand's two year long commitment of military trainers in Iraq.

Ship visits: The decades-old standoff over United States ship visits could be broken if the US navy accepts the invitation to attend New Zealand's 75th naval celebrations later this year.

Polls: Third term Governments learn to fear the polls, especially mid-term. But Opposition leaders also have good reason to be nervous. On the polls so far, the odds are still against a change in Government next year but a lot can change between cup and lip.

Tax cuts: With dairy prices down, growth slowing, lower revenue, and debt expected to stay up for longer, can the Government sell tax cuts as good for the economy, as well as our hip pockets?

The surplus: Was the Finance Minister's first surplus a one hit wonder?

Water: The Government is walking a tight rope balancing Maori claims over fresh water against the passionate belief among Kiwis that water is a public commodity. 

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The Trans Pacific Partnership Deal: Debate over the free trade deal is set to ramp up once legislation is introduced to Parliament. Labour is hoping to stir up a groundswell against the deal but Waitangi weekend protests did them no favours.

Housing affordability: Auckland's property market is cooling but will that take the heat out of the debate raging over first home buyers being locked out of the housing market? Or will the debate swing the other way if the Government's clamp down on foreign buyers causes a slump in demand?.

Social services: Whether in housing, or child abuse services, the Government is full steam ahead on shaking things up, including contracting out more of the provision to private sector providers.

 - Stuff

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