Election year is a guarantee of inflated promises, cash bribes and the unveiling of dubious schemes designed to lead our country to nirvana (even if there is a world recession just around the corner). But forget what the politicians believe New Zealanders want to hear. The Sunday Star-Times has instead asked New Zealanders themselves, canvassing the nation in search of the bright ideas that might actually make a difference. We asked one simple question of farmers and union leaders, of the super-rich and the stony broke, of teachers and doctors, athletes and playwrights. The question was: "If there were one thing you could change to make New Zealand a better place to live, what would it be?" Some respondents had trouble restraining themselves to one idea. Some conveyed their thoughts in two words, while others were still going when the recorder ran out of batteries. But after some ruthless editing, here are the results 50 (or so) ways to make New Zealand a better place to live.
1 LYNDA HALLINAN, 33, editor New Zealand Gardener, Auckland
Put in a veggie patch. It's a no-brainer, from your health to personal satisfaction to carbon credits, as well as reconnecting with nature and the seasons. The reason it will make life better for everybody in New Zealand is if you grow your own food, you get to know your neighbours as you've always got stuff to give away, which has to be good for community.
2 MICHAEL TUFFERY, 42, artist, Wellington
That the government stop teasing us with tax cuts and be straight up about what they're doing, instead of playing mind games with us.
3 CHARLIE PEDERSEN, 51, Federated Farmers president, Himatangi
I've been appalled by the number of drownings of Kiwis enjoying their summer holidays, and the drownings haven't been at the pools where kids learn to swim, they've been in the rivers and in the sea. All primary school children need to learn to swim in the sea and the rivers have a field trip every year and learn about drifting with the water and not trying to fight against it. And for secondary school kids, defensive driving courses should be compulsory, because that's the other tragedy, our young kids that kill themselves on the road. They're two simple things and it would make a hell of a difference to New Zealand life.
4 JASON BROUGH, 39, public servant, Waitakere City
I hate to quote an American, but "don't ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country". We live in a great place. But we are all worried about getting our bit.
5 WALLY KUPENGA, 37, unemployed and homeless, Auckland
I'd change myself. I have to start with myself. Get a job and a house two in one. And the rest comes later. I've been on the streets for five-and-a-half years. I used to be in the health profession, but I lost my job there and couldn't think of anything else to do.
6 BOB JONES, 68, property developer, Wellington
Everybody would be better off if we had a Roger Douglas-style 15% flat tax. Everyone would be richer, and everyone would be happier. It works. We've seen it in Slovakia they were in desperate straits, banged in a flat tax and the place is jumping. The lower the taxes, the richer the society and the more the government gets. I'd love to see that.
7 DAME FIONA KIDMAN, 68, writer, Hataitai
I'm dismayed by the lack of support for new mothers, and for parents during the first five years of parenthood. I'd like to see a network of small maternity hospitals throughout the country, where mothers are looked after properly, rather than being kicked out clutching a load of diapers under their arm as they mop up the blood behind them.
8 LISA TAHUAROA, 38, drama teacher, Oakura
Put Jesus back into Easter and Christmas.
9 Dr PETER DADY, 63, cancer specialist, Wellington
My wish would be for an outbreak of common sense in the administration of the health system in this bloody country. A break in the relentless grinding stupidity in the way the health system is run. A nuclear device on the Ministry of Health would have too much fallout for the good people of Wellington, but it would make me feel a lot better. I used to sit in the offices of the Cancer Society, which overlook the Ministry of Health, and imagine the effect of setting up a mortar or a heavy machine gun and traversing through the health department. It made me so happy but I must not even think these things. It's sad to see your life's work deteriorating. I wish I could see some light at the end of the tunnel but you see boy wonder Cunliffe grandstanding in mortal combat with Hawke's Bay Health and you think `oh God, it just goes on and on'.
10 DAVE ARMSTRONG, 47, playwright, Wellington
Build 10,000 state houses, raise the min wage to $15/hr and throw our outdated defamation laws out the window you can't say anything in this country without being sued.
11 BERNICE MENE, 33, athlete and teacher, Auckland
That people get to know their neighbours better and get involved in their community. We all need to take responsibility to try to lower our crime rates and improve our education standards.
12 BOB KERRIDGE, 69, chief executive SPCA, Auckland
That in matters of neglect and cruelty to animals people would put themselves in the animal's position. Would you inflict on any human close to you the sorts of things that are done to animals, such as starve them, incarcerate them, tie them up or abandon them? In respecting and valuing animal life and realising their value in our lives, we will learn to value and respect each other.
13 BRIDGET SAUNDERS [no age], gossip columnist, Auckland
I would make it a corporal offence, punishable with a beating and huge fines, to drop cigarette butts in the street, or anywhere at all. They poison the little piece of earth they fall into, and there are millions of them going into the harbour every year.
14 DAVE WILLIAMS, 30, teacher, Auckland
If I had a magic wand, I would get rid of the drug problems in New Zealand. This would take care of a majority of family violence, random street attacks, pretty theft etc. People just don't feel safe like they used to.
15 MAUREEN PUGH, 49, mayor of Westland, Hokitika
If everyone was more like a West Coaster we wouldn't have any problems, because we're very good at solving the problems on our own. But the issues that need addressing most are social: if we can have more confident, positive, safe young people, we're going to end up with a country that reflects that in the future.
16 TE RADAR, 36, satirist, Auckland
Lower-priced holiday homes. If holiday homes were cheaper, more of us could experience wonderful parts of the country other than the bits we live and work in. We could go there on a semi-regular basis to mow the lawns and stare in disbelief at the maintenance we need to do.
17 DAVID SKILLING, 36, New Zealand Institute CEO, Auckland
We need to become less laidback and more ambitious not settling for the economic and social and environmental outcomes that we've got. The New Zealand mood flicks between complacency on the one hand (things are wonderful and don't need to change) and fatalism on the other (we're all doomed) and we end up not doing anything. We keep on heading off for the beach. We don't get angry enough or concerned enough to convert the concern into tangible action.
18 RAYBON KAN [no age], comedian, Auckland
A more expressive, less inhibited culture ... think Carnival in Rio, everywhere, all the time. And everyone stop asking what it means to be a New Zealander. The question stultifies. If we can have all that done by Wednesday, I'll be happy.
19 ARANI MIDDLETON-FINCH, 45, truancy officer, Thames
One thing I'd change is allowing at least one parent to be able to stay home to support their children. When children are trying to do the adults' job and be kids, and the parents are trying to support the family financially, there's no one there to keep the unit together. You'd have fewer social and emotional issues with our children, and you'd be allowing kids to be kids, and that's what they should be doing.
20 NICKY HAGER, 49, writer, Wellington
Make housing affordability the top political priority. Most younger New Zealanders cannot afford to own a home and rents are crippling. Legislate strictly to control house price inflation permanently and start a massive programme of building secure, long-term public housing like modern cities in Europe.
21 KEVIN BIGGAR, 39, ocean and polar adventurer, Auckland
Steeper mountains, spongier rocks. Bigger waves, softer water. Snowier winters and sunnier summer.
22 MIKE WILLIAMS, 48, Aorere College principal, Papatoetoe
The countries that are moving ahead are the countries that are investing heavily in education. That means funding schools better and trusting them to do it right (rather than tagging the funding to particular things) but also investment in youth services in schools as they become one-stop shops for students, with nurses, doctors, social workers and youth workers.
23 JO CHIVERS, 36, health professional, Waikato
Put a nuclear power station near Auckland and stop moaning about bringing power north and worrying about how much rain we've had.
24 GREG FLEMING, 37, Maxim Institute CEO, Auckland
The individualistic culture which permeates our society and ironically has us looking to government to provide our needs which of course it can only do through intrusive regulation and heavy taxes. If we're to be a country of strong communities we have to look past ourselves and develop a genuine commitment to one another's well-being. (And after the third cricket test, one thing I'd like to change is our top order or at least clone Tim Southee.)
25 PETER BOSHIER, 56, Principal Family Court judge, Wellington
I would wish that we could give everyone who lives in this wonderful country a sense of personal pride and self esteem, beginning with families and supported, where we can, by the state. We could do so much more to make people feel valued.
26 ALAN DUFF, 57, writer, Hawke's Bay
I would brain up the media a lot less of celebrities and lot more of the stuff that matters: there are some pretty important things going on in the world that I'm interested in, and I'm not interested in what Tom Cruise is up to. Compared to overseas our newspapers are worse by a country mile and our TV is pretty bad.
27 MIKE WARD, 65, Nelson
Convincing the real estate industry that talking people into living closer to where their kids go to school, and where they work, play and shop, would make good sense. Instead of living miles from the place you need to be and spending hours getting there, you reverse the trend of ever-expanding cities that put people further and further from the place they want to be.
28 GRAY BARTLETT, 65, musician, Auckland
Replace the current government, because they're the worst one in history. And we should think more positively and more individually; you can't say "everyone else should" you have to do it yourself.
29 ANDREW LITTLE, 42, EPMU general secretary, Wellington
To create a culture in which workers and their rights were not constantly seen as a hassle by employers or at least employer advocacy groups and in which employers naturally strove to ensure fair treatment, safe and healthy workplaces and work practices, fair and decent rewards (including recognising the social strain on workers doing shift work and working on public holidays, etc) so people earn a living wage and can support themselves and their households to fulfil their ambitions and personal needs.
30 NEIL GRIMSTONE, 46, security firm manager and former detective, Auckland
People to be less politically correct. To deal with the tough issues in a no-nonsense forthright manner. The majority of Kiwis want to hear how things really are, and not dressed up in some evasive and flowery terminology that doesn't address the actual issue.
31 PAUL CALLAGHAN, 60, physicist, Wellington
The thing I want most is for New Zealanders to see their potential in a different way, and to see New Zealand as a high-tech manufacturing country. We are perfectly capable: we have a world-class education system; we work incredibly hard. But until we start getting into businesses that make a million dollars per year per employee we're going to stay poor. We are locked into a farm and theme park mentality, but we can never bridge the $30 billion a year gap with Australia by agriculture, horticulture and tourism alone. Politicians are focused on things like taxation and other irrelevant things; if the taxation rates were zero you'd still earn more in Australia.
32 HANNAH SMITH, 25, biotoxin and nutritional science technician, Palmerston North
Tax cuts! If not on everything then maybe on fresh fruit and vege to make it easier to be healthy (and maintain a healthy weight).
33 MARILYNN McLACHLAN, 34, mother and founder of mumsontop.co.nz, Auckland
It's not necessarily about tax cuts but better use of the tax dollars, particularly in the areas of education and health care where most people are paying twice.
34 KEVIN ROBERTS, 58, worldwide CEO Saatchi & Saatchi, New York
Pass innovative legislation to help entrepreneurs and start-ups secure competitive advantage versus our neighbours.
35 BARRY COLMAN, 60, publishing multimillionaire, Auckland
Reintroduce the death penalty for anyone caught guilty of negative thinking, because that's the biggest risk to New Zealand. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy you've got people talking the country down, talking prospects down, where in fact we live in a very lucky country and our prospects are extremely bright. We've got nothing to be negative about, and these people should be put in the square and hung.
36 HEATHER MACKAY, 61, private tutor, Auckland
It's one of the seven deadly sins greed. If there's one thing that's motivating people in the wrong direction it's greed, which means materialism and fighting other people for more than your fair share. There has to be an element of competition for a country to go forward but there's a cut-off point: when other people are going without.
37 JO RANDERSON, 34, artist, Wellington
Replace all shopping malls and car yards with free, child-friendly yoga, kung fu and tai chi areas. But I'd also like to make te reo Maori compulsory in schools until Year 10.
38 GERRY WALKER, 47, Salvation Army divisional director, Auckland
More tolerance and understanding of each other is something that would make life easier. How is quite difficult. We're starting to get there through school, where people of different cultures often come together for the first time.
39 DR PETER GLUCKMAN, 59, medical researcher, Auckland
We need a transformational change in the way we regard the use of knowledge and brainpower in New Zealand. It starts with the government investing far more in science knowledge and people and human capital.
40 PAUL MORRIS, 53, professor of religious studies, Wellington
I wish we had more confidence in our own creativity, intellectual and artistic, and that we remember we are older than Italy or Germany and most other countries and only a little younger than France!
41 PETA MATHIAS, 58, writer and broadcaster, various
We need to be nicer to our immigrant populations and help people settle in a bit better. They have lot to contribute, and it makes our culture a lot more interesting to have immigrants of different nationalities. I don't think we're racist, but we have a fear of the unknown because we're so isolated.
42 HAMISH KEITH, 71, writer, Auckland
We should all make an effort to tackle our general propensity to meanness of spirit. I'm often distressed by how easily we denigrate each other, either as classes of people or as individuals, and I wish we'd stop it and be more positive.
43 MIKE PERO, 48, mortgage broker, Christchurch
Employing commercially capable people in the right places to run this country into a better financial and economic place. That should solve a lot of the other problems, because everything comes back to money, doesn't it?
44 RACHAEL KING, 37, writer, Christchurch
A country where everyone voted on what's good for the community as a whole, not just what's good for them personally. Then politicians wouldn't feel the need to bribe people every election.
45 DAVID McPHAIL, 62, actor, Christchurch
No single act like cutting taxes or expelling boy racers to the Falkland Islands will improve life in our harried isles. However, I think a greater sense of national pride might be healthy. I don't mean pride in sports, acts of daring or political somersaults. What I suggest is an acceptance that, though we seem to be wading through mud-pools of trouble, the country has a proud history, we sometimes get things right in the present and the future could well be quite pleasant.
46 MARIE EDWARDS, 55, office manager, Hamilton
Daylight saving all year round.
47 PAMELA WILLIAMS, 45, promotions manager, Nelson
I would take away the envy we have for Australia. Kiwis need to take pride in their country: it's not humid and sticky, we don't have mosquitoes, huge, biting spiders and loud, twangy accents.
48 Dr JUDY McGREGOR [no age], Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, Auckland
I'd change New Zealand's low-wage, long-hours economy. This would mean that dads could spend more time with their children and take a more active role in family life. A huge number of workers, 379,000, are low paid about a fifth of the workforce. Given that nearly 70% of them are women, raising wages will help address the standard of living of all New Zealanders, including children.
49 AL MORRISON, 59, director-general Department of Conservation, Wellington
Sometimes I wonder if the reason New Zealand is seen as a relatively secular society is because we already live in heaven. We are privileged people living in a beautiful land. The flip side is we take it too much for granted. I think New Zealand would be a better place to live if we took greater responsibility for ensuring that our children and generations to come can enjoy the same privileges.
50 STUART COATS, 35, company manager, Wellington
That we listen less to economic forecasters and think for ourselves how we feel about life. Personally, I have a great job, a house and a partner that I love. I earn enough to eat, pay for the house and have fun. And that is enough for me!
- Sunday Star Times