Some worry New Zealand has lost its way

21:15, Aug 03 2012

The pulse of the nation: The latest Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll of 1000 voters on life in NZ, including race relations, national pride, financial security - and whether we are heading in the right direction.

Henk Habraken worries that New Zealand is not the place it used to be.

The 60-year-old came to New Zealand on a ship at age 4, his Dutch father looking to set up a new life as a farmer after spending the war in a German concentration camp.

"Dad left because the economy in Europe was not going anywhere. And people said if you want to go farming, New Zealand is the best place to be."

That was true back then. These days, he's not so sure.

"We used to be a get- up-and-go society where you could fix anything with a pair of pliers and a piece of number 8 wire," he says.


"Yes New Zealand is still a good country, a nice country to be in, but we are making it far too difficult and I think it's going to get worse."

Mr Habraken, a Tuakau farmer, was one of 1000 voters we questioned for the first Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll to gain a snapshot of how we feel about New Zealand and where we are headed, compared with a year ago.

We asked people whether things had got better or worse across a range of measures in those 12 months.

The economy was the standout concern.

Among those we questioned, 45 per cent thought the economy was worse, while 21 per cent thought it had got better.

The trickle-down effect is that people feel less confident about their own circumstances.

One in three people believe their financial security has got worse over the past 12 months, compared with 23 per cent who felt their situation had improved.

But on the flip side, nearly as many people think we are doing a good job looking after the environment as not, more of us feel pride in being a New Zealander and we are evenly split over whether our sense of living in a positive, happy community has got better or worse.

Some of the survey findings are surprising - young men were more likely than older New Zealanders to feel positive and optimistic about the country's direction, while those in their 40s and 50s - children largely of the 1960s - are comfortable financially, and optimistic about their own prospects, but less positive about the direction of the economy in general.

They also worry about the protection of the environment and New Zealand's core values.

Sociologist Mark Lloyd agrees he is probably a poster child for that group.

"I have two daughters aged 20 and 21, but while I'm financially reasonably secure, I can't help but think about their lives and feeding into that are concerns about superannuation - can we support the growing baby boomers coming through into retirement?"

The Victoria University lecturer says it is no surprise that people feel more negatively about a range of measures when there is also a general feeling of negativity about the economy.

"What you will find if there is any trend it does reflect a general negativity . . . if there is a core thing causing negativity on one issue, it might translate into every question you ask."

The survey shows that while some people feel things have got better across a range of measures, in some areas - race relations, the sense that New Zealand really looks after its people, and the sense that we live without too much government interference - more people think things have got worse in those areas over the past 12 months than better.

Mr Habraken is particularly hot on government interference. He is about to wind down his 16-hectare pig farm to make the move into dairying for himself and his sons, because he reckons he is drowning in red tape.

He agrees that New Zealand has got worse at looking after its people and also believes race relations have got worse.

"When the Government took land away forcibly from some Maori and they are given it back, I agree that is legitimate, it was taken away for bloody nothing.

"But what is happening is we are always looking back and back.

"What a lot of baloney that the Maoris suddenly own the water."

Across 1000 interviews, one of the themes that emerged was a growing sense of "us and them".

Stay-at-home dad Matthew West, 35, from Taupo, agrees there seems to be a growing undercurrent of resentment in New Zealand towards those who have made it financially.

"You see that in higher tax rates for the rich. If you're rich - which I'm not, even if I'd like to be - you pay more tax anyway just because you earn more money. But it creates that sort of environment, people think: oh, that person's rich, he gets this and that, he can dodge his tax etcetera. I think the whole system is set up to breed that resentment. I do think that's becoming a big issue." Fairfax NZ

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