The period immediately before an election is seldom a time when a country is putting its best foot forward to those watching from afar.

Most of us will have noted how ugly things became during both US elections involving Donald Trump. Or the Morrison v Albanese quarrels during the last election across the ditch. The Brits usually get caught up in all sorts of tit-for-tat: anti-Labour this v anti-Conservative that.

Right now, New Zealand is no exception.

We probably underestimate the extent to which the eyes of the world are on us at the moment. With the Women’s World Cup here and in Australia, the world’s sporting press are here in huge numbers. Our nation’s every move is captured for a world that has always been intrigued by this little country that, until very recently, has boxed well above its weight on matters as diverse as agricultural innovation, sporting performance and race relations

Such is the extent of the global spotlight, that when the Football Ferns’ campaign finished in a draw against Switzerland last Sunday, the headlines were on the front pages of the UK newspaper websites before most of us had switched off our televisions.

So, while we have the attention of the international community, we have a great opportunity to present ourselves to a world whose trade and patronage we so desperately need. It’s a shame we’ve blown that opportunity.

Instead, on the opening day of the Women’s World Cup, we have given them a daylight shooting in the centre of our biggest city, resulting in the deaths of two innocent and hardworking family men and injuries to many others. Such events are not regular occurrences in this country, but the timing was tough on our international reputation.

The following day, the central city was again hobbled, this time by a couple of clowns on the roof of the ferry terminal. One was already on bail and wearing the now-customary ankle bracelet. Media reports suggested the police tempted them down with fast food! Some would suggest that we might have been better to leave them up there in the wintry night until cold and hunger prevailed. Yet again, not a good look.

Day three of the soccer served up a fire in the Football Ferns’ hotel, forcing them to evacuate because of the suspected arson attack.

And of course, the following day delivered a late-night motor vehicle accident involving our Minister of Justice, no less, who then went on to fail a breath alcohol test. Of course, the international press picked up on that one too.

And it seems the bad news doesn’t stop. Just yesterday, we woke to the news of another CBD shooting. Two people are seriously injured in hospital (note: One victim has since tragically died).

So, we’re not exactly using our moment in the sun to demonstrate our best to the world, are we?“

“New Zealand has lost its mojo. I certainly think New Zealand’s finest days are behind it.”

Marc Ellis

One of last month’s most memorable articles was Chris Rattue’s sports column. The interview was an informative and entertaining read. But one line stuck with many of us — and continues to stick. Former All Black, entrepreneur and television class clown, the effervescent Marc Ellis, put it succinctly when commenting on his move to Italy.

“New Zealand has lost its mojo,” he said. He went on: “I certainly think New Zealand’s finest days are behind it.”


He’s not the only one. Hard on the heels of his comments came last week’s Weekend Herald front-page story featuring one of our most successful property developers, Ben Cook, telling us he was selling a $100 million portfolio and moving to Australia.

A couple of days later it was Miss Lolo’s turn. Designer Tamzyn Adding told us, again through the pages of this newspaper, that she and her husband were heading to Queensland with their four school-aged children. In a quote almost as succinct as Ellis, she said: “Seeing the new education curriculum come through was pretty much the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.”

Double ouch!

These are not just one-offs. Massey University’s latest research this week told us that a third of New Zealand’s workers are thinking of quitting their jobs and moving to Australia. The study suggests recent changes giving Kiwis an easier pathway to Australian citizenship are changing the way we think.

All this while the world’s media — many of whom will be just as keen to observe the fortunes of our nation as they are the fortunes of their chosen team — are here on a huge scale.

And if the headlines above aren’t enough, they will also be seeing the daily stories about retail robberies, and wandering our city streets where homelessness and poverty are there for all to see.

Many of us will be hoping for a change of Government at the election. If the polls went deeper and asked why, I suspect the answers would be about the cost of living, law and order, everything that encompasses transport and our health and education systems.

There is no doubt that the repair job in these areas is enormous. Fixing the potholes on our roads alone is said to be a $500 million project. That’s before we build any new roads. Education will take a generation to fully repair. Meanwhile, parents of today’s schoolchildren will have to proactively support their kids’ efforts, if they are to emerge from the education system properly prepared for university or the workplace.

But perhaps, it is the need for a new face and a new story for the outside world that is just as important.

Our financial recovery will likely come from the same sources that have traditionally delivered for us. Our ability to export our goods, particularly agricultural and horticultural products, to the world, to sell our sights and experiences to international tourists, and latterly our ability to provide education to international students.

“….we need a PM who is financially competent, but we also need someone who can set out a vision for a future New Zealand.”

If New Zealand is to fully recover, these are the big-income generators that will help us pay our way once more. Taking more money from our existing population in taxes is never going to drive us out of the economic doldrums. However, getting back into the habit of selling our little country to the world may just enable us to get out of the hole a bit sooner.

To do that we need a new face to the world and a new story to tell them. Most will look at the election and see the competition between two people who would be Prime Minister. There is no question that we need a PM who is financially competent, but we also need someone who can set out a vision for a future New Zealand that gets better rather than worse. We also need that person to unite us, as we once were, rather than driving us further apart.

But I’m just as interested in who is going to represent us to the world. Who will lead our agriculture, tourism, trade, foreign affairs and education portfolios? Because we also need to get our face back out into the international community, and to tell the world we’re sorting things out. And imagine if a new government could do something about our woeful productivity levels, to support those efforts to sell more stuff to a hungry and demanding world.

Those are the areas of opportunity that will replenish our financial reserves. Therefore, those ministers, government-appointed CEOs and departmental secretaries have just as much potential, possibly more, to turn the country around as a good PM or Finance Minister

But they will need to tell a story. A story about the little country that could, that became distracted and struggled for a while, but is now back. A story about missed opportunities and rapid recoveries. A story about resilience.

We might have missed our chances while the world’s football media were in town. But as the saying goes, it’s not what happens, it’s what you do about it. We should think ourselves fortunate that we have an election, and an opportunity for change just around the corner.

And one day, just maybe, Marc Ellis and others will return. They might even see the opportunity to add value to our recovery. And with a bit of luck, they’ll be able to say “we got our mojo back”.

This article first appeared in The New Zealand Herald, Saturday 5th August 2023.