2015's biggest political stories

2015 was a big year for all political parties
2015 was a big year for all political parties

They say a week in politics is a long time, but do you know what's longer? A year.

There wasn't an election, but 2015 proved just as hectic, with National spending most of it putting out fires.

The political year wrapped up in early December, and for some it was like pulling teeth; for at least one it was like pulling hair.

And now it's that time to wrap up the upsets, the deals, the resignations, the resurrections, the controversy and the calamity.


The year's biggest victory hands down goes to the political maestro Winston Peters for systematically dismantling his novice opponent, National's Mark Osborne, to take the Northland by-election in March.

In boxing terms it was a first round knock-out, with a 4441-vote majority allowing Mr Peters to take the heavyweight title from National, which had held the Northland seat since 1966.

It was humiliating for National and made its majority in the House that much smaller and its ability to pass legislation that much harder.

Before his win, Mr Peters predicted a "seismic shift" in the political landscape. He was right; it was an earthquake, magnitude Winston.


On the subject of humiliation, John Key was left trying to explain quite possibly the weirdest thing a New Zealand Prime Minister has ever done – tugging on a woman's ponytail.

The best he could do was "a bit of banter" between him and the waitress at his favourite café that he goes to with wife Bronagh.

And oh how Twitter came out to play.

All jokes aside though, it was a bit of a hairy situation for the PM for a while, with his exploits making international headlines and political satire show Last Week Tonight, hosted by John Oliver.


The New Zealand flag referendum also made international headlines because it isn't often countries consider changing their ensign.

Some media, like the New Zealand public, were genuinely interested while others weren't so much.

It's been an issue Mr Key hasn't been on the right side of, with public sentiment indicating support for a change is flagging.

The flag-choosing process was much-maligned and an urgent law change was made to bring in the internet's preferred Red Peak design.

ACT leader David Seymour, an advocate for Red Peak, made a bit of a coq-up during a media stand-up, which apparently did nothing for the flag's support, but did earn him a place in numerous international headlines and 2015 blooper reels.

Flag Idol has found the most preferred alternative flag, which will go up against the current red, white and blue in the second referendum.

So now the Kyle Lockwood blue and black silver fern design has been chosen as the contender, will the attitude to change reverse?


Will they? Won't they? Have they? Who cares? These are questions the ‘90s had for Ross and Rachel, but in 2015 they were also questions we had about the surplus.

Getting back in the black was a key election promise from National and based on Treasury forecasts throughout the year it looked a little shaky.

The modest $414 million surplus was a bit of surprise given the official forecast in May's Budget predicted a $684 million deficit.

But in October, Finance Minister Bill English couldn't hide his glee when he uttered the magic words before turning his cap sideways, dropping the mic and walking off into the sunset.

The man who admittedly "dreams" about surpluses had done it, though it was the result of some kind of witchcraft, wizardry or perhaps a little black magic, at least according to his opponents.

But it's a surplus that could be short-lived if Treasury's latest forecast of a $400 million deficit next financial year comes true.


It'll be the resurrection everyone will be talking about, at least until season six of Game of Thrones. Judith "Crusher" Collins was crushed and then one day in early December she was un…crushed.

From the cold wilderness of the backbenches to the toasty warmth of Cabinet, Ms Collins was welcomed back with open arms by the Prime Minister.

In one of his final announcements for the year, Mr Key said Ms Collins had done her time on the outside after "some time to reflect".

Ms Collins resigned from her ministerial posts pending an investigation into her friendship with blogger Cameron Slater, but was eventually cleared.


Whether Ms Collins' new job as Corrections Minister will be made easier by the axing of Serco from the Mt Eden remand prison is yet to be seen, but the private operator was the perpetual monkey on her predecessor's back this year.

Whether the jail-cell "fight club" videos and the allegations of violence were the knock-out blow for Sam Lotu-Iiga, who lost his post in an end-of-year reshuffle, depends on who you ask. It certainly wasn't the case for Mr Key.

It was the story that kept on giving and kept the pressure on Mr Lotu-Iiga, who seemed to struggle to stay on top the flood of allegations from inmates and former staff.

He's moved on to be the Minister of Local Government. There can't be any major controversies there, right?


It was the treatment of Kiwi criminals in Australia that dominated the second half of this year, though probably in New Zealand more so than across the Tasman.

The policy meant any non-Australians sentenced to 12 months' prison or more would be deported to their home countries – Kiwis included.

It was like a gut punch from your big brother. I mean, aren't we meant to be family?

Opposition parties cried foul over the policy, which has already seen Kiwis with little or no connection to New Zealand sent back – some of which have already reoffended.

Despite assurances from Australian Prime Minister and John Key admirer Malcolm Turnbull that everything is fine, paperwork thrown up by the Green Party cast a bit of doubt over the situation.


There's little doubt though about the future of one of the biggest and most controversial free trade agreements the world has ever seen – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

An agreement was reached between the dozen countries after years of backroom negotiations that removed tariffs from all New Zealand exports except beef and dairy.

Opposition to the deal was strong and loud and seemed to come from all corners of society, most lambasting the secrecy and relying on leaked documents to inform their views.

In an official speech, then-Trade Minister and now US Ambassador-Designate Tim Groser called anti-TPP protesters "politically irrelevant" (though later admitted he shared their concerns) and vowed to push on with the deal.

And that he did. The deal's future is now in the hands of the respective countries' lawmakers, including New Zealand, to approve.


It wasn't just the end of an era for the TPP; Russel Norman closed a chapter in the Green Party's story by bowing out of the co-leadership after nine years in January.

That opened up a four-way leadership competition ultimately taken out by James Shaw, who has kept the party support steady at around 10 percent in the polls.


So that was a recap most of the big political stories for 2015. Next year isn't an election year either, but you can guarantee there'll be plenty of controversy to come. 

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