Opinion: A New Year's resolution: Why not be a team of five million and tackle some of New Zealand's other issues

The team of five million should try and eliminate a few other issues New Zealand faces such as child poverty.
The team of five million should try and eliminate a few other issues New Zealand faces such as child poverty. Photo credit: Newshub

OPINION: Back in March Jacinda Ardern, as she embarked on a strategy to eliminate COVID-19, called on the country to become a 'team of five million' as we entered what was seen at the time as a strict lockdown. 

New Zealand shut down for just over a month before slowly beginning to open up again. 

It was a bold move by the PM, but a decisive one. 

Kiwis around the country, on the whole, obeyed the rules as they pulled together to try and stop the virus that is still raging around the world. 

Ardern pushed messages like "the team of five million," "be strong, be kind," as the country went hard and went early to eliminate COVID-19.  

A second outbreak - a much more contained outbreak - was controlled by a second, less strict lockdown in Auckland in August. 

Again the team of five million came together and the country once again became COVID-19 free, something we are reaping the benefits off as another wave shuts down New Year's Eve celebrations for many parts of the world.  

There were many factors in the successful elimination of COVID-19 - our isolation, a clear strategy, good communication, closing our borders and so on. But the fact New Zealanders came together and played their part was a big reason for the strategy's success. 

So if we can unite and beat COVID-19 why can't we unite and beat a few other issues the country faces.

New Zealand's road toll

An obvious place to start is on New Zealand's roads. Something happens to a proportion of Kiwis as they get behind the wheel. Impatience and anger take over as drivers become idiots on the road. 

The 2020 road toll currently stands at 320, nine people so far have died on New Zealand's roads over the holiday period. 

That is nine sets of families for who Christmas will now be reminder of who they lost. All in crashes that were preventable. 

Be kind on the roads. Don't drive too close to other cars. If you see someone trying to pull in in front of you don't speed up and close the gap, slow down and let them in.

Don't speed. Don't be aggressive on the roads. Leave the toxic masculinity that envelopes drivers at home. Don't use your phone while driving, don't drive drunk.   

New Zealanders often say how proud they are to be Kiwis, yet they are happy to kill each other on the roads. Be a team of five million when you get behind the wheel. 

New Zealand's suicide rate 

New Zealand, as is often reported, has some of the worst suicide stats in the world. Every year over 600 people take their own lives, and many thousands of others attempt to. That is a major disaster happening every year and is a statistic we should all be ashamed of. 

I don't have the stats to back this up but I suspect COVID-19 would have had to take a fairly serious hold in New Zealand to match the number of people and health care resources our suicide numbers affect. 

We joined together to eliminate that so why don't we do more to tackle suicide. 

The Suicide Prevention Strategy and Action Plan launched by the Government in 2019 called for Kiwis to work together to reduce the suicide rate. A change in attitude to mental health, particularly not viewing depression as a weakness, would go a long way towards reducing those stats. 

After Unicef released a report in 2017 saying New Zealand had the worst youth suicide rate,  Dr Prudence Stone of Unicef New Zealand told the BBC the attitude to manhood was partly to blame. 

"There is a tradition of the hardened-up mate culture within New Zealand," says Dr Stone. "It puts pressure on men to be of a particular mould, pressure on boys to harden up to become these tough beer-drinking hard men. "

Changing this attitude is something a team of five million can easily tackle. 

Child poverty 

It seems a little surreal that in a country like New Zealand, with an abundance of natural resources, there are children going hungry. But according to the Child Poverty Monitor report released at the end of last year over 60,000 kids live in severe material hardship. 

Very little progress has been made combatting child poverty here, despite it always seeming to be a high priority for governments. 

While we are on the subject of children the family violence and child homicide stats are also shocking.

A high proportion of children who are killed in New Zealand by a carer or parent are under two years of age. We are reguarly outraged and appalled when another baby dies at the hands of someone who should have been protecting them, but these deaths go on. 

No child in New Zealand should go hungry, or go to school with no shoes. Children should be safe and cared for. New Zealand's families should not be places where violence occurs. 

It is not hard to ensure every child in New Zealand has the basics they need. 

Our team of five million should get together to make sure New Zealand - a country that is globally seen as a great place to raise children - really is a safe country for all kids. 

And finally 

One of the good things about lockdown was that, for a brief time, people were considerate, compassionate and kind. 

People looked out for each other. We also stuck by the rules in order to benefit the country as a whole. 

We shouldn't need a pandemic to remind us of the need to be those things. 

 Mark Longley is Newshub Digital's managing editor