NZ report card 2023: near the top of the class in some areas, room for improvement elsewhere

How did New Zealand do last year?
How did New Zealand do last year? Photo credit: Getty Images

Alexander Gillespie

End-of-year results aren’t only for school and university students. Countries, too, can be measured for their progress – or lack of it – across numerous categories and subject areas.

This report card provides a snapshot of how New Zealand has fared in 2023. Given the change of government, it will be a useful benchmark for future progress reports. (Somewhat appropriately, the coalition seems keen on standardised testing in education.)

It’s important to remember that this exercise is for fun and debate. International and domestic indices and rankings should be read with a degree of caution – measurements, metrics and numbers from 2023 tell us only so much.

Nevertheless, it’s still possible to trace the nation’s ups and downs. As the year draws to an end, we can use these statistics and rankings to decide whether New Zealand really is the best country in the world – or whether we need to make some additional new year’s resolutions.

International pass marks

Overall, the country held its own internationally when it came to democratic values, freedoms and standards. But there was a little slippage.

Despite falling a spot, Transparency International ranked New Zealand second-equal (next to Finland) for being relatively corruption-free.

In the Global Peace Index, New Zealand dropped two places, now fourth-best for safety and security, low domestic and international conflict, and degree of militarisation.

The country held its ground in two categories. Freedom House underlined New Zealand’s near-perfect score of 99 out of 100 for political and civil liberties – but three Scandinavian countries scored a perfect 100. The Global Gender Gap Report recorded New Zealand as steady, the fourth-most-gender-equal country.

Supplementary work by the United Nations Development Programme shows New Zealand making impressive strides in breaking down gender bias.

The Index for Economic Freedom, which covers everything from property rights to financial freedom, again placed New Zealand fifth, but our grade average is falling. We also dropped a place in the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index to eighth.

New Zealanders are about as happy as they were last year, still the tenth-most-cheery nation, according to the World Happiness Report.

The Human Development Index did not report this year (New Zealand was 13th in 2022). But the Legatum Prosperity Index, another broad measure covering everything from social capital to living conditions, put New Zealand tenth overall – reflecting a slow decline from seventh in 2011.

The Economist’s Global Liveability Index has Auckland at equal tenth, with Wellington racing up the charts to 23rd. (Hamilton, my home, is yet to register.)

While New Zealand registered a gradual slide in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, at 13th position it still ranks highly by comparison with other nations.

Could do better

New Zealand has seen some progress around assessment of terror risk. While the national terror threat level has remained at “low”, the Global Terrorism Index ranked the country 46th – lower than the US, UK and Russia, but higher than Australia at 69th.

The country’s previous drop to 31st in the Global Competitiveness Report has stabilised, staying the same in 2023.

On the Global Innovation Index, we came in 27th out of 132 economies – three spots worse than last year. The Globalisation Index, which looks at economic, social and political contexts, ranks New Zealand only 42nd.