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


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.




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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.

New Zealanders are generally happy, free and secure by international standards.
Getty Images

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.




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But the country’s response to climate change is still considered “highly insufficient” by the Climate Action Tracker, which measures progress on meeting agreed global warming targets. The Climate Change Performance Index is a little more generous, pegging New Zealand at 34th, still down one spot on last year.

New Zealand’s overseas development assistance – low as a percentage of GDP compared to other OECD countries – had mixed reviews.

The Principled Aid Index – which looks at the purposes of aid for global co-operation, public spiritedness and addressing critical development goals – ranks New Zealand a lowly 22 out of 29.

The Commitment to Development Index, which measures aid as well as other policies (from health to trade) of 40 of the world’s most powerful countries, has New Zealand in 19th place.




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Decent economic grades

The economic numbers at home still tell a generally encouraging story:

It’s worth noting, too, that record net migration gain is boosting economic measurements. In the year to October 2023, 245,600 people arrived, with 116,700 departing, for an annual net gain of 128,900 people.




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Room for social improvement

In the year to June, recorded suicides increased to 565, or 10.6 people per 100,000. While an increase from 10.2 in 2022, this is still lower than the average rate over the past 14 years.

Incarceration rates began to rise again, climbing to 8,893 by the end of September, moving back towards the 10,000 figure from 2020.




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Child poverty appears to be stabilising, with some reports suggesting improvements in longer-term trends. While commendable, this needs to be seen in perspective: one in ten children still live in households experiencing material hardship.

The stock of public housing continues to increase. As of October, there were 80,211 public houses, an increase of 3,940 from June 2022.

In short, New Zealand retains some bragging rights in important areas and is making modest progress in others, but that’s far from the whole picture. The final verdict has to be: a satisfactory to good effort, but considerable room for improvement.



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