January 28, 2020 / 8:39 AM / 25 days ago

Factbox: Key issues in New Zealand elections in September

(Reuters) - New Zealanders will go to the polls on Sept. 19 to decide on a second term for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and also to vote in referendums on the divisive issues of legalising cannabis and euthanasia.

FILE PHOTO: New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reacts during a media standup in the aftermath of the eruption of White Island volcano, also known by its Maori name Whakaari, at Whakatane, New Zealand December 13, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Here are the main issues that are expected to figure in debate in coming months and to sway voters.

HOUSING AND INFRASTRUCTURE

The government, which has struggled to resolve an acute shortage of affordable housing, scrapped plans last year to build 100,000 homes in 10 years as “overly ambitious” and reset some policies to fix what it calls a crisis.

Ardern has allotted spending of NZ$12 billion on infrastructure to counter criticism her government has done little to improve road and rail infrastructure, particularly from the opposition National Party.

Details are expected to emerge in the next few days.

CHILD POVERTY AND HOMELESSNESS

Some in New Zealand have felt left behind by rising inequality, despite enjoying a strong economy for years.

In a surprise U-turn in April, Ardern ruled out levying a capital gains tax during her tenure, foreswearing a measure long espoused by Labour to tackle wealth inequality. She also later rejected most recommendations of an advisory group on social welfare reform.

But the government unveiled a “wellbeing” budget in May that prioritises two important issues, mental health and alleviating child poverty. It has promised new budget measures to fight homelessness, which has also been on the rise.

CLIMATE CHANGE

New Zealanders became more aware of climate change as bushfires in neighbouring Australia turned its skies red and glaciers brown, making each party’s position a key issue.

Ardern’s coalition partner, the Green Party, successfully passed legislation that includes a target to cut methane emissions from livestock. Next month, the government will introduce a school curriculum on climate change.

Many cheered these measures but leaders of the influential dairy and meat industry criticised them as unfairly targeting their sectors.

ECONOMY AND BUSINESS CONFIDENCEA drop in net migration has intensified labour shortages and hurt the economy.

Ardern came to power in 2017 promising to cut migration by tens of thousands a year and curb foreign homebuyers. But small businesses have complained of having to shut down for lack of affordable workers, an issue singled out by the central bank when it cut interest rates last year.

Business confidence has improved slightly in the past few months, from record lows under Ardern’s government.

SOCIAL JUSTICE

Thousands of ethnic Maori people protested across New Zealand in July demanding an improvement in rights, as tension grew between the indigenous community and the government.

Public hearings last year on abuse of young people in state and faith-based care, the majority of whom are Maori, have exposed a history of neglect and exploitation.

The government’s response to these issues will likely decide how Māori, who make up about 15% of the population, will vote. The community was dispossessed of much of their land during colonisation by Britain in the 19th century.

Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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