30 Dec 2019

The year in news reviewed, part two: Stories that shaped 2019

4:35 pm on 30 December 2019

RNZ continues its look at the biggest stories of 2019, with the winter months beginning with a budget (and its leaks), and ending with a surprising amount of giant bird-related news.

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The winter months began with a budget and ended with a surprising amount of giant bird-related news. Photo: RNZ


May ended with the release of the 'Wellbeing Budget', but it was overshadowed by the release of Treasury info in the days leading up to the Budget's release. National attacked the Budget for a lack of vision, but also had their own issues, with the resignation of a 'emotional junior staffer' blamed for removing the UN Migration Compact from the party's website in the aftermath of the mosque attacks, and continuing rumours of a National Party leadership change, despite senior MPs openly supporting Simon Bridges.

Well Being Budget Printing

The Wellbeing Budget. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The government was also still dealing with the fallout from the Christchurch attacks, and the Christchurch Call agreement saw multiple tech companies and 17 governments sign up.

RNZ's early morning First Up broadcast launched in May, and after the first few months of the year, New Zealand needed a story like Fonterra changing its tanker schedule for its #1 fan. Presenter Indira Stewart's story about Andrew Oliver and his love of milk tankers was RNZ's biggest online story of the month.

It was closely followed by a series of stories on issues with Pharmac funding written by Guyon Espiner after he signed off on his Morning Report duties; and the story of Auckland sweet shop owners who were jailed for exploitation after paying their migrant workers $6/hr.

Andy on his way to meet the Fonterra tanker.

Andrew Oliver on his way to meet a Fonterra milk tanker. Photo: RNZ

May also saw the release of a report into serious bullying in Parliament, news that Wellington's transport system was getting a $6.4b overhaul, and reporter Susan Strongman's in-depth look at the use of restraints in Japanese hospitals, following the death of New Zealander Kelly Savage, who had been tied to a bed for 10 days. 

In royal news, Japan's Emperor Akihito declared his abdication in a historic ceremony in Tokyo, while the Duchess of Sussex gave birth to a baby boy.


Winter began to bite in June, with temperatures in some parts of the country dropping to -7C, while multiple houses in a Northland settlement were damaged by a tornado and New Zealand dealt with a flu vaccine shortage as cases of the illness surged.

Things remained hot on the political front, as the PM announced that NZ troops would be pulled out of Iraq by June 2020, before she revealed her first major Cabinet reshuffle.

A plastic ban kicked in at the end of the month, but a vocal group insisting 5G causes cancer continued to press their case for a ban. The aftermath of the March mosque attacks continued to be felt, with news that up to 15 people injured in the shootings will need ongoing surgery for years, while a Christchurch man who shared the mosque shooting livestream was sentenced to 21 months in prison.

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A plastic bag ban kicked in at the end of June. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

RNZ's various programmes produced hard-hitting stories throughout the month, including Checkpoint's look at the long, excruciating wait for a state house, while presenter Lisa Owen found out just how hard it was to plant trees for a living. The early morning First Up show broke the news that a couple's couple's request to foster a child was rejected because they were not Pākehā and The Detail - RNZ's new daily podcast produced with Newsroom - looked at the issues with Oranga Tamariki's 'uplift' programme.

The biggest stories on rnz.co.nz for the month concerned a police officer who told a man to 'f*** off back to whatever island you came from'; Kim Dotcom going to the Supreme Court; concerns raised over a man with a domestic violence conviction playing a key role within the Royal Commission of Inquiry into state abuse; and an 11-year-old girl who was allowed to play for her school's 1st XV in a rugby tournament. The Cricket World Cup also kicked up a gear with NZ pulling off an incredible finish to beat the West Indies by five runs.

And in 'Only in New Zealand' news, a Whangārei principal said his staff may be asking for danger money after they had to help police round up cattle before school, and people were warned not to throw stones into an explosive suburban mud pool.


There were two extraordinary sporting performances by New Zealand teams at a World Cup midway through the year, but only one brought the trophy home. After a semi-final match against India that stretched into two days, the Black Caps faced off against England for a chance to be named world cricket champions, only to be cruelly denied by a rule that gave the hosts the win based on boundaries scored. But the women's netball team came away with World Cup glory with a one-goal win against Australia. The women did the job in Liverpool, but still did not get any prize money for the win.

Back home, a long-running and complex debate over the use of the land at Ihumātao exploded into a huge protest, with thousands of people taking a stand against Fletcher's plans to build a development in the area. The issue was far from settled by the end of the month, with protesters prepared for a long battle.

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A hikoi held by Ihumātao protesters. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The Brexit train rolled on slowly in Britain without really getting anywhere, even with a change at 10 Downing St which saw Boris Johnson named as PM. In the US, President Donald Trump stepped up attacks on four Democratic congresswomen, prompting NZ PM Jacinda Ardern to condemn his comments, saying she utterly disagreed with him.

Other important stories to make headlines in July included Checkpoint reporter Nita Blake-Persen's report on people queuing from 2am outside Work and Income for help; ongoing fears about gun violence in South Auckland; and major issues with Immigration NZ's electronic visa system. The naming of the winner of the Supreme Pie Award was also important for many New Zealanders.

But the biggest single story on rnz.co.nz in the month was the tale of little blue penguins who had to be removed from under a sushi bar in front of Wellington railway station, which out-performed other well-read stories such as the news that the Lord of the Rings TV series would be filmed in this country, proving once and for all that penguins are more important than hobbits to New Zealanders.

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Photo: Supplied / Spencer McIntyre


The ongoing protests at Ihumātao continued throughout August, as occupiers promised to be

there for the long haul. A hikoi marched from the grounds to the PM's electorate office, there were worries about the police presence and Māori at Ihumātao said the land should be gifted back.

In Christchurch, a pedestrian was killed when he was struck by a van fleeing from police, with a manhunt launched that took several days to find the alleged driver. In Wellington, a train driver was hailed as a hero for literally stopping a train in its tracks after a racist taunt between passengers turned nasty.

The government unveiled a plan to roll out daily free lunch trial for some schools, Head of Stats NZ Liz MacPherson resigned after a report on the botched 2018 census was released, and details of aBill to reform NZ's abortion laws were revealed.

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The former head of Stats NZ Liz MacPherson. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

In overseas news, disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his jail cell, and huge crowds appeared at protests in Hong Kong that would continue for months. Brexit continued to slowly unfold in the UK, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson requesting a suspension of parliament as the country headed towards its deadline for leaving the European Union. And in Australia, Sydney shock jock Alan Jones' comments about NZ PM Jacinda Ardern saw advertisers pull their funding.

Other stories making headlines in August included a family of nine that fled Gloriavale revealing the Christian community tried to separate their family to control them; interest rates reaching a record low in August after the Reserve Bank cut the official cash rate to 1 percent; and New Zealand continued to struggling with a measles outbreak, with hundreds of cases confirmed in Auckland.

Members of Gloriavale commune at a gathering. Founding member Hopeful Christian stands on the right.

Members of the Gloriavale Christian community. Photo: Alexander Turnbull Library

And in RNZ bird news, evidence of the world's largest parrot was uncovered in Central Otago, while a penguin about the size of a human was been unearthed in North Canterbury. Meanwhile, penguins that had been kicked out of a Wellington sushi restaurant were seen waddling into a parking building above a burger restaurant.

Tomorrow on RNZ: The year in news - September to December.