Five ways NZ should get back to business

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With the most resounding mandate in living memory, what’s a third term National Party-led New Zealand Government to do?

"This is a rare opportunity for a new Government to think long term."
David Hisco, CEO ANZ New Zealand

In a country with an electoral system designed to prevent absolute majorities and deliver absurdly short three-year terms, this is a rare opportunity for a new Government to think long term.

Keeping their promises around reforms to the Resource Management Act and employment laws is important, but as a nation we shouldn’t be afraid to set our sights higher.

How about this handful of ideas for starters?

Create the best schools in the world

From a business perspective, only education will provide our new, high-value industries with the scientists, engineers and software gurus they need to grow into multi-billion dollar engines of our economy.

But it’s more than that. Education is without a doubt the answer to so many of our most pressing social problems and ultimately the only way to create the equality so many talked about during the election campaign.

Without education, the generations trapped in poverty cycles will never escape. It’s the encouragement of inspirational teachers that sees kids from tough homes lift their sights and see what lies beyond the mean streets of their home suburb.

It’s via education that these kids become equipped for a job that will help them make a better life than the one they’ve come from.  I know that because some of those kids end up working at ANZ, and it is so pleasing to see them take a step their family is all proud of.

Social mobility through education is not a quick, one-term cure. It’s a generational commitment to alter the structure of our society by encouraging our youngest minds to believe they can build a better life.     

There was a time when other countries said New Zealand had the best schools in the world. Many of the managerial classes of Malaysia and Singapore were educated in New Zealand during the 1960s and 1970s through the Colombo Plan. With education being a New Zealand export industry, it is important we regain that global position.

Our educators are great. There are plenty of brilliant ideas for improving our schools and helping teachers to be better educators.

Perhaps the most important shift we need is in attitude. As a society we need to make a conscious shift so we all value education as the most important social and economic input.

It’s only via education, and specifically through our schools, that we can spark a step change in our ability to prosper in the information age.

In my view, it would galvanise New Zealand if our most popular leader in 50 years stood up and said let’s make ‘the best schools in the world’ a national goal.

Let’s encourage technology-based industries

Dairy is a great industry and is the powerhouse of our economy. But our exports need to be more broadly based. Our smart manufacturers are the answer.

We need more Xeros and Wynyards and smaller e-commerce businesses. In the internet-connected world we now live in, distance is no longer the ball and chain it used to be for New Zealand. But we can still do more to lift the importance of technology.

For example, the Prime Minister could consider establishing a Chief Technology Adviser for the country as he did with the establishment of a Chief Science Advisor.

This new role would be accountable for driving and promoting a national strategy to encourage and cajole government departments, academia and the private sector around technology.

We need to be greener

As China and India continue to grow they’ll want more protein and New Zealand is one of the best producers of it. But our future growth of red meat and dairy exports cannot follow the same path as its first 100 years of development. If it does then we’ll undermine the environment - and those industries.

We need to encourage, finance and support the use of technology so we have smarter farming that doesn’t impact the environment, particularly our precious waterways.

Fencing and planting around waterways is a good start. But we should be more aggressive about the use of technology to measure, capture and treat effluent on farms.

If we don’t then consumers and investors will make that choice for us as they trace back how their food is produced and where their investment dollars are going.

Build twice as many houses

Housing affordability is the pressing issue for urban New Zealanders. The elevator of economic progress in New Zealand has always been home ownership for everyone - right across the socioeconomic spectrum. But at the current pace of house price rises we risk creating a generation of disenfranchised, second class citizens – ‘Generation Rent’.

The housing affordability issue is a housing supply issue, pure and simple. In 1974 there were 34,400 new homes built. Last year there were 15,000 - less than half. It’s no wonder houses doubled in price in under a decade in Auckland.

The solution is simple – urgently build more houses. To do that in places like Auckland we need to build more suburbs and allow intensification in existing areas.

The consenting process needs to be faster and less expensive and people shouldn’t be allowed to get development approval and then sit on the land in the hope of a capital gain. And, of course, we need people to build houses - that will mean training and more employment for Kiwis and most likely also the need to recruit more tradespeople from overseas.

Invest in tourism infrastructure

Tourism is the quiet achiever of our economy. It’s time for a big, brave, environmentally-sound tourism development that will create high value-add experiences for the biggest spending tourists from overseas.

There were some high- profile big picture tourism developments turned down during the Government’s last term - the new Milford Sound to Queenstown tunnel and the Fiordland Monorail.

There may have been good reasons for not going ahead with either of these but it was fantastic to see that pioneering big-thinking spirit alive and well in the New Zealand tourism industry.

Kiwis have never lacked for inventiveness. This is the country that invented the jet boat so they could travel at high speed over shallow water and first put skis on light aeroplanes so they could land on high mountain glaciers. 

Our tourism developments used to be notable for their courage too. The Homer Tunnel into Milford Sound was opened in 1954. The Haast Pass was opened in 1960 and the loop highway linking the West Coast to Central Otago was completed in 1965.

What are the next big ideas from our tourism entrepreneurs? What if the Government signalled a willingness to hear them, alongside guidelines about acceptable environmental impact?

So now with the election out of the way, and a very clear mandate from the people of New Zealand, I think it’s time to think bold New Zealand.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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