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Owen Glenn

Now is the hour for our leadership to arise

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Leaders grow things; they also make positive possibilities happen. So where are our ones when we need them most?

We had leaders once. Maybe we still do but they’re conspicuous by their vocal absence. Where are those who did amazing things, spoke their mind freely, and lived with a sense of vision, energy, drive, purpose and just the right amount of humility?

The ones who helped us grow as a nation and in turn grow in stature in all parts of the world.

It worries me that people who have opinions, insights, intelligence—and are proven leaders in their own worlds—aren’t lending their voice to ways to solve our most pressing problems. Even so-called lobbyists seem tongue tied.

Look no further than our various dollar notes to get a taste of what this country was capable of creating. At the same time, I wonder how they would manage in today’s environment.

Would the Resource Management Act have kept Sir Edmund Hillary off the mountain?

Would political correctness have caused Kate Shepherd to forget about her stand on suffrage and keep her in ‘her place’?

Would Sir Apirana Ngata have relied on race based politics to lead his people forward?

Would the Health Safety Act have prevented Lord Rutherford from entering the laboratory and certainly away from the perils of atom splitting?

I would like to think not yet the system we’ve allowed to be created might be too much for even the mighty to bear.

The problem is we’ve become overly reliant on others versus ourselves to define our direction. Our over reliance on ‘Government’—as in “Government will do this, or Government will pay for that”—is an attitude that has become sorely ingrained. I for one believe that some decisions being made, particularly in relation to debt burden, don’t make sense. Moreover, I’m not afraid to say it but maybe I’m in a minority.

In my mind Government has become way too hands on and too regulated. Too often politicians demonstrate their cleverness—and being ‘on the job—by micromanaging things to death. They take control and then strangulate enterprise and initiative.

How refreshing would it be to hear them say “I’m out of my depth and I need some help” and then enlist the support of those with experience and ideas? Those who confuse debate with dissent aren’t made of the right stuff.

I also believe that MMP is a factor in this problem that allows anyone a voice even if they in fact have no capability, experience or real insight into problem solving. Compromise and consensus are honourable things but can make for very poor policy and decision making.

Rather than merely shaking a finger of blame I believe there are some practical steps to help lead us back to where we are capable of being.

1. Be very clear about the connection between your vote and the responsibilities of those elected.

Have a read of the manifesto that dictates the functionality of how our Government is supposed to work—the said document being The Report of the New Zealand Royal Commission on the Electoral System.

Here is just a taste of some food for thought.

  • * Parliament is, to some degree, a ‘mirror of the nation’ which should look, feel, think, and act in a way which reflects the people as a whole.
  • * Accountability is one of the bedrocks of representative government, as it provides a check on individuals … betraying the promises they made during the campaign.
  • * An accountable political system is one where both the government and the elected members of Parliament are responsible to their constituents to the highest degree possible.

Is this the quality of the representation we’re receiving? If it’s not, what are we all doing about it?

2. Admit we have a crisis

If New Zealand Herald Business commentator Brian Gaynor is correct, we have a problem. And it’s called debt. Total Government indebtedness is $72.4 billion–$17,200 for every New Zealander or nearly $69,000 for a family of four. Debt that we owe and that the Government doesn’t seem to be too concerned about forgetting in fact that without us they wouldn’t exist for this is OUR money they’re playing with.

New Zealand is up to its eye balls in debt—in my opinion the word drowning might be more closer to the mark. The solution that some give is to look at more taxation without any notion of how to increase productivity to balance even more bloodletting. This is not a time for playing politics but rather looking at what the models might be where we get the best from the limited resources we have. Be they publically or privately held and given as a ‘hand up’ rather than a ‘hand out’.

3. Cooperation during crisis

Countries similar to ours have faced massive crises not dissimilar to ours. The more successful countries in the bunch—particularly Finland and South Korea—set themselves apart from the rest by investing early in improving the quality of education and inducing high investment in research and development. This is exactly what we should be doing…and if we’re doing it we need to do more. Leadership would see the establishment of a bipartisan political consensus for what’s needed to simultaneously solve the dilemmas of an economic crisis and ensure long-term and sustainable growth.

We need clear policy so those capable to boosting our exporting and productivity have a clear flight path. Again, Ireland in the late 1980s, Finland in the early 1990s, and South Korea after the Asian crisis showed that these agreements are possible and can be supported by policymakers, businesses, and labour alike.

4. Back the tried and true

To significantly grow exports we need to get into a go forward gear. Total focus must be on exponential export growth over the current $43 billion level. We are building off a good platform as the trend in exports has been growing strongly since October 2010.

The New Zealand Reserve Bank notes expansion of incumbent exporters into new trade relationships account for around 60% of the total growth in aggregate trade in New Zealand between 1996-98 and 2004-2006. This contribution far outweighs the 12-16 percent contribution of new entering exporters yet anything that helps even fledgling firms will have benefits for aggregate export earnings.

A two-pronged approach—creating more “incumbent exporters” who, once underway, then pick up momentum in developing their export business into additional marketplaces—is a way forward. We need to play to our comparative strengths—where our share of world trade is high relative to our overall share—and not be distracted by side shows or faddism. Processed or unprocessed products sourced from agriculture, horticulture, fishing or forestry industries remain our strong suit. A number of these processed products rely on relatively sophisticated innovation inputs such as RD, technology and marketing skills.

If any sort of ‘hand brake’ is put on this sector we’re all losers—long-term and big time. With two out of three of our jobs being dependent on trade, and with $4 of every $10 that our economy produces being generated by exports, its place in the national scheme of things self evident.

5. Utilise all we have, but do it responsibly

New Zealand agriculture generates $20 billion annual revenue. Our competencies in the high tech arena are improving with the top 10 exporters alone contributing $3.9 billion. Now imagine if we added our on-shore and off-shore mineral riches to this wealth creation mix.

Doug Gordon chief executive of the New Zealand Minerals Industry Association wrote in the National Business Review we’re second only to Saudi Arabia in terms of natural capital per capita. The estimate is that some of our minerals – gold, other metals and low-rank coals – are valued at more than $250 billion. That’s around $60,000 for each New Zealand man, woman and child – without factoring in oil and gas.

In the recently announced Energy Strategy the Government says that New Zealand could earn up to $12.7 billion in royalties if current oil exploration rates were to double. The 2009 petroleum action plan has set the bar on lifting the value of petroleum exports to NZ$30 billion by 2025.

There are certainly riches there to be exploited but NOT at the expense of anything that would harm our reputation and our environment. There are opportunities but there is no room for shortcuts or compromises.

6. Look after, and invest in, our most important asset. Our children.

New Zealand has changed from being a place where people would flock to give their children a wonderful environment to grow up in to a country failing its youth. Where the current appalling statistics on child abuse and neglect—not to mention youth unemployment, crime and suicide—keep moving upwards on our national score board.

Grass roots initiatives—paid for by those most affected by the problems and with the most to gain from improvements—would be wonderful to see. Fo

r example, this is where investment from Treaty settlements could make a real difference by putting money into measurable, and accountable, grass roots programmes.

We need to involve talent and resources from both the private and public sector. Education and skill development are critical. One thing we can and should do immediately is re-establish the youth minimum wage. This policy could have great effect in taking young people out of their downward spiral and also giving prospective employers the motivation to start employing again.

We are in a precarious position but we also have advantages, riches and capabilities that many others around the globe do envy. Now is the hour—not to say goodbye to all of this but re-instate ourselves as a first rate, first world nation. Now is also the time for appropriate leadership to come to the fore.