Kiwis choose to be poor, laments top scientist

By Hamish Fletcher

It's not just a case of fostering economic growth but maintaining the lifestyle New Zealanders enjoy. Photo / Martin Sykes
It's not just a case of fostering economic growth but maintaining the lifestyle New Zealanders enjoy. Photo / Martin Sykes

Kiwis are poor because they choose to be, says Sir Paul Callaghan, one of the country's top scientists.

This assertion was part of a series of attacks he has directed at the Government's plans to develop the economy.

"The choice is as simple and as stark as this: New Zealanders like to work in low-wage activities. Tourism is a classic example. Or people thinking about growing wine and look it's great, it's a nice lifestyle, but frankly, the revenue per job is poor," he said.

Callaghan says the Government's goal should be to get more workers into jobs that produce high-value exports.

If this is done, he has no doubt it will produce wealth for the country.

"If you look at the profile of high-tech companies in New Zealand, you see the diversity [of what they develop], you see some surprising strengths.

We've got a tremendous capacity and we have the capability of growing this sector significantly," he said.

However, Callaghan said the Government did not seem interested in boosting technology and innovation.

"There is no political leadership around this. One of the sad things about the Budget is the signal the Government sends about innovation is that it's actually one of Bill English's like-to-haves, not a must-have. I'm not expecting us to ramp it up to OECD levels overnight in a time like this, but [the Budget] doesn't gel with a Government that says 'we want to lift per capita GDP'," he said.

Callaghan also contended that governments to date, regardless of who was in power, gave research funding to industries that have not performed well. With more directed and focused government R & D spending, he said, more young people needed to be steered towards high-value industries.

"The model for kids at the moment is if you're bright you become a doctor or a lawyer or something like that and if you're a doctor you leave the country," he said.

But in keeping and attracting the best and brightest minds, Callaghan said, it was not just a case of fostering economic growth but maintaining the lifestyle New Zealanders enjoy.

"Part of our business model needs to be that we do protect the things that make this a great country to live in, clearly one of the things is the environment. If you had one vision ... for the country, it should be [making it] a place where talent wants to live."

- NZ Herald

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