Law of land seems up for grabs to highest bidder

David Cunliffe. Photo / Natalie Slade
David Cunliffe. Photo / Natalie Slade

David Cunliffe says New Zealand certainly needs 'can do' leadership but is not getting it from the National Party.

Economic development - the quest for jobs and prosperity - is vital for our country's future and to provide opportunities for our children.

Our opponents have tried to frame us as the party of "can't do". This is so hypocritical it demands a response.

Both major parties want New Zealand businesses to grow and export. Both agree that capital, technology, skilled labour, entrepreneurship and natural resources drive economic success. Most Kiwis would agree good public services like first world health, education and justice systems are a necessary complement to this.

But there are important differences of approach.

The government appears to emphasise primary and extractive industries; seeking to keep costs down and to increase commodity volumes.

Ministers welcome low wages as an advantage, and accept reliance on commodity price cycles and a volatile Kiwi dollar as inevitable.

Our alternative view is based around adding more value to our production through new technology, innovation and skills; earning a premium from our clean, green brand and ensuring investment adds to national wealth rather than draining it offshore.

Also at issue is what the role of government should be to help build economic success.

The government does not appear to have a clear vision or plan for economic development. The Minister of Finance has said that "a government can't have a lot of impact on the job market" and "it is what it is". Treasury's post-election advice is to deregulate, cut taxes and hope. The government apparently relies on the "invisible hand" of the market to deliver a "brighter future" as if by magic.

Yet the Ministry of Economic Development advised its incoming minister that "New Zealand is a small and remote economy ... which cannot rely on the automatic actions of market forces to create the outcomes we want."

Faced with these contradictory philosophies, the government has missed almost every measurable economic growth target it has set itself. This week it confirmed reorganisation is a substitute for strategy: it is to merge the Ministries of Economic Development, and Science and Innovation as well as the Departments of Labour, and of Building and Housing with only vague aspirations as to cost savings and no constructive guiding rationale.

Meanwhile, it is picking "winners" from the big end of town: casinos, media and film companies, and telcos have all enjoyed special favours. Some ministers appear to consider the law of our land is up for auction to the highest bidder.

Labour wants to see a positive partnership between government and business, but one anchored in a shared vision of New Zealand's future prosperity as an innovative, resource-rich, sustainable economy.

We want government to get behind Kiwi business with a robust economic development plan that is ready to implement on entering office.

The government's role as partner should be informed by how well markets are performing. When markets are competitive and working well they should be free to get on with it, enjoying a light-handed business environment.

Where specific problems arise because of competition issues, missing resources or inappropriate policies, government has a responsibility to work with the market to address those, so it can work properly and benefit the wider economy.

And where a major market failure or natural monopolies exist, or when natural disasters strike, decisive action may be required to put the community's interests first.

A clear, strategic approach is needed not only economy-wide but also at sector and regional levels. It makes good practical sense to look at how different sectors of the economy work and what can be done to help them improve their performance.

The opportunities for innovation and value adding in forestry, fisheries, niche manufacturing, ICT, bioscience, dairy, wine, meat and tourism can best be developed on an industry-wide basis.

Government can, and should, play a creative, fostering role in this through tailored policy and the co-ordinated support of aligned agencies.

There are also huge opportunities in clean technologies and renewable energy options that, with appropriate facilitation, could become major export earners as well as securing our future energy needs.

A well-structured sector strategy is good insurance against the kind of one-off deals for the favoured and powerful few that is a hallmark of the present government.

Regional development is also common sense if implemented within a clear strategic framework for measurable returns. Each part of New Zealand has different resources, businesses and skills available. Each has local government, economic development agencies and local business leaders keen to work together to better their regions.

Most Kiwis want a lot more "can do" from their government and a credible plan to deliver it.

They do not want a negative, cost-driven approach; or one-off deals lacking transparent processes. They do not accept that selling off our future - state energy companies, for example - is the best way to build one. More than a thousand a week are voting with their feet.

Like most New Zealanders, Labour wants a positive partnership between government and business to develop our economy, sectors and regions; to add value and build good jobs that will sustain our families here for generations to come.

- NZ Herald

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