Businessman and Act donor Alan Gibbs' first overseas trip was to Singapore in 1963 at the age of 24.

"It was just a typical poverty-stricken Asian-cum-African sort of country - people living in the streets, stalls, little shacks, and you felt pretty sorry for them," he told the Herald.

Now he uses every opportunity to promote the Singapore way and its free markets as the path to prosperity for New Zealand, as he did at the Act Party conference at the weekend.

Mr Gibbs develops amphibious vehicles, and one of his 7m trucks is going to be made under licence in Singapore in a year, but his special interest in the country began a year ago when he was searching the internet for ideas for his regular speaking slot at the Act conference.


"We were five times wealthier than them. They are now twice as wealthy as us. And they've got much better healthcare and longer lives and much better education. Imagine that."

Mr Gibbs said Singapore was fourth in education in the world and spent only 3.1 per cent of its GDP on education compared to 7.3 per cent in New Zealand, "So you can be stupider for more."

When he was challenged on the floor of the conference about Singapore's human rights record, he said he was not arguing it was perfection but it still had a lot it could teach New Zealand. He thinks saving should be made compulsory, as it is in Singapore, and all state-owned enterprises should be sold, with the proceeds deposited in KiwiSaver accounts.

He urged Act to be radical but said later that he was telling the party what he would like the outcome to be, not how to do it.