Bernard Hickey 's Opinion

Bernard is an economics columnist for the NZ Herald

Bernard Hickey: Of strategic thinkers and leaders there is little sign

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Sutch generated much of the intellectual grunt of the great reforms of the 1930s that helped pull NZ out of the Depression and redevelop its economy and social system. Photo / NZ Herald
Sutch generated much of the intellectual grunt of the great reforms of the 1930s that helped pull NZ out of the Depression and redevelop its economy and social system. Photo / NZ Herald

Where are the new "young Turks" of New Zealand's policy-making? Where is the next Bill Sutch or Sir Rod Deane?

Maybe I've missed them and they're in the background pushing for change, but I can't see them yet and New Zealand needs them to start making a noise.

This country has a great history of intellectuals and thinkers who got involved in the messy, hard business of mashing ideas into policy. Such thinkers act like a government rugby team's halfback, driving the bureaucracy's forwards around the paddock before spreading it wide for politics' backs to score tries and win votes.

New Zealand has had two great "halfbacks" in the past century. Both were economists with crucial roles in public life somewhat behind the scenes at times of great and necessary change.

Bill Sutch began as a policy-making adviser to the then centre-right Minister of Finance, Gordon Coates, in 1933.

He carried on in that office when Labour won the election and Walter Nash became Finance Minister.

Sutch generated much of the intellectual grunt of the great reforms of the 1930s that helped pull New Zealand out of the Depression and redevelop its economy and social system. He went on to serve as Secretary for Industries and Commerce in 1958. He was later accused of being a Russian spy - wrongly - and acquitted.

In the late 1970s and 1980s Sir Rod Deane reshaped the nation. First as Chief Economist and Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank in the early 1980s, Sir Rod clashed with then Prime Minister Robert Muldoon over New Zealand's economic direction. He was of a generation of policy advisers and bureaucrats who radically reshaped New Zealand from 1984, deregulating government and the economy.

Fast forward. I see massive debate in Europe, USA and Asia about how to respond and reform after the Global Financial Crisis. Assumptions about banking, monetary policy, government spending, social policy, the environment and corporate structures are all being challenged.

Yet, in New Zealand public life and inside the Reserve Bank and Treasury I can't see the next Bill Sutch or Sir Rod. I can't see the same intellectual energy and creativity in policy circles here that I see in Britain or America.

- Herald on Sunday

Bernard Hickey

Bernard is an economics columnist for the NZ Herald

Bernard Hickey is the publisher of Hive News, a Wellington-based political and economic subscription news email service. He also writes for Interest.co.nz and appears regularly on Radio New Zealand, Radio Live, TVNZ and TV3. He has been a financial journalist for 25 years, having worked for Reuters, the Financial Times Group and Fairfax Media.

Read more by Bernard Hickey

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