Business leaders are anxious to see the government plan for the future economic transformation that New Zealand needs to get back on track following the Covid-19 disruption, says EMA chief executive Brett O'Riley.
"When I say back on track, I don't just mean a plan for recovery. It has got to be more significant than that. "We have a unique opportunity at this moment to achieve the fundamental and longstanding changes for our economy and our communities that the EMA and its members have been calling for over recent years.
"We want to see transformation of New Zealand into a more productive and resilient economy that is capable of generating the returns we will need to repay the Covid mountain of debt. This will take a new approach grounded in technology-driven change," O'Riley says.
The opportunity is that hand in hand with the productivity growth can come the development of higher-skilled and consequently higher-paid jobs in globally competitive sectors. "We need to decide where we want our productivity to be and purposefully invest towards that goal."
The late Sir Paul Callaghan set out some of this direction. Sir Paul's vision for New Zealand was a place where talent wants to live, with a strong focus on growing technology penetration in traditional sectors and growing the high-tech sector itself.
History also records New Zealand being willing to make bold calls on infrastructure that has enabled growth. The EMA and the BusinessNZ Network have advocated hard over recent years to get this long-term thinking back on the table and it has been pleasing to see this a big part of the election policies to date, says O'Riley.
"So we have some of these pieces of the transformation jigsaw taking shape, but we need an integrated plan that brings it together. It should be a plan led by the private sector and iwi — as inter-generational investors — in partnership with government. The plan should also attract third party investment and skills from investor migrants and returning Kiwis.
"We also need a plan that addresses the productivity challenge across multiple sectors, including a skills development regime that develops workforce capability and reduces social inequity.
"The Reform of Vocational Education changes are part of this, but it will require a more dynamic approach."
O'Riley says as the next step EMA has called on the Government to bring a group together to drive this transformation, but the election has intervened. "Rob Fyfe continues to play a key role in some of these areas, so too does the BusinessNZ Network and the many associations and businesses we represent.
"We believe we need a tripartite Economic Transformation Group that is formed immediately after the election to lead this activity. The group requires a long-term mandate and serious support resources from the private and public sector to develop and implement its thinking.
"Here we can take a leaf out of the approach taken in Australia, with their Covid-19 Commission chaired by Neville Power."
O'Riley says a transformation framework will provide a roadmap for what needs to change to drive growth in the sectors that will sustain the economy into the future — namely infrastructure, health, manufacturing, agritech, high-value food, creative technologies, and other technology. "Then it's up to businesses to be really purposeful about capitalising on this opportunity for change. "They need to access all the assistance they can to recover quickly, and then move equally swiftly into the transformation stage.
"Now that really would change the mood of not just the boardroom but the country."
Brett O'Riley's top issues
• Top three issues facing New Zealand
Our border: we need to make our border and immigration policy and processing a strategic advantage, through partnership with the private sector, using technology and best operational practice.
Our productivity: we need to improve business productivity across all sectors, requiring a rapid increase in the use of technology with incentives encouraging capital investment in hardware and software, retraining staff, and greater investment in research and development.
Our infrastructure: we need to develop new infrastructure faster, requiring fast-track RMA, procurement and more flexible project implementation such as operating projects 24/7.
• Top three business priorities for the next six months
Cashflow: we need as many businesses as possible to be allowed to operate during the Covid-19 alert levels.
Immigration: businesses need a properly functioning system that provides certainty in accessing skilled labour, either already onshore or through the border.
Ongoing operational issues: within the public sector response to Covid-19.