Panel discusses topics ranging from NZ's short election cycle to the country's lack of economic diversification

Top business leaders picked issues ranging from inequality, complacency to pressure on infrastructure as the main problems facing the country.

A panel discussion at the CEO Summit in Auckland also dealt with problems created by New Zealand's relatively short election cycle and lack of economic diversification.

Mighty River Power and TVNZ chair Joan Withers said reducing inequality while maintaining the ability to create wealth was a big challenge.

"What I see is a growing gap in terms of the potential of people on both ends of the socio-economic spectrum in New Zealand and that worries me," Withers said.


Programmes such as that run by the Tindall Foundation and government education initiatives to provide support for disadvantaged children were successful, but teachers needed to be more accountable and paid more, she said.

Tony Carter, chairman of Air NZ and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare and a director of Fletcher Building and ANZ Bank said the three-year election cycle meant governments tended to focus on re-election in the last year of their term.

"It does bring a short-term focus to how we think about some of these issues -- if you compare it to places like Singapore, which has a longer term horizon, and they've benefited as a result," Carter said.

New Zealand's tourism boom was a challenge. "And it's going to continue to grow. The big worry I have is if that growth gets to the point that New Zealanders start to resent it because of the pressure the infrastructure is under," Carter said.

Rob Campbell, chairman of Tourism Holdings, Summerset Group Holdings, G3 Group, and a director of Precinct Properties and T&G Global, said complacency was still a problem in this country. Although things have improved, New Zealand still ranked highly by most measures and this had produced a "she'll be right" attitude.

"You don't hear that phrase any more but I think the complacency is still there," Campbell said. "We congratulate ourselves in economic growth terms, but in per capita terms we're not doing very well at all."

Vaughan Baker, managing director of telco firm MyRepublic said New Zealand risked being left behind if it didn't rethink its economic priorities.

"I think the economic framework we have in place reflected our economy and society at a certain point of time but it hasn't necessarily kept pace with the changes we're trying to drive through," Baker said.

New Zealand was at a crossroads.

"We either become a Hong Kong or a Singapore, or a Tonga with dairy."

- Staff reporter