Don't expect the arrival of new Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr to mean big changes to your mortgage rate outlook.

There has been plenty of speculation about what the gregarious, straight talking and socially conscious Orr might mean for interest rates.

It goes with the territory in the arcane world of monetary policy, where every word of every statement is pored over by economists and financial analysts for clues and hidden meanings.

Whether it's the new chair of the US Federal Reserve, president of the European Central Bank or our own Reserve Bank Governor, the big question is always: will they be a Hawk or a Dove?


What does that even mean? We hear those labels all the time in relation to rates, although they come originally from military language.

In military terminology it's a simple enough analogy for leadership styles. Hawks are more likely to attack stuff, doves are birds of peace.

In monetary policy terminology it can seem a little more complicated. But the key point is inflation is considered the enemy.

So a hawkish governor will be more inclined to raise rates, to keep money supply tight and inflation low.

A dovish governor would be more inclined to cut rates, leaving the money supply looser and potentially allowing inflation to rise.

Generally, central bankers agree inflation is bad news and destroys wealth. They also want to keep capital flowing around an economy and allow businesses and households to borrow to invest in the future.

So it's a balancing act.

In fact it is such a fine balance analysts will often start to put serious weight on the perceived personal bias of the leader at the Central Bank.


Inflation has been very low since the global financial crisis in 2008.

Last week new figures showed the annual rate in New Zealand is just 1.1 per cent - close to the bottom end of the Reserve Bank's target.

Some economists argue this is now a structural phenomenon.

In other words technology and globalisation have changed the nature of economics to the extent inflation will stay lower regardless of interest-rate settings.

Others are wary and believe the depth of the GFC has simply created an extended cycle of low inflation - one that could still turn back sharply, catching us unawares.

But although economists with a public presence stake out bold positions in these debates, central bankers are invariably more flexible - reassessing every few months when they consider their next move. That brings me back to our new governor.

Orr was quite explicit about it all last week, telling me we shouldn't mistake a passion for issues such as social equality, diversity and the environment for a softer approach to rate setting.

Some people do assume that, he said.

The counter argument would be Orr is old enough to remember the damage that high inflation did to the economy in the 1970s and 1980s.

He's well aware it disproportionately erodes the wealth of the poorest people in society.

Regardless, he is keen to downplay his personal outlook in the process of analysing inflation risk.

Orr describes discussion about whether he'll be a hawk or a dove as naive. He makes the point the Reserve Bank is not short of smart economic brains and adding one more isn't what will mark a key difference in approach.

That's quite a change from the traditional image of governor, which has, for decades, involved an almost priestly aura of omniscience.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't expect to see big changes at the Reserve Bank - in fact, Orr seems intent on reinventing it at a more fundamental level.

He wants to broaden the Reserve Bank's public leadership role on the economy.

He wants to drive a great financial literacy among New Zealanders by communicating more widely and openly.

Orr's language and energy are more reminiscent of a fired-up chief executive than the studious academic style we've become accustomed to since the governors first came to wider public prominence under Don Brash.

So, think Christopher Luxon or Rob Fyfe at Air New Zealand, Simon Moutter at Spark.

The fast-paced passion and enthusiasm of Craig Norgate - who drove the formation of Fonterra - also comes to mind.

Orr is talking big about the kind of culture change that sweeps through New Zealand institutions once in a generation.

It's a style he employed with great success in a decade heading up the NZ Super Fund - driving excellence in financial returns and internal culture.

If there's a nod to his predecessors, it is his acknowledgement the current rock-solid positioning on interest rates provides him with breathing room.

Most economists don't see any likelihood of the Reserve Bank having to move interest rates until at least the middle of next year and possibly not until early 2020.

Like all good leaders, Orr has the ability to make the common sense sound radical and to inspire people to embrace change.

Rates may not be moving for a while, but it looks set to be a fascinating period for the venerable institution.