We are rightly congratulating ourselves on an exceptional, world leading performance in tackling Covid-19. We now need to aim for the same for our economic recovery.
Our economy is as much about people as our public health system and making good economic recovery is as much a matter of national focus, wellbeing and pride as winning the battle against the pandemic.
The Government said its "go early, go hard" strategy would be the best way to get business back working sooner. It was hoped that businesses would understand the Government's economic priorities and would be ready to quickly grow strong again.
Regrettably, this is not the case.
It is dangerous to think that business will simply restart automatically and return to previous levels of prosperity without any further thought. Businesses need support. They need government to do what only government can do – and that is creating and facilitating the right frameworks and environment for private sector led growth.
There are five key ways in which government can do this:
Encourage export led growth
New Zealand has always been an export driven nation and much of our wealth comes from this. Our domestic economy is too small to sustain us for long. Government should do everything it can to encourage existing exporters and new exporters, entrepreneurs and companies who may not have thought of exporting before to go global - and quickly. We also need the right supporting infrastructure to enable that. For example, backing Air NZ and other airlines to carry freight to more markets.
We need to create a new smart border based not on the country the person comes from but the state of their health. We have never been able to function as a country without skilled migration, and we still need to travel to meet overseas counterparts face to face in business to build trust in a new product or service. Nothing about the current crisis changes that. The longer we keep our borders closed, the poorer we become.
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Strive for productivity
Much of New Zealand's growth story over the last 10 years has been based on high levels of immigration – this lays bare our current productivity challenge. However, we can tackle this by encouraging more export intensity and by making small businesses much more invested in cloud computing services and increasing digital capability more broadly. We can also explore new possibilities for research and development. The government's R&D tax credit is unlikely to be very effective for some time. So new ways of connecting business with the global science and innovation sector should be a real priority.
Focus on good quality jobs
This is about trying to make sure that as soon as people hit the dole queue or even before, we actively engage in reskilling them and giving them confidence about the next job opportunity ahead. The Welfare Expert Advisory Group, which reported its findings last year, recommended major changes to the job matching and upskilling activities of Work and Income. It is now time for those outcomes to be given the serious consideration they deserve.
At the same time, we should consider making all industry training free in New Zealand to everyone for the next two years to try and make sure nothing stands in the way of people picking up a new skill and investing in themselves or others.
Ensure equity and inclusion
The biggest driver of equity and inclusion is a good quality job. Jobs are not just for income, but also for physical and mental health. They provide people with choices and staircases to better futures. That still needs to be core but at the same time we need to make sure that those who are often at the edges of our society, the disabled for example, are put much more at the centre of our efforts to enable equity and inclusion in whatever we do.
Adopt a 'can do' attitude and increase the pace
We need to look at what we can do, not at what we can't. We need to shift our attitudes to unleash our potential and encourage innovation and we need to step up the pace. We are not very good at doing things quickly in New Zealand but that, now, needs to change. We will be helped by the fact that other economies will be pulling out of the crisis and growing more strongly over the next few years.
But if we let ourselves drift back into introspection, inactivity and lack of ambition then we will fail as others around us succeed. If we take a view that we should shut down growth possibilities just because of politics, then we will fail. Above all, if we take a view that Government is at the centre, and not the private sector, then we will fail.
Our colleagues and friends across the Tasman are already debating this last point loud and strong. We should follow their lead immediately in making private sector led growth and high-quality jobs our cornerstone of public policy over the next few years. This will give us a chance to beat the gloomy economic forecasts and be the envy of the world again.
Phil O'Reilly is the managing director of Iron Duke Partners Ltd.