Business to government: get on with it
Thursday’s New Zealand Herald Mood of the Boardroom report sent a clear message to just get on with it.
The usual issues were at the fore. Business leaders overwhelmingly think much more must be done to develop the mining industry, with 75% wanting to include the conservation estate. Over 90% believe John Key needs to break his promise on superannuation entitlements.
The Resource Management Act – which all governments promise to fix but never do – was clearly identified as needing wholesale reform. The same was true of incompetent local councils and their ever-increasing powers.
Alarmingly, 80% said the government has failed to articulate its economic plan and half don’t think it has one beyond its obviously doomed target of returning to surplus in 2014/15.
Most gut-wrenching is that only 20% of business leaders believe their own children will choose to make New Zealand their home. Half are sure New Zealand will fail to reach its potential.
Underpinning the responses, is that while business leaders continue to like Mr Key and believe he is far better than the Labour/Green alternative, patience with his government is running out.
Rangatira Investments chief executive Ian Frame put it most bluntly: ‘‘Because of MMP, John Key probably won’t be in power beyond 2014, so the target [for the government’s ‘to do’ list] needs to be 2014, not 2017.”
Mr Frame would be quite wrong if he is saying he doesn’t believe Mr Key will secure a third term.
Winston Peters will never agree to be the third wheel in a Labour/Green coalition. As long as Mr Key keeps National’s support above 40%, and the MMP threshold is reduced to 4%, he can probably take his third term for granted, relying on the support of NZ First and Colin Craig’s new Conservative Party. He could be assured of joining the three-term club alongside Sir Robert Muldoon, Jim Bolger and Helen Clark.
But ,if Mr Frame’s comment was pointing out that Mr Key would have no power under such a scenario, he would be quite right.
Like the Bolger/Peters and Clark/Peters governments before it, the third term National/NZ First/Conservative government will of course be a fiasco and nothing will be achieved.
Any SOE share issues that have not been completed before the next election will have to be cancelled and progress on managing superannuation and healthcare costs will be impossible.
If Mr Key and finance minister Bill English want to have any enduring legacy at all, the time for them to act boldly and decisively is right now.
The mood of the boardroom survey outlines a reasonable agenda they could follow.
Top of the list must surely be natural resources and, to its credit, the government began paving the way for a renewed effort on mining at its party conference last weekend.
It would be simply sinful to leave in the ground and under the waters many hundreds of billions of dollars of oil, gas and minerals that would otherwise transform New Zealand into one of the richest countries in the world, fund essential infrastructure and social services, and prevent the children of 80% of business leaders from leaving New Zealand.
Half the business leaders even support the somewhat socialist Norwegian model, under which that country has poured the surplus wealth from oil exploration into its global and domestic government pension funds.
The country of five million people now has approximately $NZ30 billion in its domestic fund, or $6000 per Norwegian.
The country of 5 million people now has approximately NZ$730 billion in its global fund, or around $146,000 per Norwegian, and about another NZ$30 billion in its domestic fund, or $6000 per Norwegian. The value of the funds may exceed $NZ4 trillion by 2030 or $NZ800,000 per Norwegian.
Norway also has a very strong tourism industry, based on an appropriately politically-correct eco-proposition, which generates roughly the same percentage of GDP as New Zealand tourism does for this country.
Our own former prime minister, Helen Clark, famously used to go to northern Norway to telemark in the dark rather than enjoy the New Zealand summer.
It seems that Norway’s commitment to getting rich out of oil exploration has done nothing to hurt its eco-tourism industry or its reputation for having a beautiful, untouched natural environment.
Remember that, next time you hear Forest & Bird, Nick Smith, the Green Party or Greenpeace prattling on about the risk to New Zealand’s clean and green reputation.
Remember it also when you hear one of Mr Key’s ministers talking about “striking the right balance” between mining and tourism.
There is no balance to be struck between mining and tourism. You just do both. It would take an awful lot of eco-kayaking adventures in the Catlins to make up for leaving perhaps $NZ1 trillion of New Zealand oil, gas and minerals under the ground and sea.
There are now only 862 days until the last realistic date for the next general election. It is an election Mr Key will almost certainly win but then find himself without power.
The message from the business community is that he should make these next 862 days count.
Disclosure: Matthew Hooton’s public relations firm, Exceltium, has clients in both the minerals and eco-tourism sectors.