BUSINESSDESK: The country’s newest libertarian think tank, the New Zealand Initiative, was launched last night in Wellington, merging the New Zealand Business Roundtable and the New Zealand Institute into a new body to lobby for pro-market economic and social policies.
Leading the new organisation will be German-born economist Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich, a research fellow at the Australian Centre for Independent Studies, a Roundtable-equivalent organisation that at one stage had operations in New Zealand.
Former National Party Finance Minister Ruth Richardson is among the CIS’ former directors, along with former New Zealand Treasury Secretary Murray Horn and Geoff Ricketts, a Roundtable stalwart, tax expert and former director of the Fay Richwhite merchant bank.
While Dr Hartwich is a fresh face for New Zealand, he is a well-known television and print commentator in Australia on a wide range of economic issues from the eurozone crisis to welfare reform to the politics of climate change.
Before his CIS involvement, he was chief economist at a UK think tank, Policy Exchange.
“The New Zealand Initiative is supported by a foundation membership of major company chief executives,” said roundtable chairman Roger Partridge, who also chairs law firm Bell Gully, and the institute’s chairman Tony Carter, who formerly headed the Foodstuffs co-operative and is chairman of Fisher & Paykel Healthcare.
Messrs Partridge and Carter will jointly chair the new body, which Mr Partridge said had occurred because both organisations “recognised that the New Zealand market was not big enough for two independent CEO think tanks and could see that by joining forces they could be much more effective.”
He added: “We found we had a strong sense of common purpose. We want to help shape the landscape and start a national conversation on ideas that have intellectual integrity and rigour and the potential for profound, positive long-term impact on the well-being of New Zealand."
The New Zealand Initiative would “build on the legacies of its two founding organisations and will focus on raising debate on public policy and contributing bold, rigorously-researched ideas to achieve a more prosperous future for New Zealand,” the co-chairmen said in a statement.
The roundtable was founded in 1985 and was an early private sector advocate of the economic reforms of the fourth Labour government. It was led throughout its history by former Treasury economist Roger Kerr, who died last year.
The New Zealand Institute was established after the 2003 “Catching the Knowledge Wave” conference, sponsored by the University of Auckland, and was initially envisaged as a less doctrinaire alternative think tank to the roundtable.
Its influence, however, appeared to wane after the departure of its original director, David Skilling.
Both organisations held to principles of non-partisan, public interest advocacy, which the New Zealand Initiative will also share.
The merger comes at a time when other business lobby groups are also merging or closing, most notably the recent folding of the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development into Business New Zealand, the closure this week of the Greenhouse Policy Coalition, and the creation of a new Financial Services Council from several smaller bodies.