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A Place Where Talent Wants To Live

by fatweb


David Shearer is the MP for Mt Albert and leader of the Labour Party

I was in Tolaga Bay recently for The Transit of Venus Forum. The theme was “lifting our horizon” and hundreds of scientists, businesspeople and delegates were there to share their ideas on, in the words of my late friend Sir Paul Callaghan, “making New Zealand a place where talent wants to live”.

Topics included science and prosperity, restoring and enhancing the environment, and getting the best out of our people.

At a time when a thousand New Zealanders are moving to Australia every week, unemployment is up by 9000 people and we’ve had a zero-growth budget from the National government; it was a timely occasion.

Sir Paul had a huge impact on me. We shared a view that our economy doesn’t have to grow at the expense of the environment. Apply science, innovation and clever design and the two can flourish together. That’s what I think is really going to turn heads in international markets.

We can be a place of opportunity that attracts people from around the world who want to make it their home. Let’s invest in our brains and creativity – in farming, in software, in technology, you name it – and start developing a reputation for New Zealand as a clean, green, smart-operator in business.

To enable this, top of our list must be promoting research and development (R&D) in the private sector. In 2008, Labour implemented an R&D tax credit, which was taken away by National. A couple of years later they replaced it, but with vouchers distributed by government departments through an application system. It was an inefficient and bureaucratic way of rewarding innovation.

I want to say to companies that are innovative: Get out and do it! We’ll get in behind you. You take the risks. We’ll support some of those risks and we’ll give you a tax credit. But it’s up to you. It’s not a government department’s job to predict what’s going to be the next Weta Workshop. Just get out there and let’s make it happen.

Instead of working harder for diminishing rewards as most kiwis are currently doing, we want a prosperous, growing economy where everyone has work and can earn a decent living. We also want to create many more high-skilled, high-paying, fascinating jobs.

But we’ll only get there if we grow. And that means making some bold political decisions in favour of productivity and growth.

We need pro-growth tax reform, encouraging people to invest in the productive parts of our economy rather than speculation. That way, our exporters will get the investment capital they need and we’ll all benefit from the inflow of international investment.

We need to lift our educational achievement and up-skill young New Zealanders to meet the opportunities of the 21st century. This means reaching into schools to get hold of kids before they drop out. At the moment we have 87,000 young people who are not in school, training, or education. That’s a ticking time bomb and an unforgivable waste of talent. I would like to steer more young people into apprenticeships and rewarding careers in trades.

And finally, there’s the elephant in the room: the future affordability of New Zealand Super.

In just four years our super payments will exceed the entire budget for pre-school, school and tertiary education. And it will continue to rise. Right now, 5.5 people support each superannuitant with their taxes. In 30 years just 2.4 working people will. If we do nothing, younger people will go without the education and health services we’ve enjoyed.

That’s unfair and we need to make the big decisions, not pass the buck for later when it will be more costly. It’s an urgent issue that National has ignored, but we are willing to discuss it openly and across all political parties. It’s that important.

When he pioneered the idea of the Transit of Venus Forum, Sir Paul Callaghan’s hope was that we would find real points of action to go forward with, to make a difference to New Zealand’s future. These are my first priorities for lifting New Zealand’s horizon.

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