By Kate Pierson
It is widely accepted the earth was formed more than 4.5 billion years ago. Then came a single, large land mass, or super-continent called Pangaea, which divided into two large continents, Gondwana and Laurasia.
Due to the tectonic plate movements of the Earth’s surface, Gondwana drifted into the southern hemisphere and about 250 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period, the great super-continent of Gondwana began to break up into the various land masses we know today — South America, Africa, Australia, Antarctica, Asia and the sub-continent and, ahem, New Zealand.
Flash forward to today and New Zealand is a land apart. Its geographical isolation in the wake of separating from its fellow Gondwanian siblings sees Aotearoa as one of the most unique nations in the known world.
But it has come to light through the voice of our governing political body, that there is a large, Auckland Shaped anchor holding New Zealand back from further progress. It seems our Australasian neighbours and a former constituent of Gondwana Land, Australia, has not only left New Zealand behind geographically, but also financially.
A hot topic at present on New Zealand’s political agenda, the growing wage gap between our and Australia’s employment sectors, among other economic concerns, has the media and politicians alike scrambling for answers.
As reported by the New Zealand Herald online during the National Party Conference last July, Prime Minister John Key was quoted as saying, “When a third of the population resides in one place, it should be an accelerant to national growth, rather than an anchor to the rest of the country.”
Without pointing the finger solely at Auckland, did the Prime Minister hit the nail on the head, so to speak?
Home to 1.3 million people, Auckland is a gateway to New Zealand and, according to the Auckland City Council, the City of Sails is also the chosen location of 70 percent of all overseas migrants, which is reflected in Auckland’s multi-cultural communities.
But while the council identifies in its 2008 Auckland city business and economy report that Auckland’s economy has grown faster than New Zealand’s throughout the past 10 years, the civic body has also acknowledged some unflattering truths about Auckland’s shortfalls that align with Key’s concerns.
Despite the pre-millenium implementation of Auckland’s Regional Growth Strategy which outlined a 50 year vision for sustaining and managing growth, the council conceded that much of the city’s economic growth in the past decade was driven by an expanding population.
The council also confirmed that Auckland’s relative international economic performance measured against nine cities including Sydney, Melbourne, Vancouver, Singapore, Portland and Seattle, was mediocre.
“Despite Auckland’s economy growing faster than New Zealand’s over the past 10 years, it has underperformed relative to many of its international comparators,” the report said. “Consequently, Auckland’s ranking drops to second from the bottom when growth is measured according to GDP per capita.
“The relatively slow growth in Auckland’s GDP per capita reflects its low productivity growth [and] when measured in United States dollars after being adjusted for relative price differences, Auckland’s GDP per capita was the lowest among the nine cities.”
A 2007 Demographia study conducted also ranked the Auckland region 80th out of 116 countries on a GDP per capita basis against other populations exceeding one million people in North America, Europe, Australasia and Japan.
Holding its own magnifying glass over Auckland’s unsightly performance, The Ministry of Economic Development addressed Auckland’s issues in 2007 in its Economic Development Indicators report, which states that Auckland’s performance levels were mixed.
“Auckland’s levels of patent application per capita are in the middle of the comparator cities, but relatively low by internal standards. Auckland’s share of the working age population with a tertiary education is also low. Turning to knowledge-intensive employment, Auckland City’s share of employment in high-tech services and goods manufacturing is broadly in the middle of the international comparator cities.”
Take all these corroborating facts into consideration and it’s evident Auckland city, as a major economic engine room for New Zealand’s growth and productivity, is far from punching above its weight and is failing to function at full capacity.
Of the current state of the city’s productivity, Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett comments, “I do not disagree with the Prime Minister that Auckland has been a brake on the New Zealand economy and I think this has been recognised by successive governments.”
Acknowledging that the move on the region’s governance is one of the most significant any government has taken, Barnett says, “If you combine this action with the economic development potential, this can be seen as our big opportunity, or it will be seen as Auckland’s failure to heed the call to action.
“Central government can only do so much in the provision of the best platform off which Auckland may operate. What is urgently required is leadership and vision at a political level and expectations from businesses and the whole of the community at another level.
“If we as a region don’t demand a change in the culture of local government and its delivery of services, then we will get what we have always had and that’s pretty mediocre by international standards.”
Hauling up the anchor
In response to discussions about the transition Auckland will undergo after its adoption of a Supercity governing body, business journalist, commentator and adjunct professor at Unitec’s department of management and marketing, Rod Oram, is facilitating a series of forum discussions entitled “Super City — Win or Lose?”
These forums will provide a platform for democratic discussion regarding the pros and cons of implementing a Supercity and has attracted the participation of panellists including Waitakere City Council major, Bob Harvey, the chairman of the Royal Commission on Auckland governance, Peter Salmon, as well as Unitec academics and students.
Manukau Mayor Len Brown has called on the Auckland Transition Authority to place significant emphasis on informing and educating New Zealanders about the impending Supercity elections.
Brown says while there was a general awareness about the civic authorities amalgamation that would ensue after the elections, he believes there is little understanding beyond the superficial factors.
“An education drive will help to overcome this while also serving as a reminder to people to make sure they’re on the electoral roll… We’ve got to make sure young people are involved in the process this year.
“The decisions that are made today around delivering better public transport, economic development, how we create an exciting city and how we protect the environment, will affect them for years to come.”
Needless to say, there has been considerable energy invested in preparation for the impending Supercity (effective by November 2010), as political parties have the amalgamation of the existing local authorities pegged as ‘the’ opportunity for Auckland to regain momentum.
And so it seems that Auckland has all the makings to become a sustainable and productive economy and its governing factions certainly have the right intentions. But whether the centralisation of the co-existing council sectors in Auckland is the boost that New Zealand is looking for, remains to be seen. As a wise man once said, we will have to watch this space.