Published 8 December 2009
Environmental Defence Society executive director Gary Taylor has done better than I managed at reading through the Brash Productivity Taskforce report, and has come up with a response that offers an alternative to Dr Don Brash’s thinking.
And it is Dr Brash’s thinking. If anybody else had input, it’s been turned into Brash-speak. While hunting through the taskforce report for some new ideas with researched backup – but abandoning that search – I discovered from some email correspondence that I’d had some input to the Brash report in the form of a story about the difficulty of getting consent to chop down a tree beside a busy industrial-area road.
In that particular case I thought chopping the tree down made sense, but the commissioner thought otherwise. Does that make the commissioner wrong and the system unreasonable? My inference from the use of this story in the taskforce report is that that’s exactly what you’re supposed to think.
The taskforce report said: “We agree that use of one’s land should be a right, constrained by law to the minimum extent feasible, not a privilege granted or withheld by officials with limited accountability, and little requirement to internalise the costs to others of their choices & decisions.” In that taskforce sentence, change the word officials to the community or society, and see if it makes a difference to your thinking. Should an individual have rights superior to those of the community in which that individual chooses to live?
The Brash view, here, is that individuals do have superior rights, yet that view is expressed in a paper on getting a community – a society, a nation – to build greater wealth together. Or is it? Is it really about individuals gouging as much as they can, and calling the combined gouge our wealth?
Gary Taylor, not surprisingly given his political stance, takes a very different view from Dr Brash on how to grow an economy. Below is an article he issued yesterday:
Dr Don Brash’s Productivity Taskforce report is disappointingly short on practical measures to lift New Zealand’s performance. Its prescription is to cut Government spending, lower taxes, restructure Fonterra, deregulate Zespri, build more mines and lower environmental standards. That’s about it.
I was expecting exciting ideas on how to lift productivity, create new jobs, release the wealth generated by Treaty settlements, add value to commodity exports, create new low-carbon industries, respond to rapidly changing markets and exploit our new trade agreements.
I was expecting some forward-looking analysis of the kind of world we will be living in by 2025, and what that means for policies today, but instead the taskforce looked back to the 1980s for inspiration. Most of the taskforce’s ideas are so extreme & lacking in coherence that no government would implement them. The prime minister was forced to disown the report on the day it was launched. What were they thinking?
My main concern with Dr Brash’s report is the lack of appreciation of the importance of New Zealand’s environment. The report is right when it says that a strong economy gives us the ability to maintain high environmental standards. But it then goes on to infer that we should do away with the RMA. That is just ridiculous. It would turn us into a third-world country and remove our key competitive advantage: the quality of our environment.
How could Jeremy Moon, who is a practical innovator with Icebreaker and who built his business on our environmental record, have lent his name to such unrealistic, backward-looking nonsense?
The report goes on to recommend opening most of our publicly owned conservation lands to mining. But New Zealand’s conservation lands have outstanding natural & scenic values that should be protected. They also support one of our biggest export earners, the tourist industry. They are not the West Australian deserts. In any case, the profits from the Australian-owned mining companies would add to Australia’s gdp, not ours.
So what do we do now, given the country has been let down so badly by the Productivity Taskforce? First, when thinking about comparisons with Australia, we should bear in mind that Australia is facing an uncertain & troubled future: climate change is seeing the red centre expand and muscle out the green coastal fringe where people live and food is produced. In contrast, the prospects for liveability in New Zealand are good. We should rejoice in the quality of our lifestyles, our environment. Our quality of life is high. GDP per capita shouldn’t be the only comparative measure we use.
Then we should move on to some serious thinking about the economic transformation that’s needed for us to adapt & survive as a trading nation, remote from markets, in a rapidly changing world.
I’d like to see the establishment of a Green Economy Taskforce that would come up with some practical suggestions on how to create new, sustainable, low-carbon jobs. It could also consider rolling out our tourism brand as a national brand: 100% Pure New Zealand.
The Green Economy Taskforce would build on the ideas generated by the NZ Institute, especially growing "weightless exports" – products that can be transported via broadband – such as creative & technical services. It would look at how to transform our tourism & agricultural exports by developing niche products linked to our clean, green brand, and at our emerging biotechnology & cleantech sectors.
I’d bring forward-thinking business, science & academic leaders together and get some real creative horse-power at work to think about what New Zealand’s economy should look like in 2025.
Website: Environmental Defence Society
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Attribution: Comments by Bob Dey, article by Gary Taylor, for the Bob Dey Property Report.