The Last Word: Don Elder

This, according to Elder, “narrows the issue to fraction of its total scope, redefining it as question with only yes or no answer” which effectively polarises people. This might make good media headline fodder, but it turns complex national discussions into “simplistic, polarised debates in which one side must win and the other lose”.

This approach effectively avoids any meaningful discussion of nationally important issues and threatens to keep New Zealand mired in “can’t do” rather than “can do” mindset, he says.  New Zealand could achieve huge and permanent economic step change by acting boldly on set of what Elder calls, substantial and unique “made in New Zealand, made for New Zealand” opportunities. And they are, he says, “simply the result of our natural strategic strengths and competitive advantages”.

To underscore his thinking, he points out that within one generation (25 years), world GDP is expected to increase by as much again as it did in the past 200 generations (5000 years). To meet this demand, the global supply of most resources and food must almost double in that 25 years. But global resources are becoming increasing scarce and production is constrained.

New Zealand’s resources, on the other hand are, per capita, reportedly the world’s richest. “Almost all the things the world will need more of, but will be increasingly short of, we have in relative abundance,” says Elder. “Good agricultural land, fresh water, good year-round growing climate, primary resources and energy. And, unlike other countries, much of our natural resource is either renewable or huge in proportion to our current production levels or own needs.”

These facts, says Elder, “define our primary future global responsibility. It also offers us once-only opportunity – unique in history – to achieve huge and permanent economic step change through major increase in exports.” These initiatives are not, however, likely to happen on their own. “They require specific decisions and investments to be made jointly by the government and the private sector working together,” he says.

“We have highly productive, efficient primary industry – in many cases, the best in the world. We have good technology, well educated people and stable government. And internationally we are rated as one of the world’s most corruption-free countries. No wonder the International Monetary Fund (IMF) rates us as the world’s second most attractive country for investment.

“This defines the opportunity, and the responsibility, very clearly for New Zealand,” he says. “The opportunity for us to take huge economic step up awaits.”

• From an interview with Reg Birchfield for Leaders Magazine.

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