The Last Word: Sir Paul Callaghan

“We wallow in mythology that makes us feel good about ourselves – much of which is fundamentally untrue,” Sir Paul said at Victoria University’s Inaugural Chancellor’s Lecture in the Wellington Town Hall, pointing to our clean and green and relaxed lifestyle myths – and even taking shot at our iconic ‘nuclear free’ status.

“Only few hundred metres from sign outside Wellington airport that reads ‘Welcome to Wellington – Capital of Nuclear free New Zealand’ is facility that creates the radioactive material that was used to discover the cancer tumours in my body. That material is made through nuclear reactions, and shipped to hospitals throughout New Zealand.”

He said the only way to reverse the brain drain (New Zealand’s “great tragedy”), create prosperous society and make New Zealand place where talent wants to live was by turning our small size into an advantage, and investing in niche, hi-tech, high value industries. “That requires entrepreneurial genius and an understanding of how to meld the technology, skill and engineering to market opportunity – that’s the genius that is needed.”

Sir Paul said New Zealand currently has one of the lowest rates of investment in research and development in the OECD, which was crippling our ability to achieve prosperity. “Twenty-four percent of our graduates leave New Zealand and don’t come back – including 50% of medical graduates. They don’t see future here. Until we get honest and confront our myths, New Zealand will not be place where talent wants to live.”

The Chancellor’s Lecture is funded by an anonymous donor through the Victoria University Foundation and was part of the Wellington City Council’s Festival of Carnivale celebrations to showcase the city during the Rugby World Cup. Sir Paul also spoke about creating more prosperous New Zealand through science and technology, and received standing ovation from the 1500 people who attended.

• Click here to view video of the full lecture

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