A new New Zealand is Necessary

The 2017 election is weeks away. Parties are focusing on the immediate issues. It should be different. If we are to have a prosperous, secure, sustainable and democratic future we need to be talking the language of the future.

As the Lonely Planet guide says - thank goodness for New Zealand. In a world characterised by instability and insecurity, New Zealand is a source of hope.

Of course, those of us who live here might have different views. While New Zealand does appear to be doing well in comparison to other nations, we know we have problems, some urgent, some far-reaching, that need attention.

This is why we need to be doing some serious thinking about our future. Whatever, strengths the country might have, it would be the definition of insanity to beleive that by doing the same things over and over again we will continue to achieve positive results.

The reason more of the same is not enough is quite simple - our world is changing at an unprecendented rate across many fronts. Globalisation may have faltered but it is not going away; the emergence of the knowledge economy will continue to demand more of us; governments will struggle to manage their economies and meet the demand for social benefits; questions of identity - national or otherwise - will reshape the political agenda. Any country that wants to thrive, has to rethink what it is doing.

The results of rethinking will have some similarities across countries.No one will want to fall behind in the use of modern technology or the application of scientific discoveries. But there are differences. New Zealand, for example, occupies a unique geographic place in the world so its location will be a major influence on what is needed for it to succeed.

There is a lot of pessimism about the future. There should be. Economic crises seem to be the norm rather then an aberration; the way we treat the panet could lead to catastrophe; the changing world order could lead to nuclear war; an intolerable level of inequality has caused major social and political unrest; Trump could last a full term!

Yet there are many reasons to be optimistic. We may live in dangerous times but they are also full of amazing possibilities.

Our ability to make the most of these opportunities rests on our willingness to understand the times we live in and respond in ways that will build a more prosperous, secure, democratic and sustainable future.

With the 2017 election weeks away, we are hearing a great deal from political parties. Some of what they say fits the need for rethinking - most does not. This is the way of elections. Politicians know that they work within a three-year timeframe so they tailor their policies accordingly. The immediate takes precedence over the long-term.

It should be different. Across the globe we see countries similar to our own, riven by debates about how best to navigate the rapids of modern times. The results so far have not been encouraging because they too often concern a simple binary choice between restraint or more spending when they should be asking the bolder, more fundamental question of what kind of future do we want.

If we are to have a future that makes the best of a globalising world where the economy is based on knowledge, governments can focus on improving the lives of their citizens, science and technology provide the innovation needed for a more sustainable future - then we need to be articulating alternatives to the way we live now. If ever there was a time for bold thinking it is now. There is much to be done - here are five areas we could work on.


The first question to ask is - what kind of economy do we want? We used to be an agricultural nation but producing commodities is no way to create the kind of wealth we will need in the 21st century.

A diverse economy that draws on a range of strengths is rightly touted as a way forward but we seem to be making slow progress.

What is missing is a sense of "mission", an objective that can offer fresh direction to the entire economy. I have been arguing for some time that becoming a "food nation" would provide the direction we need. We should aim to be the world's pre-eminent producer of high quality food products for discerning consumers.

Success will not come easy. But that is the whole point. Overcoming the many obstacles involved in shifting us from being largely a producer of commodities to a producer of premium food products will demand changes in the way we think about everything from infrastructure to science, markets, education, transport, finance and the environment.

It will mean New Zealanders taking pride in seeing themselves as the world's leading food nation.

And it will drive diversification of the economy because what we do to become a food nation will pay the foundation for many other enterprises.


It is past time for a dramatic change in our education system. New Zealand has long debated the need for change and has implemented a range of significant policies. Yet our system continues to be based on ranking students one against the other as if that is what education is about.

In the 21st century, it is the capability that individuals will be able to develop throughout life that matters. I have advocated shifting from a traditional "one-size-fits-all" model to what has ben called "personalising learning" which means differentiated learning to meet differentiated needs.

Making this work is not for the faint-hearted. It means, at a minimum, students being actively involved in every aspect of their learning, teachers setting high expectations for every student and doing what it takes to make sure they reach their potential, families and the wider community being drawn into a learning community, schools offering customised programmes of learning and the Government providing the resources to ensure all of this happens.

Many schools are trying to move in the direction of personalising learning, others champion traditional ways. Parents and employers remain confused and the Government often says one thing while doing another. Real progress will not be made until the system and the wider society agrees on the urgent need for change. Leadership is needed form educators and the many people who are critical of what the education system produces. Asking for last century's education system to meet this century's needs will not work. We need education relevant to the knowledge based society and economy we will live in.  


Above all else, it is insecurity caused by the dramatic changes that have been unfolding in recent decades that is leading to so much unrest. Security, not fear, is the basis of people engaging positively with change.

It is the role of the state to put in place policies that will help people negotiate an uncertain future. The state can't sit back and wait for problems to emerge, it has to try and prevent poverty, maintain employment, promote better health and generally support people to be self-sufficient.

Crucially, the current social security system must be scrapped in favour of a system that is relevant to the dynamic world we live in. There has been talk of radical policies like a Universal Basic Income but, for me, a new form of social insurance tailored to changing employment risks and family circumstances is what is required. It should not only protect against unemployment but also help people acquire new skills and new jobs; it should provide for the sick and disabled and provide for those looking after children or dependent relatives; and it should allow people to invest resources in time spent with family or to explore ways of lifting their capability.

Social insurance has a number of features that make it far superior to the hopelessly complex, expensive, punitive, surveillance state that welfare has become. Unlike means-tested benefits based on the household, social insurance belongs to the individual. When someone loses their job they draw down on their insurance without reference to their personal circumstances or anyone elses's - it is their money.

Social insurance encourages a balance of rights and responsibilities. When we earn, we contribute and when we do not we draw out. No more deserving and undeserving - we operate on the same terms.

In a world where home and work lives are increasingly insecure, social insurance offers the opportunity to think innovatively about how to distribute our earnings throughout our lives. It provides a way of addressing the concerns of the growing number of people in self-employment and other forms of precarious employment.

Poverty, insecure employment, stigma, inflexibility - these and many other problems are associated with welfare as we have it. It is time for a new vision of what it means for a community to support each other to be independent.

Progressive Patriotism

Change has, for many people, meant a sense of dislocation and a loss of identity. This is what has been a major driver of political instability and unrest. It has created a space for those who want to preach isolation and nostalgia while encouraging antagonism toward anyone who is different from some so-called norm. The anger arising from division has ability to cause enormous harm.

As we make our way into the 21st century, it is time for us to rethink what we mean to each other. The positive way forward will require us to write a national story that weaves together the experience of Maori as the original settlers through the many cultures that have made Aotearoa/New Zealand their home to it being one of the most diverse societies on earth today.

This means supporting policies tha will enable a sense of progressive patriotism to be developed beginning with the shift toward a Republic so we can rethink our national symbols; a written constitution that explains the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship; improve our democracy by ensuring people have practial opportunities to be involved in decisions about the future that go beyond a once in three years visit to the ballot box; and, being bold enough to include in our education system the values that go with being a modern New Zealander.

The changes sweeping the world today mean that day by day we are becoming global citizens. But this is in no way inconsistent with us having a sense of ourselves as linked by culture and beliefs. Only if we feel these connections will we be prepared to pool at least some of our resources to give everyone a fair chance of succeeding.

Clean, Green, Sustainable

New Zealand prides itself on having a clean, green, sustainable environment. In the 21st century our attitude to our environment is not just desirable, it is a matter of survival. Yet we have somehow managed to construct a debate with those who want to protect the environment on one side and those who argue the country has to make a living on the other. Each side of the debate works hard to offer an increasingly bleak vision of the future - ecological apocalypse versus economic catastrophe. Advocates of these approaches seem oblivious to the fact that nightmares seldom encourage people to change - but hope does. What offers hope is innovation.

If we are going to contribute to everything from saving the oceans, stopping climate change, saving endangered species and cleaning up rivers - only innovation can make difference.

Take the example of fossil fuels. After decades of misguided arguments, it is now clear that the world can be powered by alternative, renewable clean fuels. A country like New Zealand could aspire to rely on 100% renewable fuels and, with battery technology, plug its transport fleet into clean energy. Good for the environment, jobs and business.

The environmental challenge can only be addressed if we live differently. But this does not mean we have to confront a future of limits. If we start talking about scientific, technological and social innovation, we can see a world of new possibilities. Given New Zealand's reputation as an environmental leader (not always deserved) it is time to show how a society can be clean, green and sustainable.

Active Internationalism

Promoted as offering something for everyone, globalisation has delivered most to finance and business. The free movement of money, goods, services and people across once rigid borders does bring significant gains, but it has also meant that governments have found it difficult to manage rheir domestic economies and look after the welfare of the people who voted them into office. This is not a sustainable situation and is contributing to the kinds of conflicts we see emerging around the world.

The way forward is for us to take globalisation seriously. No longer can it be just about furthering the interests of business while workers, families and communities bear the costs. As one billionaire put it recently, unless more is done to make globalisation beneficial to everyone, get ready for the pitchforks.

Governments and non-government organisations need to become increasingly active on the world stage. There must be better ways to govern the world economy, work together on ecological management, regulate corporate power, prevent war and create workable ways to foster transnational power.

Interestingly, none of this would be new. Following the first world war, many international institutions were discussed and established. Some have been useful, others not so much. Current problems can be linked to globalisation post the 1970's being limited to the deregulation of national economies. Talk of anything else was viewed as harming the drive to build a prosperous world economy.

As growth in the world economy remains stubbornly slow, we now realise that working together on issues that will see everyone gain can be good for both bujsiness and society.

Since the time of Norman Kirk, New Zealand has had a proud independent international voice. As a nation we have much to gain from an open world. It is time for our voice lead a discussion that will build a wider range of connections.

 "Frankly Madam, you will have to make me

None of these ideas, and the many others that are needed, will come to fruition easily. To be realistic, given three year electoral cycles and a media that is more about "politainment" than substance, it is difficult to see significant change coming from politicians.

There is a story attributed to Franklin D. Roosvelt who when asked by a voter why he was not doing something about a particular policy he replied, "Frankly Madam, you will have to make me". What Roosevelt meant was that politicains who want to get elected need to make sure they do not get out too far in front of their voters.

This is why there is an urgent need to establish a think tank to explore the changes taking place in the world and the responses New Zealand should make. The best domestic and international experts could be brough together to work through possible polices before they are put into the public arena for public discussion using a variety of deliberative fora.

This is not an invitation to speculate about the future. Rather, it is a way of coming to grips with the fact that fundamental change is vital to success in the 21st century. Right now, like most nations, we are not talking the language of the future. The clock is ticking, We need to learn how to speak.