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Doing Nothing Is Not An Option

Address by Doug Marsh, President Business NZ
Reception, Auckland Museum, 19 June 2002

A little over a year ago a brand new organisation, Business New Zealand, was established principally, but not exclusively, by the coming together of two proud, old national Federations, the New Zealand Employers' Federation and the New Zealand Manufacturers' Federation. As part of their wider families, both organisations brought with them widely representative, affiliated groups that have chosen to remain with Business New Zealand. Some 49 national industry, trade and sectoral organisations participate in Business New Zealand's Affiliated Industries Group ranging in size from very small to very large. In its widest sense, Business New Zealand therefore has very active links with around 76,000 individual enterprises, great and small, covering the length and breadth of New Zealand.

This is as it should be for an organisation that we believe is the national voice of business in New Zealand. Our core strength remains regionally based. Business New Zealand has five Founder Members, representatives of whom are present this evening. Many of you will know well our Auckland 'shareholders', the Employers and Manufacturers Association (Northern). Terry Arnold, EMA's President, and Alasdair Thompson, EMA's Chief Executive, are present along with most of the Board and senior staff.

So, too, are senior representatives of our four other 'shareholders': The Employers and Manufacturers Association (Central), covering the lower half of the North Island and Nelson; our two Canterbury/West Coast Founder Members, the Canterbury Manufacturers Association and the Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce, of which I have the honour to be President; and the Otago/Southland Employers Association based in Dunedin.

In Wellington language, Business New Zealand is a lobby. The Chief Executive, Simon Carlaw, and his team of 16 staff focus on the business of monitoring, researching and advocating on all the public policy issues of the day coming from central and local government that have or may impact on business and industry. This is no small task nor is it a simple or straightforward one. Rarely is it possible to measure progress on commercial timelines. More often months, not days, are required before impacts are identifiable. The degree to which Business New Zealand is listened to depends completely on the quality of its argument. Only rarely is the shortest line between 'A' and 'B' the most rewarding. Nor is it only on the big issues that Business New Zealand can deliver value to its membership. Certainly on Kyoto ratification, or business tax or on business compliance costs such as the RMA or HSNO, or on labour market issues such as Occupational Health and Safety or Holidays legislation, Business New Zealand makes a noise. But just as frequently, valuable successes are achieved using networks in the bureaucracy or in Parliament or elsewhere that depend on them staying away from any media attention.

What underpins all this reactive advocacy, why if you like Business New Zealand gets up each morning, is our core mission: to help return this country to the top 10 of the OECD. Quite simply, Business New Zealand is passionate about a balanced and accelerated growth strategy that would grow New Zealand's economic cake to enable the quality health, education, superannuation and environmental outcomes that New Zealanders expect.

We think the case for growth is self-evident. If, for example, New Zealand had matched the growth rates of Canada and Australia, two countries with which we like to compare ourselves, we would have had 28% more dollars available to spend in health services than we do without taking a single extra dollar from any other area of expenditure. And so on for all New Zealand's social expenditure.

Regrettably, the clarity of our vision has yet to be effectively shared by our representatives in Parliament. Business New Zealand takes some credit for growth strategies being much more obvious in the respective party policies than hitherto. On the other hand, only the Greens - who basically oppose any growth strategy - and ACT are unequivocal: for the rest, there is as much posturing and rhetoric as there is commitment.

Like our close friends in the Knowledge Wave Trust, representatives of whom I am delighted have joined us this evening, Business New Zealand is determined to change this. Doing nothing is not an option. Nor is doing a little next week or next election or searching fruitlessly for a silver bullet that does not exist. Only business grows wealth and jobs. And business has to shoulder the burden of bringing home to ordinary New Zealanders the message that too many politicians for too long have chosen not to tell: if Auckland wants to become just a bigger Hobart we need change nothing. If we don't like that scenario, we need, all of us, to take the message of growth to our politicians and to our communities with an urgency and purpose that makes it inescapable.


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