David Miller: After The Wave Has Passed
After The Catch The Knowledge Wave Conference
As the country awaited the outcome of the Christine Rankin court battle with baited breath, the government decided to pass the time by hosting a conference at which it hoped to gain some ideas as to revive New Zealand’s flagging economic growth. Entitled ‘Catching the Knowledge Wave’, this meeting of minds was co-chaired by the Prime Minister herself, featured some very distinguished speakers, cost 900 dollars to walk through the door and not surprisingly it became used as a platform for every political point of view presently in existence.
The Prime Minister and fellow co-chair, Auckland University Vice- Chancellor Dr. John Hood, believe the conference to have been a success. In their media statement released at the end of last week, Ms Clark and Dr. Hood said that the conference had made an important contribution to New Zealand’s ability to achieve a more prosperous and socially cohesive future and that by utilising flair, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, New Zealanders will be able to raise their living standards, push economic growth and return our standing to the top half of the OECD.
The aim of the conference was to hear the perspectives of different groups and sectors of New Zealand society on ways for stimulating economic and social growth. Unfortunately for the government this left the door wide open for the meeting to be seen as little more than a political soapbox along with allegations of political correctness. Shortly after the conference began, National accused the government of not being prepared to act on the recommendations and conclusions that the conference produces and therefore questioned the need for holding the conference in the first place. Jenny Shipley claimed, "New Zealanders will be dismayed to hear that their Prime Minister has said she won't pick up the recommendations of the top minds that have gathered for the conference. We have got the best there is in the world here to tell us how to improve the economy and the Prime Minister says she won't take it on board”.
ACT has also been critical of the government and the conference, claiming that the real issues behind New Zealand’s poor performance and solutions where being overlooked or ignored. ACT spoke out against the attack made on Reserve Bank Governor Don Brash after he made a speech in which his advise ran contrary to government policy, as did Anti-DPB campaign lobby, which accused the conference of falling victim to political correctness and censorship.
Setting aside all the political bickering, the issue must be addressed as to whether the aims of this conference can be achieved and whether it is possible to ride the knowledge wave at all. The conference does give off an impression that the only thing it produced was jargon and was merely three days of positive sounding talk that was more suited at motivating the people rather than providing them with solutions. There will always be those who tell you that New Zealand’s salvation lies down a monetarist path, but just for one moment let us assume we have bought into the argument that catching the knowledge wave is the key. How can this be achieved?
The key to catching the knowledge wave is information, and utilising the information we gain from within this country along with that being received from overseas. One has to be realistic and accept the fact that New Zealand is part of a global community that is rapidly being fused together through the flow of information, ideas and technology. New Zealand cannot remain aloof from the trend of globalisation and spread of ideas from elsewhere, nor can it remain immune. It is inevitable that certain trends from overseas will influence our lives with the Internet having become the biggest mover in this regard. As a result geographical, cultural and political barriers can be crossed by the flow of electronic information with ease and will continue to do so in the future no matter how loud people protest about it.
I remain sceptical of all the talk of a ‘knowledge economy’ and ‘catching the knowledge wave’ and feel that it is merely a collection of nice sounding ideas that are used by those in national and local government office as motivational and feel good jargon. However for the purposes of this column I said I would buy into it, so I will. If New Zealand is serious about achieving development as a nation in the 21st Century and using knowledge as the basis for this, then the current government and those in the future must look at ways to promote the information and ideas that originate here to the international community. I feel that the solution is to tap into that information super highway, and allow the expressions of identity, creativity and imagination that both groups who attended the conference and those who observed have wished to see happen. New Zealand must promote its unique characteristics and ideas but this will not happen if we either try and lock out what is happening in the rest of the world or resign ourselves to the fact that globalisation and the spread of information will completely overshadow and transplant all what we have and can develop here.
There is much New Zealand has achieved in the past, is achieving at present and will achieve in the future, but if we do not allow the information from those achievements to be heard overseas then the exercise is wasted and the jargon will remain just that, jargon. Globalisation is the dominant trend of the 21st Century, but it does not have to be a trend that is detrimental to New Zealand. We should use it to allow our ideas to be expressed, for if we don’t share that information the world will not share our characteristics and New Zealand will have failed to catch the knowledge wave.