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PM's Opening Speech To Knowledge Wave Conference

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Speech Notes

As Prime Minister and co-chair of the conference, I take this opportunity to welcome all participants, both from New Zealand and overseas.

Last year Dr John Hood and I discussed the concept of this conference. As the see-saw of business and consumer confidence began to swing up again, it seemed that many New Zealanders were tiring of the self flagellation which so often accompanies public debate about our prospects and wanted to look forward.

We wondered how an informed debate, aimed at developing a shared vision for the future, could be facilitated. Would it be possible to bring a broad cross section of New Zealanders together with thought provoking international speakers to debate how best to develop our nation in the 21st century.

This week's major conference aims to meet those objectives. Already it has attracted huge news media interest. The wide range of participants is exactly what was hoped for. To attend this conference, people have come out of their silos to take part in a discussion with fellow New Zealanders with whom generally they seldom interact. In this room are representatives of business and employees, the bureaucracy, non-governmental organisations, educators, scientists and researchers. We come together because we know our country could do better, we have ideas about how that might be achieved and we know that each of us in our own way has a contribution to make.

There can be no doubt that over a number of decades New Zealand's economic performance has not kept pace with that of other first world nations. The reasons are obvious. While others have been transforming their economies and societies through the application of knowledge and innovation, we haven't kept up with them. Our export profile resembles that of developing countries, not that of a developed one. Our economy has not been generating the level of wealth required to keep us high in the first league.

There is also a long-term underlying fragility to the economy, based as it is on so many factors beyond our control. High commodity prices and good weather can't be relied on to make the primary sector profitable, and the exchange rate is not consistently export friendly.

Stop-go economic performance has also had an impact on social provision and on society itself. It limits confidence in career prospects and family security. It means we under invest in our people and their needs. That limits our human capability to meet the challenges ahead. It is also clear that social inclusion was not enhanced by many of the change agendas of New Zealand's recent past.

Right now we have the luxury of debating these issues when New Zealand is not in economic crisis. Despite the sluggish performance of our major trading partners, our country is managing modest growth, and business and consumer confidence is positive. But our drift down relative to others over the long term cannot be ignored, and our government refuses to be complacent. We believe New Zealand can do so much better if we have a shared vision, set clear goals, and establish the steps necessary to reach them.

This year, the need for economic transformation and a fresh approach to social development have been central preoccupations for the government. An enormous amount of policy and strategy development is ongoing and new initiatives have been announced in the Budget. Our broad vision is to see our nation back in the top half of the OECD over time. In my speech this evening I will talk more about our approach and those initiatives.

What has informed our approach to the task has been a series of conversations going on with many different sectors of the community. Successful forums have been held with business, Maori, and local government, involving the Prime Minister and many other ministers. Individual ministers have also been in dialogue with key constituencies in their portfolios.

The government is not only participating in, but also co-sponsoring this conference. That is consistent with our desire to engage with a wide cross section of New Zealanders about our country's future direction. We have many plans and programmes. We do not pretend to have a monopoly on wisdom. We come to this conference to contribute, and to listen and be stimulated and informed by the contributions of others.

Government has a key role in leading the changes which have to happen to improve New Zealand's prospects. We accept that responsibility and we have a substantial programme of action under way. But everyone here is also a leader. It would be disappointing if the outcome of the conference was simply a list of demands for government action. It will be exciting if the outcome is a realisation that action and commitment must come not only from government, but from all the sectors of the community represented here as well. For that to happen, we must all be prepared to think outside our own squares. I encourage you to do just that.

Last year the government appointed the Science and Innovation Advisory Council, chaired by Rick Christie. Its core mission was to identify how New Zealand could ride the knowledge wave. In May I announced that the Council would be drawing up a draft innovation strategy for New Zealand and seeking public comment on it.

The Council has now completed two important pieces of work and I am releasing them at the outset of this conference as a contribution to informed debate. One document is an innovation stocktake looking at indicators like our level of education, our commitment to science, research, and development, and our information and communications technology infrastructure.

The second document is a Proposed Innovation Framework for New Zealand which looks at how we might improve our performance on each of these indicators. The Framework has challenges for all of us ? government, business, educators, and citizens alike. It expresses great faith in New Zealand's potential as a nation, and challenges us to get serious about succeeding as a knowledge-based nation.

I look forward to the debate which will occur at this conference. I look forward to the input of our overseas speakers on how we can move ahead. But most of all I look forward to this cross section of New Zealanders applying its collective mind to the challenges ahead and debating how we might meet them together and thereby benefit the whole society.

The government is pleased to be part of the debate and to join with University of Auckland in welcoming you here.

Ends


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