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PM's Address To The Innovation Conference

Rt Hon Helen Clark

Prime Minister


The Innovation Conference

Convention Centre


3.30 pm

Thursday 7 March 2002

This conference has been very successful in bringing together leading innovators from many sectors, with many people keen to get insights into their success.

Thank you to everyone who has participated - the speakers and presenters who have shared their experiences, and everyone who has come because they too are determined to be innovative and successful in everything they do.

That commitment is essential to our success as a nation.

The government has embraced the concept of innovation as central to securing New Zealand’s future success.

New Zealand has an economy and a society in fast transition. In the economy we are moving beyond the bulk commodity exports which have accounted for so much of our trade to many more sophisticated products and services across all sectors. Those products and services need highly educated and skilled people to conceive of them, develop them, and get them to market - whether those products be processed foods, software solutions, or luxury yachts.

In our society, I believe we are leaving behind the “she’ll be right” attitude and the tall poppy syndrome. New Zealanders admire our achievers in sport, the arts, in education, in science, and, yes, in business too we admire those enterprising Kiwis who built their success around smart ideas and were prepared to risk all to pursue them. The story of Peter Jackson who worked somewhere in the printing department of the Evening Post and left with no secure prospects to follow his dream of making films is one which can inspire us all.

At this conference you have heard from those who have dared to dream and made their dreams come true. My visit to the displays in the convention halls reinforces my belief that New Zealand is bursting with talent and good ideas.

The question for government is how can we best support the innovative, enterprising New Zealanders who will ensure our nation’s success. Because we have dreams too for New Zealand in the 21st century.

The last half century was the story of New Zealand’s decline. Let us start this new century determined to see New Zealand rise again up the ranks of developed nations as:

- a great place to learn, work and do business

- a birthplace of world changing people and ideas

- a place where people invest in the future

- a land where diversity is valued and reflected in our national identity

As a government, we are determined:

- to be optimistic and confident about our country’s future

- to celebrate our successes in all walks of life

- to support the development of globally competitive companies

- to commit to sustainable development and the concept of the triple bottom line

- to ensure that a social dividend flows from economic success, or, in other words, to ensure that the rising tide lifts all boats.

Last month we released the growth and innovation framework for New Zealand. We described it as work in progress. It is a strategic document which sets out the steps we’ve already taken to grow an innovative New Zealand, and many more steps which we need to take, and intend to take, to guarantee New Zealand’s success in the 21st century.

Half a century’s decline isn’t reversed in five years, or ten, but reversed it can be with smart strategies and by smart people. Attending this conference are many such people with great ideas.

What is clear is that the government also has a critical role to play in building an innovative nation. In years past the conventional wisdom said that government’s role was to create a level playing field, deregulate, slash the costs of doing business, and then stand back to watch successful markets at work.

That experiment failed. Other nations tilted their playing fields, many of our companies and talented people relocated, and foreign investment went elsewhere.

Now we have started from scratch, coming into government in late 1999, to put in place smart, active strategies and to collaborate with others in the cause of economic development. We have studied other models of economic renewal, from those of Ireland, Finland, and Israel, to those of Singapore, Korea, and Silicon Valley.

We are developing a Kiwi model which builds on the talents, capacities, and strengths New Zealand already has. Our model sees the government as a leader, partner, facilitator, and broker, working with other sectors to get results. The government also has significant investment responsibilities, particularly in education, research, and infrastructure, and in smart interventions to back faster business, industry, and regional growth.

Let me talk briefly about some of the steps we are taking to help build an innovative nation:

- Big changes are going on in tertiary education and training. A new Tertiary Education Commission and Strategy are to be launched mid-year. We are promoting collaboration, specialisation, and excellence in tertiary education - not competition between institutions and the inevitable dumbing down which results from that.

- The new Centres of Research Excellence, chosen for the government by the Royal Society, were announced yesterday. There was an enormous amount of interest, with many more excellent proposals than could be funded initially coming forward. That augurs well for the future. The truly innovative and progressive societies of the 21st centuries will be those which can generate new knowledge themselves and are not always reliant on adopting the knowledge of others.

- Spending on science and research was lifted significantly in our first budget, and we have also improved the tax treatment of private sector research and development.

- We are very keen to see more of New Zealand’s research discoveries commercialised at home. That’s why we created the incubator support programme to nurture and mentor innovative start up companies, and that’s also driven the creation of the Venture Investment Fund to fill the gap in the market for seed and start up capital to get innovative business started.

- A whole range of programmes have come out of Industry New Zealand to help businesses grow. They range from offering advice and mentoring to outright grants. The Business Grow Programme can grant up to $100,000 to a company with the potential to grow its exports quickly. The Enterprise Awards aimed at much smaller companies are behind some of the successful companies displaying their products in the convention hall today.

- Yesterday Jim Anderton launched the World Class New Zealanders programme to give New Zealanders access to skills and knowledge not readily available here.

The programme will fund exchanges, internships, and placement off shore for entrepreneurs and promising staff from small to medium sized businesses.

It will also fund international business missions for clusters of businesses wanting to develop innovative best practice and world competitive industries and niches.

The programme aims to use existing and emerging networks of talented New Zealanders based overseas who want to help New Zealand move ahead.

- Trade New Zealand is looking at new ways of helping New Zealand companies market off shore by making premises available as forward marketing bases and as off shore incubators. Trade New Zealand has already insured that New Zealand companies can be located in one of Singapore’s technology parks.

- Industry New Zealand has also launched a programme to support the growth of strong business clusters. Eighteen have been chosen for a pilot, and are spread across regions, and across sectors including ICT, biotechnology and niche manufacturing. A specialist workshop for cluster facilitators is being held next month.

- Having a skilled and educated workforce to drive an innovative economy is critical. In the skills area, the new Modern Apprenticeships Programme is rebuilding interest in work based training for young people, and the numbers involved in industry training overall are up significantly. Skills in short supply can also be as basic as literacy and numeracy, and we have a stronger focus on those basics in our schools today.

- We are also making the immigration system much more responsive to labour market needs, with the new Talent Visa and the Skills Shortage Work Permit. Skills shortages choke off economic growth. While our priority is to grow our own talent as fast as we can, we can’t do that fast enough to meet the needs of the economy right now. The new visas will enable employers to access skilled migrants more quickly than ever before.

We are confident that a new and innovative New Zealand is developing quickly. It’s a New Zealand whose successes we need the world to know more about. Our popular image abroad is of a clean, green, and beautiful country with a lot of sheep. Of course we are all of that. But we also have a dynamic 21st century economy with sophisticated cities and a vibrant arts and cultural life.

- We will be working with the private sector to develop a consistent brand image of New Zealand across all our industry sectors, so that we add smart and innovative to the clean and green image! Currently we are also investing millions of dollars in leveraging benefit for New Zealand off the release of the Lord of the Rings - filmed in New Zealand and made by New Zealanders, and the second defence - by New Zealanders - of yachting’s premier trophy, the America’s Cup. Both events can help promote New Zealand as technologically advanced, creative, and successful - and our many other innovators can leverage off that brand.

- The sectors which the government has chosen for special attention in the drive to speed up growth and innovation are sectors which can contribute a great deal to that new, upmarket image of New Zealand.

Biotechnology, information and communications technology, and the creative industries are all drivers of progressive 21st century economies, and we have great strengths in each of them. The task ahead is to work with each of the sectors to ensure that their full potential can be reached.

- These are also sectors where greenfields foreign direct investment alongside our own capacity would strengthen our business clusters. We are working now on how to improve our pitch to foreign investors through a strengthened investment promotion agency.

In the short time available today, I have outlined the government’s objective to lift living standards through a commitment to growth and innovation and set out some of the key steps we are taking. But we in government are only part of the equation, albeit a critical part. Building an innovative New Zealand needs the commitment of the nation. Everyone at this conference has a vital to play. By working together - innovators, entrepreneurs, educators, researchers, investors, employees, communities, and government - and sharing a vision of what New Zealand can be, we can succeed as a nation.

This conference has heard from New Zealanders whose talents have seen them form world leading businesses. We need many more of them. New Zealanders have the ideas for great products. The challenge is to get more to market. Our aim in government is to nurture as much talent as we can and through smart, active interventions support many more New Zealand successes.

Thank you for showing your commitment by attending the conference. By making a difference and by prioritising innovation in your own companies, you are making a big difference to New Zealand.

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