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Cullen - Opening Address at Thrive Auckland 2006

Wednesday 3 May 2006 at 8.45am

Hon Michael Cullen Opening Address at “Thrive Auckland 2006”

Aotea Centre, Auckland

Auckland is at a crossroads. Already, according to the Mercer Quality of Life survey, Auckland is now ranked fifth as a city to live in, behind Zurich, Geneva, Vancouver, and Vienna. That is a gain of three places from the last Mercer survey.

There is a real opportunity in the next five years to cement Auckland’s position as a world-class city. However, that is not a foregone conclusion.

Population growth of 3.1 percent per annum has made Auckland the fastest growing city in Australasia. However, Auckland’s economy remains focused on servicing the domestic market, with an export sector that is small relative to the city’s population and resources.

What is more, as well all know, Auckland’s population growth places enormous pressure on infrastructure.

That is where the Auckland business community, local government and national government need to work together. We need to ensure that the enormous potential for a vibrant, internationally competitive, outwardly focused city is exploited to the full. And we need to ensure that the Auckland experience is not soured by ongoing sclerosis in the transport system, and unresolved issues around providing services such as water and electricity to a growing population.

Some of you may be aware that tomorrow there will be a "Symposium for Auckland" jointly hosted by the Committee for Auckland, the Growth and Innovation Advisory Board, and the Auckland Regional Economic Development Forum. This symposium will hear how Auckland measures up from an international review team led by Greg Clark, Chair of OECD Cities and Regions Forum.

This will give impetus to a broadly supported strategic direction for Auckland. The city has had a reputation over the years for a rather freewheeling, unplanned approach to growth. That needs to be replaced by a concerted effort to link together what is happening in key industries, with the city’s infrastructure planning, business support systems, tertiary institutions and research organisations.

There are two key issues I want to discuss briefly. The first is no surprise.

Improving Auckland's transport has been a key goal for government, and remains so. In 2004 we committed an additional $1.62 billion over 10 years, with an expectation of a significant contribution of resources from the region.

We are committed to ensuring the full state highway programme as of August 2005 goes ahead. This includes completing the Western Ring Route.

We are currently consulting on whether or not to introduce road pricing as a means of reducing congestion.

We are also working with the Auckland Regional Council to make sure that the double tracking of the western rail line is completed as quickly as possible – by 2009 at the latest.

Our bottom line as a government is that, given Auckland's rapid growth, we must stay ahead of the game.

The second issue is that we need collectively to make Auckland’s economy a more focused knowledge economy. Auckland is home to three universities, several institutes of technology, and a number of significant Crown and private research institutions. These have the potential to be important engines for growth, by working with businesses to turn new technologies into new products and services, and to produce the skilled workforces you all need to expand.

As Minister for Tertiary Education, I am currently engaged in reshaping the tertiary funding system so that institutions have incentives to engage in a more consistent and disciplined way with their communities, including major employers and local industries. For that to work, you, as Auckland business people, need to think about what your needs are for technological innovation. You need to beat a path to the door of your local universities and research institutes. Hopefully you will meet them half way as they beat a path to your door.

Overseas experience shows that strong clusters of knowledge based industries emerge wherever business and researchers make the effort to understand each other’s skills and find ways of working together.

To sum up, Thrive Auckland 2006 is a great opportunity for Auckland business people to have a Big Day Out, complete with rock bands and an impressive array of speakers. However, it is you, the participants in this event, who are the real rock stars.

Our goal is to place Auckland firmly on the world stage and not just playing air guitar. We want to make idols of our successful business people, and to focus on how they are winning in global markets and employing New Zealand workers.

That will only happen if we all make it our business to improve how we communicate, commit ourselves to finding solutions to issues such as transport, and invest in Auckland’s future in a coordinated fashion. Thank you.


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