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Engineers’ voice missing from political landscape

Thursday, 10 February 2005

Engineers’ voice missing from political landscape

Douglas Armstrong, Auckland City Councillor and past president of the Institution of Professional Engineers (IPENZ), says the quality of national debate over the direction and infrastructure of New Zealand would vastly improve if engineers were more involved in the decision-making process at a political level where the major decisions are made.

“Unless engineers more consciously feature in the political landscape and endeavour to gain some political acumen they will always be treated as technicians in the scheme of things, who are told how and when to get on with their job, instead of adding value and raising the quality of debate with their expertise and strategic approach,” said Mr Armstrong.

Mr Armstrong will be speaking at the Institution of Professional Engineers (IPENZ) 2005 “Engineers as Leader” convention, to be held from March 16 – 18, at Waipuna Hotel and Conference Centre, Auckland.

Mr Armstrong points out that he is not advocating all engineers would wish to be, or are suited to, becoming MPs or City Councillors – but he feels they should all make an effort to be involved in what he describes as the small p of politics, “about understanding the political process and participating in it”, he said.

“An example of the small p is when a large piece of national infrastructure is being debated by various lobby groups and political parties, but often the engineers’ voice is unheard. The engineers’ may have designed the ultimate solution but the politics always needs to be negotiated, a process that engineers should become involved in.

“Politics is the art of compromise and sometimes the optimum engineering solution is just not possible, and engineers need to view the final result, after the negotiation process, as a success.

“Politics is also the art of selling oneself and one’s ideas to the general public and conveying technical issues in layman’s terms, this is an area that needs to be concentrated on during an engineer’s early education,” said Mr Armstrong.

“Engineers must never sacrifice the technical component of their engineering education – but fostering an interest in debating, public speaking and advocacy will ensure the quality of debate over important engineering issues in New Zealand will improve,” he said. Engineers as politicians…2 2/ Engineers as politicians

For more information on the IPENZ 2005 convention see: http://www.ipenz.org.nz/convention2005/

Notes to journalists: About Douglas Armstrong Mr Douglas Armstrong is a distinguished Fellow and Past President of IPENZ. He practiced Civil and Structural engineering for a number of years before entering tertiary education becoming Chief Executive Officer of Unitec in Auckland. As Chief Executive Officer of Unitec he served on significant number of Government task forces related to tertiary education and professional engineering. He also served on the Prime Minister Enterprise Councils under Jim Bolger and later Jenny Shipley. On retiring from Unitec he was elected onto the Auckland City Council in 2001, serving as chairman of the financing committee of the council. He was re-elected for a further term in 2004.

Convention Abstract: Engineers as Politicians This presentation offers the view that while an engineer possesses an admirable knowledge base to enter politics and deal with politicians; they do not feature strongly in the political landscape. The reason for this partly lies in their education and formation processes which is lacking in the ability to communicate the essential elements of presentation and political understanding.

Mr Armstrong believes whilst it is evident more engineers are sitting on boards of directors of major organisations it is unfortunate that more of IPENZ members stand successfully for political office where the major decisions affecting the direction and infrastructure of the country are made.

Politics is the art of selling oneself and one’s ideas to the general public and conveying technical issues in layman’s terms. Engineers do not find this easy and they are often regarded as “boffins” lacking in political acumen.


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