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North & South's 2007 NZer of the Year

North & South's 2007 NZer of the Year

Leading current affairs magazine North & South announced its 2007 New Zealander Of The Year in Wellington on December 6.

Gareth Morgan is more accustomed to brickbats than bouquets. For 10 years, through his newspaper columns and television commentary, the Wellington economist has been blowtorching industries, institutions and policies he considers immoral, illegal, lazy or self-serving. His hard-hitting style's not always won him friends and admirers, but those who listen closely to his message have never doubted his purpose: to champion hard-working New Zealanders, expose the shysters and dissemblers of commerce, politics and the money-minding industries — and kick-start more Kiwis into financial self-responsibility.

Often misjudged by newspaper letter writers as a hard-hearted, rabid rightist, in 2006 Morgan confounded his critics by pledging to donate his entire $47 million Trade Me windfall to charity — his share of son Sam Morgan's internet auction site, sold to Fairfax in March. Not content to quietly run his charitable trust and business Gareth Morgan Investments — and go fishing — he then researched and wrote a searing expose on the more dubious practices of life insurance companies, financial planners and superannuation schemes, arguing if the government didn't clean up the $60 billion savings and superannuation sector, New Zealanders' hard-earned savings would be put in jeopardy.

In September he published Pension Panic, a guide to savings, investment and retirement — and typically didn't soft-pedal his message to baby boomers marshalling themselves for retirement. Silk Riders: Jo And Gareth Morgan's Incredible Journey On The Trail Of Marco Polo, co-written with his wife Jo and published in April 2006, was reprinted four times and looked set to top sales of 18,000 by year's end. All the Morgans' royalties from the book go to a UNICEF educational project in Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished former satellite state of the USSR.

An enthusiastic motorbike tourer, Morgan filed entertaining and illuminating weekly newspaper reports in mid-2006 from a 29,000km traverse of Canada, Mexico and 26 states of the US.

By late 2006, the Morgan Family Charitable Trust was established and distributing funds — with Gareth promising to be neither a shy nor indiscriminate philanthropist. Under Morgan's management, the money will be used effectively — be it through New Zealanders running vital aid projects overseas or education and welfare programmes at home. There'll be no sloppy accounting or administrative skimming on his watch. His charitable efforts will be designed to help others in a hands-up rather than hand-out fashion — and if the outspoken economist-philanthropist has his way, his actions will also cause the rest of us to think more deeply about our roles and responsibilities in society.

The annual North & South award seeks to find one person whose contribution has had a positive impact on all New Zealanders, on the ways in which they live, work and think about their country. That person should also reflect the values of how we would want to be as New Zealanders in the future.

Morgan's name joins an honours board of esteemed previous winners: Minister of Treaty Negotiations Sir Douglas Graham (1997) urban Maori activist and MP John Tamihere (1998) Dame Cheryll Sotheran, founding chief executive of Te Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand (1999), Auckland University chancellor and educationalist, John Graham( 2000), Women's Refuge leader Merepeka Raukawa Tait (2001), Knowledge Wave conference mentor, Auckland University leader, now Oxford University head, Dr John Hood (2002), sporting philanthropist and Hawke's Bay guru Graeme Avery (2003), Auckland scientists and world renown researchers Professor Garth Cooper and Professor Jane Harding (2004), Dunedin's ultimate carer St John advanced paramedic Doug Flett (2005), and Christchurch entrepreneur and philanthropist Peri Drysdale.

In presenting the 11th annual award North & South editor Robyn Langwell said, "North & South believes Morgan deserves a singular, mention for his particular take on this country. He is bold and bright, does things his way, takes no prisoners, refuses to toe the line and in so doing inspires us with his insight, wisdom and off-beat approach to life."

ENDS

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