As the nation heads back to work, albeit, with a degree of trepidation following our first community outbreak of the year, an increasing number of us are asking the question; ‘Where are we heading as a nation?’
While there is no doubt we remain firmly in the grip of the global pandemic, it’s vital we continue to think about New Zealand’s place in the world and what we stand for as a nation.
In fact, it could be said there has never been a better time for us to demonstrate to others that we’re more than the All Blacks and a coronavirus success story; something that could be tipped on its head if the Government isn’t careful.
As the world continues to reel from COVID-19, we could – if we set our minds to it –- play an important role in helping address the needs of the global community for decades to come.
For example, there has never been a greater need for transparency, political unity and accountability; something we are renowned for.
We have a food source that is the envy of the world and produce more than we consume.
We are also modern in terms of our technical ability and regularly in the spotlight for the right reasons.
Further to this, our efforts to minimise the impact of the Coronavirus means we’re able to live close to normal while hosting events other countries can only imagine.
Despite the fact the human population is having to face up to a threat only scientists have been talking about, our standing in the eyes of the world, enhanced by the Prime Ministers’ handling of the Christchurch terror attacks and Coronavirus outbreak, means we are uniquely placed to forge a meaningful way forward on a multitude of fronts.
So where are we at today?
In a nutshell, I believe we’re at a crossroads.
As the Productivity Commission points out, we are continuing to fall behind comparative nations in key areas despite the opportunities available to us.
Our ‘100% pure NZ’ motto continues to fade as we come to the realisation our environmental management has been lacking.
The opportunity to focus on the production of high-value foods has been compromised by our efforts to maximise short-term benefits.
Our film industry, while remaining strong, has been blighted by employment issues that have dented our standing on the international stage.
Our tourism industry, although ravaged by COVID-19, has lost some of its shine because of the makeshift way too many in the sector have chosen to operate.
The demand for more productive farming units has caused irreparable damage to some of our most sensitive ecosystems.
Many in society continue to suffer from debilitating diseases adding to the stress on our already struggling health system.
And while we’re adopting many next-generation building practices, our underground infrastructure is crumbling.
We are also seeing the status of our education sector regressing at a faster pace today than at any time in history.
Gang violence is on the rise pushing many in our communities to the breaking point while the building sector is facing a massive shortage of tradespeople even though the dole queue for the young is getting longer.
And while we are appealing to an increasing number of the world’s rich, we’re selling our assets rather than leveraging the opportunity their wealth and connections offer.
On the bright side
There are now 30-plus tech businesses in New Zealand each generating in excess of $50m a year resulting in a significant increase in high-paying jobs.
Companies like Xero, Datacom, Fisher & Paykel Health Care, the Gallagher Group, Pushpay and Buckley Systems are class acts that are increasing the nation’s reputation. Add to this the exploits of Team New Zealand, Sir Peter Jackson, and Rocket Lab and it’s easy to see why things could be better if we put our minds to it.
Further to this, the deliberate and widespread use of misinformation during the Trump era is drawing to a close meaning the opportunity to engage with a wider audience is on the cards.
To experience a different future, however, we cannot continue robbing Peter to pay Paul. Instead, we must work together for the benefit of everyone in order to realise the outcomes we’re looking for.
We also need to value the lives of everyone who calls New Zealand home as it’s only by working together that we can achieve what we’re after as a nation.
Given the key to our future will need to be paid for, we need to transform the productivity of the country whilst simultaneously lessening our impact on the environment.
At the same time, we need to lessen people’s reliance on the state while targeting social investment to those most at risk.
Further to this, we need to stop arguing about inequality and instead, focus on building an economy that lifts people’s income, so they see themselves as contributors to the county rather than members of the forgotten.
We also have to accept that time is precious but by making use of it, we could come out better and stronger as a population.
So what is our vision?
As it stands, I’m not sure.
While I agree it is important to be kind and look out for one another, it’s not a vision for the nation.
I also agree we need to reconcile our differences but that is not in and of itself the answer.
No, the answer lies in us agreeing on what is important so we can develop a pathway to achieve it.
It must also mean enough to each of us to pursue it because it will take time to embed before we realise the benefits.
It also has to be built on bipartisan beliefs that reflect our different perspectives to ensure those doing it tough will want to support it.
At the moment, it seems to me that everyone feels they have to get what they can from wherever they can because no one else is looking out for them. Most also presume that what they need is unique to them rather than realising the pathways to success are similar for each of us; by that, I mean a good education, positive health, and a job or career that will allow us to house our families and get ahead.
We also want to know that we’re relevant to others and therefore feature in the plan. However, until such time as the Government paints a picture the country can aspire to, we will more than likely stick to our differences rather than engage with each other in a way that takes us forward.
The fact of the matter is, every one of us could be better off. We could all enjoy better outcomes where our needs are met and our children are set up for success.
We could all enjoy better health and, therefore, a better quality of life. However, to do that we need to free up the nation's resources so we can get ahead of the curve rather than using them to prop up the system as we currently do.
To experience this, we will need to put aside our differences so we can focus on the things that matter rather than pursuing differing agendas that will continue to cost us in the long run.
Make no mistake, we need our neighbours, whoever they are, to be healthy and prosperous; not at the mercy of the gods or suffering the consequences of social or economic failure.
Positively though, our success in managing the Coronavirus to date says we can achieve big things if we work together. We, the team of 5 million, have proven we can rise to a challenge if and when we have to.
We have also shown that we’re prepared to make personal sacrifices for the good of the country meaning we have the capacity to put aside our preferences in order to benefit all who live here.
Because we have again demonstrated our ability to work together just as our forefathers did in wartime, we must assume our political leaders can work together to forge a plan that benefits everyone rather than trying to appease their supporters in order to remain in office.
So what could it be?
As a starter, I believe we have the potential to be the world’s leading producer of high-quality, sustainable food.
Equally, I believe we could be the world’s leading agritech practitioners.
We could be the world’s leading environmentalists or the tech hub of the South Pacific.
We could be the world’s leading biotech producer and/or leverage our position as a world-class supplier of next-generation medical equipment.
Alternatively, we could do everything well and struggle for identity or leave it to our athletes, farmers, artists and entrepreneurs to impress our peers in order to exploit new opportunities as they arise.
What we can’t afford to do though is presume that what we’ve done in the past, i.e. produce logs and milk powder will see us through or that by punching above our weight on the international sports stage will generate a gateway for all, irrespective of what we contribute as individuals.
In other words, we need to set some goals that will take us forward as a country if we are to realise the benefits that matter to a modern, democratic society.
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