New Zealand is stagnating while other countries surge ahead, and Australians are richer, healthier, better educated and living longer, a United Nations report shows.
The report, made public this week, shows that New Zealand has spent more than a decade in a rut placed 19th on the UN Development Programme's Human Development Index.
Australia is placed third, Spain has leapfrogged from 21st to 13th place, and Ireland - once on a par with New Zealand - is now fifth.
The index is based on a range of data including wage rates, life expectancy, adult literacy, government spending and gross domestic product.
It shows that since 1998 New Zealand has remained at either 19 or 20 on the scale and this year scored an index rating of 0.943. Australia is third with 0.962 - it was fourth in 1998.
National Party leader John Key said New Zealand had failed to harvest strong growth over the past decade. "Essentially we're running on the spot."
It was not good enough to link Australia's prosperity to its mineral and mining base, he said.
New Zealand had "tremendous" natural resource advantages such as agriculture and the seventh largest water mass in the world.
"I don't think the Government has set their ambitions high enough for where they want to take the country."
Though employment growth had increased with global trends, there had been no wage growth. "We are, on a relative basis, getting poorer."
The report precedes an economic analysis from the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney, to be released next week, which asks why Australia is so much richer than New Zealand.
It highlights tax policy as key, and notes that Australian workers produce a third more wealth for every hour worked.
Phil Rennie, a policy analyst at the conservative think tank, said: "The biggest thing I cannot escape from is government policy, tax and regulation and the direction they move in."
The UN figures were "a very useful indicator of what is going on".
But Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen said the report showed New Zealand was "very much a First World nation".
As with all international league tables - some of which New Zealand did very well in - the results needed to be "taken with a grain of salt", he said.
"Far from standing still, New Zealand over the past eight years has made huge strides."
These included the longest period of economic growth in more than a generation, with the economy growing by over a quarter since 1999.
Countries that were far richer than New Zealand, including Germany, were ranked behind New Zealand on the index.
Nick Palmer, who moved to Australia this year, said he was earning significantly more across the ditch. The 26-year-old could "pick and choose" from telecommunications sale and service jobs.
"In my first year working I'm making 50 per cent more in an entry level position than I was after working the same job for five years in Dunedin."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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