Kiwi political debate lacks sizzle: experts

NIKO KLOETEN
Last updated 14:59 07/08/2014

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The poor quality of political debate in Parliament and around the barbecue is damaging New Zealand's economy and society, an economic panel says.

The panel in Auckland today discussed issues raised in a new report on New Zealand's economy by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand.

The report, Future [Inc], said New Zealand had several strengths, such as an open economy and an abundance of natural resources, while the rise of Asia and advances in technology offered opportunities to boost its economy.

New Zealand was vulnerable to natural disasters, the report said, and had to deal with widening regional income inequality and fiscal pressures from an ageing population.

The report warned of policy "inertia" in important areas, and panellists said politicians needed to have a proper discussion about these issues.

New Zealand Institute of Economic Research principal economist Shamubeel Eaqub said he was less than inspired when listening to New Zealand's current politicians.

"You have to go back to Muldoon to get the anger and to Lange to get the inspiration," he said.

"We continue to see reducing engagement in politics in New Zealand, both at the local and national level, and that's incredibly disappointing."

Eaqub said important issues such as education and the "sacred cow" of immigration were rarely discussed in any depth.

He used an anecdote from his recent trip to Invercargill, which has seen an influx of Filipino workers brought in to staff dairy farms.

"The racism I heard in that room from educated people was shocking," he said.

NZ Inc managing director Fran O'Sullivan said some of the comments by Opposition parties on the sale of the Lochinver dairy farm to Shanghai Pengxin could damage New Zealand's relationship with China.

Deloitte New Zealand chairman Murray Jack said the report highlighted how well positioned New Zealand was if it made good choices.

"Where we are currently I don't have the confidence we'll make good choices because we have a history of making pretty poor ones."

He said one topic that needed urgent discussion was superannuation eligibility, which the Government had refused to consider changing even at a future date.

O'Sullivan called on the Government to set up an inquiry to look at the superannuation issue.

Jack stressed the importance of education and skills development to New Zealand's future, but there was a "desert" of policy in that area.

"Skills and productivity and education are key to our long-term prosperity," he said.

Education was particularly important because of advances in technology that were creating "a class of people not fit to participate in the modern economy".

While the panellists agreed New Zealand's politicians needed to show leadership, Eaqub said the public also needed to embrace discussion on important issues.

"The barbecue talk has to move from house prices to education and poverty and all those things that matter, not just house prices," he said.

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