Knocking tall poppies like Sir Peter Jackson

00:45, May 21 2014
Bruce Wills
Federated Farmers of New Zealand president Bruce Wills.

There's one part of the New Zealand psyche that is ugly - the tall-poppy syndrome.

It may be envy, or jealousy, but there's some whose view on life is so black, you have to wonder if they know what happiness is.

Take Sir Peter Jackson. That one-man industry has put New Zealand cinema on the global map. That seemingly isn't good enough for the local literati who look down their noses at Hollywood or success.

No, much better he produces obscure taxpayer funded movies few will ever willingly part money with to see. It must be about art and not filthy commerce.

In recent days I have read two attacks on Sir Peter. One from the star of one of his movies and another, who complained that Sir Peter's success has ended the golden era of New Zealand movie making. It was said Sir Peter's been at the top of his game for "14 bloody years" and it could not last forever.

Now where have I read or heard similar sentiments?

Oh, it has been said of our primary industries.

Forget there's little public money or policy involved. No, we must be taxed remorselessly to fund something, anything, to replace us.

This is where agriculture and Sir Peter share similarities. Both are the result of hard work and endeavour. Both have gone out on the world stage and succeeded. Despite the tyranny of distance and size, both have put New Zealand on the map as commercial successes.

In the minds of some, success is a very bad word.

Take the recent Budget. Rodney Hide in a Sunday newspaper had me nodding in agreement that the entire exercise is like theatrics. It seems bizarre that big spending is trumped by promises of even bigger spending.

As Hide wrote: "If you spent what you didn't have at home and bragged about it, your wife would dump you. If you did it at work, you would be sacked. Do it in politics and we vote for you. It's nuts."

While we welcome a return to surplus we have been borrowing $200 million a week for much of the past six years. The Budget is like a latter-day Circus Maximus. Considerable fruit is thrown to keep the mob somewhat happy or distracted while the political elite scrap.

Yet achieving surplus should not be underestimated given the global financial crisis. Remember that and then the Canterbury earthquakes some politicians overlook. Criticism of government spending since 2008 has side-stepped the concrete galoshes these two events put us in.

Now is not the time for a tea break or a spending spree. If you have a mortgage, what you pay in interest rates comes back to the $71 billion government redistributes into the economy. If each dollar was stacked one on top of another it would reach 71 kilometres high well into the mesosphere.

Listening to talkback, some felt "the rich should pay more" but here's the truth - the top 23 per cent of taxpayers already pay 69 per cent of all income tax revenue, while the "2 per cent" on $150,000-plus contribute 22 per cent of all income tax.

So if you want to keep interest rates and the dollar in check it starts and stops at the Beehive.

Since our collective debt swelled to smooth the "rough edges of recession" like keeping student loans interest-free as well as working for families, repaying debt should be the No 1 priority. Spending should also be focussed in those things that'll light up the economy, like infrastructure, R&D, and building skills. Restarting New Zealand Superannuation Fund payments also deserves a look too.

While the $40 million budgeted for irrigation investment is welcome, in the vastness of government spending, it is more likely less than what the state sector spends on photocopy paper.

And if you want to make the economy go faster just add water, if policy allows us to.

It makes the $8.5 million more for agriculture tuition at tertiary institutions a positive, but compared to other areas, still a drop in the bucket. It perhaps reflects the fact we are most keen on a hand-up and not a hand-out.

Sir Peter got public backing as he tapped into the movie-making super league. Thousands of local jobs and a high profile for New Zealand was the real payback.

Meanwhile the primary industries generate 72 per cent of our physical exports and support 138,000 jobs.

While we will hit wobbles along the way we are unlike Australia. Minerals can be left in the ground until better days but everyone has to eat and the world's human population isn't getting smaller.

As voters you can expect barking-mad statements and anti-farming "dog whistle" rhetoric too.

Yet the number of kiwis returning from overseas proves to me the grass isn't always greener.

* Bruce Wills is the president of Federated Farmers.