Shewan is the marathon man of tax

JAMES WEIR
Last updated 05:00 04/06/2012
TAXMAN: John Shewan.
ROBERT CHARLES/Fairfax NZ
FONTERA FUND: PwC chairman John Shewan will chair the new Fonterra Shareholders Fund management company.

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Passionate Wellingtonian and the marathon man of tax, John Shewan, says the potential for New Zealand is "superb" after it made tough changes in the 1990s.

Tax expert Shewan, 57, has been made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to business just a few days after covering his 30th government Budget.

"It was a delightful surprise," he said.

Most recently Shewan worked on the Tax Working Group and he will maintain that interest in public policy. He also spent nine years chairing the Tax Education Office set up by former finance minister Roger Douglas in 1988.

Shewan retires as PWC chairman later this month after 35 years with the firm, allowing him to do more running and some serious sports watching.

But it is more a change of direction than retirement. Shewan will do more work as a professional company director, and with Victoria University, rather than hanging his boots up.

"I'm going to run more marathons – two international marathons a year and some interesting ones like Cuba and Antarctica, while I'm still young enough."

His best time is 3 hours 17 minutes and he hopes to beat that in the Chicago marathon this year. In the meantime, his retirement present to himself and wife, Jan, is to go to the London Olympics, watching 14 events.

The work Shewan has done on government tax policy stretches back to the 1980s, with the aim of helping the country grow and deal with poverty.

While it was unacceptable for New Zealand to have an underclass, he was also upbeat about the country's prospects.

"I'm a lot more positive than most, because we have done a lot of the hard work and suffered a lot of the pain [in the 1990s] that other countries have not."

There were now almost weekly cases of firms moving operations from Australia to New Zealand, with a lot of admiration from across the Tasman. New Zealand was also well-placed close to Asia, and was the best country in the world for producing food.

"I think the potential for the country is superb. There is a huge upside with the prospect that unemployment will keep falling."

Shewan was a member of the Tax Working Group, established in 2009 to make recommendations to the Government on potential reforms to the tax system.

It had been a privilege to contribute to the policy debate to improve New Zealand's wellbeing and deal with poverty, he said.

"One of the most distressing things is that some times businesspeople get accused of not caring and that could not be further from the truth. Social deprivation is a huge issue," he said.

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The work on the narrow profit motive was incidental in the policy work. "It is all about making for a better country".

Regrettably, New Zealand still had an underclass. "That concerns me greatly and I don't think it is acceptable for a country like New Zealand to have poverty," he said. "Unless we grow the economy it is hard to deal with social deprivation."

Shewan calls himself a "passionate supporter of Wellington", including the Hurricanes rugby team, and he will continue living in the city. "We think it is the best city in New Zealand and the best rugby team now."

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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