Predictably the sketchy proposals emerging from last week’s “Jobs Summit” ranged from mildly interesting to the completely ridiculous and I’m left wondering how many will actually come to pass. But the ideas fest, hosted at Manukau City, was not actually about generating sensible approaches to the economic crisis, it was about putting on a display of unity and generating some positive buzz. Ironically, the business leaders at the conference will likely preside over hundreds of layoffs themselves in the coming months.
I like that John Key is an ideas man and is prepared to entertain novel concepts. But his sidekick Bill English made it very clear going into the summit that the state of the nation’s finances would not allow for a great deal of additional expenditure. By lowering expectations ahead of the summit he allowed the government to wiggle out of addressing any meaningful economic reform. His comments may even foreshadow some backpeddling on big ticket sacred cows like tax cuts, broadband and superannuation.
I guess my real concern is that the Jobs Summit hoopla has eclipsed the fact that economic realities have shifted so much that we really need to make a quantum leap in how we approach investing in our future as a nation. I’m not convinced that the summit properly addressed these issues. Borrowing cash to dig cable trenches and build a cycleway will simply not cut the mustard in my opinion.
Since it was elected, the government has astutely avoided making any comments about the need to invest in research, science and technology innovation. In fact the only promise they have made in this area is to kill off the R&D tax credit. They still don’t get it. The only businesses that are growing right now are precisely those that have invested in technology research and development. For example colostrum manufacturer New Image have exploded onto the Asian market. Even the horrendous balls-up in China by dairy commodity behemoth Fonterra has failed to suppress the demand for this high end, added value product.
Saving jobs in the breakfast cereal factories and assembly lines of South Auckland is important. But even more important is creating more high tech companies and developing our largely under-educated workforce. The lack of aspiration we currently demonstrate as a nation is reflected more and more in the ugly twin cultures of ethnic gangs and idiot boyracers that are furtively permeating our society and populating our streets with a generation of social rejects. What we really needed was an all encompassing social, economic and technological Innovation Summit.