By Bruce Wills*
What has Zoe Marshall and Auckland got in common?
Not a lot, if the reports of her league to union convert husband Benji are to be believed.
Given the choice between Sydney and an aspiring world-city like Auckland, it is Auckland which seems to have come up short.
As policy makers here push Auckland’s development into being ‘our’ world-class city, this unvarnished look from outside should give policy makers pause for thought.
The accepted theory is that for New Zealand to succeed, Auckland must become a South Pacific New York.
To be fair to Auckland it is a great city.
I do not subscribe to the bagging it unfairly receives but our view is that instead of one world-class city, what about having world class towns and cities instead?
These thoughts crystallised during a panel I was on for TV3’s The Nation. On the panel with me was outgoing Agricultural Contractor’s Federation president John Hughes and Calvin Fisher of the Amalgamated Worker’s Union.
I must say that I enjoyed my fellow panellists.
There was no bickering but a constructive and frank exchange of ideas. What also struck me during filming was where we were all coming in from.
John was in a studio down in Invercargill, Calvin was in Christchurch and I was in Hastings. It was only host Rachel Smalley who was in TV3’s Auckland studio and somehow that makes a point.
Especially since we were discussing how Auckland seems to have a higher than average anything, including unemployment.
John was exasperated at the lack of takers even for well paying rural jobs and Calvin agreed. As a unionist, he constructively pointed out working conditions but not to score points. He said it in a way I found agreeable because we do need to focus on working conditions.
We all agreed that past perceptions remain a problem. It is here Sir Roger Douglas’ ‘sunset industry’ misstep still affects us in the third decade after he said it.
Tractor Driver may not sound skilled until you realise a tractor these days is technology worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
You are also working with animals and crops worth large sums of money and the focus is on precision agriculture. Another big factor is as simple as having a driver’s license. The licensing reforms that the AA, Unions and we had concerns about may be biting.
While the Government has a bold business growth agenda it also announced a mammoth $10 billion transport package for Auckland.
Auckland’s gravity-defying property market is leading to ever stricter lending controls affecting those well outside the city.
While there has been a lot of focus on rural debt, now over $50 billion, this is dwarfed by the $195 billion owed by households.
This Auckland focus also repeats a quirk we have by putting all of our eggs into the same basket. We’ve had Britain, “Think Big” and now China, unless we can bring home free trade deals with the rest of the BRICS; Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa, not to mention the TPP.
Domestically, many of our policy eggs are going into Auckland but this seems to deny the disruptive role technology is and will play.
Will we continue to have massive head-offices based in one key city? With technology, why are we investing so heavily into public transport when advances will reduce, replace or change many roles beyond recognition? Record shops anyone? The massive advances in 3D printing will see niche manufacturing move into homes and businesses short circuiting supply chains.
It all seems like the philosophies behind the massive Airbus A380 versus Boeing’s svelte 787 Dreamliner.
With the hub, big planes feed people from all points into it before they transfer onto smaller planes. The other approach is to fly directly to the final destination.
Do we want Auckland as New Zealand’s “hub,” or does Canterbury, with its phoenix-like city and vibrant towns, show us an alternative way?
Instead of underwriting Auckland’s unlimited expansion, is it not better to focus on policies to connect transport, secure world-best internet access and future proof our economy through water storage.
Wellington’s Transmission Gully is essential for efficient interisland freight and efficiency may extend the discussion to Picton versus Clifford Bay.
Ultimately, if Auckland gets too hard to work and live in, then people and companies will find more agreeable places. This will benefit the provincial economy so long as the infrastructure is there to support them.
Just imagine, for one moment, what one-percent of Auckland’s $10 billion transport package would do for this region.
This comes back to changing the model from having just one world-class city to having world-class towns and cities. It may not be the international way but it could just be the Kiwi way.