I’ve been looking at the Epsom electorate and its surrounds with fresh eyes in the past few weeks. Having taken possession of a fully electric car for the campaign period, my focus is now on the whereabouts of public charging stations. Some of them re-charge the car quickly. There are a surprising number around. Watercare have one at the Newmarket end of Remuera Road; the Museum’s spot is picturesque; Vector has another on Carlton Core Road, while several car yards have them. I’ve never felt so technologically up to date.
Since most of New Zealand’s electricity comes from renewal sources, a shift over the next few decades towards more electric cars would have real environmental benefits; not to mention reducing the requirement for our country to import billions of dollars’ worth of oil every year.
Progress comes from innovation. As a small country naturally we import most innovations, as we always have – cars, smartphones, new management techniques, the latest drugs. But we also come up with a few of our own, such as extracting high productivity from pasture-fed dairy cows.
Our future standard of living depends on our companies, and the public sector, continuing to innovate, so our businesses can be more competitive internationally and so our public sector entities can meet our challenges and give people what they want at a reasonable price.
So what can government do to usefully encourage more innovation?
Some would say the best thing we can do is get out of the way. Most breakthrough innovation comes from crazy or strongly determined individuals and their companies. If the government makes it too difficult for them to take risks, or if it takes too much of their money in tax, or drives them even crazier with regulation, then they may give up or go somewhere else. So we keep asking ourselves is the current stock of regulations absolutely necessary, and we’re careful when coming up with new regulations that the benefits genuinely outweigh the costs. Since competition is one of the greatest drivers of innovation, we need to keep removing barriers to new entrants coming into industries, sometimes to disrupt, always to keep the incumbents on their toes.
On the active side, government has a role in ensuring our education system produces Kiwis with the skills and knowledge to drive our innovative companies. Budget 2017 saw significant new investment in the Tertiary Education sector to keep our universities internationally competitive and relevant. In recent years, for example, the numbers of engineering graduates have increased dramatically.
We also invest huge sums in science – around $1.4 billion annually, rising to $1.6 billion soon. Budget 2017 carried on that investment. The public science in our Crown Research Institutes and universities will generate new ideas and new ways to adapt the latest international thinking to local challenges. The grants to industries managed by Callaghan Innovation are designed to encourage firms to invest more in R&D. Over the past two years we’ve seen a 29 per cent increase in private sector R&D.
We also ensure the critical infrastructure is in place for innovation. Our investment in the Ultra-Fast Broadband rollout means that New Zealanders have access to some of the best connectivity in the world.
If you see me driving around over the new few weeks, I’d be keen to hear your views on this subject and any others.