Michael Barnett – Women-only plan ignores diversity


We have moved beyond gender balance as the sole differentiating criteria for selecting people of merit to top jobs, says Auckland Chamber of Commerce head Michael Barnett.In a diverse society in which everyone has an equal opportunity, selecting people to top jobs based on merit is the primary consideration.

He was commenting on the Labour Party’s proposed changes to its selection processes to block men from running for some seats in a bid to lift the proportion of women in caucus to 50% by 2017.

“The issue is about diversity. For a broadly representative group such as a political party ensuring a balanced representation covering ethnicity, age, youth, skills and sexual preference is surely the overriding consideration.”

“To say it is just about women versus males is archaic and wrong,” said Mr Barnett.

“More and more women are becoming available for selection to top jobs based on merit, and that’s to be applauded. But where our effort now needs to go is to find ways to ensure that the diversity in our society gets the full representation it deserves in top positions across society,” concluded Mr Barnett.

The EEO Trust and Auckland Chamber of Commerce run a series of ‘Diversity Breakfast’ workshops for employers, each time focussing on a different topic; join us for the next breakfast which takes place on Thursday 11 July, click here for further details and bookings.

Business groups lay into Unitary Plan

"The Unitary Plan seems a little arrogant"said chamber chief executive Michael Barnett.

“The Unitary Plan seems a little arrogant” – chamber chief executive Michael Barnett.

Business groups have joined the chorus of complaints over a new planning rulebook for the city – although the Property Council has declared the first draft a pretty good effort.

The Auckland Chamber of Commerce and the Employers and Manufacturers Association are highly critical of the Unitary Plan which has got communities rebelling against intensification in the suburbs.

In a submission, the Auckland Chamber of Commerce said the draft Unitary Plan was a complex, badly deficient document with a lot of rough edges that needed to be fixed.

“It seems a little arrogant,” chamber chief executive Michael Barnett said on TV One’s Q & A.

The Chamber’s submission said the draft Unitary Plan appeared to take a blanket “we know what’s best for you” approach.

The Chamber and the Employers and Manufacturers Association urged the council to take more time with the plan. Said the chamber: “The issues are far too critical to allow council to sweep them under the carpet.”

The Property Council urged the council to resist the temptation to water the plan down to appease those resisting change. Chief executive Connal Townsend said it was a pretty good first draft that needed insight into market realities and industry experience.
By Bernard Orsman, published by NZ Herald
Wednesday 12 June 2013

Submission by Auckland Regional Chamber of Commerce on Auckland Council Draft Unitary Plan

Auckland Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Barnett

Auckland Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Barnett

The Auckland Chamber of Commerce has made submissions to the Auckland Council regarding the Draft Unitary Plan representing Auckland business interests.

The Chamber shares the widely publicised concerns as well as a number of others about the draft Unitary Plan, and which have resulted in an overall lack of confidence that the document is anywhere near being a fit for purpose set of rules suitable to ‘give effect to’ and enable the timely implementation of the Auckland Plan, and especially the fast and bold action required on the big transformational issues facing Auckland.

For the full submission click here or visit our website

Michael Barnett urges Rotorua to join Golden Triangle- Thursday 23rd May

Waikato RiverArticle published in Daily Post  – written by Rotorua Chamber Chief Executive Roger Gordon.

Last Tuesday the Chamber of Commerce organised a special Focus on Business Event featuring Michael Barnett, chief executive of the Auckland Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Michael is also a director of Grow Rotorua, our city’s economic development company. His address was on the importance to New Zealand of the Economic Golden Triangle, the combined regions of Auckland, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty.
This region comes together as the Upper North Island Strategic Alliance, known by the acronym of Unisa. The purpose of the Unisa Agreement is to establish a long-term collaboration between the authorities of Northland Regional Council, Whangarei District Council, Auckland Council, Waikato Regional Council, Hamilton City Council, Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Tauranga City Council.

The first order” priorities for this inter-regional collaboration are: economic development linkages, transport including rail, roads, freight, ports including inland ports, tourism, emergency preparedness, waste, water, population and settlement patterns, liveability, commercial and industrial land development, international connectivity and competitiveness air, sea, broadband, energy security, climate change, including greenhouse gas emission reductions.

This region has 51 per cent of New Zealand’s GDP. It has 52 per cent of New Zealand’s current population, which is predicted to grow to 55 per cent in 2015 and 60 per cent by 2031. The region has 50 per cent of New Zealand’s workforce and 54 per cent of businesses.

It was highlighted that Rotorua does not currently sit around that table when they discuss strategies to develop further regional co-operation.

Michael encouraged those present to start a conversation on how we can plug ourselves into the exciting future opportunities that this Golden Triangle offers. He highlighted the strategic strengths of our region forestry, tourism, agriculture, horticulture, geothermal, and transport and logistics, and emphasised the contribution that we make to the region. Rotorua District should seek to join Unisa alongside the other local authorities of Whangarei, Tauranga, Hamilton and Auckland.
As a Chamber we believe that the conversation that Michael suggests is critical to the future of our city. Over the next few months, we will be staging a number of sessions that will contribute to this conversation.
We hope all of you will contribute to the discussion as it is a “whole of community” issue that will guide our future.”


The need to realise potential


An opinion piece by Keith Ikin

“Last Tuesday evening, I attended the Michael Barnett seminar facilitated by our Chamber of J Commerce. It was heartening to hear a comment from the floor that the future of our community rests with our ability to ensure our young people reach their potential and make the most of their opportunities as well as attracting bright, innovative and entrepreneurial people into our regions.

We are as rich as any other region in natural resources. Our forestry, agriculture and sustainable energy resources are complemented by one of the most progressive fresh water restoration programmes in the world.

We are one of the most visited destinations in New Zealand and the future potential of tourism in our region is enormous if we get it right.

Given all of the advantages, we should be asking ourselves some hard questions. I am sure many visitors who come here ask themselves why there isn’t greater prosperity and opportunity in our community.

In my view, it’s because we are not optimising the value of our natural resources in a sustainable way for the benefit of our local economy and community.

There is a disconnect between our retail and tourist business community where we do not work together to create the best possible visitor experience and generate a greater spend locally.

In the short term, our future prosperity will depend on our ability to put our differences aside and bring all sectors of our community together to set ambitious goals for our future. If for example we set a goal for Rotorua that every single child achieved a minimum of Level 2 NCEA within the next five years, it would need families, schools and educational institutions, groups and organisations, businesses and local and central government agencies to work
together to create a community in which young people can thrive.

Too many people are hooked into welfare dependency at a young age. It is difficult to break that cycle once it begins. There are amazing things happening in our schools, in organisations and across our community but many of our kids are still disenfranchised from opportunity.

It takes a village to educate a child; there is no reason for us to accept any longer that any Rotorua child does not meet their potential.”

Keith Ikin is deputy chief executive at Waiariki Institute of Technology

Daily Post, Rotorua Bay of Plenty by Keith Ikin

Investor morale jumps

 Rising Auckland house prices helped push investor confidence to its highest level in more than two years. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Govt asset sale plan, rising sharemarket and Christchurch rebuild driving confidence.
Rising Auckland house prices helped push investor confidence to its highest level in more than two years. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Against a backdrop of rising share prices and a booming Auckland housing market, investor confidence reached its highest level in more than two years during the first quarter of 2013, according to research by ASB.

Investor confidence reached a net 18 per cent during the first three months of this year, which was a 5 percentage point increase on the previous quarter and the strongest result since late 2010.

The bank’s Investor Confidence Index – based on 720 online interviews – also found Cantabrians are becoming increasingly bullish, with investor confidence in that part of the country higher than the rest of New Zealand for the first time since 2011.

ASB’s head of wealth advisory, Jonathan Beale, said the Government’s partial privatisation programme for state-owned enterprises, a rising local sharemarket, rising house prices in Auckland and the ramping up of the Christchurch rebuild were all factors driving the increased overall confidence levels.

“Kiwi investors have over the past few years regarded the sharemarket with an air of caution in comparison to some other investment classes such as investment property and term deposits,” Beale said. “However, it appears that public awareness surrounding recent Government SOE share offers has put the sharemarket firmly back on retail investors’ radar this quarter.”

The NZX-50 index has risen more than 13 per cent so far this year.

“We’ve seen a lot of people moving into New Zealand and Australian shares for the yield,” Beale said. “New Zealand shares pay good dividends and at the same time bank deposit [interest] rates have been low.”

Eleven per cent of respondents expected shares to provide the best return on investment, according to the index. That was well behind rental property, with 19 per cent of respondents thinking an investment in bricks and mortar would provide the best return.

The price of the average home in Auckland has risen by around 12 per cent over the past year.

Beale said he didn’t think there was a risk of investors becoming over- confident. “We’re still a way off the dizzy heights of 2009 when confidence got up to [a net] 30 per cent.”

Meanwhile, a survey by the Auckland Chamber of Commerce found confidence among firms in the city continued to rise in the current quarter, with a net 50 per cent of companies believing the New Zealand business environment would improve, up from a net 37 per cent in the last quarter.

The survey also found a net 56 per cent of Auckland business owners thought their own business situation would improve. “There are still challenges, like obtaining finance and finding the right employees, but things are improving,” said the chamber’s chief executive, Michael Barnett.


New Zealand Herald 20 May 2013
Article by Christopher Adams 
Photo / Brett Phibbs

Michael Barnett: Leadership can unlock the roadblocks

“Time ripe for a big gun to step up and make big business-like decisions on Auckland’s transport problems.

Transforming Britomart into Auckland’s main railway station has seen passenger numbers increase.
If a business plan was signed off by the board of a listed company knowing that it set out an investment programme that would deliver a negative result, there would be one outcome – they would lose the confidence of their investors.

The just-released Integrated Transport Programme predicting worsening congestion in Auckland even if we find the extra $400 million a year needed to finance the Auckland Plan’s transport projects falls into that category. It charts an unacceptable future for Auckland.

The document that was signed off by the boards of both Auckland Transport and the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) should concern Aucklanders and have them look at our political masters, who signed off a 30-year Auckland Plan from which the transport programme has been compiled. Isn’t their job to provide the leadership for building a thriving Auckland, and for which transport is set out in the plan as an enabler?

The one saving grace of the programme is that it is honest. It plainly states that even with the $25 billion invested to build by 2021 projects like the Central Rail Link in the central city and Ameti and East West Link in South Auckland, within 30 years Auckland’s road congestion will be worse than current levels in cities like Sydney and Melbourne, which already have much larger populations.

But it offers no solutions. At the moment Auckland cannot even fund the transport infrastructure investment programme we have agreed and want to do, let alone the further initiatives needed to head off the worsening congestion long-term.

At all levels, the decisions that need to be made right now are business-like leadership decisions – and the ground has never been as well prepared as it is now for a leader to step up to the plate and make the big calls required.

There are four things that need to happen – and fast:

First, while Aucklanders debate how to fill the $400 million a year shortfall needed to finance the immediate Auckland Plan transport projects, Auckland Transport and NZTA – our transport infrastructure and service providers – need to be demanding and seeking a much improved business-like performance from the existing transport system.

Train and bus services must be re-organised to run on time and become reliable; they must lift their game and not leave passengers waiting at stations and stops. Auckland Transport must quickly introduce integrated timetables between train, bus and ferry services, provide secure parking for cars at suburban bus and train stations, and ensure train fares are paid. They must micro manage a much improved performance from the bus and rail systems.

With some trust and certainty that these micro improvements make a real difference, I am confident thousands of commuters would leave their cars at home – and would be keen to do so.

Second, the funding shortage debate must be brought into the real world.

The debate has quickly revealed a preference for a user-pays approach – network tolls or a cordon – rather than increasing rates. There are two parts to the debate – to find revenue to ensure major projects are built within the plan’s timeline, and to bite the bullet with congestion management scheme by 2021 to head off the predicted worsening gridlock.

However, we are starting this debate without knowing what we are going to invest in or what level of return we will get from making this investment. We are not planning the funding solution in a business-like way.

The business case for the major projects has not yet been done, so there is no informed way to confirm what the measurable benefits of the projects will be.

It is remiss, surely, to promote a debate on options to raise the $400 million a year to invest with no idea of the likely return. It is like going to a banker seeking a loan for a million dollars without disclosing what the money will be used for.

Of course, the first question the bank will ask is: What do you want the money for? And the next question will be to determine whether the return on the investment is sound – does it stack up?

Third, there is no way of knowing what the rate of return to the economy has been from the billions of dollars invested in Auckland transport infrastructure in recent years – either roads or public transport – the work to make this assessment has not been done.

In general, returns on investment will depend on the nature of the projects themselves.

Judging from improved traffic flows where new motorway links have been built, this suggests the investment has been value for money. The Western Ring Route corridor benefits were calculated to be $1.40 for every $1 invested and something in the order of 1500 jobs.

Similarly, shifting Auckland’s main railway station into Britomart has seen a big jump in passengers regularly using rail.

But even though some $1 billion a year has been invested in improving Auckland transport infrastructure since about 1990, there is no firm, quantitative basis for claims about the impact of this investment on Auckland’s economy and growth. Fourth, we must stop talking about the cost of transport infrastructure and manage it as an investment.

Auckland’s contribution to New Zealand in dollar terms is significant. A 2006 study indicated that some $18 billion in revenue being paid from Auckland against which about $14 billion was returned to Auckland in services and investment.

There is no argument from Auckland about the huge central government investment going towards the Christchurch rebuild. But when you look deeper into the NZ Inc performance, you see that its economic engine room – Auckland – which generates a third of the nation’s GDP and provides a third of its employment, is still performing well below the bottom line.

Thursday’s Budget is expected to confirm NZ Inc is on an official track to budget surplus by 2014/15, a stable government (i.e. business-like leadership?), and low-levels of public debt compared to our peers in the Northern Hemisphere.

And if we deduct the cost of the investment NZ Inc is contributing to the Christchurch earthquake recovery, then the country as a whole is doing fairly well.

Assuming the business case for Auckland’s major transport projects show a positive return for the Auckland economy, it is then reasonable to ask why central government shouldn’t underwrite a fair share of the investment – which is what it is, an “investment” in Auckland and New Zealand’s growth-led future.

The scale of the investments required is clearly beyond Auckland Council’s ratepayers. A substantial central government input will be required, and that is the call our mayor and councillors should be focusing on – encouraging government to do what it is obviously going to have to do.”

Michael Barnett is chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.

By Michael Barnett


International Convention Centre – “The gains from this will be widespread”

The Heads of Agreement confirming an International Convention Centre will be built in central Auckland is exactly the positive boost Auckland and New Zealand needs, says Michael Barnett, head of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.

“Having an international convention centre will lift New Zealand up the value chain not just for hosting large global events, but as an attractor for investment, new businesses and flow on tourism impacts across the whole country.”

Clearly, there are some social matters around SkyCity’s management of pokies that will need to be secured and closely monitored.

“But the bottom line is that SkyCity’s offer to build the convention centre at no cost to tax payers or rate payers for free – in the centre of Auckland, near top accommodation, transport and restaurants – is a game changer.

“The gains from this will be widespread – not only some 1500 jobs during the construction phase, but for tourism – hotels, food and beverage sector, transport, tourism packages to visit provincial centres, and branding New Zealand internationally.

Conferences and conventions also hold enormous potential for generating shoulder and off-season demand. Business events generate high expenditure, often include leisure travel add-ons and do not demand capacity in the peak season, noted Mr Barnett

However, he added a cautionary note – “We still need to turn the Heads of Agreement into a contract, confirm a construction start date, and Auckland Council has an important role to facilitate the consent process. Together with the important social issues, these concerns must be worked through in a measured way with speed and urgency, and which the Chamber of Commerce fully intends maintaining a close eye on.”