I love the moot for our conversation today. Of course to work out what the impossible dream is one must first of all work out who or what one is.
I should start by saying I’m an Aucklander. I live in Auckland but sleep in Wellington.
I don’t get to enjoy all that Wellington has to offer even though I spend so much time here. I go pretty much from Airport to Beehive.
I recently had to confess to Sir Richard Taylor the other day that I haven’t even been to Weta – and yes I know how bad that is – I have never done Wellington on a Plate or visited Zealandia, and I went to your Harbourside Markets for the first time just two days ago.
Don’t look at me with disgust – look at me with pity – ok that might be a step too far.
Anyway maybe I am perfectly positioned to talk about you from an outsider insiders view. On the working out who or what you are Wellington, this is where I think you have got it over most others.
Today might be about working out where you go next – that step change that you think you need – but at least you know who you are and there other cities in New Zealand that are still trying to define themselves.
You know what you are – Wellingtonians are talented, kind of groovy, cool and sophisticated – hope my orange dress isn’t too bright for you in your sea of black.
You embrace the alternative. You are creative. You are confident. You do fantastic retail and fashion. You rock craft beer and coffee, rivalling New York for cafes and restaurants per capita.
You are quite young. Your median age is 29 when the NZ average is 37.
And you have the highest proportion of masters and postgrads – so you are clever, clever people.
And you clever people produce clever kids. Even your high school students do better passing NCEA level 2 at 88% compared to 83% nationally. I tell people we should be aiming for our pass rates to be up at 90% - well you’re almost already there!
You’re industrious and hard-working. You have the highest median income in the country.
Your economy is thriving it has grown by 21% since 2011.
You are a growing hub for tech innovation and creative industries. Think about Weta and Peter Jackson’s creative empire.
Film created $644 million in revenue for Wellington in the past year and makes up two-thirds of NZ’s screen production revenue. You can only image what impact the upcoming Avatar films are going to have over the next ten years.
Think about Xero taking on the world, the thriving start-up scene, your software development specialty Callaghan Innovation out in the neighbouring Hutt Valley.
The tech sector generates 16,000 local jobs in 4,000 businesses contributing $2.1 billion to GDP. You have the fastest rate of new tech businesses and the highest concentration of web and digital businesses in New Zealand.
More people work in Wellington compared to the rest of the country – your participation rate is 75% compared to the national average and historic record rate of 70%.
20,000 new jobs with strong growth in tech, film and hospitality, and the positive thing is jobs are growing in the areas where you need smart, educated people which you have in abundance. 500 more job ads in June than the same time last year.
Your population has grown by 35,000 in the past 15 years and is forecast to grow by another 46,000 by 2043. You’re a place people want to move to, and with that comes enormous opportunities.
Tourism is at $2 billion and has increased by 23% in the past three years. Your international spend is $733m and is up 51% in the same time.
The number of international visitors is estimated at 745,000 in March up 34% from 2014, showing spend is growing faster than the number of people coming.
You’ve got some real strengths to leverage here, your international visitors spend 28% of their money on food and beverage compared to 23% nationwide. Wellington on a Plate is NZ’s largest culinary festival.
You were ranked the best city in New Zealand to drink beer - for God sakes just in May you were voted as the most liveable city in the world!
You beat New York, Sydney, London so – you’re doing something right.
You’ve got a good sensible Council, I always hear really good things about Council in Welllington. Friends that have moved here, quite a few say that Council do a really good job for them, rates are reasonable and they get good value. People that have come from outside in say they are impressed and get quite a good deal.
So where to next? I’m not going to tell you what to do but try and give some insight as to how. I think others are better placed than this Aucklander to tell you where you should go. So I thought I would play it safe and talk about something I know something about – the Public Service.
There are 19,248 public servants living in Wellington – that’s a lot of people. These nearly 20,000 public servants are very clever.
Putting aside the fact that they drink all that coffee, spend lots on designer clothes, go to Circa and the Caketin, and keep the food and beverage industry thriving, they are also some of the most thoughtful, intelligent, problem solving people in the country.
Our public service is world class and was recently rated as second in the world for civil service effectiveness. We’re ranked as the least-corrupt country in the world, 7th for Open Data and 1st in Budget transparency.
You’ve got 2,500 policy analysts alone - some of the biggest brains in the country. Another 5,000 “information professionals” which includes people like librarians and statisticians.
They’re people that actually think about this country more than any other group anywhere. They’re paid to design policy and work out the implementation and think about all this stuff. Literally paid to think and solve problems!
And most importantly they give a damn. And that counts for everything. It does.
They care about our environment, our people, they care about this country. They design policy and then those huge brains work out how to implement it. They have patience – they’re paid to put up with politicians after all.
And they love and care for this city. It’s where they are raising their families, its where many of them will grow old. They have invested in the future of Wellington. These people are genuinely generous and have a major social consciences.
So can they do more to tidy up their own backyard? Why don’t you mobilise the public service, your own residents?
Surely we can get them thinking about some of the challenges of Wellington straight away. I don’t understand why this group of people don’t literally go “In our home city we will eradicate homelessness”. Hamilton did the first Housing First programme to eliminate homelessness – why doesn’t Wellington? Wellington is probably better equipped than most to do it, and you have an excellent Wellington City Mission do tremendous work as it is.
In housing you’re doing a good job and the council is making some good moves but why not take that to the next level which I think Wellington is more than capable of.
I constantly hear concerns around transport issues, whether that’s Basin Flyover or access in and out of the city. Sometimes I think we try to be all things to all people and the perfect becomes the enemy to the good. You’ve got bold thinkers, be bold and make some calls now.
Welfare numbers – you could be the first city to have nobody on the unemployment benefit. You’ve got 4,000 on welfare, with every government
department and council organisation, and then private business on top, you could eliminate the unemployment benefit in the city.
I don’t know if they’re the main problems you want to address, but you really do have some of the smartest people in the country here at your disposal. Is the problem that you look to politicians for answers when actually you’ve got the brains behind the politicians sitting your front door step.
Is Parliament so close that you can just point to us and demand that we fix it, when actually you are more than capable of fixing your own problems.
I would implore you to draw more on what you’ve got here – I hope other speakers go into the tech stuff and cultural stuff, but I do think that that we have a powerful public service that could be making a massive contribution to the future of Wellington city and achieve some of those impossible dreams.