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New Zealand's Russian Roulette Economy 30 June 2000 Edition
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Every year the government spends huge amounts of money on developing and maintaining a national infrastructure to cope with the effects of major disasters.

We have a civil defense network that spans the country, with a headquarters that is itself based deep in the bowels of the Beehive -- supposedly safe from the worst nature can dish out and kept warm by the endless gusts of hot air issuing from the numerous political orifices that dwell there.

Unfortunately, successive governments have failed to realise that without a strong knowledge-based economy, New Zealand is staring disaster in the face. While it appears happy to spend money on protecting us from flood, earthquake and other dangers -- it refuses to properly protect us from the kind of economic disaster that could, in an instant, affect every man woman and child in the country.

I refer of course to the huge risk we run so long as our economy remains heavily reliant on the export of bio-material and primary production.

Given the number of biosecurity scares we've encountered recently with a seemingly endless influx of snakes, bee-mites, disease-carrying mosquitoes, scorpions, moths capable of stripping our commercial forests, etc -- it becomes only a matter of time before our core primary exports are compromised by an agent beyond our control.

What would New Zealand do if the equivalent of the mad cow epidemic surfaced here and our export markets suddenly refused to accept our beef and lamb products?

What about a widespread outbreak of foot and mouth? Rabies? Or some new, and as yet undiscovered animal disease of a highly contagious nature?

Even the effects of genetic engineering, while generally considered "safe enough" by most experts, still represent some risk. Is it absolutely possible to guarantee that subtle genetic modifications won't in some way affect what is presently a benign biological agent in an unpredicted manner?

The results of any bio-disaster could be a devastating king-hit on our already chronically ill balance of payments figures and forcing us into massive overseas borrowing -- with a resulting drop in the standard of living and massive rise in the national debt.

Let me put it to you that developing a strong knowledge-based economy has ceased to be just a good idea -- it is an absolutely essential insurance policy that this country must take out to protect itself from the inevitable.

There are probably very few developed nations that have economies which are as exposed to the of risk of bio-agent induced disaster that New Zealand's is. Even Australia would be able to fall back on strong exports of minerals that could take up the slack if their strong primary industries were to be affected in this manner -- without a strong knowledge-based component to our economy, we have no such contingency.

We must have insurance, and we must have it now!

Any government that doesn't acknowledge the very real risks we face as a nation almost solely reliant on vulnerable biological primary-produce exports, and which doesn't take immediate action (as opposed to the endless rhetoric we've been fed for the past 5 years) to create such an insurance policy is, I believe, behaving in a reckless manner by playing Russian roulette with the future of every single citizen.

What do you think?

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As always, your feedback is welcomed.

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