Should I stay or should I go?

At the NBR the comments on an article by Ben Kepes have morphed into a discussion about where to live. Some advocate Australia, others sing the praises of New Zealand.

I’ve shopped around over the years, living in two Australian (Fremantle and Melbourne), four New Zealand (Wellington, Nelson, Palmerston North and Auckland) and two American (New Haven CT and Washington DC) cities, along with London and South Africa’s Richards Bay – each of these for at least 10 months, and most for around 2 years. I’ve also spent at least 2 months, sometimes accumulated over time, in other cities including Dallas, Wilmington DE, Boston, Paris, and Rio do Janeiro. If we move to 1 month then the list gets longer still, but includes Milan, Panama, perhaps Singapore and probably Sydney.

Right now I’m visiting Singapore again, which is magically efficient. Getting out of Changi airport is startlingly fast, with no waits and a light train to accelerate things. The immigration guy had “Welcome to Singapore” branded sweets on his desk for me to grab as he perfunctorily stamped my passport. Forget about asking for reasons why you are visiting – just come.

Singapore is bustling, warm and the city keeps on going. But after a few hours you miss the other kind of green, the way of life we have in New Zealand and the sense of being home.

It took 3 hours to drive from Washington DC to anywhere interesting to hike, and once there I could only wonder what everyone else was raving about.
In South Africa I couldn’t even go for a walk around the town, and in London the sun disappeared for several months – I arrived at work before it came up, and left after it had gone down. In New Haven and DC large chunks of the cities were centers of urban poverty, violence and a sense of hopelessness, and never mind the homeless people perpetually on the streets in the freezing cold and burning heat. Rio was a city of sun and crime, although the fruit was sublime, while Fremantle was filled with fighting bogons each Thursday to Sunday night. Freo was a cultural desert that hours of riding in sand did little to assuage. Melbourne is probably the best of the offshore bunch, and I do enjoy visiting, but still dispair at the lack of decent doses of green close by.

It’s personal decision for us all, but while other places allow you to chase career, money, friends or adventure, New Zealand is increasingly offering that ability while also delivering a lifestyle that costs millions elsewhere. So by all means we should keep encouraging Kiwis to seek fame and fortune, education and adventure offshore, but let’s also keep building on New Zealand’s strengths so it’s a compelling place to live and return to.

Three of those strengths are the quality and culture of the people, our nature and a dynamic economy.

The work done on our culture is impressive, and in particular the rise of Te Reo and the rise of iwi as economic and cultural institutions are critical to the nation. I’m also a big fan of the immigration of people from the Pacific and Asia regions, which are tuning Auckland into a distinctive and dynamic city. Creating and using spaces like Wellington’s harbour and Auckland’s Wynard Quarter are also an important part of the process.

Our education system continues to rank well externally, but there remains a large gap before we reach the professionalism of Finland. We cannot rest, but on average I rate our people as second to none, as do many employers across the world.  We don’t have the elite universities that the USA, France and the UK have, but we are sending increasing numbers of our students to them, and are in return seeing increasing numbers of their alumni, New Zealand and foreign, living in New Zealand.

We are blessed with ridiculous levels of natural beauty in New Zealand, as any trip overseas will reinforce. Some giant works have helped bring back native wildlife, including the removal of mammalian pests from several sanctuaries such as Kapiti, Tiri Tiri Maitangi, Campbell Island and Maungatautari. The work needs to continue, including the cheaper higher impact work to remove pests in our sub antarctic islands, more marine protected areas around New Zealand to reduce stress and boost marine diversity as well as improve fishing. Let’s continue the slow and steady build-up of a network of connected pest free havens.

Coming back to New Zealand is often difficult after a heady career dealing, say, in billions of dollars. The economy and industry tiny here, our domestic industries are often sleepy versus their foreign peers, and many don’t seem to understand offshore experiences.

So for those coming back after a senior career offshore, a word of advice: don’t look for a job. Look instead to enter the really dynamic part of our economy by starting something new. As Prof. Paul Callaghan is fond of saying, we are very good in New Zealand at doing everything else. Not for us the big dirty industries, nor the global consumer goods we all own, but instead the quiet conquering of global niches, such as online accounting or frequency control. There are plenty of people and tools to help, and New Zealand is a wonderfully easy place to start and run a business.

So if you are considering leaving, then make sure you come back bursting with ideas and energy to start something. And if you are considering a return, then now is the hour. New Zealand is doing reasonably well during this global recession, and it’s time to get going and do something about addressing the markets in our enormous trade free zone.

Published by Lance Wiggs


8 replies on “Should I stay or should I go?”

  1. Good post Lance and I agree that now is the hour. I do wonder however how New Zealand will balance its desire for growth (be it through offshore oil exploration, mining, dairying, whatever) with its desire to retain what makes it special – clean water, green spaces and over-arching egalitarianism.

    Anyway – I’m here to stay as, I hope, are you. All we need to do now is work out what “here” really means…


  2. Great positive article. I can’t claim to be nearly as well travelled as you, but I returned happy that this was the place to be – for the exact reasons you list here.


  3. Interesting points but it’s worth noting that for a great many NZers who aren’t independently wealthy, it’s not just just the lack of cool career opportunities that make them look overseas. In essence, NZ is really quite expensive for people on average salaries and while costs go up, remuneration doesn’t.

    Try buying a house somewhere reasonably near where you work and close to schools in one of NZ’s bigger cities (you don’t want that several hour commute, right?) and you’ll find that the lifestyle here probably costs millions just like anywhere else.


  4. I totally agree with the reasons you cite for people to want to come to live and work in New Zealand.

    It seems as though New Zealand is only going to become more and more attractive in every decade of this century. Everything that used to be a downside to New Zealand is now becoming something positive. Take our distance from the rest of the world, for example. It’s always sucked for exporters, and meant a lot more travel for anyone in business and government. But these days (and even more so going forward with Pacific Fibre) you can export your ideas and conduct business all over the world from a pristine New Zealand beach or city. Our distance from the world, which protects our environment, becomes one of our key selling points.

    I think your call for people to start something in New Zealand rather than find a job needs to be heard by the country loud and clear. We need people doing things in New Zealand that can’t be done elsewhere in the world, and starting ventures that could be world-changing is a great place to start.

    Have a great time in Singapore!

    PS: Been reading a lot about Singapore’s growth and development recently. I’m doubtful about the extent to which their policies could ever apply to New Zealand, but nonetheless I think we should look more to the Singapore example and see what applies. I wrote this post on it:


  5. I tend to agree with Mr Saarinen.

    I might feel well off if I had one of those 6 figure salaries but I don’t. It is coming but still several years away.

    The cost of living here is quite high. It seems amazing how much basics can cost. Still, it is much better that Australia in that regard. Having said that if the missus and myself decided to fly across the Tasman we could both manage 6 figure salaries each.

    I cannot see why power costs so much here. We have sunk enormous sums into hydro power and yet it still costs a LOT. Saying that, I remember my bills 10 years ago being around 50% of today’s.

    This is a great place to do business. No corruption to speak of and government departments are responsive. I cannot say I see that on the other side of the Tasman.

    Unlike Mr S I do not like in Auckland so my commute is only 25 minutes in the worst case. When I lived in Wgtn it was around the same but I walked instead. Now I live in a Chch suburb and need a car. Still far better than life in Watford in the (y)UK.

    The one thing I keep hearing biz people complain about here is the “cost of compliance”. I never heard anything like that before I left the UK but I am thinking that complaint is all about hoping to influence the government. In the UK such whinging would get no traction whatsoever. Trying comparing the size of the UK quarterly VAT document to the equivalent NZ GST document.

    So a good place to be but not great but still greater than many others.

    I have to say that one of the things that puts me off about the place is the comment I often hear from new arrivals from the UK “oh, its just like England used to be”. Thankfully, it is only the visual appearance that makes them think that. They soon realise that NZ is quite a bit different, mostly in good ways.


  6. I lived in London (among other places), and that has a very good lifestyle if you have a decent income.

    Holidays in the Med, skiing in the alps, tons of things to do, museums, awesome nightlife, shows, culture everywhere.

    Sure, winter is darker, but, summer is lighter. And, I enjoy a proper winter, the atmosphere around christmas cannot be beaten.

    Jobs beyond your experience level fall into your lap in Europe. The money (at least it used to be) allowed me to live a very nice lifestyle.

    The opportunities are sadly limiting in NZ. You need to be more of an entrepreneurial personality type to do well here, which of course most people aren’t.

    New Zealand is probably better for you if you’re poor and under-educated. The lifestyle is cheap enough to be good for nearly everyone.


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