The head of the Prime Minister's Business Advisory Council says Australia is outstripping New Zealand on the economic comeback from Covid-19, and we need to assemble an 'A team' on the economy if we do not want to get left further behind.
Fraser Whineray says while New Zealand is tracking well on medical matters, Australia is doing better managing both the health and economic fallout from the pandemic.
He has written to Jacinda Ardern asking to establish a Recovery Taskforce and Reform Commission like the one Australia has set up, headed by a business leader with the same influence and access to the prime minister as the Director General of Health.
"Normally in any incident management in a company, for example, you will have people focused on the triage… then the recovery and then if it's a really significant shift, which this one is for the globe, then it's longer term," Whineray told Checkpoint.
"That's why the Business Advisory Council is promoting the recovery Task Force and Reform Commission, each chaired by business people, kind of in a similar manner to what the Australian Covid commission is.
"The Australians are a wonderfully confident bunch, it's part of their culture, so when they see the likes of who's in the Covid Commission, working very closely alongside the prime minister's group there, that enthuses their confidence even further to make decisions of investment or hiring.
"I want to make sure that our economic activity – $100 billion that's about to be spent – if that goes into some really good things, because we have a strong recovery Task Force and Reform Commission."
Whineray said wellbeing is underpinned by the economy, so it is important it goes hand in hand with the health response.
"Nailing Covid is one thing, but now it's about looking forward, what's the best team we can marshal for the recovery, with the best influence on a huge amount of expenditure and debt we're going to bring on as a country.
"The members of the Business Advisory Council would very much like to strongly support it. Being on the commission though… that's almost full-time, that's what it would involve."
Whineray would not elaborate on his ideas for who could be on the commission, but said he is too busy to be one of the members.
"We've absolutely got the talent in New Zealand, there's no doubt about that. We're flush with talent… It's about having a very significant mandate and presence to help influence decisions, as opposed to simply providing advice.
"They have to be very passionate New Zealanders who are apolitical and have great ability to bring others with them.
"Looking at the likes of the Australian set, they are very prominent business people who have a huge experience, that can bring a lot of the economy along.
"I think wellbeing is more than a Covid statistic, and the economy isn't just a thing the Reserve Bank governor talks about. Economies are jobs, it's providing for family, it's having comfortable retirements, and it's paying for new cancer drugs.
"And the bottom line is if the income for a government is provided by taxes on the economy, and if the economy isn't strong then the government taxes go down. And at some point, you can't keep borrowing from the bank.
"That is actually how the money goes around, so we do actually need good economic activity, good long-term investments that suit where we want to take New Zealand. And by doing so, ensure that we have plenty of tax revenue to provide the wonderful goods and public services that we need.
"It's not actually about health versus economy. We can go to another 160 countries around the world which are poorer than New Zealand, and we can see what weaker economies do for people's wellbeing."
Whineray said the taskforce needs to be working in a matter of weeks, if New Zealand wants to keep up with Australia's economic recovery.