Leaving a sinking ship

Being beaten by Australians is one of those things that slashes away the tough exterior of your average New Zealander and exposes very tender, delicate flesh - few other events cause such unanimous displays of soul-searching and breast-beating in this country.

Being beaten by Australians is one of those things that slashes away the tough exterior of your average New Zealander and exposes very tender, delicate flesh - few other events cause such unanimous displays of soul-searching and breast-beating in this country.

A psychologist could have a lovely time with this national psychosis, especially since the reverse is not true to anything like the same extent - on those occasions when we beat the Australians at something, nationwide demand for sackcloth and ashes does not noticeably increase in Australia.

And so in August 2001, the Australians scored another win over us; yes, the events in Auckland should leave all New Zealanders feeling mortified and more than a little dazed.

"Hold on ...", I can hear you saying: "Did you say 'Auckland'? Shouldn't that be 'Dunedin'? Or in particular, 'Carisbrook'?" No, I mean Auckland.

You see, the Australians have been beating us for years at a game most of us probably don't even realise we play - they have been taking our corporate head offices away from us. The most recent defector is Baycorp, which has announced that New Zealand isn't good enough for it any more and that it's going to move its head office to Sydney.

This rush to the Australian goldfields is not new, but it's getting more and more serious. The problem is that each time one of these rats deserts the ship, it drags collateral capital and business away with them: things like advertising, marketing, IT infrastructure support - all these subsidiary elements live closest to head offices, and now they're losing out, or following those head offices to Australia. I don't know that I've ever seen a Baycorp advertisement, but if there are such things, you can guarantee that from here on in they'll get made in Sydney or Melbourne, not in Auckland or Wellington. Not that I'm fond of advertising, but if we have to endure it I'd sooner know that at least it were New Zealanders getting the financial benefit of making the ads.

Now, if you read my column a few weeks ago, you'll know what I think of corporations, and by extension what I think of corporate management people in general; "prostitutes without sex" is the expression that comes to mind - anything for a buck and to hell with you too. On this basis, it's not surprising to see corporations and their associated suits jumping ship - you cannot reasonably expect an entity that exists only for profit to be concerned with things like national pride or identity, loyalty or gratitude - these are vague, emotive human concepts that quickly get sliced away by the businessman's scalpel-like mind. Within the warped rules of the game they play, corporate managers are probably doing the "right thing" by scarpering to the green and golden shores.

All of this makes me ask what was the real point of the much-hyped Knowledge Wave Conference? It appeared to be predicated on the notion that we should be trying to attract corporations and their alleged money to this country, while blithely ignoring the fact that we can't even keep the homegrown companies we already have. Surely we would be better concentrating on developing really worthwhile skills and resources that will directly benefit our own country and people, rather than encouraging more profit-skimming conglomerates to come and strip-mine our very limited economy? The University of Otago's new research centre is an excellent example of what I mean, but there needs to be much, much more along these lines if it is to make a real difference.

The real problem is that this is not a country that rewards loyalty or endeavour - either administratively or socially. The taxation system in New Zealand gives very little incentive to work harder or spend more on research and development or to export, and the social attitude of the New Zealand people tends only to recognise achievers if they are sportsmen in winning teams (see how quickly we've started savaging the All Blacks since Carisbrook if you doubt this). We should take pride in our little niche in the world, but instead we are uniformly apathetic and beset with inferiority complexes, our fingers itching to rip out the tall poppies wherever we find them.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't know how you change the mental state of a nation, but as long as these attitudes and constraints remain, New Zealand is doomed to remain an inferior back-water dumping ground for the Australian economy, and Knowledge Wave will have only as much substance as a half-hearted Mexican Wave at Carisbrook when the Wallabies are in the lead.

Harris is the Dunedin-based developer of Pegasus Mail, the internet email package used by millions worldwide. Send email to David Harris. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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