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GARATH-9In late July, I had the pleas­ure of vis­it­ing Gareth Mor­gan – Wel­ling­ton eco­nom­ist, invest­ment man­ager, motor­cycle adven­turer, pub­lic com­ment­at­or and phil­an­throp­ist – at his Ori­ent­al Bay home. It was one of those bright, dewy morn­ings that seems to amp­li­fy bird­song, and there were plenty of Morgan’s beloved tūīs warb­ling around his prop­erty. When I arrived at 8.30, Mor­gan had already been to his office, returned, and got the fire going for our inter­view. As loc­al gov­ern­ment elec­tions loom debate around a pos­sible super-city con­tin­ues – not to men­tion pos­sible air­port exten­sions and trans­port plans – Fish­Head was keen to dis­cov­er what Wellington’s action man is mak­ing of it all.

Unsur­pris­ingly for Mor­gan, he was in the midst of pack­ing for a three-month Siberi­an motor­cycle trip, com­men­cing the fol­low­ing day. We settled into our fireside arm­chairs and got cracking.

So, Wel­ling­ton! What’s going well and what’s going wrong? 

Wel­ling­ton has been suf­fer­ing from a shrink­age of the pub­lic sec­tor. Then it got whacked by all the head offices sud­denly going to Auck­land. It’s easi­er for employ­ers, they’ve got a big labour force, they’ve got their mar­ket there and it all feeds on itself.

But Wel­ling­ton, it’s really a town that looks city-like, but it’s super. The devel­op­ments of the wharf have made it even bet­ter – Auckland’s now emu­lat­ing that. And lots of young people come here for their first jobs, to gov­ern­ment. That under­pins all your Cour­tenay Place and theatres.

Devel­op­ing a city, the key is to make it a place people want to live. There are lovely parts of Auck­land, but I’d hate to live there, because of the sheer size and get­ting around. When I see offices move there, it’s all well for the exec­ut­ives: they live in Par­nell or St Heliers, but every­body else spends hours commuting.

For qual­ity of life, if you’re not on a super-salary, Wellington’s bloody won­der­ful. Going for­ward, it’s about mak­ing it desir­able. The coun­cil shouldn’t build busi­nesses or do what the private sec­tor would do; that’s a fool’s errand. Bet­ter to focus on infra­struc­ture, maybe events.

I’m involved in the Enhan­cing the Halo (ETH) pro­ject: a con­ser­va­tion pro­ject get­ting Wel­ling­ton house­holds to make their back­yards, sec­tions, prop­er­ties, friendly for wildlife.

That includes your cat-erad­ic­a­tion campaign?

Yes. People say, “Why do you worry about nat­ive birds, there aren’t any in the city.” I say, “Well, the reas­on is you keep mur­der­ing them!” Y’know, you spend all this rate­pay­er money on Zeal­and­ia for example…

And then put a pet shop in the city centre.

Yeah, and Zealandia’s main job is to nur­ture the nat­ive spe­cies. Only to see when they fly bey­ond the pris­on walls, they get slaughtered. Zeal­and­ia shouldn’t aim to be the icon­ic wed­ding ven­ue or con­fer­ence centre. They should focus on mak­ing sure the eco­lo­gic­al sanc­tu­ary is doing its job by the spe­cies. To do that, we’ve got to make sure they don’t get murdered when they leave home. Tūīs are a big bird; it’s the wee ones, the stitch­birds and robins. Zeal­and­ia gets those com­ing back in body bags – people bring them in, they do autop­sies, and the bulk are murdered by domest­ic cats.

Wel­ling­ton Region­al Coun­cil have just cleared the pos­sums off Miramar pen­in­sula. It’s not too many steps out to get rid of all the pred­at­ors, then that becomes a biod­iversity hot­spot. I’m keen to see the Halo house­holds provide land­ing pads for the birds between the hot­spots: Khan­dal­lah Park, Otari-Wilton’s Bush. That’ll build the bird pop­u­la­tion. It blows my mind how many people are doing stuff – we call them ‘Halo her­oes’. The Karori Stream pro­ject, there’s heaps.

Enhan­cing your liv­ing envir­on­ment, that’s what we should be doing. Paul Callaghan said you’ve got to make New Zea­l­and a place tal­ent wants to live: we can make Wel­ling­ton a place tal­ent wants to live. There’s no reas­on Trade Me or Xero should have come out of Wel­ling­ton, oth­er than that those guys were here. They, or their par­ents or whatever, wanted to live here.

The council’s got to know its lim­it­a­tions. This air­port exten­sion idea, it’s going to cost whatever, $300 mil­lion, what’s the bene­fit for Wel­ling­ton? Apart from being told by a few busi­nesses “If we had dir­ect flights to Asia, our busi­ness would bene­fit.” I’m just saying…


Is it a priority?

That’s right. People get on band­wag­ons, and mort­gage rate­pay­ers up to the eye­brows. Some of those things end up being white elephants.

You say the coun­cil should know its lim­it­a­tions. What are your thoughts on the super-city?

You want people to feel they’ve got rep­res­ent­a­tion. It’s their money. If ‘super-city’ was a euphem­ism for Wel­ling­ton City dom­in­at­ing Pori­rua and Hutt, I wouldn’t be keen. I’m for eco­nom­ies of scale, but not at the expense of devel­op­ing those people’s neigh­bour­hoods. If it becomes a rally cry of “We won’t have as many loc­al gov­ern­ment politi­cians, so it must be good” – it doesn’t neces­sar­ily fol­low. That sounds ideo­lo­gic­al, rather than logical.

Who’s your pick for may­or? 

Last elec­tion was won on second pref­er­ences. If it’s between Celia and John Mor­ris­on, it will be count­backs. So it depends on how big a con­stitu­ency they can build around their com­pet­it­ors. That’s quite a skill, as Celia’s proved.

There’s a lot of cri­ti­cism that Celia hasn’t done much. But the downs­ize in government’s pretty hard to counter. So – relat­ing to my thing with the air­port exten­sion – I’m not sure ‘doing much’ is the same thing as put­ting the rate­pay­ers $300 mil­lion in hock to build a white ele­phant. I could get in there and ‘do a lot’ too, but y’know, you wouldn’t thank me for it! So, you’ve got to be careful.

John is pretty into events, sports and things, but you’ve got to build a wider con­stitu­ency than that.

What if you did ‘get in there’? You talk about mak­ing Wel­ling­ton a place tal­ent wants to live. How might you achieve that if you were may­or? 

It’s almost like the way I buy shares. I buy shares in com­pan­ies when I like the product. That’s first. Then I assess the people. The last thing I look at’s the fin­an­cials. With a city, you think, “What are import­ant things to me in terms of mak­ing Wel­ling­ton even bet­ter to live in?” Those are things I’d run for.

That’s why I love ETH. I’m involved with get­ting pred­at­ors off Stew­art Island, and we were told that if we could get the kākāpō back– because the kākāpō’s an icon­ic bird glob­ally now – Stew­art Island would become a major des­tin­a­tion for bird­watch­ers. With the big lenses. Three mil­lion of them travel the world a year. That’s an example of mon­et­ising your nat­ur­al cap­it­al: cre­at­ing income and jobs out of it. Wellington’s got so much bush, it’s got that opportunity.

Stuff like that, and play­ing to what people value. A good envir­on­ment for their kids, sports fields, drama. You don’t focus on busi­ness. That’s what the private sec­tor does, and if you get the right people here, the tal­ent, they’ll cre­ate jobs alright, and income. You set the envir­on­ment to make this a desir­able place, which it is any­way. The more Auck­land bloody drowns in its own swell, the easi­er it should become.


You con­trib­uted a piece to Max Rashbrooke’s new book, Inequal­ity: a New Zea­l­and crisis. Do you think Wel­ling­ton should be a ‘Liv­ing Wage’ city? 

Yeah, Wel­ling­ton Coun­cil wants to pay people more than the min­im­um wage. In New Zea­l­and, because of glob­al­isa­tion and the IT revolu­tion, the value of many jobs, func­tion­al jobs, is fall­ing. You can auto­mate them, or off­shore them to lower cost eco­nom­ies. More and more New Zeal­anders are find­ing the mar­ket value of their income isn’t suf­fi­cient for them to live in dignity.

The country’s GDP con­tin­ues to rise, even GDP per head. What’s hap­pen­ing is some are on the bus, and more and more are not. If that gets too polar­ised, you’ve got real big social issues. Massive. But even before you get to that point, is it really the soci­ety you want? In The Big Kahuna, we say every­body should be entitled to an uncon­di­tion­al basic income. Enough to fund you for more train­ing, or to find a job.

On the oth­er side, we shouldn’t tax income so much, we should tax wealth. I don’t pay any tax, because I’ve got my money in assets. That’s not right. That’s caus­ing the prop­erty price escal­a­tion as well. Guys like me just keep buy­ing houses. You make money and it doesn’t cost you. People say if you’re buy­ing with the object­ive to sell, it’s tax­able, which is cor­rect. But you’re not, you’re buy­ing to use them. One day you might sell.

So you get all these houses around, empty. Politi­cians say, “We’d nev­er win try­ing to fix that.” They’re going to have to at some stage, because you’re get­ting polar­isa­tion of wealth and well-being. Do you wait till the riots?

What about loc­al trans­port options?

I’d like only pub­lic trans­port in the city, free. It could eas­ily pay for itself: it’s back to that qual­ity of life. So you bring your car to the peri­phery of the city, and once you’re in, it’s ped­es­tri­an only or pub­lic trans­port. Trol­ley buses, trams. Not hav­ing eas­ily access­ible pub­lic trans­port, and the park­ing Gestapo – that puts people off. We should be doing the oppos­ite: have pub­lic trans­port there, free, and keep the cars out.

What about what you’re up to – you’re pack­ing at the moment for an over­seas motor­cycle trip? 

Yes, tomor­row! Up to the top of Siber­ia in the Rus­si­an Far East, where Stal­in sent all the polit­ic­al pris­on­ers. Then we ride the 2,000km along the ‘Road of Bones’. A lot of people died on that road, they were worked to death basic­ally, and bur­ied on the road.

Then we’re rid­ing to North Korea from there, and down into South Korea. Over­all about 40,000km in three lots of three months. But we’ve been rid­ing on motor­bikes for ever, along the Silk Road, and up through Africa.

Every con­tin­ent, I’ve read!

Yeah, and Ant­arc­tica! In 2008. We went last year as well, because you go to Ant­arc­tica and think you’re on anoth­er plan­et. I said to Joanne, “We’ve got to go back, I don’t believe what I saw.”

And you’ve writ­ten five motor­cyc­ling guides. Will there be anoth­er one com­ing out of this trip?

The Long Drop, because it is down the one lon­git­ude! The thing about motor­cycle trips, you nev­er know what’s hap­pen­ing the next day. Some nights you think, “Thank God I’m alive.” They’re so unpre­dict­able, that’s part of the charm.

And in between you’re still work­ing on Enhan­cing the Halo? 

Yeah, and Stew­art Island. I’m involved in Pred­at­or-free New Zea­l­and, the umbrella pro­ject: there’s about 4,000 to 5,000 com­munity-based pro­jects. When I get back in Octo­ber, we’re releas­ing a book on food.

Appet­ite for Destruction?

That’s the one. It’s at the print­ers at the moment in China, so that’ll keep me amused till Christ­mas. We’ve got anoth­er book that will hope­fully come out next year, on the future of bicul­tur­al New Zealand.

Then there’s the Phoenix. 

There’s a lot hap­pen­ing there. We’ve got four to five pos­i­tions to fill over the next couple of months, but they’re onto that. We’re rebuild­ing it; it got in a rut. And also the A‑League has got a lot more com­pet­it­ive: the stand­ard of football’s a lot bet­ter than it has been. I’ll be home just before the first game!

What about with UNICEF and Kiwi Her­oes? 

UNICEF, we’ve just announced a major pro­ject in the Solomon Islands – three years. It’s about fam­ily plan­ning and birth con­trol, one of the big issues in the Solomons. It’s got about half a mil­lion people spread across 90 islands, and there’s just no infra­struc­ture. So they’ve got massive over­pop­u­la­tion, ter­rible child health, mor­tal­ity issues.

Lastly: any thoughts on fel­low Wel­ling­to­ni­an Sir Bob Jones? 

I don’t really have any view on him. He’s done a lot of stuff dur­ing his time. What was his party called? New Zea­l­and Party. That caused a big change in New Zea­l­and polit­ics, got it out of a rut, let’s say. That’s about it.

Sounds like you’ve got plenty of oth­er things to occupy your mind.


Yeah, abso­lutely!



What’s Gareth Morgan up to?

Cur­rently, Mor­gan and his part­ner Joanne are on the first leg of their nine-month motor­cycle adven­ture trav­el­ling from Siber­ia to South Korea.

In the mean­time, Mor­gan is still involved with Pred­at­or-free New Zea­l­and. He is doing some con­cen­trated work in Stew­art Island/Rakiura and also in Wel­ling­ton, where his pro­ject is called Enhan­cing the Halo. Mor­gan wants Wel­ling­ton house­hold­ers to make their sec­tions hos­pit­able for nat­ive birds fly­ing in from the region’s biod­iversity hotspots.

With UNICEF, the Mor­gans have just announced a three-year pro­ject in sup­port of fam­ily plan­ning in the Solomon Islands. They’ll be back from the first leg of their motor­cycle trip for the sum­mer release of Morgan’s book Appet­ite for Destruc­tion. It con­cerns New Zeal­anders’ con­sump­tion of junk food as our num­ber one killer. Mor­gan has already com­menced anoth­er book on bicul­tur­al­ism, and the couple will be back for the first Wel­ling­ton Phoenix game of the season!


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