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Sir Paul, physicist, entrepreneur, and New Zealander of the Year, who was in Dunedin yesterday, said that with its "great university", world-class businesses like NHNZ, and the best natural environment surrounding a New Zealand city, Dunedin presented a starting point for the society he wants developed.
Waitati's Orokonui Ecosanctuary was reintroducing birdlife to the mainland and embracing "robust environmentalism", rather than "phoney clean and green" rhetoric and marketing.
Sir Paul's vision for New Zealand is a knowledge-based economy producing high-quality exports that do not strain the environment. Looking after the environment created the kind of society in which highly skilled people wanted to live. It helped reverse the brain drain, and attracted people from overseas.
Creating a more equal and just society played a part, because having a lot of people with problems at the bottom of the social ladder engendered a society in which talented people would not want to live. Top businesspeople who chose to live in New Zealand should be celebrated, not those overseas, Sir Paul said.
New Zealand was blighted by short-term thinking, reflected in the country's unwillingness to invest in research and development. Funding research was crucial if New Zealand wanted to develop high-value industries.
The dairy industry was essential because without it "we'd be dirt poor", but its growth was limited because of the strain placed on resources.
Tourism had its place, but was low-value and not the answer to the country's problems.
New Zealand had a reasonably strong high-value manufacturing sector, but the public lacked awareness of the sector and it needed to be much bigger.
Sir Paul was not particularly encouraged by the vision shown by either National or Labour.
He wished Prime Minister John Key wanted to be a "great prime minister, rather than just be prime minister".
Asked why the former Labour government's Knowledge Wave initiative failed, Sir Paul said he believed former prime minister Helen Clark was more at home in the arts and culture sectors than science and technology.
Sir Paul gave a public lecture at the University of Otago last night, and earlier in the day addressed the Otago Chamber of Commerce.