By: Mike Williams

Mike Williams

We should be applauding the fact that some of the early initiatives of the new Labour Government concern education with the first year of tertiary education becoming free next year and the National Party’s silly idea of kids starting school at 4 years old sensibly withdrawn.

Education is always of prime importance to Labour governments and I well remember an address by Sir Michael Cullen years ago when he made the point that with the exception of a few oil-rich states, there was a strong relation between a country’s commitment to an educated population and its general wealth.

New education Minister Chris Hipkins will be someone to watch in the new Government.

I chaired the panel that selected him as Labour candidate for the then marginal seat of Rimutaka in 2008 and have not been disappointed with my choice on that day a decade ago.

Rimutaka is now one of Labour’s safest seats and Chris has moved steadily up the caucus hierarchy.

He has the potential to make a mark similar to that of Labour’s greatest Education Minister, Peter Fraser, and given the huge changes happening in society and particularly in employment, he will find his portfolio challenging.

Having misjudged the level of congestion on the Auckland motorways this week I arrived too early for a meeting at the hotel that sprang up in the carpark at Auckland Airport a few years ago.

Needing to kill some time, I pondered on the fact that there were, right now, hotels erupting in the carparks at Wellington and Christchurch airports as well, and I examined a van with a label informing me that it was “emission free”.

Musing about electric vehicles led me to think about the need for ongoing education.

The electric van I saw was some sort of Nissan from the Japanese car company that seems to have taken the lead in the production of electric vehicles.

The most common electric car you see in Auckland is a Nissan Leaf, only available as a used import at present, though there are electric BMWs available new and for a while the old Ponsonby fire station was serving as a dealership for the expensive Tesla electric cars.

I have some interest in electric cars as a family member with a long daily commute has a car approaching retirement, but in a broader sense, there is no doubt that the huge advantages that electric propulsion now has in areas like cost, simplicity and economy over the familiar internal combustion engines means we’ll be looking at a predominantly electricity propelled national vehicle fleet in a few short years.

This is obviously a trend to be welcomed, electric vehicles are quiet and non-polluting, but many occupations are going to change or disappear altogether.

The Chinese city of Shenzhen, adjacent to Hong Kong, attacked its air-pollution problem by replacing all of its 3000 buses with electric vehicles capable of travelling 250km between charges.

In China last year 115,000 electric buses were sold and from a position where there were almost no electric ones five years ago, these now comprise 20 per cent of China’s bus fleet.

(As an aside, this makes you wonder why Wellington chose this year to replace its electric-powered trolley buses with diesels when pure electric buses were obviously available).

This shift from fossil-fuelled vehicles to battery power will be a challenge to New Zealand’s education system as literally thousands of motor mechanics and other internal combustion engine specialists will have to retrain as some kind of electrician, retire or find a new job.

Led by now Minister of Finance Grant Robertson, the Labour Party mounted a major study into the future of work which concluded that as many as half of the jobs we rely on for our current well-being won’t exist in coming years.

It was this policy exercise which largely led to the heavy emphasis on education in Labour’s 2017 election policy.

Past history tells us, however, we should not panic as long as our education system can absorb and retrain these displaced workers.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the two dominant modes of transport were railways over longer distances and horses for local movements.

In 50 years, internal combustion vehicles on improved roads heavily reduced the role of the railways and almost completely put the horse business out to pasture.

The changes facing us now will be much faster.

About five years ago I regularly took photos of my kids and grandkids and went to the photo shop, killing an hour while my films were processed and printed.

Now I just point my cellphone at my favoured ones, click, email and print.

A whole industry has disappeared.

  • Mike Williams grew up in Hawke’s Bay. He is CEO of the NZ Howard League and a former Labour Party president. All opinions are his and not those of Hawke’s Bay Today.

Source: Hawke’s Bay Today

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