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'Never fear knowledge' – Paul Callaghan talks sci-tech and entrepreneurial genius

'Never fear knowledge' – Paul Callaghan talks sci-tech and entrepreneurial genius

Professor Sir Paul Callaghan has written a business plan for New Zealand – and it doesn’t include winning the World Cup.

"Never fear knowledge," he told an audience of 1500 at the Wellington Town Hall last Wednesday.

“If you have a business plan like the one I’m talking about you are not interested in digging up our national parks and resources at the expense of all we hold dear.”

The Victoria University Professor and New Zealander of the Year spoke at the Inaugural Chancellor’s Lecture about creating a more prosperous country through science and technology.

He said the only way to reverse the brain drain, create a prosperous society and make New Zealand a place where talent wants to live is by turning our small size into an advantage, and investing in niche, hi-tech, high-value industries.

“That requires entrepreneurial genius and understanding of how to meld the technology, skill and engineering to that market opportunity that you have seen – that's the genius that is needed.”

Callaghan said New Zealand currently has one of the lowest rates of investment in research and development in the OECD, crippling our ability to achieve prosperity.

“Twenty-four percent of our graduates leave New Zealand and don’t come back – including 50 percent of medical graduates. They don’t see a future here. Until we get honest and confront our myths, New Zealand will not be a place where talent wants to live.”

He urged New Zealanders to be smart and innovative about the industries we support, and rubbished the idea that the key to prosperity was mining our natural resources.

“We wallow in a mythology that makes us feel good about ourselves – much of which is fundamentally untrue,” he said.

“Only a few hundred metres from a sign outside Wellington airport that reads ‘Welcome to Wellington – Capital of Nuclear free New Zealand’ is a facility that creates the radioactive material that was used to discover the cancer tumours in my body. That material is made through nuclear reactions, and shipped to hospitals throughout New Zealand.

“We have in this country a capacity for egregious hypocrisy – we do it better than anyone.”