The New Zealand Business Roundtable began in 1976 with informal meetings between a handful of senior business executives, who were frustrated with New Zealand’s highly regulated industrial relations structures and the government’s wage policies. Around 1980, the organisation began to be called the Business Roundtable, and in 1986 a permanent office was set up with ex-Treasury official Roger Kerr as director.
The Business Roundtable favoured the restriction of government activity to core political functions, and open, competitive markets free of government subsidy or control. The Roundtable argued that business should not seek government assistance. In addition to its focus on business and industrial relations, the Roundtable advocated change in welfare, health, education, government structures, accident compensation and the tax system. It recommended deregulation, privatisation of many government activities, and lower taxes, all with the aim of limiting government.
The table around which the Business Roundtable met was not round. A U-shape was preferred but, as meetings moved from centre to centre, whatever was available was used.
Membership of the Roundtable was by invitation. Members were usually chief executives of large companies. They represented public and private companies (both New Zealand- and overseas-owned), cooperatives and state-owned enterprises. In 2009 a group of 53 made up the Roundtable.
Relations with government
The Business Roundtable’s connections with government and state-owned enterprises were strong in the 1980s and 1990s. Its influence lessened in the early 2000s, when its closest relationships were with the National Party, which was in opposition at the time.
New Zealand Initiative
In 2012 the Business Roundtable merged with the New Zealand Institute, another business membership organisation and thinktank which had been formed in Auckland in 2004 with similar goals but a more centrist perspective than the Roundtable. By 2011 both bodies ‘lacked scale’ and they decided to merge as the New Zealand Initiative. Dr Oliver Hartwich was appointed executive director.
Business New Zealand
In 2001 the Employers’ Federation and the New Zealand Manufacturers’ Federation merged. Business New Zealand was the new national umbrella group, and the four regional organisations became known as employers’ and manufacturers’ associations.
In 2009 Business New Zealand included the Business Council, Export New Zealand and a major companies group. Through its regional organisations, it represented 14,500 companies. More than 70 industry associations, representing 76,000 employers and 80% of private sector jobs, were affiliated.
Business New Zealand represented the views of private-sector employers. Its concerns were international competitiveness; the balance between employment, economic and environmental legislation; and limiting compliance and tax demands on business.
New Zealand Manufacturers’ and Exporters’ Association
The New Zealand Manufacturers’ and Exporters’ Association was set up in 2007 by the Canterbury Manufacturers’ Association (CMA) and the New Zealand Engineering Federation. The CMA had withdrawn from Business New Zealand, wanting a greater focus on manufacturing and exporting than the organisation provided.