Mannkal Economic Education Foundation

Mannkal Student Internship Blog

New Zealand Initiative

Amy Thomasson – Talkin’ ‘Bout Our Education l Week 7

Amy Thomasson, 27 February 2017

My last week in Wellington was bittersweet. While I’m looking forward to coming home and sharing my experiences with everyone, I’ll definitely miss everyone at The Initiative, and Wellington itself. I’ll be counting down the days until my return in July, although I’m, hoping to soak up some sun in the meantime.

Photo with Molly, my colleague/favourite comedian

The second report of three in The Initiative’s education series was launched on Monday and received a barrage of media coverage.

The Initiative typically conducts its research projects in three parts – the first report identifies domestic issues, the second looks at how other countries have tackled similar problems, and the third provides policy recommendations.

I wrote about the report launch in my first piece for The Initiative’s weekly newsletter, Insights. You can find the article here. I really enjoy the writing process, and it has been incredibly useful to get feedback on my work from people with experience.

I’m looking forward to developing these skills further when I start working at The Initiative in July.

Selfie before Molly's show

While much of the response to the report was positive, a few people took issue with taking pointers from countries with imperfect education systems. The places the report’s author visited when she was researching were the UK, New York, Boston, Washington DC and Houston.

While the schools in those places undoubtedly have issues, this critique misses a crucial point –  The Initiative chose the countries included in the report not in spite of their problems, but because of them.

Or rather, because they have implemented innovative ways of identifying and reforming their failing schools.Taking into account the successes and failures of other countries is important part of policy development.

New Zealand’s education system is far from perfect. Some schools have been chronically failing for over a decade. This is largely due to a lack of follow up after interventions and a failure to put students at the centre of such interventions.

The third and final report in the series will provide recommendations for addressing these and other issues, building on lessons learned from overseas.

Leaving drinks with my colleagues

One of my colleagues does stand up, so we went to see her Fringe show, Hangry Americans, as a workplace on Thursday night. Needless to say, she was hilarious and it was a brilliant night – I was even invited on stage to make a S’more of sadness. Wellington finally came through with summer on my last weekend here, so I made the most of the good weather by spending Saturday at the Rotary Fair in Petone (getting Mr Whippy was the highlight) and Sunday on the beach.

It’s been a pleasure to share my experiences in these blogs, and I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I have writing them.

Goodbye icecream with my flatmates

Amy Thomasson – Wellington, it’s almost time to say goodbye… for now l Week 6

Amy Thomasson, 20 February 2017

My penultimate week here in Wellington has been incredibly exciting, not in the least because I’ve been offered a job at The Initiative, starting after I finish my undergraduate degree in July.

This presents an incredible opportunity to immerse myself even more in all New Zealand has to offer, and I’m thanking my lucky stars that my parents had the good sense to apply for Australian citizenship all those years ago.

I think it’s safe to say that I have fallen in love with Wellington, and I could not wish for a better second home.

Island Bay

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Mannkal – had it not been for their belief in me, I would not have had the chance to prove myself, nor be so lucky as to have a full-time job straight out of university.

My work this week has primarily revolved around researching money laundering, supersonic flight and drones. Unfortunately, what all these topics have in common is cumbersome regulation.

Most notably, the primary reason supersonic flight development stopped dead in its tracks was government regulation – techno-phobic lobbying got the better of regulators and supersonic flight was prohibited in a knee-jerk reaction from government.

Similarly, regulation dictates that drones have to stay within the line of sight of operators in New Zealand, which stifles commercial innovation.

While in France and the UK, drones have been trialed for use by delivery services, developments in the technology are being stifled in New Zealand by excessively cautious rules.

The Government has also proposed anti-money laundering legislation that extends red tape from financial advisers to real estate agents, lawyers and accountants. While there’s little doubt that money laundering happens in white collar industries, many of them already have mechanisms in place to keep tabs on the practice.

This proposal would involve dual regulation, where the Department of Internal Affairs would also monitor these industries and ensure compliance with their own set of standards. For a government that is supposedly committed to less regulation, this seems a bit counterproductive.

Naturally, I had to visit Island Bay this weekend, solely to see whether it would be a feasible place to live upon my return to Wellington. While I enjoy living so central, there is something unmistakably charming about the surrounding suburbs – garage sales lining the sunny streets, churches offering $5 wood-fired pizzas and bakeries producing smells I thought were only possible in my dreams.

Island Bay locals selling their wares

My housemates and I also came fourth in a quiz night on Tuesday. We received free pizza and chicken wings for our efforts, which we devoured while watching Married At First Sight.

A night well spent, if you ask me. I also went to a comedy show that I won free tickets to on Thursday (it’s Fringe Festival over here) that I definitely would have been willing to pay for.

Selfie with one of my housemates before a Fringe Festival comedy show

Amy Thomasson – Hidden Figures l Week 5

Amy Thomasson, 13 February 2017

I’ve titled this blog ‘Hidden Figures’ not just because I went to see the film the other day, but because I realised this week that think tanks are the hidden figures pushing for sensible public policy reform.

In my experience working for a politician back home, I’ve never come across a think tank that is as prominent in political discourse as the New Zealand Initiative is here. The Initiative is as genuinely non-partisan as they come, and it’s refreshing to be in an environment where ideas flow so liberally (if you’ll excuse the double entendre).

Photo at the Mount Vic Lookout

This week, I’ve continued making head way on the digital regulations report, as well as proof reading the Initiative’s Annual Report.

In terms of digital regulations, I’ve been researching the precautionary principle that usually dictates the way regulators respond to disruptive technologies versus permissionless innovation. Legislators are reactive rather than trying to pre-empt what the negative effects of a technology might be.

The view from the Mount Vic Lookout

The precautionary approach is misguided in that it attempts to engineer regulations based on hypothetical worst-case scenarios, and thereby risks stifling benefits that could not be anticipated before said technology were introduced. Permissionless innovation, by contrast, acknowledges the value failure has in helping us to develop better ways of doing things.

Experimentation is fundamental to innovation and for the continued growth of society. I don’t think paternalism has ever incentivised anything, let alone innovation. Regulators should be wary of their tendency to veer towards the precautionary principle when responding to innovation.

The Botanic Gardens

I was treated to another long weekend this week, which I spent travelling to a nearby suburb called Petone, climbing Mount Vic (getting moderately sunburnt in the process), going to the local market to buy all my fruit and veg for the week ($2 strawberries are what I’m about), and walking through the Botanic Gardens.

I’ve also started reading The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine in an attempt to better understand the financial crisis of 2007-08.

Petone Beach

Selfie at the Mount Vic Lookout

This weekend I’m hoping for some nice weather so I can explore a few more of the bays we have in Wellington.

Amy Thomasson – Regulation, Competition, and The Internet of Things l Week 4

Amy Thomasson, 6 February 2017

The Initiative’s immigration report was released on Monday and it was very well-received. It has reminded people of the consensus that once existed that immigration is a good thing, and will hopefully sway some critics (that, of course, would require them to actually read the report, which is a battle in itself – I’m looking at you, Winston Peters).

I did a media wrap-up for the Initiative’s blog, which you can find here:

Selfies at Wellington Museum

I’ve moved on to everything internet – parallel importing, technological protection measures, the right to be forgotten, and everything in between. It’s all part of the research the Initiative is doing into digital regulations in New Zealand, an aspect of the law that I am particularly passionate about.

One of the many valuable skills this internship is helping me to develop is an ability to write so that people who aren’t legal academics or experts can understand not only what is happening in this sphere, but the magnitude of these issues. Digital regulations are not things that the average person on the street would spend much time thinking about on a daily basis, but they really should start, given how much of our lives we spend online.

There’s a lot of grey areas in the law at the moment, especially when it comes to circumventing technological protection measures (i.e. when you use Hola! so you can access American Netflix from Australia). As a general rule of thumb, regulators in this sphere tend to be overcautious when they’re making new laws, which can come at the cost of accessibility for consumers and stymie competition.This is particularly evident when it comes to regulations surrounding Uber and Airbnb – economists have long been aware that competition delivers safety and quality far more effectively than cumbersome regulations.

It’s high time regulators realised this.

On the weekend I went to the Wellington Museum where there was a particularly interesting exhibit that gave you two versions of history and asked you to vote for which you preferred. I also went to the underground markets they on the Waterfront hold on Saturdays, enjoying a $5 curry while sat on the harbour.

There’s a long weekend coming up so I’m hoping to get out of Wellington – I’m planning to head to one of the nearby suburbs (there’s apparently a very good English shop in Petone, so I might stock up on some of my favourite delicacies), and get up to the Mount Victoria Lookout.

Ciao for now!

Waterfront markets

Museum exhibit

Amy Thomasson – Migration, migration, migration l Week 3

Amy Thomasson, 30 January 2017

This week at the Initiative has been all about organising the launch of their report, The New New Zealanders: Why Migrants Make Good Kiwis. The report is incredibly engaging – it’s well-researched arguments are a refreshing change in a world dominated by post-truth politics and ‘alternative facts’ (looking at you, Kellyanne).

The Waterfront

My main focus has been composing tweets and Facebook posts ready for launch day, which has given me the opportunity to get clued up about the impact of immigration on New Zealand. Thanks to the mainstream media’s scaremongering, immigration has come to be viewed in a largely negative light, with fears that it somehow ‘dilutes’ a country’s culture.

On the contrary, it’s pretty clear to me that a country is enriched by different cultures, and nowhere is that clearer than in New Zealand. In fact, 87% of immigrants say that they feel like they belong in New Zealand, indicating that they integrate well into society. I’m unconvinced that figure would be as high in most other Western countries, Australia included, owing to our less than welcoming attitude towards immigrants.

A lot of the concerns people have about immigration – that immigrants ‘steal’ jobs, that they don’t integrate, that they commit more crimes than born in a country, that they are a drain on resources and the welfare system – just don’t hold up under scrutiny. In reality, immigrants are net contributors to the New Zealand economy – by the best available figures, they pay more taxes and are less likely to receive government benefits than native-born Kiwis. Hopefully this report will inject some real facts into the debate ahead of this year’s election, and maybe even change some minds.

Light House Cinema

Monday was a public holiday – Wellington Anniversary Day – so I took the opportunity to immerse myself in some of the Pacific Islander culture, with a live music set on the waterfront. I later took shelter from the rain (yes, it’s still raining) in one of the most stunning cinemas I have ever been to. I cried my eyes out at La La Land in the Light House Cinema’s ridiculously comfy seats (which unfortunately provided little solace), and I’ll definitely be going back when inevitably there’s another rainy day. On clearer days, I’m really enjoying my post-work run to Oriental Bay, which is beautiful come rain or shine.

Signing off for now,


On my daily (okay fine, it's more like weekly) run to Oriental Bay

Amy Thomasson – Definitely should have brought my wellies to Wellington l Week 2

Amy Thomasson, 23 January 2017

If I were to ascribe a catch cry to this week, it would be “So you’re telling me this is summer?”. With winds getting up to 160km/hr on Wednesday and intermittent showers all week, I found myself flying down footpaths during the walk home from work. I’m remedying the wild weather with generous helpings of tea, soup and good books.

However, I wouldn’t let the weather dampen my pursuit of tourist attractions. I visited the Te Papa Museum and the City Gallery over the weekend, both of which are incredible buildings. The architecture in Wellington is fascinating, a brilliant pastiche of modern skyscrapers, Victorian inspired buildings and weatherboard housing.

Outside Te Papa Museum

Te Papa gave me an insight into the history of New Zealand, particularly Pacific Islander and European settlement, which was dealt with very differently to British settlement in Australia. The Treaty of Waitangi between the Crown and Maori chiefs was signed in 1840, and has been updated periodically since. This is in stark contrast to the relationship between British settlers and the Indigenous population in Australia, and I can’t help thinking that NZ did things the right way.

Things are heating up in politics, with the new Prime Minister Bill English venturing overseas for the first time since succeeding John Key in December. He seems to be holding his own pretty well, although some have commented that he appears to be mimicking some of Key’s personality traits to win favours in Europe. It will be interesting to see if and when he makes his own mark, and indeed what form that mark will take.

Guy Williams doing his thing shooting some promotional videos for the immigration report

Things at the NZI are similarly heating up, with the launch of the immigration report fast approaching. I’ve been helping out with the administration side of things in preparation for the launch, as well as contributing to the social media plan ahead of the release. NZ Comedian Guy Williams came to help us out with some promotional videos on Friday – it was a very hard day at the office. The report will be released on the 30th January and will be available free on the NZI website.

Selfie with Guy Williams

In the coming weeks, I’ll be getting stuck into some of the research the Initiative is doing into digital regulations in New Zealand. The introduction of the Harmful Digital Communications Act in 2015 made the restrictions on digital communication particularly prohibitive, even more so than the US’s controversial DMCA reforms. This is an area I write about frequently at home, and while Australia’s copyright and digital communication provisions are far from perfect, NZ appears to have gone even further astray.

I look forward to updating you next week!

Amy Thomasson – Wellington’s got me feeling some type of way l Week 1

Amy Thomasson, 16 January 2017

One week in and Wellington has already got me under its spell. Complete with its world-renowned café culture, independent theatres, cable car, street art and tucked away bars, Wellington already feels like a home away from home.

I’m living with seven other girls in a house just outside the CBD, which has given me the perfect opportunity to try a new café each morning (for the record, Milk Crate is winning thus far). Everything is incredibly accessible – much like Perth, the CBD spans only a few kilometres. My list of cafes, bars, restaurants and theatres is ever-growing, so watch this space.

What’s struck me the most since I arrived is just how many different nationalities call New Zealand home, which is unsurprising given how welcoming and inclusive Kiwis are. After my first two days, I’d already met a German, American, Canadian, Bulgarian, and several Brits. It seems to me that Wellington is where the best of all cultures converge, and it’s a pretty beautiful thing to witness.

Sat on one of the old cable cars inside the Cable Car Museum

In a similar fashion, everyone at The New Zealand Initiative has been incredibly welcoming, and most importantly have introduced me to some brilliant lunch spots. My main task this week has been pulling out key findings and facts from reports that are due to be launched during my time here, turning them into infographics and potential responses to commentary.

The view from the office

One of the reports is on immigration, which is expected to be a pressing topic in the lead up to the election this year. Although not on the same scale as Australia, anti-immigration sentiment is gaining traction in New Zealand, and part of the report is busting some commonly held myths about immigration and its effects on the economy.

It’s been interesting to learn about some of the more unique challenges facing New Zealand, particularly the struggle between wanting to make Auckland a world-class city but also provide affordable housing – the average property value is currently around $1 million NZD. This can be largely attributed to issues on the supply side of the equation, namely government restrictions and a failure to incentivise local councils to increase housing supply. I’m looking forward to learning more about this and many other issues for the remainder of my internship.

At the top of the famous Wellington Cable Car

Brandon Amaral – Week 12

Brandon Amaral, 22 February 2016

I can’t believe my time at the New Zealand Initiative has come to an end this week. It has been an experience that I will never forget. I have met so many amazing people that I will continue to be in contact with and learnt so much (and not only about economics).

This week I spent most of my time wrapping up my work on New Zealand’s NCEA pass rate and presented my findings to Dr Eric Crampton and Martine Udahemuka. Eric will be using my findings in his insights piece later this month, and I am so happy to say that Martine will be using my findings in her upcoming report on education later in the year. I might even get a mention in the report!

On Wednesday night, the Initiative held an interesting event on the European Union for its members at the office. During the week, I helped setup the office for the event and even poured drinks for the guests on the night. That night I was privileged enough to listen to Dr Oliver Hartwich analyse the state of the EU and the potential affects it has on New Zealand.  After Oliver’s spiel on the EU, I had the opportunity to mingle with the highly esteemed guests over drinks and nibbles.

Dr Oliver Hartwich presenting his ideas on the EU

Since Friday was my last day at the Initiative, the office farewelled me with some early drinks and food in the boardroom.  As a going away gift, everyone at the Initiative chipped in to buy me a scenic book on the beauty of New Zealand, which was a great souvenir to take home.

I have now come back to Perth and am reflecting on my journey. It has truly been an unforgettable experience that I will always cherish. I feel so privileged to have had such an opportunity, and I can’t thank everyone at Mannkal and The New Zealand Initiative enough. Having the opportunity to travel overseas and work at such an amazing organisation is incredible.

I can’t wait to share all the experiences I had to everyone back home.

The Wellington Beehive

Brandon Amaral Week 10/11

Brandon Amaral, 15 February 2016

On Monday, New Zealand celebrated Waitangi Day (aka New Zealand Day) meaning that the New Zealand Initiative’s offices were closed for another three-day weekend.  Taking advantage of this long break, I decided to explore the outskirts of the city and roamed along the harbour.

After a relaxing weekend, the Initiative was quickly back to work on Tuesday to get another issue of Insights published. To my surprise, this week one of my colleagues featured my experience at the Wellington Rugby Sevens in her Insights piece. She expressed that these years Rugby Seven’s was far below average with a huge drop in ticket sales, because of the government’s move to make the event more family orientated.

During the week, I continued to analyse data collected by the NZQA (New Zealand Qualifications Authority) on NCEA standard pass rates, to find any correlations or trends over the last ten years.

On Saturday night, I went to the cinemas to watch The Big Short, as a few of my colleagues had seen the premiere during the week and told me it was a ‘must watch’. After the movie, I took a stroll down to the harbour to explore the nightlife of the city and to watch the fireworks display for Chinese New Year.

Outdoor Cinema on the Harbour

The Outskirts of Wellington

Brandon Amaral – Week 9

Brandon Amaral, 1 February 2016

Even though I missed out on the Australia Day celebrations this week, Wellington celebrated it’s own public holiday on Monday. It was Wellington’s anniversary, which meant that it was yet another short working week for the Initiative.

On the Tuesday of this week, the office celebrated the return of both Dr Oliver Hartwich and Jason Krupp from their long Christmas break. To their surprise, they were back to work immediately with another issue of insights this week.  For me, I continued my research on the NCEA pass rate this week, scanning through hundreds of reports and spread sheets.

On Friday, Dr Eric Crampton continued his causal Friday lectures to the researchers of the office on the economics behind dating and marriage. An interesting point that interested me was that people in marriages value the relationship differently. If one partner values the relationship more that the other, he/she would make side-payments to the other partner so that they have the same utility.

On the weekend, Wellington celebrated the hugely popular Rugby Sevens, which brings the world’s top rugby nations to battle it out in short games over two days. Each team will have seven on the field and each game runs for a dramatic two seven minute halves. Luckily, I was able to buy a last minute ticket and experience the insane atmosphere of the stadium. Not only was the rugby impeccable, but also everyone dressed up in the most unique costumes to celebrate the event and create an atmosphere that was unique.

This was definitely the highlight of the week.

Fans in constumes entering Westpac Stadium

Rugby Sevens