News of the death of Roger Kerr, executive director of the Business Roundtable, comes as a shock even though we were primed to expect it. He died last night of metastatic melanoma, a particularly evil form of skin cancer that was diagnosed last year.
I wouldn’t describe Roger as a close personal friend, but I had known him for more than 20 years. He had led the Business Roundtable since its inception in 1985, having come to it from a distinguished career with Treasury and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
I admired Roger for his formidable intellect and grasp of the big issues confronting New Zealand, but even more for his dogged perseverance and optimism in pursuing what he believed in. He was an articulate and persuasive champion of an open economy, free markets, smaller government, deregulation and individual freedom – causes that he pushed tirelessly despite vicious attacks from the Left and apathy from politicians for whom bold economic reform was just too hard.
He always seemed polite, upbeat and good-humoured. To his great credit, he never descended to personal abuse, although at times he must have been sorely tempted to respond in kind to the verbal assaults on his character. Perhaps he just developed a thick skin.
Roger persisted in giving politicians the message even when it was clear they didn’t want to listen. He gave them credit when they did the right thing but was always urging them to do more.
He kept up the pressure right till the end. His latest statement, stressing the need for more decisive action on the economy and government accounts, landed in my inbox on Wednesday, following Treasury’s issue of the pre-election economic and fiscal update.
Roger was often wilfully misrepresented by his opponents. He was characterised as a sinister, behind-the-scenes manipulator who sought favours for “big business”, but I don’t believe special treatment for business was part of his agenda. What he wanted was an economic and regulatory environment that would enable New Zealand to perform to its full potential, to the ultimate benefit of everyone. Above all else, he was a patriotic New Zealander.
My sympathy goes to his wife, Catherine Isaac, and to his family.