Election 2017 – tech ready either way

New Zealand technology

With National getting the largest share of the vote and NZ First in the box seat, you could argue that the 2017 election result looks like a rejection of change, a return to safety – Bill English and Winston Peters have been around for decades! As the biggest force of change is technology, then it might follow that it’s a rejection of tech too? Not necessarily.

Technology, unless it’s exotic or weird or the new iPhone, is almost never discussed in mainstream New Zealand, so only the major political parties devote any resources to creating specific policy for it. As evidenced by the survey of tech policies conducted by The Foresyte Report last week. When comparing each party’s ICT policy with an election manifesto put out by 18 tech sector groups, then out of ten points, National scored 6, Labour 6.5, Green Party 5 and NZ First 1.5.

Whatever policy is negotiated in coalition talks, it’s hard to imagine that NZ First will be thumping the table determined to see its seven-bullet-point ICT policy come into play. (Although it must be acknowledged that ICT spokesperson Tracey Martin emailed The Foresyte Report noting that “I hope to have a better opportunity to work with the sector to provide more specific support and more in-depth policy direction in the next Parliament.”).

While the twists and turns of coalition talks have yet to take place, it’s unlikely that the tech sector would mind sticking with the status quo. The National government has been kind to it, and just in case tech wasn’t grateful enough – the party threw in a Chief Technology Officer a couple of days ahead of polling day.

National has established a fund to financially assist tech companies in the form of Callaghan Innovation, it has endorsed the “gig economy” (which is enabled through tech) with Uber-friendly regulation, and it has fought the telcos to ensure over four million New Zealanders get Ultra Fast Broadband by 2022. And, although an ACT policy, the establishment of Charter Schools may enable a tech-centric approach to education, as this blog on the formation of City Senior School in 2018 explains.

But should National get to govern again, the most interesting area to watch will be English’s data-driven approach to reforming the social welfare system. As Minister of Finance he established the Data Futures Group and appointed Dame Diane Robertson, the former Auckland City Mission CEO, as Chair (the following year Dame Robertson was appointed to the Vulnerable Children’s Board). Throw in the current RFI for a nation-wide Electronic Health Record, and we could be looking at a very tech-led transformation of social welfare and health care in this country.

As for Labour, its ICT policy manifesto contains a lot of ideas that will appeal to the tech sector, but what is untested is whether the manifesto has buy-in from senior Labour leaders. Jacinda Ardern was never really queried on technology policies during the campaign, or indeed how tech can be used to transform other policy areas. It remains to be seen how much of its ICT policy would be enacted under a Labour-led government, and it would depend on who was made Minister of Communications, and what focus he or she gave the portfolio.

Of course many in tech sector will say – what’s the strategy for driverless cars, where’s the work on blockchain as a new way to vote, what does a 5G rollout look like? To which the new government might reply – ask the CTO.

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