The new Labour-NZ First government inherits a tech sector with $10 billion in revenues1 and a telecommunications infrastructure that will see 87% of New Zealanders get access to fibre by 2022.
What priorities will the new government put on growing what is now the country’s third largest export sector? How it will ensure the telco sector remains competitive as copper is ripped out and replaced by fibre and fixed wireless services?
Prior to the election the Foresyte Report reviewed each party’s ICT policy against the pre-election manifesto released by 18 tech sector groups in May. This is how each party in the new government scored out of ten:
Labour: 6.5, NZ First: 1.5, Green Party: 5
Labour’s policies scored well in areas such as training by promising to establish 1200 digital apprenticeships, in immigration by reforming the process to attract skilled IT migrants (although this may fall victim to its goal of reducing work visas by up to 8000 annually), and in its promise to create a New Zealand Chief Technology Officer.
NZ First combined broadcasting and ICT in a seven-bullet-point policy, which included the creation of a framework for sharing telco infrastructure and mention of the initiatives Computers in Homes and SeniorNet as ways to improve internet accessibility. In the assessment, it was noted: “if ICT became part of NZ First’s ministerial portfolios following post-election negotiations, then the spirit of the policy would not be out of step with the tech sector’s manifesto.”
NZ First ICT spokesperson Tracey Martin emailed Foresyte Report after publication of the assessment, noting it was fair and that “with a small team and multiple portfolios some portfolios suffer unfortunately”.
“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,” Martin said at the time.
Martin may get her wish, as she is one of the NZ First MPs touted for a ministerial role in the next cabinet that it is expected to be announced next week. Another candidate for the ICT portfolio is Clare Curran who has been steadfast in her role as the Labour spokesperson for tech and telecommunications in the three terms that National was in government.
An outside contender for ICT Minister is Green MP Gareth Hughes who, alongside Martin and Curran, has been a regular guest at tech and telco events over the past decade. The Green Party ICT policy, despite being dated March 2015, included many points that were in tune with the tech sector’s manifesto.
But often the unexpected occurs when ministerial portfolios are handed out. In 2008, when National was elected to the first of its three terms in government, it was Maurice Williamson who had been the ICT spokesperson in opposition. Williamson was actually the country’s first ICT Minister under Jim Bolger’s 1990 government and seemed well qualified for the job. Instead the portfolio went to first-time MP Steven Joyce.
1 Technology Investment Network 100 report