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Tech Manifesto: How did the political parties do?

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 22 September 2017, 5:16 pm
Tech Manifesto: How did the political parties do?

In May this year, ITP and 17 other tech sector groups released NZ's Digital Future an Election Tech Manifesto outlining a series of recommendations for the next New Zealand government.

The different parties' approach to tech is hugely important to the future of New Zealand. We've asked Forsyte Report's Sarah Putt to provide an objective summary of how each party fared vs the Manifesto.

NZ's Digital Future: Tech Manifesto

In May this year, ITP and 17 other tech sector groups released an Election Manifesto, outlining a series of recommendations for the next New Zealand government. The Foresyte Report has condensed the 22-page manifesto into 10 key areas and has assessed how each party's tech policy stacks up.

10 key areas outlined in New Zealand's Digital Future 2017 Manifesto:

  • Education - support Digital Technologies up to Year 10, encourage schools to offer the subject as NCEA Levels 11-13, address teacher shortage in this area.
  • Training - develop and train government and private sector workers in digital competency.
  • Immigration - robust assessment (and encouragement) of migrants with ICT skills and qualifications.
  • Connectivity - improve affordability as well as accessibility of high-speed connectivity.
  • Economy - support "clusters of small firms" to grow digital exports, continue to develop privacy and regulatory frameworks and evaluate international competitiveness regarding incentives for Foreign Direct Investment.
  • Cybersecurity - better education for SMEs in cybersecurity and boost CERT capability.
  • R&D - review research funding through vehicles such as Marsden Fund and Callaghan Innovation, introduce incentives (eg R&D tax credits).
  • Procurement - greater transparency over large contracts, and break down large contracts into smaller components. Also, mandate the adoption of open standards.
  • Privacy - amend legislation to include mandatory reporting of significant privacy breaches. Ensure policy makers recognise social responsibility to protect public from harm.
  • Ministry for the Future - create a new Ministry based on recommendations made up of experts from outside government and appoint an independent Chief Technology Officer to be the MoF's CEO.

Organisations that contributed to 'New Zealand's Digital Future 2017 Manifesto' are: IT Professionals NZ, NZ Tech, InternetNZ, TUANZ, NZRise, NZ Software Association, Canterbury Tech, FinTech NZ, HealthIT NZ, Health Informatics New Zealand, Open Source Society, Project Management Institute of NZ, itSMFnz, Test Professionals Network, Game Developers Association, Precision Ag Association, AI Forum and the VR/AR Association.

 

The following is an independent assessment for ITP by the Foresyte Report.

 

National Party 

Front and centre of National's ICT policy is Connectivity and who can blame it? Telecommunications infrastructure, notably the Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) rollout and Rural Broadband Initiative, has been a major focus for the current government. National Party leader Bill English recently announced an extension to the programme which will see more than four million New Zealanders able to access UFB by the end of 2022. While not really addressing the issue of affordability in its policy, the fact that the National Government pushed for fibre and broke up Telecom during its three-terms ensures that it gets a point for Connectivity.

But it's more than just Communication - what about Information Technology? In its policy National reminds voters that it has established the Digital Economy Work Programme "to focus efforts on the right initiatives, in the right areas, to support the growth of New Zealand's Digital Sector and the uptake and smart use of ICT across the economy". The programme has eight areas, but none of them appear to have any real targets attached to them, so it would be difficult to evaluate its success. So its a half-point on Training.

As for Cybersecurity, the National Government established CERT for $22 million, has made some efforts to engage SMEs, and while arguably it can do more in this area, the National Party has called it out in its Policy. A solid point.

In other policy areas, the National Party highlights in its Immigration policy that it will enable "well-connected entrepreneurs at the start of their career to establish their ventures in NZ" and this "new visa will help lift innovation and created jobs…" So a point for immigration, and also a point for Economy on the grounds that it's encouraging foreign investment.

National intends to establish Digital Internships and Digital Academies to give year 12 and 13 students practical work experience in the IT sector, and in July it announced an overhaul of the Digital Technology curriculum in schools which was greeted with enthusiasm by the Institute of IT Professionals, so a point for Education too.

Areas that National has either not created policy which would measure up to the tech sector's manifesto - or it is not immediately visible on its website - are R&D (mention of support for Callaghan Innovation, but no plans to review), ProcurementPrivacy and the Ministry for the Future.

UPDATE - National has improved its score by half a point to 6/10 for policies aligned to the tech sector's manifesto, following it's statement that it will look to appoint a CTO if it forms the next government.

 

Labour Party

During the last three terms, the National Government has had three different Ministers in charge of ICT (primarily the Communications portfolio) but across the House, Labour MP Clare Curran has been constant as the ICT spokesperson. It is therefore unsurprising that the party has produced a seven-page policy document which addresses many of the tech sector's requests in its May manifesto - but not all.

Labour easily ticks off Training, promising to establish 1200 digital apprenticeships "to ensure that the ongoing demand in industry can be met" and to ensure it is an industry-governed body that oversee the ICT training.

The party also scores on Immigration - with its goal to "reform the immigration process to attract skilled IT migrants". This is presuming that IT skills won't fall victim to Labour's goal of reducing work visa's by up to 8000 annually.

Regarding Connectivity, with most of the contracts signed for extensions to the Ultra Fast Broadband and Rural Broadband Initiative, Labour can't really trump National in terms of investment so it makes a few promises such as working with industry to gain support for a "DIY approach" to fibre installation in the hinterland. But where it scores its point for Connectivity is in the statement that it will "review the role of the state in ownership and licensing of spectrum frequencies to ensure long term public good for all communities." Not actually a part of the tech sector's manifesto, but it would really shake things up.

It also wins a point for Economy, for several reasons not least of which it is promising $10 million over 10 years for a Centre of Digital Excellence in Dunedin (Curran's hometown maybe, but the tech sector's May Manifesto did state it was looking to support "clusters of small firms" to grow digital exports). Also, a point for Procurement, as its policy shows it has been been listening to many concerns expressed by the tech sector, notably NZRise.

The suggestion of a Digital Bill of Rights that will be integrated with the Bill of Rights, the Crimes Act, the Privacy Act and surveillance legislation means that the Labour policy scores a point in the Privacy area. And while there is no mention of a Ministry for the Future, it does favour a Chief Technology Officer, so a half-point there.

The policy doesn't directly address Digital Technologies in the curriculum, so no point for Education and neither is there anything specific about Cybersecurity or R&D. Total score for Labour is therefore 6.5/10.

 

The Greens

Green Party spokesperson Gareth Hughes has been on the tech beat for some time, so maybe that's why the party's ICT policy was last updated in March 2015. At eight pages, it's a fulsome document, but some of the issues it addresses are not - arguably - as burning today (eg copyright) as they were two years ago. That said, there are many policies that will fit well with the tech sector's May manifesto.

Affordability of access is the main point of the policies concerning Connectivity, including community-based ideas to dealing with the digital divide such as technology hubs in schools and public libraries. The Green Party would also set standards that include the cost of internet access, as well as internet speeds. As affordability is specifically highlighted by the tech sector's manifesto then the Green Party gets a point.

The party also earns a point for Training, as it notes that it will "include ICT in our apprenticeship scheme and encourage IT companies to develop their own apprenticeship/internship schemes, investing in staff development at home rather than buying it from overseas."

As for the Economy, there has got to be half a point to the Green Party for advocating for a "NZ centre of excellence in key ICT nodes overseas" to be established, and support be given to NZ developers to visit these clusters to gain experience. Even if the Party doesn't explain what it means by a "node". And another half a point for a thoughtful section on ICT security, which includes the commitment to "develop regulations requiring ICT vendors to disclose security weaknesses in their products in a timely manner so users can take remedial action."

The Green Party is all over Procurement, with references to it in at least four sections, including the statement "the government, as a large purchaser of ICT services, should support the development of our industry by purchasing locally produced products where possible". There is also plenty of discussion about the need for open standards. Definite point for the Green Party here.

And a point too for Privacy, because the Green Party devotes an entire section to this incredibly important topic, which is written in the spirit of the tech sector's manifesto.

The areas EducationImmigrationCybersecurityR&D, and a Ministry for Future, are either not explored, or the ideas do not reflect those of the tech sector's manifesto. Therefore the Green Party scores 5/10.

 

NZ First 

NZ First has combined Broadcasting and ICT policy, the latter being seven bullet points which provide little detail. That said, 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.

In the area of Connectivity, NZ First would develop a framework for sharing telco infrastructure, "especially with next generation networks". Considering there is no detail about what it means by "next generation networks", the party scores half a point. However, it gets another half-point with its mention of restoring "Computers in Homes" and direct support for SeniorNet - because both programmes are designed to improve affordability when it comes to internet access.

The party would support a review to ensure the right to Privacy is included in the NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990. In addition, NZ First would "standardise digital privacy controls, records retention and security issues." This loosely fits with the tech sector's manifesto, so half a point.

Although the spirit of its policy document is in keeping with the tech sector's manifesto, the detail just isn't there. This has resulted in a low score for NZ First - just 1.5 points.

 

Other parties

With most people interested in the big issues such as health, education, and the economy, political parties understandably make those issues a priority in their policy making, which means ICT is well down the list. While the parties polling above the five percent threshold - National, Labour, Green Party and NZ First - all have dedicated ICT policies, the minor parties do not. However, mixed in with their other policies, they do address some of the key areas outlined in the tech sector's manifesto.

Maori Party

The policy most aligned to the tech sector manifesto is around training and working with the "ICT, Electronics and Telecommunications sector to design and implement cadetships for technician roles." There is also mention of setting up community-based Maori Innovation and Entrepreneurship hubs.

The party would also impose a target for the proportion and value of government contracts to be awarded to Maori-owned businesses. While not exactly in line with the procurement goals in its manifesto, this may be something the tech sector could consider for the next election.

ACT

ACT's education policy doesn't specifically address supporting Digital Technologies as a core school subject, but seeking to award schools' grants so they have greater discretion over teachers' pay is something many in the tech sector may approve of. Simply because the teachers who understand Digital Technology can usually make better money in the private sector, so higher salaries could attract ICT professionals to education.

ACT also intends to "cut wasteful spending of taxpayer's money such as Government trying to pick winners by giving money to favoured businesses." Assume this means that ACT would seriously review the role of Callaghan Innovation.

The Opportunities Party (TOP)

A couple of areas that show some sympathy with the tech sector's manifesto can be found in The Opportunities Party policies. Under immigration it would seek to bring in "genuine skills criteria", which would mean "programming fine, dishwashing not".

TOP would also review R&D grants and regional development, with a view to creating an "arms-length angel investment fund" that would become a self-sustaining fund over time.

United Future

There was very that would chime with the tech sector's manifesto in the United Future's policy. In education it would review funding available for IT initiatives and training for teachers, and in immigration develop a long-term strategy (which fits with the idea of being more robust when assessing migrant skills).

 

Summary 

In summary National is strong on communications, the Green Party has a well developed procurement policy, NZ First is big on inclusion, and Labour's policy is closest to the idea of establishing a Ministry for the Future - well, until National's last-minute announcement.

Labour takes the lead - just - but it's basically neck and neck with both having strengths in different areas. The Greens aren't far behind, however unfortunately NZ First's lack of policy detail means they're out of the running from the tech perspective.

As for the minor parties - Maori Party, ACT, The Opportunities Party, United Future - while they don't have dedicated tech/communication policies, many of their ideas would fit with the recommendations in tech sector's manifesto.

 

More info

Want to know more about what the main parties think about tech?

ITP members can watch the two tech political debates held by ITP (in partnership with InternetNZ and NZTech) on the ITP Video Library, with ICT Spokespeople from National, Labour, NZ First and the Greens tackling a huge range of topics:

debate1.jpg
2017 Political Tech Debate (1 of 2)

debate2.jpg
2017 Political Tech Debate (2 of 2)


And lastly, a huge thanks again to Sarah Putt from the Foresyte Report. Check out their site for more analysis and news from the tech sector.


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