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NZTech to Govt: We need more joined-up decision making on tech

Peter Griffin, Contributor. 02 December 2020, 10:45 pm

Tech sector body NZTech has greeted incoming communications and digital economy minister Dr David Clark with a briefing laying out actions the Government could take in the short term and up to 1,000 days out to boost the digital economy.

In a letter to the minister, NZTech chief executive Graeme Muller wrote that with Clark also taking the consumer affairs, commerce and statistics portfolios, there was "considerable opportunity to advance financial technology, education technology, artificial intelligence, blockchain as well as digital identity".

But NZTech would still like to see a fully-fledged technology portfolio by the next election, a role that would also span hi-tech manufacturing and biotechnology.

"This respects the natural division between Research, Science and Innovation, a separate portfolio and what is essentially applied technology," wrote Muller.

NZTech recommended that a technology branch be established within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment from 2022 "to take ownership of cross-cutting policy, skill development, funding/grants and the international promotion of New Zealand tech".

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NZTech's proposed action to attract top tech talent

It urged the Government to forge ahead with its Industry Transformation Plan for Digital Technologies, but to use that as the basis for the first 'Digital New Zealand

Strategy', which it said should be in place by the start of 2023. 

The measures, as well as implementing a national strategy around artificial intelligence, would seem to reflect widespread concern in the tech sector that the Government lacks a cohesive strategy on how to leverage technology to boost the country's social, economic and environmental wellbeing. 

Clark has yet to make any substantive comments about where he plans to put his focus in his new portfolio areas. But the rest of the NZTech Briefing for Incoming Ministers should give him plenty of food for thought about what could be done in the next 100 days as well as in the course of Labour's full term.

The BIM spans areas well-canvassed ahead of the election, such as fast-tracking visas for high-tech workers and investors, boosting the ElevateNZ fund for tech start-ups and updating government procurement rules to give the domestic tech sector more of an opportunity to grow its capacity.

But NZTech also advocates for an overhaul of regulations to allow greater use of biotech tools such as gene editing, the formation of a plan to "end digital poverty" and the creation of an infrastructure forecasting and management system.

It would use AI to "aid and model decision support at both local and central government".

Think bigger

NZTech also suggests addressing what many see as a yawning gap in tech-related blue skies research funding. It wants to see a "standalone technology investigator-initiated research fund" separate to the Marsden Fund, which it says is "ill-suited to technology".

The NZTech BIM amounts to a wish list for a tech-sector craving strong leadership, better decision making and support to grow the digital economy quickly.

Some of the work, such as the Industry Transformation Plan, is already underway and will inform the priorities Clark has on his plate over the next few years.

But the subtext of the TechNZ BIM is that we need to think bigger and be more ambitious for tech. The challenge has been laid down - The question now is whether the Government will listen and act.

Read NZTech's Briefing Paper for Incoming Minister here.


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