National party releases tech policies for 2020 election

Establishing technology ministry, adding 1,000 scholarships, shifting the Elevate Fund more to start-up investments, and attracting global firms to New Zealand are among the proposals.

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Technology policies have been thin on the ground during the 2020 New Zealand election campaign, but this may be set to change with new policy announcements from across the political spectrum. This week, the National party released its policies around digital technologies and ICT-related issues. The Greens previously released a broad set of policies around science and technology in general, with a focus on sustainability.

NZRise co-chair Victoria MacLennan says its organisation, which represents New Zealand Aotearoa-owned digital technology companies, “is really pleased to see National (and previously the Greens) announce a policy for our industry and its potential for economic growth.”

IT Professionals CEO Paul Matthews says despite the huge potential for tech to lead New Zealand’s post-COVID 19 recovery, until now there had been a “general lack of policy from most parties in this space.”

National’s 2020 tech policy

The National party’s tech policy promises to “double the size of the technology sector by 2030” with objectives such as increasing tech exports from $8 billion to at least $16 million, and creating 100,000 jobs. Its policies include:

  • Establish a Minister for Technology.
  • Create 1,000 tertiary scholarships for students from low-decile schools to study STEM subjects.
  • Restore funding to ICT graduate schools.
  • Invest a further $1 billion (over ten years) in the Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) and Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) broadband deployments.
  • Establish a “regulatory icebreaker unit” to encourage global tech firms to come to New Zealand.
  • Repurpose the $300 million Elevate Fund, so that two-thirds of funding will go to start-ups.

IT groups respond to National’s 2020 tech policy

IT Professionals’ Matthews says the organisation, which represents about 10,000 tech professionals, is “particularly pleased to see the re-establishment of a technology minister” in National’s tech policy:

In recent years this has been split up and watered down, and now there really isn’t a minister working with the tech sector specifically—despite the huge opportunities.

We’re also pleased to see [proposed] funding restored for the ICT graduate schools. These play a crucial role, including providing a pathway for people from other areas, and it’s essential their work can continue beyond this year. Thirdly, it’s great to see skills and talent recognised as crucial to the success of the sector and New Zealand.

NZ Tech CEO Graeme Muller also highlighted the establishment of a Minister for Technology as a positive policy from National. He points out that currently the tech portfolio is spread across five ministers.

Muller also noted the focus on education, as the sector “has spent years soaking up international talent” and wants to see more focus on growing New Zealand tech talent and the potential for creating digital apprenticeships.

While pleased to see $1 billion over ten years earmarked for UFB and RBI, Muller points out that this these networks should be continually maintained and improved to keep up with changes in technology. “We’ve just got to keep putting our foot on the gas,” he says.

One area Muller would like to see gain more focus is addressing Māori participation in the tech sector, as well as increasing diversity. “It’s one of the biggest weaknesses in the sector and one of the biggest opportunities in the country” he says.

Meanwhile NZRise’s MacLennan says National’s tech policy has both positive and negative aspects “with a couple of notable absences.”

We applaud the creation of a new Ministerial portfolio, investment in infrastructure and the funding for STEM education.

We note an absence of policy reform in both procurement and export support. As Aotearoa collectively struggles with the impact of COVID-19, whoever is in government can materially support the digital technology sector as a customer first—applying the “buy local” campaign to all procurement decisions and we encourage all parties to adopt this policy.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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