National leader Judith Collins says her decision to hold the ‘Tech, AI and space’ portfolio speaks to the commitment the party has to the tech sector.
National Party leader Judith Collins is promising to deliver a ‘big fix’ policy for the technology sector, saying she is amazed by the work already being done in the field but wants to ask “how can we do more?”.
Supporting a vibrant technology sector was one of the most important things the country could do to drive up productivity and lift incomes, she said.
Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck and Graeme Muller, chief executive of industry body NZTech, are among business leaders who agreed to participate in a video promoting the launch of an “issues paper” for the sector by National on Wednesday.
Rocket Lab spokeswoman Morgan Bailey said Beck had spoken at both Labour and National party events previously.
“His participation in events like these is about sharing his experience in – and enthusiasm for – growing New Zealand’s tech and innovation sector,” she said.
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Technology industry body NZTech has at times been deeply critical of the attention given to the ICT sector by the Government, and accused it in August of ignoring a “deepening skills crisis” brought on by border restrictions.
The Government has been developing a “digital technology industry transformation plan” in consultation with industry.
But Muller said in September that alone wasn’t enough, and the country was not progressing well in improving its digital competitiveness “compared to many nations”.
NZTech strongly criticised the Government in 2019 in the wake of it botching a plan to appoint a national chief technology officer, accusing it of showing weak leadership in the area.
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Sir Ian Taylor and other business leaders plan to trial technologies that could be used to streamline New Zealand’s managed isolation protocols.
Collins doubles as National’s spokeswoman for “tech, artificial intelligence and space”, which she said demonstrated the high-level commitment it was giving to the sector.
“I’d say this is not the biggest thing for ‘government’, but it could be the biggest thing for our economy in the future,” she said.
In the lead-up to the last election, Collins proposed expanding the coverage of the ultrafast broadband (UFB) network to 90 per cent of the population, up from the current 87 per cent target, and ensuring everyone else had access to 100 megabit per second broadband speeds by 2030.
She also proposed creating 1000 tertiary scholarships to help students from low-decile schools study for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees, and three $200 million venture capital funds that would invest in local technology businesses.
Collins promised to reinstate funding for ICT Graduate Schools that were created under former minister Steven Joyce but which had their funding withdrawn by the current government, had National won the 2020 election.
She said all those initiatives would most likely still be part of National’s plan, but she wanted to see what other measures might be needed.
The purpose of the party’s issues paper is to invite new ideas, ahead of a “tech summit” early next year which National plans to hold to finalise its proposed ‘big fix’.
Collins indicated she would be supportive of extending a system similar to the screen production grants that have subsidised the film industry, to support computer games developers.
The fact that taxpayer-funded support is available to make films but not computer games has long been a bone of contention for games-makers.
The New Zealand Games Developers Association argues its members are often competing for the same skills as film-makers in a faster-growing industry, but without a level playing field.
National’s invitation for policy proposals highlights education and the provision of capital as two of the areas on which it is likely to focus.
Collins denied there was a “market failure” in the provision of investment funding in the tech sector, but said too much capital was tied up in housing.
“There’s not enough of the risk taking that you need, because the thing with start-ups is you’ve got to have people who can share a vision, and who can afford to lose as well as want to win.
“We just don’t have the ‘big money’ that we need to get some of these businesses really going,” she said.