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Hon Clare Curran's address to Nethui 2017

NetHui brings everybody and anybody that wants to talk about the Internet together. NetHui is a community event – made for the community, by the community. Participation and collaboration are at the heart of NetHui.

The theme for NetHui 2017 was Trust and Freedom on the Internet. The 2017 event was from 8-10 November at Auckland's Aotea Centre.

Hon Clare Curran, Minister of Government Digital Service

This feels like coming home.

When Jacinda Ardern, the new Prime Minister of NZ first spoke after it was determined she would lead the Coalition government between Labour and NZ First, with confidence and supply from the Greens, she said we would be an active, focused, empathetic, strong government that is transparent and open.

When thinking about how to start this speech I wanted to give you all (especially those who don’t already know me) a sense of me the person, the things I care most about and my determination to make change happen for the good in my new ministerial roles.

So I went and looked at my Twitter profile. As you do. I’ve always been mindful that those abbreviated few words actually do matter.

It reads:

It's a calling. Dunedin, NZ, is my place. Tech possibilities, NZ quality voices, faces & stories my thing. Protector of democracy. Never gives up on important stuff.

That’s me in a nutshell. That’s my ministerial portfolios in a nutshell. That’s the new government in a nutshell, though clearly it will be about all of NZ and not just Dunedin.

It’s highly appropriate and fortuitous to be giving my first keynote speech as Minister to the Nethui Community.

Thanks Jordan Carter and Internet NZ for your forethought. And for Nethui which is in its seventh year.

My first keynote speech being delivered today here is appropriate because of your

  • Diversity
  • Your role in stimulating debates and new ideas
  • Your outlook which is future focused, solution focused and collaborative

These are all attributes which the new government hopes to emulate and that I as a Minister intend to demonstrate.

Your first Nethui was in 2011 in Auckland. I was there. Over the weekend when I started writing this speech I had a look at the hot topics discussed back then:

Access and diversity, digital citizenship, globalization, the internet and the law, government and openness, innovation and emerging issues, education. These are all very relevant issues today.

I think I’ve been to every Nethui except for last year in 2016.

I’ve accompanied at least two Labour Party leaders to speak at Nethui. Maybe next year we could aim for the Prime Minister.

One of my most memorable Nethui moments was sitting on a panel with Nikki Kaye from National and Gareth Hughes from the Greens, challenging them to work together with Labour to create a cross party parliamentary internet forum, which we called the PIF.

We got Tracey Martin from NZ First involved and it has operated for six years, working with Internet NZ to run a series of seminars for MPs on matters of importance and working with the Office of the Clerk to try to make parliament more accessible. With some success. We got the Speaker and the Clerk to agree to livestream some select committee proceedings. Unfortunately the office axed them due to financial constraints. Parliament took to twitter and pushes out more public information. There is now free wifi in the parliament precinct (in the public areas).

But there’s lots more to do in that space and I will support the continuation of the PIF

Being in Opposition isn’t fun. I was elected in 2008. Not having the ability to systematically effect change is hugely frustrating, especially when you see major challenges going unaddressed year after year.

The upsides are the networks and enduring relationships you build.

Also, being able to dive deep into areas where as a Minister it’s hard to have the time.

I want to emphasise that those things will continue to matter.

I’ve tried to build a reputation as someone who is engaged, has ideas and is prepared to devote the time. I hope that’s how you see me. I’ve never been one for turning up to do a speech and then immediately leaving. I won’t be that kind of Minister. There are now more restraints on my time but I will engage. I’ve got some more things to say on that later.

In the last nine years there’s been some transformative change in our country but some issues have lagged or disappointingly gone backwards.

There has been good and important progress made such as the UFB, the Structural Separation of Telecom and all of Government Digital Initiatives

Things that could have been done better include the rise of digital inequality, the refusal of the previous government to properly address the resilience of our international connectivity The paucity of joined up thinking in government. To be honest I believe that’s not so much been a failure of the public service, but a failure of depth of thinking at ministerial level.

There’s been a lack of preparation for the future of work. The digital economy has not been put centre stage. Old fashioned government procurement processes have put unnecessary barriers in the way of local innovators trying to build scale and get a break

There’ve been some battles I’ve been a part of: The 10 year regulatory holiday’ which thankfully didn’t come to pass giving our major telco a free pass. The Copper wars which saw the previous government come dangerously close to usurping the role of the Commerce Commission through taxing legacy copper broadband even though the new fibre taxpayers were already funding wasn’t available to most. The rise of the surveillance society with the TICSA Bill is still a big challenge. We highlighted the absurdity of 19th century thinking on Copyright and software patents and we have laid a framework for fibre to rural NZ by supporting the ability for Lines Companies to deploy fibre on their infrastructure which has been included in the recent Telecommunications Property Access Bill (And it wasn’t Government Policy At the Time!

There’s also a great deal of work to be on topics such as:

Cyber security, harm minimization, participatory democracy, access to information, citizen’s privacy and protection of whistleblowers.

I believe my nine year digital apprenticeship puts me in a good place to move quickly and decisively on some key issues and build substantive change in the medium term around others. And I hope to show that politics can be done a bit differently. I know that’s the kind of government that Jacinda Ardern wants us to be.

How will I do that?

Firstly, just what am I the Minister of, and what does it mean?

Minister for Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media

Minister for Government Digital Services

Associate Minister of State Services (Open Government)

The hallmarks of my approach to these portfolios will be:

  • Taking a joined-up, aspirational approach to our digital economy, seeking to increase productivity and the economic benefits of the internet;
  • Addressing the digital divide to reduce the gap between the internet “haves and have nots
  • Strengthening protection of New Zealanders’ digital rights;
  • Enhancing the voice of independent public service media, to improve plurality of broadcasting and underpin growth of our culture;
  • Driving the ongoing transformation towards a more open, digital Government.

Each of these requires us, all of us, to be future-focused, modern and innovative. They link up in a way never seen before in New Zealand. They will, if delivered, significantly strengthen our democracy and renew our economy.

However, I am acutely aware that ambitious and visionary words are just words. It’s up to me, it’s up to us as Government to demonstrate that we mean business. This is not lip service.

What are some of the things you can you expect from this new government and from me in the months to come?

Looking at the digital economy, the previous Government seemed to think the internet was all about infrastructure. Build it, and they will come.

We see things differently. While there is certainly an infrastructure aspect to ICT, there are major attributes of a successful high-tech economy which an infrastructure-only view ignores. How are we going to develop the skill sets needed for the jobs of the future? How will we ensure services are as affordable and accessible as possible? How should national regulation evolve in an increasingly international world? What are the rights of citizens online and how will we ensure the online environment is both trusted, and trustworthy?

We already have good connectivity, and it’s getting better all the time. We have three strong mobile networks on 4G technology, and a pathway emerging towards 5G. We have world-class fibre networks becoming more widely available every day, reaching 7 in every 8 Kiwis by 2022.

But we’re not yet making the most of these assets. Nationally, productivity is static once you account for population growth. We have a persistent divide between the “haves and the have nots” which we intend to address. Otago University’s social deprivation index has identified “lack of internet access at home; as the highest weighted factor affecting social deprivation for working aged New Zealanders. If this isn’t a bloody great red flag, then I don’t know what is!

I’d like us to be deliberately aspirational. To set bigger goals for this fast-growing sector which has so much potential for our future. To be deliberately strategic in how we aim to achieve those goals. Labour in Opposition developed a significant piece of work under the Future of Work Commission that provided a framework for the joined up thinking needed on the impact of the disruption of technological innovation, globalization and the movement of capital which has seen the simultaneous opening up of markets and opportunities and the destruction and hollowing out of industries and jobs.

There’s no reason NZ can’t be in the top 10 countries in the world in the World Economic Forum’s Networked Readiness Index (currently we’re 17th, and falling). We can grow ICT towards being our largest export earner, and greatly increasing employment in the sector.

The problem is, ICT isn't actually tracked in official GDP figures. Figures from a 2016 report  by the New Zealand Technology Industry Association (NZTech), declared that the ICT sector contributed $12.5b to our GDP in 2015. That's 6.2 per cent of total GDP and if you add in high-tech manufacturing, then the "combined tech sector" accounts for 8 per cent of GDP. But it's difficult to compare these statistics with other sectors and we need to sort this out.

What no-one disputes is that the digital economy is growing rapidly, and even more importantly, ICT tools underpin the whole of the economy. If we are not using ICT effectively, the whole economy suffers. It’s up to industry and Government, working together, to improve our deployment of technology - to increase productivity, to create new jobs and re-skill old ones, to make New Zealand more competitive against global tech multinationals in our domestic market, and to increase the number of New Zealand businesses successfully exporting both physical and virtual products off-shore.

The Ardern Coalition Government has specifically committed to the objective of ICT being the second largest contributor to GDP by 2025.

Now, looking at the digital divide. The World Internet Project estimates 8 to 9% of New Zealanders, or around 1 in every 11, are not regular users of the internet, while a further 11% are “low level or light users”. So that’s one in every 5 who use the internet sparingly or not at all. The 2020 Trust estimates around 40,000 households with school age children do not have access to the internet. Affordability is a key issue, and so it’s great to see charities like 2020 Trust/ Computers in Homes and private sector initiatives like Spark Jump helping to close the gap. I am acutely aware that we have not done enough research and do not have enough empirical evidence in this space. We will address this as a matter of high priority.

We can grow the ICT sector and make it more inclusive at the same time. We don’t need to, and can’t afford to, exclude anyone from the benefits of digital connectivity. Our position is that New Zealanders must have access to technology as a right, regardless of income or geography.

The Ardern Coalition Government has specifically stated our aim to close the digital divide by 2020.

We will be looking to strike a balance between the extremes of “let the market prevail” and “let the Government do everything”. To this end, I want to see greatly improved engagement and genuine collaboration between Government and industry, community groups and NGOs.

In my view, New Zealand is much too small to have Government and industry working on separate agendas. We certainly can’t afford to be at odds with one another. We need a process of co-design, where we can develop an agreed view on two basic questions:

(1) What is already being done?

(2) What is it that Government can do to help?

I am working on a process to deliver clearer answers than have previously been available to these two questions.

Now running the Government is of course rather different from building a start-up. So I don’t expect to be throwing the Lean Canvas framework at officials for them to use. But there are some clear benefits from modern design thinking which we may be able to borrow from, such as collaboration, focus on prototyping and speed.

The emphasis on digital inclusion and economic development must also be accompanied by a focus on a strengthened legal framework to protect New Zealanders’ digital rights.

This includes rights to protection from mass surveillance, the right to free expression, the right to privacy and rights on what is done with your personal information. Likewise businesses require frameworks for data protection and standards for the de-identification of data. Algorithmic transparency is a concept that needs exploring, how to grapple with encryption, data portability, reporting frameworks for data breaches, enforcement powers for the Privacy Commissioner, protection of whistleblowers and the proactive release of official information.

Gee wouldn’t we be a better country? We can be a better country. We can pay more than lip service to the Open Government Partnership that we have signed up to internationally.

Work with me to make us a better country.

We will explore the merits of a digital bill of rights to encompass these things and to also protect the interests of those unable to access digital services. We must never leave anyone behind.

A strong and informed democracy also demands a strong, independent, free public media backed with sustainable funding, which is essential to ensuring all New Zealanders are engaged and heard.

A commercial market cannot deliver all of this. The media and broadcasting landscape has changed dramatically in the last twenty years.

New Zealand has the lowest level of public service media funding of almost any developed country. There is no real sign of increased expenditure on Kiwi content or news and investigative journalism. The range of voices in all media is narrowing despite our growing and diverse population.

Your new government believes in modern, public digital media services that inform, entertain, and uplift services that reflect the Labour values of cultural diversity, artistic expression, renewal, independence of thoughts and ideas.

This government will create a new public digital media service as a non-commercial, audio-visual and multi-platform entity, progressively developed from Radio New Zealand with its services expanded to include a free-to-air non-commercial television service, available to all New Zealanders at no cost at the point of use.

We also believe there’s a critical relationship between a democratic society and journalism and cultural content on all media platforms. We will support and enable innovation.

Turning now to the topic of open, transparent Government and the services it provides. I mentioned the digital economy earlier. In thinking about how the Government can help our digital economy, it is also important to recognise that Government is a lynchpin user of ICT in our economy, in major sectors like health, education, justice and so forth. Government is the largest single user of technology in New Zealand. It is extremely important to be innovative and visionary about the role of technology in government.

And to build more trust between citizens and their government.

This means more than just improving how government buys technology, but also how technology is positioned, used and responded to. Vision and a strategic approach are critical if technology is to be a true enabler for our community, and my portfolios give me an unprecedented opportunity to do just that, in collaboration with all of you.

As part of this government, I intend to transform the way we use and build technology in the public sector to serve our citizens, businesses, non-profits and society as a whole.

I intend to transform the way we design, implement, monitor and enable the business of government, but also transform the way we work. There are a myriad of untapped opportunities to work with our technology sector as well as all the sectors that deliver services and value to our great country. There are also around four million untapped collaborators in our civil society. If government could transform itself into working more as a partner and enabler for society, perhaps we could collaboratively build the kind of future we all dream of, together. A future where our communities and the individuals therein can thrive. A future where technology is a support mechanism for a better quality of life.

All New Zealanders deserve a transparent, open democracy that is free from corruption and abuse of power. New Zealanders also need to have confidence that there is sound democratic process in law-making and the parliamentary process.

Here are some priorities for my first 100 days.

Laying the ground work for establishing the position of a Chief Technology Officer for NZ’ with responsibility for preparing and overseeing a National Digital Architecture’ or roadmap for the next 5-10 years including Fibre Optic Capabilities, 5G/6G/7G and beyond in mobile technologies, artificial intelligence, Robotics, Autonomous Vehicles, Digital Fabrication, AR/VR and the Internet Of Things

I have already sought advice on how that position can be created, its reporting functions and key objectives. It’s a priority.

A blueprint for digital inclusion

Setting the framework for the establishment of RNZ+ as the centre-piece for a full non-commercial, public media service for all New Zealanders.

Establishing a process for the pro-active release of government information

A framework for strengthening citizens’ rights in the digital environment

In the three main portfolios which I hold, I intend to convene Reference Groups (or Ministerial Advisory Groups) in the near future: Broadcasting & Digital Media; ICT/ Communications; and Open Government. These will be tasked with pulling together leading thinkers and actors in each area, from inside Government, from industry, Maoridom, local Government, NGOs, community groups etc. The brief for each Reference Group will be to build a consensus view of the current state of its sector, to pose scenarios of possible future states, and to state what would be required from Government to achieve the optimal future state.

I will expect the Reference Groups to be guided at a broad level by our policy and our agreements with NZ First and the Greens. They will help us build out the detail which is needed for our aspirations to be realised. They won’t be talkfests. They’ll be working alongside actual policy delivery. We don’t have time to muck around.

I will work collaboratively with other ministers who have responsibilities in these areas.

That’s just the start.

In summing up, all New Zealanders need to know that they are encouraged to be the best they can be and that no-one is left out or diminished.

People rightly expect that government should behave in a predictable, open and transparent way wherever it can. The internet and digital tools are fundamental to us achieving these goals. Trust and freedom are the themes of Nethui. Improving both are objectives of this Labour-led Coalition Government.

We’ve got started implementing our 100 day plan and trying to demonstrate humility, kindness and determination. We are a reformist government. We believe in innovation AND participatory democracy. Let’s get on with it.

Original speech published on 9 November 2017

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