Election 2014: An update on ICT Policies by party – two out of three ain't bad

Ian Apperley

You would swear that, with a handful of exceptions, we live in a land of dinosaur luddites. With 15 parties currently vying for government this year and only a few short weeks to voting, you’d expect that policy had been settled, published, and was being spammed as quick as their little hearts could advertise. Nothing much has changed since I looked at the ICT policies a few months back and you have to wonder whether politicians get ICT at all.

New Zealand’s ICT industry is very likely to one day rival or exceed the dairy industry. Local companies are exporting overseas more and more while some government agencies are seen as centres of excellence for ICT services that they have developed (I said some). However, policy to support that industry is not that forthcoming from political parties, with a couple of exceptions. I went back and re-read political parties' websites and news releases to see what the current state is. So in alphabetic order …

ACT 

Zero policies on ICT. Unsurprising given the party’s history and make up and possibly showing that despite the (somewhat) youthful face, it is trying to paint on the party in terms of people like Jamie Whyte, clearly the underling policy makers are of a dinosaur and non-tech era. Still, Act is really only in it for Epsom and not much else.

So it gets a zero out of 10 for ICT policy.

Aotearoa Cannabis Party

I guess if you could roll up a computer and smoke it, then we might have expected to see some kind of ICT policy but, as it stands, this tired, one-trick pony is still performing the same dance. As an aside, given that the Internet Party is likely to campaign on decriminalising cannabis in some form, the two parties are likely to leach votes from each other.

Zero out of 10.

The Alliance

The Alliance has a “broadcasting and communications” policy, which in olden days speak is sort of ICT. However, its policy has only one ICT-related poin,t with everything else related to broadcast content, about which they have some very strange ideas. The Alliance wants “a guarantee of low-cost and reliable internet access for all New Zealanders, regardless of where they live.”

They also want “return of the “last mile” of the telephone network to public ownership.” Something that a) we know will never happen b) is an increasing redundant infrastructure as fibre replaces it and c) given that people are moving away from that home telephone service to mobile or pure internet, unnecessary.

One out of 10.

Conservatives

Zero out of 10. But you knew that already. Not a single mention of ICT at all. This re-branded Christian Party offers little in the way of anything to be honest and doesn’t even hint at an understanding of ICT.

New Zealand Democrats

Zero out of ten. This little know party has a policy on just about everything other than ICT. Strangely, its logo appears to be an American Eagle. Make of it what you will.

Focus

Bet you’ve never heard of them – neither had I. It dubs itself the “Common Sense Party.” I did laugh at that: politics has and never will have anything to do with common sense. It has a difficult website that is a chore to trawl through.

Regardless, zero out of 10, no recognition of the ICT industry at all.

Green Party

Showing the youth of the party, the Greens have managed to separate broadcasting, research science and technology and has its very own ICT policy.

As I have commented before, it’s a solid policy that leans toward the left (sharing everything) and is being adapted over time. It covers everything from cheaper (or free) internet access (as a citizen’s right), through to ICT education, free wireless in cities, and using ICT to push mobility and telecommuting.

Eight out of 10. The policy could be simplified a bit for the general reader.

Internet Party

Of all of the parties in this election, you would expect that the Internet Party was the one with the most comprehensive ICT policy. But you’d be wrong. I want to spend a little bit of time on this, because a very interesting phenomena are occurring.

The one thing that the Internet Party have done is provided a continuous “policy engine” (my words) online that allows people to submit, discuss and then vote on various ideas. The results of that have been very, very interesting. One of the things that you have to give to the Internet Party is that it is transparent.

Vikram Kumar posted a topic in the policy engine around June 13 that most media would have missed (you need to spend time digging) titled “How to improve the Policy Incubator?”

In that post Vikram notes that only 14% of the Internet Party members were participating and the average participation on discussing and voting on proposals was a further 12%. Vikram also noted that “participation has fallen significantly over time.”

As of that date, the top five policies were:

  • decriminalise cannabis;
  • remove religion as a charitable purpose;
  • support for electronic/internet voting;
  • work with other parties on a policy-by-policy basis;
  • Against the TPPA.

Now, the only ICT policy that I can see in that list is the one ABOUT electronic voting, which is under way in general.

Vikram gives some of his cards away by telling us basically that the policy incubator needs to be improved (it’s not giving the results they expected in other words), participation has “significantly” declined, and participation is very low.

So why this result? Possibly because it’s the first time that a party has created an electronic discussion forum, which is likely to bring ALL opinionated people with ALL kinds of ideas, missing the ICT worker almost completely. The thing is, the policy incubator is actually working – it’s just not giving the results the Internet Party expected.

Given that, at some point they must come up with a set of policies, in line with their members' feedback and it looks increasingly like that will either have to a) ignore the feedback they have had or b) be a list of things that aren’t actually ICT focused.

Three out of ten. Time will tell.

Labour

Labour’s flagship ICT policy is one of the “Digital Bill of Rights.” Now, it's struck on something here because in countries that are “more advanced in digital engagement” this is a key plank that drives it, that is, as I’ve noted before, Estonia.

The thing that I like is that the policy is simple. For example; the digital bill of rights seeks to increase our privacy protection, freedom of expression on the internet is supported, increase in publicly available free internet access and protection of your personal data from the private sector.

I’m giving them a seven out of 10. We could see some more policy that is specific to the ICT Industry.

Libertarianz

Zero out of ten. Again, no ICT policy shows a party that simply does not understand the issues or industry. Given the age of the party, I guess that stands to reason. Break out your cushioned TV dinner trays, people.

Mana

The other half of the Internet Mana collective, they get zero out of 10 for their ICT policy. Which is a shame. I work with a lot of community organisations, including in the past some Maori tribes who were incredibly hot on getting access to their communities (which were often poverty stricken) in an effort to give the the next generation coming through real opportunities to learn and move on, purely in an ICT trade. It worked. At the height of that work we had large ICT organisations donating time, equipment, and training to communities.

Zero out of ten.

Maori

Et al, Mana.

Zero out of ten.

New Zealand First

“New Zealand First brought you the Gold Card,” the website proudly announces. Now, you’re thinking, “zero out of ten” but surprisingly it has a “broadcasting and ICT policy.” Surprised? I was.

A lot of the policy hints at changes in the telecommunications sector, and in addition, includes this:

“Ensure that New Zealand business are given the first opportunity for all government ICT tenders before a foreign-owned company. The work will go abroad if there is no New Zealand company offering the service.” – Source

That by itself would be a massive boon to the ICT Industry and recognises the issue of ICT tenders going overseas, rather than being delivered from a mature local industry.

Five out of ten. Nailed one issue, could have a more extensive policy.

National Party

It’s all about UFB. Recent news releases hint at increased money for ICT education as well. However, the core plank still seems to be pushing UFB as hard as it can.

Now, UFB represents a significant national upgrade of ICT infrastructure, which is a very necessary and good thing. However, the uptake and delivery of that infrastructure has been achingly slow, despite the figures that are thrown out each quarter trying to spin its success.

Six out of ten. Missing so much. It shows a government that is building stuff possibly without understanding what it is.

United Future

“Check back soon for new policy!” Including ICT…

Zero out of 10.

Summary

What I think we are seeing is the relics of old age buried behind the parties. A lack of ICT policy shows that a party does not understand ICT. The Greens and Labour are streaks ahead in terms of practical, and interesting, policy. The incumbent needs to do more and New Zealand First surprises.

The one party that should be all about ICT has been sidetracked into policy discussion that has allowed a voice for people that have never been involved before. Internet Mana is all over the place.

With a few weeks to go, it will be interesting to see what comes out of the woodwork. I still have no idea who I will vote for.

Ian Apperley is the director at Isis Group and blogs at Whatisitwellington

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