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The future for Joe Public under e-government

April 2001

State Services Minister Trevor Mallard outlines the future for Joe Public under the Government's new e-government strategy.

In January this year 138,000 people logged onto Government websites. The increased popularity was due in large to about 23,000 people who visited the NZQA site looking for bursary results. Understandably, more than 60% of them were under 21 years old and stayed online for an average of about four minutes.

Gone are the days where we had no choice but to hover around the letterbox waiting for our examination results. Students these days have been brought up around technology and their expectations of online service are much greater than people of my generation.

The NZQA's experiment with online bursary results had some technical hitches to begin with. But it proved that the demand for this type of service is very real.

The Government's strategy for creating e-government in New Zealand is an initiative that will contribute to New Zealand’s entry into the information age. And it's going to have a major, and positive, impact on the lives of New Zealanders.

E-government is basically about using the power of the Internet to change the way government works, and plays out its role in people’s lives. It will enable government to provide better quality information and services to people, in ways that better take into account their individual circumstances and needs.

New Zealanders already live in one of the world’s most networked countries with a very high usage of the Internet. So its imperative that we capitalise on this to government services are accessible from home. Transactions traditionally requiring time-consuming trips to town, or tedious letter writing, will be completed with the clicking of a few buttons from a personal computer, or other Internet connected devices such as a digital television, a mobile phone, or maybe even the microwave oven in the kitchen.

For example, in time e-government will remove some of the hassle when moving house. Currently lots of different organisations (power companies, doctor, dentist, schools, NZ Post) have to be advised, but with e-government it can be a ‘one-stop-shop’ where the change can be logged once and then shared by all the organisations people choose to notify, if that's what you wanted to do.

E-government will also create better opportunities for people to get involved in government – for example participating in the development of government policy over the Internet. In time, we expect that it will also lead to people being able to vote electronically, although this won’t happen by 2002.

There are huge pluses for New Zealand with our large distances and relatively low population density. This current tyranny of distance will be diminished by e-government. Someone living in Hokitika will have the same access to government information and services as someone working in Molesworth Street, Wellington.

E-government won’t just make finding and using government information and individual services easier. As it develops, it will also lead to the integration of many services, so that instead of going from one agency to another, in many cases you will be able to go to any agency and find that you can do a whole lot of related things at the same time. For example, in future when students apply to tertiary institutions, one interaction should be enough for all the necessary information about their academic records, course selections, accommodation requirements and financial support to be handled in a single streamlined process. And all this could be done over the Internet from anywhere in the world.

This is not about depersonalising government. By 2004 most people will access government services through the Internet, but there will still be some who prefer the traditional methods such as telephones and face-to-face enquiries. We are not going to force e-government on people.

And while e-government will be able to integrate information and services for people, it is not going to erode their privacy. In fact, people will access most e-government services and applications anonymously. Some others will depend upon very strict controls over the use of people’s personal information – for example the use of the Internet to deliver people’s health records to doctors or hospitals E-government will be built on New Zealand’s very strong privacy laws.

The e-government strategy is going to drive huge change, but it won’t all happen overnight. Change will occur in small steps, and people will be able to give feedback on what the like and what they don’t. We’ll be making sure that everyone working on e-government understands a very simple message – “people first, technology second”.

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