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Digital Divide A Major Social Issue For NZ

25 July, 2000 NEWS RELEASE


DIGITAL DIVIDE A MAJOR SOCIAL ISSUE

FOR NEW ZEALAND


Implementation of electronic government in New Zealand offers a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to bridge the gap between the “haves and have nots” in New Zealand society the Mayor of Papakura, Mr David Hawkins, said today.

“If we get this right we can lift the new generation of Maori and Pacific Island children, and their families, into a new era of full participation in society. Fresh educational opportunities and more simple direct communication with social agencies can be major benefits arising from the technology.

Mr Hawkins, whose Papakura District straddles less affluent communities in South Auckland as well as a range of middle and high income communities, said: “If we get it right we’ll make giant steps forward. But if we get it wrong and the less fortunate are left behind, a whole new generation may be further alienated from mainstream society.”

If they can’t deal with their own government and their own local councils effectively through new age electronic systems how on earth are they going to cope with the wider introduction of e-commerce in retailing and services?

“This is not just an issue for world leaders in conference. It is a very real issue right here on our own doorstep. Currently many of those in our less affluent areas can’t even afford a telephone, let alone the services they need to link in to the Internet. Frankly, even after hours and free calling telephone numbers installed by social services departments are at the moment of no practical use to many households because they either have no phone or public booths near them are out of order.

“On the other hand if central and local government are able to work in partnership to harness these communities to new age communications fresh opportunities abound.”

Mr Hawkins, a former school teacher, said the imagery and information a personal computer or lap top could provide was a wonderful tool to excite learning among young children who are diffident in conventional teaching situations. Education programmes run through the Internet can bring new learning possibilities into homes.

“Families can have direct access from their homes into government departments and local councils on social issues. They can handle these matters from home without the need to leave children alone or travel for hours and wait in queues to conduct their business.
And at the same time they’ll be learning skills that are valuable in the workplace.

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“But we have to get them up to speed by making the technology available and getting them familiar with it. Perhaps the free lunch meal programme President Clinton is advocating for developing countries can be adapted for implementation here. Schools, community facilitiesd and WINZ offices, where people are waiting to learn of employment opportunities, could be useful points for tuition.

“The Government is moving in the right direction with trial programmes in Porirua and Panmure. But the big issues are access to the technology, the development of skills to use it and an availability of IT teachers.

“We have to address these issues as a matter of urgency. It is not a case of should we do it. We can’t afford not to. We can’t afford to miss the opportunities.”

Mr Hawkins said he planned to examine what steps Papakura District could take to make the benefits of the new technology more widely available.

Ends

For further information:

David Hawkins
Mayor, Papakura District
Tel: (09) 296-3575 or (09) 298-4783


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