Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


Soapbox 51: Taking the future seriously

Taking the future seriously

Matthew Thomas

Soapbox 0051

At the end of last month, the Government's Information Technology Advisory Group released its The knowledge economy report.

The report makes very interesting reading, even if the constant comparisons between the development of refrigerated shipping of the 19th century and the development of the Internet in the 20th century do get on your nerves. I myself find the constant use of the phrase `knowledge economy' to be somewhat unnerving in itself, especially when it is used by people who don't really know -- or care -- what it means. But more of that in a moment.

The report itself has some disturbing things to say about New Zealand. We have, it seems, has dropped the ball in the race to create an economy which will make us better off in the next century. New Zealand has a woeful record on IT education, and one of the worst tax environments for privately funded R&D in the OECD. And because our economy is still centred on primary industries, and we're still to some extent stuck in the 1950s mindset of being the bread basket of the world, we risk turning into the basket case of the world. Or as the report itself puts it: `If New Zealanders do not seize the opportunities provided by the knowledge economy, we will survive only as an amusement park and holiday land for the citizens of more successful developed economies'.

The simple facts are these. Concentrating on primary industries such as forestry, meat, and fruit production is not the way to generate wealth in the 21st century, because such goods can almost always be produced more cheaply elsewhere. Fiddling around with biotechnology or organic production can help these primary industries to some extent, but the real industries of the future are those involving the production, analysis, and communication of information. Computer hardware and software, Internet development, telecommunications, and other high-technology goods are the sort of industries which New Zealand must invest in, and quickly, if we are not to be left behind.

What's disappointing about the Knowledge economy report is that it doesn't have much to offer in the way of concrete suggestions for the Government on how it can bring New Zealand into this knowledge economy. There are, to be sure, some good ideas on how to improve education in the field of information technology. And there are lots of vague ideas about `removing obstacles', `championing the way ahead', `setting out a vision and a clear direction', and so on. But that's about it.

So, in this election year, the onus falls on political parties to tell us what they would do, or are doing, in Government to encourage the knowledge economy. And this is where things get worrying.

The Government claimed to have the knowledge economy problem licked last month, with its announcement of the `Bright Future: Five steps ahead' package. Indeed, IT minister Maurice Williamson said that ITAG's Knowledge economy report was `an excellent reinforcement of the steps the Government is already taking'.

But really, the Bright Future package was distinctly underwhelming: the plethora of press releases which surrounded the release of the package was, perhaps, the most impressive thing about it. Because these `five steps ahead' weren't really anything specifically to do with knowledge industries.

To see what I mean, just take a look at the five steps, as described by Bill English on the day of the launch of the programme. First, there's maintaining the Government's current economic policy. Second, there's cutting taxes. Third, there's `making the economy more competitive'. Fourthly, there's `considering' the role of Government in the knowledge economy. And fifthly, `offering more choice and flexibility to everyone who uses public services'.

When I read these five steps, I was so excited I almost fell asleep. I mean, really. Is this supposed to be the kind of visionary stuff that will lead New Zealand into the next century? Do these five steps even sound much like they show any commitment to the knowledge economy at all? Or are they just the same old National Party policy, dressed up in the emperor's new clothes?

Labour, meanwhile, is just as bad. The party's commerce spokesperson, Paul Swain, said last month that Labour will make the move of New Zealand to a knowledge-based economy `the centre-piece of its economic policy', but it doesn't seem to have a clear direction on how to get there. Labour's industry development policy paper includes the breathtaking assertion that `New Zealand's future depends on our ability to build a knowledge-driven economy', but it doesn't offer any obvious knowledge-industry-specific measures -- such as increasing Government's use of the Internet and other information technology, for example.

And the minor parties don't offer much hope either. The Alliance responded to the Bright Future package by claiming that the best way of creating a knowledge economy was making tertiary education free, and ACT criticized how much the programme would cost. Both utterly predictable, and both, really, missing the point.

What's my interest in this? Well, all going according to plan, at the end of this year I should have completed a Bachelor of Commerce degree -- majoring in Computer Science. I'm one of the too-few information technology graduates a year which the report talks about. And I am afraid.

I am afraid that in order to get a decent job, I will have to leave New Zealand -- that I will have to go to Australia, or the United States, or Europe, in order to find a position which doesn't undervalue my skills.

And I don't want to have to do that. Because I happen to like it here.

Copyright (C) 1999 Matthew Thomas (mpt @ mailandnews . com).

Related Scoop stories

Related sites (external sites are not endorsed by Scoop)

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Julian Assange: A Thousand Days In Belmarsh
Julian Assange has now been in the maximum-security facilities of Belmarsh prison for over 1,000 days. On the occasion of his 1,000th day of imprisonment, campaigners, supporters and kindred spirits gathered to show their support, indignation and solidarity at this political detention most foul... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: The Mauling Of Novak Djokovic
Rarely can the treatment of a grand sporting figure by officialdom have caused such consternation. Novak Djokovic, the tennis World Number One, has always had a tendency to get under skin and constitution, creating a large following of admirers and detractors. But his current treatment by Australian authorities, and his subsequent detention as an unlawful arrival despite being granted a visa to participate in the Australian Open, had the hallmarks of oppression and incompetent vulgarity... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Voices Of Concern: Aussies For Assange’s Return

With Julian Assange now fighting the next stage of efforts to extradite him to the United States to face 18 charges, 17 of which are based on the brutal, archaic Espionage Act, some Australian politicians have found their voice. It might be said that a few have even found their conscience... More>>

Forbidden Parties: Boris Johnson’s Law On Illegal Covid Gatherings

It was meant to be time to reflect. The eager arms of a new pandemic were enfolding a society with asphyxiating, lethal effect. Public health authorities advocated various measures: social distancing, limited contact between family and friends, limited mobility. No grand booze-ups. No large parties. No bonking, except within dispensations of intimacy and various “bubble” arrangements. Certainly, no orgies... More>>

Dunne Speaks: Question Time Is Anything But
The focus placed on the first couple of Question Time exchanges between the new leader of the National Party and the Prime Minister will have seemed excessive to many but the most seasoned Parliamentary observers. Most people, especially those outside the Wellington beltway, imagine Question Time is exactly what it sounds... More>>

Gasbagging In Glasgow: COP26 And Phasing Down Coal

Words can provide sharp traps, fettering language and caging definitions. They can also speak to freedom of action and permissiveness. At COP26, that permissiveness was all the more present in the haggling ahead of what would become the Glasgow Climate Pact... More>>