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Helen Clark E-Commerce Summit Keynote Address

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Keynote Address to

E-Commerce Summit

Aotea Centre

Thursday 2 November 2000
9.30 am

I am pleased that the government is hosting this Summit; I am delighted that Gil Simpson, one of this country's leading innovators has agreed to chair it; and I am ecstatic that the conference has a full house.

I believe this conference was quickly oversubscribed because New Zealand business knows that e-commerce is the way of the future, and that in all likelihood if we don't adapt our systems and processes to it, businesses may not just fail to thrive, but fail to survive. I believe that New Zealand business also knows that a vision for e-commerce fits into a larger vision for a society that is wired up, innovative, and accepts no limits on its potential. That's the society we all want to live in.

This morning I want to talk about the opportunities out there for New Zealand in this electronic age. Those opportunities do abound and it is up to us to take them. We are an innovative and adaptive people and we are at our best when presented with a challenge. Our challenge right now is to develop a truly upmarket, first world economy with high living standards overall. E-commerce is one of the tools which will take us there.

That 600 of you have invested your time and money to learn about present and future business technologies at this conference tells me that you want to be part of meeting that challenge. Thank you for making that commitment. And thank you also to our sponsors for joining with government to make this Summit happen and for helping to bring us together: government, with business big and small in a partnership to map the future.

I see this event as a very valuable and focused way of building on the partnership to which I referred at last week’s business and government forum here in Auckland.

I spoke at that forum of New Zealand needing to speed up its economic transformation to becoming a knowledge-driven economy and society.

I spoke of our vision of seeing New Zealanders as innovators to the world, turning great ideas into great ventures.

I said that we needed:

 every New Zealander to have the positive, can do, give-it-a-go, and dare-to-excel attitude which ensures we live and breathe innovation
 our education institutions to prepare young New Zealanders to contribute to growing and sustaining a knowledge economy
 to optimise New Zealand’s already world-class research and science to fuel our economy further
 to ensure that every enterprising New Zealander with a great idea has access to the capital and the management expertise required to realise their idea fully.
 To ensure that we have the people and the technology to realise our innovation vision.

I suggested that we took look ten years ahead to where New Zealand could be if we buy into a shared vision for an innovative and prosperous society. I saw ahead:

 A New Zealand very interconnected with the wider world and making the best possible use of information and communication technology.
 We would be not only adopting leading edge ideas and technologies but we would also be innovators in those areas and technologies
 Our country would be made up of a series of ‘global villages’ which attract and nurture talent.
 Those global villages would be good places to live in, offering a unique combination of cosmopolitan lifestyles, a fantastic physical environment within easy reach, and a unique New Zealand sense of identity.
 The seed bed of the economy would be a dynamic small business sector which is enterprising and committed to quality and innovation in products and services.
 We would be a nation of diverse traders, world leaders in our areas of specialisation, and alert to changing opportunities.
 More of our emerging companies would become global companies with a commitment to operating from their New Zealand base.
 Having more globally oriented companies in leading edge sectors would make New Zealand a more attractive place for companies from elsewhere to relocate in.
 The New Zealanders who create and sustain this new economy would be well educated, have access to appropriate vocational training, and have a strong appetite for future economic and business growth.
 New Zealanders would be enterprising in all aspects of their life – in sport, in business, and at work, in communities and neighbourhoods, the arts – and would hold their most successful citizens in high esteem.
 New Zealanders would be earning substantially higher incomes, and there would be more jobs, and lower unemployment across all groups.
 There would be an improved transport and communications infrastructure throughout New Zealand, and
 There would be a social infrastructure which provides the security people need to be able to take risks and maximise their opportunities.

I believe this new New Zealand is achievable. E-commerce is going to play a big part in achieving it. The government is prepared to play its part in getting us there. But we can't do it on our own. The change that needs to happen needs goodwill and a commitment to partnership. It needs us all to be looking forward, not backwards. And that's what this E-commerce Summit is about.

Yesterday Paul Swain launched the Government’s E-Commerce Strategy. Its Vision is that “New Zealand will be world class in embracing e-commerce for competitive advantage”.

This vision encapsulates more than e-commerce. It’s about the competitive application of new technologies. Electronic commerce, like many of the key policy issues the government is driving forward, doesn’t fit neatly under a social policy or an economic policy label. The ways we have done things for a hundred years are being changed fundamentally by information and communication technologies.

In many respects, the most significant aspect of electronic commerce is its ability to bring together what we have previously seen as the old and the new economy. Electronic commerce is as relevant to farming, tourism and manufacturing as it is to software development and biotechnology. Electronic commerce along with other forms of innovation has the potential to make all our sectors part of a new and transformed economy. And increasingly they are.

As business people you appreciate the changes that are taking place in process and systems before many others in the community. It appears that New Zealand business people are seeing the potential of these changes and investing in the new technologies ahead of our Australian cousins. 68 per cent of our businesses are using the Internet for business purposes, compared with 57 per cent of Australian businesses. Everything I see and hear about the performance of New Zealand business in this fast developing area of electronic commerce tells me that we are ideally positioned to exploit the wealth of opportunities being offered.

We not only have a launch pad, but we have the vehicles, the products and the people – you - ready and willing to explore those opportunities.

Let's reflect for a moment on the concept of innovation. Innovation is about creativity. The chair of this Summit, Gil Simpson, is known for his view that computer software design is as much an art as a science.

I agree that much of what we call information technology is truly creative, and often it is art. Now, web design, graphics, architecture, fashion design, and music are all crossing those boundaries between science, technology and the arts. This is of enormous interest to me as Minister of Arts & Culture.

Last night elsewhere in this Aotea Centre I launched an art exhibition of the best works by Intermediate School students from throughout Auckland. I said to the students, their parents, and their teachers that creative and innovative New Zealanders would guide our country in the 21st century. I said that art should not be seen as being at the periphery of the school curriculum, but at its very centre; and that those who could think, analyse, design, dream and express themselves creatively would find enormous opportunities open to them in the world of work and business. I truly believe this.

One of the greatest advantages we have in the E-commerce world is our unique identity and culture, which we celebrate through our music, film, literature, fashion - and arts and cultural activities generally. Such creative products can today be crafted in Miramar, the Waitakeres, Dunedin or Nelson as easily as in Hollywood, and we have the talent available to do it.

We can turn our unique identity as a nation to our advantage, as our brand, our point of differentiation in a global economy. We can draw on our strong indigenous heritage, the cultures of the Pacific, and the heritage of all the other many peoples who make up New Zealand today.

And what a joy it was to see among those top art students from our intermediate schools last night, the children of many new New Zealanders who have brought their skills and talents to our country.

Within a few weeks, Southern Cross - the fibre optic infrastructure to allow our intellectual products to be exported at the speed of light across the Pacific - will be commencing service. Our creative industries exploiting the potential of the Internet will be a key force over the next ten years in promoting New Zealand as a young, vibrant, dynamic force on the international stage.

An issue facing every society now is how to open up access to new technologies to all communities. What is commonly called the digital divide is in reality the digital opportunity.

The Government has been working on these issues in several ways: through the telecommunications enquiry, which gives important baseline information and perspectives from which to develop policy; and through a number of important education initiatives such as the pilot study of video conferencing in schools on the East Coast, homework centres, often with their banks of computers, and the computers in homes pilots, to mention just a few.

The government's electronic commerce strategy released by Paul Swain says a lot about capability – not just about schooling and education but also about lifelong learning. As business people you are looking for school leavers to have skills and talents before you employ them. But electronic commerce is challenging the skills of your existing employees and will be challenging your own business skills and talents. It's worth remembering that eighty per cent of the workforce of the next ten years is in employment today. Upskilling our workforce and embracing a training culture is essential.

We must build skills and capability in the workforce, and we must also retain and recruit more people with skills. Right now the new government is rapidly reviewing the immigration policy it inherited. Without doubt, New Zealand's immigration policy and procedures have been too slow to adapt to the fast changing global labour market and its premium on skills. As fast as others poach our talented people, we must poach theirs. We may not be able to compete on salary, but we are highly competitive on lifestyle and on providing a safe society to live in by world standards. That means a lot to families making a fresh start.

I am pleased to say that the New Zealand Immigration Service itself is embracing electronic communication and will shortly be launching its pilot for on-line applications for visas and permits. And, we want to remove obstructions to migration by those with the skills we need. Already changes have been made to facilitate entry for information technology specialists and the Immigration Service is being asked to speed up work on the potential for immigration to support sunrise industries.

At government level we are keen to provide the vision, leadership and partnership that New Zealanders look to us to provide.

We have set ourselves the goal of ensuring that all New Zealanders can contribute to a growing and inclusive and innovative economy for the benefit of us all.

Our task is to ensure that our people have access to education, skills training, and technologies. Our task is also to build a sense of common purpose around a shared vision for an innovative and prosperous future.

In our first Budget we invested more than ten million dollars of additional funding into Trade New Zealand, so that it could put its business on line and help the small and medium-sized businesses, the engine room of our economy, move ahead as exporters. That move will be complemented by the export credit guarantee initiative to be announced soon.

We have created the new, private sector oriented Industry New Zealand to promote business innovation and growth. And the BIZ programme is giving particular emphasis to lifting the skills of small and medium sized enterprises to participate in the fast changing economic environment.

In the broader area of science and research I have appointed the Science and Innovation Advisory Council chaired by Rick Christie. It is advising me on the rapid steps we need to take to develop the innovative and prosperous society of our dreams.

We have already increased overall government funding in science, research, and technology by ten per cent – that is an extra 43 million dollars, about half of which is going out direct to the private sector in grants.

I spoke earlier on our vision for Zealand’s future. Our country is poised to move forward on so many fronts if we cast off the shackles of self-doubt and inhibition, believe in ourselves, and dare to excel.

What will change New Zealand is attitude and commitment at every level. Without question our national self esteem has suffered from decades of drifting towards the bottom of the OECD class. But we don't have to stay there. It's within our power together to change that status. We are all in this together.

Electronic commerce is at the leading edge of business process innovation. It is changing the ways you do business and the ways we conduct government. It can even change the business you are in, or the source of your competitive advantage. But it is bigger than that. Electronic communication is changing the economy, it is changing communities, it is changing our society as a whole. The wired up society is a dynamic and transformational society. Its possibilities are endless, and exploring them and adapting to them are an essential pre-requisite to retaining and building on our first world nation status.

We can become innovators to the world, turning great ideas into great ventures. Business leadership and vision linking up with government leadership and vision will give us that edge. Your commitment shown by your attendance at this Summit convinces me that together we will ensure that New Zealand is world class in embracing E-commerce for competitive advantage.


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