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Victoria University Information Policy Summit

Hon Paul Swain Speech Notes

Victoria University Information Policy Summit

Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today. There is a good cross section of people here from across the communications, education and government sectors, which shows me how significant you think the issue of an information policy is.

I was asked to talk specifically about three things. What does the government perceive the information society to be? Where does the government want NZ to be in five years time in terms of the way we use and promote information in the new economy? And what are the key issues for the government?

Limiting my comments to the nature of the universe, I'd like to start with the first.

What does the government perceive the information society to be?

The information society - often linked with the terms 'knowledge economy' and 'new economy' – is a society where access to knowledge and information is the driving force behind economic, social and political progress brought about by an explosion in information and communication technologies.

You could say that where access to physical resources defined the last century, access to knowledge and information defines this one.

We have launched a number of initiatives recently around the areas of e-commerce, e-government, infrastructure and the digital divide. These are some of the building blocks of the information society.

Today you will hear from speakers who will talk about connectivity, content and competencies; the economic framework of the new economy - legislation, regulation and infrastructure; and social issues – computer literacy, information literacy and the digital divide.

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What government has to do is define its role in all of this, how much government is needed and where? I will return to that in a moment.

The second question I was asked to address was where does the government want NZ to be in five years time in terms of the way we use and promote information in the new economy?

In five years time I want New Zealand to be a new economy leader. Every New Zealander will have access to high-speed Internet capability. Ever New Zealander, particularly rural and provincial New Zealanders, will be able to participate in online education and skills training. New Zealanders will be world class in their use of e-commerce in business and government services will be available online.

This brings me to the third question - what are the key issues for the government? They are essentially many of those I have spoken about already – I would like to outline specifically what we are doing in some of these areas.

As most of you will be aware the government held an e-commerce summit in early November where we launched the government's e-commerce strategy. The strategy defines three key roles for government. They are:
1. Providing vision and leadership
2. Building the country's e-commerce capability
3. Promoting and enabling the regulatory environment for growth.

The government has provided vision and leadership in a number of areas, including the summit, the strategy, e-government and turning the digital divide into digital opportunity.

Capability is being tackled through programmes in Trade New Zealand, Industry New Zealand, education, training and skills development. We're looking at changing immigration rules to attract skilled workers here.
We are addressing the regulatory environment through initiatives like the telecommunications reform, the development of an e-commerce code for consumer protection, the Electronic Transactions Bill and anti-hacking legislation. These measures, among others, are designed to promote an exciting environment that encourages investment, growth and innovation.

At a third of GDP, government activity is a huge part of the economy. It is therefore essential that government walk the talk. The government has to lead by example – and that is why we are driving a detailed e-government project.

The State Services Commission has already been funded to develop a strategy for e-government. The e-government unit in State Services has been up and running since July. Already it has identified a range of projects and set targets for rollout.

E-procurement is a key priority. It is the business case for e-government and provides the incentive for our small to medium sized businesses to get online. The government is committed to using online technologies to deliver better quality, cheaper and faster services to its citizens, as well as providing opportunities for New Zealand businesses.

The key element surrounding the infrastructure for an information society is telecommunications. That is why the government established a telecommunications inquiry, which reported to me at the end of September.

I won't go into the specifics of the inquiry recommendations, only to say that the government will be announcing policy decisions before Christmas.

One of the inquiry's recommendations was the formation of an information society initiative. It found there had been considerable work done on the information economy by a range of bodies including government, universities, community organisations and consumer groups, as well as the private sector.

The team reported that many projects are being undertaken independently of each other, which may result in a loss of efficiencies that might occur if there were a general oversight and coordination of such projects.

The Inquiry suggested a permanent body should be established with private sector, government and community representation, to monitor and promote the coordination, development and implementation of initiatives designed to encourage and enable New Zealanders to fully participate in the information economy.

Last week I met the chair of the Irish Information Society Commission, who outlined the initiatives that are being undertaken in her country.

One key issue that needs to be addressed urgently is bandwidth. Bandwidth is the infrastructure capacity for these new ways of delivering knowledge and information. We need to ensure there is enough capacity to deliver the information packets that people will require in the future

The digital divide is a reality and is a key issue government in partnership with the business and education sector. Our collective challenge is to turn the digital divide into digital opportunity.

We can not have two New Zealands – rich and poor, town and country. All New Zealanders must be able to participate in the new economy, to take part in the online opportunities in education, skills training, e-commerce and e-government.

Digital literacy will be crucial this century. That is the ability to use information and communication technologies (or ICTs) to best advantage. The government will work to ensure that all New Zealanders have access to opportunities to develop these skills, both through formal education and at the community level.

We have identified a range of areas where the government can take action. These include:
- Ensuring that all teachers are equipped with the skills to use ICT in the learning situation;
- Promoting the use of ICTs across the curriculum;
- Working with the telecommunications industry to ensure that every community has adequate Internet access; and
- Exploring innovative ways to facilitate the provision by the private sector of better access to electronic communications services in rural communities.

I am working closely with other ministers in progressing the government's digital divide strategy and will be announcing more on this in the near future.

These are just some of the issues the government is facing as it considers its role in the information society. I know that at the end of today's session you will be helping formulate a consensus of the main issues you believe the government needs to deal with in formulating and implementing an information policy.

My challenge to you is to steer away from 'high level overarching strategies' and come up with practical solutions to identified problems, with targets and timetables.

I look forward to hearing the results of your day's work. I declare this summit open and wish you well in your deliberations.


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