Keynote address to the Digital Nations 2030 conference

  • Hon Clare Curran
Government Digital Services


Kia ora koutou, Haere mai 

Greetings, Hello to you all.

I am very pleased to welcome you to Digital Nations 2030.

Kāhore taku toa i te toa takitahi, he toa takitini

We cannot succeed without the support of those around us

With that in mind I’d especially like to acknowledge:

  • the delegations from Estonia, Israel, South Korea and the United Kingdom who are here in New Zealand for the D5 conference. You’ve travelled from all corners of the world, and we’re excited to have you here;
  • guests from the Governments of Canada, Uruguay, Mexico and Portugal who have been invited to observe and participate in the D5 summit;
  • all the speakers and panel members who will be sharing their expertise with us over the next two days; and
  • the team that made this summit happen, including Graeme Muller and NZTech for putting together a great programme for the next two days, and working collaboratively with government officials to align this conference with our D5 2018 summit.

I am very privileged to have three Ministerial portfolios – I call them my dream portfolios – and they all relate to growing New Zealand’s capability as a digital nation.

  • Government Digital Services, which is a brand new portfolio;
  • Communications, Broadcasting and Digital Media; and
  • Open Government, which I am responsible for in my role as Associate Minister for State Services.

I, to make it easier, describe myself as the Minister of new stuff, for who we are and for open – and that’s a pretty amazing combination. 

They link up in a way never seen before in New Zealand, perhaps anywhere.

They are interconnected and allow me to work across a range of issues and opportunities that are inextricably linked.

They will significantly strengthen our democracy and renew our economy.

I have a plan, a particular approach to those portfolios.

I want to:

  • Build trust with citizens through having an open and transparent government and a stronger, people-centred democracy;
  • Reduce the digital divide - the gap between the internet “haves” and “have nots” and strengthen New Zealand’s social inclusion and cohesion;
  • Strengthen protection of New Zealanders’ digital rights;
  • Take a joined-up, aspirational approach to our digital economy, to increase productivity and the economic benefits of the internet;
  • Grow New Zealand’s identity and build our cultural capital by enhancing the voice of independent public service media,
  • And drive the ongoing transformation towards a more open, digital Government where silos are broken down and new ways of thinking are encouraged.

This approach means being future-focused, modern and innovative. It means taking some risks, moving away from old paradigms that are no longer effective; re-imagining government’s role and relationship with citizens and industry; working with and showing leadership to industry and communities where technology the driver of a thriving, agile, intelligent, compassionate digital nation that leaves no-one out.

These roles bring with them challenges, but also many opportunities to make a difference to the lives of New Zealanders as we transform into a truly digital nation.

Digital Nations 2030 is built around the idea of shaping strong, thriving digital nations, both now and into the future.

Of course, there will be many schools of thought about what actually makes a thriving digital nation.

I think that, for us in New Zealand, it is about making sure all our people are thriving in a digital world; that all Kiwis are on this journey with us; and that we shape the future together.

This means being a country that leverages data, technologies, and digital skills to realise a more responsive, efficient and participatory government and ensure we have a thriving economy and society.

It means being a country that agrees on the future it wants and works together to use all the tools at our disposal to build that future.

Ultimately, in our New Zealand government context, we see digital technologies as the means to transform the way we deliver services to the public and to engage them in the decisions that affect their lives.

We also need the right frameworks in place to ensure our communities and economy can enjoy the benefits, and grasp the opportunities, of a digital world. 

Because digital transformation will only be successful if we understand that embracing technology is not enough: to truly transform, we all need to work differently, focus on the core business of serving the public, and regularly engage with citizens and check we’re meeting their needs –  and not pay lip service to those goals.

I am proud that New Zealand is seen as a world leader when it comes to digital government. We can still do better.

However, I think we still have room to better take advantage of digital opportunities to be an innovative, progressive and equitable country that is responsive and resilient in our changing world.

It’s important to be clear about what we want to achieve for a digital New Zealand.

And it makes absolute sense to have an overarching vision across my roles – a vision that “all New Zealanders are thriving in a digital world”.

For the non-New Zealanders in the room, we have this concept called tūrangawaewae – which means the place where a person feels empowered and connected; the space that is our home, our place in the world and our foundation. The place from which we come.

As we become global citizens, with easier access to every part of the world, it’s more and more important that we know who we are and are comfortable in our own sense of identity. 

In an increasingly digital environment, this sense of foundation and connection can easily disappear. So it is important to me that we create a country where people are as at home online as they are in the real world.

I want all our people to have the chance to share in the opportunities digital is creating, and feel comfortable and safe operating online.

I want our people, both here in New Zealand and in other countries, to be able to use digital tools to showcase themselves and their stories and explore their own unique cultures online.

By seeing ourselves and our stories reflected back to us, we can better know ourselves, and feel grounded and secure as communities. 

This vision isn’t something government can achieve alone.

Meaningful change will only be possible by working together – business, civil society, academia, Māoridom and Government all have key parts to play, as do all of you in this room.

We need to be aspirational. We need to be collaborative. We need to be bold.                                                  

As digital technologies become more abundant, we are increasingly reliant on computers, mobile devices and connectivity to access information, products and services;
to do our jobs; and connect with our friends and families.

As I talked about a principle of identity I also want to talk about the principle of universality – which we don’t have in New Zealand right now.

While for some of us, it’s easy to take access to an online world for granted, there are still many people in New Zealand who do not have internet access at home or own digital devices. Or their connectivity is very limited.

So that principle of universality is critical for this government.

We know from research that the groups most at risk of digital exclusion include:

  • Families with children in low socio-economic communities
  • People living in rural communities
  • People with disabilities
  • Migrants and refugees with English as a second language
  • Māori & Pasifika Youth
  • Offenders and ex-offenders and
  • Seniors

Around 150,000 children in our country do not have access to the internet in their homes.

There is also lower uptake with only 87 percent Māori and 80 percent Pasifika having regular access to the internet. This compares to 92 percent for European/ Pākehā.

Otago university’s social deprivation index has identified ’lack of internet access at home’ as the highest weighted factor affecting social deprivation for working age New Zealanders.

Access is not just a cost issue. With 24 percent of all New Zealanders having some disability, we need to consider what additional challenges they may face when going online. There are also people who don’t have the skills to engage digitally, or the inclination to be involved in the digital world.

We need to make sure that everyone is digitally included.

I want all New Zealanders to have access to the tools, skills, motivation and trust to fully participate in our digital world.

Digital divides have costs in the form of wider social deprivation, the risk of lower educational attainment, and fewer opportunities to realise potential.

We need to address the gaps to give everyone the same opportunities.

And we need to be more prepared for the future of work. We need to put the digital economy centre stage.

We need to be more connected to see our digital economy grow and realise the potential of the internet and the economic benefit it can produce.

But for the digital economy, and the economy as a whole to flourish, we have to use our technology more effectively.

Industry, Government, NGOs, Māori and other stakeholders need to work together to get the very best from technology, create new jobs and re-generate old ones, and see our New Zealand companies thrive locally and on the world stage.

Success isn’t about building an infrastructure and hoping for the best.

It’s about developing people’s skills for those jobs of the future, and that will come through collaboration.

This government will focus more on skills and ensuring our education system is equipping our young people for the future – but it’s more than that. It’s also about learning for life; ensuring that your skills development never stops and that you are supported to do so.

So what about Digital rights?

Our position is that New Zealanders must have access to technology as a right, regardless of income or geography.

We need to ensure people’s human rights and those of our communities are respected in a digital world.

To do that we have to protect our citizens; give people equal opportunities for an economic livelihood; support communities to thrive; and create places for cultural or creative expression.

Trust is paramount.

A robust digital rights framework is a key component to build a high level of trust.

We need this in order to deliver services digitally; to maximise the economic opportunities of digital technologies; and for communities to engage freely in an online environment.

So we’ve got to find the right balance in guarding our citizens’ privacy and using the information we hold to improve services for them. 

I’m also the Minister for cyber security to achieving that balance is a priority for me in this country.

New Zealanders expect protection from mass surveillance, we value our right to privacy and the right to decide how our personal information is used.

We need a framework around these digital rights and I’ve already signalled this as one of my priorities.

People rightly expect that government should behave in a predictable, open and transparent way wherever it can.

I want to ensure that current and future generations of New Zealanders can engage with government in ways that allow them to express their views safely. 

We need to work together to achieve these goals. 

We need to be future-focused, modern and innovative. And we need to be agile and flexible.

More than that though I want to explore ways that citizens feel they are actively participating in their democracy; they know where they fit in; they know how to have their voice heard; and government isn’t afraid to hear it.

Digital Nations 2030 is not just about the state of our digital nations today, but how we will embrace the opportunities and tackle the challenges that arise in the future.

This goes beyond technology.

While we can only speculate what digital technologies will look like in 2030 – 12 years from now – we do know that they will likely evolve in ways we can’t even imagine.

We need only look back at how much things have changed in the past 12 years – since 2006 – to appreciate that.

In 2006:

  • Twitter was launched. One year later, an estimated 5,000 tweets were sent every day. Today it’s around 670 million sent every day;
  • those of us who are early adopters were probably using MySpace or Bebo –Mmmm, I wasn’t - as our social media platform of choice. Facebook wasn’t available to the wider public until late 2006;
  • the innovation in home entertainment was DVDs delivered via mail. Netflix was still a year away from diving into the world of streaming content;
  • the idea of storing things in the cloud was in its infancy; and
  • many of us were probably sending text messages without the luxury of a proper keypad! Cell phones had yet to transform into high-powered computers that fit in our pockets and the iPhone was a year away.

That’s a lot of change in not a lot of time.

As that flashback demonstrates, when it comes to thinking about how all New Zealanders can thrive in a digital world, it would be pointless to focus only on what’s possible in this moment of time.

We’ve got to look forward, and ensure that we can all grab the opportunities, and tackle the challenges, that are coming.

We also need to think about just what government can do. How can government, NGOs and business work together to get the best possible outcomes for our nations?

How can we equip our young people for the jobs of the future? How can we ensure that we’ve got a modern teaching workforce? How can we ensure there are ongoing opportunities for life-long learning and re-training? That we are tackling issues of income security? That we’re understanding how technology disruption is hollowing out existing industries; and what the potential is for more economic development? How we can use the levers of government more effectively? How we can truly understand what those levers are.

I am looking forward to the many conversations that I know we will be having, that you will be having this week and also in my role as Minister in a new future focused government in the coming months on how we could all collaborate to build strong communities and see our country, and our people, thriving in a digital world.

So far today, I have focussed on New Zealand and New Zealanders thriving in a digital world.

Of course, one of the things about digital technologies is that it breaks down barriers of time and space and we can easily buy products and services from companies based in other countries, read a newspaper article from the other side of the world the moment it is published, and even potentially do our jobs from anywhere in the world.

We can also more easily learn from each other and share ideas across borders.

So my final comments are about collaboration and joined up thinking. It’s what drives me personally, and it is the hallmark of our new government. 

We want to work with people, within New Zealand and internationally, to use digital and data more effectively and help all our societies flourish. 

No one sector has a monopoly on ideas or the ability to bring about the changes we need.

Each country starts from a different point in their digital journey and each one will evolve differently, depending on their individual context and environment.

But each of us has stories to share and wisdom to impart.

And that’s why New Zealand’s membership in the D5 and our work with the OECD are so important.

By working together, sharing ideas and best practice, we can better achieve our ambitions in our own countries and collectively build a stronger, digital world.

I know the next two days will provide an amazing opportunity for you all to learn new things and contribute to the future of our digital nations.

To those kiwis in the room- as you attend the wonderful line up of sessions planned for the next two days, make new contacts, learn new things, I’d like you to ask yourself: what can I do to contribute to a thriving digital New Zealand and a thriving digital world? Who can I work with? How can I engage? And know that your government wants to engage.

To those from other nations – how can we turn our common interests and our good ideas into practical, transformational actions?

This isn’t something government can do alone, but together, we can change the world.

I am very much looking forward to working with you in the coming days.

Thank you.

Nga mihi nui kia koutou katoa