Speech to the Digital Local Government Partnership launch

  • Hon Clare Curran
Government Digital Services

Good morning everyone. Thank you for the invitation to speak today about how local and central government can work collaboratively together on digital transformation.

The Government wants to see all New Zealanders succeed on the world stage by having the skills to use technology more effectively.

We are committed to doing things differently; to putting people at the heart of everything we do; to collaborating and co-designing with organisations such as local government; and to bringing every New Zealander along on the journey with us.

Having the interconnected portfolios of Government Digital Services, Broadcasting, Communications, Digital Media and Open Government gives me an overview of the issues and opportunities for New Zealand’s digital evolution.

We want to close the digital divides – the gap between the digital ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and we want to make ICT the second largest contributor to GDP by 2025.

To do this we need to be innovative and look at how we can make our services more effective and accessible in a digital-rich world.


The growing digital divides

Our young people need access to online platforms to do their homework and learn new skills yet approximately 100,000 kiwi kids are still living in households without an internet connection.

A child who doesn’t have internet access at home is not only less able to complete their school work, but will likely miss out on support in their digital learning from the adults in their home.

This can lead to the child being less safe online, less confident in their digital skills and digital exclusion will be entrenched into their lives.

But it’s not just kids who’re missing out – it’s seniors, people on low incomes, rural New Zealanders and people who lack the skills or confidence to use the internet.

To help close the divides we’re building more and more new infrastructure for ultra-fast broadband.

And I’ve fast-tracked the roll out of the Rural Broadband Initiative and the Mobile Blackspot Fund so this current phase will be completed by the end of 2021 – a year earlier than planned.

RBI2 is delivering faster broadband in rural areas and well on the way to connecting 70,000 more rural households and businesses.

RBI2 is being expanded, and when the expansion is complete, only a fraction of a percent of the population – less than 1 per cent -will not have access to improved terrestrial broadband.

I’d love to be able to tell you more about the expansion plans but it’s commercially sensitive, it’s in process.

Shane Jones and I will make an announcement soon. It’ll be deadly serious and comprehensive.

Uptake of Ultra-Fast Broadband around the country is approaching 45% and a number of centres have already surpassed the 50 percent mark. I expect to announce the latest uptake rates soon. 

This time last year, national uptake was about 38 percent, so it is going up really quickly considering the rate at which the network is still being built. But there’s still room for a lot more Kiwis to enjoy the benefits of ultra-fast broadband.

The Government intends to find real solutions for real people because we want all New Zealanders to benefit from the opportunities that new technologies offer. Digital inclusion is a priority for the Government.

Research shows that when a community is “fibred up” the evidence of economic growth can be measured within two years. There’s an increase in the number of small online businesses; a growth in existing small businesses and growth in the hospitality and tourism sector.

The benefits of digital inclusion are endless. We need to make sure that everyone is digitally included.


The Government’s approach to digital inclusion

Reducing digital divides will reduce education gaps. We will see positive health and social outcomes, increased productivity, and higher levels of civic participation and active democracy.

It is important that no one is left behind. Unless we are all thriving in a digital world, no one is truly successful.

Community organisations, businesses, libraries, philanthropic organisation, charities, and central and local government are already doing good work to provide essential services which help towards digital inclusion for all New Zealanders.

As part of this work, the Government has created a $1 million contestable fund to provide digital skills training in homes. These skills programmes will help New Zealand residents develop the core digital skills needed to make the most of digital technologies and services.

This initiative is being led by my colleagues the Minister for Education, Chris Hipkins, and the Associate Minister for Education, Tracey Martin.

More details about this fund will be announced shortly.

Chris Hipkins has also launched a $6 million “All Equity Fund” that will give less-advantaged students better access to digital tools, skills, and knowledge.

In addition, Ka Hao, the Māori Digital Technology Development Fund, is a contestable fund to support initiatives that will create high value jobs and opportunities to advance Māori in digital technologies.

I am really excited about this joined-up, collaborative, cross-government approach to improving the digital skills and reducing digital divides.

The Government is also actively seeking to support initiatives that address digital enablement in the regions through the Provincial Growth Fund.

The Government is welcoming ideas for projects that build connectivity and digital skills in regional communities, including groups that may not otherwise have access to digital technologies.

There is enormous opportunity for initiatives that not only support digital inclusions but also unleash innovation and open up new business opportunities.


Other work – AI, DEDI and the CTO

You may also be aware of the cross-government algorithm review that is currently underway.

The Government is keen to improve the transparency and accountability of how government agencies use algorithms. We want to make sure everyone in New Zealand is informed about and has confidence in how the government uses algorithms.

Our new Chief Technology officer is very close now and they have a key role to play in our technology future.

This will be New Zealand’s first CTO and at a high level, they’ll play a lead role in developing a digital strategy for New Zealand and will have a broad mandate to serve as a challenge to, and advisor for, the New Zealand Government. 

The first phase of that work will focus on planning for future workforce needs; responding to emerging and disruptive technologies; and ensuring all our communities are supported to improve their digital access and build equality.

One of the first things I did as Minister was to set up a Digital Economy and Digital Inclusion Ministerial Advisory Group – known as DEDIMAG - to support and advise the CTO and the Government.

The 15 people who make up the Group come with a wide range of skills and expertise, bringing their input across a variety of sectors, such as youth voice or regional and rural New Zealand.

One of the members is here today – Damon Odey, Mayor of Timaru District Council. Mayor Odey will be part of a sub-group which considers questions relating to digital connectivity.

Members of the group will be reaching back into their communities and networks for broader input and innovation, looking to connect at the local level and to understand and positively impact on peoples’ lived experiences.

I can see that the Digital Local Government Partnership’s work programme aligns with the vision of a digital strategy for New Zealand, especially in terms of delivering for communities across New Zealand, and I am really excited about the possibilities that presents for joined-up, collaborative thinking.


Collaboration and co-operation

Genuine collaboration is needed if we are to ensure no one is left behind.

I can see that the Digital Local Government Partnership’s work programme aligns with the vision of a digital strategy for New Zealand, especially in terms of delivering for communities across New Zealand, and I am really excited about the possibilities that presents for joined-up, collaborative thinking.

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

One of the first tasks for DEDIMAG is to help create a blueprint for digital inclusion.

The blueprint expands on our vision for a digitally included New Zealand, and sets out how government will play its part to make sure we get there.

It acknowledges that digital inclusion is not static. The way we think about digital inclusion will likely change as technologies and the way we do things also evolve.

To make the biggest impact, there needs to be a clear, cohesive understanding of what    digital inclusion will look like, a road map to get there, and measures and supporting data to show progress.


Central and local government working together

We know that local government faces challenges with the uptake of digital technologies – challenges posed by open data and costly ICT procurement.

A more coordinated local government approach to strategic investment in ICT would be beneficial, and there is an opportunity for local government to leverage off the existing collective buying power of the All-of-Government ICT Common Capabilities.

As the Digital Local Government Partnership grows and progresses, I expect to see more collaboration, co-design, sharing resources, and the use of innovation hubs.

Collaboration and co-design like the Rates Rebate project, from the highly innovative Service Innovation Lab hosted by the Department of Internal Affairs.

The project involved central and local government agencies working together to collaboratively develop an integrated service that simplifies a complicated application process.

This is currently being piloted in Tauranga and we have other councils interested in this project.

The Service Innovation Lab has been involved in other projects, such as producing a tool to measure the quality of rental properties.

Ultimately, as the Digital Local Government Partnership grows, I expect to see an improvement in connectivity and user experience.

Accessibility, affordability, and reliability - it’s about putting New Zealanders back in the focus, through their communities and their networks.

I challenge you, as local government leaders of Aotearoa, to think more broadly about how we can prepare to transform together, and how we can ensure that all New Zealanders benefit from the opportunities presented by a digital future.

We will need to adapt, collaborate, and innovate. Because it will take all of us to build an inclusive, thriving digital nation.