"Y2k Working Together"

  • Bill English

Local Government New Zealand Y2K Readiness Commission
Year 2000 Summit
Resolution Room, James Cook Centra Hotel, Wellington

New Zealand will attract the attention of the world on 1 January 2000 - not merely for the parties we will throw.

The world will be watching us because as daylight comes to our nation, we will be the first in the world to test our preparedness for Y2K.

We will be an international test case.

That is one reason why, as Prime Minister, I have put the Y2K problem up there among the top priorities the Government must address.

International attention, of course, is not the only factor driving us. We must also protect the health and safety of our citizens.

And we must minimise the effects of this problem on the New Zealand economy. In Government, we have been asking, how can we fulfil those aims?

Essentially, the answer is simple - but the solutions are very complex, as all of you here today know.

Can we be confident that we have the solutions?

Right now, at the end of the first quarter of the last year of the century, we can be reasonably confident, if we work together.

That's because there is still time to make sure that computer controlled systems and machines work. And if they don ?t, there is time to put in contingency plans.

All of us share that responsibility. Both to get systems Y2K ready, and to make plans for services that fail.

What will happen if the tap doesn't run, the jug doesn't boil, the waste disposal system doesn't work or hospitals can't manage?

To some extent it will depend on where you are. Ashburton could survive a while without traffic lights. But could Auckland?

Normally, a failure of the water and sewerage systems in Gisborne may cause some inconvenience. But imagine the chaos in a centre expecting some 250,000 guests to help them celebrate the millennium.

When it comes to hospitals and emergency services wherever they are, failure is not an option. Emergency services must work!

Central Government is taking this risk very seriously. We must, because we are directly responsible for a large part of the country?s infrastructure.

But local government, the private sector and individuals also bear a heavy responsibility. We're all in this together.

To all of you I say, don't panic, prepare.

The people we represent won't thank us if we just 'beat our chests' or create alarm. They expect us to think of everything and take the necessary action.

Planning is well under way. But, we all have to get a good grip on what the Y2K problem is.

It is not a single chip or software programme that can be fixed. It is a cluster of problems that will kick in when or before the century ticks over from 1999 to 2000.

It is a reminder of how vital computers have become to us. Computers maintain our business, communications and finances. They automate our factories. They run our waste disposal systems. They compute our paycheques and approve our purchases.

They guide our planes, our ships and our road traffic. They safeguard our assets and monitor our heartbeats. They make up a complex web of services we have come to rely on. Whether we like it or not, they are all susceptible to the Y2K problem.

Because it is a complex problem there is no 'silver bullet' solution.

Y2K will not be a 'breakdown' or a 'technical fault' like any we have seen before. It is a problem spread through the central nervous system of our public and private services.

The solutions, and the assurance that New Zealanders need, will have to come from many sources.

New Zealanders need to know that essential systems and services will work. And they need to know they are getting high-quality information about what could go wrong ? and what we're all doing about it.

In central Government we have given high priority to addressing both of those concerns.

We have a well designed strategy to see that central Government?s game is lifted.

This strategy includes commitment at the highest level: a Minister charged with responsibility for Y2K and continued publication of core government readiness status.

We established a Prime Ministerial task force to report back on readiness in the public and private sectors and recommend measures that the Government could adopt to manage the Y2K risk.

It was very useful to have local government represented on the Task Force to ensure that perspective was injected into the report.

One of the task force's major recommendations was the establishment of the Y2K Readiness Commission the partner in today's seminar.

We set up a special unit in the State Services Commission to lead the public service in its drive towards Y2K readiness. That unit, directed by John Belgrave, who is here today, is up and running.

It has imposed on all government departments and State entities the onerous discipline of reporting regularly ' and publicly ' on their Y2K preparedness.

Special focus has been given to entities and services critical to public and economic well being such as benefit payments and law and order.

As central government has moved to full disclosure on Y2K readiness on agency by agency basis, we would urge you to do the same.

There's nothing like the bracing oxygen of public exposure to motivate those lagging behind to improve their act.

Last week, we introduced the so-called ?good Samaritan? legislation to encourage the voluntary sharing of information about Y2K problems and remedies.

If a department or local office has worked out an effective solution to one aspect of the Y2K problem, we're clearing the bureaucratic roadblocks to make sure that solution can be shared all round.

This week, the office for emergency management and civil defence issued a planning document which describes three Y2K planning scenarios to assist utility services develop contingency plans.

These are all part of the Government's determination to see that core Government services, public hospitals and emergency services will be running on New Year's day and the days and months following.

I was pleased to see in a recent Readiness Commission survey that 94 percent of all public hospitals say they will have completed their Y2K preparations by September. I am less pleased to see the figure for central government at 83 percent.

And you should not be pleased to see the corresponding local government figure at 85 percent.

There are some causes for serious concern in what I have seen. For instance, while 62 percent of public hospitals are consulting regularly with their stakeholders on Y2K, the corresponding figure for central Government is just 23 percent.

And for local government organisations, the figure is an alarming 16 percent.

We've made a commitment within central Government to lift our game and I exhort you to do the same.

I can?t imagine that anybody in this room will be happy with the progress so far.

There must be a willingness and motivation to improve your performance. You must have the right tools in your armoury to battle the Y2K problem. You, as local government leaders, must do what you can to spur a better response.

It is no use any of us saying we have fixed up our patch; if anything goes wrong it is someone else's fault.

It won't be good enough to say to ratepayers that you guaranteed your networks were operating but there was a problem with electricity generators or water suppliers further up the line.

And it is no use saying you have a contingency plan if that plan is only having council workers rostered on duty on New Year's day to fix any faults.

You need comprehensive and tested continuity plans that you have communicated to the community.

Remember, Y2K isn't a problem that can be fixed with a spanner. It is a problem within the very brain of our services. So it takes brainpower and planning to overcome it.

The public has a right to know of any known risks so they can manage them.

We have to work together. We face a big job, but it is not an impossible job.

I say again: don't panic. Prepare.

I want everyone to come away from today with a renewed commitment to getting the job done.

You are community leaders. You must see that your core services are well prepared. You must think about how they interact with other services. You also need to work in your wider communities to raise awareness and see that they too are well prepared. New Zealanders are leaders by nature. In this Y2K challenge we need to lead in a way that will enhance your reputation with your ratepayers and our reputation as a country.

If we do the job properly, New Year?s Day 2000 will be a day when we?ll all be celebrating with the world.

Let's do our share to see that we're all in a position to party!

But if we fail, the blame will fall quickly and it will fall hard.

It's time to get to work. Many of you have already recognised that.

I urge you share your experiences with the rest. We owe it to New Zealanders.

Thank you