Labour's digital strategy receives mixed reviews

The Labour Party digital upgrade policy received good reviews from those attending NetHui 2014 yesterday, but Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce was scathing of the policy.

Mr Joyce said the big news of the day was Labour discovering the information, communications and technology sector.

Labour leader David Cunliffe said a Labour government would support the ICT sector to make New Zealand a tech-savvy nation and put ICT at the heart of party's economic upgrade strategy.

Among the things he announced were plans to establish 1200 digital apprenticeships and support first-time entrepreneurs with ''Garage Grants''.

''Technology is a game changer. We can become a prosperous nation supported by a vibrant IT industry.''

The Garage Grants would enable entrepreneurs who wanted to transform their clever ideas into something big.

To encourage investment, Labour would provide tax deferrals in the form of accelerated depreciation to ICT manufacturers and research and development tax incentives to encourage investment in new technology and plant.

The digital apprentices would cost $2.1 million in the first year.

Labour would also create a government-backed app store to assist fledgling New Zealand software developers; instruct government agencies to implement a whole-of-government approach to open software; and establish the role of chief technology, officer reporting directly to the prime minister and cabinet.

While NetHui participants were very supportive on social media of Labour's plans, Mr Joyce said Labour's ideas were not up to date and poorly thought through.

The proposed grants and accelerated depreciation for start-ups were already happening and the Government already had a chief information officer performing a similar role to Labour's chief technology officer proposal.

''The demand in ICT is primarily for graduate level software designers and programmers, not in the trades. That's why we're investing nearly $30 million dollars in our ICT grad schools for final-year undergraduate and postgraduate training. They would be far better to endorse that approach.''

Suggesting wasting taxpayers' money setting up a government app store was truly off the planet, Mr Joyce said.

New Zealanders were capable of competing and winning in the international app marketplace, as well as finding great Kiwi apps online, without that sort of support, he said.

Internet Party leader Laila Harre said ICT policy needed to go further than an upgrade.

There needed to be more vision, more excitement and more action.

''It's great to see a growing focus on the digital economy and greater agreement on how to break down barriers to growth. But limiting our ambitions to an upgrade underplays the once-in-100-years opportunity for New Zealand.

- dene.mackenzie@odt.co.nz

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