New Zealand Budget dishes out millions to tech initiatives for COVID-19 bounce-back

Winners in this year's Budget include small businesses, who will receive NZ$44 million via a digital skills program that will provide training for up to 60,000 small businesses.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The New Zealand government has released its 2021 Budget, focusing on COVID-19 recovery, tackling child poverty, and initiatives to address climate change.

While the Budget is light on technology, it commits to developing Industry Transformation Plans across seven areas of the economy it believes it can "gain a global competitive advantage" or areas flagged as needing to undergo transformation to significantly increase its level of productivity.

These are in advanced manufacturing, agritech, food and beverage, digital, construction, tourism, forestry, and wood processing.

Some tech initiatives funded in the Budget include NZ$10 million over two years for rural connectivity.

This initiative provides funding to repurpose a spectrum band to promote the widespread rural deployment of 5G technology. This will support enhancing connectivity and help to relieve network capacity pressures to enable demand for broadband to be met in rural and urban-fringe communities, the Budget documents [PDF] say.

An initiative addressing Māori interests in radio spectrum will see the government prepare to allocate 5G spectrum for a Māori-led work program, with NZ$5.7 million over two years being put aside for that work.

Under an initiative aimed at enabling digital research through securing core network infrastructure for the research and education sector, the government will give an initial funding lump sum of NZ$10 million, with NZ$11 million further allocated over four years.

This initiative provides additional funding for the Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand (REANNZ), supporting the ongoing operation of the high-performance telecommunications network.

REANNZ is part of a global network that transfers large volumes of digitised research data and underpins Aotearoa New Zealand's ability to participate in global data-intensive research and connect with international partners, the Budget documents explain. It also supports data-intensive services such as GeoNet's 24/7 natural hazards monitoring centre.

NZ$63.9 million over four years has also been allocated for the Emergency Caller Location Information service that enables emergency call-takers to receive automatically generated geographical information about the location of a 111-caller from any mobile phone.

Maintenance of the country's SmartStart and Life Events, which provides a central location for parents and caregivers to access information and support related to pregnancy and early stages of childhood development, has been given NZ$10 million.

NZ$17.9 million operating and NZ$20 million capital funding will also be spent on ensuring that the IT system used to facilitate residential tenancy bond transactions is "stable, secure, and supported".

"The system replacement will deliver much needed service improvements, improve data quality, and support outcomes across the wider residential tenancy regulatory system," the papers state.

"System replacement will not only avoid the risk of system failure or compromise but deliver much needed service delivery improvements and improve the quality and availability of data."

NZ$36 million over four years will also be spent on expanding the existing Business Connect digital platform that enables integrated services for businesses when dealing with local and central government.

It allows businesses to apply for a range of licences, permits, and registrations from different government agencies in one place.

New 3D scanners and advanced data systems for the new Auckland mail processing centre being built by New Zealand Post will receive NZ$8.8 million over four years.

NZ$840,000 will also be used to implement an information-sharing practice, as was a recommendation of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch.

Health will see a NZ$170 million capital investment, and NZ$230 million ongoing, in data and digital infrastructure and capability, including Hira, the national health information platform, that the government said is needed to implement health system reforms and improve health system performance.

New Zealand will also up its number of publicly funded cochlear implants from 86 per year to 166 per year. This is expected to cost NZ$28.3 million over four years.

Meanwhile, the continuing digital access for principals and teachers initiative will receive NZ$12.6 million to continue the supply of digital devices and applications to principals and teachers.

"In turn they use these devices to provide online learning opportunities to ākonga/learners, especially as the sector manages through COVID-19," the papers say. "This funding will aim to achieve as close to 100% uptake as possible for eligible principals and teachers and ease the costs to schools and kura that cannot provide devices through their technology budgets."

The government has also pledged to support small businesses, including in the transition to future ways of working. The Budget will see an investment of NZ$44 million in a digital skills program that will provide digital skills training to up to 60,000 small businesses, in addition to the 20,000 trainees currently in the program; advisory services to assess needs; and create "bespoke" digital business action plans for 30,000 small businesses.

"Small and medium enterprises are at the heart of job creation in New Zealand. Through COVID-19 the government has provided significant support to SMEs, including billions through the Wage Subsidy Scheme, NZ$1.7 billion of low-interest loans through the Small Business Cashflow Scheme, and NZ$50 million in advisory support for businesses across the country," Minister of Finance Grant Robertson said.

"One of the main messages from small business in the wake of COVID-19 was the importance of having the knowledge and tools to compete in a digital world."

Budget 2021 also provides NZ$67 million total funding to deliver a coordinated program and support for agencies to reduce emissions, with the aim of making a number of government organisations carbon neutral by 2025


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