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Has New Zealand's smiling assassin delivered?

One year into its tenure, how has the new New Zealand Government performed on issues of technology and telecommunications?
Written by Darren Greenwood, Contributor

Darren Greenwood
(Credit: Darren Greenwood)

A year ago last weekend was the Fall of Helengrad. The Red Dragon was slayed and soon sent packing to New York where she now works for the United Nations.

A happy, smiling man, dubbed the "smiling assassin", is now in charge, loved by the masses, with poll ratings like those enjoyed by Chairman Rudd at his best.

But while John Key bestrides New Zealand like a colossus, as Helen Clark did in her day, how have Key and his government performed on delivering and managing communications and information technology?

While even his own ministers might wonder what he actually does, and people might say Key's biggest achievement was appearing on Letterman, a YouTube hit, our PM is certainly delivering on broadband.

His trusty sidekick Steven Joyce, a businessman from the radio industry, is heading the charge, with a NZ$1.5 billion initiative Key developed in opposition, a policy Key preferred to keep rather than the abandoned tax cuts that formed the centrepiece of his election campaign.

Now, the mainstream media has been positively reviewing the performance of Key and his ministers, including that of ICT Minister Steven Joyce, rating Joyce among the best, especially for a newcomer.

I gulp when I hear Andrew Bolt say Kevin Rudd and Stephen Conroy didn't prepare a business plan for your AU$43 billion NBN and that it lacks cost-benefit analysis.

There again, I've lived in Australia. I know you have cash to spare. It pays more to be China's quarry than it does to be its farm. And your dollar goes so much further than our Pacific Peso. We are just your poor Kiwi cousins.

However, it appears the New Zealand Government has done its reports and prepared its business case on our own broadband, unless, of course, our media forgot to ask. But the days of leaving it to the private sector are over, as Key and Joyce take a pragmatic "whatever works" line. Joyce admits there will be government involvement, with it ready to step in should private operators not jump on board.

While there might be the odd delay, such pragmatism is blunting any opposition. Indeed, every announcement on the broadband program seems to be widely welcomed, with just the odd complaints from telcos and the opposition Labour Party.

People might say Key's biggest achievement was appearing on Letterman, a YouTube hit, [but] our PM is certainly delivering on broadband.

But the telcos are keen to work with government, not many listen to New Zealand Labour nowadays, and technology is not an issue with a great political divide. It is something the country seems united on.

I recall the National-aligned David Farrar of Kiwiblog giving much praise to Labour and its IT Minister David Cunliffe on policy such as Labour's unbundling of Telecom New Zealand. Now, Joyce has announced his targets, how his roll-outs will work, along with the man who will head the Crown Fibre Investment company which will deliver the broadband package.

There will, of course, be more changes and developments along the way, such as the consideration of analog TV spectrum announced last week. I am sure there will be additions to the $300 million rural broadband policy to satisfy the wishes of farmers and that of TUANZ.

Like I say, we are China's farm and those cockies in the wopwops actually run multimillion-dollar businesses. The dairy company Fonterra is our biggest exporter and the price of milk solids is of major economic significance!

Just last month I was in the rural Central Hawkes Bay and one IT reseller was telling me how these agribusinesses need broadband to run their financials, plan their stocking, etc, etc, and how government must do more.

Of course, there are limitations to what government can do. There are fears government activity can undermine what the private sector can do, as outlined by TelstraClear opposing broadband plans by the Christchurch City Council. But New Zealand under Key and Joyce seem to date to be successfully negotiating this tightrope, branded "Labour-lite" by some and accused of having "a secret right-wing privatisation agenda" by others.

Elsewhere, on the tech scene, we have seen plans to abandon the Telecom Service Obligation, a $70 million levy to help Telecom NZ supply telephony services to rural areas, replacing it with a more open system to subsidise a greater number of suppliers to the rural sector.

We also saw, after a concerted campaign by bloggers and others, National dropping the controversial Section 92A Copyright Act, developed by Labour, though some new Bill is being considered.

But perhaps the most significant technological policy of the past year stems from Steven Joyce's other role as transport inister. From 1 November, he banned the use of handheld mobile phones in cars! Not only something to impact on how Kiwis do business but something sure to dent telco incomes as this blogger noted!

Joyce did it to public and industry acclaim, amazing considering an interventionist Labour government had abandoned similar policies as "Nanny State". Now, what was that about National being Labour-lite!!!

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