Government told to embrace digital technology in post-Covid recovery

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Government infrastructure investment projects should be re-framed from being ‘shovel ready’ to being ‘sensor ready’.

Tower with cell phone antenna system against blue sky.

The Digital Council has recommended the government roll-out large scale 5G and fibre projects throughout the country. Photo: citadelle/123RF

That is one piece of advice flowing from a report by the government’s recently convened Digital Council, chaired by Mitchell Pham, which was set up to guide the country’s transformation to a digital economy.

The report says New Zealand has an advantage as one of the first countries to emerge from the Covid-19 lockdown.

It recommends the government apply a digital lens to all post-Covid recovery policies.

The council said the government should not underestimate the role innovation and entrepreneurship would play in the post-Covid recovery.

“New Zealand’s resounding entrepreneurial nature is one of our major assets, and with the right leadership by government, digital and data-driven innovation can revitalise the sectors hardest hit, such as tourism, hospitality and the primary industries, as well as create new industries and ways of working,” the report stated.

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“When considering longer-term measures to support existing industries beyond the immediate crisis, the government should engage the technology, innovation and entrepreneurial sectors to explore how to both save jobs while creating new roles in new, adjacent industries.”

It recommends the government adopt recommendations of the Digital Inclusion Blueprint released last year, as well as Internet New Zealand’s five-point plan.

Those recommendations address affordability issues, support for people who need it, and investment in telecommunications infrastructure, which gives priority to digital networks.

“Government should consider how it can accelerate the nationwide rollout of resilient telecommunications networks, including the further roll-out of fibre, and a co-ordinated approach to 5G both to provide jobs in the short-term and equitable prosperity for all New Zealanders in the long-term.”

The report also raised concerns about the potential for the government’s contact tracing programme to erode privacy and trust.

“Concerns remain about how easy it would be for the country to accidentally get caught on a slippery slope to mass state surveillance.”

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It said StatsNZ’s Data Ethics Advisory Group had an important role in maintaining trust and confidence in the Covid-19 crisis response.

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