Tuesday, 16 December 2014

17 December 2014

We are in that slide towards the Festive Season where everyone suddenly becomes nice to each other, where the year’s problems no longer seem as grim or pressing, and where we start to think about our plans and hopes for next year. Christmas always seems to usher in a brief period of optimism, which is usually dashed once we return to work.

This year, there seems to be a sense that the woes of the Global Financial Crisis are now well and truly behind us and that there is more hope of some prosperity gains in the future. But how sustainable are those? Some of the international signs are not as encouraging as they might first appear, as a quick survey of a few other economies shows.

In Ireland, similar in size and type to New Zealand, but one more savagely ravaged by the GFC, growth is forecast to lift to about 3.5% this year. But that improvement has hardly led to dancing in the streets. The government is facing a bitter battle over its water pricing plan, and President Michael D. Higgins recently told a Chinese audience that Ireland’s modern economic history has been “poverty, illusory affluence, and poverty.”

In Britain, where growth is hovering around 3%, Prime Minister David Cameron, facing an uncertain election in May and the rise of myopic xenophobia in the form of UKIP, is arguably even more despondent, pointing to “red warning lights flashing on the dashboard of the global economy”. In the United States, despite his foreign policy failures and racial discord at home, President Obama appears more optimistic although still rather cautious, commenting that with growth at 3.9% the US is “primed for steady, more sustained economic growth.” In Australia, the Abbott government’s recovery hopes have been knocked by the Budget deficit blowing out to more than $40 billion. And in the “rockstar” (a term we do not hear any more) New Zealand economy the prospect of a Budget surplus seems to have receded, and Mr English restrains himself to saying our growth rate (similar to the US) means that we are “on track for solid growth.”

Sadly, all of this means we are not out of the economic woods yet and that prudent fiscal management and restraint will remain the order of the day for some time to come. Magic bullets will again be in short supply under the Christmas tree, but in comparative terms, the performance of the New Zealand economy does give cause for a little more optimism next year, as Mr English’s comments appear to imply. So, there is scope for some cheer over the Christmas barbies after all, even if economic Nirvana is still a little while off.

On that warily optimistic note, Dunne Speaks takes its leave for 2014. I will be back in 2015 after a few weeks break. In the meantime, my best wishes to all of you for a peaceful and happy Christmas with those that are nearest and dearest to you, and my hope that 2015 will enable you to achieve your hopes and dreams. Merry Christmas!        

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

4 December 2014

The relationship between politicians and the media has been the subject of a lot of recent speculation. Often symbiotic, occasionally incestuous, it is always a good topic for rumour and gossip. Perhaps the real extent to which politicians are in the media thrall will be shown next week when Parliament wraps up its business for the year, conveniently just in time to enable politicians to attend the annual Press Gallery Christmas Party. (Has Whaleoil been invited?)

For the first time in many years I will not be there. Instead, I will be at an information-sharing exercise of another hue – the first meeting of the D5 in London. Now, while most will know about the G20 and will have followed its recent meeting in Brisbane, probably few (if any) will have heard of the D5.

The D5 is a grouping of five nations (no, not Five Eyes!) – Britain, New Zealand, Korea, Estonia and Israel – considered amongst the most advanced in the provision of on-line government services. Its establishment is a British Government initiative, and next week will be the first time the five nations have met together. New Zealand is well placed to play its part in this grouping – it is already government policy here to be achieving 70% of New Zealanders’ most common interactions with government on-line by 2017, and we are keen to both share our experiences and learn from others.     

According to the United Nations E-Government Survey released in July 2014, New Zealand already shows “an exemplary commitment to the provision of transactional services” and is ranked 9th in the world, up significantly from just a couple of years ago. We are especially well regarded for the work we have done on cloud computing and the use of the creative commons licence for open data.

All of this, of course, will excite the geeks – who know what it means – but it has little immediate resonance with the average citizen. And that is the challenge of digital transformation. It cannot just be about system upgrades, but it has to demonstrate a positive, specific and noticeable benefit to the individual to be sustainable. One such demonstration in the New Zealand context is that we have just renewed the 300,000th passport on-line. That percentage of on-line renewals is rising steadily, with the time involved dropping dramatically to just 2-3 days.

The government’s Better Public Services strategy is about achieving similar types of results across the board. The establishment of the D5 provides an opportunity for countries of like mind to share experiences and learn from each other. It promises to become an extremely valuable forum.

Information sharing of a different type is the stock-in trade of the Press Gallery Christmas Party, which is why I regret not being there to hear all the latest passing gossip. But the work of the D5 is likely to be more enduring, lasting well beyond the next newspaper headline, or television news bulletin, and therefore of far more benefit to our citizens.