New Zealand has a chance to be a world leader in ultra fast technology if National becomes the government and invests in fibre broadband, says National party leader John Key.
Speaking at the CIO Conference in Auckland on Tuesday, Key said that globalisation and the brain drain were threatening the local economy.
“We lost 81,000 people last year, 45,000 to Australia. We had the highest brain drain per capita of any country in the OECD for tertiary qualified people.”
But the internet could help to turn this situation around, said Key.
“I think the internet is the best catalyst we have for driving the economy", he said.
"Three areas where New Zealand has a comparative advantage are food production, tourism and in service-based industries where companies offer a niche service that can be globally connected to the world.”
Key says National wants to invest more than $1 billion into rolling out fibre to 75% of homes throughout New Zealand, as well as business districts and schools.
“If we get it right, you’re going to see businesses able to locate themselves in New Zealand", he said.
"Modern technology is changing the landscape and we need to understand that.
You’re building a framework for applications that haven’t even been built yet but can transform New Zealand.”
Key said he understood why Telecom, Telstraclear or Vector wouldn’t necessarily roll out fibre to the home.
“Their motivation is: ‘How do I invest enough money into fibre when I don’t know what the applications are?’”
But the government has a very different set of objectives, said Key.
“Our objectives are how we tick across the whole economy and get New Zealand moving up the OECD ranking. Labour productivity has halved in New Zealand in the last seven years.
But New Zealand still works the second longest hours in the OECD behind Iceland.”
He said National still wants to invest in fibre broadband despite a recent Treasury report which did not support state investment in this area.
“The Treasury came back and said we don’t support investment in fibre. But the end of the report said ‘we don’t think you should do it, but if you don’t do it you’ll stay at spot 25 [on the OECD].’”
Key said there would be “no backing away” from fibre to the home.
“After the election we’re going to sit down with all the relevant players and hear their ideas. We'll be keeping a fairly open mind provided it meets the objectives we want. It has to be open access with no massive overbuild.”
Despite the economic downturn Key said he was optimistic about the future.
“I personally believe we are going to experience the largest spate of economic growth over the next 25 years and the global economy is going to double. The growth is going to come out of Asia, particularly China and India. They will industrialise and create specialised jobs which could attract New Zealand workers.”
He added that there is much more investment needed in IT by the government.
“We have to embrace that technology and if we are going to be the government we are going to embark on a programme of investing heavily in technology."
Technology investment will help transform New Zealand and make it a great place to live,” Key said.