Cabinet has signed off an "e-government vision" that will see a dedicated unit established within the State Services Commission to guide the public sector's progress online.
The detail of the vision was announced yesterday by State Services minister Trevor Mallard.
Although an accompanying vision paper released by Mallard bears some resemblance to the E-Government Vision Statement released by former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley before last year's election - it was probably largely written by the same officials - it is also flavoured with ideas from the 'Labour Online' e-commerce strategy paper released by Paul Swain last year.
Although Swain's "single window" catchphrase does not appear in the vision paper, it emphasises the need for government's online efforts to be co-ordinated and for compliance and access to government services to be made easier by co-operation between agencies.
It also promises that the public will be able to conduct their financial dealings with government electronically, and to "complete and send all government forms from one place on the government’s Internet site."
Apparently anticipating one of the likely objections to agencies working together and sharing information, the government has also promised to "review, and strengthen where necessary, all legislation designed to protect peoples’ privacy" and "provide safeguards around the sharing of people's personal information among government agencies."
The government's vision differs from National's on the issue of access to Internet technologies.
The National policy paper declared (under the heading 'No computer? So what!') that any one of the 30% yet to get a home computer by 2005 would be able to "take a walk down town to the library, postal service or local cyber-café, and use theirs."
The Labour-Alliance government is planning to maintain conventional means of access to government "for those people who need them" and ensure community access to the Internet for those who need it, along educational and public information programmes on using the new technologies.
Although Mallard made the announcement yesterday in his State Services role, he is also currently standing in for Swain on the Communications, Commerce and IT portfolios while Swain undergoes a second bout of surgery on the bowel problem that rendered him gravely ill shortly after the election.
Mallard said the e-government vision was "to use information and communications technologies to provide better government services and information electronically, and to build a closer relationship between government and citizen.
"It is an important part of the future of democracy. We need a service that’s at least as good at service and information delivery as the private sector – if not better."
Mallard said the new SSC unit's main task will be to develop "the overarching e-government strategy. That strategy will include common system and data management policies, standards and guidelines.
"What we want is a living strategy – one which we can adjust to meet the changing environment.
"The new unit will also perform the important role of facilitating the uptake by government agencies of the e-government vision and strategy. We expect to see a new culture where agencies will be required to work together to achieve their e-government goals. Nobody will be exempt from this.
"To help this succeed, an advisory board will be set up working to the State Services Commissioner. It will represent the views of government agencies, local government, communities and the private sector.
"E-government offers some fantastic opportunities. In the end we hope it will give us a more transparent system where people can watch and participate in democracy - that can only be good for New Zealand."