Minister trivialising disaster potential says Y2K specialist

The Minister for Information Technology, Maurice Williamson, is trivialising Y2K's potential for disaster, according to a leading Auckland IT lawyer. 'It would be nice if Maurice actually acknowledged that his lack of intervention had a part to play in where things are at the moment,' says Craig Horrocks, a partner with Clendon Feeney.

The Minister for Information Technology, Maurice Williamson, is trivialising Y2K's potential for disaster, according to a leading Auckland IT lawyer.

"It would be nice if Maurice actually acknowledged that his lack of intervention had a part to play in where things are at the moment," says Craig Horrocks, a partner with Clendon Feeney.

"He's talking about printing a few pamphlets and I feel that was trivialising the issue. I was pretty unimpressed."

Horrocks also believes the government has the wrong idea about tax and Y2K, describing Williamson's arguments as a "persistent repeating of this total fiction".

"There are three arguments put forward for not changing the tax treatment." The first is that businesses already have a "strong commercial incentive" to fix their Y2K problems. "That has nothing to do with whether it's capital or income whatsoever."

The second argument is that those organisations most at risk, government agencies and the like, would not benefit from tax incentives, and therefore nobody should have that incentive. "That is simply an overt acknowledgement that they think we can't afford to treat this fairly."

But it is for the last argument that Horrocks saves most of his venom.

"The third one is that giving businesses a tax advantage now would be unfair on those that have already taken action." Horrocks says that is simply rubbish and that the minister's argument, that companies would claim every IT purchase as being for Y2K, is "facile".

Horrocks believes there is nothing new in the report for anyone who has been following the issue, although it was "nicely worded".

According to Horrocks, people are looking for "a strong assertion" from government that issues like public safety are well covered.

Ross Stewart, of Y2K specialists Wilson White, describes the report as good but soft. "We've been pushing the idea of review teams for some time now." Having only one team to look at all government departments is something Stewart would question.

"They talk about one team, and then only to look at the areas they perceive to be in trouble. Of the 460 they surveyed, how will they decide which is in trouble?" Stewart says even if they focus on only 50 sites, there are not enough senior IT specialists in government to do that in time. "Even if they come to people like us in the industry."

Stewart believes these teams must be independent and should also be available to the private sector. "These teams need to be seen to be independent so that people looking at their reports can say: 'We now know Social Welfare, or whoever, are on the right track'."

The chief executive of the New Zealand Computer Society, Howard Woolston, says he believes the Task Force has done a good job in its research and recommendations.

Woolston, who wrote what is described as the first "New Zealand-oriented book" on Y2K, New Zealand Time Bomb 2000 — The Millennium Bug, was "somewhat dubious" about whether the Task Force could gain a true understanding of the problem and of the different organisations' reactions to it, but he says they've done an admirable job.

"With the right level of ongoing attention and proactive activity, we may still be able to avoid any massive disaster before or after the turn of the century."

United leader Peter Dunne is unimpressed with the government's response, describing it as both "inadequate and dangerous". "I am stunned it has failed to pick up the three most critical recommendations relating to special legislation, tax deductibility and a public awareness campaign."

Dunne is also less than happy with the appointment of Maurice Williamson as the minister in charge of Y2K. "[It] is sending a clear signal it approves of his inaction to date and does not consider any real changes of emphasis are necessary." Dunne would like to see Prime Minister Jenny Shipley take "personal charge of the issue", in a manner similar to Tony Blair in the UK.

Labour's IT spokesperson, Marian Hobbs, is also happy with the report, but angry at the government's response. "The report is a good report, but I'm cross that the government is not prepared to look at the good Samaritan legislation." Hobbs believes that the arguments against enacting the legislation are less relevant here.

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