‘As a government we are not content with the status quo.’
– Minister Woods at the NZ Innovation Debate
The inaugural debate about the importance of innovation in moving New Zealand forward, was hosted by CHQ with spokespeople from the leading political parties.
The Minister of everything, Hon Dr Megan Woods, attended alongside Parmjeet Parmar MP (National Party), Mathew Pottinger (TOP), Grae O’Sullivan (Act Party) and words from Gareth Hughes (Green Party) who was stuck in Dunedin thanks to fog at the airport.
Innovation is interpreted differently by different people, and politicians are no exception. Some top of mind issues included support for startups, growth in biotech, genetic engineering, and public sector innovation leadership.
Public Sector Innovation was discussed, with Minister Woods calling out Procurement Rules as the most powerful tools for the government to support local businesses. While Mathew Pottinger stated ‘we need less ministerial interference and better evaluation to know what really works, being able to measure it and evaluate whether the innovation has been successful.’
Parmjeet Parmar highlighted that we ‘don’t have an [innovation] strategy from the current government, which would clarify the vision we have as a country for where the investment should go.’ Although National did not offer a strategy themselves, Parmar assured the audience that there was one in the works.
Minister Woods said that ‘5-year transformation projects have the kiss of death. It’s about breaking projects down into smaller chunks of work’ and that we ‘need a cross government view of how [public sector innovation] is tracking.’
To no one’s surprise panelists discussed the impact of Covid. Minister Woods said ‘The innovation and tech sector is going to be one of the superstars for how we bounce back’ [from Covid]. She acknowledged that access to capital is now harder as a result of Covid, but said ‘we’re determined to not see the collapse in R&D expenditure, like we did during the GFC. This is why we’ve got the $150m R&D loan scheme.’
Parties shared their key policy goals; be it calling for a ‘small is beautiful’ public sector with smaller projects, less costs and fewer services, by Grae O’Sullivan from Act Party saying ‘government is bad at picking winners in the long term, that belongs with the private sector.’
Or Mathew Pottinger leading with their $250 a week UBI policy, which will help people ‘cope better with inconsistent income streams and create a runway to start a business. It’s a safety net for you to take risks.’ TOP said we need to make NZ world class in ‘digital, high tech niche manufacturing (particularly medical), and adding value to our primary products while reducing the environmental impact.’
While Parmjeet Parmar emphasised the role of R&D stimulating science innovation – ‘From R&D to startups, we need to support the whole innovation cycle.’ She highlighted the need to ensure the capability of NZ scientists is retained.
Gareth Hughes said ‘NZ has huge potential to develop its brand as an innovator,’ closing with the statement ‘supporting startups and greater investment in R&D, will be key in rebuilding a smarter, greener, richer economy.’
With the resurgence of COVID-19 in New Zealand and subsequent delay of the election, the need for innovation has only become more pertinent. What we can hope for now, are the policies to match.