NZ Election 2020: National reveals plan to create at least 100,000 tech jobs

National Party leader Judith Collins.
National Party leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Getty

The National Party plans to create at least 100,000 technology-focused jobs by investing $1.29 billion over the next decade in high-speed internet, fast-tracked visas and partnering with the private sector.

The most expensive part of National's plan is upgrading technology infrastructure - $1 billion over 10 years to expand the rollout of the Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) and Rural Broadband Initiative (RBI) to get 90 percent of Kiwis connected. 

The UFB programme - started by National - has connected more than 1 million Kiwi households and businesses, and uptake is at 58.9 percent, according to an update from Broadcasting and Communications Minister Kris Faafoi on August 5. 

At 30 June, UFB was available to 83 percent of New Zealand's population. The original UFB programme was completed in 2019. There is currently an expansion being rolled out, to be completed by 2022. This will take UFB to 86 percent of the population.

National's billion-dollar investment in tech infrastructure would also include supporting the rollout of 5G, improving cyber-security defences across communication networks, and fast-tracking the removal of mobile black-spots. 

There is no mention of whether National would support Huawei to build New Zealand's 5G network. The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) in 2018 cited risks to national security if Spark went ahead with Huawei building its 5G network. 

GCSB Minister Andrew Little said in July the Government would not rule out using future tech from the Chinese telecommunications company. 

National also wants to attract talent from overseas by creating a fast-track technology skills visa to allow people with technology skills and experience to relocate to New Zealand. 

Anyone completing a full three year Bachelor's degree or higher level qualification in tech-related subject areas, and exceeding a specified grade standard, would get a path to automatic permanent residency upon completion of their qualification.

National would also launch a scholarship to recruit 50 top PhD candidates in technology and science to spend at least six months in New Zealand during their doctorate, to "deepen our networks with leading institutions and the future leaders in global tech".

 "Our tech sector has amazing potential," said National Party leader Judith Collins. "If we attract the right talent and create an environment for growth, it could be bigger than our dairy sector in 10 to 15 years."

The border is currently closed to almost all travellers to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Only a small number of people have been allowed to travel to New Zealand, such as Kiwi citizens and people with a critical purpose to travel.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said in July it is unlikely foreign students will be allowed to enter New Zealand this year. They make up a considerable portion of all university enrolments - 16 percent in 2017 - and pay higher fees.

To deepen home-grown talent, National wants to establish 1000 tertiary scholarships per year targeted at students from low decile schools to undertake science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) degrees.

The current Government intends to keep the first year of university free for students, but is not following through with its promise to make an additional year free. It has also made trades training and apprenticeships free

National would also establish a Minister for Technology, if it wins power in October, who would be responsible for partnering with the private sector and implementing its NZ Tech 2030 Plan. 

There is already a Minister of Research, Science and Innovation, Labour's Megan Woods, who oversees the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology, which manages the Government's research, science and technology investments. 

National says it wants to "send a strong message to people in the sector - both here and overseas - that tech has a champion at the heart of a National Government" by establishing the new ministerial role. 

National also wants to repurpose the $300 million Elevate Fund, set up by the Government to build on the Crown-backed New Zealand Venture Investment Fund (NZVIF) launched in 2002. It diverted $240 million of NZ Super Fund money into a fund that invests in NZ companies. 

The fund under National would be repurposed by creating three targeted technology investment funds of $200 million each, of which the Government will provide $100 million and the private sector the balance.  

"New Zealand needs to grow its way out of this economic crisis, which will only be possible with the hard work, ingenuity and determination of the private sector," Collins said. 

"National's NZ Tech 2030 Plan will diversify our exports, level-up our economic productivity, and generate thousands of high-paying, future-proofed jobs for New Zealanders."