That’s a heck of a statement for anyone to make, let alone someone who has a high public profile, such as minister of the Crown. Having interacted with politicians across all parties, including Clare Curran, for many years this was a wake up call for those of us who ardently urge our perspectives on public figures. It’s worth reading Dr. Berentson-Shaw’s follow up piece as well.
“The Clare Curran story reveals a political culture that makes NZ meaner, smaller”
Clare Curran showed restraint in her interview avoiding criticising and blaming many who should take a look at themselves, including those of us in our sector who are quick to damn and criticise. Myself included. Here’s what we lost.
As an opposition spokesperson Clare Curran spent many years learning about and championing her portfolios. In the digital space she was perhaps the only politician in parliament ever who had such a long induction to our sector and the opportunities it holds for NZ. She championed “openness” from open source software through to open politics. She also led on important topics such as digital equity, open algorithms and in summary she said “Labour believes that New Zealand must aim for ICT to be our second-largest contributor to GDP by 2025”.
An example of her engagement is Multicore World. An annual specialist conference held in Wellington. Multicore World is a small event that attracts some of the world’s top computer scientists to our little city. People who have built the largest, fastest, most powerful computers in the world. From analysing the impurities of floating point mathematics to filtering mountains radio astronomy data the topics appear to be esoteric. Curran attended often as an opposition spokesperson, but it was her ministerial visit that showed her true strength. Conference Director, Nicolas Erdody described her impact as follows:
“Clare always had a strong focus on how technology would benefit the people of New Zealand without making any distinction between experts and novices. She keynoted Multicore World 2018. A good “ministerial speech” was followed up by a spectacular 40 minute Q&A with a full room that made a big impact on our international HPC experts. Having a senior minister engaged, answering questions and seeing a bigger picture was powerful. That session was one of the highlights of Multicore World 2018 and made a lasting impression for everyone involved.”
The digital policies that her Labour led government were largely ones advocated for by NZ digital organisations, including NZRise, NZOSS, NZTech and Internet NZ. But I have since learned that Ministers who seek to implement policies, rather than simply manage a portfolio, face a uphill struggle, especially when there has been a change in government. Inevitably there are powerful forces both in and out of government that will foil and sidetrack change. After all, they have been invested in and appointed by a different regime for years. If you think that’s hard to take from the outside imagine what it must be like as a minister.
Grant Robertson has recently pointed out that in in a crisis situation a month is a week, a week a day and a day an hour. That’s not a Modus Operandi that sits comfortably with the status quo. From what I could see there is little education and support for politicians who suddenly find themselves thrust from the debating chamber into the role of real change instigators in a most peculiar system of responsibilities and accountabilities. Even having a coffee with a friend is suddenly a fraught activity.
Clare Curran fought for her portfolios and worked hard on our behalf. Thank you Clare, you are missed. All the best for the next challenges you decide to take on. We know you will do so in a fulsome and dedicated manner.
Managing Director, Catalyst IT, NZRise Board Member.
This is an opinion piece by Don Christie. Any questions and comments can be directed to [email protected]
Don is one of the founders of Catalyst and has had over 25 years’ experience in IT consulting and implementation. Don is a former President of the NZ Open Source Society and was on the Council of Internet NZ for two years. He was the Co-Chair of NZRise from its inception until June 2019.
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