Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Do our politicians ‘get’ the Internet?

Today on Radio New Zealand National I try to answer the question of whether our politicians really ‘get’ the Internet.

There is a huge amount of change being driven into our society by technology – what we do for a living, how we do it, how we are entertained, and even how we interact with our politicians. And we definitely deserve leaders who comprehend and embrace that change, rather than people who cling to the verities of the industrial age.

Today’s piece was a bit of a light-hearted romp through party web sites and policies. Read on for my speaking notes or listen to the podcast.

Q: Do our politicians really ‘get’ the Internet?

A: As you’d expect, some do and some don’t. For years, none of them did – except Maurice Williamson, and he was ideologically incapable of doing what was required to free the Net in New Zealand from the Telecom monopoly.

Q: Neither were Labour at their first attempt.

A: No, you’re right. Paul Swain couldn’t get the numbers in Cabinet back in 2002 after Theresa Gattung had gone over his head and told the PM that New Zealand couldn’t afford Telecom’s share price to drop. But, second time around, we saw real progress there with the move to force Telecom to separate itself, and with local loop unbundling.

Q: Is better broadband all it takes?

A: Oh no. There are a lot of other things that go toward whether a party ‘gets’ the Internet. Have they got a decent web site? Do they understand the importance of blogs? Are they pressing on regardless with legislation that will damage the Internet?

Q: So, what do the various parties do in this regard?

A: Well, I’m going here with an entirely informal survey. But, first looking at the two main parties – National has a nice clean-looking website with plenty of content, they are obviously using YouTube, they provide you with an easy to way to figure out who your candidate is, and they have a long list of policies.

Q: I thought they didn’t have any?

A: They have a long list. I didn’t go through all them to see if there was anything there…They also have links to a supporters club on Facebook and a pointer to photos of John Key on Flickr, the photo sharing site. I can’t find a blog, although perhaps one’s there. And the site appears to be built using a New Zealand product called “vadmin”. So they are walking the talk – I’d give them 8 out of 10.

Next up – Labour. Again, a good website – video, RSS feeds, and – brilliantly – a Creative Commons licence. Very good. But talk, as they say, is cheap, and labour are let down by cravenly giving in to big company interests over copyright and giving away your rights. It’s a little unfair, perhaps, to ding them and not the other lot – since only they’ve been in power and only they’ve had the opportunity – but it’s still hard to take the Creative Commons commitment seriously. Six and a half. Incidentally, we should be pushing the two big parties to come up with a positions on ACTA – the secret treaty that will give a lot more of your rights away – before the election. When you get door-knocked, ask them for a position on copyright and the Internet.

Q: What about the other parties?

A: There are some gems…let’s see. Act. I had expected more from this party. But the front page of the website is completely given over to a chamber of horrors-style picture of twenty or so people, with their feet cut off by the photographer, on the steps of Parliament. Wishful thinking, I suspect. Nothing else on the page.

Q: So how many does that rate?

A: Between pitiful and abysmal. A half, and that’s being generous. OK, the Maori Party. Quite good, blog-style front page. A lot of content – points off for being in the Dot Com space. I suppose they might argue that Dot NZ is the name of the colonial oppressor, but even so living in the same space as a bunch of US companies is dodgy in my book. Try Dot Org if you can’t stomach Dot NZ. Oh, and the site is written in Joomla, an open source web content management system. Nice use of resources. Five out of ten.

Q: Who else?

A: United Future. Not a lot of content on the front page but plenty of teasers wrapped around the photo of Peter Dunne. There’s clearly a blog, and there’s a few survey boxes as well. Nothing about how the site works or copyright statements, or privacy statements for that matter. A bit pedestrian, frankly. Could do with more work. Four.

Then there’s the Greens. Interesting site – it has a entry page, which I don’t in general like, but there’s enough interest to make it worthwhile. Clean pages and a well written blog hanging off it. And the Greens are one of the few to have released actual policy on copyright and on free software which isn’t just anodyne stuff.

Q: What does it say?

A: Quite a lot – they get the difference between open source and free software, for instance, and they recommend the use of it to cut New Zealand’s massive software bill. Good on them for that. But the point is not the policy but the fact that they have written one and are prepared to defend it. Like the Green’s software policy or not, at least they have one. There’s a message in there I think. And the Greens use YouTube and the other modern Web 2.0 features. They appear to get it – I rate them at eight.

Q: Any others?

A: We couldn’t forget Winston, could we? New Zealand First has a web site, rather uninspired-looking in grey, but it has two big pictures of Winston on the front page. What more could you want? And the man himself has a blog.

Q: Really?

A: Sure does. On the first entry, only a few weeks ago, he inveighs against bloggers in general, so I’m not sure where that leaves him! It’s clear that New Zealand First has heard of the Internet, but it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t regard the Net as relevant. And then there’s Doug Woolerton’s podcast.

Q: Doug Woolerton has done a podcast?

A: He was asked to do an interview for podcast by Wellington man Dave Moskowitz. Dave’s interested in so-called angel investors for software businesses, and he was doing a series on his blog where he interviewed all the parties. NZ First sent Doug Woolerton; Doug was made extremely aware that he was talking into a mike for broadcast on the Net; and this is what he said.

[sound file deleted – check the links]

Q: A bit strong!

A: Quite. You may or may not agree with his sentiments, but the fact that he’s told this is going on the Internet then chooses to express himself like that, it leads to a view that he really doesn’t get it. So, NZ First’s presence on the Internet – I’ll give them two for unintentional humour.


Political parties’ web pages: you be the judge!

ACTGreensLabourMaoriNationalNZ FirstUnited Future

Political bonus – Winston Peters’s blog, and Doug Woolerton’s outburst (9 minutes in, not for the easily offended)

posted by colin at 11:08 am  


  1. Nice summary Colin, for those interested the content management system powering the National party website that Colin mentioned is Vadmin, developed by a Hamilton based company Enlighten Designs. More information can be gained at and

    Comment by Philip Rayner — 28 August 2008 @ 2:29 pm

  2. […] Uncategorized Tags: colin jackson, doug woolerton, investment, national radio, nz, politics Colin Jackson did his show today on National Radio’s Nine to Noon programme, featuring political party […]

    Pingback by NZangels and Doug Woolerton on National Radio « NZ Angels — 28 August 2008 @ 11:56 pm

  3. The Greens platform on IT, among other things, promotes the adoption of free/open source software… It’s worth pointing out that the Green’s website is built on the free/open source Drupal web application framework… Nice to see them showing consistency in addition to a clue. Sadly neither of the major parties seems to have taken the free/open source software message on board… :/

    Comment by Dave Lane — 14 September 2008 @ 12:13 am

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