Hutt South MP Ginny Andersen is the new Digital Economy and Communications Minister following today’s cabinet reshuffle.
She seems smart and capable. Good luck to her.
But overall, the portfolio is getting more and more dismal.
We used to simply call it IT Minister. But as the title’s got bigger, the role’s got smaller.
The portfolio used to be the home of power players from both parties, who did things. Think Paul Swain, David Cunliffe, Steven Joyce and Amy Adams.
But recently, it’s been a place where you’re parked when your career is on the slide (Kris Faafoi) or you’ve been disgraced and demoted (David Clark), advised by a lame-duck Digital Council. In opposition, it’s something to occupy your time after being rolled as leader (Judith Collins).
Andersen’s career, at least, is on an upswing. She broke into Cabinet in today’s reshuffle, albeit ranked 19 out of 20. (The 20th ranked is Barbara Edmonds, who some in the tech industry had been tipping for the role last week. Edmonds - a first-term MP, is even greener than the two-term Andersen, but has a background as a tax lawyer, and I’d been wondering if she would be open to some portfolio mission creep into the territory of Big Tech and profit-shifting. Anyhow, a path not taken).
Andersen is well-regarded, but as second-to-last in the pecking order is not in any position to make big moves.
Why is tech now seen as a junior portfolio?
The Swain to Adams era saw Telecom carved up, and the Ultrafast Broadband rollout.
I think the view among both parties’ leadership is that it’s a “job done” portfolio - when in reality taking advantage of all the digital infrastructure is the tricky part.
There are huge issues, from growing our weightless exports to addressing all the factors that led to the skills shortage to a cybersecurity crisis, terrible R&D levels compared to other OECD countries, social media out of control and the emerging issue of artificial intelligence. It’s stuff that will play a big part in defining our future as a nation - and it deserves to be back on the front bench.