Despite the building tension surrounding the election, the first major debate between party representatives on technology and innovation remained relatively civil - aside from the odd eye roll.

The debate, organised by the Technology Investment Network and held at EY last week, saw Megan Woods from Labour, Steven Joyce from National and Russel Norman from the Greens go head to head.

The debate focused on the policies the parties were planning around technology, innovation and research and development (R&D) grants.

All three agreed the secondary education sector needed more input to increase the number of students studying ICT and programming, with differing views on how to achieve this. The major issue for the night, however, was R&D grants and whether to continue with the current Callaghan Innovation grant scheme, or reintroduce R&D tax credits, as seen under the last Labour government.


Woods and Norman both said that if elected, their governments would reintroduce R&D tax credits, with Woods adding that the Callaghan grant scheme would be halved, rather than removing it altogether. Joyce, however, argued for the status quo.

"I think things are working really well," Joyce said. "The key thing that makes working with Callaghan better, rather than working with the IRD, is that it allows companies to build a relationship with Callaghan."

Disagreement arose when the subject of companies being sold to overseas interests was broached.

Joyce highlighted the positive tendency of companies selling overseas to then reinvest the money in other businesses, creating what he described as the venture capitalists and equity players of the New Zealand economy.

Both Norman and Woods, however, felt it was a major issue that New Zealand needed to address.

"If you lose too many companies too quickly then you start to lose a critical amount of mass," Norman said. "We need to keep a certain number of growing companies here."

Other issues raised by Woods included the cutting of allowances for post-graduate students, funds she said were necessary to allow students to complete further studies, as well as further investment needed in secondary school careers advice.

"What [Labour] would do is actually put some money into careers, in terms of advising young people what options are there," Woods said.

The debate was hosted alongside the announcement of the Technology Investment Network's top revenue growth companies for the year.

About 150 representatives from some of New Zealand's largest and up-and-coming technology firms attended.