Speech by Colin MacDonald to the spatial@gov Conference

30 June 2009

LINZ Chief Executive Colin MacDonald spoke at the inaugural spatial@gov Conference in Canberra, Australia on 15 June.

Colin focused on New Zealand's geospatial sector, LINZ's increasing leadership role in geospatial information, and the need for New Zealand and Australia to work together in the geospatial arena.

The conference centred on the importance spatial information has in enhancing the business of government, and the benefits of using 'place' or 'location' as a powerful enabler for policy development, service delivery and internal business processes.

A summary of Colin's speech is provided below. You can also download a copy of the accompanying presentation (PDF 644KB).

Summary of Colin MacDonald’s speech to the spatial@gov conference

15 June 2009, Canberra, Australia

I have been in the role of CE of Land Information New Zealand for nearly 12 months. My presentation today will cover LINZ’s role and then I will comment on the geospatial sector in New Zealand and how issues are shaping LINZ’s future role in the spatial arena.

LINZ takes its Māori name Toitū te Whenua from the proverb Whatungarongaro te tangata toitū te whenua: “people pass on, but land remains”. Land is central to New Zealanders' national identity and to the country's economic growth, and it will exist long after we have gone.

LINZ’S role

In the LINZ Statement of Intent for 2009-2012 there four end outcome areas for the department. They are:

  • certainty of property rights
  • best use of Crown assets
  • federated geospatial information
  • authoritative land information.

The last two outcomes are most relevant for my presentation today and I will come back to them later.

LINZ carries out an extremely wide range of activities. Those activities underpin social and economic activity and public services that benefit New Zealanders every day. Our work supports activities as diverse as buying a house, navigating the seas, and sending emergency services to the right place.

Our purpose is to:

  • maintain and build confidence in property rights in land and geographic information; and
  • encourage land information markets to develop and mature.

I will now go through some of the more specific activities associated with the role of my department.

LINZ maintains the geodetic reference frame for New Zealand.

We have recently researched a proposal to upgrade LINZ’s PositioNZ geodetic stations throughout New Zealand to real time status. Data will be provided to private company service providers for provision of real time, 2 centimetre accurate positioning. An economics report LINZ commissioned states there are significant benefits from such accurate real time positioning, particularly in applications for construction and utility services.

We are responsible for the cadastral survey system.

We authorise and record changes to rights to land.

LINZ is responsible for Landonline – the world’s first integrated electronic survey and land titles register with a survey accurate cadastre.

The survey and land titles information that we saw on previous slides is routinely combined in Landonline. In February this year the final 100% e-lodgement phase came on stream for Landonline which means that now electronic lodgement of property dealings and plans is business as usual practice for solicitors and surveyors in New Zealand.

The annual World Bank “Doing Business” publication uses several indicators to assess how a country’s regulatory framework provides an efficient and effective environment for doing business. One of those indicators is property registration. For the last three years New Zealand has consistently ranked in the top three of over 150 countries for property registration in this World Bank publication. This is a significant external endorsement of the success of Landonline.

We ensure provision of national topographic mapping at 1:50,000 and smaller scales.

A new national 1:50,000 map series will be launched in September this year and fulfill the vision of an automated map serices. The series uses the international “best fit” New Zealand Geodetic Datum 2000. Output will be in print, tiff and geotiff formats and will be compatible with GPS.

Automating the maps means that they can be easily maintained. Updates and corrections, sourced from a range of authoritative agencies, can be obtained readily and applied quickly; and updated maps made available within hours if required.

From launch time all new topographic maps will be available at map retailers, and New Zealand Emergency Services will also operate their 111 systems using electronic versions of the maps.

LINZ is responsible for the provision of authoritative hydrographic information for navigational purposes for a significant area of the South Pacific.

Production has commenced of ENCs (Electronic Navigational Charts), which will be available to commercial and recreational mariners.

The Australian Regional ENC Coordination Centre (AusRENC) is a satellite of the International Centre for ENCs and will be the distribution channel for New Zealand’s ENCs to value-added retailers as they are rolled out.

LINZ managed the definition of New Zealand’s extended continental shelf, which is up to 24 times the land area of New Zealand.

The red and gold boundaries in this slide were submitted to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and approved last year. The gold boundaries are those that had already been agreed with Australia. (To the North West near Howe and Norfolk Islands and to the South West near Macquarie Island).

(Note: the median line boundaries with Fiji and Tonga are still to be finalised).

Geospatial sector in New Zealand

I would now like to turn to points about the geospatial sector in New Zealand.

In the context of a global economic crisis, it is interesting to consider how geospatial information can create value for a country. For people interested in the geospatial sector, and in what role geospatial information can play in creating this future, these are interesting times.

We know that geospatial information has such a crucial role to play in:

  • making sound decisions – decisions that are economically, socially and environmentally sustainable
  • growing productivity – from sustainable development of our resources and industries
  • improving services that deliver better value for money.

However, this knowledge does not always translate into effective action. I will briefly highlight a few areas of strength and a few challenges.

New Zealand has some good achievements in the geospatial arena. For example, we can be proud of our efforts to develop a digital cadastral database and with the development of Landonline.

We are also fortunate in New Zealand to have a national geospatial strategy.

New Zealand Geospatial Strategy - vision

The Geospatial Strategy is an all-of-New Zealand strategy endorsed by government. Its vision is that trusted geospatial information is available, accessible, able to be shared and used to support the:

  • safety and security of New Zealand
  • growth of an inclusive, innovative economy
  • preservation and enhancement of our society, culture and environment.

The Strategy requires strong leadership and as an organisation we will be giving more emphasis to our leadership role.

New Zealand Geospatial Strategy - goals

LINZ’s Statement of Intent for 2009–2012 reflects our focus on leadership. It contains a new end outcome for Federated Geospatial Information. This aligns with the goals of the Geospatial Strategy, which are:

  • Governance: Effective governance arrangements support the management, development and access to our national geospatial information.
  • Interoperability: Geospatial datasets, services and systems owned by different government agencies and local government can be easily combined and re-used for multiple purposes.
  • Access: Government geospatial information and services can be readily discovered, appraised and accessed.

Users of our information need to be able to take the reliability and fitness for purpose of certain kinds of information for granted. In addition a greater range of users are demanding better access to the geospatial data that underpins our products and services. At present it is not always easy for end users to discover or access the underlying data. Under the Authoritative Land Information end outcome we will work on our processes, resources and systems for data collection, regulation, maintenance and provision to enable and encourage greater access to our data. With a better understanding of user requirements it may make sense for LINZ to undertake some additional work at source so that data can be used for a wider range of applications.

The final Strategy goal is:

  • Data: Priority geospatial datasets are captured, preserved and maintained.
New Zealand Geospatial Strategy - governance

Late last year I instituted a review of the governance structure associated with the Geospatial Strategy. As a result, the Geospatial Executives Group has a reduced number of members from the 18 to 20 previously, which was unwieldy. The group is now based on sector representation and focused on strategic direction. Sector members rotate. For example, the CE of the Ministry for the Environment takes over from the CE of the Conservation Department after two years as the environmental sector representative.

I am Chair of the Group, and other members include the CEs of Conservation, Statistics, Fire Service, Research, Science and Technology, and Auckland Regional Council, as well as the Government Chief Information Officer and the Vice Chief of the Defence Force.

A Geospatial Steering Committee is being formed in place of the existing Geospatial Advisory Committee. This change will also include a reduced number of committee members. The committee will provide collective leadership to develop, steer and evaluate the Strategy work programme.

A new position has also been advertised to head the New Zealand Geospatial Office. This Geospatial Custodian:

  • is the working champion of the Geospatial Strategy and will head the Geospatial Office
  • is the day-to-day business owner of the Strategy, responsible for its management, maintenance and improvement within approved scope, timescales and budget
  • ensures that the geospatial industry and regional and local government are kept well informed and engage with the Strategy where appropriate.
Strategy work programme

The focus of the governance will be to build on the existing projects in the Geospatial Strategy work programme.

These include a project on Standards - which have an integral part to play in making data more easily accessible. LINZ has led work on defining government’s role in the coordination of geospatial data standards which will form the basis of a report to the Geospatial Executives’ Group.

Also, LINZ has (along with several other agencies) commissioned a report estimating the value of spatial information to the New Zealand economy. The report is being prepared by ACIL Tasman (who undertook a similar study in Australia), SKM (from Wellington) and Ecology Associates (from Auckland).

Final results are due at the end of the month however preliminary results indicate that spatial information adds at least $1 billion a year to New Zealand’s economy through productivity improvements. The quantifiable historical measure is at least 0.5% of Real GDP which is similar to the Australian study.

In addition, by investing in making geospatial data more accessible and reducing access charges, the potential exists to boost the economy by an extra $500 million a year. These figures are based on fairly conservative estimates.

As well as data access, which has been mentioned before, key barriers to spatial information having a greater impact are leadership and awareness of technology.

Challenges faced by the sector

So we are focused on making sure that government’s attention is placed on removing the key barriers. I am going to mention three focus areas briefly - these are:

Leadership & a culture of cooperation

Leadership needs to occur at multiple levels across central and local government, academia and industry. A culture of cooperation is a crucial element of success in the geospatial sector. We still need to see much greater cooperation between central government, territory authorities, industry and academia. It is very positive to see the Spatial Industry Business Association establishing in New Zealand. Having a coordinated industry voice to work with central and local government and the wider business community is important. It is also important we give emphasis to the opportunities for regional cooperation, via ANZLIC for example. We have a growing interest in the possible synergies between New Zealand and Australia in the area of spatial research and innovation. LINZ is investigating how we might partner with the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information. Linked to this is the issue of awareness.


Those close to the geospatial sector know that geospatial information can help with decision making and productivity. We know that better and more open geospatial data enables better decision making, creates opportunities for the private sector to add value, and can lead to better services. However, we still have opportunity to build understanding, at a leadership level, of the benefits and the importance of geospatial information. We need to get our key messages and value propositions clear and to deliver them effectively – effectively an ‘elevator pitch’.


Skill building and education is an important area of focus for New Zealand and – as I understand it – for Australia as well. There is growing interest in examining the current spatial curriculum to see if it meets the needs of employers.

In New Zealand there is an extramural Postgraduate Diploma in GIS option available through Massey University. Starting in 2010, Auckland University will be offering a badged Postgraduate Diploma in Geographic Information Science. In addition, the Tertiary Education Commission is providing some funding to investigate a collaborative option through 4 universities (Auckland, Victoria, Canterbury and Otago) for a Masters Degree in Geographic Information Science.

A GIS Education Web-Portal Group is being formed aimed at making GIS widely accessible to all schools in New Zealand. Involvement will include school teachers, universities, government agencies, industry and professional industry bodies such as the Spatial Sciences Institute. So there are some positive signs in the education sector.

One interesting thing about these challenges is that they are in the main not technical challenges. Building leadership and a culture of cooperation, awareness and addressing capability issues is more about how we relate to each other and work together than it is about technology and standards.

One of the most valuable things we can do is to work closely with other players in the sector to ensure that nationally, we have the focus on the right areas. We can then look to gain further momentum to make sure the value of geospatial can be maximised.

In this context, I see opportunities for us to foster better links between the Australian and New Zealand geospatial communities.

We don’t want to see wheels being re-invented either side of the Tasman.

The global economic environment means we will need to be smarter about how we create value for money for our citizens, and how we reach international markets.

We see our participation in the various international initiatives as an opportunity to foster this cooperation.

I would welcome your thoughts and suggestions about this.

Thanks again for inviting me along. I wish you all the best for a successful and stimulating conference.

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