The Bulletin: Critics hammer Immigration NZ’s racial profiling algorithm

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Immigration NZ’s racial profiling algorithm slammed by critics, showdown at Select Committee over Radio NZ meeting, and the Christchurch re-repairs cost gets even bigger.

Immigration NZ has been piloting a data modelling programme to identify groups of overstayers “who are likely to commit harm in the immigration system or to New Zealand.” Immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway fronted on Radio NZ at short notice to explain the programme, and repeatedly denied that it was an example of racial profiling, despite some of the data being based on ethnicity. He had only just heard of the existence of the programme when he went on Morning Report.

So, why exactly is that a problem? One fundamental issue that is concerning some people is that algorithms and data models are not socially neutral, simply because they might appear to be purely mathematical. It’s a point made by researcher Joanna Bryson in this article published last year by the Guardian:

“People expected AI to be unbiased; that’s just wrong. If the underlying data reflects stereotypes, or if you train AI from human culture, you will find these things.”

As well as that, the collection of such data may well be illegal. That’s the view of Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, who has written to the minister to express her concern, reports the NZ Herald. And statistician Thomas Lumley raises concerns that “Immigration NZ… seems to be interested in treating people differently based on things they haven’t done but might do in the future.”

Pasifika people are concerned they may be unfairly targeted. Melino Maka said it was “bringing back the dawn raids,” referencing a particularly ugly era in New Zealand’s immigration policy, reports Radio NZ. The dawn raids were described by Barry Soper in his column this morning as “racial profiling at its worst.” And writing for The Spinoff, Tze Ming Mok was shocked but not surprised at how enthusiastically Immigration NZ were talking about the programme.


Radio New Zealand’s bosses attended a select committee yesterday, to set the record straight over a meeting between minister Clare Curran, and former Head of Content Carol Hirschfeld. It effectively devolved into a sparring match between Labour and National MPs, with each trying to shoehorn the events into a narrative that would better serve their side. For those still following the saga, the best account of the day came from Andrew Geddis on Pundit. As well as all of that, Curran left a voicemail with RNZ’s chair Richard Griffin, the contents of which could be damaging. Stuff reports National MP Melissa Lee has demanded the message be released, so there could still be more to come.


Yesterday, The Bulletin included a story about the cost of re-repairs of botched jobs after the Canterbury earthquakes was up to $170 million dollars. It turns out that figure was far lower than reality. The Press‘s front page today reveals the total cost EQC has spent on fixing homes with botched or inadequate repairs is now up to $270 million, and counting.

In 2016, then-minister Gerry Brownlee estimated the cost of re-repairs would be about $60-$70 million. On Newstalk ZB‘s Canterbury show, National leader Simon Bridges defended Brownlee, saying that the cost had increased was because of continued earthquakes over the years, meaning homeowners had to make new claims. At the time, now-minister Megan Woods said the government were ignoring the scale of the problem, a claim Bridges rejected.


Public funding for large scale irrigation projects is being wound down, reports the NBR. The move is part of the coalition agreement with NZ First and the Greens, and finance minister Grant Robertson said it showed a shift in priorities from the previous government, and that large scale irrigation projects should be economically viable on their own.


Regional development minister Shane Jones’ memory is under scrutiny, after he revealed he forgot all about a briefing from experts against a dodgy West Coast waste to energy scheme. Radio NZ reports that public servants got in touch with them, to contradict Jones’ earlier account, which was that “he’d never received the advice and even if he had it would have made no difference.” When public servants provided an email proving the minister had been fully briefed, Jones said there were “so many things floating around in the square head that I overlooked that one.”


Residents of Lake Hāwea are circulating a petition against a proposed Special Housing Area subdivision, reports Alexandra and Wanaka based paper The News. They’re concerned about the negative effects of having more people and vehicles in the area, and that Hāwea “would lose its rural character” if the plans went ahead.

Meanwhile, a US investor has leveraged a high end housing development near Twizel to get New Zealand residencyStuff reports. Texan businessman Trammell S Crow is not planning to permanently relocate to New Zealand, but gave this remarkable quote to the Dallas News:

“But I have been thinking for a long time where to go if things become difficult in America — not really just for social unrest but because of environmental concerns.”


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Right now on The Spinoff: Urban designer Matthew Prasad gives a detailed assessment of the plans for Kiwibuild housing in Mt Albert. We gave ACT leader David Seymour the chance to tell us why he thought The Spinoff’s tax heroes campaign was so evil and wrong. And an online revolution is coming for Sky TV – Duncan Greive has all the details.


Something big and meaty to read over the weekend: Former Australian senator Scott Ludlum (and as of the dual citizenship scandal, one of those Aussie politicians NZ might actually want to claim) has written about the current risks of nuclear war, and the fallibility of systems designed to keep nuclear powers in check. The essay in Australian magazine The Monthly is deeply confronting, but given how glibly nuclear threats are thrown around, deeply timely as well.

“As recently as March, President Vladimir Putin threatened “global catastrophe” in the event of an attack on Russia. Sometimes these declarations are for domestic effect as much as any perceived international impact: witness the grotesque spectacle of British prime minister Theresa May in mid 2017, castigating Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for his unwillingness to unleash the weapons aboard Trident ballistic missile submarines.”

We in New Zealand might think because of our nuclear free policy, we can avoid this whole mess. But the piece makes clear that if a nuclear war were to occur, there wouldn’t be a square metre of the planet not affected. And for the Peter Thiels and Trammell S Crows of this world – influential people who want a bolt-hole in New Zealand to ride out any storm – perhaps they’d have a better chance of survival if they put their wealth and influence towards something like nuclear disarmament.


In sport, some glorious gold for the cycling team sprinters at the Commonwealth Games. The NZ Herald has coverage of their wild ride to victory, and let’s not forget there were also two silvers for other members of the cycling team last night too. I’m not sure where this all places New Zealand on the only medal table that matters (medals per capita) but we’re definitely behind Bermuda, who have one gold despite having a population of around 65,000.


From our partners, Vector’s new technology engineer Kate Murphy writes about the humble LED, and shines a light on the history and impact little things can make on energy reduction at scale.


That’s it for the The Bulletin. If you liked what you read, and know other people who would find it useful, please forward it on and encourage them to sign up here. Thanks for joining us this morning, and have a great weekend.


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