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(Photo: RNZ)
(Photo: RNZ)

The BulletinAugust 13, 2019

The Bulletin: Huawei off down the highway?

(Photo: RNZ)
(Photo: RNZ)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Huawei’s stern letter to ministers gets leaked, Fonterra announces dire financial projections, and movement inches forward on genetic engineering changes.

Chinese technology giant Huawei has threatened to leave the NZ market, if they’re not allowed to participate in the 5G rollout. It came in a letter to ministers Andrew Little and Kris Faafoi, which was then leaked to Newstalk ZB. The reasons they outlined were very simple – not being part of the 5G rollout was costing them revenue, which is needed to continue operations in the New Zealand market. And they decried the “country of origin” singling out that was taking place – in other words – they’re only being blocked because they’re from China.

In a subsequent interview with Newstalk ZB, Huawei NZ deputy managing director Andrew Bowater denied it was a threat. Rather he was just “setting out the reality of the situation.” But while we cannot be sure who leaked the letter and why, it represents the latest escalation in a long term lobbying campaign from Huawei against being blocked from being part of 5G. Remember the ads they rolled out here (and roll out overseas in similar situations) about how “5g without Huawei was like rugby without New Zealand” – that was just one move among many to try and bring the government and public onside. But it also contradicts other public statements, reported on by BusinessDesk, that Huawei was committed to staying in NZ regardless of 5G.

Huawei absolutely have a point about their “country of origin” complaint. Their letter is another attempt to cast themselves as simply a normal company, looking for normal contracts. But leaving aside the unsubstantiated accusations that they’re a front for Chinese spies, it isn’t particularly normal for a company to be blacklisted by NZ’s security allies, like Huawei has been by the USA. Yes, that came about because of wider geopolitical concerns, but that’s sort of the point – it shows that a bigger picture exists than just an overseas company looking for an infrastructure contract.

In response, GCSB minister Andrew Little fired back a shot of his own, reports Radio NZ this morning. Little said he had referred the letter back to his officials, and warned Huawei that it wasn’t their place to “try to leverage their commercial interest and commercial advantage by heavying the government.” It also leaves Spark, who organised the proposal to partner with Huawei on the 5G rollout in a delicate position, as Vodafone have been able to push ahead with their version of 5G in the interim.

Fonterra has confirmed that the financial projections are bad, and what’s more they’re much worse than last year’s results. Fonterra likely won’t pay a dividend to farmer shareholders this year, and they’re expecting losses up to $675 million. Writing on The Spinoff, business editor Maria Slade has unpicked where things are going wrong overseas, and how this might flow through to the wider economy back here. It’s not the final verdict, that will come in September. And it’s not a huge surprise, but it will hurt the industry.

Some more movement has taken place towards a change in genetic engineering policy. Politik has a rundown of what has been announced and the implications – the top line is that the Royal Society has convened a panel to study the regulatory environment around genetic technologies. They concluded that more nuance in the stance is needed. Environment minister David Parker released a cautious statement in response, though did note “considerable benefits” were possible from gene editing.

Labour has set up an appeals process for those allegedly sexually assaulted, bullied or harassed by a parliamentary staffer, reports Newshub. The women who made the complaints say the investigation process was botched, and four people have subsequently resigned from the party in disgust. Party president Nigel Haworth says the appeal will be conducted by someone independent of the party.

Auckland mayoral candidate John Palino has withdrawn from the race, and will back John Tamihere, reports Stuff. He will instead stand against deputy mayor Bill Cashmore in the Franklin ward. In case you missed it, I interviewed John Palino earlier in the year, and reading it back, it doesn’t seem like the biggest shock that he would pull out of a race he was already largely squeezed out of.

An important piece of TV journalism to highlight. Sunday reporter Jehan Casinader has gone in depth with social workers, who are struggling in the wake of massive protests against Oranga Tamariki taking children. For those social workers, the stress and pressure is immense, the job nightmarishly difficult, and they say they don’t want to take kids off families – it’s a last resort. The story doesn’t set out to disprove what those speaking out are saying, but it brings out another important element.

A new targeted employment programme has been announced, aimed at cross-government cooperation, reports the NZ Herald. There will be no fewer than six ministers overseeing it, five from Labour and Tracey Martin from NZ First. The aim will be to address skills training with young people initially, before plans are rolled out for five other demographic groups with higher unemployment rates.

It’s well known that Māori often fare worse in the health system than everyone else. But exactly how and why is less well known, and writing for Radio NZ, journalist Aaron Smale has done an excellent job in explaining that. One important point out of it – it’s obvious that racism exists in the system – but it’s not necessarily the case that the disparities are because of racist individuals, rather it’s more a general system of combined practices and disadvantages.

This is a great story about a little known bird, with advocates going to court on its behalf. Newsroom’s Farah Hancock has looked into the case of the Fairy Tern, of which there are mere dozens left, and their eating preferences for small, living fish. But a stream that they loved to feed at has had an artificial dam put in, where it runs through a golf course. We’ll hear more about the case when it is heard in October.

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Why is Disney on ice? Why do those fish have two faces? How is a mouse friends with all these different animals?

Right now on The Spinoff: Kathy Errington writes about internet freedom in the wake of right wing terrorist massacres. Jihee Junn has interviewed the founder of Slack, who has some good messages for the office penguins like myself who find themselves bound to it all day. Charles Anderson writes about the people trying to remove bias from AI. I take some of the takeaways from the latest edition of the NBR Rich List. And Tara Ward reviews the visual abomination of Disney on Ice.

I wouldn’t normally recommend a podcast in this section. But a recent episode of This American Life, about ignorance, lies and whether they can have a positive purpose, was just too good not to share. The stories are all told with great humanity, and if you’re going to listen to it, I’d advise you to set aside some time.
Also, from yesterday’s feature about Epstein conspiracies: The excerpt I used quoted one Mike Cernovich, without really explaining who he is. So for the record, he’s a right wing online personality with extreme and virulent views on race and feminism. To set the mind of the correspondent who got in touch at ease, the excerpt was in no way an endorsement of any of Cernovich’s views.

Taking a knee has persisted as a protest against racial injustice among US athletes. Deadspin has reported on a fencer and a hammer thrower at the recent Pan-American games, who now might face consequences for their podium protest. But I brought the subject up because I wanted to share a piece from 2018. It’s on NBC News, and it’s an incredible journey through the politics of a high school football team deliberating on whether to take a knee.

From our partners: With several high profile government objectives in the spotlight, a single ministry could drive better outcomes across them all. Robyn Holdaway, senior policy advisor at Vector, makes the case for a Ministry for Energy.

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