Justice and intelligence service minister Andrew Little (Getty Images)
Justice and intelligence service minister Andrew Little (Getty Images)

The BulletinOctober 14, 2020

The Bulletin: NZ government adds voice in global encryption fight

Justice and intelligence service minister Andrew Little (Getty Images)
Justice and intelligence service minister Andrew Little (Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: NZ government adds voice in global encryption fight, a whole bunch of election stuff happens, and more than half the country believes house prices must fall.

Should governments be able to access the encrypted data held by technology companies? That is being debated after New Zealand joined other Five Eyes partners in calling on tech companies to give up access. Radio NZ had a report on the call – in it, justice minister (and intelligence service minister) Andrew Little said that it wasn’t necessarily about giving governments “inherent right of access”, but rather it was a question of companies giving up access provided a proper and lawful warrant was provided for it. Little specifically cited the risk of child predators as an example of criminality that encryption protected.

This is all playing out in a global context, particularly here, because the New Zealand government has little power alone to force the hands of transnational companies. The Verge notes that the US Justice department “has a long history of anti-encryption advocacy”. It also notes that similar calls have taken place before, but there appears to be more weight behind it all this time – a highly technical but useful bit of analysis from The Daily Swig suggests that now commercial pressure can be brought to bear on non-compliant tech companies. That piece also foregrounded some of the legitimate arguments in favour of end to end encryption as being a necessary tool for protecting both commerce and legitimate privacy rights.

On that point, some have spoken out in New Zealand. Radio NZ carried comments from Council of Civil Liberties chair Thomas Beagle, who described the call as “contradictory and dangerous”, and that while New Zealand’s government may be relatively trustworthy when it comes to handling sensitive information, that isn’t at all true of others. The counterargument was put in this Stuff editorial, which said that the government’s request was reasonable and necessary. “By urging social media companies to address concerns about encryption that precludes any legal access, the governments are not urging the companies to dramatically expose all their users’ secrets. They are urging the companies to act as good citizens.”

The Labour Party released their manifesto yesterday, giving an outline of the programme of the (probable) next government. Our live updates covered it off – Covid-19 dominates the 30-page document, both in terms of the health and economic response. There are also a lot of pictures of the PM, which together pretty much sums up Labour’s national-level election campaign. You can read it in full here.

Meanwhile, Winston Peters had a good day on the campaign trail in Tauranga yesterday, the electorate he used to represent. The NZ Herald has footage of him sending a heckler on his way, who had questioned whether or not Covid-19 really was a virus, much to the delight of the audience. Peters has also been heavily pitching his message to seniors, telling his particular constituency that he’s the only one who can keep the Greens out of government. Meanwhile, Stuff’s Henry Cooke wrote about Peters going back to Tauranga, where his political career really took off, and about how this may end up being something of a farewell tour.

And for the major parties, there are sharply contrasting fortunes. Justin Giovannetti wrote about the spectacle of seeing Jacinda Ardern absolutely pack out a hall at Victoria University, while Judith Collins was across town speaking to a small group, in the process “blaming the obese for being obese”, which is hardly going to be a top of mind election issue for many. That story also includes details of a leaked UMR poll, which suggests Labour are about 20 points ahead.

Finally to round out this section on the election, this might be a fun game for you to try out. I’ve predicted where every single party will rank in the party vote stakes for the election, from first place through to 17th. And we’ve embedded a survey in the article so that you too can make your picks.

More than half the country believes that house prices need to fall, rather than rise or stay the same. That figure comes out of an NZ Herald (paywalled) Kanter poll released this morning, which unsurprisingly also found the sentiment was strongest among the young and those on low incomes. Those who hold the view are unlikely to get their wish any time soon – despite predictions earlier in the year that there would be a Covid crash, in fact house prices are now hitting new record highs.

Invercargill councillors are calling on long serving mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt to retire, on the grounds that he is no longer up to the job, reports Stuff’s Evan Harding. Deputy mayor Toni Biddle is one of them, saying the mayor is basically a figurehead, while she does the heavy lifting. Four councillors have now come out to say that he should at least consider standing down. Sir Tim himself says he’s not going anywhere, and in his defense, the people of Invercargill did reelect him just last year.

Covid-19 is getting out of hand in French Polynesia, with case numbers rapidly rising. An excellent explanatory interview on the situation was done by Dateline Pacific, who spoke to journalist Walter Zweifel. It was noted that not only have case numbers there now surpassed New Zealand, president Edouard Fritch has also picked up the virus. One pertinent detail that came out of it all – several months ago French Polynesia relaxed quarantine rules to get tourism moving, instead requiring travellers to test negative on both departure and arrival, but that doesn’t appear to have succeeded in keeping the virus out.

Two international perspectives about our upcoming election that are worth reading. CNN International’s Julia Hollingsworth (a New Zealander) has put together a very clear piece in the manner of explaining where Jacinda Ardern came from for international audiences, which reads very accurately from a domestic perspective. And on the Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Hartcher has delved into the differing perspectives and levels of scrutiny applied to the Ardernistration in domestic and foreign media.

From our partners: A thousand native trees were planted in Queenstown to create a National Welcome Forest – Te Waonui a Tāne – as a symbol of manaakitanga for new migrants. Former race relations commissioner, Joris de Bres, explains the origins of the initiative.

Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Image: Leonie Hayden

Right now on The Spinoff: Siouxsie Wiles explains more about New Zealand’s vaccine purchase agreement. Chloe Blades outlines the current situation around shipping books, and why if you want to give them as Christmas presents it would be a good idea to order now. Justin Latif writes about what is being promised to fix South Auckland’s ongoing health system problems.

And go on, more election stuff: Justin Giovannetti profiles the Auckland Central race, and gives some international context on how battles between different left-leaning views often play out. Jennifer Curtin writes about why Judith Collins can’t be written off. Marian Maddox has an insightful piece about the politics of overt displays of religion. Madeleine Chapman has a scream of memes about the election campaign dragging itself towards the finish line. And comic artist Daniel Vernon has a profound and interesting piece on talking to his nan about politics.

For a feature today, a fascinating study of the crop hemp, and why farmers are increasingly turning towards growing it. We’ve republished an NZ Herald Premium piece by Jamie Grey, who normally reports more on cows and sheep. But as research into the crop develops, economic and environmental opportunities are becoming increasingly obvious.

Mayell, who these days likes to invest in environmental projects, says hemp could become useful as a gateway to regenerative agriculture, which aims to build up the soil quality. “There are many who believe that we will not move to regenerative agriculture without hemp,” he says.

“And when you consider that an acre of hemp breathes in four times the carbon dioxide and breathes out four times as much oxygen per acre of trees.”

A “yes” in the recreational cannabis referendum may see the outdated rules around hemp rewritten. “It will unleash the biggest economic opportunity that New Zealand has ever seen,” says Mayell.

“This is literally a massive opportunity that this country can take advantage of, at the very time that we need it.”

Some tough questions are being asked of the White Ferns, who have just come off an utter thrashing at the hands of a very good Australian Women’s cricket team. Stuff’s Ian Anderson has put together an insightful piece about the current concerns about much of the squad being at the wrong end of their careers, with little sign that a new generation is coming through to take their places. The big worry is that the rest of the world will make more rapid advances in this area, and leave the White Ferns stranded – after all, other countries are starting to put much more serious resources behind their programmes.

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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