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The BulletinMay 15, 2018

The Bulletin: Inflation hits poorest hardest

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Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. Rate of inflation higher for those with less, Winston Peters is going to China, and the government backtracks on much–needed Official Information Act reforms.

The rate of inflation, typically assumed to be low recently in New Zealand, has been found to be higher for those who can least afford to meet it. Recent figures from Stats NZ, reported by Stuff, show increased rents, tax on cigarettes, and interest on loans, were hitting the poorest hardest, as the group most likely to be renting and/or smoking. As well as that, there’s a lot of crossover between the figures for these people, and for Māori.

The figures led to questions for PM Jacinda Ardern about whether her government was actually taxing regressively. The fees free tertiary education policy has lowered the rate of inflation across the board, but those on higher incomes are seeing far more benefit. Ardern responded by saying the government wasn’t taxing regressively, and pointed to the Families Package to help those on low incomes. She also pointed out the uselessness of simple tax cuts as a method for addressing inequality.

Writing on The Spinoff, South Auckland councillor Efeso Collins says the fuel tax will hit people in his area relatively harder than others in the city. Cr Collins says “my community doesn’t have the luxury of paying additional tax now, to benefit future generations. For those who are struggling to provide basic necessities for their whānau, further tax, no matter how well-intentioned in principle, can seem impossible.”

A useful piece to read for context around Māori facing a high rate of inflation – this from the NBR outlines exactly what the measurements are that lead to their headline claim: that Māori are socially and economically a generation behind Pākahā. Higher unemployment, lower incomes, lower net wealth, shorter life expectancy: all of these things are connected.

Foreign minister Winston Peters is heading to China next week to talk trade, reports the NZ Herald. There will also be discussions of the Pacific, and how the two countries can work together rather than competing for influence. One section of the story, about Mr Peters’ past when it comes to China, is a bit of an eyebrow raiser:

“Peters last year called for an inquiry into foreign interference in New Zealand, saying China was quietly starting to dominate the lives of New Zealanders and the country’s economic direction.

Today he said his comments had not been confined to one country.”

The Official Information Act, that damaged but vital tool of a free and democratic society, might not be fixed by the new government after all. The NZ Council of Civil Liberties have put out a press release on answers received from justice minister Andrew Little, saying there are no current plans to reform the OIA. This is despite Labour criticising the previous National government’s refusal to improve the OIA. It is, quite frankly, not good enough.

The PM has taken a swing at the former government over the spread of cow disease mycoplasma bovis, reports Radio NZJacinda Ardern said the National Animal Identification Tracing system had been underfunded by National, amid the first case being found in the Waikato. In response, National’s Tim van de Molen said the government’s communication with affected farmers had been poor.

Artisanal cheesemakers are celebrating the loosening of what they saw as unnecessary regulations, reports Radio NZ. Some have complained that MPI compliance costs are crippling, but now a new compliance template has been launched that they can do online, their costs will drop significantly.

Wellington is facing a looming crisis of where retirees will live, reports the Dominion Post on their front page today. The industry in building and operating retirement villages is set to boom, and more will need to be built in the region.

In the Waikato Times, a good front page story for student journo of the year Ruby Nyika. Illegal meat sales through online platforms like TradeMe have tripled in the last three years. Unlicensed meat can be very risky to eat, especially home kill, and the issue has particular connection to the Waikato, after three members of a family were hospitalised last year in a vegetative state after eating wild pork.

Fair Go have run an interesting feature on the difficulty of getting hold of the local police on the phone. Several members of the public complained to the programme. The police openly admitted that there aren’t enough officers to always answer non–emergency phone calls at the moment, and that they’re working on getting a bigger call centre up and running.

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Right now on The Spinoff: We’ve got the expert view on the best 50 books of the last 50 years – this may be the most intellectual listicle we’ve ever published. Founder of New Zealand’s first Women’s Fund Dellwyn Stuart writes about the wāhine that hold our communities together. Sam Brooks mourns the Dancing with the Stars departure of Naz. And Simon Bridges is on tour around the country – I went to see him speak in the Northwest Auckland electorate of Helensville.

For features today, a look at some stories about technology, social control and the dystopian hellworld we could end up creating if we’re not careful. Enjoy! 

Here’s the piece that sent me down this rabbit hole. The ODT reported that New World – the supermarket chain – had put facial recognition software in its stores. And it’s widely used overseas in stores, as a way of catching shoplifters who come back in for another go. An easy solution, you might say, just don’t shoplift. But in China this sort of technology is used to track ordinary citizens in public places.

Going international, Google debuted its new product Duplex, which is a human voice impersonator that is extraordinarily accurate. It was wildly controversial, in part because it was so good there would be no reason for a person on the other end of a phone to suspect they were talking to a machine. Google says they’ll fix that so that it identifies itself as a bot, according to Gizmodo, but it doesn’t change the fact that this sort of technology is now possible.

And finally, we’ll bring it back to the company of proud New Zealander Peter Thiel. According to Bloomberg, his company Palantir can pretty much find out anything on anybody provided it has left some sort of digital footprint. Over and above Peter Thiel’s… interesting political views, his company has provided services for law enforcement and militaries around the world, including our own. If you wanted to run a dictatorship, Palantir software would keep you in power.

In short, if we ignore the realities of this new world, we risk losing our freedoms. It can happen in prosperous democratic countries like New Zealand too – but it doesn’t have to. This piece from the Guardian makes the argument that technology has no inherent moral code. It is up to us to apply the right values to technology, and the laws we use to regulate it.

The government has put $80,000 towards a feasibility study for a united Pacific Island Super Rugby franchise. Newshub understands the project also has backing from the highest levels of NZ Rugby. MFAT says they have not committed any money to setting up, or running the team. All going to plan, they could be playing as early as 2021.

And in netball, the Central Pulse are on a bit of a roll in the ANZ Premiership, winning three from three to sit top of the table – this report from Stuff. The franchise had years of being atrocious, but started to turn it around last year, finishing second in the competition. They’ve already knocked off the mighty Southern Steel this year, who are the current champions.

From our partners, Vector’s Karl Check analyses Australia’s progress when it comes to shifting away from coal and gas fired power plants and onto renewable energy sources.

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