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Infometrics' Brad Olsen on the Govt and data protection, Stats NZ's new branch, the local elections, whether the end really is in sight for the US-China trade war and meeting global meat demand

Infometrics' Brad Olsen on the Govt and data protection, Stats NZ's new branch, the local elections, whether the end really is in sight for the US-China trade war and meeting global meat demand

This week’s Top 5 comes from Infometrics senior economist Brad Olsen.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to

And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 5 yourself, contact

1. Government seems to be lax on data protection.

Major concerns continue to build over the government’s ability to collect and use New Zealanders’ data. At the same time a growing list of issues eroding trust in data security. In recent months:

  • Treasury has uploaded both parts of the Budget and Crown Accounts online too early,
  • young people’s data was compromised by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage,
  • an unsecured laptop with confidential Commerce Commission transcripts was stolen, and
  • patient data was exposed after an attack on the computer system used by various health organisations.

“The Government's chief digital officer has asked all Government departments and some connected agencies to ensure they're protected from a data breach.

"I've asked all of the agencies to look at their own public-facing websites that might hold personal information and to check and assure themselves and then come back to me and assure me that they're doing so in a privacy compliant and secure way," Government Chief Digital Officer Paul James said.”

2. But it’s happy to buy and sell data when it suits.

Stats NZ’s new branch – Data Ventures – is working with mobile phone providers Spark and Vodafone to start selling population insights. Although not new, given multiple breaches and botches of government data use, it’s not unfair for New Zealanders to be concerned about using data to pinpoint where people are, to make money to keep Stats NZ funded. It’s not that the data is identifiable (it’s not, it’s already aggregated when it gets to Stats NZ), it’s that people haven’t had the chance to hear about the government’s plans. A lack of trust, and lack of confidence in protection, could quickly erode the ability for the project to continue. Indeed, with calls from the Prime Minister to consider online voting for the next local body elections in 2022, it might not be hackers that make online voting unsafe, but instead the government’s ability to keep a secret ballot secret.

“The world of statistics is morphing into the world of data. Companies are scrambling to be the first to spot patterns in data – and make money from the results. But given the misuse of mobile device data by other Government statistics agencies, including the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and privacy concerns raised in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Stats NZ is wise to move cautiously.

(Data Ventures’ initial concept was for the mobile data to be used to track movement patterns, which, Broadley confirms, is something potential customers still say they’d like. But that might take the business unit beyond its “public good” mandate. “Right now there’s a lot of work before we get to that.”)”

3. Local elections won and lost on delivery and frustration.

Speaking of local elections, last Saturday’s results saw an undercurrent of discontent flow from voters, who made it clear that planning is important, but execution is key. Across the country, several sitting Councillors, and a few Mayors, were unceremoniously turfed out. Part of the reason for the changes, certainly in Wellington, was that the public did not feel that enough action had come from the best laid plans and were unimpressed with the lack of detail and concrete milestones. The resulting changing of the guard is ironic, given that we’re now likely to see a renegotiation of previous decisions and plans (case in point, Let’s Get Wellington Moving). All of which makes it clear that formulating a plan for the future is one thing, but getting it underway as quickly as possible, while maintaining support from all quarters, is another.

4. An end to the trade war, or more bluster?

With following through with plans mentioned, it’s important to highlight the smoke (but no fire) from US President Donald Trump over an end to the US-China trade war. The President has announced that progress is being made on a resolution, and that he will not hike tariffs on some goods to 30% on 15 October, and in return, China will be buying US$50 billion worth of US agriculture products. Yet we’ve been in this position before, so is there an end finally in sight, or is this more hot air and no action?

“Outlining the first phase of a deal to end a trade war with China, U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday lauded his counterparts for agreeing to make purchases of US$40 billion to US$50 billion in U.S. agricultural goods.

But Darin Friedrichs, senior Asia commodity analyst at brokerage INTL FCStone in Shanghai, threw cold water on the pledge… Boosting purchases so substantially will depend on further progress on other, more thorny, issues still to be dealt with in the talks, said Friedrichs and others.”

5. China’s appetite is New Zealand’s gain, and New Zealand’s loss.

Buried towards the bottom of Stats NZ’s Food Price Index release last week was a spotlight on increased meat prices in New Zealand. The report from Stats NZ noted overseas demand for New Zealand meats as the leading cause of the rise in domestic prices. However, it neglected to mention that the rise in overseas demand was because of a wave of African swine flu that has been sweeping Asia over the last year, which could kill a quarter of the globe’s pigs. An undersupply of the pork market in Asia has led to a steep rise in demand for New Zealand’s meat proteins as Asian consumers open up their wallets to ensure there is meat on the table. The resulting demand is great news for New Zealand’s meat exporters, but not so good for New Zealand consumers, who are now effectively battling with overseas prices being bid higher.

“Prices for bacon and ham, lamb, and beef remained at higher levels.

“Rising export prices on the back of strong overseas demand for New Zealand meat has put upward pressure on the prices Kiwi consumers pay in store,” Mrs Johnson said. 

“The weighted average price of lamb chops, blade steak, and bacon all reached record highs in September. This follows previous records for bacon in August, lamb chops in July, and blade steak in June and July.”

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3) There isn't much to renegotiate in Wellington as there is no plan, no priorities and no clue in relation to transport projects. While I didn't vote for the new Mayor one of his stated priorities is the second tunnel through Mt. Victoria. Something that is urgently needed a couple of years ago, and shouldn't have been ignored by the Council.

Data security. Security goes to poor management, slack process and procedure and smooth talking mirror holding consultants....
Hint multinational cloud based APPs do as they please.

It's more Data Ethics!. This is the bit people are clueless of. Everyone has their own version of what this means.

The current executive do not yet show the skills in order to resolve this issue, so it's the wild west!
Gamers will recognize the npc element to exe ops.

Farm production prices are good, farmer sentiment has cratered.
Seasoned and experienced operators feel bogged in layers of cost and bureaucratic double speak crap like never before!

STOP PRESS: Great news for fencing contractors. That will be $625,000 thank you, would you pay a deposit and we will book the materials to your account!

Henry, we have a lot of farms listed for sale here and nothing much moving. Friend dropped in this morning and told me his bank is making life difficult and he has low debt. Yet prices are at records for beef and lamb? (that question is there for you to answer) Regional councils are going to hash nutrient limits, already destroying confidence, well, mine at least. Going to be a massive screw up and although all pigs are equal, you know, some are just more equal.

Mate in Mid West thinks this trade deal is going through and the USA is ready to dump record amounts of pork into China. Takes 6 months to grow a pig.

Also have you read ' the billion dollar bonfire' by Chris Lee?

Rising NZ meat prices the inevitable consequence of decades of shareholder dilution policies?

Shareholder dilution is where a company issues more shares without adding value, so the value of each original shareholding is less. Each original shareholder has the same number of shares, but a lower percentage of the company's value. Do immigration and foreign capital inflows, as prioritised by every NZ government for the last 30 years, have the same effect?

Where is Aucklands strategy document / plan / blue-print for sorting out the congestion .

The councellors obsession with smelly dirty uncomfortable busses , which are horrendously expensive to use , ( likely the most expensive public bus service on the planet ) is just an example of how disconnected they are .

Here's the message :- SORT OUT THE ROADS , YOU FOOLS !!!!

Hmm I note that only 2 out of 21 councillors were turffed out.

Seems the public like the current $28 billion ATAP plan to build not just roads

Horrendously expensive to use? Eh what? They are slow and inconvenient unless you are on a main route, but they are not expensive.
Sorry, this boatman rant isn't even worth a 3/10.

NZ Inc is becoming dumber & dumber. This is happening from the top down. This is the result of 40-50 years of watered down education becoming more & more political the higher you go. Poor leadership, below average education & media lies all combine to create a problem where there shouldn't be one. My personal favourite, as some of you already know, is the taxpayer sponsored breeding programme of children into places of chaos & poverty, which is repeating every 15-20 years, which will eventually sink the Good Ship NZ, and others like it. Too many shirkers & not enough workers.

We make it too hard for productive younger people to raise more than 1 or at most 2 children as they must fund the beneficiaries, the pensioners, and now also the schooling and medical care of the children of temporary workers to help prop up nonviable hospitality businesses. Instead of our past approach of trying to make it easier for young Kiwis to raise next generations, they'll pay for replacement children to be imported instead.

Data security is abysmal at Gubmint level: there are still far too many spreadsheets, local databases and personal files scattered around like confetti. Plus there's the habit of staff to email said docs - emails (especially if via an offshore mail server) are postcards to be read at will.

Current example of an accident waiting to happen: the proposed gun register. If one had to come up with a Shopping List for Crinimules, that'd be it.....item details, owner name and address.... it'll be the vehicle register cubed in terms of attractiveness to the nefarious......

I don't think it's too different across the corporate sector either. Security isn't that glamourous to invest in. Organisations do the minimum.