After two years of an official investigation the Commerce Commission this week says due to “developments around commercial access” made by MetService they are bringing their formal investigation to a close.
When the investigation first kicked off in September 2019 the Commerce Commission (ComCom) said there were a number of possible outcomes – from a legal case at one end, to helping bring parties come together at the other end. Across 2021 MetService and WeatherWatch have met on several occasions, initially in Wellington at the MetService head office in March, then in Auckland, and video chats since Covid lockdowns kicked in.
Following very positive and honest conversations with MetService, WeatherWatch.co.nz has kept the ComCom up to date.
“Justice moves slowly but this year the wheels sped up” says WeatherWatch.co.nz CEO Philip Duncan. “This is a huge turning point and helps set the foundation for a more positive working relationship between the private weather sector and the dominant Government commercial weather sector”.
“It’s not every day a small business can bring change like this at a Government level and our small team is immensely proud and I’m so grateful for their support”.
Mr Duncan says he is “relieved” to have found a positive working space between WeatherWatch.co.nz and MetService. “We have regular contact with MetService now with monthly catchups, and while I think it’s fair to say both sides were a little cautious about where this might go, I think it’s safe to say the trust levels on both sides have significantly increased over the weeks and months this year. It feels very positive and very different to the past”.
“The ComCom has opened up a door that was previously locked – and we’re especially relieved to see this doesn’t have to be escalated further legally to make change.” says Duncan. “It’s great when common sense prevails!”.
WeatherWatch.co.nz would like to publicly extend our thanks to the Commerce Commission and especially to the senior management team at MetService for having the conversation, welcoming the feedback and making the necessary changes all while being so warm and welcoming. We expect to continue the dialogue over 2022 as we look for ways to better enhance what we collectively do for the NZ public and customers.
SO, WHAT ABOUT NIWA?
The disappointing aspect about the ComCom’s decision to end the investigation is letting Niwa off the hook. Niwa – which is supposed to be a Crown Research Institute (CRI) has fast become a Crown Revenue Institute in the past decade. Niwa now aggressively competes head on with MetService (Govt Agency vs Govt Agency) and it appears Niwa is now trying to cannibalise Government profits for their own growth and power.
The Bizarre History of Niwa’s shift from Science to being an aggressive commercial Money Maker:
- While National was in power, under Prime Minister John Key, Niwa quietly made changes to break the long standing rule between MetService and Niwa to not compete…and instead took MetService head on commercially in weather.
- Historically since 1991 Niwa had maintained “Weather and climate” were two different worlds and that Niwa was “only climate” and MetService was “weather”. This completely changed in 2012 when Niwa did a total 180 degree shift on that thinking and decided, oh hang on we can make more money by aggressively taking MetService (and WeatherWatch) head on.
- Several years ago Niwa signed a formal agreement to share public data with WeatherWatch.co.nz – only to secretly break this signed agreement just 2 months later by telling our clients (before telling WeatherWatch) Niwa had decided to take MetService and WeatherWatch on commercially. This was a first for the NZ Government to have a Government Agency commercially go after another Government Agency. To this day no one in Government has publicly challenged it – but many MPs and Ministers have agreed privately it’s bizarre and not right.
- This would be like the Fire Service getting into Police Speeding Infringements because there is “cross over”. Or RNZ getting into television to compete with TVNZ because bigger profits are possible there.
- No National MP in nearly a decade has told WeatherWatch.co.nz they understood why Niwa made this change or how it was allowed to happen under their watch, including former Senior Ministers and the former PM himself, John Key.
- John Key told us “Steven Joyce is the man to fix this” – and to be fair, Minister Joyce (who was before Minister Woods of Labour) did help. He started the independent MBIE review. But National was voted out before change could be implemented.
- Labour supported our fight against Niwa’s double up while they were in opposition…once in Government they went quiet.
- No Labour MP has said this is a good set up – or tried to change it.
- Minister Megan Woods said if she had her way the system would change.
- Megan Woods is the Minister for Science and by her own admission has no oversight over Niwa and no control over their direction or culture. (Why have a Minister for Science then?)
- Niwa has no oversight other than their own board (find one board of a commercial company that doesn’t put profits first).
- Minister Woods says it would be “inappropriate” for her as Minister to get involved in commercial decisions for Niwa, this despite Grant Robinson getting involved with commercial decisions on airfare pricing with AirNZ following the Christchurch shooting – so Ministers clearly can get involved when public interest matters. (or politics trump their reasoning).
- Minister Woods said she can’t make changes to Niwa and repeatedly advised WeatherWatch.co.nz to go to the ComCom instead.
- The ComCom has now thrown this back to the Minister – and based on her history that means nothing will happen.
- Niwa gives WeatherWatch.co.nz commercial business quotes for over 1 Million dollars per annum to simply DISPLAY weather data funded/paid for/100% owned by the NZ public. This is utterly insane. We were also threatened to be cut off from future quotes by Niwa’s lawyers if we shared their astronomical pricing with the public (remember, they’re a public department – a Crown Research Institute – not a private company!).
- No Minister or MP on either side of the aisle has ever said WeatherWatch.co.nz is wrong in what we’re asking for, nor have they ever defended what Niwa is doing….in 10 years now.
- Niwa’s CEO John Morgan got a 31% payrise during the Great Recession.
- Niwa’s CEO John Morgan has made several million dollars in his CEO position in the past decade – yet refuses to engage with the private weather sector to see how, as a public servant, he could help.
- Niwa’s CEO John Morgan refused under OIA to deny if he personally gets financially rewarded for hurting the private weather sector.
- In our opinion the management of Niwa is running in last century thinking and last century expensive pricing for public data that should be free and open to access with no limitations.
- MBIE weather review, under the last National Government, paints a picture of NZ weather data being grossly expensive and hard to access.
- Niwa attacks private weather sector for wanting access to public data (but the same public data Niwa commercially uses for “free”).
- In 2020 – Niwa, after YEARS of denying in formal Select Committees in Parliament that they compete with MetService, directly and aggressively finally took the Department of Conservation (DoC) off MetService as a client. What a slap in the face to their Select Committee comments.
- Niwa has downplayed MetService’s weather warnings on social media – a dangerous precedent for a CRI to set. WeatherWatch called them out on it in social media and since then they have ceased doing it.
- WeatherWatch.co.nz’s partnership with IBM is all about “Democratising Data” – this is opposite to Niwa’s business model of “We control and 100% own the data NZers pay for on our behalf”.
- If Minister Megan Woods can’t step in when Niwa is doing something wrong, and the ComCom can’t do anything, and the board of Niwa really like profits… then who do we, as New Zealanders, talk to about the future of Niwa and why we even tax fund them hundreds of millions a year if they’re so aggressively commercial now? A serious question with no answer.
- Competing weather forecasts from two separate Govt agencies labelled ‘absurd’ by Peter Dunne.
- WeatherWatch.co.nz has told the ComCom (as of Nov 09, 2021) that we accept their MetService decision and thank them for their help. However we take issue with Niwa being, once again, let off the hook for being held accountable.
- Niwa has recently refused to engage with reporters or business partners on why they’re being so difficult towards WeatherWatch.co.nz – sighting the ComCom investigation as a reason not to comment.
- Our end goal here? To bring first world standards into NZ by having access to tax funded – or Government owned – data. No different to our friends and trading partners in Australia, UK, Ireland, Japan, USA and Canada. Niwa needs to move off the China/Russia/Cuba model of thinking where Niwa’s CEO thinks they “own” the data funded by the public. Without the public tax funding, there is no Niwa.
- CEO John Morgan needs a refresher course on a being a “public servant” – because he is grossly out of touch.
- The ComCom says they will continue to monitor progress with both Niwa and MetService. Note: progress is only being made with MetService, so that gets us back to our initial headline… “But, what about Niwa?.