WeatherWatch: Cash lies at heart of opposition to private forecasters

1:52 pm on 1 October 2019

Treasury has opposed a private business sharing in weather data from NIWA and MetService because they are such a money-spinner for the government, a spokesperson for a private weather forecaster says.

Philip Duncan, CEO Weather Watch

Philip Duncan says he's never met a politician opposed to WeatherWatch's views on the sharing of weather data with the private sector. Photo: Screengrab / YouTube

The Commerce Commission announced yesterday that it is investigating both NIWA and MetService for anticompetitive behaviour with how they price their services.

It brings to a head a long-running struggle by WeatherWatch which has been fighting for access to taxpayer funded services like the rain radar for 10 years.

Chief executive Philip Duncan told Morning Report that it's all about the money that is generated by the services.

"NIWA and MetService are a $200 million-a-year industry and Treasury made it very clear at the start of this year they don't want to touch this, so it doesn't matter if it's right or wrong.

"There's no other country in the modern world that has two state-owned forecasters commercially, aggressively competing against each other and aggressively competing against the private sector."

The Commerce Commission picked up Weather Watch's complaint in 2013 but then-Innovation Minister Steven Joyce announced an independent review had been put on hold.

Once current minister Megan Woods decided to do nothing, the Commerce Commission stepped in.

Mr Duncan wants free, open fair competition in the weather sector and if the government opened up rain radar and observations, it would be like driving on a taxpayer-funded road without having to pay $1 million a year to do it.

"That changes the industry fundamentally. It means we've got more competition, more of a drive to be accurate, more of a drive to produce new products that make the weather more understandable, more helpful, more useful for everybody."

He could point out many countries that did it that way.

"With climate change being such a part of the narrative these days it seems so strange that we're not allowed to share data that talks about climate change. We're not allowed to share any of that information. The government wants us to pay for it again."

He said the commission's decision came as a relief after campaigning for such a long time for something the business believed in.

"There was this feeling this year that maybe some people thought we were wrong because nothing had changed. We were still banging the same drum and I could feel some people in the marketplace were wondering, who was right, who was wrong.

"This decision just basically gives us a little bit of credibility back and allows us to keep on pushing forward with what we're trying to do which is bring in international weather standards, not these localised Wellington standards which don't really fit in the rest of the modern world."

It had taken 10 years to get people to agree publicly - they all agreed off the record. He had never met a politician from any party who had disagreed with what they were trying to do.

"So to have someone publicly say on an official level say there is something here that we need to look into is the big relief for us because this was something we've been trying to do for several years..."

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