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The US and New Zealand share policy instincts on core liberal values, such as free speech, often more so than any other two countries. This is important for our societies, our policy makers and also our researchers.

Leon Grice

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā iwi, e ngā rau rangatira ma
Tena koutou katoa
Ko Leon Grice ahau

Morena, good morning and welcome to Aotearoa everyone.

I am deeply honoured to be asked to be a keynote speaker at the beginning of such an exciting and important venture to design this research collaboration.

My congratulations to Vice Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon and to my colleague on the New Zealand United States Council, Professor Jenny Dixon for your hard work building this new relationship with Penn State.

My academic background is in humanities and my career has mostly been in the private sector in areas as broad as public affairs, lobbying, investor and financial relations before establishing start-ups with my scientist brother, Stephen in the areas of digital media, IT enterprise solutions and intellectual property portfolio management.

In 2011 after leading a New Zealand Government team, that ran a very large and complex sporting, cultural and business event, I was offered the opportunity to represent New Zealand in the United States at the New Zealand Consulate in Los Angeles.

As Consul General I served New Zealand’s interests on the West Coast of the United States for five years with my term ending in 2017, six months into the start of President Trump’s administration.

On returning I was asked to chair the New Zealand United States Council, a track two NGO with a mission to advance New Zealand’s interests in building our relationship with the US.

This morning I have been asked to talk about the importance of international collaboration in education, research and industry.
It is such a broad topic to address I decided to focus on just a few points.

First, while the United States and New Zealand have different histories and different democratic political systems, as liberal democracies we have more in common than we realise and that is increasingly important in an illiberal and increasingly autocratic world.

Second, our research communities are already thoroughly intertwined but we have been missing many leveraging opportunities that your research collaboration can directly address. Those leverage opportunities extend beyond just better research and education and reach into the impact of research on society and good governance.

Third, the kinds of challenges we need to manage as societies and how we manage the pace of change means we will increasingly depend on international collaboration with like-minded partners and we will depend on closer cross-sectoral cooperation, between academia, government and industry.

Before I address those three points I thought it would be useful to survey the recent trends in the US New Zealand relationship.

The relationship with the United States is becoming ever closer on many fronts and I saw that living in the United States. Closer in research, business, cultural and political connections.

A big driver of that is the vastly increased physical connectivity between our two nations. When I arrived in Los Angeles in 2012 we boasted of between three and five direct flights a day between Auckland and San Francisco and Los Angeles.

That grew to seven direct flights a day at the height of the New Zealand summer season when I was based in Los Angeles and Air New Zealand added in a direct connection to Houston.

Last December I flew on the inaugural direct flight to Chicago and in October next year Air New Zealand will establish a direct service to New York.
Interestingly, those additional locations haven’t cannibalised existing traffic through the old ports. Air New Zealand is partnering with United Airlines and Qantas is partnering with American Airlines.

Each new hub has opened up new untapped markets for students, professors, businesspeople, artists, actors, journalists, media and politicians to fly point to point.
The same goes for internet delivered media. We have always been voracious consumers of US movies, but we are increasingly consuming US media, albeit mainly cable news channels.

We could do with more NBC, CBS and ABC news to provide more editorially balanced content.

Because of this we think we know a lot about Americans and America. Having lived there I think we do and we don’t. US politics’ checks and balances, its co-equal branches and the sovereignty of states is something that passes most New Zealanders’ observation.

New Zealand Prime Ministers have much more concentrated power than American Presidents and in truth presidents have much less legislative power than New Zealanders realise.

But back to the point, which is in terms of people to people connections we are getting closer and closer. We enjoy each other’s company, we trust each other and we enjoy solving shared problems together.

We see this in the business and investment trends and the two way trade relationship. Consistently over the last fifteen years, New Zealand’s fastest growing export has been intellectual property.

You would think it was dairy products or beef and lamb because when you mention the word “export” people automatically think of goods that are put in containers and bump their way through ports to consumer markets.

The reality is New Zealand’s fastest growing exports are in the form of bits and bytes transported by fibre optic cable and the United States is our number one market.

New Zealand sends, in the form of light to the United States, CAD drawings for 3D rocket engines, architectural and engineering plans, music scores, cinematic and small screen productions, plant variety rights, financial services and software for accounting, food production and cinema management.

If you look back fifteen years ago at the trade data you would struggle to identify commercial services exports. But since then they have taken off growing every year at ten to fifteen percent.

In context our two countries do $18.6 billion in two way trade. We sell $1.6 billion in meat products to the US and nearly a billion in dairy sales.

We sell around $3.6 billion in services to the United States that includes travel, transport and education services.

The United States is our number one market for a range of commercial services including:
• $357 million in telecommunications, IT and computer services
• $250 million for intellectual property charges
• $220 million for cultural services
• Nearly $100 million for maintenance and repair services.
We also sell more than $430 million in the general category of business services to the United States.

And not a services export, but still very important, the United States is now New Zealand’s number one export market for our ever increasingly, sophisticated wine. You could argue that wine is as much a cultural export as a physical good as wine tells the story of your culture and your geography.

Interestingly, there are really only four or five countries that we export commercial services to and they are the United States, Australia, Britain and Singapore. My untested thesis is to trade in intellectual property you need to have a sophisticated services-oriented economy and high levels of legal trust and cultural understanding.

And more and more New Zealand is transforming into a services based economy.

A few examples from my time in the United States includes:
• More than 70 percent of new apple tree plantings in the US Western States are New Zealand registered plant variety rights;

• New Zealand has a nearly 80 percent market share in the US West for automated and robotics packhouse equipment for processing and packaging agriculture and horticulture products.

• Our kiwifruit company, Zespri is a leading force in increasing and licensing kiwi production in US states who have complementary growing seasons with New Zealand supply.

• The fastest growing space company in the world, Rocketlab is based here in Auckland and has a US head office, a manufacturing facility in southern California and a new launch site in Virginia. In the future, its exports will be identified in New Zealand’s services export receipts, and dividend flows back to New Zealand shareholders, even if it is exporting hardware into space.

• Jermaine Clement and Brett McKenzie of Flight of the Concords and movie directors Taika Waititi and Peter Jackson are all cultural exporters growing our two way trade and teaching Americans about Kiwi culture.

Economically these exports underpin the future of the New Zealand economy. It is where our jobs are being created and where the greatest value is being created in our economy. This is where your students will work in the future.

These trends are not just in business and the economy either. Whenever I visited Sacramento, it always amused me when politicians and policy makers would ask about New Zealand’s social policy and legislative agenda.

The Californians in the area of social policy were flagrant plagiarises of New Zealand’s family and youth justice, restorative justice, special education and other social policies.

Now I would like to shift back to the earlier promise I made, that I would make three points.
• First, we have more in common than we realise as liberal democracies and that has significant implications for research and policy
• Second, our research communities are already thoroughly aligned, but we don’t leverage that
• And, finally that international cooperation and cross sectoral cooperation is becoming ever more important.

To illustrate our closeness as liberal democracies I will use the example of the Christchurch Call which was the policy response by our Government to bring major tech companies, governments and civil society and tech experts together to counter violent extremism online.

You will be aware that 51 people died in the Christchurch mosque shootings and 49 were injured. The terrorist publicised his plan on 8chan and livestreamed his action on Facebook live.

Led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, a highly focused and effective international coalition was formed to ensure that social media could not be used in this way again.
What is interesting about the New Zealand policy response was the effort our Prime Minister went to avoid limiting freedom of speech.

In contrast, Australia passed a law in April this year, before its general election, that empowers huge fines for social media companies and jail for their executives if they fail to rapidly remove abhorrent violent material from their platforms.

Our Prime Minister understood the complexity of the freedom of speech principle and social media and instead led a collaborative approach to address the problem.

As an aside, there are other policy principles that can be used to address the harm of social media, including properly protecting user data privacy rights and increasing copyright protection for content creators.

But the point I am making is that the US and New Zealand share policy instincts on core liberal values, such as free speech, often more so than any other two countries. This is important for our societies, our policy makers and also our researchers.

I noticed that our guests from Penn State are experts in a wide range of fields from social and health research and policy, education, biomedical, chemical, mechanical, transport and environmental engineering, linguistics, law and ethics and information technology, computer science and artificial intelligence. Each one of these fields is becoming disrupted or shaped by big data.

As just one example, up until recently a CCTV camera monitoring a freeway was a thin data stream – an employee looking at a screen observing traffic flows in real time and advising Police of road accidents after the fact.

Now with machine learning that video is a torrent of bits and bytes to which algorithms can be applied to identify national security information, civil law and order information, private data, public domain data and data we did not know existed.

Those algorithms have to be regulated somehow.

Authoritarians will regulate data purely for national security purposes and will not address privacy or the needs of the public domain.

Liberal democracies need to regulate big data to protect all of these uses of data, to protect the state from foreign aggression, to protect victims of crime and to protect people’s privacy and their property.

It is inventors, innovators and researchers that are creating and identifying these problems and challenges AND we need international collaboration and leadership to advance both our research and also to identify how we resolve these policy issues, as liberal democracies.

I will come back to this in my third and final point.

My second point was how thoroughly intertwined US and New Zealand research is but we miss leverage opportunities. Living in the United States it always struck me how many New Zealand academics as individuals were co-authoring papers and publishing with American academics.

The NZ US Council has just embarked on a data driven analysis to identify the countries New Zealand researchers work with the most. Our very early and rough results identify that up to a third of all research collaborations for New Zealanders is with the United States.

Over the next few months we intend to drill deep into this data.

Some of New Zealand’s finest minds go from Auckland University to the United States to study and to further their research, but often, but not always, they go as individuals.

Academic freedom will always empower academic and researchers to pursue their own path, but there is nothing stopping us at the institutional level, as you, Auckland and Penn State, are doing this week to ensure we capture the leverage opportunities.

At its simplest level marrying our research strengths together empowers us both. But together, as an international collaboration, it also gives us power to solve the adjacent policy challenges.

Increasingly those are global challenges for liberal democracies that can’t be effectively solved without international and values-based collaboration.

And solving those challenges, in collaboration, has the potential to unlock more innovation and more scope for research and researchers.

In this, our shared values make New Zealand and the United States ideal partners.

Our vision can be to do more education and more research together… but to do so in a way…. that ensures that our research has positive impacts on our societies and strengthens our democracies and our political and cultural values.

Which brings me to my third and final point which is how we need to manage the pace of change.

In April and May this year, after the Christchurch terrorism, I visited the US and met with many researchers and policymakers who were concerned about privacy and the abuses of social media. What struck me was government policy makers were dealing with the problems generated by social media, cyber security and big data as separate and discete problems.

And that the best expertise, the most current and creative thinkers were in the colleges, think tanks and private sector. They were more prescient and more holistic in their thinking.

As an example, the Senate Intelligence Committee led the work on the external foreign influence campaigns during the 2016 Presidential election. Senator Mark Warner, the committee minority leader and the committee chair, Senator Richard Burr worked in a bipartisan spirit to undertake the investigation. They subpoenaed Facebook for data so they could analyse foreign interference.

Facebook provided an enormous amount of raw data. To undertake the analysis the Senate committee had to go outside government and they recruited a brilliant mathematician, Renee di Resta who is also a data analyst and social media expert. She reconstructed the data and identified and analysed the patterns of interference for the Senate.

I met with Renee after the mosque shootings in Christchurch. She is not someone you would find working in government.

The fact that governments are struggling to manage the pace of change is not their fault. These are new and previously unimagined problems. If we want to tackle these problems we need to build international collaboration between those who share our values and build cross-sectoral cooperation between academia, government and industry.

Microsoft’s Brad Smith has been particularly vocal that we need dynamic policy environments that can react and adapt to the challenges of innovation.

In his new book, “Tools and Weapons, the promise and perils of the digital age”, which he co-write with Carol Ann Browne, they argue that the tech sector needs to step up and do more to address the challenges that technology is creating and work more closely with governments.

He calls for a smart approach to regulation so that technology is governed by law. Brad is deliberately challenging Silicon Valley which has ignored government for over a decade. He is challenging big tech to get involved and to welcome regulation.

I would add to his call, and suggest that academia and civil society needs to be at that table, because sometimes governments need support in that debate with industry. And sometimes politicians, governments and business have conflicts that mean their interests are not the same as civil society.

I met with the founder of AOL, Steve Case in July this year and he talked about the challenges he faced building AOL. He said his business model for building AOL was all about policy and partnerships.

He needed policymakers to support him to get access to telecommunications networks to deliver his dial up internet service and he needed to partner with those same telecommunications companies. Both were tough challenges that AOL overcame and it is why AOL was based in Washington DC.

He said “policy and partnerships” was the mode of the first era of digital innovation. He then described the second era which has been to move fast and break things, ignore policy and eschew partnerships. The goal is to get ahead of regulators and create a digital monopoly.

Steve was arguing that we are entering a third era and that will again be about policy and partnerships. He also argued that it will also be about equity and ensuring that digital economy jobs are spread across economies.

I back Steve’s vision. Partnerships in policy and research will allow us to embrace innovation and ensure it delivers for our societies on our terms and our values. And because innovation and data know no borders we need to collaborate internationally to find the right solutions.

Academics and researchers need to be at the table and through international collaboration you can be much more powerful.

The NZ US Council wants to be a facilitator of these kinds of policy interactions. To increase academic involvement, we need to identify the links and the collaboration opportunities for Penn State and University of Auckland academics alongside policymakers at state and federal levels in the US and in New Zealand. We need to ask how we frame our research so that we are building evidence and data to underpin good policy development.

And then we can build international policy collaboration and frameworks that deliver solutions for our people and our societies.

I would make a final point about how universities are the home of social policy and science and technology innovation. A generation or two ago, innovation, truly new ideas emerged out of deep collaboration between large corporations, government and universities.

IBM, Hewlett Packard, NASA and the military were all significant funders and research partners. These big private sector players now have their own independent research facilities and they tend to have less and less to do with universities.

And that’s okay because today it seems that true innovation in social policy and science technology innovation comes from entrepreneurial individuals and small teams and those kinds of people rely more and more on universities.

Their ability to develop their ideas as students and researchers at universities means that your institutions’ value and your importance to society is increasing.

You are the incubators of the social entrepreneurs and the business entrepreneurs of the future. And we need your leadership and your international collaboration to empower them to change the world for good.


Leon Grice
Keynote address to: Penn State-University 0f Auckland Collaboration Development workshop (November 18-19, 2019)


A discussion on global creative industries, innovation and transformative technologies and the insights we can take from Weta Digital and other global digital workshops.

Jordan Small
Executive Director

In this episode I’m joined by Leon Gurevitch – an Associate Professor at Wellington’s Victoria University in their Design school. Leon’s research focuses on global creative industries, innovation and transformative technologies.

Recorded late last year – it is a discussion that really couldn’t be more on point for today. Particularly, as the national discussion focuses on restarting the economy and taking the opportunity to reset and rethink what we want our post-COVID world and post-COVID New Zealand to look like.

It is quite a wide ranging chat where we look at encouraging experimentation, what is innovation, the importance of R&D spend to attracting highly qualified international talent, the opportunity that World War two presented to put aside conservatism and the barriers to innovation, and the kind of policy settings that have been helpful elsewhere in the world.

Leon has researched closely Weta Digital and other global digital workshops – so the discussion is often through the case study of Weta and the lessons or insights we can take from this example.

Guest bios:

  • Leon’s research covers areas of convergence between art and science, design and technology, collaborative and cross-disciplinary projects with a focus on Digital Simulation and Imaging Industries. Applied design sociology gathering data regarding individual and collective human social behavior. Such data is applied to both traditional academic analysis and less conventional design research outputs (usable software tools, visual representations, social science communication videos, photography and data-visualization). Interested in both design research, academic output and public engagement through the possibilities emerging from software culture and publicly available data.

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