Amazon has tin cup out for a cool $100 million of taxpayers’ cash

Please share this story - thanks

Online retail giant Amazon’s agreement with Jacinda Ardern’s Labour government to film Lord of the Rings TV shows in New Zealand includes a range of activities that have little to do with entertainment.

The Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) shows that Amazon has secured an additional 5% in funding to the $100 million of taxpayer cash the government is giving the firm on our behalf (a company that’s valued at US$1.4 trillion).

However, schedule 2 of the MoU is particularly interesting as that is its Innovation Programme is outlined. Its aim is to “build a wider relationship between New Zealand and the Amazon Group” via its relationship with MBIE (not the film or tourism sectors).

The document, which is ideal bedtime reading, says: “Amazon and MBIE will work together to establish agreed-upon themes that align Amazon’s and New Zealand’s goals on a Season-by-Season basis.

“Potential themes include, but are not limited to, technology and innovations that will be used in the production of UAP (Untitled Amazon Project).

“These themes may explore the following focus areas, and the parties agree to work together to explore additional or alternative opportunities as they may arise:

  1. Immersive Technologies – Augmented Reality (“AR”), Virtual Reality (“VR”) and Mixed Reality (“MR”) / Cross Reality (“XR”)
  2. Drones and advanced aviation
  3. Advanced fabrics and materials
  4. Virtual tourism (due to restricted travel?), retail, and cultural experiences
  5. Gaming
  6. Machine Learning (that’s AI )
  7. Space
  8. Sustainability and alternative energy
  9. Healthcare and COVID-19
  10. Other public sector applications

Of note must be Drones, Space and Healthcare / Covid19. But without any additional information currently forthcoming from Amazon or MBIE (because they have agreed to release information in full agreement with each other) we are left to best-guess what Amazon has in store for New Zealand retailers.

Page 31 of the MoU includes a table listing:

  1. UAP Production Teams; Amazon Air / Drones (Drones and Advanced Aviation)
  2. Project Kuiper (an initiative to launch a constellation of Low Earth Orbit satellites that will provide low-latency, high-speed broadband connectivity around the world)
  3. Sustainability and Climate Pledge (Sustainability and Alternative Energy)
  4. Project Ultraviolet (a covid testing service)

Travel and accommodation is also included for Amazon execs, a clear sign that US$1.4 trillion can’t buy everything the company needs.

“If the Amazon delegation travels to New Zealand, airfares and accommodation for Amazon teams to be funded by Amazon using the (New Zealand tax payer funded) Innovation Fund as agreed-upon with MBIE,” says the report.

Money from the Innovation Fund (using your cash) will also be used for education programmes, and you have to wonder why New Zealand’s government needs Amazon to perform this role.

The MoU document includes reference to education (page 32): “Focus would be on developing childhood-to-career programs to encourage underrepresented and underserved communities in New Zealand, particularly indigenous peoples (i.e. the Māori), to try computer science and coding; and programs might include computer, laptop and device donations, coding camps, and robotics challenge.

“Academics from New Zealand institutions may receive Innovation Fund or in-kind support for research projects.”

All up the New Zealand taxpayer is handing Amazon more than $100 million, and that’s just for starters. Will it be good value for money? Will it help the homeless, the sick, or the hungry?

Please share this story - thanks