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Insights 25: 10 July 2020
Newsroom: Oliver Hartwich discusses the potential impact a small party fighting for survival under MMP can have
Podcast: David Law on the country's retirement policy after Covid-19
NZ Herald: David Law on why we should not borrow to save

How not to take economic recovery seriously
Dr Bryce Wilkinson | Senior Fellow |
Use of the disembodied “we” in official policy documents usually suggests a false agreement about future resource use when, in fact, there are deeply entrenched opposing interests. To fail to acknowledge the conflict is to fail to resolve it.

The Ministry for Primary Industries’ latest roadmap report, “Fit for a Better World,” fits this mould. In its short 17 pages, use of the word “we” appears 174 times and “our” appears 99 times. the report effectively proposes that the battle over whether land should be used to generate income or to restore a state of nature has been resolved.

Its key proposition is that the “health of the climate, land, water and living systems” comes first. Biogenic methane emissions are to be 20-47% below 2017 levels by 2030 which the report says will add $44 billion to primary sector exports during the next decade and increase employment by 10% by 2030.

The report declares that these aspirations aim to “accelerat[e] our economic potential” and put the food and fibres sector at the forefront of “our” export-led recovery to “lead the way to a more sustainable economy.”

Yet the document says nothing about why these specific targets were chosen, their feasibility or the costs to the community of achieving them. And it offers no clarity about who is accountable for the various proposed actions. It is a roadmap without roads. It is not a meaningful export-led recovery plan.

Of course, if a goal is unachievable, it can always be replaced by fresh, distant aspirations. How many people remember the previous Government’s objective to lift exports from 30% of GDP to 40% by 2025?

In reality, the best hope for a civil solution to the resource use dispute is a system of voluntary exchange of well-defined property rights. A tradable fishing quota was a big step forward, as would be tradeable water rights and property rights-based Resource Management Act (RMA) reform. Real progress here would help achieve environmental goals while reducing farmer distress and uncertainty while helping the whole sector move forward.

Unfortunately, a roadmap without roads looks like a ploy to get votes from those who think that good intentions are good enough. If enough voters reward aspirational pitches, the deep problems will persist and there will never be an economic recovery strategy worthy of the name.

Political distraction
Leonard Hong | Research Assistant |
If the Covid-19 pandemic had happened in a non-election year, would this or any Government’s response have been different?
At the best of times, election campaigning can be a distraction for politicians. But supposing the Government’s first decision early this year after it learned of the approaching pandemic was to postpone the election by perhaps six months, might leadership decisions have been more focused?
After all, it is hard to see how a fragmented parliament spending precious energy on politics as Kiwis struggle to recover from a major crisis is the best situation for New Zealand.
Without an election in the back of their minds, Ministers would be solely focused on protecting the country from Covid-19. A postponed election may even encourage – and make it possible for – members of the Opposition parties to pitch in and help with the recovery effort without anyone concerned about others making political gains during that time.
Such a process has existed before. For example, prior to the Second World War, the United Kingdom maintained an all-party coalition War Cabinet under Sir Winston Churchill. The Brits knew normal politicking was a distraction that only drew precious mental energy away from the greater national effort.
So, assuming that political distraction is partly to blame for some recent scandals and mishandling of border quarantine, had New Zealand adopted a similar War Cabinet model it could have avoided much of the political drama. Then again, other scandals might have replaced these stories. In other words, it is hard to tell if the election distraction is part of the problem or not.
Yet a mechanism to set up a War Cabinet in times of national crisis is worth considering for the future. Such a mechanism must include all MPs with the best and most relevant leadership experience across parliament and clearly outline a sunset clause when the election process can be resumed.
After all, an effective government must be able to deal with emergency circumstances with as few distractions as possible. In Select Committees, parties already cooperate on a broad consensus basis when debating new legislation. Temporarily connecting them as a solid front during a crisis would not be too much of a precedent. 
The last few months have proven that a distracted Government, like a tired driver, makes mistakes which can put the country at greater risk. Should Kiwis expect that elections are to be delayed by default in times of natural disasters? Perhaps.  

Lack of privacy
Nathan Smith | Chief Editor |
I don’t know why people are getting so worked up about private details being leaked to MPs. If the Covid-19 crisis taught us anything, it’s that privacy has no place in the “new normal.”

The mantra of the internet is that information “wants” to be free, as if data itself has agency. It’s a strange concept at first, but over time the trend line seems to be bending towards every keystroke we’ve ever made being exposed on a computer server at some point.

If you just ask someone nicely, they’ll probably tell you their name and address, and most of us upload our intimate details on Facebook daily – in fact, Kiwis have even been willingly handing over their private info to the local burger joint to help track Covid-19.

And yet, through a strange form of alchemy, when that same data is collected by officials it magically becomes “sensitive.”

Look, I get that releasing a private list of medical patients sounds like a bad idea. And I understand why anyone who would leak such a list should be asked to resign. But this is no way to run a post-Covid society!

Can’t we be more progressive about privacy? After all, the Covid-19 problem was made much worse precisely because people’s information was too private. We need to rethink this to save our politicians from having to make tough choices and to foil new outbreaks before they, well, break out. Privacy is as bad as Covid-19. There, I said it.

I know some people who cover their laptop webcams with blurry sticky-tape to stop hackers from peering in. But what if they have a runny nose? Wouldn’t it be better for society if a webcam could take a snapshot and post it straight to a public Twitter account so caring colleagues or neighbours can offer the ill person a box of tissues or avoid being in the same elevator?

The police now have powers to enter a property without a warrant. But how can we expect the police to protect us from new viruses if citizens keep favouring privacy over social wellness? Private information is so 2019…

New Zealand is supposed to be a “team of five million,” right? Well, I can’t help the community if others are being selfish with their personal information. Right now, we’re sounding schizophrenic about private information. So let’s just delete “privacy” from the dictionary and let data be free.

If you agree, send a message to my Twitter account: @anonymous12345

On The Record
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