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Insights 39: 22 October 2021
Dominion Post: Fixing local government is a slow burning issue says Eric Crampton
Podcast: Oliver Hartwich discusses the Austrian media funding scandal
Webinar Invitation: Thurs 4 Nov 11am-12pm. The path to the next global financial crisis with Rt Hon Sir John Key

Bipartisan progress on housing
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
As American lawyer and politician Gideon J. Tucker put it, “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

Tucker’s law generally holds true, but there are rare exceptions.

In mid-December Parliament will strengthen property rights for landowners and allow them greater freedom to build.

In a historic move, Labour and National have come together to remove planning constraints for inner-city plots in our urban centres. On most sites, up to three homes of up to three storeys will be allowed without resource consent.

This is great news for landowners. Rather than having to spend time and money navigating regulatory hurdles, they can focus on developing their property.

It is equally great news for anyone wishing to buy or rent a home. With fewer planning restrictions, more houses will be built. Over the next two decades, this could mean the construction of more than 100,000 homes above current expectations.

Finally, it is excellent news for anyone despairing about the state of politics. It does not happen every day that the Labour Government and the National Opposition work jointly to fix a problem they both created. So when it happens, it deserves praise.

Even though we have not seen the details of the bill yet, from what we have heard, this bipartisan housing reform is a big step forward.

I applaud the politicians who made this decision. Congratulations to Jacinda Ardern for accepting the cooperation offer from Opposition Leader Judith Collins. And thanks are due to Ministers David Parker, Megan Woods and (behind the scenes) Phil Twyford, and to National’s housing spokesperson Nicola Willis.

Having made progress on planning reform, the two parties now need to tackle other issues.

The Labour Party and the National Party both understand that new houses require roads and pipes. Both have taken steps to better finance such infrastructure investments, but much more must be done.

In the same spirit that led to the breakthrough on planning reform, maybe politicians of both major parties can develop incentives for councils to support development.

Following this week’s joint announcement, such a bipartisan approach appears possible. And sometimes, when the Legislature is in session, good policy may indeed be the outcome.

What is a climate change minister to do?
Matt Burgess | Senior Economist |
Last week, the government unveiled the first draft of its plan for how this country will lower emissions over the coming decades.

The Emissions Reduction Plan lacks specifics but signals intent. If only half of it comes to pass, the plan will permanently change what governments do in this country. It is nothing if not ambitious.

The manifesto was greeted not with fears of overreach but with disappointment.

“More waffle than brunch time in Ponsonby,” said the Green Building Council.

Failed to say who will drive the Circular Economy agenda, said the Zero Waste Network of Aotearoa.

“Kicking the can down the road,” said the Council of Trade Unions.

The Public Service Association complained about the “lack of tangible actions to make the emission reductions we need.”

The Sustainable Business Council and Climate Leaders Coalition want more detail. And on it went.

The New Zealand Initiative was almost alone in pointing out the Emissions Reduction Plan will not reduce emissions. The government has already put a sinking lid on emissions via the Emissions Trading Scheme. Policies under this cap cannot lower emissions any further.

No environmental groups share our concern. Their demand is clear: more taxes, more regulations, bans and subsidies. More government. Whether this cuts emissions is either taken as given or seen as irrelevant.

What is a Climate Change Minister to do? Push climate change policies which work? Or pander to a voting base that demands visible but useless actions?

For now, activists in ministries and environmental groups hold sway. But for how long?

As the government’s radical policies bite, voters will become more receptive to the idea that their sacrifices are for nothing. Their pain is not the necessary by-product of lowering emissions, but of wasteful policies which do not work as promised.

Sooner or later, the median voter will see the lie and demand one of two things. Either the government stops virtue signalling at their expense and does what works for the climate. Or that it ceases any further action on climate at all.

So far, the government has chosen to pander to a vocal but mistaken minority. It has pushed policies knowing they will not work. But the government cannot mislead voters all the way to net zero emissions.

A larger political audience – a silent majority who want effective actions without the needless pain – lies in wait.

Our podcast on the government's emissions reduction plan can be found here.

An entry pitch
Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
Those of us whose families are far away across wide oceans found a bit of hope this week. Entering New Zealand will really be rather simple.

You just need the right pitch, and a willingness to be sycophantic.

This week, Australian comedian Celeste Barber accepted the Prime Minister’s invitation to visit. She will tour the country in May.

Ardern and Barber have some history. While fundraising during the 2020 Australian bushfires, Barber pleaded that Ardern become Australia’s Prime Minister. She then starred with Clarke Gayford in an ad. An invitation to visit soon followed.

Returning Kiwis have a difficult enough time finding an MIQ spot. But for non-residents, entry is completely forbidden without a reason for travel that the government considers critical.

Entry restrictions will change by May, but MIQ could still be required for travel from riskier places. And nobody knows what Covid might yet deliver.

But for Barber, it really is no matter. The Prime Minister’s invitation is a promise of an MIQ space if one is needed. MBIE always makes sure that political imperatives are met. Barber can book her flights confidently.

It’s very convenient, for those with political pull.

How does this provide hope for the rest of us whose non-resident parents have no way of entering New Zealand and no way of planning for the year ahead?

They need only follow Barber’s example. Prominent sycophantic displays are the key to entry.

If your non-resident family abroad desperately wants to come to see their grandchildren, all they really need to do is get a Netflix comedy special. Ideally, their show will talk about just how wonderful and kind the New Zealand Government has been over the past year and a half. Netflix will be looking for that kind of content in the wake of the Dave Chappelle special. 

Maybe they don’t need a full show. A good tight-five – a solid five minutes of stand-up comedy – might make it into a compilation special. But it will be harder to work in sufficient flattery while still being funny.

I know it sounds like a longshot, but it’s got better odds than anything else out there. My mother does have a bit of amateur community theatre experience, and neither parent is likely to make any cricket squad that could be invited to tour.

They’ll just have to change their last name before applying. Our current last name might not help.

On The Record
Initiative Activities:
  • Taxpayers' Union Podcast: Willful Ignorance: disregarding the ETS will hurt us all with Matt Burgess
  • Podcast: Austrian media funding scandal with Oliver Hartwich
All Things Considered
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