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Insights 13: 22 April 2022
Dominion Post: The blame on supermarkets for inflation is nonsense says Eric Crampton
Podcast: Sean Plunket and Catherine Strong on the state of NZ media and its future
Newsroom: Oliver Hartwich discusses Putin's french candidate, Marine Le Pen

Reconnecting our exporters to the world
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
A few years ago, the Prime Minister visiting foreign countries would have barely been news.

However, after two years of borders closed because of Covid, Jacinda Ardern’s trip to Singapore and Japan is more than just noteworthy. It is most welcome.

As a remote nation, New Zealand always had to work extra hard to remain on the world’s radar.

The pandemic amplified this challenge. Global security threats, supply chain disruptions, and the demise of the rules-based international order make strong international relations more vital than ever.

Thus, it is excellent to see the Prime Minister travelling again, beginning with two countries in our wider region that share many of New Zealand’s strategic concerns.

It is also good to see the Prime Minister bringing along a high-level group of business leaders. Agriculture and tourism are well represented, underscoring that New Zealand is open for business in its traditional export-oriented industries.

However, one key export industry is missing from the list of CEOs accompanying the Prime Minister. That industry is education.

The export education sector was hard hit by New Zealand’s closed borders over the past two years.

Education services providers were affected at all levels. There are small and medium-sized companies that cater to international students in colleges. There are private providers of academic and vocational education at the tertiary level. Then there are universities, which have historically had substantial numbers of international students.

Singapore and Japan are not our traditional markets for education exports. Perhaps this explains why there were no education exporters in Ardern’s delegation.

As the Prime Minister prepares for her next trip to Asia, we may hope she will be accompanied by a few of our country’s Vice-Chancellors. She might also consider taking a few leaders of secondary student exchange companies on her trip to Europe.

If the government is serious about reviving the education export sector, it would also be well-advised to examine what is holding it back.

New Zealand will have difficulty attracting international students after the disruptions of recent years. It will be even harder to convince would-be students to come here if they also face reduced work entitlements.

New Zealand needs these students to revitalise our education export sector – and to fill casual jobs in our tight labour market.

So well done to the Prime Minister for restarting her international travel schedule. Let us now hope she will pay equal attention to the recovery of our education sector.

A ‘losers’ list’ for MMP?
Dr Michael Johnston | Senior Fellow |
At the general election in 2023, New Zealand will mark 30 years and ten elections since it adopted the Mixed-Member Proportional Representation (MMP) electoral system.

A criticism of MMP is that the party list system allows party hierarchies essentially to appoint their apparatchiks to parliament. To win a list seat, a favoured candidate need not even face an electorate, let alone do well with voters.

There is a reform that we could make to MMP that may improve democratic accountability while maintaining the proportional representation it confers. At the outset, I will say that this idea is a provocation to discussion rather than a thoroughly researched proposal.

Instead of allowing parties to construct their own lists before an election, we could wait until the votes are counted. Then, the list for each party could be made up of candidates who didn’t win a seat, in order of the proportion of the vote they gained. For example, a candidate winning 45% of the electorate vote would be ranked higher than a candidate winning 40%.

Unsuccessful candidates would be rewarded for coming close with a high ranking on the list. Of course, just as is the case with winning candidates, there’s not a straightforward relationship between the performance of candidates and the proportion of the vote they receive. Some seats lean strongly towards one party or another, whereas others are up for grabs.

Voters would vote only for local candidates. The party vote would no longer be needed. All candidates would have to face the voters of an electorate. Philosophically, this seems to sit well with our representative approach to democracy. While it’s reasonable to say that party candidates also represent voters, it’s not clear exactly which voters they represent. The party vote is just that – a vote for a party, not for a specific candidate.

This brings us to another potential advantage of this idea: Some electorates would effectively have two (or more) MPs, each representing a different party, which would create a competitive incentive for them to do a good job for their constituents.

Some New Zealanders would prefer a return to First Past the Post, and others, the adoption of the single transferrable vote system, such as that used for the Australian House of Representatives. But if we’re going to stick with MMP, perhaps it would be worth discussing the merits or otherwise of the ‘losers’ list’.

Kiwis endangered by unlicensed occupations
Roger Partridge | Chairman |
They may not know it, but unsuspecting Kiwis will soon be protected from unregistered log traders and forestry advisers. What a relief that should be.

The Shane Jones-sponsored Forests (Regulation of Log Traders and Forestry Advisers) Amendment Act was introduced under urgency in the midst of the pandemic in May 2020. Forced along by Jones’s fanciful election-year plans to boost employment in his Northland electorate, the Bill passed into law in August that year.

Jones is long gone from Parliament. But in the intervening two years, the Ministry for Primary Industries has been busily consulting with the forestry industry on a suitable registration regime.

And well they might. Even though the Ministry’s Regulatory Impact Statement could not point to any quantitative evidence of benefits from the proposed licensing regime, tasks as important as regulating log traders should not be rushed.

Submissions on the new regime closed in January this year. From 6 August, log traders and forestry advisers will have a further 12 months to become registered. After that, the public will be safe. No one will face the risk of an out-of-control log trader. Phew!

But the process Shane Jones kicked off to protect the country from cowboy log traders raises an important question. What other unregulated and unlicensed occupations in New Zealand could benefit from similar control?

A quick scan of the 2018 census reveals a shocking list of unregulated roles. Among them are some of the country’s most common occupations. From sales assistants to chief executives and from hairdressers to dairy farmers, the list goes on and on.

Who knew, for example, that flowers could be arranged by an unlicensed florist? Or that office managers could manage without registration? Just consider the risks we have been living with when waiters and kitchenhands can go about their work without certification.

And where is the Building Labourers and Painters Amendment Act? Surely if people selling logs need to be licensed, those cutting them up and covering them in paint should be too?

Of course, occupational licensing is not without cost. The higher the registration or licensing fees, the greater the risk of people being shut out of an occupation. But do we really want jobs that just anyone can do?

Or maybe the three-year period allowed before log traders and forestry advisers suggests something else. That complex and costly occupational licensing regimes like the forestry one are solutions looking for problems.

Hairdressers, sales assistants and florists can perhaps breathe sighs of relief.

On the other hand, protecting Kiwis from unqualified politicians and policymakers is another thing altogether.

On The Record

Initiative Activities:   
  • Podcast: Michael Johnston on the disturbing trends of cancel culture and the erosion of academic freedom in universities
  • Podcast: Sean Plunket & Dr Catherine Strong discuss the future of media
All Things Considered
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