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Insights 8: 15 March 2024
Newsroom: Dr Matthew Birchall on universal road pricing and NZTA's funding gap
Podcast: Dr Oliver Hartwich talks to the Swiss Ambassador Viktor Vavricka about localism
NZ Herald: Dr James Kierstead on how trade has failed to make China more democratic - so far

A Kiwi take on a German institution
Dr Michael Johnston | Senior Fellow |
New Zealanders and Germans have a lot in common. They share a socially liberal ethos, a liking for beer and the MMP electoral system. In other ways, the two countries are quite different.

I recently visited Germany with a delegation organised by the German-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce. Our mission was to learn about the German ‘dual training’ system for apprentices, which takes a very different approach than trades training in New Zealand.

About half of German school-leavers go into apprenticeships. They are employed by companies while also attending training schools.  Crucially, the companies and training schools share responsibility for training – hence, ‘dual training’. The companies also pay apprentices a wage, albeit a very modest one.

The companies all belong to chambers of commerce, to which they pay a compulsory levy, which helps fund the training schools. The government pays the rest. Apprentices do not have to pay tuition fees.

Graduates of the dual training system can attend university if they wish. As a result, many German engineers have both practical and theoretical qualifications. The delegation visited a building company, which made this impressive combination of practical skill and engineering innovation very clear. The company’s factory prefabricates a house every two days.

Cultural differences would make it difficult to replicate the dual training system in New Zealand. German companies that do not themselves train apprentices still pay the training levy without complaint. They recognise a collective duty to support the next generation of tradespeople.

The willingness of German companies to fund training collectively reflects a respect for the trades that probably goes back to the guilds of the Middle Ages. It is hard to imagine New Zealand companies being willing to do the same. But even though we could not do things in quite the German way, the highly flexible NCEA system, for all its flaws, offers opportunities for a New Zealand take on dual training.

Schools can form relationships with companies and have their senior students participate in internships while they complete NCEA with relevant courses. Students might then be employed in those companies when they leave school and be sponsored to complete a trades qualification.

This approach is already happening in some schools. A question that I will address in a forthcoming New Zealand Initiative report is how to encourage it at scale. That could give us a Kiwi ‘number-eight wire’ version of the German dual training system.

Balancing progress and prudence
Nick Clark | Senior Fellow, Economics and Advocacy |
The Coalition Government has introduced the Fast-Track Approvals Bill as part of its broader efforts to reform the Resource Management Act (RMA). The Bill aims to speed up decision-making for infrastructure and development projects with potential for substantial regional and national economic benefits.
The Bill underscores the Government’s commitment to promoting growth and development. It’s welcome, but it requires some refinement.
Currently, RMA processes are slow and expensive, with infrastructure projects taking ages to work through processes and costing $1.3 billion annually in consent expenses. This does not include costs and delays from other conservation laws or for projects such as housing, mining and aquaculture, all of which could benefit from fast-tracking.
Around 100 projects could qualify for automatic fast-tracking, with additional projects subject to ministerial referral. Expert panels will review the projects, offering recommendations to Ministers, who will then make the final decisions.
There has been criticism of the Bill. Criteria for eligibility are strong on economic benefits, but it is unclear how competing projects will be ranked.  Some argue that when decisions rest solely with Ministers, it increases uncertainty and fosters perceptions of political influence. Consequently, they think expert panels should have the final say.
The Bill emphasises economic benefits , a focus that has sparked opposition from environmental groups. Critics complain that the Minister for the Environment is not involved in the decision-making process, that appeal rights are restricted and that environmental groups will not be consulted.
In response, the Government insists that environmental impacts will be managed. Important conservation land will not be available for projects and consideration will be given to threatened species. Additionally, expert panels will have the authority to recommend conditions for consent.
So, how can the Bill be improved?
Economic efficiency should be a criterion for ranking and assessing projects. Economic expertise should also be added to expert panels.
Either expert panels should be made the decision makers or there should be strong disclosure requirements on Ministers. The Minister for the Environment should be added as a decision-maker.
There should be a sunset clause to make fast-tracking temporary until the current RMA is replaced.
The end goal should be a better RMA and conservation laws that enable economic development while respecting property rights and protecting the natural environment.
Ultimately, projects should be able to proceed efficiently without the need for fast-tracking.
Nick Clark started with The New Zealand Initiative in early March as a Senior Fellow, Economics and Advocacy, and is focusing on local government, resource management and economic policy.

Nick's policy point Fast-Track Approvals Bill was published on 13 March 2024.

Conflict resolution for dummies
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
Our esteemed Pontiff, Pope Francis, has once again had a brilliant epiphany. His solution to the Ukraine conflict is so obvious that one wonders why nobody thought of it earlier: Ukrainians just need to raise the white flag, and there will be peace on Earth.

Sounds simple? It is!

Who would have thought ending a war that has kept the world on edge for over two years could be so easy?

In Francis’ world, the whole war may just have been a misunderstanding. Vladimir Putin, that famous angel of peace, sent a few soldiers and tanks over the border to expand his territory and do a little clean-up. Pure routine for a man of his calibre.

But what do these obstinate Ukrainians do? Instead of recognising the sign of the times and gratefully grovelling at the cross, they dare to resist! The nerve of these people!

How fortunate we are to have a Pope whose razor-sharp analysis shows us the path to peace. After all, negotiation is always the key – especially when one party has absolutely nothing to say.

Of course, Ukraine will have to make some tiny sacrifices: surrender a few territories here, relinquish sovereignty there, and maybe give up its culture for good measure.

But let’s be honest: Who needs those pesky things when you have the glorious prospect of living as Putin’s loyal subjects?

The Pope’s message is loud and clear: Ukrainians, start sewing your white flags while you still have fabric! Bury your weapons, embrace the Russian soldiers with open arms, and let them graciously issue your shiny new passports.

Anyone who still entertains thoughts of resistance has clearly missed the point entirely. Once Ukraine is fully Russified, we can put the whole unpleasant chapter of war behind us.

The Pope can rest easy, having fulfilled his sacred mission as the supreme peacemaker.

Russia will be ecstatic because it got to gobble up another juicy piece of the geopolitical pie.

And we in the enlightened West will be overjoyed because we will no longer have to worry about expensive arms deliveries. Instead, we can finally refill our gas storage tanks.

It’s a win-win-win situation all around!

Isn’t it wonderful when the complicated things in life can be solved in such a simple manner? All it takes is a little bit of courage – the courage to capitulate unconditionally, that is.

In Putin’s name, Amen!

On The Record

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