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Insights 1: 26 January 2024
NZ Herald: Roger Partridge on the need for public service cuts to help rein in government spending
RNZ: Dr Eric Crampton on Wellington Water issues and a volumetric user pays model
Newsroom: Dr Oliver Hartwich on how unprepared Europe might be for a potential conflict with Russia

The right step: New Zealand’s engagement in the Middle East
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
The Government’s decision to deploy defence force personnel to the Middle East marks a significant, yet reasonable, shift in its foreign policy. Far from undermining our long-held independence stance, this move reaffirms New Zealand’s commitment to democratic values and global security.

Historically, New Zealand has prided itself on an independent foreign policy that navigates the complex geopolitical landscape with a nuanced and principled approach.

The decision to engage in the Middle East aligns with these principles, reflecting a willingness to stand up for New Zealand’s values and interests in the face of emerging global challenges.

It is crucial to understand that independence in foreign policy does not equate to neutrality, let alone isolationism. In a world increasingly polarised between liberal and authoritarian forces, such neutrality would be cowardly.

Independence, in its true sense, is about making sovereign decisions that align with one’s values and interests. Therefore, New Zealand’s engagement in the Middle East is not abandoning its independent policy but its practical application.

Today's world is markedly different from the era when Wellington could afford a more hands-off approach. The threats to global security and the liberal democratic order are more pronounced, necessitating a more active role.

We should also put New Zealand’s contribution into perspective. New Zealand will send six defence force staff, not six frigates. Incidentally, New Zealand only has two of the latter (and whether they are even operational is a different question).

The deployment to the Middle East, especially in a non-combat, intelligence-support role, is an appropriate way for New Zealand to contribute to international efforts to safeguard freedom of the seas. It aligns with our capabilities and our historical commitment to peacekeeping and upholding international law.

The Government’s decision also expresses of solidarity with our democratic allies. Democracies need to stand united against authoritarian forces challenging the rules-based international order.

Finally, New Zealand is a nation dependent on trade. Keeping international trade routes safe will always be in New Zealand’s national interest.

It is disappointing that the Government’s decision did not have the support of the opposition. Our dedication to global stability and the protection of international maritime law should enjoy support across the democratic spectrum.

One can only hope for the opposition to rethink its stance.

New Zealand’s fiscal challenges: lessons from the Wellington City Council’s plight
Dr Bryce Wilkinson | Senior Fellow |
Wellington City Council’s current leaking water woes epitomise the misplaced spending priorities of successive councils. 

Wellingtonians now face water rationing in their homes while they see vast quantities of leaked piped water escaping down streets and across pavements. 

To add to the irritation, anti-motorist ideologues are making roads increasingly unfriendly for motorists. The ideologues’ hope against hope for an efficient government-run bus system. But most households need the flexibility that cars provide. 

Mercifully, the ill-named “Let’s Get Wellington Moving” project has been terminated. Spin-off editor Joel MacManus described it as “a giant waste of everyone’s time. It was expensive, slow and unaccountable”.

Hundreds of millions are being spent on projects whose actual costs bear little relationship to earlier cost estimates. Their value to ratepayers, as assessed by ratepayers, seems to be largely an irrelevant consideration. 

The electorate’s tendency to elect politicians with no serious financial competence or interest in value-for-money is part of the problem.  

When professing good intentions is enough to get elected, those who are best at expressing fine sentiments can spend and regulate whimsically.   

Poor quality regulations can have adverse fiscal consequences for Councils.  

Safety regulations and heritage regulations illustrate the impulse to regulate poorly. Both are well-intentioned - as long as property rights and value-for-money are not taken seriously. 

The Council’s Town Hall buildings are caught by this regulatory double-whammy. Heritage buildings cannot easily be demolished. Therefore they must be strengthened, regardless of the net cost to community wellbeing.  

Households could be made worse off by thousands of dollars each. In 2014, TailRisk Economics assessed that the government’s draft earthquake-strengthening legislation would impose a net cost to the community of $10 billion. Households would be over $5,000 worse off, on average.

Only those not caring much about New Zealanders’ wellbeing could support that.  

Pursuing greater safety, lower CO2 emissions, more sustainable management, better housing and all other worthy goals is desirable if the benefits to the community exceed the costs, but not otherwise. 

Last October, journalist Andrea Vance called for central government to consider intervention to stop the Council rot. Unfortunately, central government is commonly similarly infected. 

Better ways of putting value-for-money at the centre of government spending and regulation are needed. Much could be done. Hopefully, this government will step up.

Houthi rebels
Max Salmon | Research Fellow |
Half a world away from New Zealand in the Red Sea, a small group is making a big splash in international relations theory and philosophy. 

The Houthis, already well known for their stunning flag design talents and progressive stance on ageist restrictions to military service, have awed the intellectual community once again.  

This group of privateers with big dreams have demonstrated their humanitarian bona fides by opposing the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people. This peaceable grass-roots movement has taken matters into its own hands. And it is the very Avant Garde nature of their solution that has the world talking: 

Bombing and Capturing ships. 

“What sort of ships?” I hear you ask. 

Well not Israeli navy ships, that would be too gauche. 

And no, it’s not Israeli merchant ships either. 

It’s not even ships delivering goods to Israel. Or at least not just those ships. 

They are attacking any ship that catches their eye. A diverse array, from Swedish cargo ships to Japanese vehicle carriers. All in the name of calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. 

You might well wonder what the 25-man crew of the Japanese Galaxy Leader had to do with the state of Israel. The answer is absolutely nothing.  

This is the brilliance of Houthi Theory, to utterly disconnect cause and effect. A thousand philosophers cry out in anguish that this solution did not occur to them first. So simple, so elegant. After all, why shackle yourself to actions with clearly linked effects, when you can just do literally anything, and claim that it’s for a good cause.  

Injustice, of course, isn’t limited to Gaza and this Houthi Theory seems like it might be useful to apply elsewhere. Suddenly new methods of protesting the world’s wrongs emerge.  

For instance, I was thinking we could put impose a trade embargo on Fiji until Qatar ceases slavery. Or we could try kicking puppies until the government indexes tax brackets to inflation. The applications for pathways to peace are endless.  

Yes, in return for the gift of their universal epistemological breakthrough I can see a Nobel Prize in the near future for the leaders of the Houthi movement. The only problem for the panel in Stockholm will be deciding to whom to award the prize.  

Perhaps the government of Panama, after all, they had nothing to do with it. 

On The Record

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