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Insights 29: 5 August 2016
Read our latest report - The Local Benchmark: When Smaller is Better
 
Register for the Wellington semi-final debate: Wednesday 10 August
 
Register for the Auckland semi-final debate: Monday 15 August

The good, the best, and getting the job done
Dr Eric Crampton | Head of Research | eric.crampton@nzinitiative.org.nz
In politics, the good enough is the best you can usually hope for. On most policy questions, the best is irrelevant. What matters instead is what is best among currently possible options.

And so The New Zealand Initiative has joined its name to those of many others urging Auckland Council to pass the Unitary Plan.

In our policy reports and analyses, we worry both about what is best and about what could be politically feasible in time, if not now. Both are important. There is no point in a think tank that only proposes things that are currently politically feasible. The Ministries are filled with analysts making their best guesses as to what the Minister might support. A think tank’s job is working out what should be possible and showing the way there so that better solutions become good politics.

In the case of Auckland housing, The New Zealand Initiative has been an important part of shifting the conversation – along with others like Motu’s Arthur Grimes, and Demographia’s Hugh Pavletich. 

Regulatory barriers to new construction, both up and out, underlie Auckland’s housing crisis. Easing those artificial barriers to new housing supply has to happen for Auckland to start slowly moving toward affordability. Five years ago, that conversation was not really politically feasible. Now it is generally accepted on both sides of the aisle in Parliament. 

The plan, now back from the Independent Hearings Panel, is far from perfect. But it is better than what went before it. There are promising hints that Municipal Utility Districts could be built as satellite towns. Some barriers to densification, like blanket regulations making it hard to redevelop any house built prior to 1944, are gone. The plan can and should have gone further in allowing density in more places that people want to live, and in taking Phil Twyford’s advice to abolish the Rural-Urban Boundary.

But it is almost inconceivable that any revisiting of it by Council would improve things. It is more likely that restrictions on density would be re-imposed, or that everything built before 1977 would get protected heritage status. 

There is still ample work to be done in striving for the best. We will continue to work on it, and look forward to seeing the Productivity Commission’s report too. 

In the meantime, pass the plan.


Door open or door shut?
Martine Udahemuka | Research Fellow | martine.udahemuka@nzinitiative.org.nz
Forget housing affordability, if you want to quickly divide a room into two antagonistic camps ask whether New Zealand should increase its refugee quota.

Those in favour of opening the doors are likely to say that New Zealand’s new pledge to accept 1,000 refugees a year is not enough. This is a drop in the global ocean given there are more than 60 million displaced people in the world.

New Zealand’s quota is also pitiful compared to countries like Germany. If New Zealand had proportionally accepted as many migrants as Germany did last year, we would have taken in more than 60,000 people.

Those in the other camp would probably point out that Germany’s altruism in the face of the refugee crisis has not worked out well. A spate of refugee-related crime and a spike in lone wolf terrorist attacks are creating animosity between refugees and the Germans.

There are strong arguments on both sides that need to be carefully considered.

New Zealand could certainly accommodate more refugees given our low population and relatively large land mass and help a lot of desperate people in the process. But an influx of people from different parts of the world also present real implications for the country.

Politicians need to think carefully about the integration process. Will the refugees fit in? Are there other options to help? Decisions have both political and moral consequences and present questions worth debating.

The Initiative’s annual Next Generation Debates kicked off this week. But hold on to your seats for the Grand Final. The moot will be: This house believes New Zealand should accommodate 60,000 refugees per year.

Having myself arrived in New Zealand as a refugee makes the case personal. But debates are not won on emotion alone. Arguments for whichever case need to be evidence-based, articulate and convincing.

If we want to be able to get along with people whose views we do not share, we need to walk a mile in their shoes to appreciate where they are coming from. Skilful debate allows that.

Please register here for the 24 August event in Wellington. On the panel we have Hon Paul Goldsmith, Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and Denise Roche, Green Party spokesperson for Immigration, Pacific Peoples and Ethnic Affairs.


It's policy but not as we know it
Jason Krupp | Research Fellow | jason.krupp@nzinitiative.org.nz
By the time you read this a bottle of champagne and bouquet of seasonal blooms will have landed on Conservation Minister Maggie Barry’s desk. It is the least the Initiative could do for someone who has made our lives so easy.

You probably need some backstory to understand why we are also commissioning an oil painting of the famed gardener and National Party stalwart. About a fortnight ago the minister announced that the government was launching a policy to make New Zealand predator free by 2050. The only catch with this laudable programme is that “not all the technology to make New Zealand predator free yet exists”.

Do not scoff at this notion – it is a stroke of pure genius from a policy perspective. Our lives at the Initiative just got immensely easier.

For example, when trying to think through congestion problems in Auckland, just apply a dash of imaginary technology. In fact, the Initiative is about to pitch a teleportation policy brief to Transport Minister Simon Bridges, with the aim of eliminating all cars by 2047 (prime numbers are so Spock).

Sure, the technology is currently confined to television shows like Star Trek, but that is just detail best left to someone else.

We could also slash education spending if we used direct-to-brain information uploads like in the Matrix, and fire all those pesky teachers, principals and administrators.

Yet-to-be-invented technologies are also the solution to agricultural pollution. Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy should immediately get his team to draft a white paper on how we can put more cows on the land while simultaneously making all rivers swimmable, drinkable and perhaps even tonic flavoured. Okay, the last one is just ridiculous. We are talking about hypothetical inventions here, not miracles.

The only real downside for the Initiative is what to do with all the time we will have on our hands. It used to be spent delving into reports, interviewing knowledgeable sources, and writing thick but worthy tomes on public policy.

Then again, perhaps we could be constructively put to use inventing teleportation and a cow-poo-to-tonic-water-ray. Or perhaps we could ponder why we didn’t think of this brilliant policy tool in the first place.
 
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