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Insights 12: 8 April 2016
The Health of the State panel discussion will debate lifestyle regulations in Wellington on 20 April
Martine Udahemuka writes on the Ministry of Education's school funding review in the Dominion Post
Take a look at our 2015 Annual Report

The Health of the State
Jenesa Jeram | Policy Analyst |
Chef and television personality Jamie Oliver was a major proponent of a sugar tax in the UK.
You would think, then, that a sugar tax would be a real triumph for the chef turned lobbyist. Yet with barely enough time to celebrate, Jamie Oliver and health experts acknowledge this is only a small part of the policy package.
So if a sugar tax in and of itself is not a promising solution to obesity, what is it good for?
A likely answer is that a sugar tax is simply a chance to shift the Overton window. For those unfamiliar, the Overton window is the range of policies voters deem acceptable at any given time. As voters get accustomed to an idea, more radical policies can then be introduced.
An editorial in the Listener has suggested as much, arguing the tax will probably have little direct effect on obesity, but could have symbolic value.
In a sense, sugar taxes themselves are a result of shifting voter expectations. The public have already become accustomed to tobacco and alcohol excise, making food taxes seem like the next logical step.
The reality is, despite (varying forms of) sugary drinks taxes being implemented in seventeen countries, there is still little evidence that these taxes actually reduce obesity.
Much of the overseas evidence, where that evidence exists, indicates a reduction in spending on that taxed item, or a reduction in overall consumption. But that does not consider whether people switch to cheaper versions of the same product, or switch to untaxed but equally unhealthy foods.
Most importantly, it does not prove that the tax will have a significant effect on obesity. The Morgan Foundation has helpfully pointed out a study they deem reliable, which shows the effect on obesity and BMI is tiny. The largest effect was a 0.06 BMI reduction for a 20 percent tax.
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has rejected a sugar tax for now, but that does not mean we can remain complacent. After all, this is the same government that places regulatory restrictions on e-cigarettes, despite convincing evidence they can reduce harm to smokers wanting to quit.
The Overton window has already shifted in New Zealand without many people making much fuss. That is the whole point.
While public health is the flavour of the month today, there is absolutely nothing stopping evidence-poor policies being introduced in other areas too.
Sugar taxes is just one subject in The New Zealand Initiative’s upcoming report on public health and lifestyle regulations. Join us for a panel discussion where we will be discussing this and other regulations that limit the freedom we have to make decisions about our own bodies. 

A worthwhile Canadian initiative
Dr Eric Crampton | Head of Research |
A few years ago, The New Republic held a contest for most boring news headline. “A Worthwhile Canadian Initiative” won. But at least one worthwhile Canadian initiative is far from boring – and it is saving lives.

This week, Dean Barry, Immigration Counsellor with the Canadian High Commission in Canberra, came out to Wellington to tell us how Canada manages to accommodate so many refugees. They do it by letting communities help.

Private sponsors sign up to provide financial and emotional support for a refugee’s first year in the country. If a sponsoring organisation knows refugees abroad that they want to help, they can nominate those refugees. The government runs extensive background checks to ensure the nominated refugee meets security requirements. The government also vets the sponsors to make sure that they are up to the rather substantial task. If the sponsors simply want to help whoever is in most need, they can sponsor the next refugee on the UN High Commission for Refugees list.

Canada has almost 40 years’ experience on which to draw, beginning with the support Canada provided to Vietnamese refugees in the late 1970s. The government, and sponsoring organisations, have learned rather a lot about how to make this kind of programme work.

The sponsorship channel reduces, but does not eliminate, the fiscal cost to the government of accepting new refugees. Government-funded health care services and education are provided immediately on arrival. But both of those are rightly seen as investments in people who will become future taxpayers and patriotic citizens.

More importantly, sponsored refugees wind up having better outcomes in Canada than those entering the country through the government’s standard quota. Being sponsored embeds you in a local community, with people who care and who can help with the simple details of daily life in a new country that can be daunting for any migrant.

And the potential to sponsor someone – to bring them out of misery and into a better life – opens hearts and wallets. Where Kiwis might fear that nobody would want to take on that responsibility, Canada has the opposite problem: the government cannot process new refugee applications quickly enough to meet sponsor demand.

New Zealand can and should learn from this worthwhile Canadian initiative. Double the refugee quota, which has not kept up with population growth. But also allow a sponsorship path to let more caring people help.

Saving us from ourselves, one ticket at a time
Roger Partridge | Chairman |
Todd Treweek’s had a bad week. As the Herald reported on Wednesday, the Dunedin chef’s just been busted for his tenth parking offence.

What’s notable about Todd’s offending is that it’s victimless. Indeed, his infringement is a form of self-abuse. His favourite parking place is in front of his own garage, so he’s only blocking himself in. And in doing so, he’s freeing parking spaces up for others.

The price of Todd taking one for the team? Well, he estimates that the dreaded parking wardens have now punished him with $1000 in fines.

As a fellow resident of a crowded inner-city cul-de-sac, I’m only too familiar with Todd’s predicament. Purposely parking in front of my own garage brings pure delight.

It’s not just that it’s a crime with no victim, but it’s also doing a public service by giving my garage-deprived neighbours an additional place to park.

Rarely is there an opportunity for such a clear-cut win-win. It’s an economist’s dream: I have a reserved parking place, and my neighbours have more choice elsewhere in the street.

If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. As both Todd and I have found, parking in front of your own garage gives the parking-police a free hit.

And they won’t be discouraged. Pop down to the street after a tip-off from a friendly neighbour and point out that it’s your own garage, that you consent to the infringement, and that it’s in the public interest, and it falls on deaf ears. The wardens redefine relentless.

Taking things to the top doesn’t help either. “The law is quite clear. You can’t park over any driveway, including your own”, responded the Council’s Parking Warden Team Leader, Daphne Griffen.

If Ms Griffen is right, the law is an ass. But is it that clear cut? Even parking wardens have a prosecutorial discretion. Maybe it’s time they chose to use it.

Civil society depends on respect for the law. Our parking police have never had a great press. Policing victimless crimes will hardly improve their esteem.

Perhaps it’s time for the Todd Treweeks of this world to receive a few parking pardons.

Self-abuse may be banned in the Bible, but surely this is one time where we don’t need to be protected from ourselves? In any case, after suffering his tenth ticket, it’s clearly not Todd who’s the jerk.

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