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Insights 45: 2 December 2022
NZ Herald: Oliver Hartwich on Three Waters and the spirit of a liberal parliamentary democracy
Podcast: Oliver Hartwich discusses the issues of the week with The Working Group
Sunday Star Times: Eric Crampton on the hasty drafting of the proposed grocery regulation

Yet more Government contempt for New Zealand’s democracy
Dr Bryce Wilkinson | Senior Fellow |
This morning’s newspapers carried a full-page open letter from 42,576 signatories pointing out how undemocratic is one aspect of the Government’s three waters legislation.

The Government’s Bill confiscates local communities’ investment in water assets without compensation, and wrecks their future governance.

The letter focuses on the veto power the Government’s Bill gives to an unelected and unaccountable elite. The Bill gifts them 50% of the votes on issues that need a 75% majority to be implemented. This provision invites, even compels, extortionate demands.

The same contempt for one-person-one vote is manifest in the Government’s replacement legislation for the Resource Management Act.

Last week the Government took its contempt for our democracy and constitution one step further. It passed under urgency a measure that undermines the sanctity of entrenchment clauses that are fundamental to our democracy.

Specifically, the measure requires a future parliament to achieve a 60 percent majority to change a controversial ideological policy measure. (That measure reduces future options for putting water resources to their best use.) All this without the agreement of local communities.

The public was kept entirely in the dark. The issue was politically partisan. Both opposition parties voted against the measure. There was no emergency. The urgency was merely politically expedient.

To their credit, eight of New Zealand’s academic lawyers felt enough responsibility to New Zealanders to issue a public letter blowing the whistle on this constitutional outrage.

It is not to the Prime Minister’s credit that she has spent the last week ducking responsibility for what her government did.

On Monday, she created an impression that she did not know about it.

If not, she should have sacked those who should have told her. Her failure this week to sack anyone was self-incriminating.

In today’s news it is reported that she attended the Labour caucus meeting where the last-minute changes were discussed.

It is also clear that Officials warned her ministers against taking this step.

The Government’s arrogance and deceit in all this is breath-taking and deeply destructive.

The nation’s constitutional experts have acknowledged a public duty to speak up about the undermining of our democracy. Hopefully, having found their voice once, they will continue to do so.

More evidence of Law Society leadership would be helpful too.

Wayne Brown's not-so-super city
Roger Partridge | Senior Fellow & Chairman |
When Auckland topped the Global Liveability Index in 2021, something seemed wrong. The report's authors had clearly never tried to buy a house in the City of Sails. Or cross the city by car during the working day.
This year's survey was more plausible. Auckland had dropped to 34th, the second-largest drop of any city. The flattering ranking last year was a pandemic-induced anomaly.
Wayne Brown has promised to address Auckland's failings. So, what should the new mayor do?
Looking down from his 27th-floor office, he might be tempted to start by tackling the city's troublesome port. On no analysis does the world's most expensive car park represent value-for-money for ratepayers.
Yet the port's poor profitability is just a fraction of what the city will lose when the Government's three-waters legislation confiscates Watercare's $10 billion balance sheet. The mayor is right to resist this.
Even then, the port and Watercare are not the city's biggest challenges. The real calamities are transport and housing.
On each problem, there is much the mayor can do.
Transport policy in Auckland has been a basket case for decades. Successive governments have played tug-of-war. Roads versus rail. Cars versus public transport. This pet project over that one.
The city desperately needs a joined-up transport plan.
To achieve this, the mayor must address the democratic deficit in transport policy. Auckland Transport's planners must no longer be allowed to use transport policy to serve their own agenda rather than the needs of Aucklanders.
The plan must be evidence-based, not ideological. It must promote all modes of transport, including cars. And it must build on what has been proven to work (like the Northern Busway).
Because transport infrastructure takes time, it must also make use of congestion pricing, which the Initiative's research has shown can provide short- and long-term solutions for congested cities.
Above all else, the plan must be subject to rigorous cost-benefit analysis.
There is more and less for the mayor to do on housing. Auckland's house prices are a scandal. Yet most of the tools for resolving the problem are to be found in Wellington.
But the mayor can champion their use.
Here too, the Initiative's research can help. Wellington must incentivise councils to facilitate new housing by changing the way local Government is funded. National planning frameworks must prioritise housing over other objectives. Import restrictions on building materials must be eased.
If the new mayor lends his voice to promoting these solutions, it will not take a global pandemic for Auckland's liveability to soar.
Wouldn't that be super?

Make it Zero
Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
There’s a fundamental arbitrariness to almost any voting age. Except one. 

I have a modest proposal.  

Every person in New Zealand should be represented in Parliament, regardless of age. So the voting age should be zero.  

You might raise an obvious objection. If sixteen-year-olds, eighteen-year-olds, and even some thirty-year-olds are of dubious maturity and suitability for the franchise, how on earth might a ten-year-old or an infant cast an informed ballot? 

The answer is just as obvious. 

As natural guardians, parents exercise many rights on their children's behalf. In some cases, grandparents or others act as guardians instead. They sign the permission sheets for school trips and everything else.  

Guardians would vote on behalf of the children in their care.   

Under my modest proposal, guardians would continue to exercise this right, on behalf of their children, until one of two things happened. 

If parents thought their child was ready for it, they could pass the ballot over to the child – at their discretion. 

If a child positively demonstrated readiness for adult responsibilities by leaving the home and becoming financially independent, guardians would lose the proxy ballot if they had not already relinquished it. 

For some Kiwis, this could mean a voting age much lower than 18. For others, the voting age could well increase substantially. In either case, Kiwis would get the vote when they were ready for it – either as deemed by their parents, or as demonstrated by their actions.  

I have a fourteen-year-old and a twelve-year-old. I wouldn’t give either the ballot yet. But either could earn it from me, through appropriate demonstrated knowledge of civics and economics. It could encourage them to be more attentive to their studies.  

There is a flip side to this, of course.  

With advancing years, parents sometimes become dependent on their children.  

It may come to pass that, in my decrepitude, I become senile and require my children to take up power of attorney. Or that I become financially reliant on them. In either case, the roles would reverse and my children would exercise the ballot on my behalf.  

My solution resolves the inherent arbitrariness of any fixed age by replacing it with parental discretion.  

That my solution would provide many more ballots to those who, like me, are in their 40s (the true Greatest Generation), is purely coincidental. 

Make it Zero. 

On The Record

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