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Insights 45: 1 December 2023
The Post: Dr Eric Crampton on enabling Wellington Water to fix the region's pipes
Podcast: Lord Hannan chats with Dr Oliver Hartwich about Brexit and CANZUK
Newsroom: Dr Oliver Hartwich compares the misuse of COVID funds between NZ and Germany

Radical or conservative? It all depends on your perspective
Roger Partridge | Chairman |
After six years of a Labour-led Government, the newly sworn-in Government’s policies were always going to shock its opponents. Despite the centre-left and the centre-right parties all pitching their policies to the median voter, profound philosophical differences divide them.

Under Labour, political discourse was dominated by the politics of identity. Race and gender issues became entwined in almost every aspect of public policy. Health, education, and environmental policies are the most obvious examples. But issues of identity pervaded even matters as banal as wastewater. 

Against this background, the coalition Government’s universalist approach may seem radical, even heretical, to some in the Beltway. Just consider the outrage on social media since last Friday at the coalition commitment that “public services should be prioritised on the basis of need, not race”. Only a few years ago, such a position would not have raised an eyebrow. 

The incoming Government’s attitude to race and gender is emblematic of its broader philosophy on inequality. 

After six years of the Labour-led Government talking endlessly about inequality, the coalition arrangements between National, ACT and New Zealand First do not mention the word. Not once.  

Compare that with the commitments to reduce inequality in the opening paragraphs of Labour’s 2017 coalition and cooperation agreements.  

Does this mean the centre-right cares less about unequal societal outcomes than the previous government? Or is it simply taking a different tack? 

Under the Labour-led Government, more spending was never enough. Between 2017 and 2023, real Government spending per capita increased by nearly a quarter. Meanwhile, educational disparities widened, hospital waiting lists grew longer, and the number of Jobseeker beneficiaries swelled. Rather than lessen inequities, more spending seems to have made them worse. 

National’s coalition agreements with ACT and New Zealand First suggest a different approach. Instead of focusing on inequality, the new Government’s policies will tackle the causes of deprivation. 

One example is the coalition’s education commitments. Refocussing the system on academic achievement, teaching literacy and numeracy better and improving school choice promise to improve educational outcomes after decades of decline. Nothing will reduce inequality more than better education. 

Housing reform proposals have a real prospect of solving another cause of poverty and inequality: severely unaffordable house prices.   

And policies that make the health system more accountable for its performance are a good start to addressing the health system’s inequities.     

Critics may claim the new Government doesn’t care about inequity. But its policy agenda suggests otherwise. We should wish it well. 

The background to “passing a Regulatory Standards Act as soon as is practicable”
Dr Bryce Wilkinson | Senior Fellow |
The Coalition Agreement between National and ACT includes a commitment to pass the “Regulatory Standards Act as soon as practicable”.   

How fast is that? What is it, what does it do, and what might its passing mean? 

It could be at the front end of the legislative pipeline. A well-developed Bill exists. The House debated it on 4 August 2021. National and ACT voted for it to proceed to a first reading, but Labour used its majority to scotch it. 

The Bill is the product of a 2009 government-appointed Regulatory Responsibility Taskforce chaired by former Secretary to the Treasury, Dr Graham Scott. I was a member of that taskforce.  

The taskforce was greatly assisted, pro bono, by one of New Zealand’s top law firms Chapman Tripp. Staff from the Parliamentary Counsel Office helped draft the Bill.  

Its report explains each of the Bill’s provisions. There is a copy on The Treasury’s website. 

The Bill aims to make it harder for government to pass bad laws.  

First, it enumerates accepted mainstream principles for a legal system and for regulatory assessment. These include the rule of law, protection of basic personal liberties, security of possession, principled taxation, independent courts and impartial tests of good law-making, including a meaningful assessment of likely benefits and costs. 

Second, it requires a minister sponsoring a specific measure to certify that it complies with those principles and, if not, to explain any exceptions. 

So what? The Bill allows any citizen to contest the minister’s certification in a court. It gives the court the power to declare that a measure is incompatible with any of the principles.  UK courts have such a power under the UK Human Rights Act. 

The 2009 Bill is weak beyond this point. Even if the citizen wins, nothing is changed. The measure retains its legal force unless Parliament changes its mind. It is under no obligation to do so. 

As such the Bill is a transparency measure. It merely makes it harder for the government of the day to impose poor-quality laws and regulations. 

Some of those making submissions on the Bill will want to amend it to give a successful plaintiff a tangible remedy. Options exist. 

Others will oppose even this modest transparency measure. Some may argue existing checks on legislative quality are adequate. That criticism is unworldly. 

Dutch courage
Benjamin Macintyre | Research Assistant |
Are you suffering from post-election fatigue? Did you feel the whole campaign was overly long and protracted, and a little boring?  

And then the coalition negotiations – they dragged and dragged. It took so long that the planned mini-budget before Christmas will probably only contain our new government’s holiday plans.  

Well, you’re not alone. The International Doctor’s Intentional Oversight Team have reported that over 70% of New Zealanders are suffering from a condition known as “just a little bit sick of the whole thing, to be honest”. 

Thankfully, the brainboxes at I.D.I.O.T. have found a cure.  

It’s Dutch courage. 

Or, more specifically, we should all aspire to have the courage of the Dutch.  

It turns out we’re a little bit weak stomached here in New Zealand. Did campaigning begin a little before the official period? Did the coalition negotiations take 6 weeks? Boo hoo.  

The Dutch would cackle at such feeble-minded tripe.  

You may not be aware, but the Dutch have just had an election too. And they’re doing it properly – have the biggest winner be an unpalatable reactionary fearmongering strongman who yells at strawmen and who surely can’t get anyone else to work with him. 

Meanwhile, make sure no one gets over 25% to ensure that no one has any idea what the next government would look like.  

But why is that ideal, I hear you ask? 

Well, it’s simple. Coalition negotiations! 

Thinking 6 weeks is a long time for a coalition negotiation is embarrassingly weak-willed. 6 weeks is roughly the amount of time it takes us to not win a world cup. Hardly anything at all! 

The Dutch, however, know how to do coalition agreements.  

It is feared hoped that coalition negotiations may take months to complete. Months! And the last time they had an election? 271 days to finally strike a deal. 

Now that is a proper negotiation.  

Honestly, our 6 weeks makes it seem like our new government haven’t taken this seriously at all.  

How can you squeeze what takes the Dutch nearly a year into less than two months? Either our new government has rushed things, or the Dutch system is wildly inefficient. 

And why would we think that they’re inefficient when they have such lovely windmills?  

New Zealand, we need to toughen up. Our current ineptitude is depriving us of months and months of sweet, sweet, political uncertainty. 

Courage of the Dutch indeed.   

On The Record

Initiative Activities:
  • Podcast: Lord Hannan on Brexit and CANZUK, Dr Oliver Hartwich talks to Lord Hannan, a sitting member of the House of Lords and an adviser to the UK Board of Trade, 30 November 2023
  • Podcast: University-based Teacher Education, Dr Michael Johnston talks to Dr Claudia Roxas Gomez, lecturer at the University of Auckland, 28 November 2023
To listen to our latest podcasts, please subscribe to The New Zealand Initiative podcast on iTunesSpotify or The Podcast App.
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