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Insights 10: 31 March 2023
Webinar report launch: Save our Schools - Solutions for New Zealand's Education Crisis
Podcast: Vocational education and training with Professor Dr Antje Barabasch
Webinar: A critical analysis of the Covid-19 pandemic management in New Zealand

A farce of a Parliamentary process
Transparency and proper processes are the very foundation of a functioning democracy. 

We were outraged this week to find that a new Bill, granting the Government extraordinary powers, was going to be rushed through Parliament.

Consultation on the Severe Weather Emergency Recovery Legislation Bill (SWERL) started at 9pm on Tuesday. Selected stakeholders were given a deadline until Wednesday 5pm to send in their submission. 

Such a timeframe would be outrageous even for ordinary pieces of legislation. But this was no ordinary Bill. The SWERL Bill is a powerful tool that can suspend primary legislation and grant broad powers to the Minister over five years - with no accountability and limited transparency.

The lack of democratic etiquette is concerning to anyone who cares about our parliamentary democracy. Sadly, most of the media did not even notice what was going on.

The Initiative issued a media statement damning the farcical consultation process. You can read our submission hereMike Hosking on Newstalk ZB also covered the Initiative's media release, followed up with an interview with Oliver Hartwich.

To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, the price of a functioning democracy is eternal vigilance.

Democracy undermined by biased policing
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
In a liberal democracy, the police are crucial to maintaining order and enforcing the law. But recent incidents, such as the disruption of British feminist Posie Parker’s event in Auckland, have raised concerns about the police’s ability or willingness to carry out these duties impartially.

Parker’s event was violently disrupted by protestors, resulting in physical assaults on her supporters and a forced cancellation.

The police did not prevent this from happening. Instead, according to Parker, they subjected her to an extensive bag search on arrival and made her hotel cancel her booking.

This is not an isolated incident. It fits into an emerging pattern of selective law enforcement.

In 2019, activists occupied land at Ihumātao in Auckland for over a year, defying an eviction notice. The protest ended not with the police enforcing the law but with the government purchasing the land from the developer.

Similarly, selective enforcement was evident in the police’s selective handling of various Covid policy breaches. While Brian Tamaki got arrested, a Black Lives Matter rally was tolerated.

The occupation of Parliament in New Zealand last year also highlighted this issue. After their initial – and legal – protest, the occupiers ignored notices from the Speaker to leave. The police only intervened after nearly a month of inaction.

To take another example, in 2020, the police introduced a policy of not chasing fleeing drivers. Unsurprisingly, it resulted in a significant increase in unknown offenders fleeing from arrest. If the law is not enforced, breaking the law becomes more attractive.

The state has the exclusive right to use force, and citizens trust the state to maintain order. The police must uphold this order consistently and without bias, even if it is inconvenient or goes against the political mainstream.

Civil disobedience does not and cannot excuse police inaction. People who engage in civil disobedience should expect to face consequences. That is part of the deal. If the state does not respond, civil disobedience turns into state-sanctioned activism.

Selective enforcement of the law has created a situation in New Zealand whereby even violent disruption, as occurred at Posie Parker’s event, seems an effective strategy.

There is a reason the symbol of justice, the goddess Justitia, wears a blindfold. It is because all state institutions should apply the law without bias.

Once policing becomes partial, inconsistent or political, it ceases to be the kind of policing we expect in a liberal democracy under the rule of law. That puts democracy itself at risk.

Paying the Price for Slow Progress
Dr Matthew Birchall | Research Fellow |
New Zealand’s resource management system is a contradictory mess.
At least, that is the impression you get reading a recent report commissioned by the New Zealand Infrastructure Commission on the cost of climate consenting.
Prepared by Sapere Research Group, Infrastructure Consenting for Climate Targets looks at changes to energy and transport infrastructure that may be necessary to reach net zero.
If New Zealand is to hit its climate targets, then, by 2028, infrastructure resource consents must be processed 50% more efficiently. Otherwise, it is “highly unlikely” that the necessary low emissions projects will be completed.
So much for sustainable development.
To many, it will be no surprise that getting a resource consent can be a long and cumbersome process. Over the past eight years alone, consent times have risen by 150 percent. Long lead times mean that many worthwhile projects never get started.
Obtaining resource consents can also be very expensive.
Consenting costs in New Zealand account for 5.5% of the total costs of an average infrastructure project. The costs are higher for smaller projects worth less than $200,000, averaging 16% of the project’s costs.
While this system may benefit consultants, there has been little consideration of how slow consents may impact climate policy.
Sapere’s report suggests that New Zealand could miss 11-15 percent of emissions reductions required from the energy and transport sectors because of consenting delays.
To take a concrete example, a wind farm that currently takes 2 years to get resource consent would take around 12 years in 2050.
That delay comes with a cost. Sapere estimates New Zealand’s emissions liability to be between $5 billion and $7 billion by 2050.
Unfortunately, proposed resource management reforms seem likely to make things worse. Grenville Gaskell, the chief executive of the New Zealand Wind Energy Association, told Parliament’s environment select committee in February that the “unknowns around environmental limits” would slow down the consenting process for renewable energy.
He added that his members were “concerned they won’t be able to re-consent or develop new renewable electricity generation at sufficient scale to meet the decarbonisation targets” required of them.
At the very moment when New Zealand must increase its generation capacity, the government is rushing through reforms that are only likely to lead to more litigation, further delay timelines and increase costs.
A better approach would be to simplify New Zealand’s resource consenting process. That way, we could build the things we need. 

The Vogon’s toe
Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
Anyone who has read Douglas Adams's excellent Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy knows about the Vogon race of Vogsphere – the galaxy’s natural bureaucrats.

They’re officious and callous.

They’re stubborn.

And their poetry is not strongly recommended.

If you believe, as I do, that significant parts of New Zealand’s bureaucracy are in fact Vogons in disguise, observing our bureaus helps fill in important gaps in Douglas Adams’s account.

Medsafe may well be a Vogon outpost.

As Adams described things, a Vogon would not even save its own grandmother from being eaten by the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without “orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat and recycled as firelighters.”

Getting the paperwork right is the most important thing.

Adams never explained whether the vaguely humanoid Vogons have toes. But Medsafe’s decisions last week led me to conclude that they must.

You see, if a Vogon's grandmother had an ingrown toenail, getting the paperwork just so would matter tremendously.

Last week, Medsafe decided that contrary to its prior determinations, the main chemicals used by podiatrists in treating ingrown toenails are not podiatric medical appliances.

If they were medical appliances, podiatrists could continue using them for some thirteen to fourteen thousand ingrown toenails per year.

Medsafe now believes that these chemicals are in fact medicines. That does not make them any less suitable for fixing stubborn ingrown toenails. But it certainly matters for process. Medicines require prescriptions, and podiatrists are not permitted to prescribe these medicines.

Stuff reports that the process for getting an exemption so podiatrists can continue using them may take up to a year.

In the meantime, thousands of people with sore toes will need to see their podiatrist, then go to their GP for a prescription, then go to the pharmacist to have the script filled before going back to the podiatrist with the chemical so the podiatrist can apply it.

You may find the result objectionable. It ties up doctors when GP offices are overloaded. It burdens patients and pharmacists.

But no self-respecting Vogon would allow even its own grandmother to be treated for an ingrown toenail without the proper forms.

At least Medsafe does not make us listen to any of its officials’ poetry.

On The Record

Initiative Activities:   
All Things Considered
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