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Insights 6: 3 March 2023
Newsroom: Eric Crampton on climate change and managing retreat from risky places
 
Podcast: Oliver Hartwich and Sue Barker on the flaws of the charities amendment bill
 
The Australian: Oliver Hartwich on listening to the science and climate change economics

Public service reboot needed
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director | oliver.hartwich@nzinitiative.org.nz
The sacking of Rob Campbell from his role as chair of Te Whatu Ora/Health NZ and the Environmental Protection Authority highlights an urgent need to reform New Zealand’s public service.
 
Campbell’s partisan comments on his LinkedIn profile were inexcusable for someone in his position. But they were also symptomatic of a wider problem, which is the politicisation of the public service.
 
This politicisation is not necessarily party-political in nature. Rather, it is that the public service has developed its own idiosyncratic mindset.
 
At the risk of overgeneralising, the public service usually prefers central government programmes to local solutions. It believes in the power of the state and distrusts markets. It also works towards maintaining and growing itself, even when its failures become impossible to ignore.
 
The Wellington bureaucracy has certainly learnt how to protect itself. It has the strength that comes with numbers. Meetings in which an unsuspecting private sector person suddenly faces two dozen public servants are not unheard of.
 
New Zealand’s public service is the operating system on which politicians try to install their policy apps. They might want to install a new crime-fighting app, a new education app, or a new health app. But if these apps are not compatible with the public service's operating system, the installation will fail. It’s like installing an Android app on an iPhone. It just does not work.
 
Public service reform may seem abstract and unexciting, but it is essential. Because the public service needs a reboot of its reformability.
 
What a functional public service can achieve was demonstrated in the reforms that rescued the New Zealand economy in the 1980s. Though politicians get credited for them, they would not have happened without the foresight and preparedness of qualified and committed senior public servants.
 
A future reform-minded Government will find it much harder than the Labour Government did in the 1980s.
 
There are not enough people inside the public service today who could design and lead such reforms. On the contrary, we can expect large parts of the public service to resist evidence-based reforms that might upset the status quo.
 
As a Wellington-based organisation, we are aware of these challenges. That is why questions of design and implementation of policy are front of mind for us. The best policy ideas are worthless if they cannot be practically implemented.
 
Public service reform is needed to address the challenges facing New Zealand. If the Campbell affair triggered a broad discussion on what to do about the public service, that would be a positive outcome.

Policy Dominoes
Dr Michael Johnston | Senior Fellow | michael.johnston@nzinitiative.org.nz
The most effective policy ideas are not always the most glamourous.
 
In education, there are so many problems that, even having decided on a policy programme, the challenges faced by a Minister in getting it implemented are daunting.
 
A reform-minded Minister might consider teachers’ career structure. At the moment, teachers are paid based entirely on their length of service. The quality of their performance has nothing to do with it. But any attempt to introduce performance measures into teachers’ remuneration will meet with trenchant opposition from teachers’ unions.
 
Such a Minister might also want to address the ideology that has led to our catastrophic failure in literacy and numeracy. But how to do that, when that ideology permeates the school education sector, from the teaching profession to teacher training providers, right up to the Ministry of Education?
 
My advice to an incoming Minister is to look for small policy interventions that lead to a domino effect of positive change.
 
I would start with the Standards for the Teaching Profession. The Standards describe the capabilities a new teacher must demonstrate to be granted a practising certificate by the Teaching Council.
 
The current standards highlight commitment to the partnership model of the Treaty, professional relationships, student wellbeing, inclusion, empathy and safety. But they place far too little direct emphasis on effective teaching.
 
New Standards should require teachers to have a working knowledge of the science of human learning.  To get their certificates, teachers should have to pass an examination to prove their understanding of learning science and to satisfy an expert observer that they can apply it in the classroom.
 
This reform would force teacher training institutions to place more emphasis on effective pedagogy than they do. Their reputations would suffer if their graduates could not meet the criteria for registration.
 
With Standards like that, the pernicious orthodoxy that holds our compulsory school system in a death grip would soon begin to shift. We’d have a cadre of young, well-prepared teachers leading the charge. Soon enough, everyone would want a piece of their success.
 
The only problem is, the Standards for the Teaching Profession don’t make for gripping election policy. Professional standards just aren’t that glamourous.
 
Fortunately, there’s another important reform that is much more likely to get voters’ attention. As well as new teaching standards, we need a new curriculum. More about that next time.

The Retail Fortress
Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist | eric.crampton@nzinitiative.org.nz
Police Minister Stuart Nash was right about retail crime. Solving the problem, as he suggested, requires reducing the number of targets.
 
The government has already legislated to cut the number of tobacco vendors by 90%, in hope of reducing smoking.
 
Minister Nash suggested quickening the pace – as crime control strategy. We’d more quickly reduce the number of ram-raid targets.
 
But what targets the remaining 600 tobacco outlets will make! Each will have to stock huge volumes of cigarettes. They will need a lot of security.
 
Unfortunately, not long after retail licensing comes in, another set of rules will forbid selling cigarettes with nicotine in them.
 
And don’t look to National for help. National just wants to speed up the zero-nicotine rules, pushing tobacco sales from stores over to gangs and smugglers sooner.
 
When that happens, nobody will want to buy legal cigarettes, let alone steal them. So who would invest a lot in security in the meantime? One retailer’s security investment might just make other retailers the next target.
 
My modest proposal: Retail Fortresses.
 
To finally control crime, the government must forbid private brick-and-mortar retail outlets entirely. In their place, it must establish a network of 600 government-owned Retail Fortresses across the country. 
 
Customers would make their purchases using the Fortress’s convenient website and the easy-to-use RealMe login. Allowing customers into the Fortresses would only risk shoplifters having to be sharply admonished against trying that sort of thing again.
 
Retailers could still compete for customers on the Fortress’s website, in a regulated and monitored way, avoiding both profiteering and predatory pricing.
 
Prices would neither be allowed to be too low nor too high. Prices would be just right.
 
Customers would receive an allocated time to pick up their consignment of purchases at convenient drive-through windows. Times would be chosen not to pander to the ‘neoliberal’ individualistic wishes of selfish shoppers. Instead they would ensure the Fortresses’ most efficient operation.
 
If you’re allocated a 3am pick-up time, remember that it’s for the greater good.
 
SAS officers with assault rifles will ensure the safety and comfort of everyone at the Fortresses.
 
Please ignore rumours about muggings and carjackings as shoppers go home from the Fortresses, even if accompanied by video evidence. Good citizens know better than to listen to unsubstantiated, unhelpful disinformation.
 
The Retail Fortress is the only way to stop crime.
 
Minister Nash should have the courage of his convictions and see it through.

 
On The Record
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