Required, reasonable and robust regulation in . . .

August 17, 2009

. . . unnecessary, ineffective and excessively costly out.

That’s the news from Miisiter of Finance Bill English and Minister of Regulatory Reform Rodney Hide who made the first Government Statement on Regulation today.

They said better and less regulation is essential to boost New Zealand’s productivity growth, international competitiveness and living standards and made two commitments:

to introduce new regulation only when the government is satisfied that is required, reasonable and robust; and to review existing regulation to identify and remove requirements that are unnecessary, ineffective and excessively costly.

Mr English said the two commitments responded to the Job Summit’s recommendation that the government delay introducing any new regulation that imposed extra substantive costs on business during the current difficult economic conditions.

“We have a clear plan to make New Zealand a more productive and higher income country and we believe that better and less regulation is essential to achieve that goal,” Mr English said.  “In our current financial situation the quality of the regulatory environment is even more important.”

Having a government that is willing to wrestle with the red tape which ties up time, strangles initiative and sabotages productivity is refreshing.

I am particularly encouraged by the expectation of a culture from government agencies that:

recognises the importance of productivity in enhancing New Zealand’s economic performance;
– respects the value of individual autonomy and responsibility;
– does not see regulation as the first resort for problem solving;
– provides fearless advice on whether a regulatory proposal is consistent with this policy statement and meets appropriate standards of impact analysis and consultation; and
– continually looks for opportunities to make existing regulation more effective, easier to access and understand, and easier and less costly to comply with;

Some of that will seem like a foreign language to bureaucracies which have been inculcated with the belief that government knows best and the rest of us can’t be trusted to think and act for ourselves.

There are no miracles in politics. There is a long way from these commitments to the freedom from unnecessary regulation we require but this is a very encouraging start.


Holcim wins Environment Court decision

August 17, 2009

A new cement plant near Weston in North Otago has come a step closer with the Environment Court dismissing appeals against the consent granted for the plant by the Waitaki District Council.

 The court ruling is a hurdle jumped but it’s not the end of the race. Holcim New Zealand now needs to prepare a case for its parent company which will make the decision on whether or not to build the plant.

The company was keen to build a plant on the same site in the mid 1980s but decided not to when the recession led to a downturn in building. The current recession and its impact on the need for concrete will be among the factors the company considers when it makes its decision.

I have been one of the supporters. The plant would have economic and social benefits for the district and I was reassured that the resource consent process would safeguard the environment.

One of the factors which reassured me was the number of people from Westport who opposed the consent because they wanted the company to stay there.

I couldn’t believe that a company which obviously plays such an important and positive role in the economic and social life on the West Coast would suddenly turn in to a bad corporate citizen if it moved east. Even given the difference in climate, particularly wind direction and patterns, I didn’t believe that if an old  plant had operated for decades without adverse impact on the health and wellbeing of people, stock; air, soil and water  there, then a new one, built with up to the minute technology;  would cause problems here.


Palm oil out of chocolate, camel milk in

August 17, 2009

Consumers rule – Cadbury has bowed to pressure  from customers upset by the company’s decision to add palm oil to its chocolate.

They’re dumping the oil and reverting to the original recipe which uses cocoa butter.

They are also sticking to the glass and a half of milk of which they boast and as far as I know that’s dairy milk.

On the other side of the world that’s not the case. Al Nassma  a Dubai-based company is producing camel milk chocolate.

If the good people of Dubai can do it with camels, why can’t we do it with sheep?

Whitestone and Blue River Dairy both produce tasty sheeps milk cheese, Blue River also makes sheeps milk ice cream.

There might be a niche for sheeps milk chocolate too – it would have to be good for ewe 🙂

Hat Tip: The NZ Week.


Monday’s quiz

August 17, 2009

1. Which are New Zealand’s second and third highest mountains?

2. Who wrote The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency?

3. Who said: Thinking Men Cannot Be Ruled”?

4. What is a grampus?

5. Since it’s International Languages Week:  which languages do the following greetings come from:

a) haai

b) bula vinaka

c) namaste

d) fakalofa

e) talofa


Helen Clark was a disastrous leader for Labour

August 17, 2009

Of course I’d say that.

But Rob Hosking has too and backs it up with reason:

Helen Clark was a disastrous leader for Labour and until the party realises this it will remain mired in low polling nostalgia-land.

The most significant political event of Clark’s time leading Labour was the party’s loss of the Maori vote. A large chunk of it vamoosed to New Zealand First in the first election Clark fought as Labour leader.

Labour had been able to count on that vote since the early 1930s. Although it came back in 1999 and 2002, the bond was broken.

Her successors will eventually be able to put most of the other black marks against her leadership behind them: lack of integrity over the pledge card, the Electoral Finance Act, and her support of Phillip Field and Winston Peters; turning middle and upper income families into beneficiaries . . .

However, the loss of Maori support is more serious and John Key made it even more so by including the Maori Party in his coalition.

That established it as the only party which stands for something in the political centre, able to move left or right. It gave the party more power than it could have hoped for based on the number of votes or members it attracted  and showed Maori that they can achieve more away from Labour than with them.


The only poll that counts is the election

August 17, 2009

Politicians wishing to put a good spin on a bad poll, or appear modest in the face of a good one, say the only poll that counts is the election.

They are right, but only partially.

No matter what the polls say, the election is the only one which can change things. However, while individual polls might be ignored as rouges and we’re not even a third of the way into this government’s expected term, the trend matters and it is consistent.

National is favoured by more than 50% of respondents; Labour by a little more than half tha tnumber. Phil Goff comes a distance third to John Key who gets similar support to his party, and the former leader who isn’t even in parliament any more.

In spite of the recession, the growth in unemployment and the prospect of up to a decade of deficits the latest TV3 poll shows the government’s popularity and Key’s have risen while Labour’s and Goff’s have fallen, again.

A Listener story on Labour reported a caucus pact to retain Goff until the next election.  But even if they did dump him it probably wouldn’t make a difference. The leadership of a party which has lost an election after nine years in government is a poisoned chalice. It is difficult for either the leader or the party to make any traction and the party’s low appeal is at least as much in spite of the leader as because of it.

The incoming government is able to blame the outgoing one for many of the problems it faces. If Labour criticises National it looks carping and if its MPs offer alternatives, they’re asked why they didn’t implement them when they had the chance.

But Labour’s problems go deeper than this.

Its philosophy pushes it towards policies which require spending and redistribution of income. Any plans it comes up with will require an increase in tax and borrowing, neither of which will be popular.

It has fewer than 10,000 members. If that includes union affiliates the party is in even more trouble because that means there are a lot fewer than 10,000 active members. Minor parties get by on far fewer but that is a very small foundation on which to support a major one.

Memberhship matters for money and votes. If membership is dropping income and supporters will too.

It happened to National after it lost power in 1999 and it’s happening to Labour now.

It’s still more than two years until the next election. But if the trend in the polls continue 2011 could bring back the ghosts of elections past with Labour facing the same loss of fortune National did in 2002.


New prescription for health

August 17, 2009

Health has an insatiable and growing appetite.

Inflation in costs in the health sector outpaces that in the economy as a whole. Improvements in life expectancy, medical science and technology all add to costs.

In spite of that the heat had gone out of health as an issue in 1999 which left the incoming Labour government with a choice: improve services or change the system.

Instead of extensive improvements to services they chose expensive changes to the system based on ideology rather than best practice.

The result has been a lot more money spent on health with little to show for it.

National has been very cautious about changing the system when the health sector is suffering from restructure fatigue but Minister of Health Tony Ryall has given a very clear message that more money needs to go to frontline services.

Speaking on the release of the Ministerial Review Group’s report on health, he said:

“‘Meeting the Challenge’ is a comprehensive report, with 170 recommendations on how to reduce bureaucracy, improve frontline health services, and improve value in the public health and disability sector,” Mr Ryall says.

“The Ministerial Review Group included some of the leading clinicians and managers in the health sector. Many of their recommendations have been well discussed in the sector already.”

“The report recognises that to improve frontline services we need more input from frontline staff, and there are recommendations to strengthen clinical leadership and clinical networks.”

The report proposes consolidating back office functions across the 21 District Health Boards (DHBs) to harness the power of bulk purchasing. It also proposes reducing the number of committees that advise the Ministry of Health from 157 to 54.

He also says the report requires careful consideration; and that the government isn’t interested in recommendations which increase bureaucracy or don’t improve services.

We made a commitment before the election that DHBs would not be forcibly amalgamated because of the disruption it would cause frontline staff and services. The recommendations focus on reducing duplicated back-office bureaucracy, while ensuring minimal disruption in the wider health and disability sector.”

“We want reduced health bureaucracy with greater focus on delivering more frontline services for patients.”

“It is worth remembering that any saving in health will be reinvested in health – we are not cutting health spending. In fact DHBs have more money to spend this year than ever before on improving front line health services to patients.”

The last point is an important one. The aim isn’t to spend less on health, it’s to spend more where it makes a difference.

Links to the MRG’s report and five annexes are at the bottom of the page linked to above.

The MRG’s recommendations are here.


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