No, the zombie apocalypse is not upon you Wellington – those crowds of pasty white, dead-eyed cadavers shuffling towards you are not the living dead, they’re just delegates for the annual ACT Party conference. There’s nothing to be afraid of.
Or is there? The other day Brian Fallow wrote about ACT’s latest scheme to rescue the New Zealand economy and transform us into the South Pacific equivalent of booming free market Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Slovakia:
Beware. There is a risk that radical legislation, gravid with constitutional danger, will be smuggled into the statute book disguised as a measure to relieve business of vexatious red tape.
Its innocuous-sounding title is the Regulatory Responsibility Bill and in its most recent iteration was drafted by a taskforce headed by Graham Scott, who was Treasury Secretary at the time of the sweeping economic reforms of the 1980s. It would redefine the relationship between Parliament and the courts in a way neither is likely to welcome. And it would tend to entrench the current distribution of wealth by setting a high hurdle for any legislated redistribution of resources.
Rodney Hide’s office says the Government is considering its response to the taskforce’s report. “It is anticipated that the issues will be considered by Cabinet in April.”
One might hope, rather against hope, that the Cabinet’s consideration of the issues will be illuminated by the views a string of lawyers and economists presented to a symposium on the bill held by the the Institute of Policy Studies on Tuesday.
Almost without exception they were critical of the draft bill.
Essentially ACT are attempting to introduce a new constitutional document – like the Treaty of Waitangi or the Bill of Rights – so that all future and retrospective legislation must adhere to the principles of the ACT Party. Of course they have no mandate to do this and Hide is attempting to sell the bill as a crusade against ‘red tape’. Even though we’re always top of the world in the ease-of-business, deregulation surveys ACT likes to pretend that our underperforming economy is crippled by government bureaucracy.
The benefits and costs of the Regulatory Responsibility Bill itself, are not, the taskforce concedes, easily quantifiable.
“The taskforce is convinced, however, that the potential benefit to the New Zealand economy of a step-change in the quality of legislation significantly outweighs the additional compliance costs placed on the Government by the bill.”
As Brian Easton points out in the article, the most costly regulatory failure in recent history was the leaky homes crisis, caused not by too much compliance but by deregulation of previous standards. And how about the finance companies? The third party transactions, poor reporting and misleading risk analysis that created the disaster are illegal in almost every other developed economy on the planet. The mad genius of Hide’s bill is that it’s impact on existing regulations and legislation gives it the power to create dozens – possibly even hundreds – of future leaky building and finance company crisis. Let a thousand flowers bloom!
The only other article I’ve read about Hide’s bill was a puff piece in the SST – it does have an opposition quote though: here’s Labour’s response to ACT’s attempt to impose a new constitutional document on the nation with no discussion or electoral mandate:
Labour’s commerce spokeswoman, Lianne Dalziel, said the bill was little more than window dressing and would hinder rather than help, although she admitted much more could be done to remove regulatory “roadblocks”.
Labour still doesn’t get that Hide is this government’s Winston Peters writ small: a deeply unpopular megalomaniac that the PM can’t sack without breaking the governing coalition is an opposition’s wet dream, but for some reason Labour devotes all it’s attention to the Maori Party and Anne Tolley instead of the guy with the bullseye in the middle of his massive orange forehead.