Magazine article New Zealand Management

POLITICS : A Game of Hide and Seek

Magazine article New Zealand Management

POLITICS : A Game of Hide and Seek

Article excerpt

Byline: Colin James

How do you tie bureaucratsa[euro] and politiciansa[euro] hands so they wona[euro]t make mucky law? Rodney Hide thinks he has the answer.

New Zealand ranks high in some lists of a[euro]freea[euro] economies and easy places to do business. But not because it goes easy on making law. Each year Parliament passes scores of acts, the Cabinet raises a small mountain of regulations and ministers and their officials issue rivers of edicts which amount to law.

The volume and speed at which they do their business ensures mistakes. Along the way politicians, slaves to opinion polls and ideology, add idiosyncratic twists. One lot undoes what the previous lot did.

Some of this affects the ease of doing business and the policy certainty business needs to plan effectively. The greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme is an example.

To lift the game, officials have long been required to affix impact statements to new bills and regulations to explain the problem and why new law was needed. They degenerated into pro forma justifications. Lianne Dalziel as Commerce Minister tried to beef them up.

Hide thought that insufficient and in 2006 got into the House a Regulatory Responsibility Bill drafted by Business Roundtable economic adviser Bryce Wilkinson. Sir Geoffrey Palmer, as head of the Law Commission, issued a scathing assessment. Dalziel put the bill on hold.

Hide was not deterred. He got National to disinter the bill and have it reworked by a taskforce headed by Graham Scott, ACT activist and former Treasury secretary.

Meantime, he convinced an initially sceptical Bill English to issue in August a joint instruction to officials and ministers toughening up impact statements.

They now must certify, over signatures, that a new law is a[euro]required, reasonable and robusta[euro] and is in the public interest and that all practical alternatives have been considered, benefits exceed costs, entitlements are clear and conform to best legislative practice and implementation issues, costs and risks have been addressed.

Chief executives must, over time, ensure existing law also conforms to those criteria.

That is a huge project. But Hide wants to embed all this, and more, in statute. His bill, expanded by Scott and company, would require ministers and officials to certify that all law conforms to a set of principles or explain why it doesna[euro]t.

The courts could declare acts, regulations and edicts incompatible with the principles and then, if possible, reinterpret existing law in the light of the principles. …

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