Getting Real About Resource Management Act Reform

Speech to Whangarei Rotary Club

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for the invitation to speak today.  It’s great to be here. 

I believe that there is no other region of the country with more potential to grow over the next generation than Northland.

Worldwide, people are choosing to live where the best climate and the best lifestyles are, and those are two things Northland has in abundance. 

I returned to politics as Leader of the ACT Party out of a deep concern for our country’s economic future.

Over the last century New Zealand’s incomes have free fallen. 

As best it can be measured, we were the wealthiest country on earth in 1900.

By 1950 we were a very respectable sixth.

Today our incomes have fallen to a much less respectable 36th.

Worse, nobody seriously believes that our free fall will stop, let alone reverse, if we carry on with the policies we currently have.

Two questions that you might ask are; one, does it matter and; two, can we fix it?

It matters because losing ground on incomes and living standards means losing people. 

Over the past decade we’ve lost 280,000 people to Australia alone.  The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research forecasts that if we continue on our current path we’ll lose another 412,000 people or almost one New Zealander in ten by 2025.

When New Zealanders leave, they take with them their economic potential.  They take their taxpayer-funded education, as well as their potential to be future taxpayers.  It creates a vicious circle where every person that leaves creates one more reason for another person to go.  

So what can we do about it?

One only need look at history to see that poor economic performance can be changed.  All it takes is the right policy choices.

If natural resources were the key to prosperity, Nigeria would be rich and Singapore poor.

If large populations mattered, Russia would be wealthier than Switzerland.

If being close to world markets was essential, then Central American countries should be more prosperous than Australia. 

In all of these cases, it was not what they had, or the location, that made a difference, but the policy decisions they made which lead to prosperity. 

We can and we must turn New Zealand’s economic performance around through better policy. 

It is better policy that will create the environment for people up and down this great country to use the resources we have today.  They must be able to take those resources and create more wealth tomorrow. 

The courage to make good policy decisions is the challenge that we must boldly embrace if we are to thrive in 2020, 2030, 2040, and beyond.

One particular policy which it is crucial that we improve is the Resource Management Act, and that is what I want to focus on today. 

The 2025 Taskforce – which was set up to advise on how we could close the wage gap with Australia – reported ‘that the RMA continues to be one of the most important regulatory barriers to higher rates of growth in New Zealand’.  It recommended that urgent attention be given to further reform of the RMA.

As the Scottish poet Robbie Burns famously said, ‘The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry’.  I cannot think of a better description for the RMA.

Legislated in 1991, the RMA was intended to make it easier for New Zealanders to develop and use their property. 

It was supposed to usher in a new era of development that would get the best out of our resources for the purpose of economic development, in balance with the environment.

Looking back 20 years to 1991, the plan has certainly gone askew.

Instead of being an effects-based scheme that presumes development should go ahead so long as there are no adverse effects on the environment, it has instead given license for planners in local government to impose huge costs on land use and development.

The 2025 Taskforce reported that ‘the RMA encourages local government to see the changed use of private land as a privilege that they bestow, rather than a right which might be modified only in narrow and well specified predictable ways.’

By asking council staff to identify the effects of developments, the RMA has created a breeding ground for interfering behaviour.  It has created a not-so-minor industry of planners and pontificators whose role in life is to tell others what they can do with their property, despite bearing no personal costs for doing so.

Let me give you an example from RMA expert Owen McShane.  Owen talks about RMA DURT, which is, Delays, Uncertainty, Regulation and Taxes.

He cites the rural chapter of just one Operative District Plan.  It is 271 pages long, which he points out is not untypical.

If an activity breaks some rule in the Plan it becomes subject to 13 pages of ‘assessment criteria’ for land use consents, and 19 pages for subdivision consents. 

At about 12 criteria per page, that’s about 400 opportunities for both the public and the decision-makers to obstruct a project.

Many of these assessment criteria, he continues, are highly subjective and clumsily worded.  Developments might be  subject to questions such as whether:

 (i) the activity removes or reduces a high ratio of open space to buildings, where such a ratio existed previously;

One might reasonably ask what a ‘high’ ratio is.  But no sooner could such a question be asked before the plan asks whether:

(iv) the activity introduces building sizes and densities of an urban nature and scale;

Whatever an urban nature and scale is? Who knows whether they were thinking of an urban centre like Manhattan, or one like Kaitaia?

g) Whether the activity will adversely affect the visual and landscape values of the surrounding area.

Of course, this condition means there is no chance of justice or accountability.  By this point the council staff have the carte blanche to decide whether or not they personally think a project should go ahead.

The list goes on with ‘assessment criteria’ such as:

 (b) Whether buildings are sensitive to the rural landscape and visually unobtrusive.

 (d) Whether the design of the subdivision and jointly owned access is appropriate to:

(i) achieve visual and cultural benefits from retaining views of rural production activities from adjoining rural roads;

And remember, this is just the rural chapter of a single district plan.  For the council in question, it was one of thirteen such chapters.

At this point it should become clear that the Resource Management Act is a piece of Frankenstein legislation.  It has grown out of the control of its creators and become a danger to us all.

It has given rise to planning documents that restrict development to the narrow and predictable ways hinted at by the Taskforce.

These restrictions are often absurd.  Colour restrictions on painting buildings provide a symbolic example of the irritation that the RMA forces on people trying to use and develop their land.

The recent case of the Cotton family is just one. 

The Cottons bought an Epsom villa and moved it to overlook the Kaipara Harbour. 

They had always wanted a big white house on a farm.  Hardly an offensive image, you might think. 

But they had a year-long battle with the local council who insisted that the house must be painted in a dark colour to blend in with the country side.  It is as if houses are not a part of the landscape.

The eventual compromise that has been reached is to paint the villa dark cream.

Such colour regulations occur up and down the country.   It is tempting to write them off as a nuisance, but the fact that they are even possible shows how bad the regulatory burden placed on land use and development has become.

However, there are much more serious costs imposed upon New Zealanders through our RMA.  One very pointed example is the Metropolitan Urban Limit in Auckland.   This planning feature imposes serious costs on everybody in the city of Auckland who wishes to own a home. 

By restricting residential development to within the Urban Limit, the plans seriously restricted the supply of residential land and drove up its cost.   This restriction has meant that land within the limit costs eight to thirteen times more than land outside the limit. 

There is no shortage of land, just land that one is allowed to build upon, and this shortage is putting home ownership out of reach for an entire generation of New Zealanders.

One more example of RMA sabotage is the case of Dan Riddiford, who farms six and a half thousand hectares of rugged land on the southeast coast of the Wairarapa. 

His family has farmed the land since 1843.

Dan once had ambitious dreams of diversifying his farm into land based aquaculture and making it a much more productive enterprise than the rugged sheep and beef country it had been until then. 

You might think, ‘Great!  That is exactly the kind of value added, export driven activity this country needs.  It might create new jobs that would keep New Zealanders here.’ 

You’d be right.  But the local council didn’t think so.
He was not allowed to build additional farm houses, as if he was supposed to manage his entire venture himself.  In one of the most absurd episodes his traditional family house burned down and he was forced to apply for a Discretionary Resource Consent to rebuild it.

Dan was forced through years of torment as he tried to get his projects consented.  He eventually got so fed up about the restrictions on his property that he took himself to law school to learn how to fight such incursions on his property rights. 

The last twenty years of the RMA have provided a myriad of such examples, each one with its own cruel rebuke of wealth creation by bureaucracy.

Imagine a New Zealand where entrepreneurs like Dan could just get on with it.

If New Zealand is to have a fighting chance of getting on top of its economic malaise then we must stop shooting ourselves in the foot with policies that destroy wealth for no good reason other than that our legislation has gotten out of control.

But the deeper problem is not so much the policy but the lack of political will to deal with it. 

It is true, that over the past three years, with ACT’s pressure and support, some progress towards has been made towards simplifying and streamlining the RMA. 

However, the National Party appears to have nearly declared victory on the RMA, pointing to faster consent processing times over the past three years, conveniently ignoring the fact that the economic slowdown has meant fewer consents to process.

Their latest policy announcement amounts to restraining the RMA Frankenstein with the frilly ribbons of an under-cooked and oversold policy reform.

The announcement that mid-size projects will now be processed within six months is weak on several levels.

First, six months is a long time. 

A developer borrowing $20 million at ten per cent cost of capital will pay one million in interest costs over this period.  That’s money that New Zealand’s economic future can ill-afford.

Second, it’s unlikely to achieve even that time limit in practice.  As ACT’s RMA Spokesperson and practicing environmental lawyer Kath McCabe has pointed out, councils routinely 'stop the clock' while they request further information; under section37 time frames can be doubled and hence six months becomes a year. 

What’s more, councils routinely refuse to lodge consents, or ‘start the clock’ on a number of bases - further reports or information, approvals from other organisations, payment of front-loaded council 'costs', written approvals from iwi, and neighbours are just some examples.

Third, it’s in line with National’s wrong-headed assumption that the RMA remains essentially good legislation that needs only minor tweaking. 

Their policy document even states that they remain committed to the underlying principles of the RMA, despite it having severely hampered our economic development over the past two decades.
They are effectively saying: ‘you must jump through the same hoops, but you must now jump through them faster.’

That is why, in any future coalition with National, ACT would push the government to move faster and deeper on RMA reform. 

Faster and deeper RMA reform would be a high priority for ACT in any coalition negotiation because faster and deeper RMA reform is a priority for New Zealand’s economic future.

We would push for the following reforms to shift the balance of the RMA back in favour of economically productive activities, and away from the interferers who stymie so much wealth creation in New Zealand.

ACT’s first step would be to separate the planning functions of councils from decisions on applications for resource consent.  

This would stop the current situation which sees the same people who make the rules interpret the rules.  The current potential for abuse is rife.

Our second step would be to limit the fees that councils can charge for consents. 

Currently, we have something of a Stockholm syndrome for people who want to use and develop their land.  Not only must they be interfered with by bureaucrats, they must pay for the privilege. 

Restricting fees would mean that councils would be using ratepayers’ money for challenging development.  They would come under greater pressure to interfere only when they were defensibly serving the public interest;

ACT’s third step would be to widen the scope for the Environment Court to award costs against councils and other objectors to resource consents when their objections were not sustained by the Court.

Currently, the thought of objections from third parties puts a chill on land use and development.  Those who seek to develop face the prospect of large losses when their developments fail.  Our intention is to put a similar chill on those who would make frivolous objections.

Our fourth step would be to increase the right to compensation for those whose land values are reduced by council planning decisions.  

We regularly see property owners finding that their property is devalued by restrictions on how they can use it. 

Consider the example of a farmer who planted 6,000 trees on his land and fertilised pruned and cleared around them.   His intention was to mill them when his children were married.  He estimated that he spent about $120,000 on his trees.  But when the trees were 12 years old, he was told by the council that he could no longer mill them as they formed part of the water filtration system leading to a very large rural water supply. 

It may be that in some cases the environmental benefits of such a regulation are beneficial.  However it is not clear why the farmer in question should bear the cost for the entire society. 

In such cases, we will push to make compensation easier, with the effect of making councils think twice before implementing frivolous restrictions on land use.

Finally ACT would seek to clarify that the only harms and benefits that should be considered are those that relate to human welfare, and that ‘intrinsic values’ are not to be considered. 

Much of the difficulty in the RMA comes from the fact that it allows interference on the basis of aesthetic, even spiritual values.  These are difficult because they are impossible for anyone to prove or disprove in a just and transparent way.

Restricting the RMA’s concern to tangible effects on the air, soil and water is the most important change that ACT will push for in the next government.

So the power to bring about this change is now up to you.

If you agree that economic decline is a serious threat to our nation then you must act.

If you agree that the RMA is a serious impediment to our economic growth then you must act.

If you agree that the ACT Party is the only party that is serious about tackling the RMA head on, then you must give your party vote to ACT.

This is a representative democracy and ACT seeks to represent you.  Ultimately the decision about our future prosperity lies in your hands.  

But remember, it is only once we start making the right policy decisions that we will see an improvement in our living standards, our wages and our quality of life.   ACT is the only party committed to getting it right. 

Thank you. 

ACT Announces RMA Reform Policy

ACT Leader Don Brash today announced the Party’s Resource Management Act (RMA) policy which would dramatically reform the Resource Management Act, reduce bureaucracy and create a more prosperous New Zealand.  

“The Resource Management Act has been identified as one of the most important regulatory barriers to higher growth rates in New Zealand,” Dr Brash said.

“Its original intention was to make it easier for New Zealanders to develop and use their property.  Instead it has created a breeding ground for interfering behaviour where bureaucrats can tell you what to do with your property, despite bearing no personal cost in doing so.”

ACT’s policy focuses on five key areas of reform.  These reforms would:

  • Separate the planning functions of councils from decisions on applications for resource consent
  • Limit the fees that councils can charge for consents 
  • Widen the scope for the Environment Court to award costs against councils and other objectors to resource consents when their objections were not sustained by the Court
  • Increase the right to compensation for those whose land values are reduced by council planning decisions|
  • Clarify that the only harms and benefits that should be considered are those that relate to human welfare, and that ‘intrinsic values’ are not to be considered

Dr Brash said much of the difficulty with the RMA comes from the fact that it allows interference on the basis of tenuous or aesthetic values. 

“These are impossible for anyone to either prove or disprove in a just and transparent way, which removes any right of response or argument.

“It has also meant that councils view the use of private land as a privilege that they bestow, rather than a right of the land owner. 

“Restricting the RMA’s concern to tangible effects on the air, soil, and water is the one of the most important changes that ACT will push for as part of the next government,” Dr Brash said. 

The Devil Is In The Detail - Goff light on policy in his latest photo-op

ACT New Zealand’s Labour spokesman Chris Simmons today said he isn’t surprised that Labour Leader Phil Goff was light on policy detail during his recent photo opportunity.

Mr Simmons was responding to the article in today’s ‘Dominion Post’ on Mr Goff’s visit to engineering firm A. E. Tilley yesterday.

“In light of Labour’s policies on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour – and even higher for some industries – Phil Goff visiting small businesses is akin to Daniel entering the Lion’s Den,” Mr Simmons said.

“The factory owner, 78-year old Don Tilley, stated he didn’t know what Labour’s policies were. I suspect if Phil Goff had informed him, he would have been aghast.

“Mr Tilley specifically stated that he doesn’t like laying staff off. He still pays double-time when his guys work overtime, and his workers are supporting him currently by taking unpaid leave during the current hard times. For 89 years the Tilley family has run this business – it is hard to think he needs the government telling him how to do anything. Yet, here is Labour promoting Labour policies that would leave him no other choice – and would likely mean that we will not see 100 years of A.E. Tilley.

“The business environment is hostile enough already. Statistics show that more small businesses closed in 2010 than in any other year over the last decade. When one considers that small businesses employ most of our workforce, and drive our economy, this is very bad news indeed.

“Last year, almost 98 percent of new businesses started with between zero and five employees. Such businesses are the most vulnerable to failure. Under National that has proven particularly so – and Labour’s plans will drive many more entrepreneurs out of business.

“The only Party that recognises the potential of business entrepreneurs is ACT. ACT knows that business entrepreneurs drive our economy. For everyone’s sake we need an economic environment in which they can survive, then thrive.

“With 18 years of running my own management consulting business, working with entrepreneurs around the world, and networking with leaders in the field of entrepreneurship, I know how important it is to have a regulatory environment that supports business owners.

“ACT is the only Party with a vision to create an entrepreneurial economy that supports and attracts entrepreneurs to build businesses from a New Zealand base,” Mr Simmons said.

Brash Says the Poor and Young Will Lose Under Auckland Council Plan

ACT Party Leader Don Brash today labelled the Auckland Council’s proposal to change the ‘Metropolitan Urban Limit’ into an even tighter ‘Rural Urban Boundary’ ridiculous and discriminatory, saying it would lock the young and the poor out of housing in Auckland for the next 30 years.

“The Auckland Council is effectively ensuring that unless people are wealthy, the Kiwi dream of owning their own home will always be out of reach. This will be a massive blow to a generation of Aucklanders trying to get ahead.

“Housing affordability for our young people is a real concern. They are the very people we are desperately trying to keep from abandoning New Zealand and this is just one more strong incentive we're giving them to leave,” Dr Brash said.

The new boundaries, which will ban urban development outside the rural-urban line, will see 75 percent of new housing over the next 30 years built within the existing already built-up areas, and Dr Bash says this could have a devastating effect on housing affordability. 

“According to research by respected economist Arthur Grimes the existing limit has already made land immediately inside the MUL between eight and 13 times more expensive than land immediately outside the completely arbitrary line.

“It defies belief that instead of rectifying some seriously poor public policy, the Auckland Council is planning to make the situation worse. The ACT Party believes we should be introducing policy to make housing more affordable not less,” Dr Brash said.

Dr Brash identified the Resource Management Act as another huge nation-wide obstacle to housing affordability.  He points out that, relative to incomes, house prices have doubled since the introduction of the RMA in 1991, and says that this staggering increase has seen home ownership decline in every census since 1986.

“A major priority for ACT in the next Government will be to make housing more affordable for all New Zealanders by eliminating arbitrary restraints on the availability of land for residential development” Dr Brash said.

Brash Hails Landmark ACT Bill

The ACT New Zealand parliamentary team are to be congratulated on a successful first reading of the Spending Cap (People's Veto) Bill in Parliament last evening, says party leader Don Brash.

The Bill would limit the annual increase in core Crown expenses by linking it to the rate of inflation and the rate of population growth.

"This is in line with the recommendations of the 2025 Task Force," notes Dr Brash, who chaired the group, charged with identifying ways of catching up with Australia by 2025.

"A spending cap is an important tool in bringing government expenditure under control, which in turn is pivotal for a lower tax burden and higher economic growth.

"As things stand, there is no legal restraint on the extent to which governments can increase their spending, no institutional impediment to governments behaving irresponsibly. This Bill provides for such a mechanism. 

"It's not intended to be a straitjacket," Dr Brash adds. "Spending increases in national emergencies are exempt, and there is provision for raising the cap by referendum. But overall it would impose a clear requirement on governments to do what households have to do: keep their spending within sensible limits.

"It could be called the Stop Governments Running Amok Bill. Historically, if implemented, it would be on a par with the Public Finance Act of 1989 in its contribution to enduring stability. I thank our National colleagues for their support at the first reading.

"I am hopeful that National, as committed on paper to less government as ACT is, will maintain this support through all stages of the Bill," Dr Brash concludes.

Spending Cap (People’s Veto) Bill - First Reading

I move that the Spending Cap (People’s Veto) Bill be now read a first time.  At the appropriate time I intend to move that the Bill be referred to the Finance and Expenditure Committee.

The Bill is a timely response to New Zealand’s challenging economic circumstances.  It will provide more certainty around the growth in government spending, greater spending restraint, and will improve the transparency of spending decisions. 

The Bill will lead to government objectives being delivered through a state sector that takes up a smaller share of the economy.  A smaller, more efficient state sector will allow a lower tax burden over time, supporting higher economic growth and higher living standards.

The Bill also responds to weaknesses in our current legislative framework.  The fiscal responsibility provisions of the Public Finance Act focus on achieving and maintaining a prudent level of government debt and on the operating balance required to achieve that.  The Public Finance Act has served us well in that regard, and helped New Zealand bring its net core Crown debt down from 56% of GDP in 1992 to 5.6% in 2008.

But the Public Finance Act has not prevented core Crown expenses from rising as a share of gross domestic product.  We have seen government expenses soar from 28.8% of GDP in 2004 to a forecast 36% in 2011.  It has been easier for governments to increase spending, than to reprioritise and drive greater efficiency within the existing base of spending.  This Bill is designed to place greater disciplines on governments, deliver greater value for the taxpayers’ money, and protect New Zealand’s growth prospects.

The Bill has two main elements.  The first is a spending cap that limits the annual increase in core Crown expenses to the rate of population growth multiplied by the rate of inflation.  The second is a requirement that any proposed spending increase above that cap be subject to a binding referendum on whether the cap is to be raised to allow for that increase.

The spending cap for a financial year beginning 1 July is based on the product of the annual percentage change in the resident population and the consumer price index.  This “rate of increase” is based on data for the twelve months ending 30 September in the year prior to the financial year for which the cap is being set. That rate is then applied to core Crown expenses from the previous financial year.

The spending cap provides for a small number of sensible exclusions.

For example, the cap is designed to allow fiscal policy to continue to play a stabilising role in response to the economic cycle and shocks.  Unemployment benefit expenses are therefore excluded from the cap so that they can continue to expand and contract through the economic cycle in a counter-cyclical way.

Borrowing expenses are excluded from the cap as these are effectively limited by the Government debt objective, required under the Public Finance Act 1989.

Similarly, capital expenditure is excluded from the cap because it is constrained by the debt objective and the fact that the operating expenses associated with capital expenditure would need to be met from within the cap

The Bill provides for national emergencies, such as natural disasters, where it is appropriate to exclude expenses incurred in responding to an emergency.

Impairment losses on assets (such as student loans), which are recorded as an expense, are also excluded from cap. These tend to be volatile from year to year and hard to forecast, and therefore difficult to manage within the cap.

The Bill fits with the annual budget cycle by requiring that the spending cap for a coming fiscal year be publicly announced in the Budget Policy Statement ahead of the Budget. Indicative caps for the following two financial years must also be disclosed.

The Minister of Finance would be subsequently required to state, when presenting the annual financial statements of the government to Parliament, whether expenses were within the cap for that year. If not, the Minister must explain why expenses were incurred in excess of the cap, and what measures will be taken to ensure compliance in future.

The Government may, at any time, initiate a binding referendum on a proposal to increase the spending cap for a specified financial year. The Bill requires any referenda to be held under the provisions of the Referenda (Postal Voting) Act 2000.
The question put to electors requires a simple “yes” or “no” response and is specified in the Bill.  If a majority of votes cast in a referendum favour the proposal to increase the spending cap, then the cap is raised by the specified amount.

A referendum may be held on a proposal to increase the spending cap for the financial year ahead, or to increase the indicative spending cap for a subsequent year. It is envisaged that a referendum on the latter proposal would fit better with the budget cycle. In such case, a referendum could be held twelve months before the start of that subsequent financial year, allowing time for the result to be reflected in the Budget strategy and process relating to that financial year.

The Spending Cap (People’s Veto) Bill has its origins in the Taxpayer Rights Bill, which I had drafted as a private member’s bill during the previous term of Parliament.  

The National-ACT confidence and supply agreement provides for the Taxpayer Rights Bill to be referred to the Finance and Expenditure Committee as a government bill.

That Bill has been refined so that it focuses solely on limiting the growth in expenses, thereby allowing for future taxation to be lower. It has also been renamed the Spending Cap (People's Veto) Bill to better reflect its intent – capping the annual growth in spending and allowing people a direct say over any higher increase.

New Zealand is grappling with the hangover of too much spending and too much debt.  Putting New Zealand back on to the right path will require restraint and a determination to never again allow excessive public spending to drive up interest and exchange rates, and to drive out growth.  The Spending Cap Bill will help provide that restraint, and will support that determination.

I commend the Spending Cap (People’s Veto) Bill to the House.

Qualified Brash Bravo For Goff

Sensible New Zealanders will be hopeful that recent comments by Labour leader Phil Goff about the availability of new sections in earthquake-ravaged Christchurch herald the end of his latter-day lurch leftward, says ACT New Zealand leader Dr Don Brash. 

"Mr Goff has expressed fears of a likely sky-rocketing of house prices in Christchurch as home-owners unable to rebuild on their existing properties seek out new sections," Dr Brash notes.

"He observed that one of the solutions was to ensure the resource consent process didn't unduly restrict the availability of new sections.

"I applaud that observation. I have been arguing for some time that consent procedures and zoning constraints under the RMA are distorting residential land prices all around the country. In Christchurch the situation is hugely exacerbated by the surge in demand for new sections in the wake of the earthquakes.

"Unfortunately the wisdom of Mr Goff's remarks is subverted by his talk about knocking the heads of insurers together. He is blaming them in part for the upsurge in demand because of their reluctance to insure rebuilt homes on existing sections. Is he saying they should be bullied or coerced by law into doing so? Does he want in effect to nationalise the insurance industry? That would indicate a serious relapse in his recovery from Kremlinomics. 

"The willingness or otherwise of insurers to insure is a key signal of the viability of any project in an open market - and as Mr Goff himself acknowledged, the market should be allowed to work.

"The only heads that should be knocked together are those of government, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority and the Christchurch City Council. Among them they must make sure that zoning restrictions do not needlessly limit the availability of new sections and drive prices up artificially. Red Zone home-owners who've already lost huge amounts of equity don't deserve such a double-whammy," Dr Brash concludes.

Nix NAIT Says Nicolson

ACT New Zealand Agriculture Spokesman Don Nicolson is applauding today's decision by the ACT caucus to oppose the remaining stages (2nd and 3rd readings) of the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) Bill.

The Bill will require all dairy and deer farmers to tag their animals electronically and register them online as from July 1 next year.

"It's a lemon," says Mr Nicolson, former Federated Farmers president and ACT's #4 list candidate.

"NAIT supporters claim it is the ultimate biosecurity measure, the ultimate guarantee against an outbreak of something like foot-and-mouth here. But since tens of millions more ruminant livestock will be out of it than in, that's a joke. Ultimate bureaucrats' dream, more like it.

"This Bill won't improve on what the industry already has. The existing national animal-tracing system (paper- and tag-based) is sufficient. If there were a market advantage to an electronic system it could be made a condition of supply without any need for regulation.

"New Zealand dairy companies are already recognised for quality assurance programmes for livestock management.  Our trading partners have exhibited no particular concern about New Zealand’s existing traceability procedures. Yet National and Labour want to railroad farmers, stock agencies and truckers into wasting thousands of dollars in administration time on something they don't need, with threats of $10,000 fines for failure to comply.

"If this legislation is to be passed, there should be a farmers-only referendum attached to it so that those who would have to pay get to have their say. And its implementation should be delayed till 2017, to coincide with the rolling out of improved broadband. The ACT Party will push for these changes in Parliament after the election.

"NAIT is a further illustration of why farmers should party-vote ACT and ensure a strong voice in Parliament against such unnecessary, draconian and anti-farmer legislation," Mr Nicolson concludes.

Brash Goes In To Bat For Auckland Restauranteurs

ACT Party Leader Don Brash says local council officials in Auckland should embrace the World Cup spirit and show some Kiwi camaraderie by easing up on restrictive bylaws and giving restaurant owners not based in ‘Party Central’ a fair crack.

Dr Brash was responding to New Zealand Herald reports that bar and restaurant owners anxious to extend World Cup hospitality have been warned they could face prosecution.<?xml:namespace prefix = o />

“Local officials need to get into the spirit of things and start getting behind local businesses, not making life hard for them”, Dr Brash said.

“I’ve had first-hand reports from several of these small business owners, and all they really want is to make the most of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"Pubs and restaurants close to Eden Park have already had to pay thousands of dollars just for approval to operate on match nights, unlike their counterparts in 'Party Central' on Queen's Wharf.

"No one wants to see the law being broken," says Dr Brash, "but Council officials need to loosen up and show some flexibility.

“Not all Rugby fans and tourists want to be corralled into ‘Party Central’ – Auckland’s got a lot more to offer.

“Restauranteurs and publicans have a great, one-off opportunity to showcase the rich array of great Kiwi hospitality the city has to offer, both in the inner city and on the outskirts.

"A lot of enterprising people, just keen to provide a great kiwi experience, have had their ideas knocked back.

"I've been told of one restauranteur being refused permission to allow buskers outside his establishment. Resource consent has been refused for street stalls. A proposal to hold a street festival in Kingsland has been turned down, notwithstanding enthusiastic support from the locals.

"Kingsland is one area where there are likely to be thousands more seeking food, drink and entertainment than existing establishments are legally permitted to cater for. But requests for flexibility have fallen on deaf ears. Some silly bureaucrats are treating the World Cup more as a Civil Defence emergency than a celebration.

"To those officials I say, lighten up and help us get out the welcome mat. ACT will champion the cases of any business being stymied by bureaucrats from trying to make this the best Rugby World Cup ever," Dr Brash concluded.

RMA is biggest obstacle

Act views top-class infrastructure as being a cornerstone of future economic growth. If New Zealand is to prosper we need great transport and power networks and great allocation of our water resources.

Of particular importance is rebuilding Christchurch's infrastructure and relieving the transport bottlenecks in Auckland and Wellington. Act strongly supports investment in infrastructure whenever and wherever a comprehensive cost-benefit-analysis stacks up.

We realise that such developments will be expensive. Serious consideration must be given to economic pricing for road usage. Act supports phasing out petrol tax and road user charges, where possible, in favour of congestion charges and tolls. Such changes will not always be popular but when the alternative is decades of gridlock, politicians should have the courage to do what is right.

Act fully supports the National Infrastructure Three Year Action Plan goal to encourage demand management and pricing in infrastructure sectors.

Private sector investment in road construction, both through direct ownership and through public private partnerships with central and local government should be encouraged.

All new infrastructure projects should be subject to rigorous cost-benefit-analysis. The Labour Government's disastrous buy-back of KiwiRail is a prime example of what happens when such an analysis is not carried out. 

The Government has committed to partial sale of some state assets if given the mandate after the November election. Act welcomes this and believes the scope should be extended to Government-owned infrastructure projects such as KiwiRail.

We are also aware that there will be a need to further expand our electricity lines network over the coming years. We support such upgrades.

The biggest obstacle to infrastructure development is the Resource Management Act.

We support the provisions in the Resource Management Act that provide for expedited consent processes for projects of national significance. However, we are concerned that the amendments introduced by the Government in this regard do not go far enough insofar as they still allow objectors who are not directly and tangibly affected by projects to raise objections. The RMA should be reformed so that only those whose property rights are directly and tangibly affected by a project can raise an objection.

Act is concerned that New Zealand's water resources are not being used optimally and that our water infrastructure leaves much to be desired. Tradable water markets have created exceptional efficiency gains in Australia and should be given serious consideration in New Zealand.

This article was first published in the New Zealand Herald on 9 August 2011.