Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Free Press Monday 12 April -The Regulatory Standards Bill


The Haps

ACT’s 11 per cent poll result would deliver 14 MPs. It is an all-time record. All politicians talk, but Brooke van Velden just launched a listening website. Real stories about the Government’s shock and awe housing policy are flooding in and you can share yours here. Honest Conversations on May 23 is the follow on to last year’s massive Dare to be Different event. Tickets are available here.David Seymour’s Free Speech Tour kicks off in the Hutt this Wednesday, a list of 13 venues is here.

The Regulatory Standards Bill

David Seymour’s Regulatory Standards Bill has been drawn from Parliament’s biscuit tin, and will be voted on in the next few months. It proposes a referendum on how politicians make laws, because law making in New Zealand is out of control.

Every politician understands, when they’re in opposition at least, that New Zealand could do with some limits on state power. With no written constitution, no States or Provinces, and no Upper House, we have an ‘elected dictatorship,’ with 120 of the ‘fastest lawmakers in the west.’

Governments can and do make laws in sudden, unexpected ways. Sometimes they go after a group of citizens, not to solve a problem, but because attacking them is politically popular with other citizens. Erratic lawmaking such as the oil and gas exploration ban, firearm bans, and the recent assault on ‘speculators’ (aka property investors), makes us all poorer in the end.

We wish politics was all celebrity dancing and basketball, but it isn’t. So we fill the time between gigs trying to fix problems like our anemic constitutional protections. The Regulatory Standards Bill has been an ACT project since 2006, when Rodney Hide introduced its predecessor, the Regulatory Responsibility Bill.

The Bill, in a nutshell, forces politicians and civil servants to ask and answer certain questions about new laws and regulations. These questions stem from the Principles of good lawmaking set out in the Bill.

The full principles are here in Section 6 of the Bill. They are printed out below but in summary they say that laws must not restrict personal liberties or take property, give officials the right to decide what the law says (that’s for the Courts), or make laws without ensuring the costs outweigh the benefits.

Most people probably think that’s how laws should be made already, and they’d be right. There are regulatory impact analysis requirements in place. Politicians are supposed to follow them, but rarely do. Both the Key and Ardern Governments just suspended Regulatory Impact Analysis for their first 100 days.

Any sane person would think the first 100 days of a Government is exactly when a Government should exercise restraint, but turkeys don’t vote for an early Christmas. No Government wants to limit its own power. That’s why the Regulatory Standards Bill has a twist.

The Bill only comes into force if it is voted through by the public at a referendum. Politicians can and do ignore regulatory impact analysis requirements imposed by other politicians. Much harder to ignore the public saying they want higher standards of law making.

There’s a second sting in the Bill’s tail. Joe and Jane public, or perhaps their union, industry body, or club, can go to court and seek a declaration that a law or regulation is inconsistent with the principles. That declaration doesn’t strike out the law, but it does embarrass those responsible.

If enacted, the Regulatory Standards Bill will finally get politicians to take our rights seriously. So far Business New Zealand, Federated Farmers, and Energy and Resources Aotearoa have publicly supported the Bill, with more to come. People get that poor quality and erratic regulation is a real problem.

Once upon a time our lawmaking was wild west. A bunch of often drunk men used to go to the capital by steamboat after the cows dried off and legislate into the wee small hours with more than a wee bit of whiskey. Governments generally didn’t last and there had to be an election every year or two.

We’ve come a long way. Now most laws go to select committee, so the public can have their say. We have the Bill of Rights Act, to test laws against human rights. We have the Public Finance Act, so the Government has to open the books before the people vote.

The Regulatory Standards Bill is another chapter in the evolution of our constitutional arrangements. It’s going to be a long struggle. If it doesn’t pass this year, we’ll put it into the ballot again next year.

New Zealanders deserve more sober law making and, sooner or later, ACT will deliver it.