No time is money

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 21 February 2019

As if to squeeze the most out of the short parliamentary term, the Government has been busy with a flurry of initiatives. Such a hurry can be costly.

Of all the Government’s decisions, the oil and gas exploration ban was the most surprising. With no prior consultation, it announced the decision in April 2018 to show resolve on climate change.

Almost a year later, an NZIER study reveals the staggering costs of this ad hoc decision. By the calculation of our colleagues, New Zealand will lose $28 billion and thousands of jobs.

One might quarrel about the NZIER study. Yes, it was commissioned by the oil and gas industry. However, NZIER is a reputable research institute not known for always delivering the results its clients want to hear.

One might also question whether the numbers NZIER used were accurate. After all, it had taken them straight from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment – which Energy Minister Megan Woods said “do not adequately model our policy.”

But maybe that is the real problem. Which numbers can we trust without proper consultation?

Had the Government introduced the oil and gas ban after extensive and open consultation, there might have been more clarity. Instead, we are now in the bizarre situation in which the Government dismisses economic research because it is based on Government modelling.

The lack of proper analysis is not restricted to the oil and gas ban. It has become a sad theme that major policy overhauls are introduced with no or minimal consultation. The reform of New Zealand’s vocational education sector will take years, so the initial consultation period of six weeks can only be the beginning.

In fairness to the Government, New Zealand’s electoral cycles hardly leave them any other choice. Since the transition into office consumed the Government’s first year, the second year must be, in the Prime Minister’s words, “the year of delivery”. That is because the 2020 election will dominate next year.

Under such time pressures, it becomes understandable why the Government does not have enough time to think and consult before taking action. But if that is the case, would we not be better served by four- or even five-year terms as in most other advanced economies?

New Zealanders like the ability to kick out bad governments after only three years. But our short terms reduce the quality of any government no matter who happens to be in office.

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