Loopy rules: another National Party circus act

The National Party sure love their theatrical productions.

Back in the days of Don Brash as the leader they announced with much fanfare that Wayne Mapp was to take up the mantle of Political Correctness Eradicator. They got great headlines and a few impassioned letters to the editor damning the feminist takeover of our society, and then the idea sank without a trace.

In 2009 as part of their coalition deal with ACT they launched, with much fanfare, the 2025 Taskforce, a high-powered team dedicated to the goal of closing the wage gap with Australia. Again, they got great headlines, and a couple of reports which recommended the same old Chicago School voodoo (cut taxes, cut spending, sell assets), and then the idea sank without a trace.

How’s that wage gap with Australia doing? In 2013, David Parker calculated that it was the equivalent of a full day’s pay for Kiwi workers. Oops.

Now we’ve got the “Loopy Rules” taskforce, created with much fanfare as a vehicle for Paula Bennett to stage her leadership bid get rid of unnecessary regulation. And despite a massive amount of panic-mongering in the initial stages – you have to fence paddling pools! Ranchsliders aren’t counted as windows! – what’s the first thing they come up with?

Allowing builders to certify their own work.

It makes perfect sense from a National Party perspective. All regulation is inherently bad and unnecessary when you believe the market will solve everything. But this proposal, and Bennett’s defence of it, is risky. She’s declared that “people have moved on” since the leaky buildings disaster which cost the country $22 billion and saw a heck of a lot of property developers retire to tropical islands. “Products have moved on.”

Well for a start, she’s wrong. This is from an article on interest.co.nz published March this year.

The leaky home and leaky building era is far from over.

As builders, local councils, property owners and building materials manufacturers continue to fob off responsibility for the crisis, new cases are still coming out of the woodwork.

Against this backdrop Home Owners and Buyers Association of New Zealand (HOBANZ) president, John Gray, says the youngest leaky home he’s aware of is still in construction.

“The thought of the leaky home problem being a distant memory, insofar as new builds are concerned, is just a fallacy”, he says.

It would be nice to think that we’ve all learned our lesson and evolved into a society where shoddy construction work just doesn’t happen. But it’s the same argument National uses for empowering employers to take away rest breaks. Most employers are good employers; most builders are good builders. Most employers won’t mistreat and overwork their staff for a buck; most builders won’t sign off a shoddy job for a buck.

These things are true. Except that we don’t have laws because most people are good. We have laws because some people are bad. And we regulate buildings, and have disinterested parties sign off on their construction, because buildings are large, and pretty much permanent. You can’t apply a free-market scenario like “I went to a different dairy this morning because they had a special on 2L milk.” It’s a block of apartments.

There’s undoubtedly some silly rules and bizarre loopholes in our regulations (just like our tax law) – though not any of the ones which people like Paula Bennett frequently use to incite outrage, like bans on lolly scrambles. There will be inconsistencies across different regional and territorial authorities.

This taskforce isn’t going to fix them. It’s a show pony for the government to push the idea that they hate rules and regulations just like all you dudes on talkback who think bike helmets are stupid. If they can help their property developer buddies make a bit of cash on the side, all the better; as per usual, it’ll be the next Labour-led government which has to deal with the consequences.

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