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Don Brash Writes… N°7, 30 April 2003

An Update from National's Finance Spokesman


An update from National’s Finance spokesman

N°7, 30 April 2003

RMA Amendment Bill again

Last week, I took part in hearings on the Government's RMA Amendment Bill — but not formal hearings by the relevant Parliamentary Select Committee. Instead they were convened by my colleague Dr Nick Smith, with only National, ACT, and New Zealand First MPs participating. Sounds a bit like Alice in Wonderland. Well, the Government had effectively banned the Select Committee from holding hearings on this important Bill, so Nick Smith created this substitute process.

The revelations were shocking. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the RMA Amendment Bill will do almost nothing to solve the existing problems created by the RMA and will create a raft of additional ones.

The RMA pushes up the cost of some residential sections in Auckland by 50%, is causing some companies to shut up shop in New Zealand and move overseas, slows down or blocks vital investment in roads and power generation, and encourages corruption. We heard many stories of companies facing enormous legal bills just to secure relatively simple consents.

One submitter wrote:

Our educated guess is that over $20 million changed hands in Auckland in 2001 as oil for the wheels of withdrawn appeals. It used to be that in transport funding we had a B/C ratio, meaning a benefit/cost ratio. It now appears the new B/C ratio stands for Blackmail/Corruption.

Another submitter wrote:

To continue to argue that the RMA is "effects based" is completely wrong. The problems with the RMA cannot be solved by improving its implementation, as claimed by many bureaucrats. In reality, the RMA is process obsessed and driven by outdated planning doctrine. The RMA needs fundamental reform, not a papering over of the cracks.

I came away convinced that nothing less than a fundamental re-write of the RMA would enable New Zealand to grow more strongly while still preserving our natural environment. Tinkering won't do.

Off the US radar screen?

A fortnight ago, I noted that New Zealand seemed to be right off the US trade agreement radar screen. Last week, I was told by somebody close to the US Administration that the Prime Minister's remarks about the Iraqi conflict, and her comment that there might not have been an Iraqi conflict had Al Gore won the US Presidency, have indeed torpedoed prospects for trade negotiations between New Zealand and the US. We will surely pay a heavy price for the Prime Minister's arrogance.

Welfare reform

More and more New Zealanders are convinced that able-bodied beneficiaries should be expected to do some kind of work in return for taxpayers' support. Last week, I received an unsolicited email from a man in the central North Island which I'd like to share with you:

I agree with the work for welfare model. I have over 10 years of welfare dependence to show for my life. Welfare facilitates gangs and violence and doesn't make parents better people. Welfare is the enemy of all Kiwis. Welfare make Maori an embarrassment. Why are you so quiet Don? These are the central messages about past failures. People need to be forced off the welfare train. They will not do it alone. I have applied for over 50 jobs through WINZ; they sent me to two interviews, and now I am over two years unemployed this stint.

I thanked him for his email, said I was doing my best to find a better solution, and noted (perhaps unwisely!) that actually welfare wasn't my responsibility within the National Caucus. He came straight back with a longer email, part of which read:

Welfare is underpinning cycles of economic failure at a personal and national level. It's standing in the way of the skilled flexible workforce we need for growth. Welfare is supporting small town NZ enough for continuity but defies growth. My own experience of having a small party, and 9 of 10 guests live totally on welfare, yet they can afford booze and drugs but need top ups for their kids' books. Welfare is out of control and is a solid disincentive to many finding work.... I have seen it time and again. For example, my partner left her job to retrain as a furniture designer at xxx. Lost wages for a year $35,000, course $3,500, loan $4,500. All cost + lost income. But her mate on the DPB gets fees paid $3,500 from taxpayer, gets paid $20,000 for one kid, again taxpayer, then $1,000 for course costs and $3,000 for tools to set up a home workshop. All this and the woman fails to attend tuition, makes little effort to study, and has said that she's not that interested in it after all. Welfare is your responsibility Don....

Well, fortunately, not entirely. Katherine Rich in our Caucus is working almost full-time on this one issue. But my correspondent was right: every MP should be totally committed to finding solutions to this terrible blight of dependency — it damages our economic prospects but, even more seriously, it wrecks the lives of the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who are trapped by it. We've got to do better.

Don Brash

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