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Lifting Our Game

Posted on 20 Feb 2009

Speech by Local Government Minister the Hon Rodney Hide to the Skyline Buildings Ltd distributors meeting; Hotel Grand Chancellor, Airport Oaks, Auckland Airport, Auckland; Friday, February 20 2009.

Good afternoon.

Since I became Minister of Local Government, and let it be known what changes I wanted to see in relation to Councils and the way they operate, I've been flat out.

And so have my staff.

When I went on TVNZ's 'Close Up' late last year, I asked viewers to write to me about the problems they'd been having with their Councils.

I got literally a sackful of mail.

I've had around 1100 letters so far, and more come in each day.

And everyone who wrote is getting a reply.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the extent of the problems people are having with Councils.

I'm sure each of you has your own horror story - about spiralling costs, and increasingly complicated and unnecessary demands for information before granting a consent.

It's driving up the costs of putting up a garage - and threatening your businesses' viability, as well as driving ordinary Kiwis crazy.

I'm in touch with many different companies and sectors about the costs of getting consents and the red tape involved.

Simply trying to carrying out their everyday business is now a nightmare.

It can cost $10,000 for a consent to put in a small cable car to help an old lady in Oriental Bay get up and down her steep cliff slope.

And nine months to get the consent.

I understand that to put in a Para Pool in your backyard for the kids will take months to get the paperwork done, and can cost thousands of dollars.

That's just for the Council consent alone - which can cost up to 50 percent as much as the pool itself.

Families can't afford a Para Pool because of the Council costs - and if they do they may not get the consent through in time for a swim until next summer.

Earlier this week I visited a fantastic Hutt Valley business that makes the cable cars I referred to earlier.

It has 11 workers, it's very successful, very entrepreneurial and it exports.

But it's in trouble.

It's being driven into the ground by the increasing demands and costs of Council consents.

There are many companies like it.

Simply trying to carrying out their everyday business is now a nightmare.

The power that Council officials have accumulated is frightening.

They are now paranoid about the possibility of being considered - or found - negligent some time in the future about any decision they make on minor, as well as major, building projects.

It is appropriate that they're stringent and demanding in many areas involving safety and reliability of structures - to prevent leaky buildings for example.

And there should be a desire to continually improve our communities.

But it's gone too far.

It's all control freak behaviour, and it's got to stop.

I know there's a widespread problem - so what are we going to do about it? What can we do about it?

We can make things easier, and we're going to.

I accept that much of the overbearing regulations and petty restrictions imposed by Councils come from government legislation such as the Resource Management and the Building Acts.

And that's why we're making changes to both.

The first changes to the RMA were announced earlier this month.

There will be more work on the RMA and related issues.

There have also been so many more new rules and regulations under the recent Labour Government - all of which meant more costs and more complexity.

No wonder people are giving up on projects like putting up a simple garage - and saying "the hell with it."

The practice of imposing more and more obligations on Councils, which pass on the costs to ratepayers and consent applicants, must stop.

Another source of problems is the Building Act, and its regulations and requirements.

We'll be reviewing the Act in the future to make it less prescriptive and restrictive.

But that's not all.

We're also going to be sweeping through a whole raft of petty rules and regulations that are unnecessary, small minded and completely outdated, and affect things such as swimming pools.

That's one of my major goals in my role as Regulatory Reform Minister.

The Local Government Act is another piece of legislation we're targeting for improvements.

We want more transparency and accountability, and reduced costs passed on to local government because those costs are ultimately passed on.

However, although these pieces of legislation are responsible for the much of the absurdities, Councils themselves must bear part of the blame.

They have become very risk-averse and over zealous - particularly Council planners and the way they interpret legislation and extend the ridiculous controls into micro areas of a project.

In addition, costs and charges and fees keep being raised far beyond what is reasonable.

Three thousand dollars for a consent to build a $10,000 Skyline garage is absurd.

The paperwork's gone crazy too.

I'm told up to 50 pages of paperwork is needed for Councils to approve a garage - whereas two or three used to be enough.

When ACT went into its support agreement with National after the election, I took on my two Ministerial portfolios: Local Government and Regulatory Reform ... because these are important areas that affect people and their communities in so many ways.

I also took them on because this is an area in real need of change.

Red tape is strangling businesses like Skyline, and it's driving ordinary people and homeowners crazy.

I want to see fewer of the absurd compliance demands in the regulatory area.

I want to see the financial burden placed by central government on local government reduced.

My view is that we should take Councils out of the picture and, for work on large building projects of any size, should hold the builder or tradesperson responsible.

If something should go wrong at some time in the future, whoever built it should bear the liability through their insurer.

Make no mistake: I accept Councils do a lot of good work, but they have become a block on growth in this country.

We are in a very tough situation economically and we must do everything we can to help businesses flourish and grow.

We need to lift our game substantially, and I believe there are very real gains to be made in the regulatory area.

Reform is needed, and change is going to come.

Thank you.

ENDS

Where To From Here? - Progress On The Confidence & Supply Agreement Between ACT And National

Posted on 20 Feb 2009

Speech by ACT Leader the Hon Rodney Hide to the New Zealand Business Roundtable retreat; Formosa Golf Resort, Beachlands, Auckland; Friday, February 20 2009.

Good afternoon.

So, after three months of working with the National Party, how is ACT doing?

What is ACT bringing to this government?

I believe we're on a roll.

Our aim is to shift the direction of this country for the better.

And, although it's early days, I think we have a good chance of doing just that.

Contrary to what many people believe, we are not in coalition with National.

We support them as the majority Party.

We support them on supply and confidence.

But we sit on the cross benches.

Heather Roy and I are Ministers but, outside our portfolio responsibilities, we and our three MPs are free to criticise Government policy.

We will do just that – but we will do it respectfully.

Our goal is not to destabilise the Government.

It is to contribute to getting better policy and better results for New Zealand.

Both National and ACT want to see a more prosperous and cohesive nation driven by the initiative and hard work of individual people.

But ACT also believes our national productivity performance will need to increase dramatically to match that of Australia.

Fiddling at the edges is not enough.

We see Australia as a benchmark – our neighbour whom we used to rival.

Until recent years, both countries had similar average incomes and a parallel standard of living.

There is now a huge difference, with the average worker in Australia earning a third more than their counterpart in New Zealand.

So ACT and National have agreed on the concrete goal of closing the income gap with Australia by 2025.

This is the key principle of our supply and confidence agreement.

Achieving it will require a sustained lift in New Zealand's productivity growth rate to three percent a year or more.

Both Parties see the need for significant changes in institutions and policies to achieve our goal.

But we have very different ideas about how to achieve it.

New Zealand is facing immediate and serious economic risks due to the international financial crisis and global recession.

It's a huge challenge.

We are already on the back foot due to our second rate economic performance and falling productivity.

We've been falling further and further behind other developed nations, and the Labour Government did nothing while this collapse was occurring.

Serious and substantial systemic changes are needed.

In order to work towards those goals National and ACT will agree to:

* The broad outline of the legislative programme

* Key legislative measures

* Major policy issues

* Negotiation on policy issues and legislative measures to which ACT is likely to be particularly sensitive.

A Leadership Council of myself and John Key has been established to regularly consult on major strategic elements of the Government's programme, review progress towards improvements in the rate of productivity growth, and consider new initiatives.

We meet once a month - or more often as required.

There are seven key elements of our agreement. Here is how they are being progressed.

First, law and order.

The country needs stricter provisions on sentencing, bail and parole.

And our ‘Three Strikes' Bill is now before Parliament.

It'll mean recidivist violent or sexual offenders will get mandatory 25 years to life if they commit a third violent offence.

National supported the introduction of the legislation, which is now going to a Select Committee.

Indications are that this clampdown will have widespread public support, as well as being a sensible and effective way of dealing with hardened criminals who need to be taken off the streets.

We will be supporting other reforms of the criminal justice system that provide more security and safety for law-abiding New Zealanders.

Second, climate change.

We campaigned to abolish the Emissions Trading Scheme, which we believe is based on doubtful science and was rushed through without any serious cost benefit analysis.

We have differences with National on this issue but it has agreed to the establishment of a special Parliamentary Select Committee to review the current Emissions Trading Scheme, including carbon taxes.

The key thing we need is a proper assessment of the costs and benefits to New Zealand of the ETS.

It's shocking that has not yet been done, with the ETS guaranteed to put up costs to families and businesses, and deepen the impact of the recession.

We want that analysis carried out.

If a rigorous Select Sommittee examination results in a credible case in support of the scheme, or perhaps a carbon tax, we will support it.

Third, controlling government expenditure.

We believe in small government.

Currently, Government spending is grossly excessive and needs to be brought under control.

I am now a member of the Cabinet Expenditure Control Committee.

A focus of our work is eliminating programmes that do not deliver value for money.

ACT does not want nibbling at the edges of spending.

We want whole programmes that are wasteful and unnecessary to go.

It's not just central government that is spending wildly and irresponsibly, local government is too.

In my role as Local Government Minister I will be looking at ways to reduce needless regulations and compliance costs, and encourage Councils to keep rate rises to inflation level or below.

Fourth, tax.

ACT believes that, as a timid initial step, we should align personal, trust and company taxes at a maximum of 30 percent.

National has agreed that's a desirable medium-term goal.

We remain fundamentally committed to substantial reduction in tax rates, and that involves cutting back government spending.

Fifth, reducing red tape and bureaucracy.

New Zealand businesses are being held back - if not bludgeoned to death - by a raft of unnecessary and petty restrictions, rules and regulations.

National has agreed to set up a task force to carry forward work on the Regulatory Responsibility Bill.

As the Minister for Regulatory Reform I've started a sweeping review of rules and regulations in order to cull the unnecessary, the small minded and completely outdated.

Once the initial cull is complete, we'll be holding annual reviews to make sure the improvement process is ongoing.

We will look at exploring the concept of a New Zealand Productivity Commission associated with the Productivity Commission in Australia in order to support higher productivity growth and improvements in the quality of regulation.

Six - we're reviewing and reforming the RMA.

The initial changes were announced recently. There will be more.

Beyond the short term, consideration will be given to further improvements - including better mechanisms for water allocation and compensation for regulatory takings of property rights.

High quality advisory groups will be established for such tasks.

We're also looking at changes to the Building Act and the Local Government Act.

All of these reforms will have a huge impact on productivity and benefit businesses, communities and individuals.

Finally, education.

ACT favours greater choice and competition in education.

National has said it will "work, over time, to increase the education choices available to parents and pupils so families have more freedom to select schooling options that best meet the individual needs of their children."

So we've agreed to set up an inter-Party working group to examine policy options relating to the funding and regulation of schools that will increase parental choice and school autonomy.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is vital we meet the challenge

So are we making progress?

We have our tough sentencing and parole laws going through Parliament.

We are reviewing the ETS.

We are cutting red tape and petty over-regulation, and you will see real progress in this area in the coming months.

Reforms to the RMA have already been announced, with more to come.

And that's just the first three months.

My team is making an impact as individuals.

Most recently, David Garrett has done an excellent job in promoting and speaking on our ‘Three Strikes' legislation.

Sir Roger Douglas is getting strong coverage around the country, and his Orewa speech was widely reported by the urban and provincial media.

John Boscawen has been a particularly effective performer in Parliament.

By the next election, I am planning on having 10 ACT MPs.

ACT is making real progress and there's more to come.

I love being a Minister.

I've never had so much fun in my life, and such a sense of adventure.

Thank you.

ENDS

Local Government - The Way Ahead

Posted on 19 Feb 2009

Speech to LGNZ conference
Rural & Provincial Sector Council Meeting
Brentwood Hotel, Kilbirnie
1PM Thursday 19 Feb 2009

Good afternoon.

I have to say, ladies and gentlemen, that I don't regard myself the Minister of Local Government - I consider myself the Minister for Ratepayers.

I don't represent councils.

I represent the people whose hard work and savings pay the rates.

And provide councils with their income.

That sums up the way I approach to my job.

When ACT went into its support agreement with National after the election, I took on my two ministerial portfolios - Local Government and Regulatory Reform ...

Because these are important areas that affect people and their communities in so many ways.

I also took them on because these areas in real need of change.

Here are my aims.

First, I want to keep rate rises down and encourage you to focus on core activities.

On the necessities, not the luxuries.

There can be no doubt that, overwhelmingly, ratepayers right across the country support this goal.

No one wants to pay more rates than they have to.

And there can also be no doubt that rates have been rising way beyond the rate of inflation for a good many years.

As have other charges and fees.

So I will be pushing for councils to accept that rates rises should be capped at the rate of inflation, or less.

Sure, councils for good reason may need to increase rates faster than inflation.

But they should get the consent of ratepayers for such increases.

After all, it's their money.

And it's a good test for a planned spend-up to get the agreement of those who are paying for it.

We all know the perilous state of the economy.

We must be a lot more careful with money than we were in the past.

That includes councils - although there've been calls from ratepayers and ratepayers groups for many years to cut back the big rates rises.

And to get back to basics, to what should be the core roles of councils ...

Providing public services such as rubbish removal, road maintenance, parks, libraries, and light handed-regulatory controls.

We all have wish lists - but councils must make better judgements about what they decide to support and spend money on.

They should not be running banks, investing in hotels, or paying for some superstar to visit.

Councils need to ask themselves each time a spending proposal comes up - "Is this a core service for local government to provide - and can our ratepayers afford it?"

When I look at the expanding breadth of activities that councils engage in, the answer must surely be, "Businesses should be doing this - not the council."

Even if it is a job appropriate for local government, the answer may still be "No, our ratepayers can't afford it."

So there are two fiscal tests we should be applying to councils.

Here's my second aim.

Ratepayers want greater transparency and accountability in local government.

Right now, council processes are murky and confusing.

I want to change that.

Ratepayers want to know who is responsible for council decisions - and who to hold to account.

For good decisions, we need good governance.

Good governance requires transparency and accountability.

I believe we can and should do better.

My third aim is to cut the red tape that's strangling businesses, and driving ordinary people homeowners crazy.

I want to see fewer of the absurd compliance demands in the regulatory area.

I want to see the burden that is placed by central government on local government reduced.

I want to see respect for private property rights

I want the freedom of individual New Zealanders enhanced.

When I went on the TV show Close Up late last year, I asked viewers to write to me about the problems they'd been having with their councils.

I got literally a sackful of mail.

Once it was known I wanted change in the local government sector, people wrote to me en masse.

I've had around 1100 people letters so far, and more come in each day.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the extent of the problems people are having with councils.

I accept that much of the overbearing regulations and petty restrictions imposed by councils come from government legislation such as the RMA and the Building Act.

And that's why we're making changes to both.

The first raft of changes to the RMA was announced earlier this month.

There will be more work on the RMA and related issues.

Next, we're looking at the Building Act.

I'm working with Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson on these improvements.

But that's not all.

The practice of central government imposing more and more obligations on councils, which leads to more costs being passed onto ratepayers and the wider public, must stop.

I understand that just to put a Para Pool in your background for the kids will take months to get the paperwork done, and can cost thousands of dollars.

That's just for the council consent alone - which can cost up to fifty per cent as much as the pool itself.

Families can't afford a Para Pool because of the council costs and even if they can do so, they may not get the consent through in time for a swim till next summer.

That's ridiculous.

Some of these situations impact directly on just a few people.

Others affect many.

But the cumulative effect of getting rid of them will be substantial.

Like smoothing out a whole series of small potholes in a road.

Much of the problem lies with poor legislation.

But councils have also become very risk-averse and over zealous.

Earlier this week I visited a fantastic New Zealand business that is being driven to its knees by local council demands.

It's one of many in that situation.

The company is called Access Automation, based in the Hutt Valley.

Simply trying to carrying out their everyday business is now a nightmare.

They constantly have to battle councils just to carry out their business.

They make cable cars to give people access up steep hill sides and cliff faces, which we have a lot of in Wellington.

It's a clever, innovative, and successful company.

But it only has eleven workers.

That makes it a typical New Zealand company.

There's not a lot of fat.

Over the last four years, the council rules and regulations about what it can and cannot do have got tighter and tighter.

The company is now at risk - and so are the jobs of those eleven people.

Two and a half managers now spend 80 per cent of their time filling out council documentation simply to get resource consents.

No matter what is provided, the council wants more.

More reports, more analysis, more information, more data, more forms to be filled in.

Blah blah blah.

It's taking nine months to get a resource consent to put in a cable car ...

... so that an elderly lady can get to her house easily up a steep cliff from the street.

Things have got much worse over the past four years - as the council throws more and more absurd barriers in their way.

They get contradictory advice from council staff, departments don't talk to each other, and they often have to deal with different people from the ones they dealt with last week.

The guys at Access Automation are being ground down.

The company's at risk, the jobs are at risk, but imagine the combined effect of the same thing happening to thousands of similar companies around New Zealand.

They've had enough. They want change. And they're not alone - as I said earlier, my mail bag confirms that.

So do my emails, and conversations from people who come up to me all the time at airports and events around New Zealand.

It's my belief that we can and we must do better in local government.

That means greater transparency and accountability.

Getting our costs down.

Greater respect for taxpayers and ratepayers, and their rights.

Ending the petty red tape that's tying us up in knots.

We need to make it easier for New Zealanders to go about their business and everyday lives ... not harder.

Together we can do it.

Thank you.

ENDS

'Three Strikes' Legislation Goes Before Parliament This Week

Posted on 15 Feb 2009

ACT New Zealand's "three strikes and you're out" policy is one step closer to becoming law. It is part of the National government's Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill being introduced to Parliament next Thursday.

Three Strikes will help keep the worst violent and sexual offenders off the streets. It will mean criminals who are convicted a third time will be sent to prison for life with a minimum non-parole period of 25 years. The sentence will be mandatory.

The Three Strikes policy was a key part of the ACT Party's general election platform. A "strike" consists of a serious violent or sexual offence, and the legislation lists these crimes specifically. For the first offence a warning will be given by the judge. On the second, the offender will get a jail term with no eligibility for parole as well as a warning of the consequences of a third conviction.

ACT Leader Rodney Hide says he is delighted the ACT policy is going to select committee for full consideration. "This is another step in implementing the confidence and supply agreement between National and ACT. I would hope that National can see their way clear to support this legislation beyond the select committee stage, as ACT believes it is good policy."

Prime Minister John Key says, "Both National and ACT campaigned strongly on a platform of dealing with law and order issues, and I am pleased another part of that agreement is being progressed with this legislation going to a select committee. I am sure the committee will give it full consideration.

"The introduction of this legislation fulfils another of National's first 100 day pledges."
Rodney Hide says it is tragic that the law was not in place before. "Seventy eight innocent people would be alive today if the thugs who murdered them had been kept in prison after being convicted of more than three violent crimes.

"William Bell had 102 prior convictions, including many for violence. Under this Bill there will be no more William Bells because they will be safely locked up. Criminals such as him are ticking time bombs."

Three Strikes Legislation – Q & As

What will this Bill do?
The Bill will make changes to sentencing and parole legislation, ensuring that violent recidivist criminals are kept off the streets. The Bill introduces a Three Strikes approach to dealing with offenders. On the first "strike" an offender will receive a warning from the sentencing Judge. On the second conviction, the result will be a jail term with no eligibility for parole. In addition the offender will receive a second warning, pointing out the consequences of a further conviction. On the third strike, the offender will receive mandatory life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 25 years.

What constitutes a strike?
A schedule clearly defining what constitutes strike offences is part of the legislation. It lists the most serious violent and sexual offences including murder, attempted murder, grievous bodily harm, serious firearms offences, rape, and a range of sexual offences on children and young people.

Does similar legislation exist elsewhere in the world?
A number of states in the US have Three Strikes laws. The best known example is in California where there have been some cases of offenders becoming eligible under Three Strikes laws for jail sentences of 25 years to life for relatively minor and non-violent offences (burglary, vehicle theft etc). This is impossible under the proposed New Zealand legislation as the strike offences are limited solely to those listed in a schedule in the Bill, and consisting only of offences involving serious physical or sexual violence.

Is the Bill retrospective?
No. Offenders already in prison will start with a clean slate in relation to this legislation. Only offences committed after the Bill becomes law will constitute a strike.

Will it result in an immediate rise in prison numbers and a consequent need for new prisons?
No. It will take time for the Bill to take full effect with the first "three striker" not expected to be sentenced for 25 years-to-life for over a decade. The intention is that, as the number of "two strikers" increases, violent offenders will modify their behaviour after realising they are a single violent or sexual offence away from a 25 years-to-life prison sentence.

Why is this Bill being passed?
It is a key part of the confidence and supply agreement signed by the ACT and National parties. Both campaigned heavily on law and order in the election campaign, recognising that the previous government had failed in its pledge to keep New Zealanders safe. This Bill will keep the most violent recidivist criminals under lock and key as well as provide a deterrent to further offending. It is designed to prevent violent criminals like William Bell, Graham Burton and Antonie Ronnie Dixon ever getting the chance to go on to kill.

ENDS

ACT Welcomes Australian ETS Decision

Posted on 13 Feb 2009

The Australian Government's decision to review its emission trading scheme further confirms my doubts about the scheme here, and supports my concerns about why New Zealand is heading blindly down the same path, ACT Leader Hon Rodney Hide said today.

"Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan has asked a House economics committee to examine whether the proposed emissions trading scheme is the best way to deal with climate change," Mr Hide said.

"That's what ACT's Confidence & Supply Agreement does here, in establishing a special Parliamentary committee to review New Zealand's ETS.

"The key thing we need is a proper assessment of the costs and benefits to New Zealand of the ETS. It's shocking that a proper assessment of the costs and benefits has not been done, with the ETS guaranteed to put up costs to families and businesses and deepen the impact of the recession.

"It's pleasing to know that Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is following New Zealand in reviewing Australia's response to so-called climate change," Mr Hide said.

ENDS

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