The slow burning Labour Government


The Government have several substantial projects on the go at this time. All of these are actually quite slow burning in that the time stamp from start to finish will be considerable. A few of the larger ones are:

  • The R.M.A. reform bill that Minister for Environment, David Parker has before Parliament
  • The education reforms announced by Minister of Education Chris Hipkins, which include an end to National Standards, established by National and a revisitation of the Tomorrow’s Schools framework established in 1989 to guide schools into the then foreseeable future
  • Social welfare changes being overseen by Minister of Social Development, Carmel Sepuloni

The Resource Management Act Amendment Bill is the most comprehensive reform of the R.M.A. in its history. The Act which was introduced by Labour in 1990 and finished by National in 1991 when it entered law has been dogged by controversy since Day 1, with the Green Party saying it is not strong enough whilst the A.C.T. Party has campaigned for its abolition – with no suggestion about what may replace it – and National have campaigned for a thorough streamlining of it. In the 28 years since it became law, the Act has doubled in length with both Labour and National led Governments adding half cooked amendments to it that have failed to address the core problems. With the dissolution of Parliament for the elections just weeks away I doubt that this will be passed before the election.

Many of the problems blamed on the R.M.A. actually have nothing to do with it and are more the product of a poor understanding of how the Act works. Common problems keep coming out time and again, such as Section 92 requests for more information. These stem from the council with whom a resource consent application has been lodged not been given enough information about the application to make a judgement. Others stem from councils not appropriately notifying a consent application – something that should have been publically notified might have been partially notified or not notified at all. Again, not the Act’s fault that the council made the mistake.

Chris Hipkins and his Labour Party colleagues railed against the National Standards when they were in Opposition. Too complex; children that young should not be examined academically like that; sent the wrong messages to students and parents alike. Like many I am not sorry to see the National Standards go, but I would hope that the equally useless National Certificate of Educational Achievement will follow it out the door and be replaced with an assessment regime that has both internal and external assessment for all courses.

I had experience with Unit Standards in Year 12 and Year 13 Tourism; Year 12 history and Year 11 Maths. You cannot blame the system prior to N.C.E.A. for my results. I was a student with a minimalist attitude who did what I had to pass and not much more. I thought it was a fair system. Some say that the grading was not fair, and perhaps that is true – I do not know why grading was introduced in the first place; if the pass rate is too high then perhaps the assessment is not sufficiently challenging for that year group.

The 1989 Tomorrow’s Schools blueprint was considered visionary at the time of its release. However the learning needs of students, the challenges they face and the diversification of communities that schools serve mean that its time has come to be replaced or comprehensively overhauled. Mr Hipkins has announced his intention to revisit T.S., but no big announcements have been made yet.

Perhaps the biggest question mark is over the reforms announced by Ms Sepuloni. I have heard little about their detail, which is concerning as we approach the end of her first term in office. We have no idea whether Ms Sepuloni intends to tackle the inept and outdated Work and Income New Zealand, which one of the small parties outside of Parliament – Prosperity Party – said they would support the breaking up of. Nor do we know whether any major reforms that come will tackle the monstrosity that is the legal framework of our social welfare system, which is rigid, encourages a toxic culture in the umbrella agencies it was designed for and whose Social Welfare Act has not been substantially revisited since 1956.

Labour are by far the better performing of the big two parties in Parliament. However their policy programme is rather slow burning. I had thought that at least one of these – among other major reforms – would have been passed through Parliament by now. It is fair to say that with COVID19, the Christchurch mosques attack, that Labour have had their hands full handling other crises. It is also true that three party coalitions can be unwieldy things. But that – in particular in Ms Sepuloni’s case – does not mean that the tempo cannot be cranked up a bit.