Good things in small parcels

Commerce Minister Lianne Dalziel is miffed. New Zealand is only the fourth easiest country to set up a business in. She vows it will soon be the easiest, by way of a sort of one-click shop that does all the registrations. It will be a small gain for the country but a big gain in a new small business’s scheme of things.

Making many small gains is the principle behind Dalziel’s drive to improve the quality of regulation, an idea she got from a report by the Australian Productivity Commission early last year. Her second progress report was published last week and her next report is due by July.

Dalziel’s project doesn’t deal with the big bugbears, the Resource Management Act and the labour laws. Nor is she on about how desirable regulations and the policies behind them are but whether their implementation and administration add unnecessarily, stupidly or counterproductively to business compliance costs.

The aim is to reduce duplication, streamline dealings with government departments, eliminate redundant and unnecessary regulations and sharpen cost-benefit analyses of regulations.

When she announced it last year, it sounded like a Tui ad. Governments routinely promise to reduce red tape and instead lengthen it. But this project may actually be having a small effect or, rather, a lot of tiny but relevant effects. Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O’Reilly gives it a qualified tick.

That is because business organisations and individual businesses have largely identified the agenda. Dalziel brandishes a fat document summarising the submissions which officials have been working through. It is a bottom-up process, not bright ideas in Wellington glass towers.

Some are or have been dealt with by changing regulations or departments’ practices. Some will need legislation in an omnibus bill Dalziel will bring down shortly. She would like a fast-track law-making vehicle but so far Parliament’s standing orders committee has refused that.

Vexations can also be nipped in the bud at the time laws are made. That was supposed to be the aim of attaching impact statements attached to bills and new regulations, which have long been required. But they often read more like justifications than analyses. Henceforth, Dalziel says, impact assessments are to be also attached to discussion documents issued for consultation, which will give business and other submitters a better chance to assess the cost-benefit of proposed legislation and regulation — and assess officials’ assessments — and argue for alternatives.

Dalziel’s July report is not the end. She wants a smallish, mainly non-government committee to continue the work.

Her progress report last week (her first was in October) listed a considerable number of mostly small improvements that either have been made or will be legislated for in her bill.

They range from scrapping outdated health and safety regulations, combining inspections under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (Hasno) and the Health and Safety in Employment Act, agreement between the Accident Compensation Corporation and the Inland Revenue Department to work together on data collection and to share information on businesses and Labour Department guidance on how to manage the health and safety of contractors, to a better definition of what constitutes a GST invoice, the interface between building and resource consents and alignment of the due dates for alcohol excise levies and Alcohol Advisory Council (Alac) levies.

Dalziel’s July report will canvass options to improve the way the employment relationships resolution system operates, a big issue for small employers. Other items for the July report include vexatious submissions under the Resource Management Act (RMA), disciplines on local authorities setting of RMA charges, simplification of licensing requirements under the Hasno act and the interface between that act and the Biosecurity Act, whether liquor licence renewals can be automated subject to misdemeanours and removing the inconsistencies in opening hours under the Sale of Liquor, Holidays and Shop Trading Acts.

Ministers will also reach down into local government which make a lot of the regulations business deals with.

None of this will get the government off business’s, especially small business’s, back. That needs changes of substance, not administration. But it might lighten the load a bit.