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The government's Rules Reduction Taskforce went on a witch hunt, and couldn't find any witches

by Aaron Hawkins

In his address to last year's Local Government New Zealand Conference, well and truly on the campaign trail, John Key took aim at the 'loopy local rules' that seemed to exist solely to annoy people. Our national fixation with building a deck needed fewer impediments, and one of the big stumbling blocks was The Bloody Council.

A Rules Reduction Task Force was to be established, which would crowdsource concerns that central government would then address. There are few more tried and true campaign methods than finding a stick to beat local government with.

Everybody hates The Bloody Council.

The back-pedalling began almost immediately. Dunedin City was one of the offenders singled out in the beginning, for stopping someone building a deck near a reserve. Which was a good story, up until the point that it was untrue. When that was pointed out, the city's name was removed from the example, but the example remained all the same.

When it was pointed out that a vast majority of local rules are enforcement of government legislation, the ambit was widened. "Local" was dropped from the Task Force's mission of loopy rules identification. Rather than reprint all of the advertising material, they actually just got someone to cross the word out in marker pen on a bunch of them.

“It's not about local government specifically” Inky Tulloch, former Mayor of Mataura, Task Force member and race car driver told us. “We want to hear about any kind of loopy rules at any level.”

We were always at war with RMAsia.

Yesterday, the Department of Internal Affairs released the Rules Reduction Taskforce Report, a summary of the concerns raised during the consultation, and a series of recommendations as to how to address them (#10 'Stop making loopy rules').

The Beehive knows how influential and effective local government can be in our communities, often in ways that run counter to their general policy direction, which is why they're so interested in limiting the scope of our activities. Alongside the predictable overtures in the report to reforming the Resource Management Act, and clarifying Health & Safety legislation, is a recommendation that they Finish The Job when it comes to reform of the Local Government Act.

The real story is that many of the rules that people sent in, local or otherwise, turned out to be myths. Lolly scrambles haven't been banned, nor climbing a three-step ladder without a harness. (The report is sadly silent on Bullrush). The process of debunking these myths is actually a really positive one, for all levels of government, and for our communities, but it didn't suit the narrative. That takeaway message would be a concession of defeat.

By ruling out the easy option, Paula Bennett still needed something to hang her hat on, to justify the report's existence. With the damage from the leaky homes disaster still being mopped up, the Minister decided the time was right to raise the spectre of deregulating the building industry. Products have moved on since then, she says. We've all moved on since then. Surely we can all agree that there are some building jobs that shouldn't need to be signed off and certified?

As always with these things the devil, will be in the detail, but if a self-certifying building industry is the answer, I think we might be asking the wrong question. 

Aaron Hawkins is a Dunedin city councillor.

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