Election 2023: ACT promises to 'police red tape' with new Ministry of Regulation

The ACT Party has announced a range of new proposals it says will revolutionise how New Zealand is regulated.

Speaking from Auckland's SkyCity Theatre on Sunday, leader David Seymour laid out how his party would introduce a new Minister and Ministry of Regulation to "police red tape" and hold ministers and departments accountable. He said they would also have a Regulatory Standards Bill to make sure regulation meets "good" lawmaking principles, as well as strong enforcement mechanisms to police new and existing regulations.

Seymour said these new proposals will mean higher productivity and wages for workers, and lower prices and more innovative goods and services for consumers.

The new Minister and Ministry of Regulation would control the impacts of regulation like the Minister of Finance controls the supply of money taxed from New Zealanders, he said. The Minister and Ministry would make sure new and existing regulations meet "tough" new standards and would "put red tape on the chopping block". 

"There have been numerous attempts to rein in bad lawmaking, but at best they get lip service. The next Government needs a political party that will put its political capital behind cleaning up the jungle of red tape that holds New Zealand back," Seymour said.

New Zealand is "plagued" by red tape introduced by previous Governments who passed laws to respond to "negative headlines", he said. 

"If ACT has its way, future Governments aren't going to be able to get away with making knee-jerk, populist laws to scratch political itches," Seymour said.

"Most of New Zealand's problems can be traced to poor productivity and poor productivity can be traced to poor regulation. 

"In nearly every sector, we hear complaints that red tape increases compliance costs and creates missed opportunities by stopping productive activity. Our No. 8 wire culture is gradually eroding as people find it more attractive to do less."

But Seymour said there's "no serious attempt" to deal with red tape and "no discipline" when it comes to regulation, like how there is with the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

ACT would introduce a Regulatory Standards Act to set a higher bar for new regulation, Seymour said, and the Minister and Ministry of Regulation would be responsible for applying the principles across sectors.

"The Act will provide a benchmark for good regulation through a set of regulatory principles, including the rule of law, protection of individual liberties, protection of property rights, the imposition of taxes, and good lawmaking processes," he said.

The Ministry of Regulation, funded from the baselines of Treasury and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, would administer the principles of the Act.

The key functions of the Minister and Ministry would be to:

  • evaluate new regulatory proposals, make recommendations for a law to be passed or not, and evaluate it against the requirement for problem definition and cost-benefit analysis
  • review existing red tape in specific sectors, and present omnibus bills to Parliament that would remove surplus rules and regulations in collaboration with the relevant Minister.

The review process would work as follows:

  • The Minister of Regulation would declare a sector that the Ministry will conduct an inquiry into
  • The Ministry of Regulation will dig into all regulations in the sector over six months, hearing from the people affected by the rules, and testing them against the key principles of the Regulatory Standards Act
  • The Minister of Regulation would publish a report addressed to the relevant portfolio Minister, identifying the regulations that could be cut
  • The relevant portfolio Minister must respond within three months with approval for the regulations to be cut in an omnibus Bill, and a timeline for when they will cut the remaining red tape. If the relevant portfolio Minister declined to remove a regulation, they would be required to explain to Parliament and the public why the regulation should remain in place
  • The Minister of Regulation will be responsible for introducing the omnibus Bill and will publish an annual audit to report on progress towards achieving all of its recommendations against the agreed timelines.
David Seymour.
David Seymour. Photo credit: Newshub.

Seymour said the Act can also be used by the public to get a court declaration if a law has been made in a way that's inconsistent with good lawmaking. That wouldn't cancel the law, he said, but would instead change incentives for politicians and bureaucrats.

"As Undersecretary to the Minister for Regulatory Reform in the last Government, I was responsible for raising the quality of Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA). This approach has been necessary but insufficient," Seymour said. 

"The quality of analysis by public servants varies vastly, analysis has been retrofitted to support the Minister's preferred option, and too many laws are introduced even when the RIA produced does not support the change, or before a quality RIA can be produced.

"Real change is needed. The new Ministry of Regulation would be responsible for overseeing the RIA process and setting expectations for quality, and the Regulatory Standards Act creates new mechanisms for challenging laws and regulations that have already been enacted. Once a problematic regulation has been identified, the portfolio Minister can repeal, amend, or repeal and replace it."

Also in his speech at SkyCity on Sunday, Seymour praised the size of the 600-strong crowd, which he said shows that New Zealand is "crying out for real change".

He reiterated ACT's other policies, which include "bringing back consequences" for crime, building a new prison, and putting youth offenders in Corrections custody. Seymour also said ACT would reintroduce the three strikes law and would ensure there's more rehabilitation in jail.

His party would also end the "divisive policy" of co-governance and they would define the Treaty of Waitangi principles "openly and democratically". He said they would also take Treaty references out of legislation. 

Lastly, Seymour said ACT would tackle the cost of living crisis. His party's tax plan would "cut waste" from government and return that money to New Zealanders through lower taxes and targeted spending on core public services, he said. This includes more money for GPs, payments for teachers, and GST refunds for councils so they can build more public infrastructure to support housing.