8 Dec 2023

Government rocked by second leak in five days, ministers suspend analysis of repeal proposals

8:23 pm on 8 December 2023

By Thomas Coughlan of NZ Herald

NZ First leader Winston Peters, National Party leader Christopher Luxon and ACT Party leader David Seymour at the formal signing ceremony on 24 November, 2023.

It is the second leak from the new government led by Christopher Luxon, centre, in the past week. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The new government has been rocked by the leaking of another confidential paper to the New Zealand Herald - the second to spill in just five days.

This paper, from Treasury, said the government has quietly suspended Regulatory Impact Analyses (RIA) for some proposals in its 100-day plan, meaning they will not go through the proper process before becoming law.

The former government also briefly suspended RIA during the pandemic.

The paper, from Treasury, said the Cabinet agreed that proposals that "solely repeal legislation" and "not seeking approval for new policy" will have the requirement for a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS - another name for an RIA) "suspended".

This means that projects, including the potential repeal of Fair Pay Agreements, or the legislation underpinning the government's Smokefree legislation, will not get the traditional level of regulatory scrutiny.

Finance Minister Nicola Willis said the new government was taking a similar approach to the last government when it took office in 2017.

"The commitments laid out in the 100 day plan were campaigned on and the new government is getting on with delivering them. A truncated process for Regulatory Impact Statements is appropriate in this context," Willis said.

"The public service is working at pace. In some cases this will mean agencies won't have time to implement an exhaustive RIS. If that is the case they have been advised to focus on cost benefit analysis and any implementation issues," she said.

"Our new government is proud of the work we are doing to deliver the change New Zealanders voted for," she said.

Nicola Willis and Chris Bishop arrive at Welly airport

Finance Minister Nicola Willis. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Labour leader Chris Hipkins said the leak showed the new government was leaky and had an aversion to scrutiny.

"Earlier this week Christopher Luxon and his Coalition government were ignoring official advice around Fair Pay Agreements, now they're saying they don't want advice.

"Regulatory scrutiny is an important part of the policy process, and choosing not to receive it should only be done in specific circumstances, e.g. an emergency response," he said.

The decision to suspend RIS means some of the the promises to repeal the former government's agenda will face almost no scrutiny, given the new government intends to repeal some things, like FPAs, under urgency.

RIS requirements are staying for "new proposals" in the 100-day plan, however they are having their formal quality assurance requirement scrapped.

The fact of the leak is as significant as the leak itself. Earlier this week, a Cabinet paper was leaked to Newshub and the Herald, on the decision to scrap Fair Pay Agreements. It is exceedingly rare for Cabinet papers to leak, and leaks of Treasury papers are rare too.

The paper obtained by the Herald was sent to government agencies on Friday advising them of the new process. It would have had many more recipients than the paper released earlier this week, meaning it was far more likely to leak. A Beehive source said thousands of people could have access to the paper.

The RIS regime was devised by the ACT party when in government with John Key's National government. A RIS is meant to give ministers and the public a heads up on any important consequences of the changes they are making.

They can often be politically damaging for the government, warning of the financial consequences of their decisions. A particularly scathing RIS about a policy to change the rules on GST for KiwiSaver funds saw the government u-turn on the idea within 24 hours of it being published.

"A post-implementation review is... required for these proposals," the paper said.

Proposals that are taken to Cabinet that are not part of the 100-day plan still require a RIS. The paper said that agencies may still want to go through a full RIS process if they were "not faced with extreme time pressures". Proposals from the 100-day plan that go to Cabinet after the first 100 days will also have a a full RIS.

"It is ultimately a decision for your agency and Minister whether or not this voluntary impact analysis is prepared and submitted to Cabinet," the paper said.

Minister of Regulation David Seymour has previously been critical of the quality of Regulatory Impact Analysis in the past.

He said the government was "committed to substantially improving the quality of regulatory impact statements so that their inclusion in the law-making process in future is far more valuable."

* This story first appeared in the New Zealand Herald.

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