Wednesday, 20 April 2005

When gutting legislation sounds fishy

Can someone tell me the difference between 'gut' and 'abolish'?

Rodney Hide says ACT will "unshackle New Zealand business from the red tape that is strangling them." Great. I wonder what the details are?

First, ACT's press release doen't promise to to reduce compliance costs, they promise "fewer compliance costs." Uh huh? And their policy release argues that "lower taxes also mean lower compliance costs." Huh, really?

Second, Rodney promises to "Gut legislation that imposes the greatest level of compliance costs on business, including the Resource Management Act, the Employment Relations Act, the Health and Safety in Employment Act and the Holidays Act."

"Gut." Not abolish. 'Gut' is better than ACT's previous promise of 'radical reform' or to 'confine the RMA to its original purpose,' but is there any reason at all to retain any of these Acts?

Rodney promises to 'gut' them "by returning to the basic principles of the sanctity of private property rights and the freedom to contract." Great. But as always with ACT's promises, there are no further details.

The truth being avoided with these broadbrush promises is that you can't return to the basic principles of the sanctity of private property rights and the freedom to contract if you retain any of these Acts - you can only do that if you abolish and start again.

In the case of the Resource Management Act (RMA), you can only return to the basic principles of the sanctity of private property rights if you abolish it and return to the basic principles of the common law. The common law has seven-hundred years of sophistication in dealing with the issues and conflicts the RMA purports to deal with; the RMA has just over ten. Why would you retain it at all?

I've made these arguments before, most recently here and here. We know Ken Shirley and Rodney Hide read them, because they went on to plagiarise them in subsequent speeches. Here's Ken's. Now that's fine, that's what our ideas are for, but unfortunately, they left out the conclusion. They always do.


  1. Difference between gut and abolish:
    Gut - remove innards but leave outside intact.
    Abolish - toss the whole thing away so that there is nothing left.

    PC, I design and write computer programs for a living. I quite often have to make decisions on whether to gut or abolish sections of code. I've noticed that legislation acts like a computer program, there are dependencies where if you abolish some parts, the whole thing can fall in a heap. Gutting acts like a plug, allows everything to keep working, but can remove the insidious parts.

    This is libertarian conservatism at work, where the aim is twofold.
    1) to remove constraints
    2) to keep everything else operating, to minismise the potential of everything falling in a heap.

  2. Hi Lucyna, you said: "Gutting acts like a plug, allows everything to keep working, but can remove the insidious parts." Yeah, true. But leaving the outside intact means that you can't tap into the sophistication of common law that you could if abolition is done, and I have absolutely zero trust in such gutting being done in a manner that protects property rights as common law did before it was buried.

    If you want to be conservative, then why play around with a faied bit of ten-year old legislation? Why not just unbury that seven-hundred years of sophisticated common law that served to protect both property rights and the environment? How conservative is that - to go back to what worked before the planners took over? But you can't do that unless the current statutes are removed that presently 'lay over' the common law.

    And why no details of the gutting? The devil is always in the details, and in ten years of ACT duplicity over the RMA we've had all sorts of defences of it and promises of what they might do about it, and never an inch of detail. I don't believe they know themselves, beyond paying consultants to fix it - the very consultants earning their meal ticket from it.

    In any case, you need the detail to know what they mean by 'gutting.' For exmple, what I mean and what Rodney means and what Jeanette Fitzsimons mean by 'property rights' are all different things; Sian Elias probably has another view (and will exercise it given a chance), and we know that Stephen Franks has another. In fact, Stephen thinks that all property rights consist of is being compensated by government when they're taken. Really? Tell that to Daryl Kerrigan from 'The Castle. And would governments really compensate for that anyway? Ask the Berrymans. Ask Transpower. Ask Adrian Chisholm. Ask the victims of the Contaminated Blood scandal about the government's record in paying 'compensation.' So much for Franks' view of property rights.

    On the other hand, if you check what the common law says about property rights then you find that it defines them essentially as the right to peaceful enjoyment of one's property, and backs up that definition with seven-hundred years of principles and case law. If you ask Elizabeth Brubaker from Environment Probe ( about property rights, you'll find her arguing for property rights in defence of nature - that protecting property rights with common law protects both nature and property owners. Who could disagree with that if such a thing was argued openly?

    Abolish the RMA and we can go back to that. Leave it in place, however gutted it may be, and you leave consultants in work, planners in power, and property owners in the position of going cap in hand to ask these pricks for permission to do things with their own property. What's conservative about that? Anyway, remember that it was conservatives who introduced this damn thing (Palmer, Ken Shirley, Simon Upton) and conservatives that have been the chief cheerleaders for it ever since. So much for conservatives. The environmental religionists are saying that trees have rights, and the conservatives nod wisely and seek a compromise, and then sell us all out.

    Ayn Rand observed that when the productive have to seek permission from the unproductive in order to produce, then your culture is stuffed. As long as the RMA regime stays in place, then I'm afraid that stuffed is what we will remain. It is the conservatives who want it to remain that are chiefly to blame.

  3. Ok, I'm not disagreeing with you, I just think things can't be changed too quickly. And ACT isn't in government, it's in opposition. Pretty difficult to really get stuck in when you're in opposition.

    Maybe you need to go talk to Rodney?


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