About the Author

Avatar photo

Dr Muriel Newman

Government Conceit

Print Friendly and PDF
Posted on

The Economic Development Minister recently dismissed surveys showing business confidence is at its lowest level in a decade, as “junk”. In doing so, he revealed the deep seated anti-business sentiment that pervades the Labour-led Government – along with an alarming ignorance over what makes a country prosper.

Such conceit is described by the US economist Thomas Sowell in his book “The Vision of the Anointed”. He explains that a ruling elite will often come to believe that they are smarter than everyone else, that they are the only ones with ‘solutions’ to the problems that people face, and that ultimately, the government knows best.

The desire for a more omnipresent ‘nanny-state’ to micromanage every aspect of life, was evident during Helen Clark’s regime, where, in the end, her Labour administration was even trying to dictate the type of shower head that a family could use in their bathroom.

The problem is that the bloated bureaucracies that such governments foster are the antithesis of freedom and liberty. This is evident not only at central government level, but at local government as well – as the recent fiasco surrounding a Dunedin tree house demonstrated.

When the family bought their Mosgiel home three years ago, a large plum tree in the back yard already had a platform built into it. A few months ago, the Grandfather decided to upgrade it for his three grandsons, adding a ladder, another platform, and some safety railings.

However, a neighbour, who had previously complained to the Police about the children batting plums over the fence, contacted the Council alleging that the kids sitting in the tree house were breaching her privacy.

Following up on the complaint, the Council found that while the tree house did not breach the neighbour’s privacy, it did breach the Building Act and the Building Code.

Under the Building Act, all building work involving such things as decks and platforms, from which it’s not possible to fall more than 1.5 metres even if it collapses, is exempt, as is household playground equipment, if no part exceeds 3 metres in height above the ground.

It turns out that the new safety railings took the tree house to over 3 metres, so a building consent should have been obtained. But even if it had remained under 3 metres, the Building Code would still apply, to ensure it complied with safety standards.

Ironically, of course, if the children had just climbed the tree and perched in the branches, there would be no rules and regulations governing their activities.

The end result of this whole sad affair is that the Council ordered the tree house to be pulled down. However, thanks to a benefactor and a local Rotary Club, it will be rebuilt to Building Code standards.

But the bigger issue is whether this really is an example of over-regulation and political correctness gone mad, or whether the council was justified in its actions and had the best interests of the householders in mind.

It’s fair to say that most Kiwis see this debacle as regulation gone mad believing the Dunedin City Council went too far by not restricting its investigation to the privacy complaint it had received.

The reality is that busy-body bureaucracies like councils have now become too powerful in New Zealand, and are using those powers unreasonably – as anyone involved in projects requiring council consents can vouch. Even simple projects these days involve months of delay and thousands of dollars in compliance costs. For businesses, this growth in local government regulation and red tape has become a nightmare – and is no doubt contributing to falling business confidence.

Business opinion surveys provide a barometer on the health of the economy by asking business leaders how they’re feeling and what they expect to happen to themselves and the national economy. Since employers are responsible for major investment decisions, pessimism about the economic outlook and their own prospects can lead to less investment, which can impact negatively on growth and living standards.

Apart from just after the Christchurch earthquakes, business confidence has not been this low since the global financial crisis. Retailers are especially downbeat as they will be forced to pay their most inexperienced and unproductive workers the new minimum wage of $20 an hour by 2020. Not only that, but under the Government’s proposed changes to labour laws, the 90-day trial period for new workers will be removed for those businesses with more than 20 employees. The biggest losers, of course, will be the most vulnerable unemployed – those high-risk marginalised beneficiaries, who will no longer be given the opportunity to prove themselves in the workplace during a trial period.

Other changes will take away the flexible workday arrangements that many employees have negotiated with their employers, such as leaving work early to pick up their children from school.

Even though only 10 percent of New Zealand workers now belong to a trade union, the planned changes will give the trade union affiliates of the Labour Party extraordinary new powers – including preventing employees who are not in a union from negotiating better employment conditions than union members.

As it’s drafted, the new Employment Relations Amendment Bill will allow union officials to enter a workplace without asking, force negotiating employers to accept their demands, and dictate industry-wide agreements. Business owners fear such changes will re-create the conditions that led to the industrial relations strife of the seventies.

As a foretaste of what’s in store, the Government itself is facing major industrial action within the state sector.

Monday’s strike by Inland Revenue workers was their first since 1996.

Thursday’s nurses’ strike – their first in almost 30 years – has already created major disruption in hospitals, as surgeries are cancelled and patients sent home. The latest pay offer – said to be more than twice the original – would give nurses in the top pay bracket, $77,386 by August 2020 – an overall increase of 15.9 percent.

Primary teachers are also planning strike action for August 15 – their first strike since 1994. Under the present pay offer of up to 2.6 percent a year for three years – well below the 16 percent increase being demanded – a beginner teachers’ base salary would rise to $55,030 in 2020, with principals of a school of 50 or fewer students increasing to $92,873.

But it’s not just the fall in business confidence and state sector strikes that’s causing concerns. Consumer confidence is now also falling – on the back of easing real estate prices and rising fuel costs eating into household budgets. Overseas student enrolments have dropped to their lowest level in 40 years, used car imports have declined for five straight months, dairy product prices have fallen for the eighth time in 10 auctions, and apprehension about a global trade war is mounting.

For farmers, falling prices and downward predictions for payouts comes on the back of industry-wide concerns over the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak, and the proposed inclusion of farming in the Emissions Trading Scheme. In addition, the looming threat of the radical Zero Carbon Bill – that will seriously penalise all businesses but especially farmers – is also a major concern, particularly as it’s not based on facts and evidence, but on the unproven theory of man-made global warming. 

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator is former Judge and law lecturer Anthony Willy, who shares with us his thoughtful treatise on the threat that socialism poses to our way of life, including the insidious dangers of environmentalism:

“Thus far individual freedom and the free market economy and democracy have proved to be resilient enough to withstand the best efforts of the socialists something which one suspects causes them great angst and surprise. Their problem has been that in Western democracies they are never in office long enough to cause irreparable damage; but that has all changed. By allying with the cave dwelling Greens and the global warmers they have unearthed a cause which with willing compliance of the media, and the dishonest connivance of parts of the scientific community and some large corporations they can present the evils of the market economy as an existential threat to life on the planet. They contend that the causes of this doom-laden prophecy are the market economy and democratic decision making…

“Although the sinister intent of Environmentalism is to destroy the existing free market economy based as it is on carbon products and along with it the personal freedom and prosperity that the market confers on society it is unlikely to happen in any of the free market democracies or indeed the dictatorships which abound. This for the simple reason that there is no alternative to reliance on the current energy sources.”

So, with most other countries unwilling to sacrifice their economies, we should expect that over the years, little more than lip service will be paid to their commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. But not so New Zealand. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made carbon-zero her “nuclear free moment”.

The NZIER predicts the cost of that “moment” will equate to a massive $16 billion a year drop in real GDP, compared to a ‘do nothing’ baseline – even though New Zealand produces only 0.16 percent of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions, most of which come from the natural cycle of farm animals digesting their food.

This extremism that’s being demonstrated by the Prime Minister, shows the economy and the good of the country are not her primary concerns. That was certainly evident in her spur of the moment decision to sacrifice the oil and gas industry – without any prior warning, any consultation, any costings, or even Cabinet approval – in order to look good on the world stage.

It turned out that banning future deep-sea oil and gas exploration was not even Labour’s policy. Commandeered from the Green Party’s election manifesto, the Prime Minister announced the policy as her own, in order to re-set the agenda after weeks of bad publicity, and appear decisive at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London.

But her move seriously damaged business confidence, as other sectors now worry that they could be next. In addition, the on-going villainising of businesses by New Zealand First Ministers, along with the ban on the foreign ownership of housing, have all contributed to the slump in business confidence.  

When Helen Clark was faced with a winter of discontent, shortly after being first elected Prime Minister, she shelved some of her more radical plans to prove to the business community and the public that she could be trusted to put the wellbeing of the country first.  .

With the majority of voters at the last election not supporting Labour, the new Government will be hoping that their recent increases in welfare payments will provide an economic stimulus sufficient to lift the economy. However, it’s doubtful that it will overcome the foreboding associated with a policy agenda that threatens to undermine the strength and resilience of the economy.

If Jacinda Ardern is genuine about wanting to improve New Zealand’s prospects, she really needs to reconsider her plans, especially her disastrous Zero Carbon Bill, which will heavily penalise farmers and act as a brake on the whole economy.

More than that, she would do well to reflect on what’s happening in the US, where lowering company tax from 35 to 21 percent has resulted in an unprecedented boost in employment – especially amongst minority groups and women. Small businesses are also thriving – experiencing some of the most notable economic gains in the country’s history.

When key economic indicators turned negative for the Clark Government, they were sensitive to the need to maintain the confidence of the business community. The new Labour-led coalition seems to lack that sensitivity – instead it appears hamstrung by one coalition partner believing their anti business policies do not go far enough, while the other is targeting corporates for its own popularist appeal. Only time will tell how deeply negative things become.


Was the Dunedin City Council’s decision to remove the Mosgiel tree house over-regulation and PC gone mad, or the council doing its job and upholding the law?


*Poll comments are posted below.


*All NZCPR poll results can be seen in the Archive.


Click to view x 120


Too much PC rubbish going on! Diana
Someone please save us from dangerous communists like Dave Cull, James Shaw & Ardern. Donald Trump, can you fit this country in your economic rescue plan? Monica
And of course to be this proactive in the regulation business they need more resource hence the obscene increases in rates in some areas. Peter
Another stupid decision by council underlings. Can we introduce that cow virus to council staff? Get rid of a few dunderheads. Allan
Next it will be rafts and bogeys Fiona
Like many, Councils have overactive imaginations & are overt-zealous in their actions, exactly as in (the non-existent) threat of Climate Change or AGW !!! David
Health and safety and bureaucracy have gone mad. All we can do is wonder how much damage this power mad Green /NZ First/Labour bunch will do in the next two and a half years. Bankrupt the country, tax everything and borrow to the hilt seem distinctly possible. Chris.
so whats new Barry
Just another case of the PC brigade pushing their views on the public without using a commonsense approach. Peter
In this little country there is a total lack of commonsense in officialdom. The law is the law regardless of how stupid it is and no petty minor breach will be ignored by those in charge. We’re living in a PC police state. Alan
Dunedin City Council goose-step to the UNEP/UNFCCC eco-Marxist globalist “Transformational” Agenda. Expecting anything resembling sense from them is like expecting a rat to solve a simultaneous equation. Sadly New Zealand has always lagged behind the World by a decade or more. As the World transforms by retraditionalisation, New Zealand will once again be playing catch-up to the dire detriment of its populace. Maurice
What you’d expect from a PC tosser like Cull Craig
Have those council idiots got nothing more constructive to do. My god what a bunch of losers flexing their council muscles over a kids tree hut Unbelievable Neville
Public servant Beaurocracy self aggrandizing as usual zoran
There is and or, should always be a discretionary aspect to a Law enforcement. Geoff
Bloody minded know-alls! John
Unbelievable!! Madelin
Depressingly predictable council reaction Stan
No doubts there . DCC has gone totally gaga in pushing their utterly insensible rules to the limit. Obviously – like the current red green govt- that lot has detached themselfes from reality and are relentlessly pushing their agendas .Based on ideology- not on reason or common sense – they will continue to run this country into the abyss. As I said before : another 2 and 1/2 years are a very long time in politics and certainly enough time to do serious damage .Unfortunately National cannot be considered to be a viable alternative at this as long as this price idiot and the cronies who put him there as the party leader are in charge. What we need urgently is a massive shift towards a more center – right conservative approach in politics and a massive shift away from the status quo. AND— the Greens should be voted out of Parliament all together. Michael
We need a Trump! He has been removing 16 regulations for every new regulation. This Socialist lot led by a stupid woman, only understands giving handouts, not hand ups. The winter heating handout is an example, – who actually asked for it (or needs it).? But we have an unelected lot, NZ first and the Greens are ALL list MPs plus numerous Labour List MPs, including Jacinda Adern. We must get rid of MMP, elect business people, not so-called politicians, then start cleaning house among local councils who will not get their hands out of homeowners pockets. Dunedin City Council, shame on you! Carolyn
Most Councils allow a temporary building of 10sqm without consents or building code being required. Often seen as an extra (emergency) bedroom, there are dozens of these temporary lockup enclosed units on skids or wheels around most every city and more will appear as the results of this new Govt set in. Since this tree house is obviously under 10sqm Is not enclosed, Has no roof, is not used as permanent accommodation, is of a temporary (removable) nature, it would not seem to comply woith Cpouncils legal area of authority. A stiff Lawyers letter to tell council to pull its head in, may surfice, better yet a Petition to Council so they understand a family’s tree houses are a right of passage for youth. a part of the colonial heritage not to be forsaken. Maybe Council resources might be better expended restoring the City than wasting time and funds on neighborly squabbles. Sack the idiot responsible. Richard
This over-regulation and PC gone mad is raising it’s head in many areas! Ted
The Coucils should be reigned in and just do the job they should be doing. They are time and money wasters. Barbara
Exercising personal freedom has implicit in the concept that in turn we also respect the personal freedom of others. I recently had a situation where the next door neighbour set up their children’s trampoline as far as possible from their outdoor entertainment area, but right up against the fence bordering my entertainment area. It was impossible to enjoy the peacefulness of my own garden with children jumping up and down high above the fence shrieking and yelling for most of the day. When I spoke to the neighbour about it, she accused me of disliking children. This is typical behaviour of the left. The minute you don’t agree with them the name-calling starts. Helena
Kids need to climb trees!! Mike
Absolutely bloody mad — we are becoming wimps and we legislate against idiots making silly errors then blaming and charging a third party for their idiocy and sometimes wrecking lives. Alan
What an arrogant bureaucratic move. Common sense out the window. Denis
More ratepayers money wasted! Peter
Absolutely. Mark
Unfortunately typical of local councils everywhere Gareth
The question has the answer John
Can’t believe how quickly the “looney tunes” have come back into effect.. Steve
PC gone mad! Elsie
If NZ was wiped off the world it would make no difference to world wide carbon emissions. David
Why can’t kids have fun anymore? Barry
I Live in Dunedin and our idiotic council and our idiotic mayor say we want to have hotels built in the city and then do everything in their power to stop them with their staff restricting height to make them uneconomic or they will shade the Octagon or are too close the railway yards or some vocal minority says it will spoil their view or some equally pathetic excuse. In the 2016 election we had 2 conservative against Dave Cull and between them got several thousand more votes than Mr Cull but he got more votes than either of them so he kept his job. If the 2 conservative candidate had tossed a coin and only one stood we would not have to put another 4 years of Dave Cull. As for the tree house it is just another lot of PC Garbage. Colin
Gone berserk with power. Shirley
Isn’t Socialism wonderful. We don’t need personal responsibility or self control. We don’t have to work, as the government pays us any-way. But best of all, if you do want a job, you can become a bureaucrat & enforce all the rules & regulations on to the sheeple of N.Z. Has the population of this country been dumb down through indoctrination instead of education, to the point where every LIE that the government quotes is believed? A.G.R.
Typical of many councils John
Consider the alternative: if the Council, after being alerted to the problem, had done nothing and a child had fallen out of the tree resulting in serious injury or death, what would the Council’s position be? Jacob
Once the line has been drawn, simply adhere to it, without wasting time making exceptions. Try pushing the boundaries in Singapore, and see what happens! Jonathan
Too much idiot regulation now exists. Murray
The law IS the law, so what else could the council do? As you say, the kids could have climbed the tree and there would be no laws broken, but the construction of a substantial treehouse probably DOES need to be regulated to some extent. In any event, it is, so the law needs to be enforced. End of story – if people aren’t happy about it, get the law changed. Andy
People are bumping into this sort of thing everywhere all the time. Totally kicking confidence out the window. Wayne
let kids have fun gerard
Unbelievable! Much better for kids to construct trea houses than be glued to a tablet screen. Lee
Let kids have a bit of fun. They know their boundaries and self preservation is a factor in what they do Alan
Madness. I built huts in trees for my kids and grandkids. Also schooled them on safety and correct climbing techniques to keep them safe when they were way up there in the top of a tree. Next thing you know, we will be told that tree houses are no longer legal. Regulation gone absolutely crazy. Neil
Having spent 20 years an an elected LG member, I comment that LG is becoming ‘the new model of neo-marxism. They will unilaterally ‘control’ and legally defend’ their position and do it with your rates. Maureen 
Petty beauracrasies gone mad.and they moan they are overworked and underpaid. With a brain like this they are certainly over paid. Brian
Sounds like Goff in Auckland,,,, over powering politics and arrogance.. Ian
The official who sanctioned this measure should be sacked Geoffrey
Renders me absolutely speachless. Terry
As is the case in most councils, there are a lot of people and very few with brains…. all very self opinionated, enjoy a good salary and serve no sensible purpose. Des
Local government upstarts running wild once again. Mark
Make it safe and.leave it Russell
Absolutely Richard
Socialism sucks big time Richard
Where on earth have we arrived?? More importantly where on earth are we going with this idiocy?? There are too many layers of government, they all exhibit PC policies, they all like telling us what to do and what not to do, and now Goff and his council are telling us what to think! “Oh brave new world where is thy sting??” Looks to me as if the next generation are set to be androgenous creatures terrified of having opinions, and even more terrified of expressing them publicly. Beam me up Scotty!! Andrew
I recently read a statement on another blog which summed-up this situation perfectly …. “George Orwells 1984 was meant to be a warning …. not a instruction manual” !!! Steve
Typical!!!! Monty
Council should be focussing on improving its services to ratepayers and monitoring extremely carefully and wisely how it is spending rate payers’ money eira
This could have been worked out to cover the inspectors concerns – power gone mad again! Rob
Totally. Stuart
This is not just a Dunedin City Council ‘dictatorial’ decision – it is a New Zealand wide creeping paralysis doctrine – ‘encouraging’ us all to become brainless zombies. It seems Councils’ dictate ‘WE the council will hold your hand and lead you to eternal safety.’ Sadly the opposite (to safety) seems to be happening – with so much “you will do it our (council) way” being regulated engendering confusion between that which is natural for normal growth and learning activities and that which is ‘forced’ upon many in society. I thus ask: “Do such Council imposed political regulations lead to individual personal confusion to such an extent confusion dominates with individual desperation developing to the point one looses ones individuality – and thus loosing ones soul. Of course the more zombies thus engendered, the easier it is for governance to dominate and control. Ask: “Which society groups want to control – and why?” Is it just Dunedin City Council? I think not! Stuart
Council needs to pull its collective head in and concentrate on things which are actually important. Kerry
We have had tree houses for ever how many kids have fallen out of tree houses or trees and injured themselves seriously very few I bet Councils get real work on fixing the things you have neglected for years Peter
Yet again David
Absolute stupidity of the Council Tony
It as total madness. The building regulations specify that the deck, specifically the platform should not be more than 1.5 m. The railings are a further safety specification and not included in the 1.5 m regulation. Somebody in the council missed the plot completely. Ursula
Bloody idiots, over paid councillors. Clark
A tempest in a plum tree. Bruce
The council obviously has too many dunderheaded staff who need immediate culling. Vernon
What’s new? Councils have been making these sort of decisions for years. Gives them something to talk about over lunch. Barry
This typical outcome of current ‘risk averse’ Council attitudes has empowered bureaucrats to believe they are omnipotent and have skills beyond private professionals often more qualified than they are. John
Councils have too much power and not enough common sense !! Ross
Crazy the council need to be involved in this. Where has individual responsibility gone? No one can do anything anymore without big brother looking over your shoulder. Chris
“PC gone mad” is a tautology: in itself, it is irrational. Political correctness obviates the need for critical, imaginative, or creative thinking: chant the mantra, and all will be well. This is why it appeals to the young, and to socialists (who have never grown up): feelings trump reason, in their world. Those who question or challenge this position are shriekingly branded as “Nazis” or other pejorative epithets. In other words, political correctness flourishes through stupidity , bullying and small-mindedness. The last-mentioned is neatly exemplified by the actions of the Dunedin City council. Graham
They may be up-holding the law, but it is a stupid one in the first place. Just because it is a “Law” does not make it right. Gavin
The neighbour council should but out.. Let the kids play in their hut. Don
This shows we have to get rid of PC , there is an over cost on every thing Colin
The council has gone bonkers !!! Mark
…my own present experience with the Waitaki District Council indicates this… causing costly backtracking on their own approved Building Consents….PC gone mad…”Downtown Gangsters” CHowes
Just plain stupid David
It’s all turning to s**t Andrew
Without a doubt PC gone mad. For goodness sake – the damn thing was a tree house not a building. It’s all got completely out of hand. Paula
Bureaucracy is killing enterprise in this country now. Where is our version of a Donald Trump to promise to drain the swamp!   Andrew
Councils are driving businesses up the wall with their political correctness and risk aversion. And government departments are no better. Hugh
Labour hasn’t got a clue about what makes an economy function. They think that businesses just accept all of their draconian changes without repercussions. But the reality is that they stop investing. Any farmer expanding his operations in this climate, would be mad. Simon
Judge Willy’s article is excellent – a very thorough analysis of the threats we face and the need for eternal vigilance. Brian