Our government is willing to consult – on recycling and on new credit schemes – but it won’t necessarily be listening

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The government has announced two sets of consultations, although its willingness to listen must be questioned in light of the way it has handled the Three Waters reforms.

One consultation is the next step in determining how to better manage used tyres and large batteries.

“Our plan will see manufacturers, sellers and users taking responsibility for ensuring old tyres and large batteries don’t end up in landfills or the environment,” Environment Minister David Parker said.

The plan proposes a “product stewardship fee” charged at the time of purchase to cover collection and recycling at the end of a product’s life.

Information and submission forms are available on the Ministry for the Environment’s website: https://consult.environment.govt.nz/waste/rps-tyres-and-large-batteries

The second consultation is an invitation to New Zealanders to share their experiences with Buy-Now, Pay-Later products as the government explores whether more needs to be done to mitigate the risk of consumer harm.

Buy-Now, Pay-Later (BNPL) – a relatively new, and fast-growing credit alternative in New Zealand – is particularly popular for online purchases. By using BNPL, people can get access to goods or services now but pay for them later in a series of instalments.

Unlike credit cards and other forms of consumer credit contracts, BNPL providers are not required to comply with the rules under current consumer credit contract legislation. This is because BNPL contracts do not charge interest or fees (other than missed payment fees) or take a security interest over goods.

The  Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, David Clark, made the announcement, saying:

“I have heard from financial mentoring organisations that BNPL is creating financial hardship for some people. It is important to understand the extent of those harms and the actions that might best address them.

“That’s why I have launched this consultation today. The feedback received will help the inform Government and the way we address any potential triggers of hardship, and achieve an effective BNPL sector.”

A discussion document is available on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s website, along with an easy-to-read summary document and an online survey where people can share their experience using BNPL.

David Clark, we recall, on October 27 announced a quest for public feedback on the regulatory safeguards required to ensure consumers and communities receive three waters services that meet their needs.

“The future three waters system needs to promote consumer interests and ensure infrastructure is delivered in a way that is efficient, affordable and resilient. To achieve this, the Government is considering whether economic and consumer protection regulation is needed, and how any new laws could be designed,” David Clark said.

“The discussion document, released today, is critical as I want to ensure that the voices of consumers and communities are incorporated throughout the design of the three waters regulatory system – to promote accountability and transparency.

On the same day, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta confirmed the Government will override mounting public concerns and create four publicly owned water entities

“… to ensure every New Zealander has access to affordable, long-lasting drinking, waste and storm water infrastructure without ballooning costs to households and families.”

Not 10, nine, eight, seven, six or any other number of publicly owned water entities.

Just four.

“The case for change is too compelling to ignore. It is clear that without the establishment of these publicly owned entities we will continue to see a frail network and contaminated water in many communities. To delay will only push the problem on, increase future household costs and put livelihoods at risk,” said Nanaia Mahuta.

Fair to say, there was some mention of consultation.

Work is underway to establish a working group of local government, iwi and water industry experts to work through elements of entity design.

The group will work through the enhancements to entity design and look at the governance and accountability arrangements of the entities, as well as provide an opportunity for public participation and consultation. 

Those governance arrangements are the focus of substantial public concern.  Mahuta wants a co-governance arrangement in which appointees from Maori tribes (representing around 15% of the country’s population) have the same say on each of the four entities as the appointees of local authorities (which, overall, represent the whole of the country’s population).

Will the opportunity for public participation and consultation influence the proposed legislation?

Not before it is given a first reading in Parliament.

“As we look to next steps, I will be introducing legislation to progress the establishment of the entities. The Select Committee process will provide an opportunity to get public feedback on the reforms,” said Nanaia Mahuta.

Further information can be found at https://www.dia.govt.nz/Three-Waters-Reform-Programme

Point of Order turned to the Department of Internal Affairs website for information on the Three Waters reforms.

We found a page headed Three Waters Reform: key questions, essential facts

The first question is:  What has been decided about the Three Waters Reform?

The Government will put forward legislation for New Zealand’s three water services – drinking water, wastewater and stormwater – to be managed by four new publicly owned water entities, replacing the services currently managed by 67 councils.

So – no consultation on this part of the proposal.

Another question addressed is: When will public consultation on the reforms occur?

The Government has taken a decision to progress the reforms nationally. It is therefore appropriate that public consultation on these reforms occurs nationally rather than via local government.

There will be several opportunities for public consultation over the coming years as the reforms are expected to involve multiple pieces of legislation to implement. Progression of this legislation will include the opportunity for public submissions via the select committee process. We anticipate the first of these pieces of legislation to be introduced to Parliament this year.

It is hard to say when the questions and answers were prepared.

But we noted:

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is also expected to release a discussion document on the economic regulatory regime and consumer protections in October 2021.

That’s a reference to the aforementioned consultation announced by David Clark.

We further noted:    

This public consultation is in addition to the Government’s ongoing work with councils, iwi and industry to refine the design features of the reforms and work through transition to, and establishment of, the new entities. 

These (we imagine) will be the same councils which have been keen to ignore their citizens on the question of Maori wards.  They welcomed Mahuta’s legislation (rammed into law without much time or opportunity for challenge) that abolished the public’s right to try to muster support for referendums to be conducted on that significant constitutional and governance issue.

In a country where a bat can be voted bird of the year, of course, they call this democracy.

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