A productivity commission

Fran O’Sullivan writes:

The Government will soon launch a Productivity Commission designed to run its ruler over key sectors in the NZ economy and advise on initiatives that might ultimately help bridge the income gap with Australia.

The proposal for a Productivity Commission has grown out of the post-election agreement National and Act made for a “high quality advisory group” which would be tasked with the challenge of investigating how NZ would close the income gap with Australia by 2025.

I think a productivity is one of the most important things we can do, for increasing long-term growth. The Australian equivalent is one of the reasons they have done better economically – for them reform is not just something that happened in the 1980s, but has been an ongoing work programme under Hawke, Keating, Howard and now Rudd.

One of the first initiatives for the new Productivity Commission should be to examine why New Zealand has so many ports.

Ports productivity is a major issue – for both exporters and importers – given NZ’s distance from markets. Just two NZ ports have agreed to transparently provide benchmarking data to overlay on the Australian Productivity Commission’s benchmarking studies in this area – other ports declined to participate.

Given the fact that Australia is New Zealand’s biggest export market, it is important to get ports’ efficiency increased.

That does sound like a good first project.

It is still unclear who will chair the commission.

Minister for Regulatory Reform Rodney Hide favours former Reserve Bank Governor and now company director Don Brash.

Economically my views are very close to Don Brash. From an economic point of view, I think he would do a great job.

But, and this is a big but, the sucess of the Australian Productivity Commission is that it has been supported by both the Coalition and the ALP. Sure they don’t agree with every recommendation, but they recognise its importance and don’t try and demonise and undermine the Commission.

Getting NZ Labour to support a NZ Productivity Commission will be difficult enough. However Goff and Cunliffe are more moderate than Clark and Cullen, and I hope they will be constructive towards it. Just because it will sometimes recommend unpalatable reforms is not a reason to silence or marginalise it.

And this is where politically having Don as inaugural Chairman may be inadvisable. It would almost guarantee Labour’s opposition to it. And in most cases I wouldn’t care about that. But I have heard multiple times that the success of the APC comes down a lot to the bipartisan support for it.

The Australian Productivity Commission’s work programme gives some insights into the type of issues that the New Zealand commission could be invited to examine.

The Australians are examining the relative performance of the public and private hospital systems looking into comparative hospital and medical costs for clinically similar procedures.

It is examining Australia’s anti-dumping system, executive remuneration, the contribution of the not-for-profit sector and gambling.

They all look interesting topics. I would be most interested in a study of gambling from an economic point of view.

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