Disquiet from Dunne?


This government prides itself on a business like approach to issues. It likes to cut through quickly and resolve issues before they get too bogged down in red tape. For many New Zealanders, this pragmatism is welcome, coming after years of stultification and wariness under successive previous governments.

A lot of this change is due to the attitude and style of the Prime Minister, who is focused on achieving things and making a difference. In general, it is an approach which has worked well and probably explains in part at least why the government remains so popular in its fifth year in office.

But, as a couple of recent examples show, there is a danger that the cut through which has been one of the government’s hallmarks will become a major problem for it.

Take the case of the Convention Centre proposal. There is no doubt Auckland needs a world class convention centre, and that in all probability, Sky City is arguably in the best position to develop such a facility. No problem with that, subject, of course, to the specifics of the deal stacking up. But as the Auditor-General’s report shows, while there has been no impropriety in the process followed by the government, it did play very fast and loose at times.

Similarly, with movies. No-one seriously opposed making the movies here, and the government would have been roundly criticised if let the opportunity slip through its fingers, but as the various documents recently released show, the government’s enthusiasm for the movies being made here did get in the way of the facts from time to time as deals were struck to ensure the right outcome.

There is a time-bomb warning to the government here. Support for the cut through approach will wither if it is seen to be a standard proxy for bending the rules or doing special deals to achieve the desired outcome. While the government is not immediately vulnerable on this issue, the clock has started ticking.

I think at the heart of what Dunne is saying, is that Governments should not be seen to be picking out individual companies to do “deals” with. There is a difference between measures which favour a specific sector such as relaxing RMA rules, making mining easier, tax rebates for films – and “deals” with specific companies.

In the two cases cited, there were unusual circumstances for both, which won’t generally apply across the board.

The Hobbit “deal” was basically triggered by the malign acts of an Australian union official who was trying to blackmail the production through an international boycott. The union represented almost no actual New Zealanders and was trying to muscle its way in. If MEAA had never triggered a global boycott, then the crisis that caused the deal would never have eventuated. It was an own goal. But the key point, is that it was forced on the Government. And in the end the agreement they came to with Warners did not apply just for that production or that company.

The proposed (not yet agreed) Sky City deal for some regulatory changes in return for building a $350 million convention centre is a deal with just one company. This is not ideal. But the reason it is that way is because we have a law that prohibits any further casinos in New Zealand – there is a monopoly in Auckland – Sky City. Hence there is only one company you can negotiate with if you want to negotiate regulatory changes in return for more investment. If I had my way I’d get rid of the silly ban on more casinos so we have multiple operators.

Anyway the point I think Peter Dunne was making is that these two cases should be exceptions, not the rule. And I agree with him.

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