Government by decree

Hamish Rutherford reports:

The Cabinet has made no decision on ending oil exploration, documents being released today will show, with April’s announcement made on the basis of a political agreement between the coalition parties.

On April 12, Prime Jacinda Ardern led a group of ministerial colleagues into the Beehive theatrette to confirm news that the Government had decided it would offer no new offshore permits for oil and gas exploration, with onshore permits offered in for as little as three years.

Although the news was delivered by ministers affected by the decision and in a forum usually used to discuss decisions made by the Cabinet, politicians made the decision in their roles as party leaders.

Today the Government will release a series of documents generated in the making of the oil and gas exploration decision, but it has already confirmed to Stuff that no Cabinet paper was created and that the Cabinet has not voted on the matter.

Wow. suspected that the Government made this decision with minimal input from officials. I never thought they were so arrogant that they actually had not just no inputs from officials, but they didn’t even have a paper go to Cabinet.

It is literally Government by decree. You know the sort of thing the left used to hate Muldoon for.

Even worse this was not some minor economic decision. This was an unprecedented economic decision to ban an entire industry. To say there will be no future permits for any offshore exploration. It also implies that any current exploration is a waste of time, as there is no way the Government will allow them to trade an exploration permit for a drilling permit.

This huge decision was:

  1. Not policy before the election for or NZ First
  2. Not included in the coalition agreement
  3. Not made by Cabinet after due consideration
  4. Not had any analysis done on the environmental and economic impact
  5. Not consulted on in any way with affected companies

This is the way you expect decisions to be made in Venezuela, not New Zealand.

So why did they do it this way?

The Opposition has accused the Government of hastening the decision to allow Ardern to announce it on the eve of her departure for a high profile trip to Europe. Ardern flew to Paris the day after the oil and gas decision was made.

A spokesman for Ardern said the exploration permit announcement was usually made around the time of the oil industry summit and “had nothing to do with the prime minister’s trip to Europe”.

Of course it was all about her trip to Europe. The Government could have just made a decision not to issue permits for 2018/19 and got advice on the long-term issues. But they put PR ahead of responsible decision making.

In a statement, Ardern defended the handling of the decision, but said it was not how most decisions would be made.

This should scare business to the bone. Here we have the Prime saying they may do the same in future. Which other industries will be closed down by executive fiat? All the PM has said is most decisions won’t be made that way. Business NZ should be demanding that the Government commit to never acting this way again (specifically acting with no consultation or advice) or they will cease constructive engagement with the Government. Otherwise they risk being patsies.

On Friday industry publication Upstream reported that companies which had conducted seismic testing on a speculative basis were planning a legal challenge to the Government’s decision, probably led by the Texas-based   Association of Geophysical Contractors.

I’d love to see the Government in court explaining the process they used to make this decision.

This also highlights how much of a betrayal this is for NZ First voters. Winston signed up this ban without so much as an impact analysis. He sold out his provincial voters in a private agreement with Ardern and Shaw. It wasn’t even a case that the issue went to Cabinet, they considered the pros and cons, argued against but accepted the will of the majority. It is a total betrayal by NZ First, and one suspect no amount of money for cathedrals will make up for.

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