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PoliticsFebruary 27, 2018

The Spinoff’s official inquiry into all the new government’s reviews and inquiries

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Has the government been too keen to go for working groups, panels and inquiries, over actual action? Alex Braae counts the announcements. 

As new ministers get their feet under their desks, they start to cast around for things to do. All of a sudden they have access to the comparatively vast resources of the public sector, so if there’s ever been anything they want to find out, now’s the time.

This current government has been extremely busy in the pursuit of finding things out. From the day they took office, up until broadcasting minister Clare Curran’s announcement of an advisory group to investigate how a public media funding commission should be set up, The Spinoff has counted 23 panels, reviews, working groups and inquiries being established since the 26th of October. 

Some will defend the the government’s approach as a normal part of what new administrations do, finding out what they need to know to turn policy into action. Others will says Labour had nine long years of not doing all that much in opposition, and could have figured out a bit more about what they actually wanted to do when they got the chance. Announcements of reviews and inquiries generally make for safe politics – potential problems are kicked down the road, and findings can end up with a sheen of legitimacy if presented by experts. But the downside of these exercises can be the cost. The Tax Working Group, for example, will cost about $4 million to run, which is money that could be going towards schools, hospitals, or about a sixth of another flag referendum. 

Rumblings have started coming from the opposition benches that the government has little to actually show for its first few months in charge. Amy Adams and Paul Goldsmith say the government’s using reviews as a smokescreen from the fact that it doesn’t have the cash to make real improvements. And Steven Joyce has been hammering the line that the government has been all talk and no action amid his probably doomed bid for the National party leadership.

Herein follows what may be the wonkiest listicle ever published – what we believe to be every single example of the government seeking to get an answer or recommendation from experts, before acting. It’s not a list of everything the government has actually done – but some cynics might suggest that list wouldn’t be much longer.

Have we missed anything? In no particular order, here’s our possibly incomplete count of every working group, panel, review, and inquiry convened by the new government:

Mental Health Inquiry. Long talked about in opposition by Labour, who said National had dropped the ball on mental health and addiction services. PM Jacinda Ardern says the inquiry will be extremely comprehensive, and is encouraging those carrying it out to leave nothing off the table.

Pike River Recovery Agency. Launched by Minister Andrew Little, who wants the agency to put together a plan to go have a manned re-entry into the West Coast mine, where seven years ago 29 men died. Little says he wants the plan executed by March next year.

Tax Working Group. This panel will make recommendations that Labour will then (presumably) campaign on and implement if they retain government in 2020. Seen by some as a slow and sneaky way of implementing new taxes – in particular a capital gains tax, which Labour campaigned on in 2014.

State Care Abuse Royal Commission. Being chaired by Sir Anand Satyanand, former governor general, and still in the phase of setting out what the terms of reference will be. Sparked in a large part by the horror stories that have come out of places like the Epuni Boys Home and the Kohitere Boys Training Centre, in which children were “smashed by the state.

Review into culture at the Human Rights Commission. Another one from Andrew Little, after concerns were raised about how sexual harassment allegations were handled.

Three Year Review into Education System. This in particular is aimed at the ‘Tomorrow’s Schools’ model that dates from 1989, and as a bonus will include large scale consultation meetings and education summits.

Review into NCEA system. A discussion document on this will be released in April, with the review to be completed hopefully by the end of the year.

Upper North Island Supply Chain strategy development. This strategy, which will include findings on whether Ports of Auckland should be moved, and whether Whangarei should become a more major logistical hub, is one of Shane Jones’ babies. It will kick into a higher gear soon, when an independent working group of experts is appointed to actually, you know, develop the strategy.

Review of the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act. Terms of reference for just how this review will propose to restructure the dairy industry haven’t been finalised yet, but minister Damien O’Conner is promising law changes are inevitable, and this will be a comprehensive review.

Review into whistleblower laws. Presented by State Services Minister Chris Hipkins as a chance to strengthen protections for whistleblowers in government and business, starting with targeted meetings and followed by wider public consultation.

Independent review into National Bowel Screening programme. The programme is currently operating in three DHB regions, but bureaucratic issues meant some addresses were not updated during the pilot programme, which may have impacted three people. The programme won’t be rolled out nationwide until 2021.

Independent Expert Advisory panel to review Reserve Bank Act. The aim with this review is to give the Reserve Bank a framework to include unemployment in their mandate, rather than just control of inflation.

Review of Christchurch Regeneration Anchor Projects. In particular, this relates to the budget blowout and delays for the Metro Sports facility, one of the 13 anchor projects designed to bring people back into the centre city. Of those 13 projects, two have been completed: the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial, and the bus interchange.

Youth advisory group on education. Because children are the future, Education Minister Chris Hipkins has convened a panel to take their views into account on how education should be reformed.

Government inquiry into fuel pipe outage at Marsden Point. After the pipeline was shut down for ten days last year, new Energy Minister Megan Woods put this inquiry in motion to investigate how the country’s fuel supply can be made more resilient.

Investigation into circumstances around former Waikato DHB boss Nigel Murray. The diddling of public funds by disgraced former DHB boss Nigel Murray led to significant changes on how travel spending and expenses are managed and reported by health boards.

Review of Waste Minimisation Act. Announced after a World Bank data showed New Zealand is 10th in the world on a list of the highest creators of urban waste.

Housing stocktake report. Commissioned by Minister Phil Twyford after the election to get a sense of how dire the situation is with housing. It resulted in Mr Twyford getting his ass handed to him by economist Shamubeel Eaqub, who noted that given the extreme shortage of housing, Labour’s flagship Kiwibuild policy wouldn’t go remotely far enough.

World Digital Rights Working Group. An honourable mention given that this group will include other countries considered advanced in provision of digital services, but New Zealand will be leading the Working Group according to Minister Clare Curran.

Film Industry Working Group. The government wants the so-called Hobbit Laws gone, or at least amended to restore collective bargaining protections for film industry workers, and this group has been directed by workplace relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway to find the best way to do that.

New Ministerial Advisory Group on Health. For a new government, these projects can be used as a stick to beat the last lot. Health Minister David Clark says the health system suffered nine years of underfunding (incidentally, the same length of time National were in power) and this group will make recommendations as to how an extra $8 billion in funding should be spent.

Joint Working Group on Pay Equity Principles reconvened. The last Joint Working Group on Pay Equity Principles in 2015 resulted in legislation that the new government binned, so the Joint Working Group on Pay Equity Principles is now back.

And finally, the group that sparked this whole listicle: the Public Media Advisory Group. This four member advisory group will investigate the establishment of a Public Media Funding Commission, and will produce findings that will then be taken to cabinet. The members of this group will meet for the first time this week, and have appointed through to the end of June 2019.

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