Leak shows new govt to rush changes without normal scrutiny

Photo: RNZ
Photo: RNZ
The new Government has been rocked by the leaking of another confidential paper - the second to spill in just five days.

This paper, from Treasury, said the Government has quietly suspended Regulatory Impact Analyses (RIA) for some proposals in its 100-day plan, meaning they will not go through the proper process before becoming law.

The former Government also briefly suspended RIA during the pandemic.

The paper, from Treasury, said the Cabinet agreed that proposals that "solely repeal legislation" and "not seeking approval for new policy" will have the requirement for a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) "suspended".

This means that projects, including the potential repeal of Fair Pay Agreements, or the legislation underpinning the Government’s Smokefree legislation, will not get the traditional level of regulatory scrutiny.

Finance Minister Nicola Willis said the new Government was taking a similar approach to the last Government when it took office.

"The commitments laid out in the 100 day plan were campaigned on and the new Government is getting on with delivering them. A truncated process for Regulatory Impact Statements is appropriate in this context," she said.

"The public service is working at pace. In some cases this will mean agencies won’t have time to implement an exhaustive RIS. If that is the case they have been advised to focus on cost benefit analysis and any implementation issues," she said.

The decision to suspend RIS means some of the the promises to repeal the former Government’s agenda will face almost no scrutiny, given the new Government intends to repeal some things, like FPAs, under urgency.

RIS requirements are staying for "new proposals" in the 100-day plan, however they are having their formal quality assurance requirement scrapped.

The fact of the leak is as significant as the leak itself. Earlier this week, a Cabinet paper was leaked to Newshub and the New Zealand Herald, on the decision to scrap Fair Pay Agreements. It is exceedingly rare for Cabinet papers to leak, and leaks of Treasury papers are rare too. 

The paper obtained by the Herald was sent to Government agencies on Friday advising them of the new process. It would have had many more recipients than the paper released earlier this week, meaning it was far more likely to leak. A Beehive source said thousands of people could have access to the paper.

The RIS regime was devised by the Act party when in Government with John Key’s National Government. A RIS is meant to give ministers and the public a heads up on any important consequences of the changes they are making.

They can often be politically damaging for the Government, warning of the financial consequences of their decisions. A particularly scathing RIS about a policy to change the rules on GST for KiwiSaver funds saw the Government u-turn on the idea within 24 hours of it being published.

"A post-implementation review is... required for these proposals," the paper said.

Proposals that are taken to Cabinet that are not part of the 100-day plan still require a RIS. The paper said that agencies may still want to go through a full RIS process if they were "not faced with extreme time pressures". Proposals from the 100-day plan that go to Cabinet after the first 100 days will also have a a full RIS.

"It is ultimately a decision for your agency and Minister whether or not this voluntary impact analysis is prepared and submitted to Cabinet," the paper said.

Minister of Regulation David Seymour has previously been critical of the said the Government was "committed to substantially improving the quality of regulatory impact statements so that their inclusion in the law-making process in future is far more valuable."