The Ministry of Less Bureaucracy

"Kia ora, welcome to the Ministry of Less Bureaucracy. Please fill in the security form with your details, passport number, driver’s licence etc, smile for the camera and wait over there for your ID tag.

"While you’re waiting, read through these forms and tick the boxes to show you’re au fait with our health and safety regulations. Sign down the bottom and then we just need your car registration number, your next of kin, your bank account details and a statement from you absolving us of any responsibility should you wander off and have an accident. Now, who have you come to see?"

"I’ve got a meeting with the chief executive."

"Oh, that’s me. So you have."

"Crikey, so many forms to fill out. I thought this place was meant to cut through the red tape?"

"Yes, that’s a point. Memo to myself: ‘Talk to the minister about making it the Ministry of, open brackets, Slightly, close brackets, Less Bureaucracy’."

Act leader David Seymour’s Ministry of Regulation is a gift for satirists and those who recognise the oxymorons in government and politics. It certainly sounds like something straight out of Yes Minister and Jim Hacker’s Ministry for Administrative Affairs, or The Men from the Ministry’s General Assistance Department of bungling and misunderstandings.

However, Mr Seymour, now Regulation Minister, appears deadly serious about his new creation in the windy streets of central Wellington. While we can see the ironies, either he can’t or is doing a good job at hiding such qualms.

Let’s explore the pros and cons of this new department. To be fair, it is only in its earliest stages, with just a few staff now in place, led by recently appointed interim chief executive Gráinne Moss, formerly Oranga Tamariki’s first boss.

Associate Education Minister David Seymour says fining parents for truancy can be a "useful way"...
Act leader David Seymour. Photo: RNZ
Despite Ms Moss’ resignation from that job after troubled times in 2021, Mr Seymour says he is thrilled with her appointment and at having someone with her experience at setting up a ministry.

Her job now will be to employ staff, perhaps as many as 60 if Mr Seymour has his way, kick-start those teams to investigate and get rid of what are deemed bad regulations, improve regulatory impact assessments, and generally help develop regulatory skills throughout government departments.

It will be fascinating to see how much money it gets allocated in next month’s Budget, and how that compares with likely shrunk disbursements to some of the smaller ministries which already seem to be in its sights.

What benefits might everyday New Zealanders get from the Ministry of Regulation? It is indisputable that many aspects of central, and local, government are tangled up in bureaucratic paperwork. Who hasn’t experienced the frustrations of not being given a simple answer, or of being told that some abstruse "Form X" should have been filled in before the one you’ve just lodged?

Slicing through that kind of time-wasting obfuscation will be welcomed. It’s not just the actual bureaucracy which needs minimising, but also the mindset of the Public Service Inc to slow things down, be obstructive and put its stamp on matters by playing it the way they want to.

On the other hand, this is not a good time to set up a new ministry. With many hundreds of public servants either losing their jobs or facing the chop, and a government which has made one of its central pillars the cutting back of a public service which grew quickly under the Labour government, it is not a good look at all.

There also appears a strong likelihood that Mr Seymour’s pet ministry will be used to pick on smaller departments which he personally has expressed distaste for.

He has already suggested that agencies such as the Ministry for Women, Te Puni Kōkiri and the Ministry for Pacific Peoples should be cut out of the loop regarding policy changes because they add little value to the discussion. That would be a major concern if it starts circumventing the public’s right to know and our democracy.

All the while, the new ministry will have its work cut out avoiding the oxymoron of being strangled by the very red tape it is meant to reduce.