Friday 8 December 2023

A belated look at the coalition agreements

Things got a bit busy after the National-ACT and National-NZ First Coalition Agreements were released. 

A fair few things showed up in those agreements that we've been working on at the Initiative for rather some time, whether through reports, submissions, columns, panels and whatnot.

So that's been a bit busy, and I've been trying to clear through a few other bits before heading back to Canada and the US for a few weeks over the school holidays. So posting has been unduly light.

But I've been particularly pleased that these showed up in the agreements. 
A Rule of Two for Drug Certification

The government will require Medsafe to approve new pharmaceuticals within 30 days of them being approved by at least two overseas regulatory agencies recognised by New Zealand.

Loyal readers may recall series of tweets, blog posts, and columns from me on this one. I worked with a couple student teams at Canterbury to get a report up on the likely effects of a Rule of Two. 

It is in both coalition agreements and will be legislated. No "will investigate" or "will consider". It will happen. 

I am rather pleased about this one. 
Incentives for Growth

Weak incentives for councils to encourage housing development hasn't been the only problem blocking housing growth, but getting more housing despite current incentives requires heroes. And policy can't reliably depend on there being heroes around. The coalition agreements will introduce financial incentives for councils to enable more housing.

This has been core for the Initiative since before I got here. And now it will happen.

Easing Foreign Investment

The Overseas Investment Act will limit ministerial decision-making to national security concerns and make such decision-making more timely.

NZ has one of the OECD's most restrictive FDI regimes. Other places try to attract foreign investment; NZ does the opposite. 

Easing restrictions on FDI have been core for the Initiative since before I got here. Fingers crossed that the legislation interprets this as broadly as is implied by the text of the coalition agreements. 

Market Studies

Commerce Commission market studies will focus on reducing regulatory barriers to new entrants to drive competition. 

So far, ComCom has produced about one giant study per year. But the first-order problem is going to be in areas where ComCom has hitherto been precluded against poking around: matters falling under statutory exception. If a matter is authorised by Parliament, it doesn't get cartel investigation even if it is definitely behaving as a cartel. 

Instead of doing one giant study per year, ComCom would do a larger number of short studies focused simply on checking whether it is actually possible for a new entrant to get through NZ's regulatory and land use hurdles to provide potential competition. 

So here I disagree with my friend Donal Curtin. He worries about instances where the issue isn't regulatory barriers. Maybe I'll agree with Donal after the revised regime has run for a few years. But the low-hanging fruit simply is not going to be in places where ComCom has been able to use other tools. It will be in the place where they've been unable to shorten the way.

This shift in approach is something I've argued for in columns, submissions, at a CLIPNZ session, and in various conversations around town. 

Ben Hamlin and I have been, I think, the only ones really worried about the statutory exceptions. Ben's piece on it in the latest Law Review is very good; his gratuitous citing of my columns is inframarginal to that assessment. 

Monetary Policy

The Remit will be narrowed to focus only on price stability.

This too is excellent. In a normal environment, a dual mandate shouldn't matter. The long-run Philips curve is vertical. Maintaining price stability is the best way the bank has to ensure maximum sustainable long-term employment. 

We have worried about the broad Remit, which includes a preamble that encourages the Bank to give regard to basically the entirety of the government's policy agenda, for some time. 


The government will consider setting an income threshold above which a personal grievance could not be pursued.

Our Chair, Roger Partridge, has been writing on this for some time. The measure would make it far simpler for firms to dismiss underperforming high-paid managers who really aren't the people that employment law protections should focus on anyway. 


The government will allow the sale of cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine.

This is another one that loyal readers may recognise. I think me and Twitter's @BoxcarJoey have been the only ones making the case for this obviously sensible move. And now it will happen. 

There's a lot of other stuff in the agreements, mostly good, some less good. 

As another bit of fun, the Dom Post put out its latest 'Wellington Power' list. I think it needs an accompanying 'Wellington Mystery' list so we can figure out whose power is exceeded only by their mystery, or vice-versa, or both, somehow, simultaneously. 

But in any case, I made the cut for inclusion this time. But only barely. And possibly only because I also write a column for them. 
45. Eric Crampton

The stocks of think tank New Zealand Initiative’s chief economist have soared, with the ascendancy of ACT into Government. The Canadian is a prolific report-writer and commentator, with a free market bent, and incoming ministers are sure to be paying attention to his sharp, original (and often witty) thinking.