Informing reforms with practical know-how

Photo: Poppi Tucker-Low of Russell Roads was the Epic Four (CCNZ Contractor Photo Competition) round runner-up with a photo of senior team member Johnny Bristol showing a new recruit how the job is done.

By Alan Pollard , chief executive, CCNZ
The association works hard on behalf of members to influence the direction of government legislation or regulation (where we can). We do this to make sure proposed changes support our civil construction industry and do not have unintended consequences. 

We are currently in an unusual political period, with the first absolute majority in 26 years of MMP voting. This enables government to push through its agenda with little consultation and accountability, if it chooses to do so. I guess the ultimate accountability is how voters rate government performance at the next election. 

Labour signalled early this election term that it intended on pushing through as much of its agenda as possible before the election. Many of its policy objectives were disrupted or delayed by the pandemic, and while there was something of a ‘policy bonfire’, several significant reforms are still being rushed through under political majority without the benefit of robust consultation with industry – namely water and resource management reforms. 

On Three Waters (now called the ‘Water Services Reforms’), there is little disagreement that how we think about and manage our water infrastructure needs an overhaul. CCNZ submitted the proposed legislation should not proceed in its current form. We advocated for genuine consultation, with greater emphasis on HOW we build and maintain water infrastructure rather than WHAT we build. 

We also recommended more collaboration on clear transition plans that ensured a continued pipeline of work and an equitable distribution of work that acknowledged and valued existing relationships. 

The Government has announced changes to its Three Waters proposal. These are largely structural. With 10 entities proposed rather than four, I would expect civil construction to have some representation on the regional groups to reflect the importance of programme delivery.

With the resource management reforms, while acknowledging the deficiencies with the current Resource Management Act, we submitted this proposed legislation should also not proceed in its current form. 

Again, there is need for change. The Infrastructure Commission has calculated consent delays have created a $1.3 billion per annum burden on the very people and businesses who are looking to advance the health, wealth, and well-being of our communities, with consenting costs forming 16 percent of the project costs for small infrastructure projects.

We see value in the Spatial Planning Bill, which sets out terms for effective regional spatial strategies to protect the environment and identify appropriate areas for development, and the ability of the National Planning Framework to resolve conflicts between infrastructure development and other values.

But, there is a lack of detail on how the Bills will be implemented in practice, a lack of sector expertise within the planning and decision-making process, and an as yet undefined National Planning Framework. 

The Natural and Built Environment Bill concerning environmental limits, and the management of effects in relation to those limits are confusing and look to be unworkable for almost any land-use activity that does not qualify for an exemption from the foregoing. We proposed the good work done so far be applied instead to the existing RMA, lest we be subjected to a decade or more of planning uncertainty while new definitions are tested in court.

We have engaged a specialist consultant to work with the Infrastructure Commission to draft the infrastructure chapter of the National Planning Framework. It appears the draft recognises and provides for infrastructure, with some additional policy direction for renewable electricity generation and transmission, and protection against natural hazards. It provides effective regulatory pathways, with good planning processes, and good engagement with others in planning. 

A prime example of rushed law-making is the new Severe Weather Emergency Recovery Legislation. This essentially gives ministers the absolute authority to override local government regulation in the event of a crisis. We were provided with a draft of the Bill at 9pm on a Tuesday evening, submissions closed at 5pm on the Wednesday, and the Select Committee heard oral arguments on the Thursday. 

Despite the unreasonable deadlines, CCNZ submitted in support of streamlined response and recovery efforts. We support removing barriers to successful recovery efforts, providing for fast and effective decision making, ensuring a logical and effective emergency management structure is in place and well understood, and providing sufficient funding to support the rescue, response, and recovery effort.

While we were concerned about the lack of checks and balances to ensure powers were not abused, we supported giving relevant Ministers authority to overrule any rigid and unjust local authority actions where recovery efforts are undermined i.e., contractors threatened with prosecution for dumping waste at an “unauthorised” location, despite the lack of any “authorised” location, and knowledge they were responding to immediate storm impacts in the middle of the night, taking actions resulting in people’s lives or property being saved.

While the need is urgent, emergency responses should not be an excuse for being unprepared. Knee-jerk reactions are not an appropriate replacement for being well-planned and well-resourced. It is clear we haven’t learnt from the Christchurch or Kaikoura earthquakes – there should have been appropriate mechanisms for funding in place to support a properly coordinated response and recovery plan. While the transport recovery has been well-served by the Transport Agency, the same can’t be said for private property.

We have submitted on many more reform proposals during the year – immigration and visa settings, modern slavery, fair pay agreements, and income assurance, to name a few. We appreciate contractors are all busy people, but getting member feedback to inform our submissions is vital if we are to ensure that we address the right things in the right way. Sometimes, as you can see from my comments above, we will have little time to respond. We apologise for that, but as you can appreciate it is out of our control.

Our normal mode of operation when major changes occur would be to consult members to understand change, then work with members to understand the implications. Some processes are proceeding in this way, for instance the review of standard 3910 construction contracts is nearing completion. My predecessor Peter Silcock and the then Executive Director of the NZ Construction Industry Council, Graham Burke, were instrumental in getting the review underway.

Paul Buetow (Dentons Kensington Swan) and Jim Juno have represented CCNZ on the review groups, supported by a reference group of small, medium, and large contractor members. The draft is due to be released for consultation in early May.

CCNZ will be scheduling workshops in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, as well as two online workshops, to present what’s proposed and get some initial feedback. We encourage all members to make submissions.

Other changes have been in the pipeline for some time – namely increases to the waste disposal levy, which is rising to fund recycling initiatives, and changes to the retentions scheme, which should close loopholes that have effectively allowed companies to use retention money as operating capital. We will keep members up to date with where these changes land.

If there are areas of advocacy where you think we need to have some focus, please let me know. I am also keen to know whether members agree with our approach on key issues, or have some suggestions on how to enhance our advocacy work. 

Related posts

Parting words from Jeremy Sole- a final column

Contrafed PUblishing

Smoko antics

Contrafed PUblishing

John Deere K-Series wheel loaders

Contrafed PUblishing