Defending the asylum wall

By Eric Crampton 01/10/2014

I penned last week’s NZ Initiative column in the NBR print edition. Do pick up a copy. Here’s an excerpt.

The overarching policy priority then, for me, is that New Zealand maintain and enhance its “Outside of the Asylum” status.

Parts of the RMA are clearly daft and need to be reformed. The RMA’s role in contributing to housing unaffordability through its restrictions on land supply, both for building out and for building up, are reasonably well documented.

It is also mad that a building in Wellington is simultaneously required to be demolished, under the Building Act, because it is at serious risk of catastrophic collapse in any earthquake, and prohibited from being demolished, under the Resource Management Act, because of the priority placed on heritage preservation regardless of life-risk. This kind of Khafkaesque situation risks our Outside-of-the-Asylum status. It is right and good that the government consider RMA reform a priority.

Other risks have crept in as well. Individually, none of them are nearly as important as RMA reform. But collectively, they chisel away at the wall keeping the Asylum out.

During the last term of government, National and Peter Dunne implemented an eminently sane regime around psychoactive substances. Demand for mind-altering drugs will exist regardless of legal regime; the system that was put in place allowed safer drugs to be sold. Those of us watching Colorado’s legalisation of marijuana hoped that the New Zealand regime could be expanded to allow sales of other currently illegal drugs on their being shown to be no more harmful than those currently legally available.

Because the implementation of the regime had too few licenced retailers, politically objectionable queues developed outside of those shoppes. Substances that had been allowed for sale during the interim period during safety testing were consequently banned pending testing, killing the legal market. Whether any substance can now satisfactorily be shown to be safe, with John Banks’s ban on animal testing, is not entirely clear. The Herald reported on Tuesday that the grey market has consequently re-emerged, this time with a purportedly psychoactive incense. The populist election-year response to a few Campbell Live stories on legal highs was not consistent with our Outside-of-the-Asylum status.

I also have a column at on housing affordability and child poverty.