Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Elevating property over human rights

Today the government introduced its Regulatory Standards Bill into the House. The bill is a rewrite of ACT's Regulatory Responsibility Bill (currently hanging around on the Order Paper), and aims to force all laws to comply with a set of "principles of responsible regulation". Many of these principles around clarity, the role of the courts, consultation and policy evaluation are good ideas, and capture existing practice. However, there are also principles based explicitly on libertarian ideology, prohibiting government from taking or "impairing" property without full compensation. And the aim of these principles is to deter any policy not profitable to existing vested interests, and allow open-ended challenges to any attempt to strengthen environmental, health or employment protections. There is a BORA-style "justified in a free and democratic society" clause, which is going to be doing a lot of work, but the courts are going to be spending a lot of time and money telling farmers and polluters that actually, the RMA and ETS and smokefree legislation are demonstrably justified. I guess that's why Simon Power wants to free up time by eliminating jury trials...

But there is one very odd feature of the law: the protections for those property rights are greater than those of the BORA for fundamental human rights such as the right not to be killed or tortured. For example:

So, property rights for polluters will have greater institutional protection than fundamental human rights. Its completely topsy-turvy - but it speaks volumes about ACT's, and National's, priorities.