Newsroom Pro's 8 things at 8: 2 hammer blows for the social investment approach; Smith's RMA reform plans

Anne Tolley and Bill English will both be flinching after two hammer blows to the data mining policy. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

In today's email we see how the Government will be flinching after two hammer blows in 24 hours to its flagship data mining policy, we look at a claim that New Zealand is missing 500,000 houses and see why Little and Ardern are winning the mixed doubles.

1. Hammer blows for social investment approach

The Government's flagship policy of using data mining to surgically direct social investment to beneficiaries through non-government organisations has received two hammer blows in the last 24 hours -- one self-inflicted and one from the Privacy Commissioner.

Firstly, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley revealed a privacy hole has been discovered in a computer portal set up to collect people’s data, as Shane Cowlishaw reported on Newsroom Pro yesterday.

The issue is with a system used by NGOs to submit client data to the Ministry of Social Development (MSD). One provider was able to view another provider’s folder while accessing the system, which led to it being shut down on Tuesday night.

For years Bill English has talked up the prospects of community and other service providers giving their data on clients to the Government so spending on programmes to break inter-generational dependency could be targeted much more effectively using the power of big data and data mining.

It was a regular and popular topic that the then-Finance Minister raised in speeches to business and other groups as the Government's central and big new idea to address social problems.

That push is now looking very frayed around the edges.

2. 'Excessive and inconsistent'

The second hammer blow came from Privacy Commissioner John Edwards this morning. He released a report into data sharing by social service providers that found the MSD policy was "excessive and inconsistent."

The report looks at the privacy impact of the funding contracts, which make the provision of personal, identifiable, client data a requirement for receiving government funding, with no ability to ‘opt out’.

Edwards said the report found there had been insufficient consideration given to the possible unintended consequences of the policy change, and insufficient consideration of alternative means of achieving the Government’s legitimate aims without risking those consequences.

"There is a real risk that the new arrangement will deter some people who are most in need from seeking support or assistance," Edwards said.

"Not only could that put those people at further risk, and increase pressure on the NGOs, the ultimate result could be that those individuals become “invisible” to Government and policy makers," he said.

Edwards recommended MSD look at other ways to accomplish its goals, including having the data collated and analysed by Statistics NZ.

He also recommended MSD ensure that its security procedures for holding, using and disclosing client level data were "robust, well-documented and transparent."

3. A gap of 500,000 houses?

The nation's inability to build at the same rate over the last 30 years as it did between the mid 1940s and the late 1970s means there could actually be a deficit of 500,000 houses.

That's the view of independent economist Shamubeel Eaqub, who has analysed New Zealand's house building record since the 1920s.

Eaqub presented his findings at the New Zealand Planning Institute's annual conference in Wellington yesterday, where I was the MC.

He found that New Zealand would now have 500,000 houses more than it currently has if it had built at a rate of more than eight houses per 1,000 people, as it did between the end of World War Two and 1980.

Instead, the house building rate dropped to around five per 1,000 people between the early 1980s and now. That was now being reflected in increased over-crowding in Auckland in particular and a plummeting home vacancy rate there.

See more on that here in my report on Newsroom Pro.

4. Teacher fees shock

Teachers struggling to pay for housing in the big cities are about to get another cost shock, courtesy of the withdrawal of Government funding for the new version of the Teacher's Council.

Shane Cowlishaw reported yesterday on Newsroom Pro that teacher registration fees would jump from 2019 from around $220 every three years to $510.

The increase was announced by the Education Council’s chief executive Dr Graham Stoop at the organisation’s annual review before the Education and Science Select Committee.

Currently the Education Council, which was formed from the ashes of the Teacher’s Council in 2015, is funded by the Government. But it has a mandate to be self-reliant by mid-2019, and that is the driver of the fee increase.

5. UMR research on mixed doubles

Newsroom Co-Editor Tim Murphy has picked up on some UMR research that has found the Labour pairing of Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern is slightly more popular than National's pairing of Bill English and Paula Bennett.

UMR, which does polling for Labour, found 56 percent of voters viewed the Labour pair favourably, while 54 percent gave a favourable rating to National's leader and deputy.

The poll of 750 people was taken in late March.

Here's more in Tim's piece over at Newsroom.

6. A blue skies review of urban planning

Environment Minister Nick Smith also spoke at yesterday's Planning Institute Conference and gave his first substantive public response to the Productivity Commission's major 'blue skies' report on Urban Planning and the OECD's report on New Zealand's environmental performance.

Smith said the old Town and Country Planning Act had a life of around 25 years and the current Resource Management Act (RMA) was passed in 1991 -- 26 years ago.

He said the RMA reform debate during the 1980s was mammoth.

"I would expect a similar reform programme would take at least three to five years, and given that the Government's two phases of reform have taken eight years, that should not come as a surprise," he said.

Smith said he was encouraged by the Productivity Commission's report and saw its recommendation of keeping a single statute with different principles for the built and natural environments as "a constructive way through."

He saw any push for reform needing a "broad social license" and as being a natural evolution rather an idealistic approach. He said any reform would also have to integrate with the Land Transport and Local Government Acts.

"You can expect our thoughts prior to the election on the format to move that discussion forward," he said.

7. A Royal Commission?

Could that framework for a 'big bang' RMA and Urban Planning Reform be a Royal Commission?

Yesterday the Employers and Manufacturers Association, Property Council New Zealand, Infrastructure New Zealand and the Environmental Defence Society called jointly for a cohesive reform strategy for urban planning.

"The way forward needs to have cross-party support, be independent, have integrity and deliver a result which can meet the needs of New Zealand now and in the future," they said.

"The process to deliver this could be something along the lines of a Royal Commission, or an inquiry of a similar nature."

Watch this space.

8. One fun thing and food for thought

President Donald Trump demoted Steve Bannon from the National Security Council overnight, signalling a big shift of the competing power centres within the White House.

This Washington Post examination of how Steve Bannon gathered his money and influence is a fascinating read. Bannon rails against the power of global capitalism, but made his own personal wealth thanks to the help of overseas banks and the super-rich.