A house of cards

The Northland Age - - Opinion - By Peter Jack­son

IF there is to be any hope for the fu­ture, the rev­e­la­tion that hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars have been wasted clean­ing houses not pol­luted with metham­phetamine to a de­gree that threat­ened oc­cu­pants’ health will lead to the ex­po­sure of all sorts of rules and reg­u­la­tions as a house of cards.

We are told, ad nau­seam, by cli­mate change alarmists that the ‘sci­ence is set­tled,’ that those who do not ac­cept that mankind’s emis­sions are de­stroy­ing our planet no longer have a sus­tain­able ar­gu­ment.

Most would ac­cept that the cli­mate is chang­ing, but claims that we are re­spon­si­ble for that ig­nore the fact that it has un­der­gone rad­i­cal change in the past, long be­fore humans had any ca­pac­ity to in­flu­ence it.

What­ever, the ur­gent need to re­duce emis­sions is now ac­cepted with­out ques­tion by those who have the abil­ity to force change upon us, their view tend­ing to be that we will be okay if we, in New Zealand at least, es­chew pas­toral farm­ing, par­tic­u­larly dairy farm­ing, and if we pay more taxes.

One’s faith in the qualifications of some of these peo­ple to tell us what we must do is not strength­ened by politi­cians like James Shaw, who, with a straight face, told us last week that we could do our bit by go­ing meat-free one day a week. How that might re­duce emis­sions de­fies all ex­pla­na­tion, un­less Mr Shaw ex­pects that tofu Fri­days will re­duce our na­tional beef herd/lamb flock by 1/7th, but it il­lus­trates how ob­sessed politi­cians have be­come with whacky the­o­ries.

But the sci­ence is set­tled, isn’t it? Just like the sci­ence that said that liv­ing in a house where some­one has smoked metham­phetamine is bad for our health. Only it wasn’t set­tled. In fact it was nonex­is­tent ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment’s chief sci­ence ad­viser.

It was myth, one that the rest of the world never bought. Just us.

We have be­come so at­tuned to be­liev­ing what we are told that we no longer ques­tion the ex­perts. We don’t even ques­tion the ba­sis of their ex­per­tise.

Many of the mo­ronic rules and reg­u­la­tions that gov­ern us don’t rely on sci­ence at all though. They seem­ingly arise from a de­ter­mi­na­tion to en­sure that all pos­si­ble risk is elim­i­nated from life in New Zealand, what­ever the cost of that might be, fi­nan­cially and in terms of the abil­ity to live our lives free of an in­creas­ingly cloy­ing blan­ket of bu­reau­cracy.

You don’t have to look far for ex­am­ples. Hor­ti­cul­tural sprayers who use trac­tor-mounted tow­ers must now use a lad­der to climb said tow­ers, while some­one else holds the lad­der.

Some years ago a Far North woman told the writer that the man who cleaned her chim­ney ev­ery year told her that he could no longer do so. Thanks to the fact that some­one some­where had fallen off a roof, while fid­dling with a TV ae­rial, he was now re­quired to use all sorts of safety gear that would save him from the same fate (a bro­ken leg). He could not af­ford to com­ply, and if he did she wouldn’t be able to af­ford to hire him. So he wouldn’t be clean­ing her chim­ney any more.

Her house in­surer de­manded that her chim­ney be swept once a year, how­ever. She no longer had in­sur­ance.

Years ago Kaita¯ia’s Pa­per Plus, now Marston Moor, un­der­went ma­jor refurbishment. The own­ers opened their doors be­fore work was fin­ished, so cus­tomers could buy their Lotto tick­ets. The photo pub­lished in this news­pa­per, fea­tur­ing a queue of cus­tomers amid drop cloths, lad­ders and such, found its way to OSH, which iden­ti­fied nine spe­cific grounds for prose­cu­tion un­der health and safety reg­u­la­tions.

It didn’t pros­e­cute, but it could have. As far as any­one knows none of the cus­tomers died or was in­jured.

Where have these rules come from? How is it that we have al­lowed an en­tire in­dus­try to grow around a need to pro­tect us from our­selves? And how much are these rules cost­ing you?

Last week some­one claimed that 56 per cent of the cost of build­ing a house in Auck­land was gen­er­ated by the need for com­pli­ance. No one would ques­tion the need for houses to be built to a safe stan­dard, but 56 per cent in Auck­land rep­re­sents hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars. And the Min­is­ter of Housing’s an­swer is to cre­ate a su­per min­istry. More bu­reau­crats. That’ll fix the housing prob­lem.

If the fig­ure of 56 per cent is cor­rect, the builder of one of Min­is­ter Phil Twyford’s af­ford­able $600,000 homes will be pay­ing $336,000 to com­ply with heaven knows how many rules and reg­u­la­tions. If he could re­duce the cost of that house from $600,000 to $264,000 he would be mak­ing a gen­uine con­tri­bu­tion to what ap­pears to be an in­tractable prob­lem. But he won’t. He’s em­ploy­ing more bu­reau­crats.

Last week Far North prop­erty de­vel­oper Wayne Brown pointed to four of what he says is a host of rules and reg­u­la­tions that not only make devel­op­ment dif­fi­cult, but vastly more ex­pen­sive than it needs to be. One of his ex­am­ples was the Hazardous Ac­tiv­ity In­dus­tries List, orig­i­nally de­signed to pro­tect peo­ple who might be tempted to build on sites that had once been used for tim­ber treat­ment or petrol stor­age. Not sur­pris­ingly, that had mor­phed to cover most rural land, es­pe­cially land that might once have been an or­chard, Mr Brown com­plain­ing that the trig­ger points for con­tam­i­na­tion were set “way too low.” Given the re­cent metham­phetamine reve­la­tions, who doubts that?

Who set the lim­its? Don’t know. At what level of con­tam­i­na­tion is there any risk to hu­man health? Don’t know. How, as Mr Brown asks, can it be safe to eat fruit grown in an or­chard but not safe to build a house there? Don’t know.

He went on to de­scribe the Fire Code as so com­pli­cated that only spe­cial­ists in the field can un­der­stand it. What he did un­der­stand was that the fir­ere­sis­tance rate for walls had been lifted from 60 min­utes to 120 min­utes. Why? Don’t know. Mr Brown spec­u­lated how­ever that most fire-re­lated deaths seemed to be the re­sult of “dumb stuff,” like tak­ing the bat­ter­ies out of smoke alarms.

He not un­rea­son­ably won­dered why any­one in a sin­gle-storey build­ing would need two hours to evac­u­ate, but that’s the stan­dard. And you are pay­ing for it.

It is of lit­tle con­so­la­tion that others might be worse off than us (see if you can find the book The Death of Com­mon­sense in Amer­ica), but we’re do­ing our best to catch up. A few years ago a passerby who helped a child get down from a tree on school grounds in Eng­land was re­port­edly charged with tres­pass be­cause he had no le­gal right to be there. The teach­ers and other pupils, see­ing the kid was stuck and po­ten­tially in dan­ger of fall­ing, had done what the guide­lines told them to do — they re­treated to their class­rooms and watched from a safe dis­tance.

Mean­while Mr Brown blames the sad sce­nario in this coun­try on “silly bu­reau­crats and lazy, ill-in­formed politi­cians who want to be seen to be do­ing some­thing”. Hard to dis­agree with that.

What doesn’t make sense is that we lie down and take it. We part with our hard-earned money for no ben­e­fit what­so­ever. We do as we are told, per­haps be­cause we’ve been brain­washed into be­liev­ing that dan­ger lurks around ev­ery cor­ner, or more likely be­cause we fear prose­cu­tion.

It is time to de­clare that the em­peror has no clothes, and maybe this meth scan­dal — and it is a scan­dal — will pro­vide the cat­a­lyst for that.

"Many of the mo­ronic rules and reg­u­la­tions that gov­ern us don’t rely on sci­ence at all though. They seem­ingly arise from a de­ter­mi­na­tion to en­sure that all pos­si­ble risk is elim­i­nated from life in New Zealand, what­ever the cost of that might be . . . "

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