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The case for mandatory legislative review

Written By: - Date published: 9:12 am, February 24th, 2021 - 15 comments
Categories: covid-19, Parliament - Tags:

You can’t read legislation for very long without finding instances of weird edge cases. My favourite used to be the old Summary Offences Act which had prohibitions against wearing carpet slippers in public.

Simon Collins at NewstalkZB writes about an example. Why we have kids trying to walk or bike on gravel roads with no sidewalks to get to school. When modern cars travel these narrow lanes at up to 100km/hour.

Hundreds of children living on rural roads near towns are being barred from school buses under a law that hasn’t changed since 1904.

Kaipara College students Kael McFarlane and Ethan Hepper, both 13, watch a school bus go past their doors on Inland Rd 3.8km outside Helensville, but the bus is only allowed to pick up high-school students if they live more than 4.8km from school.

The road is unsealed, has no footpath and winds over a steep hill between the college and the boys’ homes.

Kael sometimes walks it, taking just under an hour. He has asked if he can ride his bike, but his mother Tracey McFarlane won’t let him.

“He nearly gets knocked off,” she said.

Ethan’s father Matt Hepper said: “We’d be happy to tell the kids to harden up if it was safe, but it’s not safe.”

NewstalkZB: “Children barred from school bus by 117-year-old law

The important things to notice about this particular part of the Education Act was that it was written in 1877, and revised with different limits for age groups in 1904. Most students at the time would have walked to work over farmland or bush. Rural and even urban roads were mostly dirt, the exception was gravelled roads. The average transport speed was slow. Motorised transport maximum speed of all transport was 12km/hour.

These days, kids walking over industrial farming is not liked by farmers. Rural roads have no sidewalks, are usually gravelled or paved, and the speed limit is typically 100km/hour. Most hilly rural roads that I have been around are typically driven at about 60-80km/hour – including the gravelled roads. They are also full of blind corners which careful drivers will reduce speed around. Personally I wouldn’t ride a bike or walk on them myself, and I spent a lot of time on rural roads around Puhio / Waiwera when I was growing up.

A Ministry of Education spokeswoman said the limits were set in the Education Act of 1877, which introduced compulsory education for all children aged 7-13 who lived “within the distance of two miles measured according to the nearest road from a public school”.

“An amendment was made in 1904 to recognise the different distances per age group,” the ministry said.

“At the time, these settings reflected that walking distance was likely to represent a barrier to rural children attending schools. These established distances continue to be applied fairly and consistently today.

“While there has been no change to the criteria for over 100 years, people have greater access to transport, more vehicle options and improved roading than was available in the early 1900s.”

In the Kaipara area, school buses used to pick up some students within the specified limits because they had empty seats, but they stopped doing that on the Inland Rd route last year because of population growth.

NewstalkZB: “Children barred from school bus by 117-year-old law

This is common across large parts of the rural landscape near urban centres these days. When my parents grabbed a 88 acre block as a weekend lifestyle block back in 1975 (for an incredibly low price), there were about 30 houses along the road from Silverdale to the Upper Waiwera over 10 km to where we lived. I haven’t been up there in a decade – but there would be at least 250 houses now. Low densities, but there are a lot of people using those roads these days. The road there is now tarseal. But hasn’t had any engineering and is still designed as the cart track it was in 1904.

This is what has been happening all around the rural districts close to Auckland.

The ministry has budgeted $221 million for school transport this year and provides free buses for about 100,000 of the country’s 826,000 schoolchildren.

NewstalkZB: “Children barred from school bus by 117-year-old law

That is really the crux of the issue. Sure parents could drive their kids to school. But really all that does is increase the traffic on the roads. Not to mention the productivity drops as people who are increasingly working remotely drive 8km round trips. It is bad enough in the sidewalked roads of Auckland where the parents picking up kids cause a double daily traffic congestion problem.

Personally, I think that Parliament should get Treasury to have a look at the economic pros and cons of school transport, both urban and rural, against the productivity issues, road wear and accidents. I’m pretty sure that I know how that will work out.

But really, legislation that has been on the books for 117 years and subject to technological change just needs to be reviewed more regularly. Consider this.

In a lot of ways we got lucky during the Covid-19 pandemic. The legislation we ran on was updated recently in 2006 largely as a result of the SARS epidemic. But before that it’d only had a minor set of tweaks in 1953 on the legislation from the 1920s after the influenza epidemic. You have to remember that viruses were only observed in 1940. The first systematically developed vaccine (for polio) against them was announced in 1955. The first passenger jets for NZ (the main disease carrier) only started in NZ in 1960.

The warmed over legislation from the 1920s was technically well past it use-by date by 2006. Perhaps Parliament should look at how they should systematically review legislation over the decades.

15 comments on “The case for mandatory legislative review ”

  1. bwaghorn 1

    Several years up a country road I lived on the bus had for as long as anyone could remember turned at the local dairy farm,once Go bus , got the contract they came out and informed us that the bus would only come to a spot 300 meters before the dairy turn round and that the parents would have to fund a suitable turn round for the bus .

    Penny pinching functionaries love there little bit of power

  2. Incognito 2

    What we do

    The Law Commission reviews New Zealand law. We then make recommendations to Government to improve the law.

    https://www.lawcom.govt.nz/what-we-do

    • Poission 2.1

      Isocrates (Aeropagiticus) some 2500 yeas ago review of laws was quite succinct,the multiplication of laws is a failure not progress.( corruptissima republica plurimae leges. )

      Such, then, as I have described, was the nature of the Council which our forefathers charged with the supervision of moral discipline—a council which considered that those who believed that the best citizens are produced in a state where the laws are prescribed with the greatest exactness1 were blind to the truth; for in that case there would be no reason why all of the Hellenes should not be on the same level, at any rate in so far as it is easy to borrow written codes from each other.

      But in fact, they thought, virtue is not advanced by written laws but by the habits of every-day life; for the majority of men tend to assimilate the manners and morals amid which they have been reared. Furthermore, they held that where there is a multitude of specific laws, it is a sign that the state is badly governed; for it is in the attempt to build up dikes against the spread of crime that men in such a state feel constrained to multiply the laws.

      Those who are rightly governed, on the other hand, do not need to fill their porticoeswith written statutes, but only to cherish justice in their souls; for it is not by legislation, but by morals, that states are well directed, since men who are badly reared will venture to transgress even laws which are drawn up with minute exactness, whereas those who are well brought up will be willing to respect even a simple code

      http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0144%3Aspeech%3D7%3Asection%3D41

    • lprent 2.2

      Problem is that the Law Commission mostly look at implications of social law about new law, and review laws about law rather than looking at reviewing operational and administrative law.

      This becomes pretty obvious when you look at their current and past projects.
      https://www.lawcom.govt.nz/our-projects

      Comes of the makeup of the law commission – mostly made up of lawyers. Not people who look at technologists, economics, productivity specialists, and specialists in the social downstream impacts of injury. For that you'd want economists and accountants of various types.

      The nearest thing that we have to that in government, unaffected by strong lobbyists (like those afflicting NZTA, ACC and the productivity commission) at a strongly analytical level are treasury. The treasury bias is towards returns as expressed in the costs to the government – which means that they tend to take a longer and more holistic view.

  3. greywarshark 3

    Roads, common good access to footpaths for citizens, seem to be at the whim of some planner who has the mind of a Sim city gamer.

    I note that fatuous pollies, officials, and business leaders playing at being good managers of the country's resources over the past decades are now being revealed as big holes show up in our systems. There has been a brutal setting aside of wisdom and care about resources and other 'goods' that we took for granted.

    Something definitely must be done to change the way that we pass legislation; have it open for scrutiny every 5 years for instance, after it has passed proper discussion and analytical channels.

    Everyone knew that there would come a time when we needed water that had been allocated out to farmers and others, especially when it was found that some had been over-allocated. And it has been common for Councils to make agreements that may last for 35 years, and are transferable as the farms are on-sold. Then there is the draw-off of bottled water.

    This is a corrupt system that our government has felt itself obliged to sign up to – the free market and open borders for even a small percentage of the billions of people in the world to come and help themselves to our stocks of reserves almost at will. Thanks Maori for watching with concern and girding their piupiu ready for action.

    The latest is dying eels bereft of water where there always was some even in drought.

    https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/437050/tragic-event-iwi-blames-irrigation-for-hundreds-of-eel-deaths

    …In Bridge Pā, near Heretaunga (Hastings) the local kura found hundreds of eels dying in the deep, dried mud which was once their local streams – the Karewarewa and the Paritua…

    "It's a bit of a tragic event, of course they can't save them all and we've got images of quite a number of eels dying but the school was involved in trying to save those."

    To the local iwi and hapū, that summarised the degradation of the waterways they once enjoyed…

    "If the government and regional councils are serious about their goals and our national goal of having healthy, swimmable rivers, then addressing those water takes is a really important part of this and it won't just be a matter of sort of maintaining what's happening now, but in some parts of the country there will have to be a process by which we actually take water off people who are using it."

    This year, hearings will be held for a big plan change – TANK – that will affect many of Hawke's Bay's rivers and its tributaries.

    Alongside that, Ngāti Kahungunu recently announced it would go to court with South Island iwi Ngāi Tahu to share control of its freshwater with the Crown.

  4. Treetop 4

    It is more than bus regulations, it is an infrastructure problem and the demand is going to grow.

    What is going to happen when the eligible children no longer have capacity on the bus?

    What is the cost to add an additional bus?

  5. The Resource Management Act and the Public Works Act are in dire need of review. And any other regulations that exacerbate the housing crisis. The present embarrassing lack of affordable housing requires a full review of the legal environment (along with other factors) that got us into this mess.

    Shame on this government for lacking the balls to implement the recommendations of the Tax Working Group. Is it a crisis or not?

  6. KJT 6

    Part of the problem is the "squatocracy" in New Zealand being allowed to lock huge swathes of the country up so no one can walk over it.

    Having to walk our kids over 4.5 k's along a country road with dozens of blind corners when we could have walked half that distance over farmland.

    The "right to roam", which exists in many countries, has been opposed every time it is suggested by farming interests, who seem to have no problem appropriating public land such as shifting riverbeds, roadsides, riparian strips and High Country leases.

    • RedLogix 6.1

      At last something we both wholeheartedly agree on yes

      It was the appalling bullshit thrown up by the Opposition around Jim Sutton's proposed reforms in this area in 2005 that initially got me blogging in the political arena.

      “Are the public allowed to wander around a factory without the owners permission? ”

      And the difference between a bsuy factory and 3000ha of backcountry farm is? Think real hard, and let me know if you can spot it.

      The landowners liability question is another red-herring. In general landowners are NOT responsible for any harm that might befall someone on their land, UNLESS they have given specific permission for them to be there. Try looking up the actual law on this matter…it may surprise you.

      There are two aspects to the current problem of legitimate access to backcountry and waterways via the QC and similar easements:

      1. Practical concerns such as mapping, marking, and neglect have effectively cut access. In most cases all that is needed is for an existing paper road or farm track to be negotiated as the proper route and marked as such.

      2. Not all landowners are playing ball. For decades there has been a minority of usually overseas owners who have been very beligerent about shutting down all access. And a few are now exploiting the rules to charge for access to fisheries and hunting areas that the public have an absolute right to. Both of these are undesirable trends.

      Again…the proposed rules were very modest in their scope. Most recreational users were happy to support them, even though they fell way short of what the English and Europeans enjoy. But instead we have been treated to a egregious display of reactionary mis-information and lies that is going to be absolutely counter-productive in the longer term.

      Yes I started out at KB (before The Standard was established in 2008) and in those days there was a greater variety of people and viewpoints commenting there.

      The whole episode was a debacle, and with Sutton’s eventual resignation, in no small measure due to this defeat – I recall predicting at the time that no Minister would dare revisit the issue for another generation. And so it’s has turned out.

      • Craig H 6.1.1

        The snarky side of me says to propose to levy the landowners by hectare for the roading upgrades required to make the roads safe and usable, and see how much they squeal about that instead…

  7. Craig H 7

    In theory, legislative review is the purview of the department/ministry that administers it. That said, obviously it's something that can and does fall by the wayside if the minister's priorities don't include reviews, or if they don't agree with the review, or if the priorities change after the review is commissioned (the review and replacement of the Incorporated Societies Act 1908 is one of my personal pet peeves – started in 2016, has been awaiting cabinet approval to proceed for a few years now, but Covid has changed Cabinet priorities so will probably be a few more years).

  8. Has anyone thought of asking school bus drivers of their opinions? Obviously not You do not allow anonymous comment. They know what it is like out there.

  9. Paul Campbell 9

    I think one has to be careful – we're all very lucky, the young men who brought the Spanish flu back from WW1 were the same old men remembering how bad a pandemic was, who wrote the 1956 health act that put health professionals and scientists in charge of dealing with Covid.

    Institutional knowledge is important in any organisation, but here's a case where the people who remembered why that law was important are dead. I can imagine the law commission coming across that part of the health act, reading it and saying "pandemic? that's never going to happen" and striking those lines out as no longer relevant

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