Leonie Freeman: What is consultation?

Notification, consultation, participation

Definition of government consultation:

“A regulatory process by which the public’s input on matters affecting them is sought. Its main goals are in improving the efficiency, transparency and public involvement in large-scale projects or laws and policies. It usually involves notification (to publicise the matter to be consulted on), consultation (a two-way flow of information and opinion exchange) as well as participation (involving interest groups in the drafting of policy or legislation).”

Property Council exists to champion New Zealand’s largest industry – property.

In a nutshell, our core role is to build relationships with local and central government politicians and policy makers to ensure the voice of the property sector is considered when decisions are made.

In normal times this is a win-win-win scenario; our members get the opportunity to offer their expertise on highly complex and industry-specific matters as a collective group, policy makers have the chance to use us as a sounding board to tweak proposed legislation prior to it being enforced, making it more practical and addressing any unintended consequences, and we all avoid unnecessary legal proceedings and costly barriers that could hinder New Zealand’s growth.

This is our reason for being. It is the reason I and our Advocacy team spend so much of our time in meetings with Ministers and officials. It is the reason we invest significantly in our advocacy experts, committees and working groups. It is the reason we sign on to initiatives like the Construction Sector Accord and Resource Reform New Zealand amongst others. 

We believe in partnerships and in working together to create better outcomes not just for our members, but for the communities they shape.

On that basis, the past week has been the most frustrating and disappointing week of my tenure as CEO of Property Council, with the Government announcing wholesale changes to commercial leasing contracts without notice or consultation with any party outside of the Law Society. 

Not only are these actions completely at odds with the Government’s public statements around partnerships, and I believe they are in breach of one of the Construction Sector Accord’s guiding principles, which is to ‘build trusting relationships’.

We consistently and proactively offered our assistance to the Government on this matter, not just in recent months, but within 10 days of the initial lockdown over 18 months ago. Right up until the week of the announcement, the Government was still saying they had no intention of proposing such a policy – a sentiment they echoed to Retail NZ, who were asking similar questions.

One positive outcome is that the Construction Sector Accord Ministers – Hon Poto Williams and Megan Woods – have agreed to facilitate a meeting with Minister Faafoi and Property Council to discuss this issue. 

It is unclear what triggered this sudden urgency and need for hurried consultation, but we have seen a process that usually takes months, if not years, condensed into days. I still remain uncertain how the Finance and Expenditure Committee will have time to read and digest the hundreds of submissions they have received by the due date for recommendations on 14 October – it really is an extraordinary process.

On the flip side, I am very proud of how both our members and our team have risen to this challenge.

In just a few days we managed to:
  • Survey our members to ascertain the size and scope of rent relief provided to tenants ($650m and counting).
  • Garner media attention via several media releases.
  • Mobilise our membership to write letters to Minister Faafoi in opposition to the announcement.
  • Hit the headlines in every major news channel and publication.
  • Send a letter directly to Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern.
  • Write and submit a comprehensive submission that offered solutions to the issues raised by our members.
  • Further mobilse our members to make their own submission, outlining their concerns and specific examples.
  • Present our oral submission to the Finance and Expenditure Committee (watch the video here – we are the first to present).
Now, we wait.

But don’t assume that we will be resting – there is still a huge volume of reform on the table with many other urgent matters still in consultation. This includes the push for better regulatory settings to encourage build-to-rent development, infrastructure investment and urban development. We are meanwhile waist-deep in resource management reform and discussions around seismic strengthening as well as the Fire and Emergency New Zealand funding review.

We have a government keen to review and reform some significant pieces of legislation, and we are here to ensure that these reforms are considered, consulted upon and that our members have a seat at the table, even when changes are made at pace.

Thank you for your contribution over the past week – I have been inundated with emails, calls, stories and feedback – your voice matters and every opinion is valued.

Ngā mihi nui.

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