Contaminants in our food supply, a fatal coal mine explosion, leaky homes, and a child's nightwear catching fire - events such as these raise questions over the standards applying to them.

Right now the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is deciding whether to relegate our own Standards New Zealand organisation to one of their fusty back rooms.

Alternatively, the Government could choose to fund Standards NZ adequately as an independent agency equipped to partner the new workplace safety agency Worksafe New Zealand, while developing its other major role which is to be the dynamic protector of local innovation and intellectual property. Given our poor safety record, and our building failures, the funding of our standards organisation seems pitiful with a budget about $7 million a year and the Government's contribution a fraction of that.

Compare it to the sad human losses at Pike River, or the billions lost on leaky buildings, or the three-ring circus that housing approvals have become in Christchurch. But would more exacting standards have prevented these extreme costs, or the food contaminations?


Our food safety processes must be at least as thorough as those of the international aviation industry and the medicines sector. Their incredibly safe records are no accident but a function of their stringent standards programmes.

Our food standards must be no less assured, implemented to international best practice, and audited to that standard.

Clearly there is a causal relationship between a country's standards and its prosperity. Obvious examples are found in Western Europe and Scandinavia. The high degree of innovation in German construction is a function of their exacting and well policed standards.

Similarly in New Zealand, standards have been developed to apply to local, unique innovations including electric fencing, jet boat propulsion, bungy jumps (ISO 9000), and yes, food quality.

In light of all this you might think the Government would be looking to dramatically increase Standards NZ funding, not slash it. By diminishing its role we risk losing the financial benefits from innovation, and associated intellectual property. Standards are the life blood of our electrical, engineering and chemical businesses - they depend on them for their acceptance internationally and for export.

Domestically we take them for granted for things like 240-volt electricity, and driving on the left, while the country's unique levels of seismic activity, UV light, and acoustics are the sorts of issues requiring local research, and the setting and constant updating of local standards. In fact, mandatory levies ostensibly for standards have been collected for years from such as building, electrical products and gas businesses but much of the funding has been diverted.

It seems reasonable for these levies to be used at least in part for the maintenance and development of standards, not for funding skills development or other research.

In another consideration the best way to retain credibility for dealing with international counterparts would be to retain an independent, credible Standards NZ, and to fund it adequately from a mix of public and private sector funding. That's what business wants too, to retain an effective, well-funded, independent Standards NZ, with its governance drawn from representatives of government, industry and science organisations.

Kim Campbell is chief executive of the Employers & Manufacturers Association (