Thanks to the chief government scientist, we now know that millions of dollars have been wasted on testing by shameless companies exploiting the hysteria over drugs and safety that was basically caused by silly bureaucrats setting unrealistically low levels of alleged contaminants and getting the legislative approval of lazy, ill-informed politicians wanting to look like they were doing something.

The P testing scandal is not alone, and now that there is a media focus on this wasteful activity, let's hope the opportunity to correct even bigger and more economically mad legislation-induced costs to the economy are removed.

I will outline details of four really big ones.

#1 hysteria is the requirement for HAIL soil testing that the Ministry of the Environment came up with in order to punish rural people wanting to build houses, or even worse, build job-creating commercial business premises.


HAIL stands for Hazardous Activity Industries List. The idea was to protect people who might be thinking of building on sites that had been timber treatment plants or petrol storage areas. Bureaucrats foolishly extended this to include most rural land, especially orchards, on the basis that chemicals might have been used on the land.

This caused millions of dollars to be spent on thousands of sections to be tested for chemicals, with, not surprisingly, hardly any issues found, but nothing was said about eating the fruit which other government departments encourage us to eat, but not build where fruit had been grown. Nobody intends eating the ground, so even if a positive result was found it is hard to see what harm could occur.

To make matters worse, the trigger levels were set way too low. Testers can find incredibly low concentrations of elements such as arsenic, and the very mention of this element sends bureaucrats into a frenzy. Tests I had to pay for found 72 parts per million (ppm) of arsenic, and advisers talked of bagging the soil and sending it to Auckland, when all I wanted to do was cover the site in concrete.

Nearby geologists looking for epithermal gold found whole paddocks of grassland with arsenic levels of 2600ppm. No problem, as no houses were contemplated on this farmland.

Having inflicted extra costs on new struggling rural house builders via these tests, the government then set about dramatically increasing these costs by listening to shameless laboratories demanding the integrity of audits, which were so costly that all the small testers went out of business, creating a nice monopoly for the few large ones to exploit.

Calls to various MPs to fix this have proved to be a further waste of effort.

#2 hysteria is the regional council war on cleaning of boat hulls. Harbours that are regularly polluted after intense rainfall by high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, e-coli and eroded silt receive no attention at all from regional councils, but woe betide anyone cleaning their boat hull.

Testing of the mud below hull cleaning areas has shown traces of copper, enabling these councils to enforce draconian regulations stopping hull cleaning. Some copper test levels have been in harbours with high ambient copper levels, near mining grade on the surrounding eroding cliffs. Again, a total lack of any perspective and a focus on the wrong pollutant.

#3 hysteria is the recent dramatic upgrading of the fire code. Suddenly walls that were required to have 60-minute fire resistance are now 120-minute rating. Fire consultants are unable to explain to building owners why, other than for politicians and bureaucrats to look like they really care.

A single-level office that formerly offered occupants 60 minutes of protection to walk a maximum of 25 metres to an exit door now needs 120 minutes. Really! Where was the cost benefit analysis for this?

The fire code is now so complicated that only specialists can understand it, yet a look at fire statistics show that few buildings survive the fire regardless of the rating, and few inhabitants of buildings that complied with the old code got into difficulties.

Fire-related deaths seem mostly related to total disregard for even the oldest of codes, and dumb stuff like taking the batteries out of the alarms. Is the dramatic lift in costs and rewards to the rapidly expanding fire service industry really justified?

#4 hysteria is the requirement for compliance with earthquake-resistant levels. This is now mandatory right across New Zealand, regardless of the local geology, which any geologist will tell you varies enormously.

Recent earthquake events have triggered this draconian one-size-fits-all set of costs, yet these events really show that the risks are not evenly spread, and towns like Wellington, plonked on top of a major tectonic plate fault, should probably have even larger earthquake resistance than regulations force, yet other places where flooding, tsunamis, or, as in Auckland, volcanoes are the most likely disaster format, should face regulations designed to focus on these risks rather than earthquakes.

Commercial building owners across New Zealand now face the need to pay consultants for reports showing compliance with certain percentages of earthquake resistance, but these reports are just an extra cost, often not really representing the actual risk at all. The formula for assessing these risks counts things that don't matter, like building age, but ignore things that do, like what materials are used.

A quick look at the Christchurch earthquake showed that old timber buildings performed way better than newer brick buildings, but that simple observation never made it into the assessment formula.

It is time to expand the Chief Scientist's role to look at these and other feel-good but economically insane regulations and the adverse effects they have on our economy, which many of the same bureaucrats and politicians keep telling us needs to have improved productivity, even in the face of these obviously negative regulations.