As Reseller News pointed out last issue, I recently had the doubtful pleasure of again appearing before a Parliamentary Select Committee. Select committees work hard: this hearing went from 9am to 6pm without breaks.
We were talking about the Waste Minimisation (Solids) Bill, that little-known but highly important bill that has the potential to bring supplies of IT products into New Zealand to a halt, unless it is very carefully amended and carried through. We all like to think that we are a reasonably hi-tech country. But let’s not be under any illusions: the total New Zealand IT products market absorbs about 20 minutes of manufacturers’ annual production time – if that. The manufacturers don’t need us as much as we need them, and making it too hard for them to sell here isn’t exactly going to do this country any favours. It’s not that the manufacturers aren’t interested in recycling: it’s just that the bill has the potential to make it all too hard.
Worldwide, it is pretty obvious the IT products market realises something needs to be done to keep electrical and electronic equipment waste (e-waste) out of landfills, for both environmental and economic reasons. Without better recycling, chemicals like lithium, lead, and cadmium leach out of discarded electrical equipment in landfills and pollute the environment. Some of these pollutants are extremely valuable and scarce, so it’s worth recycling them or (in our case) collecting them for recycling elsewhere: you can hardly mine a landfill efficiently.
So I was one of the few who said that the bill wasn't a bad idea. In general, it is a waste of time to say “scrap this law” to a select committee: that just isn’t going to happen. The issue is that we have what started life as a private member’s bill that has essentially turned into a Government bill, but hasn’t been put out for public submission. And it shows.
It’s not all bad. The article in the last issue covered what appears to be highly unconstitutional ‘guilty till proven innocent’ extended liability provisions relating to company directors and managers. Select committees rarely give you feedback, but I suspect this provision will be amended in the final act to mirror similar provisions in other commercial statutes.
I hope that we left the select committee under no illusions about the risks to the New Zealand economy: at worst, we could become a third-world IT nation if we make it too hard to get product into New Zealand. At best, there will be costly procedures involving product-stewardship schemes that will necessarily impact on local prices, particularly if they are not aligned to overseas procedures. In between, there is the full range of commercial risk, from potential effects on markets such as a shift to private importing (resellers lose out) to competition effects (small guys lose out) to criminal consequences (everyone loses out).
This isn’t just an environmental bill: it has huge economic consequences. It’s really quite scary, and it’s still under the radar. It might work – or it might just be totally counterproductive. The most positive thing I can say at present is that we had a very good hearing from the select committee. Whatever that means, we’ll keep you posted.