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An MBIE briefing to the new Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs shows the Minister will be tackling everything from the Commerce Act to KiwiSaver

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An MBIE briefing to the new Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs shows the Minister will be tackling everything from the Commerce Act to KiwiSaver

A ministry briefing to the new Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs shows a packed commercial agenda is in store for Andrew Bayly over the next three years.

The 71-page briefing which was prepared by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) and published publically on Thursday, includes priorities and objectives that encompass all ends of the commercial scale – with consumer and institutional regulation, the Commerce Act, KiwiSaver, and grocery competition being just a few items on the long list.

MBIE included what the crown agency understands to be the Minister’s “immediate priorities” for the commerce and consumer affairs portfolio which include:

  • Fixing issues with consumer credit and conduct of financial institutions regulation,
  • Repealing and replacing the Water Services Economic Efficiency and Consumer Protection Act and stop work on Three Waters
  • Update Part 4 of the Commerce Act to increase certainty around cost recovery for regulated infrastructure, in particular electricity lines
  • Allow KiwiSaver members to invest in more than one provider
  • Focus competition studies on reducing regulatory barriers for new entrants
  • Strengthen the powers of the Grocery Commissioner to improve competitiveness and facilitate a third entrant into the grocery sector
  • Progress a Select Committee Inquiry on banking

"The Government has committed to opening a Select Committee Inquiry into bank competition. We understand this inquiry will be broad, and will consider customer services and profitability, alongside competitiveness, and could look at a range of services (e.g. business banking). We can support this inquiry working with colleagues at the Treasury, Reserve Bank, Financial Markets Authority and Commerce Commission to assist the Select Committee’s Inquiry into the sector," MBIE says. 

In the briefing, MBIE also lays out some “near-term opportunities” to contribute to the Government’s objectives alongside the Minister’s immediate priority list in order to “foster a dynamic and competitive economy”.

These include making way for innovations like open banking by improving access to and protection of customer data and supporting a coordinated approach to scams.

On the open banking objective, MBIE says other countries are giving people more control over their data, and enabling better access to customer data will also support competition and give customers greater ability to compare and switch products.

On the scam front, MBIE says just under $200 million was lost to scams in the 12 months to October 2023 according to the country’s 11 biggest financial institutions.

MBIE notes responsibility for combatting scams sits across several Ministerial portfolios – these include Media and Communications, Police, Justice as well as Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

“Your portfolio plays a role in working with financial institutions to tackle scams and educating consumers about scams (eg investment scams, fake services and online shopping) [...],” MBIE says.

MBIE lays out some “potential” future opportunities for the new Government and Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs as well:

  • Examine financial market settings to address barriers to capital flows
  • Improve trade policy settings to support firms to export, and assess the costs of tariffs on consumers and businesses
  • Examine the divergence in standards developed between New Zealand and Australia
  • Make the Commerce Act more effective in dealing with concentrated markets and ensuring it reflects technology changes
  • Address issues in the Fair Trading Act to provide greater confidence to consumers and businesses
  • A redacted item that includes the wording ‘Companies Act and corporate registry services’

There are a number of matters that MBIE says it will be “seeking decisions from” from the new Minister in their first three months of term.

This entails the Minister’s legislation programme for the next three years, Crown entity engagement and monitoring, Cabinet report back from CCCFA exemptions for emergency weather events and an upcoming diplomatic conference for the intergovernmental committee on intellectual property and genentic resources.

The three-month list also includes the Government response to the Finance and Expenditure Committee’s inquiry into banks’ processes and consumer protections for scams and the Finance and Expenditure Committee’s inquiry into cryptocurrency.

MBIE says there are also a number of bills and regulations in the works that MBIE will be seeking decisions around “progressing work” on them.

The nine bills include the Insurance Contracts Bill bills and the Insolvency Law Reform Bill while MBIE will be putting forward two regulations around Financial Services Providers and Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance.

The new Minister will also be in charge of five upcoming appointments – including a new chair for the Financial Markets Authority and 13 operational deliverables to be aware of which range from a new Climate Related Disclosures Register and a review of the fees for IPONZ, the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand.

In the MBIE briefing document, the agency says as of September 2023, MBIE has a total of 448.8 staff, made up of 392.9 operational staff and 55.9 policy staff, working in the commerce and consumer affairs areas.

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All well and good.

But the shenanigans will be in the detail. Most will barely notice, if they notice at all, until it is too late.