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The cost of law-making in New Zealand

Students in lecture theatre

Monday 14 May 2012 10:04am

University of Otago, Wellington researchers have just published a study that estimates for the first time the average cost of producing a new law in New Zealand.

The research shows a new act costs on average $3.5 million, while a regulation is estimated to cost around $530,000.

The researchers developed a method that analysed the number of acts and regulations passed in Parliament from 1999 to 2010. They then considered the costs of running Parliament, particularly ‘sitting days’, when MPs debate new laws. Also taken into account were the costs of policy advice from government agencies related to law-making.

Lead researcher, Associate Professor Nick Wilson, says that “whilst the findings are of interest in themselves, since law making is funded by our taxes, the key reason we performed this study was to work out the cost-effectiveness of health interventions that use laws, versus those using other approaches such as media and education campaigns or GP visits.”

He also pointed out that this is the first such study done for New Zealand. “These studies are rare internationally with only some published work on the cost of laws produced by state governments in the United States”.

The study reports that the cost range for a new act is in the range from $2.0 to $6.2 million.

“This is because the size of new legislation varies greatly, from just a few pages to hundreds. So when considering both acts and regulations, we calculated the average cost per page of legislation at $45,000.”

Co-author, Professor Tony Blakely explains that there’s now a strong scientific basis for the use of the law as a public health instrument.

“One recent analysis identified 65 systematic reviews of studies on the effectiveness of 52 public health laws. Most of these laws were found to have achieved their health objectives covering such areas as: injury prevention, housing improvements, tobacco control, promoting vaccination, reducing violence, and improving food safety,” he says.

The University of Otago researchers are planning to use these results in future research on the cost-effectiveness of new laws in this country. Such new laws could include those on tobacco, alcohol and dietary hazards such as salt and saturated fat.

“We suspect that public health laws in particular are very good value for money – just like the law that made restaurants and pubs smokefree. But we need to study the cost-effectiveness of laws so political decision makers can make informed policy,” says Associate Professor Wilson.

This study also identified ways in which law-making in New Zealand may be relatively efficient compared to the United States.

“State governments in the US have a large proportion of bills introduced which are never enacted – 82% in 2009. Also time-wasting activity such as ‘partisan taunts’ appear to be particularly common.”

Even so, Wilson says there is potential to make law-making even more efficient in this New Zealand. “These changes could include reducing opportunities for partisan posturing and limiting tactics used to stall the progress of legislation for no good reason. There is also scope for reducing the number of private members bills which have no hope of progressing.

For further information, contact

Associate Professor Nick Wilson
University of Otago, Wellington


Electronic access to the study published by the international journal “Bulletin of the World Health Organization” is via the URL in the following citation:

Wilson N, Nghiem N, Foster R, Cobiac L, Blakely T. Estimating the cost of new public health legislation. Bull WHO [e-Publication May 2012].

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