LAWCOMM 769 - Special Topic: Economic Regulation: principles and practice

Lecturer biography

Donal Curtin is an Auckland based economic consultant with wide experience of competition, regulation and macroeconomics. From 2001 to 2013 he was a member of the Commerce Commission, where he was involved in a wide variety of merger clearances and authorisations including Qantas / Air New Zealand, ANZ Bank / National Bank of New Zealand and Telstra / Clear and a wide range of Commerce Act enforcement actions including prosecution of abuse of market power and cartels. On the regulatory front he was involved in a number of telco decisions (notably network interconnection, wholesale access for new entrant retailers, and setting of mobile termination rates) and also in regulation of the electricity, dairy and airport sectors. He holds first class honours degrees from Trinity College Dublin (BA in economics and political science, 1973) and from University College Dublin (MA in economics, 1975). He has lectured on the economics of business cycles as a Teaching Fellow at Victoria University, Wellington, and is a board member of the Competition Law and Policy Institute of New Zealand.

Course Outline

Economic regulation affects our lives in multiple ways: the cost of a mobile phone call, the availability of taxis, the electricity bill, and how the dairy industry works, are all strongly influenced by different forms of economic regulation. This course critically examines the rationales for economic regulation, best practice in implementing regulation, the forms and processes used in New Zealand, the outcomes to date, and potential future directions. It will be of particular interest to students interested in the interplay of economics and law.


The topics covered by this course include:

  • The conditions where markets operate well for the long term benefit of consumers
  • The conditions where markets may need economic regulation
  • The different forms of economic regulation and their applicability in different circumstances
  • Best practice in implementing and monitoring economic regulation
  • The recent history of regulation and deregulation in New Zealand
  • The New Zealand statutory framework and the key cases on economic regulation
  • The practical operation of the statutory framework with a particular focus on the operation of Part IV of the Commerce Act
  • Sectoral regulation of telecommunications and the dairy industry
  • Outstanding items on the New Zealand regulatory agenda


The main objective of this course is to give students an informed platform to participate in policy analysis of regulatory issues, and to be better prepared to assist in regulatory proceedings before agencies such as the Commerce Commission, the Telecommunications Commissioner, and the Electricity Authority, or in the courts.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this course students should be able to:

  • Understand basic economic concepts of workably competitive markets and recognise where unregulated markets may not work well for the long term benefits of consumers
  • Recognise the limitations of generic competition law in dealing with market ‘failure’
  • Understand the rationales for and against economic regulation and when regulation might act as a complement to, or a substitute for, workably competitive markets
  • Appreciate the potential downsides and costs of regulation as well as the benefits
  • Recognise the spectrum of potential regulatory options (from ‘light handed’ to ‘industrial strength’) and when each option might be appropriate
  • Understand the intellectual background of pro-regulation, de-regulation and re-regulation policy evolution internationally and in New Zealand
  • Recognise best practice in considering, implementing, and reviewing economic regulation
  • Demonstrate familiarity with key economic regulatory statutes in New Zealand (Part IV of the Commerce Act, Telecommunications Act, Dairy Industry Restructuring Act)
  • Understand the assumptions behind, and the operation of, the ‘building blocks’ model under Part IV of the Commerce Act
  • Demonstrate awareness of outstanding regulatory and deregulatory policy issues
  • Better engage with legal and economic regulatory experts  


90% research essay of 6,500 words and 10% class participation.


Each student is required to submit a research essay of no more than 6,500 words. The essay must be on one of the following topics:

  • an area/activity/market which is currently not economically regulated but (in the student’s opinion) should be; or
  • an area/activity/market which is currently economically regulated but (in the student’s opinion) should not be; or
  • an area/activity/market which is currently economically regulated but (in the student’s opinion) is not well regulated and which could be better approached with alternative regulatory forms and/or processes.
Students may find it easier to pick a New Zealand oriented topic, but as principles of regulation are universal may also elect topics relevant in other countries. As thought starters, potential topics might be whether Google should be regulated as a utility; whether the appearance of Uber and Airbnb have revealed over-regulation of taxis and accommodation; or whether current regulation of the New Zealand electricity sector is serving retail customers well. These are purely illustrative, and students are encouraged to explore topics of their own.
Essays will be graded on the basis of adequacy of problem definition (for example, why has the topic been chosen? What prima facie evidence did the student consider indicated a regulatory policy issue? What further evidence would the student want to have to come to a definitive conclusion?); adequacy of solutions proposed (for example, what range of regulatory tools was considered? Are the chosen tools appropriate for the circumstances? What thought was given to consultation of affected parties?); how the operation of the proposed solution would be monitored (for example what market outcomes would indicate success? What are the costs involved in achieving the outcomes? Are there proposed review mechanisms?); clarity of expression (even regulatory law and economics can be expressed lucidly); and originality of topic (finding interesting ideas off the beaten regulatory track will be recognised).
The essay is to be original work, relying on secondary and primary sources. It MUST be the work of the enrolled student. Another person, other than the enrolled student, MUST NOT write the essay nor do the research on behalf of the enrolled student. Plagiarism is not permitted and in that regard each student should read the University’s plagiarism policy and adhere to it. All students will be expected to sign a plagiarism declaration when submitting their essays. Students must also use proper legal citations (where relevant) and include a reading list at the end of their type-written essay. The essay should be comprised of properly crafted English sentences. (Note form is unacceptable.) The use of sub-headings is encouraged and footnotes rather than Harvard style in-text referencing are to be used.

Essays must be submitted to the Faculty of Law, by Thursday 27th June 12 noon 2019.

Extensions will not be granted lightly (only on sickness and compassionate grounds) and must be requested formally through the Postgraduate Manager.

Class Participation

Each student is expected to be present at all three days of the course and is expected to ask questions, and to contribute to discussions. If a student is not present for all the classes, it will be difficult to achieve the maximum marks possible even if a student actively contributes when present. Questions will not be graded for quality; there is no such thing as a stupid question, and often other students will have been wondering along the same lines. Questions, debate and challenge improve everyone’s understanding (including the lecturer’s), and the benefits are the reason why active participation is included as a criterion for course assessment.  

Reading Materials

Reading materials will be contained in the Study Guide. Students may also be asked to access additional materials via the internet or in the library.  

Teaching Method

The course will be taught over three days commencing on a Monday and concluding at the end of the following Wednesday. Classes will be interactive and friendly. To the maximum extent possible economic concepts will be presented in ‘plain English’. Questions and debate will be welcome. Students will need to do the pre-reading for the course to get the most out of it.

Classes will commence at 9am and run till 4.30pm. Morning tea will be around 10.30am (approx. 20 minutes). We will also have a short break in the afternoon.  

Course Details

Semester One
Study mode   Intensive
Dates 15-17 April 2019
Time 9.00am – 5.00pm
Location Room 340, 1-11 Short
Value 15 Points

Contact Details

Law Student Centre
Level 2, 1-11 Short St

Lecturer contact details: