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ACC wastes millions on a cosy deal with Business NZ and the CTU

ACC has a cozy deal with Business NZ and the CTU despite knowing 84 cents per dollar wasted

Material released by the Taxpayers’ Union show a cosy deal between Business New Zealand, the Council of Trade Unions ("CTU") and ACC has cost ACC-levy payers $19 million since 2003.

The documents, available and summarised below show ACC knew that millions paid to Business NZ and the CTU to provide health and safety training did little, if anything, to reduce workplace accidents.

Recent ACC analysis concludes that, even with optimistic assumptions, for every dollar spent on the training 84 cents is wasted. 

A 2013 briefing to the Minister for ACC, Judith Collins, states that the CTU has found it “challenging” to meet its performance obligations even though it has been contracted for service since 2003. 

The documents show that Business NZ and the CTU worked together with ACC to create the venture and doubts about the value of the scheme have existed since at least 2008.

It appears that Business NZ and the CTU have created a nice little earner for themselves. But we think it's a disgraceful example of big corporate and union welfare chewing through taxpayer cash. We think members of Business NZ and the CTU should be asking hard questions of their respective management teams.

Even the report in 2008 shows that that whole scheme was achieving little more than ‘engagement’. While ACC, Business NZ and the CTU must have known the scheme was worthless, they all allowed further millions to be spent.

This is the worst example of government waste the Taxpayers’ Union has seen to date. It involves two quasi-political organisations from the left and the right complacent in receiving taxpayer funds, likely knowing that the benefit was a small fraction of the amount being spent.

The Taxpayers' Union is calling on Ms Collins to put an end to this hand out to Business NZ and the CTU.

Click "continue reading" for more information, including the full material obtained by the Taxpayers' Union under the Official Information Act.

 

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Cr Young on Wellington City Council's living wage

Cr Nicola Young, whose motion to consult before Wellington implemented the living wage was defeated 8 votes to 5, writes in today's Dominion Post.

Wellington City Council has lit a fuse leading to a bomb of unknown size, with its vote to implement a "living wage" for its employees from January 1.

Councillors often stress the need for evidence-based, reasoned and clear decisions; correct process; and the need to avoid writing blank cheques but there was little - if any - consultation and analysis of the impact this wages policy would have on Wellington households and businesses. Ironic, considering the council has also committed to the capital being "open for business".

This is key. As we've pointed out before, the study by Auckland Council, and advice from the Treasury on the question of whether a living wage policy is a good tool to reduce poverty is damning.

Mayor Celia Wade- Brown has defended this Alice in Wonderland approach by pointing out the council didn't consult on the chief executive's salary either. The reality is that the CEO is paid the going rate in a competitive international market, whereas the "living wage" is an artificial intervention to boost incomes of lower paid workers who happen to work at the council.

The "living wage" proposed by the Living Wage Aotearoa New Zealand Campaign, is higher (relative to GDP per capita) than the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. Incredibly, ours is higher than London's; the 18th most expensive city in the world (Wellington is ranked at 74th in Mercer's Cost of Living survey).

This is incredible.  Wellington Council want low income Wellintonians to pay more in rates to fund a 'living wage' higher than London's!  

The piece doesn't mention the hypocrisy of some Wellington Councillors voting to implement a living wage despite not paying it to their own staff.

We're all for higher wages, but taxing more in rates to artificially pay some more is not the way to get there.

Click here to read the rest of Cr Young's piece on the Dominion Post's website.

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Oops - looks like DoC isn't the only 'supporter' of the AAE caught unaware

Further to my discovery and blog post earlier today that DoC is in fact not supporting the Australian Antarctic Expedition ("AAE") - despite being listed as such on the AAE website, the Australian blog "Watts Up With That" reports that the Australasian Antarctic Devision (i.e. a division of the Australian Department of the Environment) has also been caught on the hop as an unknown 'supporter' of the AAE trip to the ice.  The Ministry has made an effort to disassociate itself on Australian radio ABC.

Australian Antarctic Division head Tony Fleming says they’ll make efforts to recover the cost of #spiritofmawson rescue

From radio 666 ABC in Canberra, Australia, full audio follows.

Tony Fleming, director of the Australian Antarctic Division tells Louise Maher the AAD wasn’t linked to the Australasian Antarctic Expedition despite an implication by the expedition head that he had an “official stamp of approval”.

The expedition was brought to a halt when its ship became trapped in ice, stranding the 52 tourists and scientists on board.

A Chinese ice-breaker which went to its rescue of the Russian ship also became stuck in the ice. The ship’s passengers were airlifted to an Australian ice breaker Aurora Australis – which is due to reach Hobart in about a fortnight.

Tony Fleming says the AAD will make efforts to recover the cost of the rescue which set back their own missions.

Listen to the audio:

 

Also, since this morning's post one of our volunteers has  pointed out the following on the AAE website:

That would appear inconsistent with what DoC told us yesterday, i.e. that no support was being provided.

Click "continue reading" for more info.

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Good work DoC - but questions about AAE claiming support

Following the well publicised case of global warming scientists being stuck in record pack ice in Antarctica (ironically the expedition was intended to study the dwindling sea ice) and the efforts to rescue them, the Taxpayers' Union began enquires late last year to find out precisely how much taxpayers' money the NZ Government "supporters" listed on the expedition's website had contributed.

It appears that thankfully New Zealand taxpayers' haven't forked out the huge amounts feared. In fact, it appears that the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) is claiming at least one 'supporter' it doesn't have...

The expedition's website lists expedition supporters the Department of Conservation, Landcare Research, and the University of Waikato.

 

Click 'continue reading' for more info.

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MP employment spats costing taxpayers

This morning the New Zealand Herald covered figures released by the Taxpayers' Union show that MPs are chewing through more than $65,000 per month on payouts to avoid messy employment grievances.

Parliamentary Service spent nearly $400,000 on payouts for former staff in the second half of last year, a period in which the agency was mired in controversy.

Figures released by the Speaker showed that since June, 20 former employees had received a severance payment. On average, former staff received nearly $20,000 each.

Parliamentary Service employed around 650 people including assistants and advisers for MPs in Wellington and regional offices, and also staff within the parliamentary precinct such as security guards.

Eleven of the people who received severance packages had worked for MPs.

Parliamentary Service group manager shared services Anne Smith said the number and amount of payments was higher than usual because the agency was being restructured and because of a high turnover of MPs in the second half of the year.

She said the costs would be offset by the improvements made in the restructuring.

Labour Party MP Grant Robertson said that the payments reflected a turbulent period for the agency.

"It would be fair to say that morale has been pretty low in the Parliamentary Service and obviously from the point of view of MPs we don't want to see that carry on."

General manager Geoff Thorn resigned in August after it was revealed that Parliamentary Service had passed on emails between Fairfax reporter Andrea Vance and United Future leader Peter Dunne to an inquiry investigating the leak of a sensitive report.

Taxpayers' Union spokesman Jordan Williams criticised the costly use of public money to pay out former staff. He claimed that Parliamentary Service was "buying the silence" of workers who had been sacked on the spot by MPs.

A clause in parliamentary staff contracts allowed instant dismissal of staff in cases of "irreconcilable differences".

Mr Williams said he knew of two dismissals in which a minor party leader refused to hear their employee's response to allegations made by other colleagues.

Parliamentary Service would not confirm how many of the payments related to the irreconcilable differences clause, but said the agency followed strict processes in dealing with employment disputes.

The payments usually covered three months' wages and any outstanding leave or other entitlements.

The figures released did not include ministerial staff.

Severance payments

MP support staff: Eleven payments totalling $122,935.
Other staff: Nine payments totalling $273,006.

The two instant dismissals referred to in the Herald story, were due to a minor party leader being unwilling to hear his employee’s response to a minor allegation made by a colleague. The former employees were offered confidential payouts from Parliamentary Service well above what the individuals were advised they would likely be awarded in court. 

While every other New Zealander must follow the letter of employment law, information released to the Taxpayers' Union suggests that MPs are often ignoring it and having taxpayers fund the resulting payouts. It appears that parliamentary officials offer generous settlements to avoid cases going to the Employment Relations Authority. We think that protecting MPs with such a practise affords them a privilege that only invites further abuse. 

To date Ministerial Services has refused to provide the equivalent information for ministerial staff. The Taxpayers' Union currently has a complaint regarding that decision before the Ombudsman.

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The Herald on the iTax

This morning's NZ Herald covers an opinion poll it commissioned on public support for lowering the threshold GST is applicable to for purchases made on foreign websites:

A Herald-DigiPoll survey this month found that almost 55 per cent of the 750 New Zealanders polled had bought goods from foreign websites.Of those surveyed, 53 per cent said the $400 exemption should not be removed as the tax would be too inconvenient to collect.

Surprisingly, just under 40 per cent - 38.5% - agreed with the view of the Retailers Association that the 15 per cent GST should be applied to all overseas online purchases to level the playing field for local retailers.

We hope that the Revenue Minister Todd McClay's comments that he is awaiting further advice indicate that an economic approach, rather than an opinion poll, is used to determined whether "the tax would be too inconvenient to collect". 

Revenue Minister Todd McClay says the Government wants to see what other countries do first and a discussion document on the issue, due before Christmas, has been delayed until next year.

...

Mr McClay said he was unsurprised by the poll result and it reflected the competing interests of consumers and retailers.

While he has officials working on that and other issues related to taxing the digital economy, the minister said the issue would remain in the too-hard basket for the time being.

We're awaiting the Government's discussion paper. We are particularly interested to know whether:

  1. a lowered threshold will result in a net loss to the Crown - it would be mad to widen the GST tax base if the revenue received is less than the costs to collect;
  2. whether alternatives, such as reducing GST for New Zealanders (rather than taxing the rest of the world) are considered; and
  3. whether New Zealanders will be compensated with a lower rate of GST equivalent to the amount recovered by increase in the tax base.

We'll have to wait and see on these questions. In the meantime, comments such as the following from Labour's Revenue spokesperson are particularly unhelpful in a debate that is likely to be highly technical with tricky economic trade-offs:

Labour Party revenue spokesman David Clark said the Government "needs to explain to New Zealand businesses why they should be disadvantaged by having GST collected when overseas business don't face that challenge".

"It seems it would be pretty simple to speak with Amazon and other suppliers to ask them to collect GST since they collect, as I understand it, sales taxes for individual states in the US. If that's true, then it's obviously an ideological decision from the Government not to collect it."

How Mr Clark thinks that the New Zealand Government has any tax jurisdiction over companies operating in and domicile in the United States is unclear. Is he meaning that as Minister he would seek agreement from the large online retailers like Amazon to charge just New Zealanders more, and pass the money on to the government? If so, he is being optimistic. Amazon for example is challenging New York State's attempt to force it to collect its sales tax. Why would Amazon (and it's competitors) take any different view to New Zealand?

If Mr Clark thinks that some sort of cross-border legal obligation exists, he is wrong. Tax treaties seldom cover sales taxes.

In reality any further GST levied would be the responsibility of Customs at the border. The screening process is imprecise and carries high administration costs (both reasons for the existing threshold). For the consumer it means parcels/goods are held at the border until GST (and any applicable duty) is paid.  We're not yet convinced that retailers have made the case for an iPhone cover ordered from a US website to be stopped at the border in order for a few dollars of GST to be collected.

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EXCLUSIVE: Tip off to Taxpayers' Union uncovers IT stuff up and cost overrun at DOC

The tip line works

Just after publicly launching in October, the Taxpayers' Union received an anonymous tip off that there was a massive cost overrun of a mismanaged IT project jointly commissioned by DoC and Land Information New zealand (LINZ).  The National Property and Land Information System (“NaPALIS”) had allegedly been a failure, with DoC still picking up the pieces 18 months after the project was scheduled to be complete.

This morning a DoC official hand delivered the response to the requests for information by the Taxpayers' Union. We understand that the Director General will be making a public statement this afternoon.

The material includes two independent reports that are damning of DoC.  They blame mismanagement and ineffective governance for the project’s failure. It appears that LINZ has walked away from the project and has left DoC to pick up the pieces.

We're still reviewing the material, but to summaries one of the independent reviews of the project (conducted by Deloitte), it found:

  • ineffective governance;
  • inadequate business ownership;
  • lack of shared vision and shared outcome by DoC and LINZ for NaPALIS;
  • the NaPALIS Programme’s failure to deliver benefits to DoC;
  • lack of effective and inclusive requirements and development phase;
  • ineffective work on cultural alignment and change management between DoC and LINZ;
  • personality clashes between the DoC and LINZ;
  • an “us and them” approach -the report says:
  • “The Programme Manager was seen to be working only for LINZ most of the time, leaving DoC to flounder”;
  • lack of focus by the Programme Manager on achieving a joint outcome;
  • lack of accountability by the Programme Manager;
  • ineffective vendor management; and
  • lack of independent quality assurance.

The documents are available here:

DoC's reponse to Taxpayers' Union requests on NaPALIS

 

Click 'Continue Reading' for more

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