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Sky High: Briefing paper on passport affordablity

This morning the Taxpayers' Union is appearing before the Government Administration Select Committee, in support of a petition to reintroduce ten year passports for New Zealanders.

We will also be presenting a briefing paper by Jordan McCluskey, 'Sky High: Briefing paper on passport affordability'.

Our research shows that New Zealand is out of line with the rest of the world

Contrary to statements made by the Government, most of our trading partners issue ten, not five year passports.

 

The per year cost of a New Zealand passport is more than any other country we examined.

In addition, the Government is sitting on a whopping surplus of $20.8 million because of excessive passports charges.

Click here to download the full briefing paper on passport affordability.

In 2005 the Government introduced biometric technology to passports, made them more expensive and reduced their validity from ten to five years.

Our research shows that the New Zealand passport is now the most expensive in the world on a per year basis. Even if the New Zealand government issued ten year passports, at current prices, New Zealanders would still be paying more than citizens in most countries with whom we traditionally compare ourselves.

Contrary to the Government’s claims that five year passports are necessary for security, New Zealand is swimming against the tide, with Canada, China and the Netherlands all recently increasing their passport validities to ten years.

Kiwi travellers are paying more and getting less. We’re calling on the new Minister of Internal Affairs, Peter Dunne to do the sensible thing and reintroduce ten-year passports. 

The research suggests that current regime isn’t about security, it’s about raising money for the Government.

Click "continue reading" to view the report.

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Update on Napier omnishambles museum

The Hawke's Bay Today has picked up the story on the omnishambles that is the Napier Museum.

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union has labelled the MTG Hawke's Bay museum's problems an "omnishambles", while Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule has denied Napier Mayor Bill Dalton's claim they knew about storage issues with the facility as early as last year.

At Wednesday's City Development Committee meeting, Mr Dalton said the previous council and Mr Yule were made aware last year that there were issues relating to storage at the museum. That was refuted yesterday by Mr Yule who said he would have taken steps to remedy the situation, had he known about it.

"Firstly, I would have told my council straight away, because we are governors of half that collection, and two, we'd have worked out - what is the plan and how can we fix this?" he said.

"There was a conversation a number of years ago about whether we should have off-site storage. It was decided not to do that, effectively because the operating costs of having two facilities would be high.

"Until a week ago, that was my understanding of what was happening."

Mr Dalton declined to respond to Mr Yule's denial.

This week it was revealed there were storage issues at the new museum, with only as much as 40 per cent of the collection able to be housed - a figure Mr Dalton said was inaccurate.

Furthermore, at Wednesday's meeting projected visitor targets were found to be grossly erroneous with this year's target of 690,000 visitors reduced to a more realistic 120,000.

At the meeting tourism services manager Neil Fergus said the targets were based on the old building, which allowed for a free public flow through the Century Foyer "which is no longer relevant to the redeveloped site".

Mr Dalton said yesterday he would not get involved in a debate with the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

"We've built a magnificent new building.

"We do require some fine tuning and we're going to undergo a review to get it fine tuned. End of story."

He was unsure when the planned review of the MTG issues would be completed as Napier City Council chief executive Wayne Jack was away on the Hawke's Bay Regional Council's dam fact-finding trip to the South Island.

"I'm not going to make any comment until we've done the review," Mr Dalton said.

"Let us get the review done and see what the facts are."

Meanwhile, Jordan Williams of the Taxpayers' Union said: "A three-children family doesn't build a two-bedroom house, but Napier has built a museum forgetting 40 per cent of its collection. It is a complete omnishambles."

Lawrence Yule contacted me this morning and said that not only did he not know of the situation in Napier, neither did Hastings District Council officials. I know Lawrence and accept his word. It appears that he's been dropped in it by Dalton.

Nevertheless Hastings ratepayers helped fund this museum and deserve answers (presumably from Napier!).

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Museum of omnishambles in Hawke's Bay

Omnishambles

It appears that Hawke’s Bay mayors may have known of the omnishambles at the new museum in Napier a year ago and apparently have failed to do much about it.

The museum and gallery opened last September and cost Hawke's Bay ratepayers $18 million to build.  To recap, last month we learned that the budgets were wrong:

Napier City Council has been caught short after discovering that thousands of people it thought were visiting its museum were just popping in to use the toilets.

Now it needs to revise its 10-year plan after finding that the projected visitor numbers for its new $18 million museum and gallery were based on inaccurate figures.

Then we found out that the museum cannot hold the collection it was built to accommodate. In fact, it is so small up to 40% will need to stored at an as yet unknown site. Radio NZThe Dominion Post and TVNZ covered the story. 

Then began the spin from Napier City Council that they knew of the problems all along, but were nevertheless conducting a 'review' on how it happened.

This morning the Dominion Post reported that Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule was aware of the situation, an allegation made by Napier's Mayor but strongly refuted by Mr Yule. The whole saga appears to be resulting in a somewhat undignified spat between the mayors of the Bay cities.

I venture to suggest that there is more to come of this story...

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Consular cost supporting political 'Arctic 30' political activists

Last month 3 News reported that Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, was investigating ways to recoup costs to the taxpayer of providing assistance to Australian members of the Arctic 30:

“Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australian taxpayers were entitled to ask why they should be covering the cost of assisting Australian activist Colin Russell to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

"It took a huge effort and a lot of money to get this guy out and the Australian taxpayer paid for it," Ms Bishop said yesterday.

"If it is a deliberate strategy designed to provoke a response and potentially to risk breaking the laws of another country, the question of cost recovery does arise."

But MFAT has ruled the option out.

"The ministry has no plans to charge Greenpeace for the consular assistance provided to the two New Zealand detainees from the Arctic 30," an MFAT spokesman said.

Why? This isn't a case of some New Zealand citizens accidentally ending up on the wrong side of the law in another country. It's been widely reported that the two New Zealanders travelled to the Arctic to protest against exploration of fossil fuels by deliberately break the law. Why shouldn't they (or Greenpease - the organisation that put them up to it) pay the costs of the required assistance?

While the Taxpayers’ Union can only speculate as to the extent of these individuals’ carbon footprint in journeying to the arctic, we can reveal the amount of support taxpayers’ doled out as a result of their protest.

In a response to an Official Information Act request lodged with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade reveal that they provided approximately 173 hours of support for the two wayward protestors.

While MFAT was unable to quantify how much this support has likely cost the taxpayer, we doubt that the specialist consular services from our diplomatic personnel both in New Zealand and Moscow would have been cheap.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade provides a great service to New Zealanders who have found themselves in difficult, often unforeseen circumstances while abroad. But should these resources be spent bailing out known political agitators at the taxpayers’ expense?

Click "continue reading" for MFATs response to the Taxpayers' Union's information request under the OIA.

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Stick to the cake stalls

This morning the NZ Herald reported that the Green Party want taxpayers to foot even more of the bill for political parties:

“The Green Party believes the rules could be amended further. It wants an inquiry to investigate state funding for election campaigns.
A spokeswoman said: "We see partial public funding of parties as a further step to help level the playing field between parties and to help combat parties being captured by wealthy interests."
The party said it was important that the level of public funding was not set so high that the parties did not need to go to the community for more money.
The Greens were heavily dependent on their 14 MPs, who donated nearly $250,000.”
 

In a democracy it is up to the public to decide which party, policies and personalities they want representing them in the corridors of power. The popular prosper and the shunned struggle.

Despite all the rhetoric that private money is bad for politics, it is better than public money cementing the status quo. "Equalling the playing field" by giving political parties taxpayer subsidies gives political incumbents a huge advantage. It makes it more difficult for new political movements to get off the ground. It means that the media gain even more influence.

As it currently stands, the taxpaying public already hand over generous subsidies to political parties so they can in turn be force-fed political propaganda in the lead-up to every election. In the 2011 election alone, taxpayers paid up $3.2m for the privilege.

So, should it really be the taxpayers’ role to support dead-beat political parties whose activists struggle to solicit donations for unpopular policies? Absolutely not.

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$15 Million Gifted to Multi-Billion Dollar Industry

Yesterday Stephen Joyce announced:

$15m investment in sheep and beef genetics

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce today announced a $15 million investment over five years into advances in genetics research that will improve the profitability of New Zealand’s sheep and beef sector.

A new partnership, Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics, will also bring together New Zealand’s existing sheep and beef genetics research by consolidating Sheep Improvement Ltd, the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Central Progeny Test, and Ovita. Total funding for the new project from government and industry sources will be up to $8.8 million per year.

“Science and innovation are major drivers of economic growth and international competitiveness. The Government is committed to ensuring we invest in purpose-driven research that benefits New Zealand,” Mr Joyce says.

“Genetic improvement in the sheep industry has contributed greatly to farm profitability, and for every dollar captured on farm, another 50 cents is captured off-farm. In just 10 years Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics expect that farmers will receive $5.90 extra profit per lamb sold at that time.”

...

We think this is corporate welfare - the only winners are the sheep and beef farmers who will ultimately profit. Like most corporate welfare, it’s everyday taxpayers who will be left out of pocket.

As Mr Joyce goes on to point out in the release, New Zealand already leads the world in pastoral animal and plant genetics.

“As a nation, we are already leading the world in pastoral animal and plant genetics. This partnership will help us maintain this critical position and to continue to build on it through further research and development in sheep and beef genetics.”

The first part of that paragraph is correct - NZ does lead the word. What is not clear is why taxpayers need to stump up to keep us there. Why does this multi-billion dollar export industry suddenly need the Government pouring millions into it? Expecting increases in farmers' profits is not justification.

This funding is for good headlines, not good economics. What other industries have their normal research and development costs borne by the taxpayer?

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Auckland Council charges for pool inspections

A reader has sent this in to me. They note:

Just got a letter today that informs me that the  will now inspect my pool fencing every three years to make sure it is still there and charge me for the privilege. Revenue generating at its best.

Original inspection received sign-off. It cost a fortune to put in a steel fence. Current charge for initial inspection is $75 – I am OK with that and foolishly thought that was the end of it.

Now it will be inspected every three years at a higher cost of $125 per inspection. For now.

My points are:

  • Why follow up inspections? It is a metal fence set in concrete – we are hardly likely to lift it out of the ground
  • Why more expensive since it is just (supposedly) reaffirming it is still there so technically they could look from the top of our drive and view it rather than inspect it
  • Why can’t we just send in a photo showing it is still there – saves them a trip and us a lot of money

This is revenue generating pure and simple. It is a loose interpretation of Fencing of Swimming Pools Act 1987 section 10 (Every territorial authority shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that this Act is complied with within its district.)Exploitation of vague legislation seen as a revenue opportunity.

Since Len(it’s all about me) came in our rates have increased and services decreased as well as additional charges sneaking into the mix. This is snowballing and there seems to be no vehicle to challenge other than talk to a child at the call centre who sounded very sweet but “that picnic may be short of a sandwich” if you know what I mean. She struggled to know what to say and failed to find me anyone to talk to. Any suggestions for recourse?

The $75 initial charge does seem okay, but checking every three years the fence set in concrete is still there seems indeed just revenue generating – especially as they will cost more than the original check.

NB: This post also appears on my personal blog kiwiblog.co.nzPlease feel free to comment on the post there.

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