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EXPOSED: Bureaucrats party with drag queens on taxpayer dollar

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The Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that a small government agency spent over $300,000 on ‘entertainment’ in 2015/16 – including a drag queen dinner and show for staff.

The Union gained receipts for Callaghan Innovation’s entertainment purchases via the Official Information Act.

From a laundry list of receipts from bars, cafes, and restaurants, we're still working through abuses of taxpayer money. Already we've discovered a blatant example: $2,063 ($2,372 including GST) spent on a team dinner at a drag queen cabaret bar, K Road’s Caluzzi.

Dinner at Caluzzi includes a show, and a promise that ‘you will be entertained and served by our fabulous drag queen hostesses throughout the night.’ The bill included eleven bottles of wine, and one non-alcoholic drink.

We’ve got nothing against drag queens, but this was an event for staff, funded by taxpayers. It’s an appalling display of largesse from an agency the average taxpayer hasn’t even heard of.

All up, $304,675.22 was spent on entertainment in the 2015/2016 year. That’s enough money to host a Sunday barbeque for the entire city of Invercargill*.

Our researchers have also requested and are awaiting the entertainment expenses for 2016/17 with anxiety.

*Based on a barbeque for four, including 1kg of sausages ($6), a box of Lion Red ($15.99), a can of tomato sauce ($1.60), and a loaf of bread ($1).

Up in Smoke: The social cost of tobacco excise

Screen_Shot_2017-12-30_at_5.48.52_PM.pngTo coincide with tomorrow's implementation of the latest tobacco excise hike of 10%, plus inflation, we've released a new report showing the ineffectiveness of tobacco tax hikes as a tool to reduce smoking rates, and reveals the unintended consequences of the policy: direct financial harm to smokers and their families, and crime towards retailers.

The goal of excise tax – to reduce smoking rates and prevent smoking-related illness – is a noble one. But it’s not enough to judge a policy by its intentions. Our new report evaluates tobacco excise tax based on its actual results, both intended and unintended.

Impact on smoking rates

Despite tobacco prices increasing by over 60% since 2012, only one in ten adult smokers quit. Amongst Maori and Pasifika, there has been no statistically significant reduction in smoking rates over the last decade. In other words, it’s completely failed to achieve the goal of reducing smoking rates in those communities where they are the highest.

Cost to households

We could tolerate an ineffective policy if it caused no harm. But tobacco tax hikes cause enormous harm, devastating the incomes of the vast majority of smokers who haven’t quit.

A pack-a-day smoker is nearly $3000 per year worse off in real terms than they were in 2010. This direct financial harm will only worsen as the tax is hiked year after year – salt in the wound for New Zealanders already addicted to a harmful substance.”

Crime

Higher tobacco prices have made smokers more willing to purchase black market tobacco, and there is an increased incentive for illegal supply, sourced through burglaries and robberies.

Robberies, many of which are violent, have increased by 26.6% since 2014. Frustratingly, we don’t know the exact extent to which this is caused by tobacco tax hikes, because Police haven’t been asked to record the data.

It’s a huge concern then that, without relevant data, we have a four-year plan to hike the tax. To proceed blindly with this policy is to disregard the physical safety of law-abiding retailers and their staff.

Alternatives

The best the Government could do would be to hurry and legalize the sale of nicotine e-cigarettes, which are still technically illegal to sell, but are a much safer alternative to smoking, and a proven pathway to quit.

Dragging the chain on nicotine e-cigs, suggests the Government is more interested in the money tobacco taxes bring in, than reducing the harms of the addiction.

MEDIA RELEASE: Tax Working Group Should Be Tasked With Fiscal Neutrality

14 DECEMBER 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


With the Budget Policy Statement indicating fiscal restraint, and the Government not signalling increases in revenue over and above nominal growth and fiscal drag, the Tax Working Group should be tasked to offer fiscally neutral solutions says the Taxpayers’ Union.
 
Jordan Williams, the Union’s Executive Director, says:
 
“We were pleasantly surprised, and welcomed, Grant Robertson’s public comments resulting from our calls prior to the election that any policy changes by the Tax Working Group could be fiscally neutral. Now that he’s in office Mr Robertson should task the Tax Working Group with finding ways to reduce existing taxes to compensate for the costs of any new taxes it suggests.”
 
“Today’s mini-budget is a signal to Kiwis that the Government does not intend to smack taxpayers with an expensive rejig of the tax system. A credible way to do this, would be to make sure the Tax Working Group understand this.”

ENDS

MEDIA RELEASE: Labour’s Mini-Budget Delivers Fiscal Restraint

14 DECEMBER 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


“Grant Robertson’s pre-Christmas spend-up appears to tie his hand in years to come, and offers a welcome dose of fiscal restraint,” says the Taxpayers’ UnionExecutive Director, Jordan Williams, reacting to today’s Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update.
 
“Today’s HYEFU was a mini-budget – it changes the direction of the Government’s spending priorities in the short term, and returns the tax system to a more complex tax and credit churn system.”
 
“But on the other side of the coin, Labour deserve real credit. There is no enormous tax grab forecast and Mr Robertson is signalling that he will run a very tight ship. Uncommitted operational spending is only $6.6 billion, or $660 million per year, out to 2022. That is only about half what National budgeted over recent years, and will need to also cover those coalition agreement policies not already costed and factored into the books.”

ENDS

MEDIA RELEASE: KiwiBuild Spending Mostly Crowds Out What Would Be Built Anyway

14 DECEMBER 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


By the next election, the Government will have spent two billion dollars on KiwiBuild, but only a little more than a third of that will have translated into additional houses according to Treasury analysis pointed to by the Taxpayers’ Union. 

New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union Economist Joe Ascroft, says, “Treasury has highlighted capacity constraints that means only 35% of the two billion dollars being spent by the Government will translate into additional housing by the next election.”

“When there are only so many builders, and so much land, big Government building schemes just take away from private investment and construction. That’s exactly what we’ll see for at least the next three to four years.”

“While residential investment is expected to increase over the long term, that relies on a number of assumptions, including increased work visas for foreign workers, and the use of foreign firms to encourage greater competition. That alone is totally inconsistent with Treasury’s assumption used for its financial modelling that net migration will reduce from 75,000 per year down to 15,000 by 2022.”

“Reform to the RMA, and freeing up contrants on building, would lead to a much larger increase in housing investment, and wouldn’t cost anywhere the two billion dollars Labour have budgeted for KiwiBuild. Better for the Government to get out of the way, rather than throw $2 billion of our money into a fund which will raise the costs of construction for such little gain.”

ENDS

MEDIA RELEASE: Winter Energy Payment Is Universalism At Its Worst

14 DECEMBER 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


With the Budget Policy Statement indicating fiscal restraint, and the Government not signalling increases in revenue over and above nominal growth and fiscal drag, the Tax Working Group should be tasked to offer fiscally neutral solutions says the Taxpayers’ Union.
 
Jordan Williams, the Union’s Executive Director, says:
 
“We were pleasantly surprised, and welcomed, Grant Robertson’s public comments resulting from our calls prior to the election that any policy changes by the Tax Working Group could be fiscally neutral. Now that he’s in office Mr Robertson should task the Tax Working Group with finding ways to reduce existing taxes to compensate for the costs of any new taxes it suggests.”
 
“Today’s mini-budget is a signal to Kiwis that the Government does not intend to smack taxpayers with an expensive rejig of the tax system. A credible way to do this, would be to make sure the Tax Working Group understand this.”

ENDS

OIA: Request for secret agreement contents

Earlier this week, we sent this Offical Infomation Act request (OIA), to the Cabinet Secretary (a senior official in the non-political Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet) asking what information he has, or knows, about the contents of the 36-page secret document. 

Even if the DPMC does not actually have the document, any knowledge of its contents is 'official information' for the purposes of the Official Information Act. So, that is precisely what we have asked for.

Back in November the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, said her Government would be "the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had". So we started a petition calling on the secret 36-page agreement between Labour and New Zealand First, to be released. 

If you want the Government to live up to their campaign promise, click here to sign our petition.

 

 

 

$190,000 per student

$380 million = $190,000 each

Earlier this week, the Government announced the details of its plan to make the first year of tertiary study free fully taxpayer funded. For the princely sum of $380 million, an extra 2,000 students are expected to pursue tertiary study from next year – that’s $190,000 each.

Giving every student free education in order to encourage a small number to pursue university or a trade offers anything but value for money. If the Government is concerned about some young people not receiving an education, they should target their policies, not give in to universalism.

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As covered in our report published prior to the election, 'Robin Hood Reversed', this policy represents a huge wealth transfer from middle-income earners to tomorrow's rich.

The Government's policy gives every future doctor, lawyer and accountant a free ride — at the expense of the average taxpayer. We say it would be much cheaper to give scholarships for those who need them, and spend the money improving the quality of courses (or boosting the funding of schools or education providers).

The officials agree with us

Tertiary Education CommissionYesterday, the post-election "Briefings to Incoming Ministers" (BIMs) were released. Our team has been busy working through them and were interested to see the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) BIM fire darts at Labour's policy.

TEC points to poor decision-making from prospective students as a major problem already. It advises the new Minister that students already change their course, drop out, or act impulsively too much. How much worse will that be once students have no financial stake?

In addition, TEC explain that an increasing focus in recent years has been on 'investing in outcomes' rather than simply measuring success by the number of participants in tertiary education, or the number of degrees awarded. Nevertheless, the Government has ploughed ahead with a "free fees" policy specifically designed to do the opposite: get more bums on seats.

The Value(s) of Auckland DHB

Auckland DHBEarlier this week we blew the whistle on the Auckland DHB spending $171,000 updating its ‘values’. That involved holding a ‘values week’ which entailed 17 workshops and 750 hours of staff time. A London business consultant was even flown in – twice – to provide expertise.

The ADHB’s former values of ‘Integrity, Respect, Innovation, Effectiveness’ were replaced with ‘Welcome – haere mai, Respect – manaaki, Together – tūhono and Aim High – angamua.' 

Put another way, the DHB spent $170,000 to replace the value of ‘effectiveness’ with merely ‘aiming high’!

The Taxpayers’ Union was happy to offer the ADHB some alternative values, except our suggestions were free of charge. We thought ‘Sticking to our knitting’, or ‘Not flying in a London consultant to legitimise our waffle-fest when sick people are literally relying on DHB resources for survival’, were both good options. You can read our comments to the media here, and coverage on Stuff here.

175,000 more questions for Wintec

MarkFlowers.jpgThe CEO of Wintec, Mark Flowers, appears to be scared of the media. He's reportedly spent an incredible $175,000 of public money hiring lawyers to protect him from the local Waikato Times questioning him about an investigation relating to serious allegations. The allegations are yet to be made public, but if they are as untrue as he claims, why spend $175,000 of our money on lawyers and literally hide in his car in the polytechnic's carpark to prevent having to answer questions?

Our research team are digging deep into this story — as well as similar issues at other polytechnics — so watch this space.

 

Ratepayers' Report reveals the two NZ councils without Audit and Risk Committees

Our 2017 Ratepayers' Report - local government league tables - has identified Otorohanga, and Grey District Councils as the only two local authorities in New Zealand to govern without an Audit and Risk Committee.

Earlier in the year, Ratepayers' Report showed that Otorohanga, Grey and Waitomo District Councils were the only New Zealand councils failing to follow best practice in this area. Now that Waitomo District Council has introduced an Audit and Risk Committee it means Otorohanga and Grey District Councils are the only two not in line with the rest of the country.

Today we launched a campaign on behalf of the Otorohanga, and Grey District ratepayers, calling on their Council to introduce an Audit and Risk Committee.

According to LGNZ, Audit and Risk Committees provide councils with:

  • Internal control framework and financial management practices;
  • internal and external reporting and accountability arrangements;
  • and financial risk management.

The costs associated with having a dedicated Audit and Risk Committee are minimal when weighed against the millions in potential savings of ratepayer money.

How can Otorohanga and Grey District Councils assure they are delivering value for money and managing risk, when they both refuse to implement the most basic oversight that is standard at nearly every other town hall in New Zealand?

If you agree that both Otorohanga and Grey District Councils should have an independent committee to oversee financial risk, click here to sign our petition.

 

Ratepayers' Report is free to access and online at www.ratepayersreport.nz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The agreement Jacinda Ardern does not want you to see

The secret agreement

Jacinda-Ardern-Winston-Peters.jpgWhen the new Government was formed, Deputy Prime Minister, Winston Peters, let slip that a "hidden addendum" to the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement had been agreed to, which clarified how the new Government will operate. Mr Peters promised that the document, apparently 38 pages long, would be released at a later date.

That document is of obvious public importance – it contains Ministerial directives and records the deal between the two parties. Despite that, and Mr Peters' comments, the Prime Minister’s Office has refused to release the document in responses to requests under the Official Information Act. Incredibly, Ms Ardern claims the document doesn’t represent “official information”. 

We say that’s absurd. This document allegedly sets down to Ministers the rules and expectations of the coalition. Matters such as whether NZ First has a veto on budget expenditure, or changes in tax settings, are apparently covered. It is at least as constitutionally significant as the Cabinet Manual - the core of Executive Government.

We say that taxpayers, voters, and the public are entitled to know what is in the document and what the Government has agreed to.

Jacinda Ardern made much of transparency and freedom of information while in opposition. We say she should walk the walk and are asking our supporters to join us in signing this petition to tell the Prime Minister to follow the Official Information Act and release the secret agreement.

sign-the-petition.png"We call on Jacinda Ardern to respect the official information act and release the secret 38-page addendum to the Labour - NZ First coalition agreement."


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