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Waste Watch

The Taxpayers’ Union is encouraging political and government insiders to ‘dob in’ examples of government waste and extravagance. Experience of taxpayer groups overseas suggests that many of the best tips come from within government, particularly bureaucrats frustrated with waste and inefficiency. We put the government – politicians, officials and taxpayer-funded groups on notice that taxpayer money should treated with care. The Taxpayers’ Union guarantees the anonymity of all members of the public who submit information via the tip line.

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?

OIA Response - Greenpeace Atrctic 30.pdf

$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?

Newstalk ZB on funding for yacht race that never happened

Government won't seek repayment from axed yacht race Newstalk ZB - 16/1/2014

The Government has no intention of making the organisers of an axed yacht race repay $100,000 in taxpayer funding.

The inaugural Auckland to Bluff race - scheduled for next month - was cancelled due to a lack of entrants, but not before receiving a quarter of its $400,000 government grant.

The Taxpayers' Union says organisers should be made to pay it back.

But Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce says organisers have already spent the money and he doesn't expect them to find another $100,000 to pay it back. 

Business NZ finally responds to allegations of cosy deal

Stuff has just reported:

BusinessNZ rejects training scheme attacks

Business NZ has hit back at ACC Minister Judith Collins over her attacks on an ACC-funded health and safety training programme run by Business NZ, the Council Of Trade Unions and a private provider.

ACC announced this week that the $1.5 million a year programme would be canned at the end of of 2014 because it was not providing value for money.

Collins had joined criticism of the scheme, which has run since 2003, describing it as a cosy arrangement that had the hallmarks of a scam and a rort.

Business NZ today broke its silence on the issue, with a press release quoting its chief executive, Phil O'Reilly.

"For the record, Business NZ utterly rejects mistaken allegations made by lobbyist Jordan Williams since repeated by the ACC minister," O'Reilly said.

"The BusinessNZ family's involvement has been completely ethical at all times, and I am confident that this is also the case with the involvement of the CTU and Impac Services."

The CTU has also strongly rejected the criticisms by Collins and Williams.

O'Reilly said it was "unfortunate that important debate on workplace safety has been undermined by intemperate media comment".

Media reporting of uninformed assumptions by Williams appeared to have led to the minister's comments, O'Reilly said. continue reading...

Why is the Government picking losers?

Yesterday Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce announced research and development grants that are set to cost taxpayers $140million over three years. The Herald reports:

More than $140 million has been earmarked to go to 31 New Zealand tech companies in research and development grants.
Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce yesterday named companies awarded R&D growth grants from Callaghan Innovation, the Government's high-tech development body set up in 2012.
Recipients include NZX-listed companies Rakon, Scott Technology and a company owned by Wynyard Group.
The grants provide a 20 per cent contribution to a firm's annual R&D spend, capped at $5 million a year.
PTo qualify for the grants, businesses need to commit to spend at least $300,000 and 1.5 per cent of revenue on New Zealand research & development.
The grants last for three years and after two years of receiving funding, a firm can apply for a two-year extension to the assistance.

ACC cans useless scheme publicly, but extended the contract within the last month

Yesterday it looked like the Taxpayers' Union struck up it's first win, with ACC announcing that it would scrap the health and safety training scheme which has cost levy holders $19million to date, with 84 cents per dollar being wasted (even with optimistic assumptions).

ONE News3 Newsthe HeraldStuffRadio NZ, and Newstalk ZB all reported that ACC had decided to scrap the programme late last year.

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.

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.

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.

 

Despite asking the AAE leader (via email and his very active twitter account), and the media contacts at the University of New South Wales, no one would tell us how much kiwi taxpayers had contributed via the three agencies.

On 1 January we lodged Official Information Act requests with DoC, Landcare and the University of Waikato.

To DoC's credit it responded by 8 January, stating that DoC were not participants in the expedition and therefore the information (i.e. what financial and non-financial support was given) does not exist. DoC's letter and our response is below.

Department of Conservation response and Taxpayers' Union request for clarification re AAE January 2014.

 

Last night DoC's Director of Policy Jeff Flavell called me and confirmed that the Department not being 'a participant' in the expedition was intended to mean that DoC did not provide any support to AAE at all. In fact he seemed surprised that DoC was listed as a supporter on the AAE website and that he would ask his officials whether it was known that the AAE was using the DoC logo and claiming support.

So credit for DoC for coming back to us so quickly and from someone so senior, especially given our recent expose of failings within the department.

We await the responses from Waikato and Landcare.

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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