Government waste honoured at 2021 Jonesie Awards
The fourth annual Jonesie Waste Awards were hosted at the Beehive today, celebrating the best of the worst of local and central government waste from the last 12 months.
The Taxpayers’ Union selected five nominees and a winner from each of the local and central government categories, along with one Lifetime Achievement Award winner.
Taxpayers are likely to view the wasteful spending presented today in the context of the current pandemic. How, for example, can the Government justify spending $17 million on art therapy programmes when our DHBs are crying out for more resources in intensive care?
Similarly, local councils across the country have this year implemented record rate hikes, while failing to make the budgetary sacrifices experienced by households losing income during lockdown.
While the presentation of awards is tongue-in-cheek, it does serve a serious purpose: the Jonesies remind those who squander public money that they risk squandering their public reputation, and potentially, their careers. The awards give those who fleece the taxpayer the credit they so richly deserve.
2021 Local Government Nominations
AUCKLAND COUNCIL: "INNOVATIVE" DOTS AND ROAD BLOCKS
Auckland Council used a multi-million dollar cash injection from Wellington to innovate its streets. $100,000 was spent painting dots and patterns in Takapuna. In Onehunga $41,000 was spent blocking a road with plywood crates, which were promptly vandalised and moved by locals.
HAMILTON CITY COUNCIL: TURNING GOVERNANCE INTO CHILD'S PLAY
While planning an 8.9% rate hike, Hamilton City Council hired a "play advocate" who tasked councillors and staff with making lego ducks. The council also sent staff into school classrooms to collect submissions from children on its iwi partnership strategy.
NELSON CITY COUNCIL: SPENDING $800,000 ON A TOILET BLOCK, TWICE
Nelson City Council's new toilet blocks at Tahunanui and Millers Acre cost $800,000 each. This adds to a proud history of toilet-related overspends in the sunny city.
TAURANGA COMMISSION CHAIR ANNE TOLLEY: FIX-IT FAIL
Anne Tolley is paid $1,800 a day to fix problems at Tauranga City Council. Under her watch the city has seen record rate hikes, council salary bloat, and infrastructure botch-ups.
ROTORUA LAKES MAYOR STEVE CHADWICK: SEVEN DEPUTY CHIEF EXECUTIVES
Rotorua Lakes Mayor Steve Chadwick has overseen an "organisational realignment", giving her chief executive seven deputies, each paid more than $200,000.
2021 Local Government Waste Award Winner: Tauranga Commission Chair Anne Tolley
2021 Central Government Nominations
DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION AND TE PAPA: MISTREATMENT OF A DEAD TURTLE
The Department of Conservation shipped a dead leatherback turtle from Bank's Peninsula to Wellington and stored it in a Te Papa freezer for 21 months, before trucking it back down to Canterbury for a high-powered, fully-catered funeral and a helicopter ride to a hilltop burial site.
RT HON TREVOR MALLARD: DRAGGING TAXPAYERS THROUGH THE MUCK
The Speaker of the House incurred $333,000 in legal fees and settlement costs after falsely accusing a Parliamentary staffer of rape. When facing defamation action, Mallard threatened to plead truth, despite later admitting he knew he was wrong within 24 hours of the accusation.
HON PHIL TWYFORD AND HON MICHAEL WOOD: THE $785 MILLION BIKE BRIDGE
The budget for Twyford's troubled 'Skypath' proposal blew out by 1000% when Michael Wood turned it into a stand-alone cycle bridge. The bridge has now been scrapped, but $51 million and has already been wasted, and spending on engineering reports hasn't stopped.
RT HON JACINDA ARDERN (AND CO): $2.75 MILLION FOR THE MONGREL MOB
The Prime Minister, along with the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Justice, signed off on $2.75 million in funding from the Proceeds of Crime Fund for a Hawke's Bay meth rehab programme run by members of the Mongrel Mob – the key supplier of meth in the region.
TOURISM NZ: $918,000 FOR A ROD STEWART SINGALONG
Tourism NZ spent $918,000 to have Rod Stewart sing his hit "Sailing" for the America's Cup. Sir Rod did not appear in person, or even cross live – the performance was pre-recorded on a barge in London, lip-synched, and prefaced by an interview with Clarke Gayford.
2021 Central Government Waste Award Joint Winners: Department of Conservation and Te Papa
Lifetime Achievement in Waste Award Winner:
Hon Grant Robertson gained his political experience in student politics, even writing a dissertation on the subject, before graduating to roles at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the United Nations.
After stints advising Helen Clark and working for the University of Otago, he was elected as the MP for Wellington Central, the one seat that doesn't seem to care about private sector experience.
In 2017 he was appointed Finance Minister for the Labour Government, and maintained a fairly conservative approach to public finances until the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
He announced a $12 billion COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund and quickly topped it up by another $50 billion. This soon revealed itself to be a Provincial Growth Fund-style slush fund, only at far greater scale.
Examples of spending from the Finance Minister's "COVID response" fund include $12 million for flood protection in the Far North, $26 million for cameras on fishing boats, $50 million for "regional digital connectivity", $52 million for the horse racing industry, $55 million for "public interest" journalism, $87 million on internet modems for school kids (including Mike Hosking's child), $100 million for affordable housing projects, $155 million for "Transformative energy" projects, $200 milion on a new building for the University of Auckland, $210 million for "Climate resilience" projects, $374 million in arts grants (including $17 million for art therapy programmes), $515 million for school lunches, $761 million to support Three Waters reform, and $1.2 billion on "jobs for nature" such as paying people to shoot wallabies.
Only about a quarter of the money was spent on wage subsidies.
Inevitably, the fund ran dry upon the arrival of a second COVID outbreak. Grant Robertson simply announced he would top it up by another $7 billion.
Grant Robertson's "no new taxes" promise was also jettisoned at some point, with new taxes on housing investments and a new 39 percent tax rate for high-earners.
It is only fair that we give Grant Robertson the 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in government waste – for making Shane Jones look like a symbol of lean and efficient government.
Notes to editors:
The Jonesies are named after Hon Shane Jones, the winner of the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in Government Waste. The Jonesies follow the same format as the Canadian “Teddy” Awards, which have been presented annually by the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation since 1999.
The Jonesie Waste Awards are made possible by the members and financial supporters of the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.