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Waste Watch: DoC sending staff to australia to burn taxpayer cash

Documents we've obtained show that the Department of Conservation has spent over $100,000 to send staff overseas to learn a skill not applicable in New Zealand. 47 staff have traveled to Australia to learn how to conduct controlled burn-offs, despite the practice not being used by DoC.

Included in the document is an email from a DoC official regarding the our enquires which suggests a an ‘excuse’ the Department could use for why staff were going on the trips.

Also released is feedback from staff that went the trips, including the admission by one that the group didn’t “really do much fire stuff”, despite that being the apparent purpose of the trip.

We think these trips were just an excuse for a junket, not training that furthers New Zealand’s conservation. They might as well have learned the didgeridoo. We're calling on the the Minister for Conservation should put an end to this ‘controlled-burning' of taxpayers’ hard earned money. 

DoC response to OIA by New Zealand Taxpayers' Union 16 May 2014

DoC response to OIA by New Zealand Taxpayers' Union 18 June 2014


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Waste watch: Auckland Council funds conference on polyamory

Yesterday afternoon we received a tipoff that Auckland Council recently funded a one day conference to explore the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved, also known as polyamory. 

Last month the website reported that among the first recipients of Auckland Council’s first ever 'Rainbow Door Fund’ was 'Poly Panel, Discussions around Queer Polyamory’, a one day event exploring a framework of ethical, healthy polyamory relationships.

We think that Auckland ratepayers will be horrified that it appears their rates are being used to promote alternative lifestyles.

Why should Auckland Council be concerning itself with matters in the bedroom?

This is just as concerning as it would be were Auckland Council funding conservative lobby group conferences such as for Family First.

Earlier this year the Rainbow Door Fund was established to provide grants for glbti people. We think it is questionable for Auckland Council to fund community groups based on the sexual preferences of their members. Conferences such as these should be funded by the interest groups themselves, not from money meant for roads and core services.

Given the spiralling levels of Auckland Council debt, the Council should be focused on value for money, not throwing funding at favoured groups.

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Are our priorities right in Tonga?

This morning we received the following press release from the Government:

NZ to contribute to the upgrade of Teufaiva Stadium
John Key
4 JUNE, 2014

Prime Minister John Key has today announced New Zealand will contribute around $2 million towards upgrading Tonga’s national stadium in Nuku’alofa ahead of the 2019 Pacific Games.

Why are Kiwi taxpayers contributing to this?

“New Zealand looks forward to working with the Tongan Government to improve Teufaiva Stadium in the lead up to the 2019 Pacific Games and other international events,’’ says Mr Key.

“Teufaiva Stadium is already an important site for domestic rugby, athletics and community events and will be a great venue for the Pacific Games.

“New Zealand supports a fit-for-purpose upgrade of the stadium that will expand its utility while supporting the strong community that participates in current stadium events.

“I’m happy that New Zealand can assist Tonga in its efforts to promote sports and healthy lifestyles in Tonga,” says Mr Key.

We’re not sure that contributing funds to a sports stadium is much of a promotion of healthy lifestyles, but more importantly is this really the highest priority to better the lives of those living in the Kingdom of Tonga? If the goal is to improve health, why isn't New Zealand spending the $2 million directly on health, implementing exercise programmes in schools or encouraging a healthy lifestyle?

The first step in the upgrade work will be a New Zealand-funded feasibility study and design, and technical support for the Tongan Government.

Mr Key made the announcement in Tonga today where he is visiting from June 3-5, as part of the 2014 Pacific Mission.

We would have thought that spending $2 million on a sports stadium is a purely nice-to-have rather than something that makes a difference to the lives of struggling families.

While drafting some comment on the Government's priorities we received the following: 

NZ to invest $5 million to rebuild Tongan schools 
John Key
4 JUNE, 2014

Prime Minister John Key has today announced New Zealand will contribute $5 million to rebuilding schools in Tonga’s Ha’apai islands following the devastating Cyclone Ian earlier this year.


“The $7.5m joint project with the Asian Development Bank and the Tongan Government will have a big impact on the lives of nearly 1,300 students affected by the cyclone,” says Mr Key.

“Getting children back into a regular school is vital for their education, safety and emotional well-being. Education is one of the priority areas for Tonga under the New Zealand Aid Programme and we are very pleased to be able to respond to the Tongan Government’s request for assistance,” says Mr Key.

We couldn’t agree more with the value ascribed to education by Mr Key in this quote.

In January of this year, Cyclone Ian caused extensive damage to infrastructure, public utilities and services, agriculture and housing, as well as severely damaging schools in the Ha’apai island group. 

The funding will be used to reconstruct classrooms and staff quarters, and replace school equipment across the island group by 2016.

“New Zealand enjoys a strong relationship with Tonga and the two countries are important regional partners,” says Mr Key.

“There is a significant Tongan population living in New Zealand, so it’s important that we are able to help Tonga in times of need.”

Mr Key made the announcement while visiting Government Primary School in Nuku’alofa today. While in Tonga, Mr Key also met with Tongan Prime Minister Tuʻivakanō and had high level discussions with Tongan members of cabinet. 

Mr Key is visiting Tonga as part of the 2014 Pacific Mission. He will visit Niue on Thursday before returning home.

Whilst we applaud our foreign aid obligations being spent on such worthy causes, it doesn’t alleviate our concern around the sports stadium funding.

That $2 million would still be better off earmarked for the core services of government that influence daily life for the people of Tonga.

We're disappointed that our Government is effectively saying funding for the vanity project of a sports stadium is 40% as important as rebuilding Tongan schools and getting children back into regular education.

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London return for the money written-off on rail since 2008

We’re currently working though the budget announcements and stack of material released last week.  What’s caught our eye are the unbelievable amounts taxpayers are forking out for KiwiRail.  On Budget day the Government announced a further $198 million of funding for KiwiRail’s Turnaround Plan. That brings the total cost to taxpayers of rail to a whopping $12.2 billion dollars since rail was renationalised in 2008.

Worse, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee has warned that KiwiRail is likely to need more what the Government is calling a 'turn around plan'.

The $12.2 billion taxpayer money written off on KiwiRail is equivalent to over $2,700 per taxpayer - nearly enough buy every Kiwi a return flight to London.

Per household, the amount is $6,900 - enough to buy a good, reliable second hand car.

The $12.2 billion refers to the total Crown investment of $2.4 billion since 2008 and write downs totalling $9.8 billion. 

We've put out a statement calling on the Government to do a U-turn on KiwiRail. At what point will the Government stop throwing good money after bad? Taxpayers should not be burdened with bringing dead rats to life.

It is incredible that for all this money, we still have locomotives with asbestos and ferries that are lemons. We think taxpayers deserve better.

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Update on electric cars

We've had plenty of feedback on the story we broke earlier in the week relating to Wellington Council's $100,000 spent on an electric car programme that resulted in an expensive staff car park.

First up, despite our own checking over the Easter Break and a service station attendant telling us that the charging station was lucky to be used once a month, two members of the public have contacted us to say that they use it to charge their electric vehicles. In fact one boasted to Radio NZ that the charging station was 'the cheapest 5 hours of parking in town!'.

There is also uncertainty surrounding who paid for the charging station.  Despite the Taxpayers' Union originally being told that ratepayers forked out for the charging station, we have now managed to assertion that Z-Energy (Shell at the time) paid for the charging station.  The obvious question now is what if anything ratepayers did get for the $100,000 spent by Wellington Council on the programme.  We're aware of:


  1. car leasing - the cost per year equivalent to the price of a brand new efficient hybrid
  2. a study into how people felt about the electric vehicles; and 
  3. good media coverage for the Council and the Mayor.
Now that we know that the charging station would probably have been built anyway, the $100,000 spent by the Council hardly seems worth it.

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The most expensive car park in the country?

The Taxpayers’ Union has uncovered what is probably the most expensive staff car park in New Zealand.  Between 2010 and 2012, the Wellington City Council spent $100,000 on a zero-emissions vehicle program, and only thing to show for it is a 'charging station' that no one uses.

Two years ago the Wellington City Council was boosting about the a 'pilot' zero-emissions vehicle program. The program included the installation of a 15-amp socket at what is now Z Energy, on the corner of Customhouse Quay and Whitmore St in Wellington. 

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown welcomed the arrival of the charging post. "It shows that we are gaining momentum," she said.

She was keen to see more electric cars on Wellington streets over time, with charging points scattered around the city. Read more.

But three years and $100,000 later there are no electric cars and no one to use the charging station Wellington City ratepayers forked out for.

Instead of being used to charge electric vehicles - the 'charging station' is being used as a staff car park

A member of the public who contacted our tip-line, claims to walk past the charging station every weekday and only once this year has an electric vehicle been parked there. We've wondered down and checked the site a dozen times within the last month. Every time the 'charging station' has been occupied by a conventional petrol vehicle. 

This photo was taken over Easter.  The car belongs to one of the staff members and is not an electric vehicle.


The green figures were always red

Even worse than a white elephant charging station is the fact that the Council was paying an annual lease for the electric vehicle more than the sticker price of a brand new, fuel efficient, hatchback. Given that the electric vehicle was used so little (it saved only 176 litres of petrol) the money would probably have saved more carbon had it been used to modernise the Council's vehicle fleet.

So why did the Council do it?

The 'evaluation' the Council referred us (prepared by a market research company for EECA) concluded that the economics of the vehicles are not viable but the program nevertheless had value as a 'communications tool'. We suspect that is code for 'good media coverage for the green mayor'. The Council couldn't produce evidence that the money spent caused a take-up of electric vehicles in Wellington. 

Tackling climate change and peak oil are not fixed by Councils wasting ratepayers’ money on pet-projects. It also raises further questions about councils trying to pick winners and subsidising an expensive infrastructure that benefits only a “handful” of people at most?

The report prepared by the market research company Synovate for EECA is available here.  The Council's response to the Taxpayers' Union information request is below.

The $100,000 of ratepayer money was used for green PR, not reducing emissions.

Wellington City Council electronic cars

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Bike NZ should front up

Today's Sunday Star Times reports the despite taxpayers' forking out over $70,000 for a review into Bike NZ's performance, the organisation is refusing to allow the public access to the report which would give insights into the value for money taxpayers are receiving from the millions pumped in to subsidise the sport.

Sport New Zealand is trying to stop information being released on the state of the government's second-biggest Olympic investment and the findings of a review into Bike NZ's capabilities.

Taxpayers will foot a bill of $70,500 after Sport NZ commissioned a review of Bike New Zealand - who received $18.3 million in public funding for its last Olympics campaign -- and which looked at the national sport organisation's financial state including the loss of its major sponsor, its relocation to Cambridge and high-performance planning in the wake of the sudden departure of successful national sprint coach Justin Grace and chief executive Kieran Turner.

Under the Official Information Act, Fairfax Media has requested details of the review. Sport NZ confirmed it had spent $70,500 on the review which was "initiated by BikeNZ" and "conducted by Martin Jenkins", a domestic consultancy firm owned by former Sport NZ boss Nick Hill.

The story goes on to say:

Last year the taxpayer-funded organisation avoided "a relatively large" financial deficit only by "capitalising" $200,000 spent on redeveloping a website (moving a $200,000 expense into an asset instead) and the organisation is still trying to replace the loss of its prime commercial sponsor which left two years ago.

If a sporting organisation throws $200,000 of taxpayer's money at a website, we think the performance review is probably necessary and its release in the public interest. We'll be writing to the Ombudsman to support Fairfax's complaint.

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