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Update on Dunedin Mayor’s “Gentleman’s agreement”

We now have more details of the deal uncovered by the Taxpayers’ Union over the weekend between Dunedin’s Mayor Dave Cull and former MP, Pete Hodgson, which the Mayor described in the media as a “gentleman’s agreement”.

This morning’s Christchurch Press editorial analyses the deal:

Editorial: Gentlemen sign contracts too


There is no reason to believe that Cull and Hodgson are anything other than honest gentlemen, but the geographic accident that also gives them "southern man" status should not put them above the usual requirements by which local government business is conducted.

The standards that apply to council administration in the south should be no less rigorous than in Auckland city or the Whangarei district. Why should ratepayers in Dunedin tolerate a more easy-going attitude towards the spending of their money than anywhere else, just because of a romantic notion that southerners are somehow more honourable? Actually, they aren't.

Click here to read more.

Mr Hodgson has provided emails from him to the Council from August 2013, relating to 40 hours of “consulting” equalling $3,200 of the $3,400 total we questioned.

It appears the Council was wrong to tell us that no documentation or invoice was available.

Producing an invoice under public pressure is only one aspect of the matter settled. It raises a whole lot more questions:

  • Was it signed off by Council or did it come from a mayoral slush fund? 
  • Who authorised the payment?
  • How come the Council could not provide this information before? Why did it need to come from Mr Hodgson?
  • What other payments are made without the Council’s finance department holding documentation?
  • Was the Council deliberately misleading us when they told us no documentation existed? If so, why?
  • What else does the Mayor negotiate without documentation?
  • How is it appropriate to have the Mayor hire someone to do work with no authorisation, no contract, and not even retain the invoice?
  • With the Council's audit and risk committee be examining what's happened here?

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Payments by Dunedin City Council to former MP with no documentation

This morning the Taxpayers’ Union went public with material concerning a payment (or payments) totalling $3,400 by the Dunedin City Council to former MP Pete Hogdson with no documentation or contract.

We're questioning the internal controls at the Council after the uncovering the payment following a recent media report that Mr Hodgson had been recruited by the Council for lobbying. We asked for information about the services being provided by Mr Hodgson under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act. Click "continue reading" below to view the Council's response.

According to the Council, Mr Hodgson’s work consisted of “lobbying and advocating on behalf of the Council” and there is no supporting documentation. 

The Council has told us that:

  • Everything was verbal. The Council could not provide a single report, email, or even letter of engagement.
  • All of the contracts were negotiated verbally.
  • The contracts were negotiated by the Mayor and there is no documentation to explain the deal.

We asked for copies of any work by Mr Hodgson. All we got back was two letters by the mayor on which Mr Hodgson apparently had input. It is not clear what precisely that was. For example, there is no 'tracked changes" document.

We think Dunedin ratepayers will be alarmed that their Council paid $3,400 without so much as an invoice. We plan to write to the Mayor to to ask:

  • What did Mr Hodgson do? Was this just expensive proof reading?
  • Why was the Mayor negotiating this in the first place?
  • Why verbally?
  • Why is there absolutely no documentation for the arrangement, not even an email?
  • Is Mr Hodgson friends with the Mayor?
  • Why doesn't Dunedin Council have the most basic internal controls, requiring amounts to be paid by invoice only?

The Council’s response raises serious questions.  We can't think of another government agency that would spend $3,400 without being able to provide as much as an invoice. 

Without an explanation from the Council, we are left wondering whether the Auditor-General should get involved."

Dunedin City Council LGOIMA response - Pete Hodgson

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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


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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$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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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...

Business NZ’s reaction ignores the fact that the criticisms we've highlighted are from ACC’s own experts - all the Taxpayers’ Union did was bring them to the public’s attention.  We made all of the material available online and before we went public we checked our facts with people within the industry. We stand by our statements.

Business NZ should focus on rebutting the criticism that it has accepted millions of dollars from ACC that did little, if anything, to improve workplace safety. Rather than getting personal Mr O’Rielly could tell us what exactly is ‘mistaken’.  All we’ve done is highlight ACC’s expert analysis which states that, even with optimistic assumptions, 84 cents per dollar spent was wasted. 

Click here to listen to Judith Collins on Wednesday's RadioNZ Summer Report ( 7' 08'' )

To blame us for the Minister labelling the Business NZ scheme 'cosy' and 'a scam' is flattering, but vastly exaggerates the influence of the Taxpayers’ Union.

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