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More Accountability

Championing Value For Money From Every Tax Dollar

Media Release: Pre-election Books – Avoiding False Impressions

The Taxpayers’ Union has heard from sources that Nicky Hager is working on a book which is focused at the Taxpayers’ Union. We are aware of him approaching former members of staff asking them to breach confidences.

Chairman of the Taxpayers’ Union, Laurie Kubiak said:

“With elections often being the political equivalent of the ‘silly-season’, we wanted to make sure no one can be left with false impressions about who funds the Taxpayers’ Union and what we are about.

“Hager has in the past claimed he did not put allegations to the subjects of his books on the basis that they might injunct him. We won’t do so. Like any other journalist, Mr Hager he has the opportunity to approach us for comment – in fact, we’re happy to be interviewed by him so he can put any allegations to us.

“Nicky Hager has previously accused groups and individuals of having a secret agenda. The Taxpayers’ Union has an agenda, but it isn’t secret! We stand for lower taxes, less waste, and more accountability.

“Hager is very good at collecting disparate facts and then weaving them to suit an interpretation using selective and partial use of those facts. For example, in a previous book, Mr Hager used emails 11 months apart to suggest a sinister motive, even though the emails were totally unrelated.

“It is no surprise the Taxpayers’ Union is Mr Hager’s latest target. He is coming for us because we are successful. We are successful because we have hundreds of thousands of subscribed supporters, and more than 23,000 donors. There is a very sad history of hacks and theft of data from centre-right groups in New Zealand. It seems that if you are successful in advocating centre-right ideas you tend to get hacked by Nicky Hager’s friends. 

“As far as we are aware, our data is secure, but we are taking prudent steps to protect the sensitive information of our donors, supporters, and staff. In the United Kingdom, security services have been more proactive in assisting think tanks to defend themselves from politically motivated cyber-attacks.

“We also know that there is personal animosity from Nicky Hager towards our co-founder, Jordan Williams. Hager volunteered to give evidence and defend former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig who has been found by multiple courts and decisions to have sexually harassed his former press secretary.

“Journalists should also be wary of relying on Mr Hager’s claims. His last book Hit & Run, resulted in an enquiry led by a former Supreme Court Judge, and a former Attorney General and Prime Minister. They concluded that the “principal allegations” in Hager’s book “are not accurate".

Expected topics to be included in the book:
Mr Hager
loves to air dirty laundry.  He need not rely on illegal hacks leaks and broken confidences to write about the Taxpayers’ Union, he can come and talk to us. We’ve even put together a list.

Connection with other groups
New Zealand is small and, like on the left of politics, there is overlap between membership and organisers of different groups.  That does not affect the Taxpayers’ Union’s independence.  Jordan has been public about his involvement in assisting Groundswell NZ with their digital campaigns (websites and social media) through his company –
 you can read about the company in this sponsored article in the NZ Herald.  Staff at the Campaign Company work with private businesses and political groups on both sides of politics on digital marketing, both in New Zealand and overseas. The Taxpayers' Union has procedures in place to ensure any conflicts of interest are appropriately managed, and like any professional services firm, the views of clients are not necessarily shared by the company (or other clients of the same).
Casey Costello (a recent Taxpayers’ Union Board member, and a former Chair) is passionate about equality of citizenship, and
was heavily involved in “Hobson’s Pledge”.  She recently stood down from the Board upon deciding to became a candidate for NZ First.
Our policy independence is demonstrable. For example, Groundswell NZ advocates strongly against agricultural emissions being folded into the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme. The Taxpayers’ Union not only disagrees, it publicly lobbied for this to occur as part of its view that for the ETS to be effective, it should be sector neutral.
Similarly, while Hobson’s Pledge campaigns against Māori wards that is not the position taken by the Taxpayers’ Union.  We believe that those decisions should be up to ratepayers in the form of local referenda and that the franchise should be proportionate.
Campaigning on matters that relate to race, Te Tiriti
, and democratic accountability
During the whole of the Three Waters campaign, we have had two chairs – both are Māori. In fact, the Board had a higher percentage of Māori members than the New Zealand population. 
We did not cooperate or in any way collaborate with the “Stop Co-governance” group or events.  Indeed, wWe are proud that for both the Three Waters and the Stop Central Planning Committees campaigns, we have led with the economics.
But we don’t shy away from debating the merits and opposing co-governance arrangements that undermine the democratic accountability of decision-makers to those whose money they are spending.  Quite clearly, accusations of racism are intended to shut down debate.  We simply reject the premise that standing up for equality of civil rights, or holding to account Māori Ministers in the same way as we do any other politician is
racist inappropriate – as do our Māori board members.
We are a mission-led lobby group. We make no apology for fighting for what we believe in – just like Greenpeace and ActionStation fight for their left-wing values. We wear our mission (and heart) on our sleeves.  No one is required to support or fund us.  However, our market research shows that a majority of New Zealanders agree with most, or all, of our mission.
While our board members are all supporters of the mission, we intentionally hire staff from across the political spectrum. We have had, and have, staffers who are Green Party,
Te Pāti Māori, and TOP supporters. We’ve had multiple staff members who used to work for NZ First. One of our student intern graduates, and subsequent researcher, is the daughter of a Labour MP.  While our mission tends to attract supporters from the centre-right, we’ve worked effectively with Labour and Green MPs when National was in government – particularly in our campaigns focused on government transparency and against corporate welfare.
We are mission-led, not party-political-led. When John Key was Prime Minister, we were just as active in calling out wasteful spending. See
 Taxpayers’ Union Has Attacked National More Often Than Any Other Party.
Secrecy of donors
We believe New Zealanders should be able to support causes without the fear of ending up in a book or having the motives of their philanthropic giving questioned. While we are required to respect the privacy of our financial supporters and members, we nevertheless encourage them to disclose widely that they are supporting our good cause.
Of the 22,000+ financial supporters, a tobacco company has disclosed that it was a member.  As is explained on our website, just 2% of our annual funding is from industry members – which include tobacco.
Our largest donor is our landlord – Sir Bob Jones.  Sir Bob has never asked us to do anything. In fact, the only thing he’s asked of our staff is for them to stop law and commerce degrees, in favour of something more useful (in his opinion): an arts degree.  It is well known that Sir Bob has donated generously to education and charitable causes and
to both major parties.
More information about how we are funded is available on our website:


Foreign influence and foreign funding
If overseas donors have opened their wallets to fund the Taxpayers’ Union, the money never arrived.  While we are aware of a few ex-pat Kiwis who chip in, and a single person who lives overseas, is not a citizen, but has a house in New Zealand, we are not ‘foreign funded’.
We are transparent that the Taxpayers’ Union is a member of both the World Taxpayers Associations and the Atlas Network (see our website under the heading:
 International associations but independence of policy positions at https://www.taxpayers.org.nz/our_mission).
Both of those organisations are chaired by New Zealanders.  Atlas is chaired by Debbi Gibbs, and has provided professional development, scholarship,
grants and opportunities to participate in international competitions relating to freedom and liberty for numerous staff as is explained on our website (refer link above).  Recently Jordan Williams was elected Chair of the World Taxpayers’ Association (for which we issued a press release congratulating him).
Position on nicotine matters
We were ahead of the curve in saying that having among the world’s highest tobacco excise taxes will lead to underground illicit markets and that a better way to get people to quit is vaping. Since then, anti-smoking groups such as ASH have come to exactly the same view.
Our lifestyle economics file is managed by Louis Houlbrooke.  Louis is a vaper, and we are confident that every position taken by the Taxpayers’ Union in this area is both principled and supported by evidence.
The Taxpayers’ Union doesn’t like higher taxes – even for tobacco. Neither do those in the industry.  While we accept support from the industry, it remains an extremely small proportion of our work and output. The proportion of media statements relating to nicotine is even smaller than the percentage of funding (11 out of roughly 720 media releases since 1 August 2020).

Wage subsidy hypocrisy
We took the wage subsidy!  We never thought we’d need to, but when our income collapsed in February 2020 and, like many, it looked like the economic apocalypse, the Board determined that our duty as an employer (in particular to our staff who do not necessarily share our political views) trump
ed the desire to avoid bad publicity.  As it turned out, the Taxpayers’ Union bounced back financially and we were very vocal in calling for other organisations to join us in paying it back.
 Statement On COVID-19 Wage Subsidy, and Taxpayers' Union Calls On All Unions To Pay Back Wage Subsidy.

Ethics: use of pseudonyms to obtain information under the Official Information Act

In early 2017, the Taxpayers’ Union was approached by a whistle-blower working at Callaghan Innovation alleging that our requests the previous year under the Official Information Act were being treated differently by the agency and resulting in information not being released.
The reports from the whistle-blower led us to file a series of requests under pseudonyms – which is not our usual practice. But when we used pseudonyms in 2017 and 2018 we didn't have the same troubles getting requested information. That information led to media coverage concerning poor quality and wasteful spending by the agency.
The Taxpayers’ Union has publicly called on New Zealand to adopt an "applicant blind" rule to prevent officials from telling Ministers’ offices the identity of requesters, including journalists. This is a feature of many freedom of information regimes around the world.
We would prefer not to have had to go undercover to obtain information
for which any New Zealander was lawfully entitled to. But we certainly will not entertain ethical crusading or criticism from a self-described ‘journalist’ who has made a career off the back of illegal and politically motivated hacking and break-ins.


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  • Taxpayers' Union
    published this page in News 2023-08-25 09:14:10 +1200

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