Lower Taxes, Less Waste,
More Accountability

Championing Value For Money From Every Tax Dollar

Right call to end blanket Auckland school closure

Right call to end blanket Auckland school closure

The Taxpayers’ Union has welcomed the decision to lift the Ministry of Education’s directive on Auckland schools and other learning facilities, which means schools can open from tomorrow at their discretion.

Taxpayers’ Union Campaigns Manager, Callum Purves said:

“It has been a difficult time for Aucklanders but enforcing a blanket school closure for a whole week would have just made things worse with pupils missing out on vital classroom time and parents having to take more time off work.

“Wherever possible, decisions on whether to open should be up to individual schools and other learning facilities who can make an assessment based on local circumstances and the safety of their pupils and staff."

Taxpayers’ Union welcomes decision to extend fuel tax cut

Taxpayers’ Union welcomes decision to extend fuel tax cut

The Taxpayers’ Union – which has been campaigning for an extension to the diesel road-user charges and petrol excise reductions – has welcomed the Government’s announcement today that the fuel tax cuts will continue until 30 June.

They have, however, called on the Government to stop using the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) to fund non-road programmes so fuel taxes can be kept down in the future while continuing to invest in and maintain our roads. 

Taxpayers’ Union Campaigns Manager, Callum Purves, said:

“Today’s announcement will come as a welcome reprieve to families and businesses who were facing steep price increases at the pump in addition to all the other inflationary pressures driving up the cost of living.

“Opponents of the fuel tax reduction argue that those who use our roads should pay for their maintenance and improvement. We agree. But the reality is that road users are subsiding public transport services, walking and cycling routes, loss-making rail services, and advertising campaigns through the NLTF.

“The Government should return the NLTF to its original purpose – paying for our roads. If it wishes to continue to fund these other programmes, it should do so by finding savings elsewhere rather than force road users to pick up the tab. This would allow for fuel taxes to be kept lower than they were before the cut, increased investment in our roads or some combination of the two.”

In the last government financial year to 30 June 2022 (including 3.5 months of the fuel tax cut), the breakdown of income to the National Land Transport Fund was as follows:

  • Road user charges: $1,904m
  • Fuel excise duties: $1,783m
  • Vehicle regulation / licensing: $235m
  • Track user charges from KiwiRail: $7m
  • Road user charges – Gov funding to replace lost income due to fuel tax cut: $186m
  • Fuel excise duties – Gov funding to replace lost income due to fuel tax cut: $189m

While the spending from the fund was as follows:

  • State highway improvements: $1,010m
  • State highway maintenance: $796m
  • Local road improvements: $105m
  • Local road maintenance: $720m
  • Investment management: $60m
  • Road policing programme: $394m
  • Public transport services: $429m
  • Public transport infrastructure: $304m
  • Walking and cycling improvements: $104m
  • Road to zero: $285m
  • Rail network investment programme: $287m

 

Taxpayers’ Union welcomes new Minister for Local Government

Taxpayers’ Union welcomes new Minister for Local Government

The Taxpayer’s Union has welcomed the appointment of a new Minister for Local Government and encouraged Kieran McAnulty to press pause on the Three Waters reforms.

Taxpayers’ Union Campaigns Manager, Callum Purves, said:

“A new Minister for Local Government presents an opportunity for the Government to prove that it values local democracy. Whether it has been seizing water assets from councils or depriving Tauranga residents of an election, we have seen local democratic accountability significantly undermined in the past few years.

“The strongest signal Mr. McAnulty could send that the Government means business when it talks of a reset is by pressing pause on Three Waters. Now is the time to consider alternative models for water reform such as the one proposed by Communities4LocalDemocracy and backed by 31 councils and the mayors of our two largest cities.”

Now is not the time to hike fuel taxes and charges

Fuel tax rises should be scrapped as inflation remains stubbornly high

The diesel road-user charge reduction scheme, which reduced rates by 36 per cent, is due to end with charges going up significantly tomorrow (1 February 2023).

The charge hike will mean a large increase in the cost of transport for diesel-powered vehicles, which is most of our heavy transport fleet. This will flow through to prices for consumers, manufacturers, and primary producers, fuelling already high levels of inflation.

Taxpayers’ Union Campaigns Manager, Callum Purves, said:

“New Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has said all the right things when it comes to getting back to bread-and-butter politics and focussing on the cost of living, but actions speak louder than words.

“Tomorrow’s diesel road-user charge hike will hit Kiwi families and businesses hard at a time when persistently high inflation is already hurting. With petrol excise hikes looming in the coming months, it’s still not too late to have a rethink and keep fuel taxes down.” 

Let our Schools Decide: Taxpayers’ Union launches petition

Let our Schools Decide: Taxpayers’ Union launches petition

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has launched a petition calling for schools to have the authority to make their own decisions about emergency closures based on local circumstances rather than be beholden to bureaucrats in Wellington.

Taxpayers’ Union Campaigns Manager Callum Purves says:

“The blanket shut down of all schools in Auckland following the weekend’s flooding has highlighted how tactics that were used during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic have been normalised

“One-size-fits-all shut downs disadvantage students in areas unaffected by the emergency, impact kids’ education, and force parents to take time off work unnecessarily.

“Education is a core public service and it is funded by our taxes. Taxpayers are right to expect that closing schools should be a very last resort and should be informed by the circumstances of each school.

“It is time to stop the edicts from Wellington dictating what they think is in the best interests of our communities and let our local schools make the best decisions for their pupils, parents and staff."

Aucklanders can sign the petition at www.taxpayers.org.nz/let_schools_decide

SNAP POLL: Hipkins clear voter favourite for Labour Party leadership race

 

Following Thursday’s surprise announcement by Jacinda Ardern that she will be stepping down as Labour Party leader, the Taxpayers’ Union commissioned a snap poll asking a thousand New Zealanders who should take over as Prime Minister and whether leading candidates will make voters more or less likely to vote Labour in this year’s election.

Recognition and Favourability

Name recognition

The percentage of participants who had heard of the following potential Labour leadership candidates: 

  1. Chris Hipkins 92%
  2. Grant Robertson 88%
  3. Nanaia Mahuta 77%
  4. Megan Woods 72%
  5. Michael Wood 71%
  6. Kiri Allan 67%

Net favourability

Poll participants were asked if they had a favourable or unfavourable opinion of potential candidates. The net favourability score is the percentage of those who have a favourable opinion of a candidate minus the percentage of those who have an unfavourable opinion. The results, in order, are:

  1. Chris Hipkins +15%
  2. Grant Robertson +12%
  3. Kiri Allan +7%
  4. Michael Wood -7%
  5. Megan Woods -10%
  6. Nanaia Mahuta -26%

Labour vote with elected leader

Net impact (more or less likely to vote Labour) 

Participants were also questioned about whether the leading candidates would make them more or less likely to vote for Labour this year. The net impact score is calculated by taking the percentage of those who said the candidate would make them more likely to vote Labour minus the percentage who said the candidate would make them less likely to vote Labour. The results, in order, are:

  1. Chris Hipkins +7%
  2. Grant Robertson -5%
  3. Kiri Allan -6%
  4. Michael Wood -16%
  5. Megan Woods -19%
  6. Nanaia Mahuta -28%

Preferred PM

Who should lead Labour?

Overall, when participants were asked who they want to replace Jacinda Ardern, 30% said Chris Hipkins followed by Kiri Allan on 10% with Nanaia Mahuta on 8%, Michael Wood on 6% and Megan Woods on 5%. 41% of respondents were unsure.

Policies: Retain or Scrap

Jacinda Ardern’s policies (new leader retain or scrap)

The poll also asked whether the new leader should retain or scrap signature policies of Jacinda Ardern's Government such as Three Waters, KiwiBuild, and merging TVNZ and RNZ.  The net retain score (percentage of people favouring retention of the policy minus percentage of those favouring scrapping the policy) for each policy is:

  1. Auckland Light Rail +18%
  2. Kiwibuild +15%
  3. Compulsory Unemployment Insurance -4%
  4. Reduction in speed limits -21%
  5. Expanding co-governance -21%
  6. TVNZ/RNZ Merger -23%
  7. Three Waters -40%

The full polling report includes breakdowns by gender, age, geographic area, and party vote at the last election. You can download it here.


The scientific poll was conducted by Curia Market Research and commissioned by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union. The full polling report is being released exclusively to members of our Taxpayer Caucus. As is well known, but for full disclosure, David Farrar is a member of the Board of the Taxpayers' Union and also a Director of Curia Market Research Ltd.

The Taxpayers’ Union – Curia Poll was conducted from Thursday 19 to Friday 20 January 2023. The median response was collected on Friday 20 January 2023. The sample was a random selection 1,000 eligible New Zealand voters from an online panel. The results are weighted to reflect the overall voting adult population in terms of gender, age, and area. Based on this sample of 1,000 respondents, the maximum sampling error (for a result of 50%) is +/- 3.1%, at the 95% confidence level. Results for sub-groups such as age and area will have a much higher margin of error and not seen as precise.

This poll should be formally referred to as the 'Taxpayers’ Union – Curia Labour Party Leadership Snap Poll'.

Taxpayer Update: NEW POLL – PM goes negative as Labour hits new low 📊 | Extra holidays for public servants 🏖️💰 | Damien O'Connor's laundry bill 🧺🧼

Welcome to the first Taxpayer Update of 2023! I hope you had a good break.

Yesterday's shock announcement of Jacinda Ardern's resignation as prime minister is likely to improve Labour's chances of re-election later this year, based on numbers we're releasing today in the first political poll of 2023.

We don't yet know who will be facing up against Christopher Luxon on 14 October, but if Labour drops some of its unpopular policies, it could be back in the game. 

Our job at the Taxpayers' Union this year is to ensure that the issues we all care about – protecting democratic accountability, scrapping wasteful government spending and keeping our taxes low – are at the heart of the general election campaign. 

Last year, we put Three Waters squarely onto the political agenda. With your support, we can do it again and ensure taxpayers are front and centre of the political debate.

NEW POLL: Labour reaches new low 📊

Available exclusively to supporters like you, we can reveal the results of our January Taxpayers' Union – Curia poll. 

Decided party vote over time

Labour falls one point from last month to 32% – its lowest ever level in our poll – while National is also down two points to 37%. ACT is up one point and the Greens are up three points with both sitting on 11%. 

The smaller parties are New Zealand First on 2.8% and the Māori Party on 1.6%.

Here is how these results would translate to seats in Parliament, assuming all electorate seats are held:

Seats

National is down two seats to 49 while Labour is down one seat to 41. ACT is up one seat and the Greens are up four seats to be on 14 seats each. The Māori Party is down two seats to 2.

This means a narrowing of the gap between the two major blocs with the Centre-Right down one seat on last month to a combined 63 seats and the Centre-Left up three seats to a combined total of 55.

The one number that ended a Prime Minister? Ardern's net favourability goes negative for the first time 📉

Net favourability over time

The outgoing Prime Minister's net favourability rating (that is the percentage of New Zealanders who tell our pollsters they have a 'favourable' view less the percentage who say 'unfavourable') has been gradually declining for quite some time. Back in September 2021, she was on +32% but this month, her ratings went negative for the first time. She leaves office with a score of -1%.

Christopher Luxon similarly scores a result of -1% this month, but his trend over the same period has been upwards. In September 2021, before he took on the National leadership, he was on -33% and he has slowly managed to turn this around.

This month, with much media speculation about New Zealand First re-entering Parliament, we asked respondents for their favourability towards Winston Peters. He scores a very poor -40% and does badly across voters of the four largest parties. 

But this year's general election remains on a knife edge 🗳️

While the Centre-Left have not been able to govern on their own in our poll numbers since March last year, the election remains close. The Centre-Right have never been more than three seats over the 61-seat threshold required to form government. 

A new prime minister, a new cabinet and potentially a new policy agenda means that everything is still to play for over the next 9 months. 

Visit our website for more information and find out how to get access to the full polling report.

Taxpayers spending at least $75 million per year on additional days off for public servants 🏖️💰

Over the break, our research revealed that public servants are receiving additional days of paid leave, beyond their statutory entitlements, amounting to more than $75 million per year!

In the year that’s been, taxpayers paid public servants for over 167,000 days that they weren’t even at work, excluding the normal four weeks leave and public holidays. It’s a struggle to believe that public servants are working so much harder than the non-government workers who pay their salaries that they need all this additional time off.

While the money spent could have paid for 1,000 extra nurses, instead it was wasted paying a whopping 457 years' worth of leave total for bureaucrats to sit at home.

Public Servant Leave

We fear how high the total number of extra leave days may be, as the data we obtained only account for 36,400 members of the public service when we know there are more than 60,000 employees. Almost all public servants receive an additional three ‘department days’, but some public servants are receiving up to 30 additional days annual leave, which is absolutely ridiculous. We are calling for leave entitlement to be brought in line with the private sector. 

Jordan was interviewed on Newstalk ZB about the findings. Click here to listen. 

POLL: Kiwis not fans of the reverse Robin Hood Clean Car Discount 🏹💸

Clean Car Discount

Last month, we asked our pollster to find out whether New Zealanders support funding the Government's Clean Car Discount of up to $8,625 on the purchase of some electric and hybrid vehicles by taxing the purchase of non-electric cars up to $5,175 depending on the level of their emissions. 

Just 33% of Kiwis supported taxing the purchase of non-electric vehicles to fund the Clean Car Discount. Outright opposition to the scheme was at 47% with those who were unsure at 19%. 

Most support for the car tax comes from Green Party voters, Wellington, and younger demographics. And it won't come as a shock that rural New Zealanders, on the other hand, are not fans.

We say the 'clean car discount' is a tax on low and middle-income Kiwis, who are shelling out their hard earned tax-dollars so that wealthier, inner-city residents can buy Teslas. With the cost of living crisis continuing to bite, the Government needs to scrap this unfair tax. 

Airing $475 of Minister Damien O’Connor’s dirty laundry 🧺🧼

Damien O'Connor's Laundry

At the end of last year, one of our student researches spotted a peculiar charge on the Minister’s expenses. While staying at a London hotel in July, Minister O’Connor and his staffer spent $475.00 on laundry services for just two days' worth of clothes.

The Minister appears to be a serial clothes-spoiler. His own receipts show that just two days prior he had used the laundry services of another hotel, this time in Belgium. The Minister's office declined to give us the name of the hotel that the Minister was staying in at the time so that we could verify that the charge was an accurate reflection of the laundry charges of that hotel, citing that “for security reasons, it is not the policy of my office to release the names of hotels used while travelling overseas.” 

This is completely at odds with all of the Minister’s previous releases where every hotel the Minister has stayed at was named. It appears that this policy was adopted after we exposed the Minister earlier in the year when one of his staffers bought themselves a $100 breakfast!

Travel sounds grand when it's other people's money...

Kainga Ora spends more than $200,000 on koha between 2019-2021 😲💵

Giving a koha is the Māori custom of gifting to show appreciation. In 2022, this tends to be in the form of a monetary contribution. It’s become common for government departments to give koha when they interact with marae or have someone perform a ceremonial role.

While most agencies that reported comprehensive information about koha in their Annual Reviews had spent less than $10,000 in the financial year 2020/21, Kainga Ora blew all other agencies out of the park with a whopping $123,377.00 spent on koha.

Between 2019 and 2021, the public housing agency spent $204,897.00 on customary monetary gifts, many at $1,500 and $2,000 a pop.

We say Kainga Ora's spending on koha is way out of line. Most other agencies got by just fine with more modest spends. The Ministry for the Environment, The Human Rights Commission, and Waka Kotahi all spent less than $500 on koha over the same period.

Kainga Ora needs to explain to taxpayers why they are such a glaring outlier in this area. The agency is completely out of control, spending over $200,000 on koha between 2019 and 2021 alone. Taxpayers should be able to expect that government spending is prudent and accountable. Kainga Ora is achieving neither of those objectives.

Yours aye,

Callum

Callum Signature
Callum Purves
Campaigns Manager

New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

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Media coverage:

NewstalkZB 
Taxpayers' Union Executive Director wants Government to remove additional leave entitlements for public servants

NewstalkZB 
Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance spokesperson on AT replacing HOP Cards with National Ticketing Solution

NewstalkNZ Midday Edition: News Fix [from 01:38]

Autofile Kiwis 'not behind' clean car discount

Vegetarian Conversion

Auckland Council discriminates against vegetarians in $46,000 giveaway to meat eaters

Auckland Council spends $46,227 on a giveaway coercing meat-eating households to convert to vegetarianism. 

Around 2 months ago, one of our supporters notified us of an email they received where participants had the chance to obtain a free giveaway by completing a survey in relation to their food consumption.

The survey came from the ‘Different Dinners Trial’; an investigation into the eating habits of Auckland residents for the Council to ‘understand more about what types of interventions work best to support willing Aucklanders to make more food choices with a lower carbon impact.’ In other words, Auckland Council wants to know how to turn people vegetarian.

It should be mentioned this was no ordinary survey either. If anything, it was more of a recruitment procedure, directed on finding willing subjects that were open to trying a plant-based diet. Surveys were sent out to many Auckland residents, but only those who met specific criteria could finish the survey. The Council tells us they received 732 of these ‘completed surveys’ where participants all obtained at least one of the giveaway options. That’s a cost of $63 per response.

The list of criteria to complete the survey was the following:

  • The person/household eats meat for dinner 5 or more times per week
  • The person/household is willing to try eating one or two more vegetarian dinners per week
  • The person is not extremely confident in cooking vegetarian meals
  • The person does not live alone
  • The person generally eats dinner with at least one other person in their household
  • The person is interested in taking part once trial has been explained

Listed below are the costs of the survey, showing just shy of $50,000 was spent on providing the project. We can only applaud Auckland Council’s self-restraint on purchasing just 300 MyFoodBag vouchers.

Giveaway

Cost

MyFoodBag vouchers (300 @ $123ea.)

$36,970

Plant Powered Recipe Booklet (750)

$2,625

Different Dinners fridge magnet and meal planner (750)

$3,937.50

People’s Panel e-gift voucher (4)

$400

Additional

 

Text Message Capability

$1595

Other admin

$700

Total

$46,227.50

 

It should be reiterated that only completed surveys (ones that met all the criteria) received a giveaway. This meant that vegetarians, light-meat eaters, those who live alone, plus confident vegetarian cooks were all effectively shunned from getting taxpayer funded free giveaways. It is almost comical that the meat-eating individuals this project actively frowns upon are the ones who were rewarded with free meals.

It is clear Auckland Council are shockingly indifferent towards this blatant discrimination. But regardless of this inequity, thousands of ratepayer dollars have been squandered on a council pet project that as I will explain, will not work and is completely unnecessary.

The main goal of this project is to achieve New Zealand’s emission goals through decreasing our meat consumption. As they put it, “This survey forms part of a broader programme of work looking at how Auckland Council can respond to its commitments to address climate change.” This specifically refers to NZ’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), which aims to reduce emissions 50% by 2030 and to be net-zero by 2050.

Though, whether or not one agrees with these goals and how much prioritisation should be given to them, collectively having a more plant-based diet here won’t do anything to offset our emissions. If the Council does manage to convert a significant portion of Aucklanders to vegetarianism, which seems unlikely, they will hardly put a dent into NZ’s production of high carbon-emitting red meat. Being an export driven agricultural nation, NZ doesn’t rely on local consumption. 88% of beef and 95% of lamb is sold overseas, and this ratio will only increase if we reduce our meat consumption. When you take into account that demand for meat has generally risen worldwide, foreign consumers certainly won’t be hard to come by.

However, even if our diet did have a large effect on emissions, it’s hardly as if Kiwis' diets are in dire need of an intervention. In general, we have already started transitioning to a more plant-driven diet. We’re actually one of the only nations to have decreased our meat consumption since 2000. And with vegetarianism significantly on the rise, alongside a shift over to the consumption of leaner meats such as low-carbon emitting chicken and pork, it demonstrates that New Zealanders are already strongly line with this project’s intent.

Thus this might be one of the most unnecessary projects Auckland Council has managed in a long time. Not only will it explicitly discriminate against minorities (vegetarians), but the greater project of transforming our eating habits is needless intervention which won’t work to reduce New Zealand’s export-driven agricultural emissions. Overall, this vegetarian conversion project is undeniably the wrong approach to reaching our climate targets.

Agriculture makes up around 50% of our emissions, so it is crucial we look into how the industry can reduce its carbon footprint. Yet it is equally important to get everyone on the same page. Stunts like this will continue to divide people, and this will seriously affect the prosperity of New Zealand in future years. New Zealand farmers are already some of the most carbon-efficient in the world thanks to their ingenuity and adaptability. Their emissions per unit have decreased by around 1% for at least the last 20 years. They should be backed with a manageable framework where they can adapt and prosper, because the status-quo will only continue to push them out of the industry.

In closing, although this project doesn’t cost the Earth on its own, it does reveal Auckland Council’s persistent intent to waste taxpayers’ dollars on ideological projects that don’t achieve anything. Councils are in no position to lecture the public on their eating habits regardless of the cost, but spending tens of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars on what is clearly an attempt to pressurize meat eaters to align with their agenda is completely unacceptable and should be called out.

You can find our OIA response here and a link to the survey format here

This story came as a tip from one of our supporters. If you think you have your own tip relating to government waste or extravagant spending, feel free to drop us a line here.

Kiwis rear-ended by cost of ACC claims for foreign objects up bums

Recent media coverage in the UK, showing that people sticking things up their bums is costing the NHS approximately £350,000 a year led the Taxpayers’ Union to question how much these awkward antics are costing Kiwi taxpayers and ACC levy payers.

Usually we have our eyes on how the Government is wasting taxpayers' money, however in this case taxpayers are being rear-ended by their fellow countrymen and women. Kiwi taxpayers are paying more per annum and per capita for people putting objects up their bottoms than their equivalents in Great Britain.

The Union has uncovered through the OIA that in the past five years the cost for active ACC claims related to foreign objects being inserted into anuses is about $302,660.00 excluding GST. The 2018/19 financial year was the most expensive costing $110,505.00; this is more than 2020/21, 2021/22, and the 2022/23 year to date combined. Despite the costs being higher in 2018/19, the number of individual incidents of objects in anuses was highest in 2019/20 followed by 2020/21 and 2021/22.

Unsurprisingly, with so much of the population based in Auckland, the largest number of claims came from New Zealand's largest city – 67 in total. Although in 2018/19 Canterbury saw the most claims. Manawatū-Whanganui is punching above its weight as the region with the third most numerous claims across the board. Nelson can proudly boast zero claims from 2019/20 to the present day. Taranaki had fewer than 4 claims in 2020/21 and zero cases at any other time in the past few years.

It appears Kiwis are even more kinky than our British cousins – on a per capita basis, foreign objects in places they ought not be are costing Kiwis more. In Britain, the £350,000 figure is a per annum amount derived by averaging out the spend across the years 2010-19. On a per capita basis (British population = 67.33 million) that comes to £504.97 which is NZ$963.66. The average per annum cost in New Zealand between 2017 and the current financial year to date is $50,443.00 and on a per capita basis this comes to $984.64 - even more than the Brits!

Taxpayers might be curious to find out what was happening in 2018/19 when the cost of anal insertion ACC claims adds up to more than the next three years combined. The mind boggles at what was happening down in Canterbury that same year as the largest number of cases were from incidents in that region.

What people get up to in their own time is up to them, but when their hi-jinx are hitting taxpayers in the back pocket perhaps they should reconsider their activities lest they become the butt of the country's jokes.

The OIA response, including a regional breakdown, is available here.

Reference: https://metro.co.uk/2021/11/12/people-sticking-objects-up-their-bums-costs-the-nhs350000-a-year-15589353/

*Location is based on where an accident occurred and may differ to where a client was residing at the time.

Note ACC is funded by taxpayers though ACC levies.

Extra Holidays for Public Servants

Revealed: Taxpayers spending at least $75 million per year on additional days off for public servants

New research from the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union reveals that public servants are receiving additional days of paid leave, beyond their statutory entitlements, amounting to more than $75 million per year. This year, taxpayers paid public servants for over 167,000 days that they weren’t even at work, excluding the four weeks that they are legally entitled to and public holidays.

This equates to more than 457 years.

We struggle to believe that public servants are working so much harder than the non-government workers who pay their salaries that they need all this additional time off.

The money spent could have paid for 1,000 extra nurses*, but instead it was wasted paying bureaucrats to sit at home.

The data obtained account for only 36,400 members of the public service when we know there are more than 60,000 employees.

We fear how high this number might be. Almost all public servants receive an additional three ‘department days’, but some public servants are receiving up to 30 additional days annual leave, which is absolutely ridiculous.

The worst offenders are the Ministry of Social Development and MBIE who spend more than $14 million and $12 million, respectively. The Department of Corrections, Oranga Tamariki and the Ministry for Women have not yet provided a response while the GSCB, NZSIS and Serious Fraud Office refused to provide a monetary value. The cost of this doesn’t even include productivity losses from the days the public servants are not working such as delays in processing times for visa and passport applications.

The Government should remove all leave additional entitlements for bureaucrats. If four weeks annual leave and 11 public holidays is good enough for those in the private sector, it is good enough for backroom bureaucrats.

Revealed: Taxpayers spending at least $75 million per year on additional days off for public servants

New research from the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union reveals that public servants are receiving additional days of paid leave, beyond their statutory entitlements, amounting to more than $75 million per year.

This year, taxpayers paid public servants for over 167,000 days that they weren’t even at work, excluding the four weeks that they are legally entitled to and public holidays. This equates to more than 457 years.

We struggle to believe that public servants are working so much harder than the non-government workers who pay their salaries that they need all this additional time off.”

The money spent could have paid for 1,000 extra nurses*, but instead it was wasted paying bureaucrats to sit at home.

The data obtained account for only 36,400 members of the public service when we know there are more than 60,000 employees.

We fear how high this number might be. Almost all public servants receive an additional three ‘department days’, but some public servants are receiving up to 30 additional days annual leave, which is absolutely ridiculous.

The worst offenders are the Ministry of Social Development and MBIE who spend more than $14 million and $12 million, respectively. The Department of Corrections, Oranga Tamariki and the Ministry for Women have not yet provided a response while the GSCB, NZSIS and Serious Fraud Office refused to provide a monetary value.

The cost of this doesn’t even include productivity losses from the days the public servants are not working such as delays in processing times for visa and passport applications.

The Government should remove all leave additional entitlements for bureaucrats. If four weeks annual leave and 11 public holidays is good enough for those in the private sector, it is good enough for backroom bureaucrats.

A link to the data obtained so far can be found here. A small proportion of the data had to be extrapolated where departments provided incomplete responses.

*Based on a $70,000 salary.

Taxpayer Update: Taxes going up at the pump ⛽💲 | Tick-Tock on the Debt Clock 💰⏰ | Apology to ACT 🥺🙏🙇

Tell Grant Robertson to Freeze Fuel Taxes 💲

Fuel Tax Refund

After a very successful Taxpayers' Union campaign earlier this year, the Government cut fuel taxes by 25c per litre (that's 29c once you include the GST). This policy victory saw a $1.39 billion ($715 per Kiwi household) saving at the pump.

But as an early Christmas present, Grant Robertson has announced that the Government will hike taxes in two stages in February and March next year. With inflation still at more than 7 percent, we say this tax hike will hit New Zealanders hard and simply push the cost of living up further.

Based on the current price of oil and processing, these tax hikes will see Kiwis return to paying more than half the cost at the pump in tax.

52% Tax

Grant Robertson and other opponents of the reduction make the claim that non-road users are 'subsidizing' the cost of petrol for car drivers, but this is nonsense on stilts. Actually, road users are subsiding the costs of rail travel, walking, and cycle ways, and ineffective campaigns like Road to Zero through the National Land Transport Fund (which fuel taxes are paid into).

Demand the Government to freeze fuel taxes until inflation is back under control and the tax is used for motorists

Freeze Fuel Taxes

We've set up an online action form to make it easy for taxpayers to write to Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, and tell him how a fuel tax hike now will affect you and your family.

New Zealand used to pride itself in ring fencing money raised from fuel taxes to spending on roads. But as politicians have raided the National Land Transport Fund to fund their pet projects, you're now paying for everything from advertising campaigns Government 'Road to Zero' propaganda to expensive cycleways no one uses. We say that until motorists' money is spent entirely on roads, taxes should not be hiked.

>> Send the Government a message at www.fueltax.nz <<

Stop the Clock: Government debt continues to climb 💰⏰

Debt Clock

Last week, the Treasury opened the books as part of the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update. The Update reports on progress against the fiscal and economic projections published in May's Budget.

We sent our economist down to Treasury to go through the fine detail in the media and analyst lock up. His analysis was damning: Despite tax revenue being at record-high levels, and above projections, Grant Robertson continues to spend even more money than budgeted, and far more than is being raised in taxes. That means the Debt Clock is running hotter than ever.

While it is easy to understand why government might have expanded during the pandemic, there is no justification for the current high spending. The public service has ballooned in the past five years but the growth in managers has far outpaced frontline workers and New Zealanders have seen no improvement in the delivery of public services.

With the Official New Zealand Government Debt Clock updated to reflect the latest figures, you can watch in real time how much the Government is adding to your household's mortgage.

It'll be our kids and grandkids who will be forced to pay for all this spending in the years to come – plus interest on top. We say the Government needs to tackle its addiction to spending – and quickly.

Ahead of next year’s election, we will be putting pressure on all parties to show how they will balance the books and set out exactly how they will pay for new spending pledges or tax cuts.

>> Click here to view the New Zealand Government Debt Clock <<

ACT and Indexation: An Apology 🥺🙏🙇

In our last newsletter, we shared an opinion piece by our one of our interns, Connor Molloy, which outlines why we think ACT has got it wrong with its opposition to tax bracket indexation. In that opinion piece, Connor mentioned David Seymour's support for Simon Bridges's indexation bill as an example of how ACT's policy on this issue has shifted.

David Seymour got in touch to point out that he made clear in his speech that his support for Bridges's bill at first reading was conditional on an amendment that would use the revenue earnt from fiscal drag to lower the top tax rate and flatten the tax system. He is quite correct and this particular criticism was unfair and we apologize for the oversight. 

David Seymour

No taxation without indexation 💸 ‼ 🪧

Looking into this issue a bit further, however, we did come across remarks made by one David Seymour in an earlier parliamentary debate back in 2016 when he posited the question 'since when did a centre-right government support fiscal creep as a means of raising revenue?' and stated that 'This Government should be indexing tax brackets to inflation'.

We also stumbled across a 2017 ACT press release where Seymour has another go at National for 'refus[ing] to permanently tie brackets to inflation'.

Now that ACT are resolutely opposed to tax bracket indexation, we will leave it up to you, dear reader, to decide whether or not its position has changed. Was our young researcher wrong to allege a U-Turn?

Either way, until ACT reverts back to its previous policy of a flat tax, bracket creep will continue under whatever reformed tax system it proposes. The principle therefore still stands and your humble Taxpayers' Union still believes ACT is mistaken to oppose indexation.

End of year Taxpayer Talk with Peter Williams: Hon. Ruth Richardson and Jordan Williams 🎙️

Taxpayer Talk Year in Review

In this year's final episode of Taxpayer Talk, Peter Williams hosts fellow Taxpayers' Union board members Hon. Ruth Richardson and Executive Director, Jordan Williams, to review the highs and lows of 2022.

As a former Minister of Finance, Ruth is well placed to provide analysis of the political year, the state of the economy and the Reserve Bank.

Jordan provides an insight of the year inside the Taxpayers' Union and gives his predictions on what the big issues will be in 2023. 

Listen to the episodeApple | Spotify | Google Podcasts | iHeart Radio

This is my last Taxpayer Update for the year so may I take this opportunity to wish you and your family a very merry Christmas. 

Thank you for your support throughout 2022 and best wishes for the new year. 

Yours aye,

Callum

Callum Signature
Callum Purves
Campaigns Manager

New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

Donate

Media coverage:

Contractor 
Should the Government apologise for Dome Valley?

NZ Herald 
National and Act in government on latest poll

Stuff
 National and ACT remain in strong position to govern, poll suggests

RNZ New poll continues downward trend for Labour

Newstalk ZB Barry Soper: political editor on the Government making decisions on oil and gas exploration

Peter Williams Hosts Taxpayer Talk: Christmas Special with Hon Ruth Richardson and Jordan Williams

In this year's final episode of Taxpayer Talk, Peter Williams hosts fellow Taxpayers' Union board members Hon Ruth Richardson and Executive Director, Jordan Williams, to review the highs and lows of 2022.

Peter sits down with Ruth and Jordan to discuss everything from the economy to education to Winston Peters.

As a former Minister of Finance, Ruth is well placed to provide analysis of the political year, the state of the economy and the Reserve Bank.

Jordan provides an insight of the year inside the Taxpayers' Union and gives his take on what the big issues will be in 2023.

To support Taxpayer Talk, click here

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, feel free to email [email protected] 

You can also listen to Taxpayer Talk on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and all good podcast apps. 

Taxpayer Update: NEW POLL 📊 | ACT wrong on indexation 💸 | Kiwis back lobbying cooling-off period 🥶

We were right: Three Waters = Higher Water Costs 💦💰

The NZ Herald has confirmed what your humble Taxpayers' Union has been saying all along – Three Waters means higher water costs. Now that the first bill to implement the Three Waters reforms has passed Parliament, the Government is moving onto the next stages. The latest bill gives powers to the four new super entities to bill ratepayers directly for water usage. This is despite the fact that these entities are not accountable to the ratepayers who pay those bills. 

Three Waters Costs

In documents published alongside the new draft legislation, officials have said that "some prices could increase significantly", which completely undermines the Government's repeated claims that Three Waters is essential to reduce water costs to ratepayers. With this confirmed, it is all the more important that the next government Scraps Three Waters.

Over the summer break keep an eye out for stage two of our campaign to keep this issue in the forefront of the public's mind. If you or someone your know has a good roadside sight, click here to order your own banner.

Scrap Three Waters

NEW POLL: Centre-Right reaches new high in seats forecast 📊

Available exclusively to supporters like you, we can reveal the results of our December Taxpayers' Union – Curia poll. 

Decided Party Vote over time

Labour falls two points to 33% – its equal lowest level in our poll – while National is up one point to 39%, which is its equal highest level. ACT and the Greens are steady compared to last month on 10% and 8%, respectively.

The smaller parties are the Māori Party on 3.5% and New Zealand First on 2.9%.

Here is how these results would translate to seats in Parliament, assuming all electorate seats are held:

Seats

National is up two seats to 51 while Labour is down four seats to 42. ACT and the Greens remained unchanged from last month on 13 and 10 seats, respectively. The Māori Party is up two seats to 4.

The Centre-Right reaches its highest combined level in our poll of 64 seats and could form government. The Centre-Left drops back four seats from 56 to 52.

More good news for Luxon 👍

There is also some good news for Christopher Luxon who has closed the gap in the favourability stakes.

Favourability

Jacinda Ardern’s net favourability has dropped five points compared to last month from +8% to +3%. This is a new low for the Prime Minister in our poll. 

Christopher Luxon is now almost level with the prime minister with an increase in his net favourability of five points from -3% to +2%.

But "undecided" voters not keen on the National Party leader 👀

As a note of caution, however, when it comes to undecided voters, the Prime Minister maintains a strong lead on net favourability on +1% compared with Christopher Luxon on -29%. 

This month, we also asked how people viewed Reserve Bank Governor, Adrian Orr, and Finance Minister, Grant Robertson. It seems that voters blame them equally for the current economic situation. Both have very low net favourability ratings of -14% each.

Visit our website for more information and details of how to get access to the full polling report.

ACT is wrong on indexation 💸

Connor Molloy

The Taxpayers’ Union has long supported the indexation of tax brackets to inflation. This is to stop the Government from taking a higher share of your income each year by stealth without a single vote having been cast in Parliament.

Until recently, ACT supported this approach too. Last month ACT put out a newsletter to say it had changed its mind. One of the reasons ACT gives is that it would apparently lock in Labour’s current tax rates and would not bring about the more radical reform ACT wants to see.

Now ACT’s proposals are the most thorough of what parties are offering, and the closest to what we want to see long term. But ACT is proposing two tax brackets rather than a flat tax and therefore its own policy will still be subject to bracket creep.

One of our young researchers, Connor Molloy, has written a great op-ed that looks into the issue of fiscal drag in more detail and explains why ACT have got this one wrong. Read Connor's op-ed here.

POLL: Kiwis back lobbying cooling off period for former ministers 🥶

Lobbying

In the past few months, the revolving door from cabinet table to political lobbying has been in the spotlight thanks to the switch made by former Cabinet Minister Kris Faafoi. Such quick moves undermine trust in our democratic system.

Unlike in Australia and the United Kingdom, there is nothing to stop former ministers from jumping straight into the world of lobbying and monetising their recent intel and contacts. We have been calling for a cooling-off period to be introduced to prevent this.

Last week, we released polling showing that 62% of New Zealanders supported a two-year cooling-off period for former ministers. 14% of respondents were opposed while 24% were unsure.

It is a privilege to represent New Zealanders in Parliament: Former politicians should not be using their positions to make a personal profit.

We now need to see action—not just words. We have called on all parties to work together on a Parliamentary Bill to bring New Zealand into line with other Westminster-style parliaments and ban the revolving door of former ministers going straight into for-profit lobbying.

Taxpayer Talk with Peter Williams: Andrew Bayly + Dr James McDowall MP🎙️

Andrew Bayly Podcast     James McDowall Podcast

There have been two editions of Taxpayer Talk with Peter Williams since our last update. 

In the first episode, Peter speaks to National Party MP and Revenue Spokesperson, Andrew Bayly. They discuss the Inland Revenue Department's new powers to request information from individuals. 

In 2020, while all the attention was focused on the new 39% top tax rate, another clause was added into the Tax Administration Act 1994 that gives the IRD Commissioner the power to demand any information from individuals that they consider relevant for a purpose relating to the development of policy for the improvement or reform of the tax system.

Listen to the episode here.

In the second episode, Peter hosts ACT Party MP Dr James McDowall to discuss his candidacy for the Hamilton West by-election. 

The three highest polling candidates for Hamilton West were all invited to appear on this podcast but only Dr McDowall agreed to appear. Peter and James discuss the issues facing the electorate, his background before politics and why he wants to be Hamilton West's local MP.

Listen to the episode here.

Apple | Spotify | Google Podcasts | iHeart Radio

Thank you for your support.

Yours aye,

Callum

Callum Signature
Callum Purves
Campaigns Manager

New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

Donate

Media coverage:

Newshub 
Ratepayers unsure of mayor Wayne Brown's proposal to sell Auckland International Airport shares

Hawke's Bay Today
Hawke's Bay councils plan to hike rates for years to come – but can we afford it?

Stuff
 Majority of people don't want RNZ and TVNZ to merge, survey says

Waikato Times National holds double-digit lead over Labour in Hamilton West poll

NZ Herald Poll: National's Tama Potato leads Hamilton West byelection race

Pacific Mornings
Jordan Williams Interview 

The Working Group with Gerry Brownlee, Matt McCarten and Taxpayers' Union

Otago Daily Times 
Tear down this wall

RNZ
Media Merger meets mounting resistance as clock ticks

Op-Ed: ACT is wrong on tax indexation

CLARIFICATION: In this opinion piece, Connor mentions David Seymour's support for Simon Bridges's indexation bill as an example of how ACT's policy on this issue has shifted.

David Seymour got in touch to point out that he made clear in his speech that his support for Bridges's bill at first reading was conditional on an amendment that would use the revenue earnt from fiscal drag to lower the top tax rate and flatten the tax system. He is quite correct and this particular criticism was unfair and we apologise for the oversight. 

The following is an op-ed by Taxpayers' Union Researcher Connor Molloy

Connor Molloy

ACT claims to be the party of principle, but when it comes to indexing income tax brackets to inflation, it appears they have lost their way. After rightly criticising the National Party for their U-turn on abolishing Labour’s 39% top tax rate last month, ACT has now done a public U-turn of their own.

Last year, David Seymour supported Simon Bridges’s member’s bill to index tax brackets to inflation. Then, in August this year, Mr Seymour said that tax bracket indexation is “a good start” but that it didn’t go far enough. And now ACT has said they don’t support the policy at all. That’s quite a shift in the space of a year.

But Seymour and ACT have it wrong this time.

When inflation occurs, the prices of goods and services increase, which diminishes the purchasing power of each dollar we earn. This means that if you receive a pay rise in line with inflation, you are not actually earning more income in terms of what you can buy but you end up paying more tax.

Governments of all stripes have been happy to cash in on inflation when individuals’ tax bills increase as a result of being pushed into higher tax brackets or paying a higher proportion of their income at their top marginal rate. Without any consultation or justification, the government is able to receive automatic, unlegislated tax hikes by stealth. This is known as ‘tax bracket creep’ and it makes us all poorer.

ACT’s November newsletter argues against tax bracket indexation on the basis that focusing on taxes without reducing spending leads to more government debt, which is effectively just higher taxes in the future. We agree that tax relief should be funded by savings in government expenditure, but ACT misses the point.

Indexation is not a tax cut. Without indexation, governments get a free pass to increase spending because it is already paid for through bracket creep. Indexation does not reduce the total tax take, it simply doesn’t increase it.

ACT’s new found opposition to indexation stems from confusion because they wrongly conflate different policy issues that should be looked at separately – indexation, distribution of the tax burden, and government spending.

In a system that has indexation, there is nothing to prevent a party from implementing policies that shift the tax burden or cut spending.

ACT’s alternative budget addresses the latter two issues by proposing cuts to government spending, significant tax reductions and a simplification of income tax rates. We support the principle of their proposals but the problem of bracket creep will persist.

ACT argues that “[b]racket creep is not a problem in itself, it is a symptom of progressive taxation.” It’s true that if we all paid a single income tax rate, we would not need indexation. But ACT’s proposed tax system is not flat. Mr Seymour has abandoned his own  2019 tax policy of a single income tax rate. Mr Seymour’s 2022 policy is designed in a way that, over time, taxes would steadily increase year on year.

If ACT’s new tax proposal had been in place since 2017, someone earning $80,000 today would be paying $1050 more tax each year than someone on the same real income in 2017.

ACT could easily advocate for their newly proposed two-tier income tax regime to be implemented and then be indexed to inflation to ensure that the real tax rates remain constant unless changed by Parliament.

It is difficult to understand how ACT reached their current position on this policy when they accept that bracket creep is a tax increase by stealth. Each of their concerns arise from other factors that can be addressed through policies that are not incompatible with tax indexation.

If Seymour truly thought his proposed tax settings were the best for New Zealand, he would commit to indexing them. Otherwise he needs to show some courage and campaign for his 2019 flat tax proposal that would fix this issue completely.

Seymour is clearly positioning himself to play a major part in the next Government. But this U-turn is wrong both in terms of principle and in politics. He should rejoin the cause that even the Nats agree with us on: ‘No taxation without indexation!’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taxpayer Update: Three Waters Game Playing 💦 | National's U-Turns 💸 | Logo Competition Winner 🎨

It's been another eventful week in Wellington with U-turns from National and constitutional game-playing from Labour and the Greens.

But before we get to that – the team are off to Hamilton on Monday for our Hamilton West by-election debate jointly hosted by the Taxpayers' Union and our friends at The Working Group podcast.

Also in this edition – we're hiring! If you, or someone you know, would be a good fit to join us at the Taxpayers' Union, keep reading.

Hamilton West By-Election Debate 🗳️

Hamilton West Debate

If you are in Hamilton, come along to SkyCity Hamilton (346 Victoria Street) and put your questions to the candidates this coming Monday, 5 December at 7pm. You can RSVP here.

Entrenchment a new low for Three Waters: Labour/Greens try to change the rules of the game 💦

Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse with Three Waters, Green Party MP Eugenie Sage tabled a surprise Supplementary Order Paper. Her proposal would mean that the parts of the bill relating to the ownership and control of water services and significant assets could only be repealed by 60 percent of MPs or a referendum. 

The concept is known as entrenchment and such provisions are seldom used here in New Zealand. In fact, there are only six instances of its use and all relate to electoral matters, such as elections every three years, and the voting age for general elections. Essentially, entrenchment is reserved for laws on the democratic process where it would be unfair for one side to change the rules of the game with a simple majority. 

But the Greens – supported by the votes of Labour MPs – are trying to tie the hands of future governments. They argue this is necessary to stop the privatisation of water assets, but what this will actually do is make it more difficult for a future government to break up the four super water entities created under the reforms and pass water assets back to councils. 

Exposing the Government's nefarious tactics ☠️

It’s fair to say that the response to this move has been overwhelmingly negative and it has been condemned across the political spectrum.

It doesn’t matter whether you agree with Three Waters – or even privatisation of public assets for that matter – it’s about whether your vote in an election can actually change policy when you elect a new Government.

PM distances herself but hasn't fully backed down 🤫

Seeing the justified backlash, the Prime Minister and Labour are trying to distance themselves from the proposal. In a standard response to our supporters, Labour MPs stress that the ‘…suggested amendment to the main legislation [was] put forward by Green MP Eugenie Sage, not Labour’ and that they only voted for the amendment because they were …concern[ed] to prevent privatisation’.

Rather than simply withdraw Labour’s support  – which would kill it stone dead – the Prime Minister has kicked the issue to Parliament's Business Committee to 'consider the principles of entrenchment more generally'. That's political speak for 'we're not sure yet whether we can get away with this'.

The Business Committee meets on Tuesday – so on the same day, we'll be publishing full page ads in major newspapers to ensure the Labour MPs (who hold the majority on the Committee) make the right decision...

U-turn if you want to: Where do National stand on tax? 💸

The National Party need to understand they won't win next year by trying to be Labour or by not putting up a better vision for New Zealand.

Take for example their stance on their tax policy. Over the past year they have flip-flopped time and again on whether to adopt or scrap indexation as their policy. Now they have dropped their policy of abolishing the 39 percent top rate of income tax. 

In an opinion piece for the NZ Herald, Jordan picks apart the opposition’s indecision.

NZ Herald

On what should have been a day squarely focused on Grant Robertson’s fiscal mismanagement, the dramatic expansion of government spending, and resulting high inflation, there was instead an awful lot of talk about what seemed to be yet another U-turn by the Leader of the Opposition.

It’s becoming harder and harder to keep up with National’s tax policy.

[...] Where is the ambition for New Zealand? We already know that the doctors, engineers, IT professionals and others that New Zealand desperately needs to attract are picking Australia because of higher take-home pay. One of the few areas we can be competitive is in tax rates. This isn’t “trickle-down” – it is the harsh reality that New Zealand cannot compete for the world’s knowledge workers with beautiful landscapes alone. Continue reading on the NZ Herald (requires subscription).

Maybe the National Party don’t quite get it, but the Key family is staying on message!

 

Max Key

Shock result in TVNZ/RNZ Logo Poll 🎨🤯

Logo Competition

Following the news that the Government is spending $3 million to develop new branding for their proposed Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media super entity, we launched our competition to design a logo at a fraction of the cost.

And we can now reveal the results.

The top-placed design on first preferences was the (surely, tongue-in-cheek?) 'Ministry of Truth' logo featuring Broadcasting Minister, Willie Jackson.

Ministry of Truth

But in a shock — under the Single Transferable Voting rules (details of the voting and preferences on our website here), which all local councils will be moving to if the Government's "Future of Local Government" proposals go through — the 'winner' is actually the logo that came second. After all the preferences were allocated, the Green Ferns design by supporter Andy Dunn takes home the $300 prize. Congratulations to Andy! Just goes to show what STV can do...

Green Ferns

This was really a bit of fun, but it was to make a serious point. The TVNZ/RNZ merger will cost the taxpayer millions while undermining the range of different voices in New Zealand broadcasting. We need more diversity of opinion in our media—not less. 

Taxpayer Talk with Peter Williams: Author Alan Duff 🎙️

Alan Duff

In this edition of Taxpayer Talk, Peter Williams’s guest is author Alan Duff, the creator of the hugely successful and influential book and movie Once Were Warriors and the founder of the Duffy Books in Homes programme. 

Duff's best known book and the movie came out around thirty years ago and shocked middle class New Zealand who hadn’t seen the less privileged represented in such a way. Yet three decades on has the situation around domestic violence, alcoholism and welfare dependency improved? Most statistics point to no, but why has the country not taken responsibility for fixing such social ills when the issue has been in front of us for so long? Duff is a passionate believer in education as a pathway from poverty but expresses his frustration that this pathway is just not travelled enough.

Listen to the episode | Apple | Spotify | Google Podcasts | iHeart Radio

We're hiring: Come and work at the Taxpayers' Union 🧑‍💼

Have you ever fancied working in the thick of Wellington bureaucracy but on the side of virtue? Does fighting for lower taxes, less waste and more transparency sound like you? Or do you know someone who is politically minded and looking to take the first step in their career. We are currently looking to recruit as we build our team in Wellington for the forthcoming election year:

  • Grassroots and Communications Co-ordinator (Full Time): This is a hands-on role liaising with our tens of thousands of volunteers, supporters, and financial supporters who make our work possible. You’ll respond to email queries, load and monitor social media posts, coordinate petitions and support our communications and campaigns team. You'll also be organizing and attending our public meetings, road shows, and A&P type-events to build our community engagement activities.

  • Graduate Researcher (Full Time): You'll work with our Economist and researchers on research policy projects to support our work, including preparing briefing papers, parliamentary submissions, conducting literature reviews and drafting media release and blog posts. Your research will help to provide the substance to back our campaigns that drive improvements to public policy. 

  • Admin Support (Part Time)This is a varied role supporting the team dealing with membership queries and correspondence, database management, and fulfilling merchandise sales. You should be communicative, organised and computer literate with a firm grasp of Word and Excel. You won’t mind doing whatever is needed; you’re just keen to get stuck in and support others to make a difference. 

You can find the full job adverts by clicking on the job titles above. Feel free to share this e-mail with anyone you think might be interested.

Thank you for your support.

Yours aye,

Callum

Callum Signature
Callum Purves
Campaigns Manager

New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

Donate

Media coverage:

RNZ The Panel with Dr Ella Henry and Phil Taylor (Part 1)

Stuff Which parties would a voting age lowered to 16 likely favour in Parliament?

Stuff Wayne Brown could become Auckland's first $5 million mayor

SunLive Council to borrow $2M to replace water pipes

NZ Herald Jordan Williams: Christopher Luxon wrong to U-turn on tax policy

Democracy Project Josh Van Veen: Wayne Brown’s first month

Newstalk ZB The Huddle: Police pursuit policy reform and the state of the retirement age

Peter Williams Hosts Taxpayer Talk: Dr James McDowall MP on the Hamilton West by-election

This week on Taxpayer Talk, Peter Williams hosts ACT Party MP Dr James McDowall. Peter sits down with James to discuss his candidacy for the Hamilton West by-election. 

The three highest polling candidates for Hamilton West were all invited to appear on this podcast but only Dr McDowall agreed to appear. Peter and James discuss the issues facing the electorate, his background before politics and why he wants to be Hamilton West's local MP.

Later in the podcast, Peter is joined by Taxpayers' Union Executive Director, Jordan Williams, and Campaigns Manager, Callum Purves, to discuss the by-election, Three Waters entrenchment and u-turns by National and ACT on their tax policies. 

The Taxpayers' Union is co-hosting an election debate with The Working Group at 7pm on Monday 5 December in Hamilton. The top five highest polling candidates will be present. You can RSVP by clicking here.

To support Taxpayer Talk, click here

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions feel free to email [email protected] 

You can also listen to Taxpayer Talk on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and all good podcast apps. 

Peter Williams Hosts Taxpayer Talk: Andrew Bayly MP on the IRD’s new powers

In this edition of Taxpayer Talk, Peter Williams’s guest is National Party MP and Revenue Spokesperson, Andrew Bayly. Peter and Andrew sit down to discuss the Inland Revenue Department's new powers to request information from individuals. 

In 2020, while all the attention was focused on the new 39% top tax rate, another clause was added into the Tax Administration Act 1994 that gives the IRD Commissioner the power to demand any information from individuals that they consider relevant for a purpose relating to the development of policy for the improvement or reform of the tax system. While this clause sounds well-intentioned, it was snuck through under urgency with no public consultation or expert evidence. We highlight some of these issues in our article about what these new powers mean for you.

Also discussed in this podcast is the National Party position on tax bracket indexation and the 39% top tax rate. 

To find out more information about our Nosey Parker campaign and to send Minister David Parker a letter, head to noseyparker.nz 

To support Taxpayer Talk, click here

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions feel free to email [email protected] 

You can also listen to Taxpayer Talk on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and all good podcast apps. 

Peter Williams Hosts Taxpayer Talk: Novelist Alan Duff on Education and Social Outcomes

In this edition of Taxpayer Talk, Peter Williams’s guest is author Alan Duff, the creator of the hugely successful and influential book and movie Once Were Warriors and the founder of the Duffy Books in Homes programme. 

Duff's best known book and the movie came out around thirty years ago and shocked middle class New Zealand who hadn’t seen the less privileged represented in such a way. Yet three decades on has the situation around domestic violence, alcoholism and welfare dependency improved? Most statistics point to no, but why has the country not taken responsibility for fixing such social ills when the issue has been in front of us for so long? Duff is a passionate believer in education as a pathway from poverty but expresses his frustration that this pathway is just not travelled enough.

To support Taxpayer Talk, click here

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions feel free to email [email protected] 

You can also listen to Taxpayer Talk on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and all good podcast apps. 

Peter Williams hosts Taxpayer Talk: Danish Free Speech advocate Jacob Mchangama

This week, Peter Williams hosts free speech campaigner Jacob Mchangama, a Danish lawyer who recently visited New Zealand. His visit was prescient as the Justice Minister Kiri Allan has recently promised that hate speech legislation will be in our Parliament by the end of the year.

Jacob is the founder and director of Justitia, a Copenhagen-based think tank focusing on human rights, freedom of speech, and the rule of law. Jacob's book 'Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media' was released earlier this year which provides and insightful overview of how free speech has been viewed in different societies across history. 

Peter also has a piece of correspondence regarding last week’s guest Dr Claire Charters and wonders if that letter would be able to see the light of day under Kiri Allan’s new laws.

This podcast is made possible by our generous supporters. To support this podcast click here

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions feel free to email [email protected]

You can also listen to Taxpayer Talk on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and all good podcast apps. 

Taxman Takeover: What this means for NZ

The Inland Revenue Department now has the power to force anyone to reveal personal information about themselves and their family. The Government says that this change is just to help inform tax policy, but as we have seen overseas, this could have more wide-reaching implications.

In 2020, under urgency, the Government passed an amendment to the Tax Administration Act (1994) sneaking in section (17GB) which allows IRD to force New Zealanders to provide personal information regarding their spending matters. At the time, Revenue Minister, David Parker, explained that the amendment was only to solidify the powers which the IRD already had. If that was the case, however, why did this need to be passed under urgency?

Quick use was made of the alteration. A compulsory survey was sent out to some of the wealthiest New Zealanders shortly after the bill was passed, asking probing questions to gain insight into the spending habits of both them and their families. You might wonder why you should be bothered about these changes—the project does after all only affect 400 individuals—but given the power that the IRD now holds, there is no reason why this won’t rapidly expand. We know what dangers can occur from politicizing the tax department just by looking overseas. 

Efforts to weaponize the USA’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS) were rife throughout the 60s and early 70s and the service has seen continued abuses even in recent history. John Andrew’s book ‘Power to Destroy’ outlines numerous breaches of the IRS across the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon years where he explains how the department evolved into a political vehicle used as a defense against any dissidents of the administration.

The abuse consisted mainly of auditing individuals and organizations who spoke out against the administration. This would usually be to reveal fraudulent activity, or to simply bombard opponents with lengthy processes and in-person investigations. Through the Kennedy administration, under what was known as the Ideological Organizations Project (IOP), right-wing groups were explicitly targeted, where audits were used to defund these organizations by revoking their tax exemptions.

“Despite the cover of tax audits, the IRS was certainly aware that ideology and political activities rather than tax liabilities had singled out these organizations as targets.” (Andrew, 27, on IRS abuses under Kennedy).

This IRS behaviour continued after Kennedy’s assassination and into Johnson’s term, but Richard Nixon took it to an extraordinary level, aiming for widespread ‘ideological conformity.’ His enemy lists go down as perhaps the most well-known abuses of the Internal Revenue Service in American history. Their inception and operation represented a large portion of continued IRS abuse throughout the late 60s to early 70s in which audits were used to harass any opponents of Nixon and his administration. This, in addition to the discouragement of tax audits on his close allies, revealed a process of rewarding friends and punishing enemies. In general, it was an attempt to demonize his critics, ‘turning differences of opinion into matters of state security’.

“Attempts to politicize the IRS began almost as soon as Nixon took the oath of office. His first objective was to find a compliant individual for the office of IRS commissioner. Politics and Ideology were his chief concerns…”  (Andrew, 180).

Andrew’s book also discusses the much lesser-known and even more shocking Secret Service Staff (SSS). The group managed a far more extensive exploitation of the department, where the service dug into the territory of mass information gathering, rather than enforcement of tax laws. It continued to target dissidents of the Nixon administration as well as critics of the IRS, though unlike the enemy lists, it was primarily an IRS-led exercise.

“More than any other IRS program, the SSS exemplified an abuse of the income tax system. It focused more on intelligence gathering than it did on enforcement of the Internal Revenue Code.” (Andrew, 251).

How does this relate to the New Zealand context? Section 17GB doesn’t allow for subsequent prosecution from any findings under the law, but with such a broad scope for questioning, it opens the door for governments of any stripe plus the IRD to gather more and more personal data related to things further and further away from the purposes of the revenue service. While this may start off as a well-intentioned data-compiling effort to ‘inform future tax policy’, there is little in the way of protection to prevent the rule from turning the IRD into a partisan weapon.

As we see in America, political targeting and nontax-related investigations by the IRS were continuously used in one form or another, whether it was against the left or the right. There is no reason why the same won’t happen here. The importance of the IRD being apolitical is paramount and the relationship between Government and the department must be managed carefully.

Listen above to a recent episode of Taxpayer Talk discussing the issues with these new powers.

Regardless of any sinister intentions that may reveal themselves, the enactment of this law presents a clear attempt to gather information on an enormous scale. The extent of what data can be obtained is egregiously broad, and this means that extremely sensitive material could be vulnerable. However, while this may be through intentional Government prying, there is a far greater risk of breaches through IRD incompetency, negligence, or maleficence. In the US there were significant issues with unauthorized access by staff through the 90s in which service suffered serious security deficiencies and provided inadequate attempts to solve these problems according to a GAO report.

This Government has shown it will do anything to gain insight into people’s lives. Just a few years ago we saw IRD inquiring into where Kiwis sat on the political spectrum. Intelligence gathering is becoming a larger part of society more generally, with sensitive data less and less protected. We should be able to expect IRD to act independently from Government and other intelligence departments when so much power is at stake.

“The IRS often shared the results of its intelligence gathering with other intelligence agencies, congressional committees or the White House. Sometimes this was done at its own initiative; other times it stemmed from specific requests or political pressures.” (Andrew).

It is unclear exactly what Minister Parker and the Government’s intentions are more broadly with the enactment of this new power, but there is no reason to be certain that the IRD won’t be exploited in the future if this clause is not revoked.

In closing, let’s be clear: This change gives the IRD too much power. There is no viable cause for the taxman to be inquiring about your spending habits when you’ve done nothing to be suspected of being unlawful. And when family members including partners and children are also being probed, it becomes a completely inappropriate use of the powers of the department. It has started with those at the top, but there is no reason why this overreach won’t trickle its way down the pyramid.

It should not be underestimated what governments are capable of, especially when they have a powerful institution such as the IRD at their fingertips. That’s why we at the Taxpayers’ Union are opposing this change with our Nosey Parker campaign. You can help stop future violations of privacy by using our email tool to let David Parker know exactly what you think.

Peter Williams Hosts Taxpayer Talk: Dr Claire Charters on He Puapua and Co-Governance

This week Peter Williams is back on Taxpayer Talk with a highly anticipated interview with Auckland University's Dr Claire Charters.  Claire's research has focused on indigenous peoples’ rights in international and constitutional law, including how the Treaty of Waitangi should interact with our legal system.

Claire was one of the authors of the Government's controversial He Puapua report that, among other things, recommends a separate  Māori court system, health system and parliament. Peter sits down with Claire to discuss what path New Zealand's constitution should be taking and whether co-governance has a place within New Zealand. 

Also this week, Peter discusses some of the correspondence sent through to him by the listeners.

This podcast is made possible by our generous supporters. To support this podcast click here

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions feel free to email [email protected]

You can also listen to Taxpayer Talk on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and all good podcast apps. 

Taxpayer Talk with Jordan Williams: Campaigns Manager Callum Purves + UK TaxPayers' Alliance CE John O'Connell

As Peter is away this week, the latest Taxpayer Talk podcast is hosted by Taxpayers' Union Executive Director, Jordan Williams (no relation), with something of a UK special.

Jordan sits down with the Taxpayers' Union's most recent hire, Callum Purves, who is our new Campaigns Manager. Callum has a background as a political advisor, party staffer and district councillor, and has recently moved from Scotland to fight for taxpayers in New Zealand.

Jordan also interviews John O'Connell, the Chief Executive of the UK TaxPayers' Alliance who chairs World Taxpayers Association while he was in New Zealand. 

This podcast is made possible by our generous supporters. To support this podcast click here

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions feel free to email [email protected] 

You can also listen to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and where all good podcasts are sold.

Peter Williams Hosts Taxpayer Talk: Derek Daniell on the farming emissions tax

The latest Taxpayer Talk podcast, hosted by Peter Williams, features Wairarapa farmer and ram breeder Derek Daniell with his take on the proposed farming tax -  like most men and women of the land he is vehemently opposed. It’s not just the money that farmers will have to pay that bothers Derek, it’s the cost to local communities and the country’s economy too.

Also in this edition, the Taxpayer Talk panel of Taxpayers' Union chair Laurie Kubiak and board colleague Casey Costello talk about the big swing to the right in local body elections and also offer their take on the farmers' emissions tax.

This podcast is made possible by our generous supporters. To support this podcast click here

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions feel free to email [email protected]

You can also listen to Taxpayer Talk on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and all good podcast apps.

Peter Williams hosts Taxpayer Talk: David Round on the Treaty of Waitangi and Co-Governance

This week on Taxpayer Talk, host Peter Williams is joined by David Round, a former Canterbury University law lecturer, to discuss the Treaty of Waitangi and co-governance. As an expert in the fields of Legal History, Constitutional Law, Jurisprudence and Environmental Law, David is well equipped to comment on some of the most pressing debates of our time. 
 
Also this week, Peter discusses some of the correspondence sent through to him by the listeners.

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions feel free to email [email protected]

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and all good podcast apps.

Peter Williams hosts Taxpayer Talk: Dr Christoph Schumacher on modernising how we report on the economy

In the middle of a cost of living crisis, key economic indicators are more important to track than ever. This week on Taxpayer Talk, host Peter Williams sits down with Dr Christoph Schumacher, Professor of Innovation & Economics and Director of the Knowledge Exchange Hub at Massey University. Dr Schumacher and the Knowledge Exchange Hub have developed a tool that tracks Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in real time to monitor how the economy is performing and forecast future performance. This powerful tool can be used to gain a better understanding of our economy quickly, rather than waiting for Statistics New Zealand to publish the figures two and a half months out of date. Following the success of this tool, the next project to be released will be one that tracks inflation in real time potentially revolutionising the way we respond to inflationary pressures.

The Knowledge Exchange Hub’s GDP tool can be found at gdplive.net

Also this week, Peter gives his thoughts on the proposed RNZ-TVNZ mega-merger and asks "what problem are trying to fix?" As a veteran broadcaster, Peter knows a thing or two about media and fears this model may make our public broadcasting less independent and impose higher costs on hardworking taxpayers. 

To get in touch with Peter, email [email protected]

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and all good podcast apps.

Get hit to get help

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union calls on Government to provide greater transparency over their crime prevention fund for local shop owners.

In May earlier this year, the Government announced their “Crime Prevention Package”, a $6 million programme aimed at preventing ram-raids and other forms of retail crime. Since then, however, there has been a complete lack of initiative in rolling out the fund.

The announcement of the package responded to a significant increase in ram-raid numbers through 2021 as well as further surges across early 2022. Its purpose was to ensure security upgrades such as the bollards, fog cannons and toughened glass were distributed to those most vulnerable to retail crime and who would otherwise lack the resources to upgrade security on their own. Around 500 stores across the country were identified as being likely eligible for the fund, with each store set to receive an assessment to determine what measures would suit them best.

The announcement at least revealed signs that the Government was taking the problem seriously. Although nearly 4 months on and retailers are still suffering from the same flurry of occurrences. Auckland had an incident a few days ago, the third time this year the shop had been hit, and just a few weeks back, Hamilton saw 4 ram-raids happen on the same night with another one just several days later. For owners, it’s no longer a matter of if but when they will next get hit.

Retailers were told that help was on the way, that the Government was going to provide some much-needed backing. Yet after sitting helpless for weeks on end, there are no signs that any relief is on the horizon. Astonishingly, it was revealed recently that just 5 stores had received any security upgrades since the announcement, and out of the $6 million fund designed for the package, not a cent of it had been spent.

Ram-raids have devastating effects on retailers. Many are left traumatized, terrified and in deep financial hardship. Those who fall victim to these attacks are often from small family businesses who work long hours just to stay afloat. They cannot afford to keep dealing from these setbacks, especially coming out of a worldwide pandemic. With many of them living in the same building as their stores, some are even being woken up in the middle of the night to the destruction of their shop before them. These people are living in absolute fear and the Government is barely trying to help.

ram raidsPhoto credit: supplied to Newstalk ZB

Countless efforts have been made by retailers to speak with the ministers, yet in most cases, their concerns are met with silence. There is now widespread confusion within the retail community on what to do about their situation. Some have taken it into their own hands, spending thousands just to ‘feel a little bit more secure’ and others have held off from upgrading their security altogether as they wait patiently for Government’s promised support.

David Lynch, acting assistant police commissioner, says police are working on a procurement plan and are training a dozen officers to carry out security assessments over the coming weeks. But why wasn’t this done sooner? With ram-raids being one of New Zealand’s most prominent forms of crime, this surely must have been prioritized more strongly than it has been.

Lynch also mentioned that the focus is on ‘past victimizations’, but this could exclude some of the shops that need help the most. These include the hundreds of retailers who might not have been targeted before, but nonetheless live in vulnerable areas known for ram-raids. The criteria for receiving support are clearly ambiguous, and it starts to seem like the only way to get help is to get hit. Furthermore, if only some retailers are upgraded, it leaves those who don’t receive upgrades even more vulnerable than before, considering they will now be the easier targets.

A lack of connection between Government and those affected doesn’t help the process either. Why hasn’t Chris Hipkins sat down with any of these retailers to truly understand the pain and fear they are experiencing? If National MP’s Shane Reti and Mark Mitchell can spend time to meet victims, ministers can and should too. These people are crying out for some transparency, and they are having the door slammed in their faces.

Ram-raids are a growing problem too, up 500% since 2018, and shockingly, the vast majority are being committed by kids, despite a stark decrease in youth crime over the last decade. There are certainly more appropriate long-term solutions than to simply barricade every shop. Government’s recent ‘Better Pathways’ package for instance, aimed at preventing youth crime, might provide some relief in the future. Still though, programmes like this will take time to implement, and retailers don’t have that kind of time.

Chris Hipkins and Government need to provide more transparency on which retailers are receiving the fund and when they should expect to have their new security installed. It is cruel enough that shop owners have had to wait this long for upgrades, at least provide them with the information that lays out the process.

Peter Williams Hosts Taxpayer Talk (excerpt): The state of local government with retiring councillor Chris Milne

This is an excerpt from our long-form podcast released weekly by host Peter Williams. You can listen to the full podcast here

In this episode of Taxpayer Talk, host Peter Williams sits down with retiring Hutt City Councillor Chris Milne to discuss the state of local government in New Zealand. Chris reflects on how the role of a councillor has changed over his 18 years in office and the role the Local Government Act has had in these changes. 

To get in touch with Peter, email [email protected]

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and all good podcast apps.

 

Peter Williams hosts Taxpayer Talk: Economist Eric Crampton on Three Waters and the ETS + Retiring Councillor Chris Milne

On this week's episode of Taxpayer Talk, host Peter Williams is joined by Eric Crampton, Chief Economist at the New Zealand Initiative, to discuss the Government's Three Waters reforms and his alternative proposal for how local councils can finance long-term infrastructure investment more effectively. Peter and Eric also discuss the Emissions Trading Scheme and outline why additional emissions reduction measures beyond the ETS are costly regulations that will not reduce emissions any faster.

Also this week, Peter sits down with fellow Taxpayers' Union board member and retiring Hutt City Councillor, Chris Milne, to discuss the state of local government in New Zealand.

To get in touch with Peter, email [email protected]

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and all good podcast apps.

Peter Williams hosts Taxpayer Talk: Professor James Allan + Analysis of latest Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll


In the wake of the Queen’s passing, the latest edition of Taxpayer Talk focuses on the British Monarchy. Host Peter Williams is joined by Canadian-born, Australian domiciled law Professor James Allan who reflects on why the British Monarchy is the most successful anywhere and why having a queen or king on the other side of the world as our Head of State is still the best system for New Zealand - and other Commonwealth countries.

Also in this edition, Taxpayers' Union co-founders David Farrar and Jordan Williams reflect on the political week and discuss the results of the latest Taxpayers' Union Curia poll. Is luck finally running out for the government? Or will the poll prove disheartening for the opposition? 

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and all good podcast apps.

Taxpayer Update: Mourning Elizabeth the Great | NEW POLL | $95K on a logo

To view this newsletter online, click here. To share it on Facebook, click here.

Dear Supporter,

Elizabeth the Great

This week's newsletter is a bit longer than usual. We were set to release the September Taxpayers' Union-Curia poll (see below) on Friday, but hit pause when we woke up to the news that Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of New Zealand, had passed away. 

Queen Elizabeth personified leadership through action and demonstrated remarkable grace and dignity in her service to the Commonwealth. The outpouring of grief from all over the globe is testimony to the high esteem in which she was held. We join the whole nation in thanking her for a life of exemplary service.

As with other taxpayer groups around the Commonwealth, the Taxpayers’ Union suspended its campaign activities during a period of mourning (you can read our public comments here: Taxpayers’ Union Pays Tribute To Her Majesty The Queen Of New Zealand, Suspends Campaign)

Queen Elizabeth II

Public holiday yes, but who should pay?

Here at the Taxpayers' Union, sometimes our role is to be "Scrooge McDuck" – after all, who else will push back against politicians giving away other people's money?

I'm a stanch royalist (my co-founder David Farrar is a republican) but was pleased to support Chris Milne's take that no public holiday is "free":

The Taxpayers’ Union supports the principle of a day where New Zealanders can come together to pay their respects. However, taxpayers are being told by the Government to foot the huge bill for another day of leave in the public sector.

For small businesses—who are still trying to recover after the pandemic—this is yet another cost loaded on. The owners of these businesses, many small family enterprises, are being told to pay not only for their own respect for the Queen, but also for all the respect shown by their staff. This is inequitable. The Queen was the queen of us all and the cost should fall on all of us.

Rather than rejecting the idea of an observance to recognise the Queen, the Taxpayers’ Union believes that New Zealanders should, if they wish to do so, take a day of annual leave to mark this historic occasion and an extraordinary life.

ACT follows our lead

Less than 24 hours later, ACT was on board with the idea with David Seymour saying that workers should have a right to take a day of either annual or unpaid leave on the public holiday, but without costing our businesses another day of wages. See Day of recognition without the costs is the answer – David Seymour 

NEW POLL: Centre-Right would govern alone 📊

decide vote sept 2022

National has leapt forward from 34% last month to 37% in September while Labour has dropped 2 points to 33%. ACT is up 1 point to 12% and the Greens are static on 10%.

The poll was taken in the nine days up to last Thursday evening (thus the Queen's death delayed the publishing of the results).

The smaller parties are the Maori Party at 1.5%, NZ First at 1.6%, New Conservatives 1.5%, and TOP 0.7%.

seats poll sept 2022

Unlike last month, the centre-right could govern alone with these numbers (and not need the Maori Party). The centre-right crosses the 61 seat victory threshold going from 58 seats to 63 and the centre-left drops from 57 seats to 55.

preferred PM Sept 2022

On preferred Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern drops 3 points to 37% while Luxon bounces up from 20% to 26%. David Seymour is on 6.6%

Chloe Swarbrick is in fourth place as Preferred PM on a respectable 3.2%. Notably, that is higher than both Green co-leaders combined with Marama Davidson on 1.4% and James Shaw on 1.0%.

Head over to our website for more.

$95,450 up in smoke for brand tweak 😮‍💨 

If ever you needed an example of the good life contracting for the Government, our research team have uncovered a doozy. Tatou NZ - a well-connected marketing agency - was paid $95,450 to “rebrand” the Government's "2025 Smokefree Action Plan".

We asked what the Government received for nearly nine years of income tax for the average worker. All officials could point to was a few pages of logos and instructions on how to use it. This isn't a new government agency: it's for what officials call a 'plan'. And taxpayers have paid for branding already! 🤦

Tatou Smokefree

An invoice dated 21 February 2022 from Tatou NZ Ltd breaks down the costs as:

  • Discovery: Te Wāhanga Whakapapa – we learn everything we can about you – how you work, who you work with, your goals; (You have done a lot of the work here already – work that we will build upon) and your audience – who they are, what they need. - $13,750

  • Define: Te Wāhanga Tautuhi – We distill what we learned and articulate succinctly the brand fundamentals – which will build on the work you have already done. Objectives, vision, mission, and how you will achieve them. This will include your brand values and personality. Then, we look at what that means for your audience. We will share, and work with you to achieve the final expression. - $20,000

  • Develop: Te Wāhanga Whakarite – We write a creative / design brief. Once approved our team will conceptualise what your brand might look like, and how it might sound. We’ll share concepts, listen to your feedback and refine. Co-design. Test. Includes feedback process and making changes. - $30,000

  • Deliver: Te Wāhanga Mahi – The creation of the brand assets, and implementation. Includes feedback process and making changes. - $19,250

Nice work if you can get it!

Breakfast room service for one? 😉

Your humble Taxpayers’ Union continues to do what the media are not and regularly audits what Minsters and Beehive officials are spending your money on.

One of our student interns has dug out a mysterious "breakfast" at Boston Harbor Hotel belonging to someone who works for Minister of Trade, Damien O’Connor. While on a recent trip with the Minister, the staffer spent $100 (60USD) on a hotel breakfast.

But here's the thing – based on the menu (available online) – it appears the staffer was either one very hungry official, or our generous mandarin was ordering for two.

We asked the Minister's office who the other breakfast was for – but the Office refused to provide the information to protect the an official "from improper pressure or harassment" (section 9(g)(ii) of the Official Information Act allows for this as a reason for refusal to release official information). I've only seen this section used one other time since 2013.

We hear around the traps (but are unable to confirm) that our mysterious official was entertaining a new found friend on tour. Of course, no one objects to an overseas romance, but putting a Tinder date's breakfast on the taxpayer is rather raunchy.

Breakfast for One?

Taxpayer Talk with Peter Williams: Professor James Allan + analysis of latest poll 🎙️🎧

Peter Williams

In the wake of the Queen’s passing, the latest edition of Taxpayer Talk focuses on the Monarchy and our constitution. Peter Williams interviews Canadian-born, Australian-domiciled law Professor James Allan who reflects on why the Commonwealth Monarchy is the most successful anywhere and why having a queen or king on the other side of the world as our Head of State is still the best system for New Zealand, and other Commonwealth realms.

David and I join Peter too to reflect on the political week and discuss the results of the Taxpayers' Union-Curia poll. Is luck finally running out for the government? 

You can listen to the episode online here, or via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and where all good podcast are sold.

Thank you for your support.

Jordan

Jordan_signature.jpg
Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

Donate

Media coverage:

Stuff 
Should NZ follow the US example of forgiving student loan debt?

Newstalk ZB The Huddle: Health NZ, Jan Tinetti, Cost of Living Payments

Newstalk ZB 
Barry Soper on OCR, latest poll and Gaurav Sharma

NZ Herald
 Kate MacNamara: Three Waters and Jacinda Ardern's contention that ownership matters, not control

NZ Herald
 Bruce Cotterill: Three Waters doesn't pass the sniff test

Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll: September 2022

Exclusive to members and supporters, we can reveal the results of the eleventh Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll.

The polling period was Thursday 1 - Friday 9 September 2022. 

Here are the headline results:

decided over time sept 2022

Party

Support

Change from last month

National

37.0%

↑3.0

Labour

33.4%

↓1.8

Greens

9.9%

↑0.4

ACT

12.4%

↑1.9

Māori

1.5%

↓2.0

NZ First

1.6%

↓1.0

Other

4.2%

↓0.5

National bounces back from 34% in August to 37% in September and Labour drop 2 points to 33%. ACT up 1 point to 12% and Greens static on 10%.

The smaller parties are Māori Party at 1.5%, NZ First at 1.6%, New Conservatives 1.5%, and TOP 0.7%.

Here is how these results would translate to seats in Parliament, assuming all electorate seats are held:

seats sept 2022

The projected seats for the centre-right crosses the 61 seat majoirty threshold going from 58 seats to 63. The centre-left drops from 57 seats to 55. This means National and Act would be able to form a Government.

projected sept 2022

Ardern drops 3 points to 37% while Luxon bounces up from 20% to 26%. David Seymour has 6.6%

In fourth place as Preferred PM is Chloe Swarbrick on a respectable 3.2%. That is higher than both Green co-leaders combined with Marama Davidson on 1.4% and James Shaw 1.0%.

pref PM sept 2022

Preferred Prime Minister

This month

Change from last month

Jacinda Ardern

36.5%

↓3.0

Christopher Luxon

25.9%

↑6.4

David Seymour

6.6%

↓1.1

Chloe Swarbrick

3.2%

-

Winston Peters

2.6%

↓1.6

Marama Davidson

1.4%

-

James Shaw

1.0%

-

The cost of living at 22% (-1%) remains the most important issue followed by the economy more generally at 15%. Health is in third place at 7% closely followed by Law & Order on 6%.

issues sept 2022

The net country direction drops to a record low of -23%. 32% of New Zealanders think the country is heading in the right direction and 54% say the wrong direction.

For the full polling report, covering the detailed insights the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition are used to receiving, join our Taxpayer Caucus – our club of most generous financial supporters who make our work possible.


The scientific poll was conducted by Curia Market Research and commissioned by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union. The full polling report is being released exclusively to members of our Taxpayer Caucus. As is well known, but for full disclosure, David Farrar is a member of the Board of the Taxpayers' Union and also a Director of Curia Market Research Ltd.

The Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll was conducted from Thursday 1 September to Friday 9 September 2022. The sample size was 1,000 eligible New Zealand voters 800 by phone and 200 by online panel. The sample selection for the phone panel is from those who are contactable on a landline or mobile phone selected at random from 20,000 nationwide phone numbers. The results are weighted to reflect the overall voting adult population in terms of gender, age, and area. Based on this sample of 1,000 respondents, the maximum sampling error (for a result of 50%) is +/- 3.1%, at the 95% confidence level. This poll should be formally referred to as the “Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll”.

Taxpayer Talk with Peter Williams: Hon Chris Finlayson + panel

This week’s Taxpayer Talk guest is former Attorney General Chris Finlayson. His latest book “Yes Minister” reflects on his time in Parliament and how the country was run during the John Key years. In a wide ranging discussion with host Peter Williams he expresses his frustration with the country’s civil justice system, explains why co-governance isn’t such a bad thing and why the National Party got it so wrong after Bill English stepped down as leader in 2018. Findlayson also pays tribute to an unsung hero of the National caucus whose foresight saved the country’s economy during the Covid era. Elsewhere on Taxpayer Talk the Panel discusses the week’s big political issues and Peter replies to some of your correspondence. 

You can listen to the episode online here, or via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and where all good podcast are sold.

Human Rights Commission fails Economics 101

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union is disturbed to see the Human Rights Commission suggesting economic policies for which they clearly have no knowledge or understanding of. 

The Commission recently called for urgent action on rent control, an idea normally spouted by economically-illiterate far-left organisations such as the Green Party. 

There is strong consensus among economists, along with substantial real world evidence that shows rent controls reduce housing supply, cause deterioration in quality and harm those who are struggling to find accomodation. The government's own advisors warn against rent controls stating that "evidence from overseas shows that there are significant adverse consequences in the housing market, such as disincentivising supply, driving up prices in parts of the market where rents are not controlled, and reducing incentives for landlords to maintain their properties."

Economist Assar Lindbeck famously said, "in many cases rent control appears to be the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city - except for bombing" – we agree.

Economics 101 will tell you that when you reduce the price of something, the supply of that thing will reduce. In the case of rental properties this is clear and can be logically explained.

Firstly, rent controls reduce the potential return that landlords and developers can get on their investment. This disincentivises them from investing in building new properties or renting out those that are currently vacant. At a time where we need to be building more houses, discouraging people from doing just that only makes our housing crisis worse. 

When the price for a good is below the market price, there are more people wanting to rent and less people willing to supply rental properties to the market. This creates a shortage of rental properties making it difficult for those who are not currently locked in to rent-controlled accomodation. This results in reduced mobility in the rental market as people know they will be unable to find new accommodation.

Because people are unwilling to leave their current properties, we end up with a large number of people in living situations that are neither suitable or efficient. Families who have more kids or people getting into relationships stay in their small overcrowded houses, not willing to risk being thrown onto the street. Similarly, empty nesters are less likely to move out of their rent controlled properties and end up living in larger properties that would be better suited to more people. This has other wider societal effects such as people not moving to areas with more job opportunities or for education. 

Landlords are also more likely to sell their properties to owner-occupants in order to realise the full market value of their property. This results in the supply of housing moving away from those most in need of affordable housing towards young professionals who are fortunate enough to afford a deposit, perhaps with some help from the bank of mum and dad.

Some may argue that the impacts of this can be mitigated through exemptions for new builds or certain kinds of property. This is also a bad idea because, in a rent controlled market, any properties not subject to controls face high rental prices, pushed up by the spill-over of people unable to win the lottery of a rent controlled house. Furthermore, overseas analysis says that when these kinds of exemptions are in place, landlords convert properties to be compliant with exemptions or even demolish them completely to rebuild as uncontrolled new builds.  

The final point is that the conditions of homes will deteriorate. When landlords get less return on their properties, they invest less in them. When there is a shortage of housing it is easy to find new tenants so anyone complaining will be turfed out, tenants are unlikely to risk this. 

If the price of groceries is too high, we don't put a cap on the maximum price for a loaf of bread. Instead, we look for ways to increase competition in the market such as by reducing barriers to entry as recommended by the commerce commission. The same thinking should be applied to renting.

If you want cheaper rent and better conditions, the simple fact of the matter is that we need more houses. We want a renters market where landlords are competing for tenants, undercutting each other with lower prices and higher quality. In the mean time, we can create more competition in the market by significantly reducing the regulations on rental properties.

Allowing people to rent out properties that are not compliant with current standards provides lower cost alternatives to those who want it. These kinds arrangements won't be suitable for everyone but provide a low cost alternative to those who are willing to accept it while simultaneously reducing the demand (and cost) of all other available properties. Reducing red-tape on constructing and renting out 'tiny houses' on vacant land also provide quick, low-cost solutions in the short term.   

We invite anyone from the Human Rights Commission, the Green Party or any other organisation advocating for rent controls to join us for a debate on our podcast. In the mean time the Human Rights Commission should stick to their remit and take some time to listen to our podcast on this issue with Brad Olsen

 

 

Taxpayer Update: New poll 📊 | Peter Williams podcast 🎙️ | MP whistleblowing on colleagues 💸

Dear Supporter,

New Poll: Māori Party recapture balance of power

Exclusive to supporters like you, this month's Taxpayers' Union-Curia Poll shows an overall gain for the Labour/Green centre-left parties at the expense of the National/ACT centre-right bloc. Applying the results to seats Parliament, neither has the 61 seats required to govern without the Māori Party.

With five seats, the Māori Party would determine who will form a Government next year on these numbers.

We've just released the key results on our website here.

Not good news for Luxon

Christopher Luxon's Preferred Prime Minister results continue their slide. Mr Luxon was on 28% in June is now on just 19.5% today. Jacinda Ardern is at 39.5%.

Cost of Living (22.7%) is by far the issue most Kiwis are thinking about when considering who to vote for, followed by the economy. Despite what the media would have you believe, just 4% of Kiwis rank the environment as their most important voting issue right now.

Most Kiwis want the Government to cut taxes...

As part of this month's poll, our polsters asked voters whether they support a temporary 10% reduction in overall income tax for all families to help with the increased cost of living. 59% said yes.

Something that the Beehive should take note of is that Labour voters are the most in favour of a temporary package for across-the-board tax relief!

...and cut spending!

Our pollsters asked 1,200 Kiwi voters if the Government should be increasing, decreasing, or maintaining spending levels in response to high inflation.

The most popular response – 45% – was that Government should decrease spending. Only 12% of respondents thought increasing spending was the right idea and 27% said spending should be kept the same.

The poll suggests that Kiwis know very well that the Government's record spending is driving up prices across the board. So next time Labour MPs try to troll National Party leader Chris Luxon with claims his Party will 'cut spending' Mr Luxon should say yes!

Information about access to the full report, and methodology, is on our website.

Taxpayer Talk's new host: Peter Williams

Former TVNZ broadcaster (now Taxpayers' Union Board Member) Peter Williams has taken over as host of our new weekly Taxpayer Talk podcast. In this week's episode, he speaks to author and social commentator Ewen McQueen on his book One Sun in the Sky: the untold story of sovereignty and the Treaty of Waitangi. He also hosts our first of what we plan to be a weekly political panel, this week covering the Taxpayers' Union-Curia poll and problems within National.

You can listen to the episode on our website here, or via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio or via any good podcast app.

Labour MP alleges misuse of taxpayers' funds

During our polling period, the National Party were dealing with allegations of historical bullying by new MP Sam Uffindel, but by the end it was Labour under the pump as they batted back accusations of bullying from one of their own, Hamilton West MP Dr Gaurav Sharma.

Buried in his lengthy allegations, was the assertion that a Labour MP and Parliamentary Service staff member were "misusing taxpayer's money". This could have been lost in the drama, but your humble Taxapeurs' Union is determined to get to the bottom of it.

We are calling on an independent enquiry into the claim by Dr Sharma. It isn't enough for Parliamentary Services (which reports to the Speaker) to conduct a secretive investigation. Remember that Parliamentary Services is one of the very few public agencies not covered by freedom of information laws.

And as we saw with Parliamentary Service's mishandling of Trevor Mallard's outrageous and false rape accusation against a Parliamentary staffer, that office can hardly be trusted with protecting taxpayer money... Luckily Parliament already has an officer tasked with protecting taxpayers, and we have called on the Auditor General to investigate.

If not the Auditor General, we know of a reputable independent organisation which has specialist expertise in throwing sunlight onto government waste. That's why we wrote to all MPs to remind them that (as the IRD used to say) "we're here to help". 

Leo Molloy calls it quits following Ratepayers' Alliance poll

Our sister group, the Auckland Ratepayers Alliance has also been keeping the posters busy. In a first for the Super City, they've been tracking support of the leading mayoral candidates, and their poll released on Friday saw the self styled shockjock-come-restaurateur, Leo Molloy pull out of the race.

Labour-endorsed and sitting councillor Efeso Collins is the front-runner to take the Mayoral Chains from Phil Goff. But with just 22.3% of the decided vote, Aucklands are clearly wanting a change of direction at Auckland Council.

Ex-Far North Mayor Wayne Brown was a close second on 18.6% and with Leo out, C&R's Viv Beck (12.5%) in third place. Head over to the Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance website to read the full poll report.

Council elections, can you volunteer?

In the coming weeks we will be preparing "ratepayer voting guides" to increase transparency on local council election canididates' positions on rates, Three Waters and issues such as transport.

If you are in a position to help our student interns collate contact information and contact local candidates in your region, good with a phone (and on email) please drop me a line by reply email.

With your support, we'll be able to publish New Zealand's first online ratepayer voting guide covering the whole country.

Interest deductibility U-turn - but only if you're a big corporate

Megan Woods

Last year the Government changed interest deductibility rules so landlords cannot claim interest for tax purposes on existing rental properties. However, now Housing Minister Megan Woods has decided to do a U-turn, but not for mum-and-dad-investors, rather only for the big end of town!

The Housing Minister has announced blocks of at least 20 new and existing build-to-rent flats will be exempt from interest deductibility tax changes in perpetuity if they offer 10-year tenancies.

“We’re providing an exemption from the interest limitation rules to certain types of new and existing build-to-rent developments in perpetuity,” Housing Megan Woods said.

This makes little sense. The removal of interest deductibility breaches the fundamental principle that tax law should treat like for like. Giving tax favours to well connected big property developers while still hammering those less close to Megan Wood's officials is Muldoon-style tax policy. Yuck.

One more thing

We are 100% funded by our members and supporters like you, who make our work holding the Government (and councils) to account. To back the mission of Lower Taxes, Less Waste, and More Transparency, click here to donate via our secure website.

Donate

Thank you for your support.

Jordan

Jordan_signature.jpg
Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

PS. Is the first newsletter this year that doesn't mention Three Waters!? If you follow that campaign (i.e. signed our Stop 3 Waters petition, or used our select committee submission tool) we'll be in touch separately later this week on the next steps for that campaign...

Media coverage:

Newstalk ZB 
Taxpayers' Union crying foul on Kainga Ora's plans to hire more staff

Newstalk ZB Taxpayers' Union banned from Local Government NZ Conference

Newstalk ZB 
The Huddle: Taxpayers' Union vs LGNZ, overseas investors, mask use

Newstalk ZB
 Barry Soper on cost of living payment, unemployment and Three Waters

Newstalk ZB
 Heather du Plessis-Allan re Commerce Commission 

Today FM: Do you believe that Nanaia Mahuta lied to the NZ public about Three Waters?

Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll: August 2022

Exclusive to members and supporters, we can reveal the results of the eleventh Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll.

The polling period was Sunday 03 - Thursday 11 August 2022.

Here are the headline results:

Party vote

Party

Support

Change from last month

National

34.0%

↓3.0

Labour

35.2%

↑0.5

Greens

9.5%

↑1.0

ACT

11.0%

↑1.0

Māori

3.5%

↓0.2

NZ First

2.6%

↓0.7

Other

4.7%

↑1.4

Support for the governing Labour Party has risen 0.5 points to 35.2%, while the opposition National Party has dropped 3 points to 34.0%. ACT has risen 0.5 points to 10.5%. The Greens have risen 1 point to 9.5%. No other parties reach the 5% threshold. Te Pāti Māori has dropped 0.2 points to 3.5%.

Here is how these results would translate to seats in Parliament, assuming all electorate seats are held:

Seats

For the fourth consecutive month in the Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll, the Centre-Right bloc is ahead of the Centre-Left. However, the Centre-Right no longer has enough seats to govern without the support of Te Pāti Māori.

Party vote over time

Centre-Left (Lab/Green) = 57 (+2) Centre-Right (Nat/ACT) = 58 (-2) Centre (NZF/Māori) = 5 (0).
This puts Te Pāti Māori in the position of King/ Queen maker with whichever coalition they choose becoming Government. This assumes all electorate seats are held.

Support for Jacinda Ardern as preferred Prime Minister has dropped by 0.7 points to 39.5%. Luxon’s slide continues from 28% in June 2022 to 22.4% last month and this month a drop of a further 2.9 points takes him to 19.5%. David Seymour has risen 1.8 points to 7.7% and Winston Peters has almost doubled his support going from 2.3% to 4.2% (+1.9).

PPM over time

Preferred Prime Minister

This month

Change from last month

Jacinda Ardern

39.5%

↓0.7

Christopher Luxon

19.5%

↓2.9

David Seymour

7.7%

↑1.8

John Key

1.9%

↓1.8

Winston Peters

4.2%

↑1.9

In terms of what issues respondents identify as their major voting issue, COVID-19 continues to fade in importance. Focus on the cost of living has also eased off.

Voting issues

For the full polling report, covering the detailed insights the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition are used to receiving, join our Taxpayer Caucus – our club of most generous financial supporters who make our work possible.


The scientific poll was conducted by Curia Market Research and commissioned by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union. The full polling report is being released exclusively to members of our Taxpayer Caucus. As is well known, but for full disclosure, David Farrar is a member of the Board of the Taxpayers' Union and also a Director of Curia Market Research Ltd.

The Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll was conducted from Wednesday 3 August to Thursday 11 August 2022. The median response was collected on Sunday 07 August 2022. The sample size was 1,200 eligible New Zealand voters 800 by phone and 400 by online panel. The sample selection for the phone panel is from those who are contactable on a landline or mobile phone selected at random from 20,000 nationwide phone numbers. The results are weighted to reflect the overall voting adult population in terms of gender, age, and area. Based on this sample of 1,200 respondents, the maximum sampling error (for a result of 50%) is +/- 2.8%, at the 95% confidence level. This poll should be formally referred to as the “Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll”.

Taxpayer Talk with Peter Williams: Ewen McQueen & panel on new poll

Former TVNZ broadcaster (now Taxpayers' Union Board Member) Peter Williams has taken over as host of our new weekly Taxpayer Talk podcast. In this week's episode, he speaks to author and social commentator Ewen McQueen on his book One Sun in the Sky: the untold story of sovereignty and the Treaty of Waitangi. He also hosts our first of what we plan to be a weekly political panel, this week covering the Taxpayers' Union-Curia poll and problems within National.

You can listen to the episode online here, or via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and where all good podcast are sold.

Taxpayer Talk: Update on Water Users’ Group litigation

TT_Gary_Judd_copy.jpg

Earlier this year, the Taxpayers’ Union financially supported a judicial review of Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s advice to Cabinet that her Three Waters proposals were required for the Crown to comply with its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi.  On 4 August, the first ‘in chambers’ hearing was heard in Wellington. Jordan sat down for an update with one of the two Queens Counsels leading the matter, Gary Judd QC.

Subscribe to Taxpayer Talk podcast via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

Tackling the culture of dishonesty in Wellington re three waters (update to Three Waters campaign supporers)

The following is our update to supporters who have lodged their objection to the Government's Three Waters - either through the official Stop Three Waters petition, or submission tool:

Subject: Tackling the culture of dishonesty in Wellington re three waters 

Dear Friend,

Thank you again for supporting the fight against Nanaia Mahuta’s Three Waters proposals. Further to Peter Williams’ (no relation!) note last week, I’m emailing to ask for your feedback on a matter we have been thinking about for some time. This email is longer than usual, but we think you'll agree it needs to be for what we're considering.

First though, in case you missed it, our formal submission to the Select Committee on the Three Waters "Water Entities Bill" is here. This emaiL concerns the legal opinion appended to that submission – you may have heard our lawyer interviewed this morning on "Today FM", and the media release summarising the opinion is copied at the end of this email.

Background

Since David Farrar and I co-founded the Taxpayers’ Union in 2013, we have noticed growing public sector tolerance of dishonesty. There has always been some expectation of manipulation and ‘spin’ in the media. But we could expect Ministerial advisers and contracted professionals to maintain their own standards. At the least, they would stay silent when Ministers were being “political”. Now it seems agencies and public servants feel compelled to collude in lying.

In the context of the Three Waters campaign, we’ve seen an unprofessional approach in the way people who ought to know better perpetrated and repeated some Minister’s claims about Three Waters. We have long been worried that they’ve seemed untrue (or at the very least, calculated to be misleading). Take two examples:

  • the lie that councils will continue to “own” the assets under Three Waters; and
  • the way councils were consulted in relation to the Three Waters (being asked to participate in the Government’s consultation by officials from the Department of Internal Affairs when those very officials would have been involved in the process preparing Nanaia Mahuta’s Cabinet Paper which had already been through Cabinet and covering the very same matters DIA was asking for feedback on!)

Why is there more tolerance for dishonesty and unprofessional conduct in our public bodies?

Public service professional standards of honesty and integrity have traditionally relied on the State Services Commissioner (now the "Public Service Commissioner") to maintain. We fear, however, that the Public Services Commission has deteriorated just as much as the public sector agencies it is set up to monitor. We have not seen it effectively disciplining agencies which have been dishonest or used public money for political advertising campaigns (NZTA, for example).

So in that context I asked lawyers Brigitte Morten and Stephen Franks for an opinion on Minister Mahuta’s false claims about Three Waters reforms. 

We wanted a strict legal opinion on whether minister Mahuta was in breach of the Fair Trading Act and securities legislation regarding the claims she was making about councils owning “shares” in the Three Waters assets – i.e. would she be a crook if this was the context of a share offer to the public?

The lawyers don't pull punches: Ministers have hoodwinked the public on 'ownership' claims

The opinion we got back, which has also been peer reviewed by a Queen's Counsel, is probably the most damning legal opinion I have ever read. It concludes that Minister Mahuta's claims regarding ownership have been "calculated to deceive Parliamentarians, and when it becomes law, to deceive New Zealanders generally".

The legal opinion is very detailed, but it is not hard to understand. It calls the claims of retention of local ownership "false, misleading and deceptive" as "councils are expressly denied the rights of possession, control, derivation of benefits, and disposition that are the defining attributes of ownership". Gary Judd QC comments in his review of the legal opinion: "When all the lying statements are put together, as [the] opinion does, the government’s effrontery is breath-taking."

While the opinion says the Minister can’t be prosecuted for criminal wrongdoing because her comments were not made "in trade" it hadn’t occurred to us that those party to Ministers’ false assurance could potentially be liable and held to account. 

Most notably they raise the possibility that culpability could reach any professional advisors on the Ministers "Governance Working Group" on three waters governance, and the council's lobby group (that sold out to the Government), Local Government New Zealand. 

In my experience, lawyers usually hedge their bets and understate wrongdoing. But that isn’t the case here. The lawyers think there is a clear breach of not only the usual standards of honesty and fair dealing, but of the law. Have a read of the opinion and judge for yourself.

So where to from here?

So we want you feedback. We’ve taken the first step and informed the Commerce Commission (our lawyer's letter is here).

If the Commerce Commission don’t act promptly, should we seek advice on the steps on a private prosecution? That would be a big trigger to pull – it would likely send shockwaves through Wellington (in the best possible way). But how else can we STOP the dishonesty, force the Government (or at least those working for it) to acknowledge that Three Waters is an asset grab – that council’s won’t “own” the assets in any meaningful way?

Most importantly how do we re-establish expectation that public servants’ statements are truthful in the old-fashioned sense – that they will not allow themselves to be misused to deceive, by omission or commission?

For the politicians, the task of keeping them honest rests at the ballot box – but our democracy relies on a professional public service that is truthful and enjoys the confidence of all New Zealanders as straight shooters. That can mean 'free and frank' advice to Ministers, and telling them things they don't want to hear. We cannot let it stand that the bureaucracy are playing politics and joining hands in political and legal deceptions on the public. 

So have a read of the opinion, let us know your thoughts, and I will ensure each and every reply is read as we work out where to from here.

Thank you for your support.

Jordan

Jordan_signature.jpg
Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

PS. For those of you who have marked the date - the Water Users Group is finally in Court tomorrow! They are there to argue that the official advice provided to and relied upon by Minister Mahuta (the advice that she claims says that Three Waters is necessary for the Crown to comply with the Treaty) should be made available for public security. To my immense frustration the High Court has prohibited those who are funding the cause from sitting in on or listening to the hearing. I am hoping to sit down with one of the two QCs who are arguing that case tomorrow or Friday, and will update all of those who have chipped into that cause just as soon as I have news to give you. You can read the memo from the Court on the reason we cannot watch here, and the latest update from the Water Users' Group here.


MEDIA RELEASE

Legal Opinion: Three Waters Bill “calculated to deceive” – Minister’s professional advisers possibly liable as party to the fraud

Like tens of thousands of New Zealanders, the Taxpayers’ Union submitted to the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee on Three Waters (Water Services Entities Bill). With the Union’s submission was a bombshell legal opinion.

Ministers have repeated assurances that councils will continue to own water assets under the proposed ‘Three Waters’. But those claims are utterly false. Public law firm Franks Ogilvie, in an opinion reviewed by Gary Judd QC, lay out the extent to which these claims have been "calculated to deceive Parliamentarians, and when it becomes law, to deceive New Zealanders generally". The opinion is being released publicly today.

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says, “It is clear the Government realised that they could not convince New Zealanders that handing over ownership of local assets was a good idea. So they’ve instead redefined 'ownership' to mean nothing, so they can promise continued community ‘ownership’ in an incredible display of contempt for the public, the truth and the law.”

The legal opinion is very detailed, but it is not hard to understand. It calls the claims of retention of local ownership “false, misleading and deceptive” as “councils are expressly denied the rights of possession, control, derivation of benefits, and disposition that are the defining attributes of ownership”. Gary Judd QC comments in his review of the legal opinion: “When all the lying statements are put together, as [the] opinion does, the government’s effrontery is breath-taking.

The legal opinion concludes that despite the obvious dishonesties, ministers are immune to prosecution under the Financial Markets Conduct Act 2013 and the Fair Trading Act 1986 as they are not ‘in trade’.

Mr Williams continues, “But that defence does not apply to people assisting the Ministers in a professional capacity. That would include, for example, members of the Working Group on Three Waters governance that could be held liable as they operated ‘in trade’ as professionals providing a service and could be deemed complicit in making the untrue claims.”

“Additionally, legal experts found that Local Government New Zealand ‘could be found to be acting in trade in its provision of representation and advisory services', so their public statements promoting the lie that councils will ‘own’ water assets under Three Waters, could make them also liable to prosecution.”

The authors of the legal opinion do not mince words in their assessment of the situation stating: “Ministers appear to have cold-bloodedly decided to confuse Councils and ratepayers with false statements.”

Mr Williams says, “Ministers might dodge prosecution because they’re in politics, not ‘trade’, but the lawyers note the expectations in the Cabinet Manual and Standing Orders. They must not mislead the House and they must act to ‘the highest ethical standards'. However, the consequences for our elected members will not come from the courts, but at the ballot box.”

“It is difficult to see how the Government can proceed with such a discredited abuse of legislative process. The huge public opposition to the Bill came without knowing of such damning conclusions from respected legal experts. This is not a careless, technical, or understandable mistake in legislation. It is intentionally deceptive. The lies have been actively promoted by ministers, Working Group members, LGNZ, and various elected and non-elected officials."

“We’ll be seeing if anything effective can be done to restore customary honesty among those drawn into this ministerial cheating. If officials were forced to be complicit, they may need better support against ministerial pressure. We’ll be considering carefully whether authorities who punish and deter calculated dishonesty by business people, can do their job when the cheating comes from the top."

Access legal opinion at www.taxpayers.org.nz/calculated_to_deceive 

ENDS

 

Taxpayer Update: More $$ for media | New Chair for the Taxpayers' Union | New poll shows a tie

Dear Supporter,

Our lastest Taxpayers' Union Curia poll has just been released. We summarise the results at the end of this update – and what would happen if this poll was reflected in an election and we ended up with a hung Parliament.

More taxpayer funding for the media: Will this affect election coverage?

Journalist

The Government has doled out another $4 million to media from the 'Public Interest' Journalism Fund this week.

The latest announcement includes $1.2 million for Allied Press, $374,245 for iwi news, $160,000 for The Spinoff to write about the 2022 local body elections and $39,380 to Metro Media Group to write a four-part series on how the arts get funded, and $800,000 for a programme introducing young people to journalism as a "viable career".

Check our website for the full list of funding recipients from the PIJF.

In his last blog post for the Taxpayers' Union, Louis explained how this funding damages media independence, no matter how much the journalists deny it:

Significant funds have been allocated for struggling outlets to train and employ new journalists. But with the $55 million soon set to run dry, the Government will face immense pressure from the media to top up the funding, lest they have to lay off their new young journos.

New Zealand media bosses and editors are protective of and loyal to their staff, and financially invested in keeping their outlets afloat. This presents an obvious conflict of interest in next year's general election campaign: media figures have a personal and financial interest in electing a Government that will protect their funding. New Zealanders will rightly view their election coverage with this in mind.

Click here to read the full piece.

Only a week left to have your say on Three Waters

Submission ad

Time flies: it's now just one week until Parliament stops accepting written submissions on the Water Services Entities Bill (a.k.a Three Waters).

If you haven't already made a submission, click here to use our tool.

Alternatively, you can spend a bit more time making a submission through Parliament's webpage.

Already, 16,000 New Zealanders have made submissions through our website. That's a stunning effort. And thousands of you have requested to have your submission heard orally – this is crucial to delaying the legislation, and we know that each day the Three Waters debate drags on, the more the Government suffers politically.

Waiting an Adernity: When will taxpayers see housing at Ihumātao?

Ihumatao

Eighteen months after the Government forked out $30 million in housing funds to purchase the paddocks of Ihumātao, there is still no sign of progress towards construction.

In fact, the group of iwi and government representatives meant to make decisions about the land have only had one meeting with Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson, who has given them another three and a half years to just to stump up a plan for housing on the land.

The ACT Party has described the amount of time it's taking to get houses build at Ihumatao as an 'Ardernity' – a label that could just as easily be applied to the wait for 100,000 KiwiBuild homes, or progress on Auckland light rail...

New Taxpayers' Union Chair

LaurieWe're delighted to have Laurence Kubiak appointed as the new Chair of the Taxpayers’ Union Board.

Laurence is a high tech entrepreneur, a recent Chair of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and former CEO of the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research.

Here's what he told media:

I’m delighted to have been asked to chair New Zealand’s leading voice for government transparency and fiscal prudence.

The Union stands for public spending that is efficient, transparent, and subject to appropriate accountability: values that are the heart of any robust system of governance. The Taxpayers’ Union gives a public voice to these values, a voice that will become stronger and even more important as we chart our course through these unsettled times.

I'd like to thank Casey Costello, our Acting Chair since the launch of our ‘Stop Three Waters’ campaign late last year. Anyone who saw her speech against co-governance at our town hall event in Auckland will know she's a star.

New poll: Labour/National-blocks neck and neck

Our latest Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll was released just a few moments ago. 

While there are no significant shifts in support for the major parties, a boost for the Māori Party means that this month's result would likely translate to a tie on election day.

Seats graph

National and ACT win 60 seats, Labour and the Greens win 55, and the Māori Party nets 5 seats.

You can read more on the poll's findings on our website. But we better answer the obvious question...

Hung Parliament – What happens in a tie?

It’s election night 2023. The centre-left bloc of Labour and the Greens, joined by the Māori Party, has won 60 seats. National and ACT have also won 60 seats. In a 120-seat Parliament, neither side has the majority required to form a government. What happens?

Josh Van Veen (a member of the Taxpayers' Union team and a part-time political historian) lays out potential scenarios:

Scenario 1: Labour and National could put aside their ideological differences to form a ‘grand coalition’. There is precedent. In Germany, under Chancellor Angela Merkel, the centre-right Christian Democrats governed with the centre-left Social Democrats on three separate occasions. Back home, we can see parallels with the United-Reform Coalition that governed New Zealand between 1931 and 1935. The Coalition eventually led to the formation of the modern National Party. What about a NatLab Government?

If this seems far-fetched, remember that Jacinda Ardern once personally picked Christopher Luxon to chair her business advisory council!

Scenario 2: Labour and National could agree that the party with the most seats should govern. This would mean that the ‘loser’ abstains on confidence and supply while otherwise fulfilling the duties of Opposition. But such an arrangement would leave a "lame duck" Government unable to pass any laws without consent from the Opposition. On the other hand, New Zealanders might welcome this kind of consensual politics as a positive and constructive innovation.

Scenario 3: To make Scenario 2 work for the full three-year term, Labour and National could agree to govern on a ‘rotational’ basis. Christopher Luxon would serve 18 months as prime minister before handing back power to Jacinda Ardern (or another Labour leader) to see out the Parliamentary term. The arrangement would require both parties make significant policy concessions and perhaps sign up to a joint legislation programme. Scenario 3 is a grand coalition in all but name.

Scenario 4: Of course, National could dispense with Labour and attempt to win over the Māori Party. This would likely see National abandon its stance on co-governance and might complicate relations with ACT. But if he pulled it off, Christopher Luxon could go down in history as our wokest prime minister – changing the country’s name and perhaps establishing a separate Māori parliament or upper house.

Scenario 5: If the first four options are ruled out that leaves only one alternative: a new election. This scenario regularly plays our in Israel, where four general elections were held between 2019 and 2021. With Jacinda Ardern cast in the role of Benjamin Netanyahu, she would remain Prime Minister through the new election. And so on. While it could be the tidiest option, it is the most expensive.  In 2020, it cost $160 million to run the election (though this included two referenda).

Re-doing an entire election might sound like banana republic stuff, but frankly it seems more realistic than the alternatives.

Thank you for your support,

Jordan

Jordan_signature.jpg
Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

Donate

Media coverage:

Timaru Herald  
South Canterbury mayors urge people to have their say on Three Waters reforms

Waikato Herald  
Three Waters Reform: Waipā mayor Jim Mylchreest says it's time to speak up and share your thoughts

Politik  
Everybody is worried about Groundswell

Hawke's Bay Today  Hawke's Bay rates issues highlighted in annual increases

Homepaddock  
7 questions on 3 waters

Stuff
  Beware of fish-hooks in free trade deals

1 News  
NZ Maori Council further distances itself from Matthew Tukaki

Southland Times  Three Waters advocacy group to front Invercargill City Council

Rotorua Daily Post  Three Waters Rotorua protest: 120 turn out to oppose ‘loss of local control’

SunLive  WATCH: Three Waters: NZ’s hot topic

SunLive  Three waters roadshow stopping in Tauranga 

Stuff  Polls diverge on voter direction as left and right blocs neck and neck

The Working Group  The Working Group Podcast with Jordan Williams, Maria Slade and Brooke van Velden 

The Daily Blog  Winners & Losers in latest Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll: NZ Political Spectrum is splintering

Stuff  The Ardern Government is in a death spiral with no hope … or is it? 

Marlborough Midweek  Stop Three Waters turnout ‘amazing’ 

Stuff  Turnout draws praise at Stop Three Waters roadshow in Blenheim 

RNZ  Auckland councillor appalled at national cycleway project blowouts

Dominion Post  Contract of NZSO board chairperson not renewed after Taxpayers’ Union appointment

Offsetting Behaviour  Thou shalt not suffer a conservative on your Board

Timaru Herald  Timaru stop for five-week nationwide roadshow rallying opposition to water reforms

Otago Daily Times  Strongest turnout yet at latest Three Waters roadshow meeting

Otago Daily Times  Three Waters plan ‘undemocratic’

Otago Daily Times  Hundreds at 3 Waters reforms protest meeting

SunLive  Three Waters protest to oppose “loss of control”

Oamaru Mail  Lower rates with Three Waters 

Otago Daily Times  Three Waters meeting packed

RNZ  Political commentators: Brigitte Morten and Lamia Imam 

The Platform NZ  
Sean Plunket speaks with former New Zealand broadcaster Peter Williams 

Stuff  Fired up crowd heckle Gore’s mayor at Groundswell’s 3 Waters meeting 

RNZ  Groundswell, Taxpayers’ Union roadshow in Gore

Another $4.1m for the media: Will this affect election coverage?

The fourth round of 'Public Interest' journalism funding was announced by NZ on Air this week, costing taxpayers $4,144,909.

So far $43,968,004 of the $55 million fund has been paid out to media organisations to fund a variety of projects, journalism roles and industry development. 

The latest announcement includes $1.2 million for Allied Press, $374,245 for iwi news, $160,000 for The Spinoff to write about the 2022 local body elections and $39,380 to Metro Media Group to write a four-part series on how the arts get funded, and $800,000 for a programme introducing young people to journalism as a career. You can view the full list of Public Interest Journalism Funding (PIJF) to date here.

Results from a Taxpayers' Union commissioned Curia Market Research Poll

While media outlets recieving taxpayer funds deny that this biases their reporting, our scientific polling shows that Government funding undermines public trust and confidence in the media something that is in itself harmful. Distrust in mainstream media pushes readers towards fringe information sources that may be perceived as more independent, but are less likely to provide accurate reporting. This risks a spiral effect: the more audiences turn away from mainstream media, the more politicians will be tempted to prop up the struggling outlets with more funding.

To be clear, New Zealanders are right to be concerned about the impact of Government funding on journalistic independence. One of the requirements of the PIJF is that recipients must "actively promote the principles of partnership, participation and active protection under Te Tiriti o Waitangi".

Our board member and former broadcaster Peter Williams put it well in his speech on our Stop Three Waters roadshow when he said, "where I come from, journalism is not 'actively promoting' anything. Journalism is about offering all sides of the story, examining facts around the issues and leaving the reader, the viewer or the listener to make up her or his mind on an issue".

Despite the name, there doesn't seem to be much public interest in the a lot of the content being produced. Online magazine The Spinoff recently published an article begging for donations because "thousands of readers have stopped donating over the past year."

The Spinoff has so far recieved $1,686,122 from the PIJF and used it to write articles about furries and Efeso Collins' campaign song. Apparently, this has not inspired loyalty from readers.

A sample of Spinoff articles funded through the Public Interest Journalism Fund

One looming problem caused by the PIJF is that significant funds have been allocated for struggling outlets to train and employ new journalists. But with the $55 million soon set to run dry, the Government will face immense pressure from the media to top up the funding, lest they have to lay off their new young journalists.

New Zealand media bosses and editors are protective of and loyal to their staff, and financially invested in keeping their outlets afloat. This presents an obvious conflict of interest in next year's general election campaign: media figures have a personal and financial interest in electing a Government that will protect their funding. New Zealanders will rightly view their election coverage with this in mind.

We're calling on all parties to remove this dangerous conflict of interest and restore faith in the media by ruling out further funding for private media after the election.

We're also calling on those outlets who have recieved PIJF funding to commit to repaying it. Click here to sign the petition.

Does this sign look like a road hazard to you?

The New Zealand Transport Authority have targeted a Featherston family with threats of enforcement action over a "Stop Three Waters" banner erected on private property.

Here is a photo of the banner in question:

Sign photo

An email to the family from South Wairarapa District Council says NZTA have "raised concerns about the wording of the sign, specifically the large red STOP that could cause potentially safety issues along the State Highway":

Complaint

The email finishes:

Complaint finish

NZTA might be morons, but Kiwis are not.

The idea that motorists will slam on the brakes when they pass a 'stop three waters' banner is frankly laughable. NZTA need to pull their head in, and stop acting as lapdogs for their political masters trying to suppress New Zealanders' ability to express their views on a radical policy proposal that will result in high water costs and less democracy.

Any action that is taken against any one of our 180,000 subscribed supporters via NZTA relating to one of the Stop Three Waters signs purchased from our website will be defended, by judicial review if we must, by the Taxpayers' Union.

What makes this action particularly offensive is the fact that NZTA has not just a history of trying to suppress speech on the centre right, but actively promotes pro-government messages including on NZTA signage. Throughout 2020 NZTA allowed its digital signage networks to be misused with politically loaded “Be Kind” messages. That's to say nothing of the multi-million dollar ad campaigns they blast into Kiwis' living rooms promoting the Government's 'Road to Zero' policy.

Hundreds of fantastic New Zealanders have erected Stop Three Waters banners in every corner of the country. Is NZTA going to threaten every one of them?

The courts have been very clear that political speech is that which ought to be the most precious from a human rights perspective. If NZTA really wants to have this fight, we say bring it on.

New Zealanders with great roadside locations can purchase a Stop Three Waters banner of their own at www.taxpayers.org.nz/shop.

Laurence Kubiak appointed to Chair the Taxpayers’ Union

LaurieLaurence Kubiak has been appointed to Chair the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

Mr Kubiak is a high tech entrepreneur (CEO and shareholder at Nautech Electronics), Chair of Trustees Executors Ltd, a Director of Northpower, and recent Chair of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

Last year Mr Kubiak stepped down as CEO of the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, and prior to returning to New Zealand served in executive roles at Shell, BP, and British Telecom.

Mr Kubiak said “I’m delighted to have been asked to chair New Zealand’s leading voice for government transparency and fiscal prudence.”

“The Union stands for public spending that is efficient, transparent, and subject to appropriate accountability: values that are the heart of any robust system of governance. The Taxpayers’ Union gives a public voice to these values, a voice that will become stronger and even more important as we chart our course through these unsettled times.”

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says, "Laurie’s deep experience and connections within both the private and Government sectors are enormously valuable as we scale up our campaigns for lower taxes, less waste, and more transparency. His previous role with NZIER, regarded as one of New Zealand’s best economic consultancies, demonstrates his commitment to sensible public policy – a commitment we share at the Taxpayers’ Union."

“Casey Costello has been our Acting Chair since the launch of our ‘Stop Three Waters’ campaign late last year. In that period the Union has continued to grow and mature as a force for better public policy.  On behalf of all of our supporters, I want to thank Casey for her leadership and wisdom, and I am delighted that she is staying on the board to continue to guide the organisation.” 

The Taxpayers’ Union board is made up of the two founders, David Farrar and Jordan Williams, with former National Party Minister of Finance Hon Ruth Richardson, former ACT Chief of Staff Cr Chris Milne, broadcaster Peter Williams, businesswoman Casey Costello, and Laurence Kubiak. All non-executive board members are volunteers.

Former chairs of the organisation include former TVNZ political reporter John Bishop (2013-17), and government affairs expert Barrie Saunders (2017-21).

Launched in 2013, the Taxpayers’ Union has grown to become the largest taxpayer pressure group in the world on a per-capita basis with some 180,000 New Zealanders subscribed and active supporters. The Union is funded by more than 19,000 individual members and donors. The Union is a member of the World Taxpayer Associations with Jordan Williams serving on the WTA’s board.

Roadshow wrap-up: Here's what you made possible

Five weeks, 43 stops: Stop Three Waters roadshow wraps up

Josh, Annabel and I have now returned the campervan to Auckland after the final leg of the Stop Three Waters roadshow in Northland. After five weeks and more than 5,000km on the road, the team is knackered but hugely encouraged by the support New Zealanders have shown. We did what the Government has not: listened to the communities concerned about the centralisation of community water assets, loss of control, and affordability.

Below is a small sample of pictures from the road. You can find many, many more on our Facebook page.

Photos from the road(Bottom left: New Zealand's newest member of Parliament Sam Uffindell modelled our Stop Three Waters t-shirt, coreflute sign, and drink bottle. You can pick up any of these from our shop!)

More than 10,000 New Zealanders turned out at our events at roadsides, town squares, and town halls from Invercargill to Kerikeri. We were joined by dozens of councillors, mayors, and MPs who spoke up for local democracy and signed our Community Leaders' Appeal calling on Jacinda Ardern to protect local democracy and stop Three Waters.

While the newsrooms in Auckland and Wellington might not reflect the concerns of New Zealanders about Three Waters, provincial media are far more connected to their audiences – the image below speaks for itself.

Media coverage

At our Tauranga event, we secured a major win: National's Local Government spokesman Simon Watts made a new commitment that National won't just repeal and replace Three Waters, but that their replacement will not include undemocratic co-governance.

Simon Watts quote

And if you thought we'd already plastered the country with 'Stop Three Waters' billboards, look again – supporters at our events picked up hundreds more to erect at prime roadside locations. Not to mention the thousands of stickers and coreflute signs now on car bumpers and fences in every corner of New Zealand. Again, you can pick up a banner for outside your place from our shop.

Louis and JordanClick here to watch Jordan and I reflect on an incredible five weeks.

For all the team, one of the highlights of the Roadshow was the chance to meet Taxpayers' Union supporters up and down the country, put faces to names, and thank the people who make our work possible.

We want to thank the thousands of people – good and decent New Zealanders who believe in localism, democracy, and accountable, affordable water services – who have chipped in financially and made this effort possible. Our polling shows clearly that we are shifting the dial, with more and more New Zealanders now opposing Nanaia Mahuta's Three Waters.

We've succeeded in keeping local councils laser-focused on the Three Waters threat, and local representatives are now repeating our message to Parliament's Select Committee running public consultation: the MPs need to hit the road like we did, and hear submissions face-to-face in the communities affected.

How we Stop Three Waters: next phase of the campaign

It's now crunch time. Parliament's Finance and Expenditure Select Committee is now taking submissions from the public on the key enabling legislation for the Three Waters regime.

We've made it easy to submit on the Three Waters Bill:

Button

👉 Click here to make your voice heard 👈

Submissions close on 22 July, and we're asking everyone who has signed the official Stop Three Waters petition to make their voice heard.

Our Three Waters submission tool makes it easy for you to write a basic submission, with suggested points that will be sent straight to the Committee. It takes as little as two minutes and we're encouraging everyone to customise and add your own comments so the Government can't write it off as a 'form submission'.

Alternatively, you can prepare a submission from scratch using Parliament's submission page.

It is crucial that we dominate this submission process so Nanaia Mahuta cannot claim to have popular support for her legislation.

Click here to make a submission to Stop the Three Waters legislation.

Once written submissions close, Parliamentary convention requires the Committee to hear oral submissions from those who've requested to speak. This is a major opportunity to slow down the legislation. In fact, we're calling on the Committee to travel the country and hear local concerns in the communities directly affected – just as we've done with our Stop Three Waters roadshow.

Even if Nanaia Mahuta is determined to push her legislation through Parliament, together we can maximise the political damage by ensuring that a newly-elected Government has a clear mandate to scrap Three Waters.

Donate

Thank you for your support,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

PS. We've been able to spearhead the campaign against Three Waters thanks to the thousands of New Zealanders who have chipped into the fighting fund so far. On behalf of all of us, thank you for making this work possible!

Roadshow media coverage:

Southland Times  Three Waters advocacy group to front Invercargill City Council

Rotorua Daily Post  Three Waters Rotorua protest: 120 turn out to oppose ‘loss of local control’

SunLive  WATCH: Three Waters: NZ’s hot topic

SunLive  Three waters roadshow stopping in Tauranga 

Stuff  The Ardern Government is in a death spiral with no hope … or is it? 

Marlborough Midweek  Stop Three Waters turnout ‘amazing’ 

Stuff  Turnout draws praise at Stop Three Waters roadshow in Blenheim 

Timaru Herald  Timaru stop for five-week nationwide roadshow rallying opposition to water reforms

Otago Daily Times  Strongest turnout yet at latest Three Waters roadshow meeting

Otago Daily Times  Three Waters plan ‘undemocratic’

Otago Daily Times  Hundreds at 3 Waters reforms protest meeting

SunLive  Three Waters protest to oppose “loss of control”

Oamaru Mail  Lower rates with Three Waters: mayor

Otago Daily Times  Three Waters meeting packed

The Platform NZ  Sean Plunket speaks with former New Zealand broadcaster Peter Williams 

Stuff  Fired up crowd heckle Gore’s mayor at Groundswell’s 3 Waters meeting 

RNZ  Groundswell, Taxpayers’ Union roadshow in Gore

Taxpayer-funded orgs backing political propaganda

You might have seen this full page ad from Mind the Gap in the Herald on Monday.

Gap ad

Mind the Gap is a left-wing lobby group that argues pay gaps are caused by discrimination, and that the Government should intervene by requiring employers to publicly disclose differences in salaries they pay to different ethnic and gender groups.

Mind the Gap's expensive ad-buy is clearly an example of political campaigning. And that is fine so long as taxpayers aren't forking out for it.

However, Mind the Gap lists its "supporting partners" on the ad, and some quick research reveals that at least 13 of these organisations are funded by taxes, rates, or other sources of public money.

Partners

In a statement to the Union on Twitter, Mind the Gap says the support of these organisations is merely a case of "solidarity", without financial contributions. But of course, even without direct financial contributions, participating in a political campaign absorbs taxpayer-funded labour and resources.

We say that non-government organisations should choose between accepting public funding and undertaking political lobbying.

Here is the (likely incomplete) list of publicly-funded organisations backing Mind the Gap's campaign:

Organisation Funded by
Socialink Tauranga City Council, NZ Lottery
Good Shepherd NZ Ministry of Social Development, AUT
Global Women NZ ACC, Auckland Council, AUT, Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Ministry for Women, NZ Police, NZ Trade and Enterprise, The Treasury
GenderTick The Trusts
Diversity Works Internal Affairs, Public Service Commission, Te Puni Kokiri
Pasefika Proud Ministry of Social Development
The Period Place Auckland Council + Local Boards, Dunedin City Council, NZ Lottery
Pride Pledge Kainga Ora, Queenstown Lakes District Council, Open Polytechnic
Monte Cecilia Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, Oranga Tamariki
Rural Women NZ Ministry for Primary Industries, Massey University
Women in Sport Sport NZ, Auckland Unlimited, New Zealand Foreign Affairs & Trade
YWCA AUT
E Tipu E Rea Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Women, Ministry of Health

Perhaps the government and council entities backing these groups were unaware of their participation in Mind the Gap's campaign. Now that we've raised the red flag, the agencies ought to be seriously reconsidering their support of these groups, lest they find themselves falling afoul of the Public Service Standards of Integrity and Conduct which require political neutrality.

At the very least, government and council entities need to implement a "no-surprises" clause in their support for external groups: if a publicly-supported entity wants to add its financial support or branding to a political campaign, it should have to flag this with its funders first.

Costs of Matariki advisory group

PM and advisors

The Government appointed a seven-member Matariki Advisory Group to provide advice on the ideal dates to mark Matariki and appropriate ways of celebrating the holiday.

Members were paid $780-$1035 per day for advisory services.

All up, $220,000 was paid to members in fees and reimbursements for travel expenses. Of that, $131,305 went to the Chair, Dr Rangi Mātāmua, for 123 days of advisory services.

An Excel breakdown of expenses is available here.

Below is the response to the Taxpayers' Union's Official Information Act request.

Taxpayer Update: New poll | Stop 3 Waters roadshow heads north | $337k for a ribbon cutting

Dear Supporter,

We've just released the latest Taxpayers’ Union-Curia Poll.  In short, it continues to show a trend against the Ardern Government towards National/ACT. Headline results are at the bottom of this newsletter and over on our website.

Stop Three Waters roadshow draws big crowds in the South, now hits the North Island

Header

We've been doing what Nanaia Mahuta wouldn’t: listening to the local communities who have actually paid for the local water assets Ms Mahuta wants to put under the control of unaccountable, co-governed, bureaucratic monster water entities.

After 19 events around the South Island, including sell-out events in Gore, Alexandra, Invercargill, and Wanaka, the Stop Three Waters Roadshow now hits the North!

Louis in Blenheim

The team have been humbled by the hundreds of people who are turning out – in particular those who have chipped in to cover the diesel costs and make this effort possible. It’s always great to put a face to the names.

While we were in Fairlie (a town of just 800 people – but with plenty of Taxpayers’ Union supporters!), we hit a real milestone – 100,000 New Zealanders have now signed the official Stop Three Waters petition

Along the way we’ve been documenting our trip:

> Christchurch here and here
> Rolleston here and with local MP for Selwyn Nicola Grigg here
> Ashburton here and here
> Fairlie here and with local Mayor Graham Smith
Lake Tekapo toilet facilities review 👀
Tekapo
> Queenstown here with Southland's MP Joseph Mooney and Marlborough MP Stuart Smith
Alexandra event
Wanaka event
Gore event
Balclutha event
Invercargill event
Dunedin
> Moeraki
Oamaru
Timaru
Amberley
Lewis Pass
Nelson
Blenheim
and our trip across the Cook Stright.

A huge thanks to those who brought the team home baking, coffees, (and even the odd beer!) for the interns. We gave them a day off in Queenstown, but even then they claimed they were hard at work! 

If there is one thing the team and I have learned from the South Island over the last few weeks, it’s that the newsrooms in Auckland and Wellington don’t have their head around the anger in small communities about the proposals to take away local control. But that’s OK. We win this through people power, not big PR budgets.

A simple but highly effective thing you can do is spread the word with our bold Stop Three Waters banners. So, I'm delighted to tell you...

A generous supporter has agreed to fund 60% of the cost for these roadside Stop Three Waters banners 🚩🚩🚩

Stop Three Waters banner

Thanks to a generous supporter – we are now able to sell the banners for just $50 – less than half what they've been costing wholesale.

If you (or someone you know) live on a busy thoroughfare anywhere in New Zealand, for just $50 we’ll courier you a beautiful “Stop Three Waters” 2.4m x 1.2m banner. 

Stop 3 Waters banner

If you don’t want Nanaia Mahuta or her Three Waters regime coming to your house, we highly recommend hanging one of these on your front gate 😉

>> Get your banner for $50 <<

Buried in Mahuta's Bill: The Government has added a second layer of co-governance to the Three Waters regime!

Last week’s newsletter was sent just after the formal introduction to Parliament of the core Three Waters legislation – the euphemistically-named "Water Services Entities Bill". Back in the office, the team have now had a chance to work through the detail. 

You couldn't make this up: instead of listening to local councillors’ and community concerns about the reduced democratic control, Nanaia Mahuta has inserted a second layer of co-governence at the last minute!

It’s a bit sneaky, but it works like this: Clause 73 of the Bill requires the Boards of the new water entities ensure that the entity acts in a manner consistent with its objectives, functions, operating principles, and current statement of intent. 

That sounds fair enough, but among the 'operating principles' (Clause 13(d)) is: 

partnering and engaging early and meaningfully with Māori, including to inform how the water services entity can—

(i) give effect to Te Mana o te Wai; and

(ii) understand, support, and enable the exercise of mātauranga Māori, tikanga Māori, and kaitiakitanga

The meaning of "Te Mana o te Wai" refers back to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (here's a good summary) but in short, it is incredibly broad and includes matters relating to the spiritual or metaphysical well-being of water and water bodies and tangata whenua's relationship with the same.

Mana whenua whose rohe or takiwā (district) includes a freshwater body in the service area of an entity get to define the relevance of Te Mana o te Wai by making what are termed "Te Mana o te Wai statements" (see Clause 140).

The water entity board must respond to the statement and the response must include a plan for how the entity intends to perform its duty to give effect to Te Mana o te Wai.

So who is really in charge?

We understand from our sources within the Government that the Minister justifies the change on the basis that it placates small hapu who were concerned that with the enormous entities, smaller iwi groups would be "locked out".  In short, the ability for any iwi or hapu to issue a "Te Mana o te Wai statement" is seen as a feature not a bug.

And there’s also a new layer of bureaucracy

The Bill also adds yet another layer of bureaucracy: "Regional Advisory Panels".

The role of Regional Advisory Panels is to provide advice to the Regional Representative Group about how to perform or exercise its duties, functions, and powers within a geographic area.  But unlike Te Mana o te Wai statements, the advice is not binding, and the Regional Advisory Panels are themselves co-governed, with 50/50 mana whenua and democratically accountable representation.

We need to Stop Three Waters: here's what you can do

If you haven't already, please add your name to the official petition.  Or if you have some time this weekend, make a submission on the Bill.

That's right: written submissions are now open until 22 July, and we're making sure everyone knows it. Next week we release a submission tool to make it easy for tens of thousands of New Zealanders to have their say.

Donate

That said, please don't wait if you'd like to write your own submission directly to the Select Committee via the Parliamentary website.

After written submissions close, the MPs will then hear oral submissions. We (along with Councillors and Mayors we've met on our roadshow) say these submissions should be heard in person, up and down the country. We encourage you to include that suggestion in your written submission.

New Zealand is now halfway to a recession and stagflation – the hangover from Robertson's spending?

This week's GDP figures make tax relief even more pressing as the economy shrinks and households do it tough.

Gross domestic product (GDP) fell a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent in the three months ended March, compared with a 3.0 percent rise in the previous quarter, StatsNZ data showed.

Inflation is the highest it’s been in my lifetime, incomes aren’t keeping up, and the GDP news confirms that we are halfway toward a recession: defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

But while household budgets are squeezed, Wellington is booming – inflation means the Government’s tax take is at record highs.

Rather than pile on inflationary government spending, we say New Zealanders need tax relief now. More money in Kiwis' pockets means debt can be repaid, some saved, and households have some breathing room.

Compared to Grant Robertson spending your money, tax relief doesn’t stoke inflation and would serve to address the economic challenges exposed by this week’s negative growth figures.

New Zealand's COVID economic response was second only to the United States in terms of government spending as a proportion of the economy.  Is it any wonder which economies are now paying the price?

Taxpayer victory: Government backtracks on costly tax changes

We’ve had a significant tax victory related to very concerning proposals by IRD to take company retained earnings for all non-listed companies at the time of shareholding changes.

The proposals included:

  1. shareholders being taxed on the sale of shares in a company to the extent that the company (and its subsidiaries) has retained earnings; and
  2. changes to the personal services company rules that effectively remove when small business can use the lower corporate tax rate.

See: NZ Herald, Government quietly backtracks on tax changes after outcry

Inflation bites: the cost of an Ardern ribbon cutting soars to $337,000 for Transmission Gully opening ceremony

When it comes to NZTA/Waka Kotahi's responsibility with public money, your humble Taxpayers’ Union has pretty low expectations. But even we were shocked to learn that opening a new motorway now costs as much as a cycleway! 

The March 30 opening ceremony for the 27km Transmission Gully came with a price of $336,712. According to officials the costs included planning, iwi blessing of the road, venue and equipment hire, traffic management, marquees, chairs and tables, temporary fencing, catering, photography and video, audiovisual equipment, lighting, stages, provision of electricity and buses for the 300 “special” guests.

As ACT’s Simon Court pointed out, $337,000 is enough to fund five nurses or 3 kilometres of asphalt. We know what taxpayers would prefer.

Regular readers will recall that only last month we had Waka Kotahi on the ropes for spending $30,000 on five of these illuminated zeros – justified as promoting to “Road to Zero”.

National/ACT gain a greater lead in our latest scientific poll

Finally this week, our latest poll was released just a few moments ago. 

The lead for the centre-right (National/ACT) has grown by one to 62 seats, vs the centre-left (Labour/Green) on 56 seats.

You can read more about the poll's findings on our website.

Thank you for your support.

Jordan

Jordan_signature.jpg
Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

ps. Louis and I been asked a lot on the road whether a change in Government is enough to Stop Three Waters.  Possibly, but we don’t need a change in Government, we need a change in direction.  So far the National Party have promised to repeal Three Waters, but we don’t know what they’ll replace it with.  A slightly watered-down co-governed model isn’t enough.  To retain local control, fight for democratic accountability, and push back against more bureaucracy and higher water costs, a strong voice for taxpayers is essential no matter the political colours in Wellington. Click here to support the efforts of the Taxpayers’ Union holding them all to account.

Taxpayer Update: Major news on the fight to Stop Three Waters

Dear Supporter,

We wouldn't usually send out a newsletter in the evening, but I wanted to share today's news (including an update on the Three Waters legal challenge) as soon as possible.

There's a lot of Three Waters material here, but if you scroll through you'll also find important updates on wacky spending at Creative NZ, and a dodgy Government-backed restructure at Fonterra.

Stop Three Waters roadshow launches with a bang 🎉

Campervan

Despite it being a work day, and with only a few days' notice, more than a hundred local supporters turned out for the first event of our Stop Three Waters roadshow.

Crowd shot

Local Councillors Sam MacDonald and Aaron Keown were first to sign the official "Community Leaders' Appeal" calling on the Prime Minister to protect local democracy and Stop Three Waters.

Appeal

And local ACT MP Toni Severin got big applause for committing to reversing Nanaia Mahuta's co-governance 'reforms' if ACT are part of the next Government.

FootageClick here to view footage of the event.

Tomorrow, Jordan, Connor, and Levi head to Rolleston, Ashburton, and Fairlie. On Sunday they're in Queenstown, before Peter Williams boards the "Mobile Campaign HQ" for the AlexandraWanakaGoreBalcluthaInvercargill legs. (Shout out to our friends at Groundswell who have put together the town-hall style meetings with Peter Williams!)

I'll be taking Jordan's place in the campervan for the InvercargillWellington leg, and I couldn't be more excited.

>> Click here to find out when we're in your town <<

Mahuta formally introduces Three Waters bill to Parliament

Nanaia Mahuta

Our latest campaign push couldn't be more timely. Yesterday, Nanaia Mahuta formally introduced to Parliament the core Three Waters legislation  the euphemistically-named "Water Services Entities Bill".

Far from pulling back, the legislation actually doubles down on co-governance (more on that next week – it's technical, and quite sneaky). The other surprise is that yet another layer of bureaucracy has been added to the already convoluted governance structure. New "regional advisory panels" will sit below the co-governed Representation Groups. And the new advisory panels are themselves co-governed! We're beginning to understand what Mahuta meant when she said her reforms would create jobs...

Now that the Bill has been introduced, it could pass its first reading and be referred to Select Committee as early as next week. Public submissions are likely to open soon after.

We're calling on the Select Committee to take its consultation on the road and hear from communities directly affected, face-to-face, across the country. If your humble Taxpayers' Union can do it, so can the MPs!

Doing the media's job: we've released scientific polling on Three Waters

As part of the regular scientific polling we commission from Curia Market Research, we asked New Zealanders whether water entities should be directly accountable to voters.

Poll image

Seventy-six percent agreed that voters should have the power to vote out water service providers who fail to deliver good value.

Click here to see how the results break down by location, age, and political party support.

Of course, Nanaia Mahuta's Three Waters regime would run roughshod over local accountability. The boards of the new water monopolies would be insulated from accountability by layer upon layer of-co-governed bureaucracy.

Have we already won the war?

Ideally, our efforts will force the Government to u-turn on Mahuta's proposals.

But if they force the legislation through, there's still a path to victory: Three Waters could do so much political damage that next year could see a change in Government, and Three Waters repealed.

So this is a major victory for our campaign:

Luxon tweet

Christopher Luxon is only making this promise because New Zealanders like you have stood up and shouted from the rooftops that local democratic control matters, and Three Waters cannot stand.

An update on the legal challenge

High Court

You may be aware that we are financially supporting the Water Users' Group's judicial review against Nania Mahuta's claims that co-governance is necessary for Three Waters for the Crown to comply with the Treaty. If you're one of the thousands of New Zealanders who've chipped in to the legal fund, thank you.

We have an update. This is from Stephen Franks, one of the lawyers leading the court challenge:

On Thursday 4 August, we are headed to the High Court. This interlocutory hearing is to argue for the Crown to release the advice the Minister relied upon to say co-governance is required for Three Waters.

You may recall that Crown released Cabinet Papers last year that disclosed some of this information. And then tried to get us to delete it once they realised that we had used the information in our Statement of Claim. 

The Crown is now arguing that they could disclose it, but only to our lawyers. You won't get to see it. We don't think that is right. If they are going to give co-governance over $185 billion, we think you should be able to see the reasoning (if there is any).

This won't be our only day in court. We still have the substantive argument to go - that co-governance is not required as part of the Three Waters scheme. We don't have a date for this hearing yet. But our legal team have made an application to the court to get this dealt with as soon as possible.

If you want to understand more about the background on this case (or read the Statement of Claim), check out the Litigation FAQs here.

You funded a ballet called 'The Sl*tcracker'

Arts image

In light of Budget 2022 throwing even more money at arts grants, we decided to take another one of our regular looks at where this money ends up.

This time our Researcher, Levi, examined the "Creative Communities" grants funded by Creative NZ and doled out by local councils.

Here is a small sample, in this case all projects in Wellington:

CreativeNZ grants

I wish we were making this up: taxpayers are forking out for escort exhibitions, 'dismantling e-waste for fun', pictionary, queer and trans drawing classes, interpretive dance, music courses for 'womxn and femmes', a ballet called 'The Sl*tcracker', and a literal clown show.

Click here to view the full list, adding up to more than $400,000 in Wellington alone.

Law change for Fonterra could jack up prices and suffocate competition

Fonterra

Have you seen the price of cheese lately? Squeezed households may be alarmed to learn that the Government is considering a proposal that could send prices further into the stratosphere – and cripple our economy at the same time.

Click here for my summary of how Damien O'Connor is quietly changing the rules to shield Fonterra from healthy competition.

COVID “service recognition” awards cost $5 million

Lapel pin

We often protest 'tokenistic' Government initiatives, but this time it’s literal. A select group of individuals deemed by the bureaucracy to have made a special contribution to the COVID-19 response will be given an expensive pat on the back by the Prime Minister’s department.

The Prime Minister has said that the awards will take the form of lapel pins. So how is this costing $5 million? How many lapel pins are they buying?? Of course, the real cost will be the bureaucratic administration of the awards, and the catered ceremonies.

The first group up for awards is apparently MIQ workers. But we already have a way of recognising the efforts of public sector workers: we pay them competitive salaries. As far as we can tell, no MIQ staff are asking for a glorified participation award.

This newsletter is getting long...

Finally, a few important taxpayer stories for weekend reading:

Have a great long weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

Stuff  Adrian Orr may be happy to speak up, but there's more we need to hear

Homepaddock  Public funding of political parties political poison

Stuff  Sci-fi won't help with hard calls on climate change

New Zealand Herald  Populism’s big dive across the ditch

New Zealand Herald  What Australia and NZ teach each other

RNZ  Political commentators Jones & Thomas - Budget, Climate plan & Aus new PM

Homepaddock  Bad timing for tax

Stuff  Forget Luxon's National, it's ACT which is set to make an impact

Stuff  'Is trippy-dippy Chloe Swarbrick actually the cool MP? I thought I was'

Homepaddock  Backwards Budget

Stuff  Without hearing it, I'm confident the Budget hasn't addressed these issues

The Spinoff  Budget 2022: what chance a surprise?

NZCity  Latest research suggests New Zealanders may want the Government to tighten its purse-strings

RNZ  Season 2 | Episode 13: 17th May 2022 - Party People

Newstalk ZB  Newstalk ZB Wellington 11am - Item 2

The Platform  Is the jig up for Three Waters?

BusinessDesk  The govt can't spend its way out of this hole

RNZ  Producer of Chloe Swarbrick documentary responds to ACT backlash

The Working Group  The Working Group Weekly Political Podcast with Russel Norman, Jordan Williams, & Damien Grant

Homepaddock  Redpeace hates cows

Kiwiblog  Chloe hagiography under fire

The Country  The Country Full Show: Monday, May 16, 2022

The Platform  Sean Plunket interviews Jordan Williams from The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Radio NZ  Political commentators Morten & Te Pou

Radio NZ  Re-Platformed: radio outcasts make their own outlet

Law change for Fonterra could jack up prices and suffocate competition

Have you seen the price of cheese lately? Squeezed households may be alarmed to learn that the Government is considering a proposal that could send prices further into the stratosphere – and cripple our economy at the same time.

Dairy prices in New Zealand are already skewed upward by Fonterra, a co-operative of dairy farmers that buys up 79% of all the milk our farmers produce. Internationally, Fonterra has been described as a “cartel” for the way it uses its dominance over the market to keep milk prices high.

Fonterra is not strictly a private body. Its near-monopoly status is enabled by Government legislation and a Ministerial appointee even sits on Fonterra’s panel that decides how much to pay farmers for their milk.

With 25% of all New Zealand exports being Fonterra products, the performance of the co-operative has a major impact on New Zealand’s overall prosperity.

Fonterra’s performance has been waning. In the last decade Fonterra’s share price has steadily tracked down, and its farmer members have been peeling off to join competitors like Open Country and Synlait.

Seeking to reverse this trend, in December Fonterra leadership put to shareholders a “capital restructure” proposal.

The proposal would stop member farmers from selling shares to anyone who is not already a Fonterra member or about to become one. In other words, farmers wanting to retire, switch away from dairy, or join a competitor will be denied fair open-market value for their shares.

The move effectively strong-arms disgruntled farmers into sticking with Fonterra and protects the cartel from the competitive discipline of public share markets.

You might be wondering if this is even legal. It turns out it’s not: Fonterra’s enabling legislation explicitly prohibits it from restricting share sales “for the purpose of restricting, preventing or deterring” farmers from shifting their milk supply away from Fonterra.

So how does Fonterra get around this? Simple: they’ve lobbied Damien O’Connor and he’s agreed to change the rules to legalise Fonterra’s lurch towards protectionism.

Officials from MPI have warned Cabinet that the move will weaken Fonterra’s performance incentives and limit the expansion of more innovative competitors, but Damien O’Connor is forging ahead.

Fortunately, there’s a public consultation process, to which the Taxpayers' Union has made a submission.

For all the benefits that Fonterra’s sheer size brings New Zealand, it’s crucial that the co-operative remains subject to competition. Competitors nipping at Fonterra’s heels and investors demanding dividends incentivise the co-operative to constantly improve its productivity and performance.

If Fonterra is protected from local competition, there is a serious risk that it will become complacent and vulnerable to international competitors that may overtake it in efficiency and innovation. Losing our status as the world’s go-to source of dairy would be an economic calamity.

What I've written here barely scratches the surface of this issue. If you're interested in the detail, I recommend the damning reports on the restructure produced by TDB Advisory and Castalia.

You funded a ballet called 'The Sl*tcracker'

Arts image

In light of Budget 2022 throwing even more money at arts grants, we decided to take another one of our regular looks at where this money ends up.

This time our researcher examined the "Creative Communities" grants funded by Creative NZ and doled out by local councils.

Here is a small sample, in this case all projects in Wellington:

CreativeNZ grants

I wish we were making this up: taxpayers are forking out for sex worker exhibitions, 'dismantling e-waste for fun', pictionary, queer and trans drawing classes, interpretive dance, music courses for womxn and femmes, a ballet called 'The Sl*tcracker', and a literal clown show.

Click here to view the full list, adding up to more than $400,000 in Wellington alone.

New poll: 76% believe water entities should be accountable to voters

Three quarters of New Zealanders believe that those responsible for water services should be directly accountable to voters, reveals a new scientific poll commissioned by the Taxpayers’ Union.

The poll of 1,000 New Zealanders was undertaken by Curia Market Research, and asked, Do you think those who are responsible for provision of local drinking, waste, and storm water services should be directly accountable to voters?

Poll image

Seventy-six percent said yes, and just eight percent said no. Fifteen percent were unsure.

Support for democratically accountable water services is consistent across every part of the country and with voting bases of every major political party.

Of course, Nanaia Mahuta’s Three Waters regime would run roughshod over local accountability. The boards of the new water monopolies would be insulated from accountability by multiple layers of bureaucracy. The one layer that is nominally democratic – the representation group – is in fact co-governed with iwi appointees, who will have effective veto power over major decisions.

To put it simply, ratepayers unhappy with the value or reliability of their water services won’t be able to vote out the people in charge. This removes the incentive for the water monopolies to keep water bills reasonable and deliver reliable services.

📣 Announcement: Hitting the road to Stop Three Waters ✋

Map graphic

Thanks to the generous support of tens of thousands of New Zealanders like you, later this week we're taking to the road to fight the Government's Three Waters proposals.

>>> Click here to add your name to the Stop Three Waters petition and we'll email you when we're coming to your town/city.

With the support of our grassroots network, we'll be spreading the message directly within the local communities whose water assets Nanaia Mahuta is trying to remove from local control to put into 'co-governed' entities.

The roadshow will highlight just how unpopular these proposals are, put pressure on those few councils still holding out from resisting the Government, and pile the pressure onto Labour's provincial MPs who are the key to overruling Mahuta's undemocratic agenda.

While the media continue to run Mahuta's lines about Three Waters our people-powered effort is exposing why Three Waters is zero gain, and holding her to account. Come along to show your support.

We’ve decked out a campervan with ‘Stop Three Waters’ gear and, starting this Friday, will be meeting local ratepayers, mayors, councillors, and community leaders in 39 local centres across the country.

Come and meet the team

I'm emailing to ask for your support by way of coming along and meeting Louis, Annabel, Josh, Levi, Connor, and the whole Taxpayers' Union team over the next five weeks. 

We’ll be holding old-fashioned soapbox events outside local councils and in town squares across the country. We are inviting local leaders to come and speak out against Nanaia Mahuta’s asset grab and sign our "Community Leaders' Appeal to Protect Local Democracy and Stop Three Waters" addressed to the Prime Minister.

And regardless of Three Waters, we're keen to meet Taxpayers' Union supporters like you across the country.

Peter Williams and I (no relation) will be leading the team for the first leg of the trip from Christchurch, visiting Rolleston, Ashburton, Fairlie, Queenstown, Alexandra, Gore, Balclutha, and Invercargill, before Louis takes over in Dunedin next week. 

The full itinerary is available here and we will be updating this, and our Facebook page, as the roadshow progresses with exact times and locations for each stop.

Poster with dates

Can't make your local event? You can still do your part to Stop Three Waters

Taking our grassroots campaign on the road means we're relying on you and the tens of thousands who are supporting this effort. Only by working together can we beat Labour's powerful Māori Caucus. Please take a minute to:

>>> Print and post the roadshow poster on community noticeboards and shop windows (after getting permission, of course!)

>>> Share the poster on Facebook

>>> Share the official "Stop Three Waters" petition

>>> Chip in to the Stop Three Waters fund (Three Waters is expensive, but so too is 4,000 kilometres of fuel!)

Most important, come and say hi to the team, or pick up a stack of petition pamphlets to deliver to friends and neighbours. We have plenty of "Stop Three Waters" merchandise and we want you to take it!

Donate

We can’t wait to meet you and other taxpayers up and down the country.

Regards,

Jordan

Jordan_signature.jpg
Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

 

Taxpayers’ Union “exposed” for asking too many questions?

It must be that time of year again, when a journalist wakes up in the morning so concerned about government waste and secrecy they decide to ask government agencies how many official information requests your humble Taxpayers’ Union has been filing.

Yesterday we were contacted by the Department of Internal Affairs letting us know that Stuff.co.nz (we don’t know whether it’s one of their “public interest” taxpayer-funded journalists, or just one of their columnists) has requested a list of all our information requests dating back to November 2020.  We assume this relates to our popular “Stop Three Waters” campaign which Stuff has, to date, decided not to cover (though, in fairness, considering Stuff’s obligations under the NZ on Air conditions of funding, that may be rational from the newsroom’s perspective).

But what we can’t work out is why Stuff didn’t come to us first?  If the objective is to “expose” the Taxpayers’ Union for asking too many questions, why waste officials’ time by filing their own OIA, when they could have just asked us?  Perhaps there is an element of self importance: it is a sad state of affairs that the Taxpayers’ Union files more information requests / asks more questions than any media or other transparency organisation.  Indeed, in last two years of Labour’s opposition, our OIA and LGOIMA (the local government version of the Official Information Act) outnumbered the written and oral questions filed by the then-Opposition Labour Party.

And we make no apologies for it.   We are, by far, New Zealand’s largest transparency organisation, and work on behalf of our 179,000 subscribed supporters, and tens of thousands of members and donors.  Those supporters expect us to be asking the hard questions.  Many of those requests result in stories that the media pick up (for obvious reasons), are used for tools such as our popular “Ratepayers’ Report” local government league tables, and serve to remind officials and politicians that we are watching how they are spending taxpayer money. There is an auditing role, asking questions traditionally asked by local newspapers, but which are often missed now that the media is under so much pressure. For example, we use the Official Information Act to verify stories received through our confidential government waste ‘tip line’ – as unlike for Stuff, the Government’s swelling communications departments are generally “too busy” to answer our questions.

Democracy and transparency do have a cost. That’s why we encourage public agencies to proactively release information – so that the OIAs are not required.  But to criticise the media, or philanthropic groups exercising rights to promote transparency and accountability is wrong.

But in this case, we’ll make an exception: so for the Stuff journalist who asked for this information, whoever you are, next time don’t waste the time of officials – come to us direct.  Here is the information sought:

1 November 2020 – present date – OIAs filed by the Taxpayers’ Union

[Support to foreign nationals in NZ during COVID]
1.  Is the Department of Internal Affairs currently funding, or has it funded, in any way the Red Cross’ Manaaki Manuhiri program for foreign nationals stranded in New Zealand due to covid-19?
2.  If so, how much funding has it given to the program since the beginning of 2020

[Ministerial travel expenses]
This is a request for official information under the Official Information Act 1982 in relation to the travel costs of the Minister David Parker.
We request the following information:

1.  A breakdown of the cost of the Minister’s travel by means, i.e. air travel, car etcetera.
2.  A breakdown of the cost of additional travel arrangements i.e. if the Minister were to have a car travel to meet him at his destination or require a driver to stay overnight in accommodation.

[Ministerial travel follow up request]
‘a basic list of dates wherein the Minister (Hon David Parker) had a driver travel between cities to meet him or had a driver stay overnight at a location for a similar purpose, rather than make use of hired transport at his destination, since 1 January 2019.’

[Expenditure of the Royal Commission into historical abuse in care]
REFINED
We request a copy of the expenditure transactions since 1 January 2020 up until 31 December 2020 in relation to the following account codes:

80013
80060
80300
80560
80630
82001
82003
82005
82030
82101
82102
82103
82111
82112
82121
82122
82201
82205
82210
82212
82501
82670
82691
82855
82900
82905
82915
82920
82921

Please exclude all payroll transactions except for the total amounts paid in each pay run*.

Please ensure the data extract includes:
1. the supplier / vendor / payee 
2. the notation made in your accounting system
3. the transaction amount and date
4. the cost centre and general ledger assigned to the transaction.
   
Given the volume of information, we request it be made available in a suitable excel format. The above codes account for less than a third of those originally requested. I have also attached a response we received from the WAC to the same OIA as an example if you want one to refer to.

[Three Waters]
1.  Please provide the research and researcher that has lead the Minister of local government to believe that her water infrastructure reform will generate lasting jobs
2.  Please provide the research and researcher that has lead the Minister of local government to believe that her water infrastructure reform will generate savings 
3.  Do the predicted jobs generated by the reforms outweigh the jobs that will be lost to the reforms? Please provide the numbers to back this up.
4.  What are the estimated costs of the reforms? Please provide any initial budgets.
5.  Please provide the research and any cost/benefit analysis performed that lead to the conclusion that reform was needed/would be beneficial.

[Bolton Street property information]
1.  A breakdown of the amount of months over the last four years that 23 Bolton street has been occupied
2.  In the months it was occupied, how many people were residing at the property
3.  The market price of 23 Bolton Street
4.  The number of bedrooms and bathrooms in the property

[Advertising for three waters (follow up)]
A breakdown of the cost of the campaign currently running to advertise the three waters reforms.  Please include both actual costs, estimated costs (those budgeted for but not yet realized) and the full budget 

[Breakdown of advertising expenditure for Three Waters]
I request a breakdown of the $3.5 million by category / type of expenditure and communications channel.  I.e. newspaper advertising, social media, television, radio spending – broken into production and advertising placement.

[Racing Safety Development Fund applications]
This is an OIA for the applications (both successful and unsuccessful) of applications from the last funding round, and a list of those which received funding (and respective amounts).

[Government logo rebrand]
It has been suggested to the Taxpayers' Union that there has been a change in the logo (or preferred logo) used to represent the New Zealand Government. I have attached the "old" and "new" versions.
• Has there been a change to (or is the Government in the process of changing) the official "New Zealand Government" logo?
• If so, who initiated such a change and for what reason?
• What costs have been incurred (and are expected to be incurred) because of the changed logo?
o This could include, for example, updated signage and stationery, along with administrative and design costs.
• If the logo change is part of a wider rebrand, please provide the costs for that wider rebrand.
Please feel free to call me if any part of this request requires clarification.

[Timeframes for translation services]
How many requests were made to the translate email address in the last 7 days? What was the average response time for them?

[Jacinda Ardern parody]
This is an OIA for all communications (specifically emails) in the last 2 weeks that mention “Spitting Image” or the video available here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?ref=search&v=448438283127922  held by the respective agencies: Ministry of Health, DPMC, PMO, and DIA.

We are particularly interested in any communications with YouTube (or its representatives) about them hosting the same video (which has now been removed).

[Three Waters advisory group and advertising campaign]
This is an OIA regarding the “advisory group” referred to by a DIA spokesperson in this Stuff.co.nz article: https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/125570991/governments-three-waters-advertisements-slap-in-the-face-for-councils

An advisory group, including members of the local government sector, were involved in the creation of the campaign.

Who is on the advisory group? When have they met? And how much are they being paid?

The article also refers to LGNZ expressing concerns about the advertising campaign prior to it launching. Please provide that corrispondance.

[Breakdown of furniture expenditure/purchases 2020/21]
Please provide a breakdown of all furniture expenses/purchases from the 2020/2021 financial year, and the current financial year to date.

Please also identify any furniture purchased for staff to use at home.

[Three waters correspondence and expenditure]
1.  Any correspondence between the DIA and the Iwi Advisors Group for Freshwater in the past year.
2.  Any correspondence between the DIA and the Waikato-Tainui Chief Executive in the past year. 
3.  Any payments or reimbursements made to any individuals from these two entities or to the entities themselves over the past two years.
4.  The value and details of any such payment. 

[DIA website]
1.  Any correspondence or plans to update or redesign the DIA website from the past two years.
2.  When was the last time the website was redesigned and how much did this cost?
3.  Any estimates DIA has received or communicated around the costs to update or redesign the website. 
4.  The costs of maintaining the current website.

[Salary band for named DIA employee]
Salary band/range for acting Executive Director, Three Waters Iwi/Māori Maria Nepia. 

[Standard clause in public funding documents]
In a statement, the Department of Internal Affairs told Newshub "no clause in the Funding Agreement... prevents or prohibits any council from publicly expressing its own views".

On what basis is was that claim made?  Who authorised that statement to be made?  What is their name and position?  Were they relying on legal advice in making that claim?  If so, what is the date of that advice and how much did it cost?

The story goes on to say: 

[DIA] adds: "It is a common and prudent clause in public funding documents as a safeguard to protect against the misuse of public funds."

Please provide other public funding documents where DIA has included this clause in the last 12 months?

[RealMe helpdesk]
1.  How many calls have been made to the help desk on each day since 1 March 2022?
2.  How many of these calls have connected to an operator?
3.  How many of these calls have been dropped automatically due to call numbers exceeding capacity?
4.  If any of the requested data is not recorded, please explain why not.
5.  What is the capacity limit for calls to the help desk before calls are dropped automatically?
6.  Do international charges apply to calls that are dropped automatically?
7.  For the ‘Enquire online’ form, what is the average wait time between enquiries being filed and responses being sent, for the period since 1 March 2022?
8.  Finally, I would appreciate any comment as to why capacity has not kept up with call/enquiry volumes, and whether this is a recent problem or an ongoing issue.

We’ve also emailed this information to Stuff, and in the spirit of transparency, have asked the company to please detail the OIAs filed with DIA by Stuff over the same time period.  I will be tickled pink if we’ve managed to ask more.

Kāinga Ora staff busy with BBQs and pizza nights

As many as 12 Kāinga Ora staff members at a time have attended community barbecues, a pizza night, and a site blessing at one of its Auckland construction sites.

A neighbour of the Greys Ave social housing development contacted us through our Tip Line expressing frustration at constantly being sent newsletters from Kāinga Ora inviting locals to BBQs and social events connected to the new development. The housing agency spent $1,764 on food and drinks for these events, plus $600 for a site blessing and almost $2,000 on the newsletters themselves (resources, printing and distribution). 

Our official information request reveals that at least 20 paid staff members attended the four events hosted by Kāinga Ora.

In addition, 20 hours of staff time was spent writing and formatting each community newsletter. The taxpayer-funded newsletters introduce Kāinga Ora team members, highlight a "Subbie [subcontractor] of the month" and in one case express excitement about Jacinda Ardern and Housing Minister Megan Woods visiting the site.

Kāinga Ora's public relations campaign surrounding its Greys Ave development is clearly aimed at softening neighbours up to tolerate the construction and the hassles of having a social housing development next door.

Our tipster says she would prefer Kainga Ora focused on getting the construction done and dealing with dust pollution than being invited to warm and fuzzy taxpayer-funded BBQs. We tend to agree.

Budget 2022: Despite red hot economy, big spending Budget delivers higher debt, delayed

Dear Supporter,

Louis and I are just back from the 2022 Budget lock-up inside the Beehive. We’ve spent the day trawling through what is the biggest spend up (in terms of locking in permanent operating spending) we’ve ever seen. As we worked through the 24 Ministerial media releases and the hundreds of pages of Treasury forecasts and appropriations, the word front of mind is ‘overwhelming’.

While households are tightening their belts, Wellington is feasting: Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern have not read the room.

New Zealand is in a weird situation where the economy is red hot, but households are hurting.  Don’t be fooled by the gimmicks and flashy names for business-as-usual funding politicians want you to focus on. As we find in every year’s budget, the devil is always in the detail.

This update covers what the Government wants you to look at (its key announcements listed below), the economic updates by Treasury officials, and the boondoggles we’ve noticed immediately.

Key Budget 2022 announcements at a glance:

  • A new temporary “cost of living payment” for people earning up to $70,000 not already eligible to the Winter Energy Payment. The payment is $27 per week per person for three months from August. (This looks to us like a 'last minute' measure by Ministers)

  • A new Ministry for Disabled People.

  • 26,500 more insulation and heating retrofits for low-income earners.

  • Two-month extension to the half price public transport scheme.

  • Two-month extension to the fuel excise duty and Road User Charges cut (which your humble Taxpayers’ Union has been campaigning for!)

  • The various climate change "Emissions Reduction Plan" measures that were announced on Monday – see the summary on our website.

The Government’s political cover for the cost of living crisis: blame the supermarkets

The Government knows that its measures won’t be enough to paper over the financial pain that middle New Zealand is feeling with the highest inflation in 30 years.

So instead of tackling its spending problem, Grant Robertson has announced “emergency legislation” to tackle the supermarkets.

Tonight, the Government will ram through a new law to remove the ability of supermarket companies to put restrictive covenants over land as a barrier used to stop competition.

We welcome the move, but it does nothing to tackle the real problem pointed to by the Commerce Commission: it’s the Government’s own regulatory taxes – specifically land use and resource management restrictions – that make it virtually impossible for competitors to get started on the scale necessary to compete with the two big operators.

Government is growing quickly as a proportion of the economy (and it's fueling inflation)

If you received David’s email this morning, you’ll know that Mr Robertson had indicated he would increase new spending (the ‘operating allowance’) for ongoing annual spending by $6 billion (or $3,209 per household).

First the good news: Grant Robertson restrained himself by 1.6%, increasing spending by just $5.9 billion.

But this is offset by an increase in next year’s operating allowance from $2.7 billion to $4.5 billion.

Despite the GFC and the Christchurch earthquakes, Bill English averaged new operational spending allowances of just $660 million per year over his time as Finance Minister.

Core Government expenditure now amounts to 35.3% of the total economy. When Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister, the figure was 27.3%.

A better-than-expected economy means record Government revenues, but Grant Robertson’s pushed back the return to surplus

The economic forecasts are better than they were in December's half-year update. But the Government’s forecast debt will now peak $10 billion higher, and a return to surplus now isn’t expected until 2024/25. This is incredible when economic growth is forecast to hit 4.2% over the next year, and unemployment is forecast to drop from the current 3.2% (which is already the lowest in recorded history) to 3.0%.

Spiking inflation is a short-term windfall gain for the Government coffers – it drives up GST revenue and PAYE and taxpayers are driven into higher tax brackets.  Payroll costs for Governments tend to lag behind.

For the first time since the Fiscal Responsibility Act came into force in 1994 a Minister of Finance is projecting a deficit in “an overheated economy”. Despite the record tax take, and one-off COVID expenditure winding down, Budget 2022 forecasts a deficit of $6.6 billion.

Put another way, Grant Robertson will borrow $3,528 for every Kiwi household to pay for non-capital spending (i.e. he's still borrowing for day-to-day expenses) over the next 12 months.

So where is all this money going?

Louis was with me listing the big, the mad, and the interesting spending items that jumped out:

Grant’s headline Budget sweeteners

First, a victory for the Taxpayers’ Union: fuel tax and road user charge relief has been extended by another two months, expected to save motorists another $235 million (or $124 per household). This is matched by an extension of half price fares for public transport.

The next big sweetener is a bit of a fizzer: New Zealanders who are not eligible for the Winter Energy Payment and who are earning less than $70,000 will receive a temporary $27-per week “cost of living payment”, for the three months from August.

As for tax relief: except for two months at the pump, Budget 2022 delivers nothing to lighten the load. We say this is borderline criminal considering the way inflation has stealthily pushed New Zealanders into paying higher rates of income tax, even when we’re no better off. (We'll have a lot more to say on this next week!)

As is usual in a Budget, the bulk of the paperwork dumped on our table covered a laundry list of spending announcements across almost every area of government. This year's barrage of spending items is almost overwhelming. What follows is a non-comprehensive list (note some spending is spread across multiple years):

Corporate welfare:

  • $100m for a new “Business Growth Fund” to invest in small-medium businesses that banks aren’t willing to lend to – i.e. taxpayer funding for Dragon’s Den dropouts. Government representatives of the Fund will even get seats on SME the company boards!

  • $118m in “advisory services” for farmers and Maori land owners

  • $40m on “Transformation Plans” for forestry, wood processing, food and fisheries businesses

  • $350m “Affordable Housing Fund” for housing developers

  • $15.5m for “Pacific economic development” (i.e. funding for Pasifika-run businesses in New Zealand)

  • An extra $26m (now $155m in total) for “Progressive Procurement” – i.e. favouring Maori-owned businesses as government contractors

  • $349m for a Kiwirail bailout

Health:

  • An extra $3.1 billion (one-off) for the new co-governed health system ($1.8 billion of this disappears immediately: it wipes off existing DHB debt)

  • $580m for “Maori Health and wellbeing” including $188m for the new Maori Health Authority

  • $20m establishing new “Iwi-Maori Partnership Boards” (i.e. introducing co-governance to the new health system)

  • $70m for Pasifika health providers

Special interests:

  • $185m in arts and culture grants “to help build a resilient cultural sector as it continues to adapt to the challenges coming out of COVID-19”

  • $327m in funding for the new RNZ/TVNZ merged media entity

  • A $1 billion “Maori Budget” including: $91m on Maori trades, training, and cadetships, $3m for “marae connectivity”, $5m for iwi/Maori teachers

  • $200m for Maori education

  • $28m for Maori “language, culture and identity”

  • $162m for Maori organisations to reduce emissions, including $36m for “matauranga [traditional knowledge]-based approaches to reducing biological emissions” and $30m for “Maori Climate Action”

  • $38m for Pasifika training, education, and bilingual schooling

  • $14m for an "historical account of the Dawn Raids"

Miscellaneous:

  • $2 billion in extra spending on education (to smooth over the end of the decile system)

  • $662m for Defence

  • More Police ($562m), initiatives focused on organise crime ($94m), and on reoffending ($198m)

  • $100m establishing a new “Ministry for Disabled People” ($100m) – of which only $11m is allocated to providing services

  • $178m for councils dealing with RMA reform, plus a new “National Maori Entity” to co-govern resource management

  • $40m to research RNA vaccine technology

  • $114m on family violence initiatives

  • More taxpayer money pumped into the housing market via more generous First Home Grant and First Home Loan rules

Some of this spending is uncontroversial. A lot of it is mad. But what really hit me was the share scale: spending items costing tens of millions were treated like minor bulletpoints by Ministers.

And New Zealanders didn't want it!

New Zealanders weren’t even asking for this new spending. You may have heard Newstalk ZB cover our recent poll revealing that, by a margin of four to one, New Zealanders did not want to see increased spending in the Budget.

In other words, Kiwi households taking prudent financial measures in the face of a cost of living crisis hoped to see the Government doing the same, but were instead delivered a classic Labour-style spend-up, but on steroids.

You can read for yourself the full Budget 2022 material that just went online at www.budget.govt.nz.  You can also read our initial commentary to the media below.

In a few moments, I’ll be sitting down with economist Cameron Bagrie, who was also in the Budget Lock Up.  We’ll be recording a special edition of Taxpayer Talk streamed live to our Facebook page.

As is usual, our team will spend the next few weeks trawling through the detail and will no doubt uncover far more boondoggles and examples of questionable spending to hold to account those who spend your taxpayer money.

Thank you for your support.

Jordan Jordan_signature.jpg
 Jordan Williams
 Executive Director
 New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

MEDIA RELEASES:

Budget 2022: The Worst Budget Since Muldoon

Budget 2022: How Are We Still Responding To COVID With Arts Grants?

Fuel Tax Relief Extension: A Small Victory For Taxpayers

WTF? Stu Nash Starts A Bank?

Budget 2022: How are we still responding to COVID with arts grants?

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is almost – but not quite – lost for words over Budget 2022’s announcement of another $185 million in arts and heritage grants. 

Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “We were amazed when the Government decided it was appropriate to respond to a novel coronavirus with more than $300 million in grants for art projects. We were amazed again when they topped that up to $495 million. Now they’ve topped it up again by another $185 million, and are still calling it a COVID response!” 

“The Government boasts that this spending will ‘strengthen and complement’ the Arts and Culture COVID Recovery Programme –the same programme that saw taxpayer money allocated toward ‘indigenised hypno-soundscapes’ and interpretive dances about the impact of COVID.” 

“The $18 million specifically set aside to ‘celebrate Te Ao Maori’ seems especially indulgent – Maori face very real problems in housing and education that will not be solved with arts, crafts, and theatre.” 

Fuel tax relief extension: a small victory for taxpayers

Responding to Budget 2022’s two-month extension of fuel tax and road user charge relief, New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says: 

“This is a small but significant victory for taxpayers and will save the average household an extra $124 over two months.” 

“We campaigned hard for the reduction in fuel tax by presenting commuters with the shocking truth that for many Kiwis, half of the money spent at the pump was going to Grant Robertson. However, the plan to hike the tax back up again was always questionable during a cost of living crisis.” 

“Robertson deserves credit for seeing sense on fuel tax – at least for now. If he doesn’t get the cost of living under control in the next two months, he’ll just have kicked his fuel tax problem down the road.” 

WTF? Stu Nash starts a bank?

The Taxpayers’ Union representatives choked on Treasury’s budget lock up sausage rolls when they discovered Stuart Nash’s announcement that he’s launching an investment bank for business rejected by the banking sector and to appoint government workers as directors of SMEs.

Jordan Williams, spokesman for the Taxpayers’ Union, said: “$100 million for an investment bank, run by politicians and bureaucrats, to take equity and even board seats in businesses that can’t borrow from the banking sector. What could possibly go wrong? 

“According to Minister Nash, a feature of the fund is to exclude equity financers who ‘push for aggressive growth plans, and short term results’.  He says the fund will have ‘more modest return expectations and no hard exit deadlines.  No kidding.”

“Coming from the Minister who back in 2014  wrote a foreword to the outstanding Taxpayers’ Union corporate welfare report, Monopoly Money, it seems Mr Nash has lost his mind.”

“Mr Nash claims these funds are common overseas. What he fails to mention is that they are not led by Government officials.”

“If Mr Nash wants to play investment banker, he should do a Simon Power and play banker with Westpac’s money, not ours.”

Budget 2022: The worst budget since Muldoon

Grant Robertson is the first Minister of Finance since Muldoon to fail to deliver a budget suplus during a time of economic boom, says the Taxpayers’ Union, commenting from today’s Budget 2022 Beehive lockup.

“With Government revenues booming, it is stunning that Grant Robertson has failed to deliver either tax relief or a surplus,” says Jordan Williams, the Executive Director of the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

“The spike to inflation has seen record revenue flooding into the Beehive due to workers paying higher income tax rates and more GST. But despite the inflation, the lowest unemployment since records began, the end of COVID lockdowns, and better than expected economic numbers, Grant Robertson has actually pushed back the return to surplus.”

“It is stunning that, during a cost of living crisis, Grant Robertson has failed to give back any of his windfall gain to the workers who earned it.  His failure to deliver either income tax relief or a balanced budget beggars belief: while households tighten belts, Wellington balloons.”

“With Government revenues as strong as they are, the Finance Minister could have today announced both income tax relief and a surplus. Instead, he’s decided to feast on the revenue with a laundry list of spending commitments.” 

“The temporary $27-per week ‘cost of living’ payment is a cruel joke. Unlike genuine tax relief, it fails to improve productivity incentives. It’s just a three month handout, and an ineffective one at that. At current prices, it wouldn’t even buy two blocks of cheese!” 

“The only silver lining is pushing back by three months the hike to petrol taxes and Road User Charges. With inflation running at 6.9%, the hike to petrol taxes should have been squashed permanently”

The Emissions Reduction Plan: What taxpayers need to know

On Monday James Shaw unveiled his long-awaited Emissions Reduction Plan (we’ll call it the ERP).

The good news is that it’s far from the radical plan of central economic control proposed by the Climate Change Commission’s “big kahuna” report. We opposed that plan very loudly and helped thousands of New Zealanders swamp the consultation process with opposition.

The bad news is that it’s simply more of what we’ve come to expect from this Government: big politically-driven spending announcements wrapped up in the rhetoric of “climate action”.

The ERP raids $2.9 billion in revenue from the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and spends it on handouts to big business and fat bribes for middle class households buying electric vehicles. For context, $2.9 billion is about $1,500 of spending for every Kiwi household.

The elephant in the room is that because of the way our ETS works, most of this spending will do nothing to reduce our emissions. More on that below, but first, the headline announcements from today:

Cash for Clunkers

A new “Cash for Clunkers” scheme will see buyers of EVs or hybrids get a big subsidy in return for scrapping their old petrol vehicles. In fact, during the policy’s trial the subsidy works out (on average) as more than $12,000 for every scrapped vehicle!

This is classic middle class welfare dressed up as climate action. The policy will primarily benefit New Zealanders who are already in the market for an EV – and these buyers don’t tend to be low-income. In fact, scrapping petrol cars will drive up costs for the poor due to reduced supply in the used car market. And of course, the new subsidies and costs come on top of the “feebate” scheme (i.e. the ute tax) which already hammers the less well-off.

James Shaw also announced a target for New Zealanders to drive less in total – 20 percent fewer kilometres by 2035, to be exact. Question: if we’re all expected to be driving non-emitting vehicles, why do we also need to drive less?

Boilers for Big Business

Shaw has announced he’s sloshing another $650 million into the ‘decarbonising industry’ corporate welfare fund.

This is the same pot of money that we exposed in a recent Taxpayer Update, which has handed millions to the likes of Silver Fern Farms, ANZCO, and DB Breweries so that they can upgrade their heating systems. Smaller competitors never seem to get a look in.

Regardless, as we have previously pointed out, the funding is redundant: based on the Government's own numbers, big businesses already have a strong enough incentive to replace coal boilers and avoid ETS levies.

The fund (also known as the GIDI fund) is a classic case of a left-wing Government cosying up to big business under the pretence of “green” policy. Browse the handouts so far: Round 1Round 2Round 3.

The Elephant in the Room

The vast majority of interventions announced this week will fail to reduce emissions.

That’s because, outside of agriculture, our emissions are governed by the Emissions Trading Scheme – not by ad hoc government interventions.

The ETS caps total emissions and allows private businesses to bid for the right to produce emissions by purchasing carbon credits. Each year the cap shrinks, so fewer carbon credits are released to the market and in practice it becomes more costly for businesses to buy the right to produce emissions.

While the scheme itself may sound complicated, the upshot for New Zealanders is simple: energy and fuel becomes more costly each year, and households and businesses are free to decide for themselves how to cut emissions in ways that are most affordable for their circumstances. Left to their own devices businesses will, for example, replace coal boilers with electric heating systems to save on ETS levies.

When the Government then comes along with expensive additional policies to reduce emissions in say, the transport sector, total emissions remain unchanged. People switching from petrol to electric vehicles simply free up carbon credits for the rest of us to burn. It’s called the “waterbed effect”: if you try to lower a waterbed by pushing down on one spot, it’ll just pop up somewhere else.

The beauty of the ETS is that it’s designed to limit the Government to using a single tool – reducing the overall cap on carbon credits – to cut emissions. The problem is that this Government is wilfully ignoring the way the ETS works so that it can give handouts to middle class households and big businesses, and encourage “behaviour change” that appeals to its supporters’ ideological instincts.

As the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put it: if a cap-and-trade system has a sufficiently stringent cap then other policies such as renewable subsidies have no further impact on total greenhouse emissions.

Of course, James Shaw knows how the ETS works, but he’s exploiting confusion over the policy to maximise his number of feel-good announcements and photo-ops with electric vehicles, cycleways, and school children.

Will National at least be honest with taxpayers?

We know that Christopher Luxon understands the ETS. His new economist Matt Burgess wrote extensively about the waterbed effect in his previous role at the New Zealand Initiative think-tank.

The risk is that Luxon will support the Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan anyway, locking a future National-led Government into a path of wasteful, pointless climate spending. He might think that New Zealanders are too simple to understand the ETS – and he might just be wary of being seen to oppose “climate action”, even when that action is costly and completely ineffective.

At the Taxpayers’ Union, we feel it’s our duty to be up front with New Zealanders. When we already have an ETS, a separate “Emissions Reduction Plan” is the emperor’s new clothes.

It’s not enough for National to quibble with the details of the ERP. They need to reject outright the entire approach of intervening in sectors already covered by the ETS.

Exclusive poll: Four to one, Kiwis don't want more spending in the Budget

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union can reveal that, by a margin of more than four to one, most New Zealanders oppose increasing Government spending in this week's Budget.

A new scientific poll of 1,000 respondents was conducted by Curia Market Research and asked, Given the current levels of inflation, do you think the Government should continue to increase overall spending in this year’s budget, or keep it about the same?

Only 15% support increasing spending, versus 65% who support keeping it at the same level. 20% are unsure.

Headline result

Majorities favour spending restraint in every age group, area, gender, and deprivation level.

Even among Labour and Green voters, only 27% favour increased spending. Among undecided voters, only 8% want an increase in spending.

Poll by Party

With $6 billion of new operational spending earmarked for Thursday's Budget, it appears Grant Robertson has badly misjudged the public appetite for big spending. New Zealanders understand that one driver of higher living costs is Government spending bidding up the prices of goods and services.

Moreover, Kiwi households are responding to higher costs by making prudent sacrifices, and they expect the Government to do the same.

New Zealanders know that a big reason the Finance Minister has so much money in his fiscal envelope is because inflation has pushed workers into higher tax brackets. The best thing Grant Robertson could announce on Thursday is to return these ill-gotten gains to productive New Zealanders via income tax relief.

Taxpayer Talk: Greg Murphy on why the Government's Road to Zero stratergy is spin with no substance

In February, the Government launched its road safety strategy called Road to Zero. The strategy hopes to reduce road deaths to zero by 2030. The Government has allocated $85 million on advertising this strategy alone. Join Louis and motorsport champion Greg Murphy, as they discuss why this unrealistic strategy is purely spin, which will not reduce the number of deaths on New Zealand's roads. 

Subscribe to Taxpayer Talk podcast via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll: May 2022

Exclusive to members and supporters, we can reveal the results of the ninth Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll.

The polling period was 4 May - 11 May 2022.

Here are the headline results:

Poll graphic 1

Party

Support

Change from last month

National

36.8%

↓1.0

Labour

34.2%

↓2.6

Greens

9.7%

↑0.3

ACT

10.9%

↑2.5

Māori

2.4%

↓1.2

NZ First

1.8%

↑0.1

Other

4.2%

↑1.9

For the first time since the Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll began in September last year, National and ACT have the numbers to form a Government. This means the Māori Party are no longer kingmakers.

From experience, the less frequent TV polls have tended to closely follow the monthly Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll. This is the first mainstream scientific poll (i.e. the three public political polls that subscribe to the Research Association’s “New Zealand Political Polling Code”) to show that together National and ACT have enough support to form a Government since Simon Bridges led the National Party. Put another way: ACT have supplanted the Māori Party to hold the balance of power.

Here is how these results would translate to seats in Parliament (assuming all electorate seats are held):

Poll graphic 2

The shifts in party support result in National retaining its number of seats, ACT gaining four, the Māori Party losing two, no change for the Greens, and Labour losing two, resulting in 61 seats for the Centre-Right, versus 56 for Labour and the Greens.

The continued trend toward the Centre-Right could be explained by the changing priorities for voters. The Cost of Living now easily rates as the most significant voting issue, while Covid-19 has become insignificant.

Poll graphic 4

Finally, voters increasingly believe New Zealand is headed in the wrong direction. 48% believe we are headed in the wrong direction versus 34% who believe we are headed in the right direction. This is a massive change from this time last year.

Poll graphic 5

In fact, the "net direction" (right direction minus wrong direction) now sits at a 14 year low.

For the full polling report, including preferred Prime Minister ratings, favourability ratings, and the detailed insights the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition are used to receiving, join our Taxpayer Caucus – our club of most generous financial supporters who make our work possible.


The scientific poll was conducted by Curia Market Research and commissioned by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union. The full polling report is being released exclusively to members of our Taxpayer Caucus. As is well known, but for full disclosure, David Farrar is a member of the Board of the Taxpayers' Union and also a Director of Curia Market Research Ltd.

The Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll was conducted from Wednesday 04 May to Wednesday 11 May 2022. The sample size was 1,000 eligible New Zealand voters who are contactable on a landline or mobile phone (700 respondents) or online panel (300 respondents), selected at random from 20,000 nationwide phone numbers. The results are weighted to reflect the overall voting adult population in terms of gender, age, and area. Based on this sample of 1,000 respondents, the maximum sampling error (for a result of 50%) is +/- 3.1%, at the 95% confidence level. This poll should be formally referred to as the “Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll”.

Film Commission's Oscars jaunt costs taxpayers $58,000

Two New Zealand Film Commission officials spent $58,188 on a 10-day excursion to Los Angeles for the Oscars, reveals the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

After two years cooped up by COVID travel restrictions, the Film Commission's Chief Executive David Strong and Head of International Attractions Philippa Mossman made up for lost time, jetting to Los Angeles for the Oscars and a Netflix afterparty, and hosting fully-catered, alcohol-included dinners and drinking functions.  

The two officials burned through $21,000 in flights (business class for the Chief Executive) and accommodation, $10,350 for gifts of carved Māori cloak pins, and $1,743 in Uber trips.

The big-ticket event was a cocktail function at the New Zealand Consulate-General residence, where the officials served around 100 Hollywood figures and bureaucrats $5,152 of wine and $8,648 in food and catering. Premiere Valet Services were engaged for the evening at a cost of $3,400, and the Sauv-soaked guests were sent home with custom-printed goodie bags containing Whittaker's chocolate.

At a separate drinks event for film industry figures, $1,223 was spent on spirits, beer, wine, and bar snacks, again charged to the New Zealand taxpayer.

On top of the near-daily wining and dining events, Mr Strong and Ms Mossman were given an additional $115 each per day for food and other incidental expenses.

The full information response given to the Taxpayers' Union can be read here.

Actual receipts charged to the taxpayer by the two officials (receipt figures are in US dollars).

Working at the Film Commission must be one of the cushiest jobs in New Zealand's public sector. You're paid big bucks to wine and dine Hollywood bigwigs before giving them billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded subsidies.

Taxpayer Talk: The Port of Auckland: a costly political football that hasn't scored success

 

In 2005, the Port of Auckland was delisted from the NZX and was taken over by what is now Auckland Council. Since then, the port has underperformed, become inefficient, and lagged behind other ports such as the Port of Tauranga. Jordan sits down with Greg Smith from Devon Funds to discuss how a public ownership model of Auckland's port has decimated its performance, value and status – costing Auckland ratepayers dearly. 

Subscribe to Taxpayer Talk podcast via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

Taxpayer Update: Media funding backfires | IRD goes bonkers | Corporate bludgers

Dear Supporter,

If you're a business owner this update is more important than usual: we're blowing the whistle on backroom changes to IRD's rules that will result in enormous tax bills for small and medium-size business owners. We've also been busy on multiple campaign fronts, from Three Waters to wealth taxes, and we've had huge win on the Rotorua Bill. Broadcaster Peter Williams has also joined our Board.

But first...

Revealed: Taxpayer funding for media backfires

This week we released the results of a new scientific poll confirming what we have long suspected: New Zealanders don't trust Government-funded media outlets to hold the Government to account.

Poll graph

Payments from the likes of the $55 million "Public Interest Journalism" Fund present a clear conflict of interest to media outlets like Stuff and the NZ Herald, who now have millions of dollars at stake in electing a government that protects their funding.

Whenever we challenge media bosses on this they always insist that their company is immune from editorial influence. But they can no longer deny that the decision to accept funding has eroded readers' trust.

One day after the poll's publication, the media outlets failed an obvious test: not one of the outlets to have received PIJF funding has covered the results of the poll.

The poll has however been covered by The Platform  a new outlet with a policy of not accepting taxpayer money. Graham Adams's article explains how funding recipients are pressured into skewing their coverage of Treaty/co-governance issues.

For the record, we are tracking all payments from the Public Interest Journalism Fund on our website. Click here to find out who got taxpayer money.

We're calling on media outlets to salvage their credibility by repaying taxpayer funding, and declining any future payments.

Click here to sign the petition calling for the media to Pay Back the $55 Million.

Changes to IRD rules will see an enormous new tax burden on business owners

When the Government announced its new 39% income tax bracket, we warned that high earners would simply shift income into companies and trusts.

David Parker eventually cottoned on to this problem and asked Inland Revenue to investigate ways to "crack down". Now Inland Revenue has been quietly consulting on an alarming set of proposals that are – frankly – bonkers.

  • Inland Revenue has proposed whacking most small business owners with a tax on retained earnings (i.e. profits reinvested in a company) if they sell shares. Those earnings have already been taxed at the company tax rate of 28%, but Inland Revenue has suggested an extra tax upon the sale of the business to make up the difference between 28% and 39%. This means that for any non-listed company that, say, takes on a new business partner (or sells to the next generation) that proportion of retained earnings will be immediately taxed at the marginal rates for the previous owner, all in the one income year!

  • Next, and even worse, Inland Revenues proposes severely limiting which businesses will be eligible for the 28% company tax rate. A business owner who provides more than 50% of his or her company's services would now be denied access to the 28% company tax rate, even if they have dozens of clients.

To add salt to the wound, big publicly-listed companies will be exempt from these tax hikes. As our tax advisors put it, "Inland Revenue is aiming for the kings but shooting the peasants".

The full details of the complex proposals are actually even worse than I have space to describe here  for many business owners it will result in more tax payable than if there was a full capital gains tax.  You can read our formal submission on the proposals here, with analysis from one of New Zealand's leading tax advisory firms.

Inland Revenue is not taking further submissions, but we would still encourage business owners to add their voice by emailing [email protected]. The good news is we understand that having read our submission and those of other experts identifying similar problems, officials are now tearing their hair out over the mess they made of the recommendations. Our sources within IRD tell us that officials know the only opportunity the Government has to ram these changes through is in this year's omnibus tax bill expected before Parliament in the next few months. Even the mandarins in Wellington know this is an election year stink bomb.

Remember Ardern's wealth tax promise?

Despite earlier promises, Jacinda Ardern is now refusing to rule out the introduction of a wealth tax if she's re-elected.

Our team put this ad together which is now running across social media and Youtube to remind New Zealanders of Jacinda Ardern's 2020 promise to never introduce a wealth tax while she's Prime Minister:

Wealth tax adClick here to watch.

Wealth taxes are notoriously difficult to implement fairly or simply. Someone who owns a house in Auckland may look wealthy on paper while still struggling to pay weekly bills.

Fundamentally, a wealth tax is a tax on savings and investment – it punishes New Zealanders who have been productive, made prudent financial decisions, and who have already paid more than their share of taxes.

Under pressure in Parliament this week, Ardern attempted a tougher line, saying "I stand by my ruling out the wealth tax policy that was put to me in 2020". The problem is, the wealth tax put to her in 2020 was the Green Party's policy. She is intentionally leaving herself wriggle room for Labour to introduce its own wealth tax.

We've relaunched our Three Waters television ads

Thank you to everyone who chipped in to our Stop Three Waters campaign fund in the last week.

With your support, we've been able to secure a number of prime time spots for our Three Waters television ad. Here's what we've booked so far:

Ad slots

We're pushing this campaign hard because we know that the more New Zealanders learn about Three Waters, the less they like about it. By the time official consultation opens, New Zealanders will be primed to swamp the select committee with submissions against the scheme.

But advertising alone is not enough. In the next few weeks will be announcing the next steps for this campaign. We will be targeting those few councils and mayors that are not yet standing up to the Government to protect the theft by Nanaia Mahuta of local community water assets.

We're also going to be specifically holding to account Labour's provincial MPs who we think are the key to overcoming the strong Māori caucus within Labour that is driving the Three Waters and anti-democratic co-governance agenda. Watch this space...

Peter Williams joins our Board

Peter Williams

You might have received an email from Peter Williams recently asking you to support our campaign to stop Three Waters.

We’re delighted to confirm that Peter has joined our Board. As one of New Zealand’s most trusted broadcasters, he is an authoritative champion for our mission of lower taxes, less waste, and more transparency.

Peter says: 

It's appropriately coincidental that my appointment to the Taxpayers' Union board is announced as New Zealand’s inflation rate hits its highest mark in over 30 years. That number alone reinforces the need for prudent government spending.

The Taxpayers’ Union is a significant watchdog of how our taxpayer money is spent, or as has been the case too often lately, squandered. Taxpayers’ Union campaigns have a significant strike rate in changing or amending government policy, and I’m looking forward to ensuring there are many more such successes.

Peter’s appointment follows those of former CEO of NZIER and current NZSO Chair, Laurence Kubiak, former ACT Party Chief of Staff and current Hutt City Councillor, Chris Milne, and former Finance Minister Hon Ruth Richardson, earlier this year. All our Board members are unpaid volunteers who provide strategic guidance and wisdom to our team and lend substantial credibility to the efforts of the Taxpayers' Union.

Your efforts pay off: Rotorua representation bill halted in its tracks

Coffey

Two weeks ago we urged readers of our Taxpayer Update to submit on the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill that would have abolished the principle of "one person, one vote" in local government.

You responded in massive numbers. Overnight, more than two thousand submissions were made on the Bill, with the vast majority opposing it.

Tāmati Coffey responded by extending the select committee process. Then the Attorney-General David Parker warned that the Bill was inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, and finally Rotorua District Council conceded that the Government needed to press "pause" on the Bill.

The Government now says it will wait for further policy work to be done on the Bill. But with the principal problem of "one person, one vote" and equality of suffrage now acknowledged no amount of tinkering can fix it. Even if the Government changes its mind, we've won in that the Government will now be unable to sneak it through unnoticed and it cannot come into effect in time to apply to this year's local elections.

More importantly, we have demonstrated to the Government that New Zealanders will not sit back and allow politicians to meddle with fundamental principles of our democracy.

Jordan sat down to chat with David Farrar on Taxpayer Talk after the victory  click here to listen.

Megan Woods hands big business millions in "decarbonisation" grants

Southern Paprika grant

Energy Minister Megan Woods has now handed out $68 million worth of corporate welfare payments to major businesses replacing their boilers and heating systems.

The latest announcement saw capsicum grower Southern Paprika get $5 million to install a new biomass boiler. Meat producer ANZCO and textile manufacturer Canterbury Spinners each got more than a million dollars, and DB breweries got $500,000.

Browse the full list of handouts yourself: Round 1, Round 2, Round 3.

These businesses are massive, profitable operations. They already have strong financial incentives to improve energy efficiency, and they certainly don't need taxpayer help.

We can only weep for smaller businesses that already teeter on the edge of profitability, and now find that their competitors are receiving fat taxpayer-funded subsidies.

And here's the shocker: the handouts won’t even reduce New Zealand’s carbon emissions: energy emissions are capped and traded under the Emissions Trading Scheme, meaning any emission reductions from a new boiler only serve to free up carbon credits to be burnt in other parts of the economy! This is the "waterbed effect" which is conveniently ignored by all the politicians who want to be seen to be doing something knowing very well they are wasting money.

A classic taxpayer-funded "non-job"

Lapel pinAt the Taxpayers' Union we like to keep track of some of the dumbest jobs in the Government sector.

Here's a doozy from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet: someone is being paid $132,000–$155,000 to lead a team in charge of handing out awards to recognise people involved in the COVID-19 response. We understand the prize is a lapel pin.

If you know of other public sector "non-jobs" that deserve attention, let us know in a reply to this newsletter.

Finance Minister cuts debt by... re-defining debt

Grant thumb

In a pre-Budget speech, Grant Robertson announced he will change the way the Government measures its net debt, which will make our new debt figure look 20 percentage points lower.

The trick is that the new formula includes assets managed independently from the Government, such as the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.

One side effect of this is that the reported Government debt figure will fluctuate more wildly depending on the performance of the Super Fund's international investments.

Our prediction for years ahead: when the Super Fund performs well, Finance Ministers will claim credit for improved debt; when it performs poorly, they'll blame higher debt on "international conditions".

Taxpayer Talk: Should the Government finally privatise state-owned enterprises?

The Government owns or partly owns 18 large businesses with combined assets of $78 billion. The Treasury has found that many are underperforming.

Jordan and co-founder of TDB Advisory Phil Barry sat down to discuss why these businesses would be more productive and experience higher rates of return if they were privatised – bolstering New Zealand's economic resilience and standard of living. Click here to listen.

You can find all of our Taxpayer Talk episodes on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, or iHeart Radio.

This newsletter is getting long...

A few more items of Government waste to round out this Taxpayer Update:

  • Taxpayers continue to be haunted by the ghost of Auckland's scrapped bike bridge. Waka Kotahi forked out an estimated $600,000 to lease prime waterfront office space for the project just three weeks before it was cancelled.

  • Remember the public sector's COVID-19 "pay freeze"? Newshub reveals that more than 2500 Government workers earning over $100,000 a year got pay rises that were only meant to be granted in "exceptional circumstances". 

  • In a new column, Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt has complained that in 2019 the Taxpayers' Union obtained his ratepayer-funded expenses with "no exclusions for sensitive expenditure or for my privacy." We still think highlighting these expenses was the right thing to do – such as exposing that ratepayers were paying for custom "I met the Mayor" wristbands. Click here to find out how Tim Shadbolt spent ratepayers' money.

As always, we are indebted to the thousands of Kiwis who donate and make this work possible.

Donate

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Media coverage:

The Platform  
Graham Adams: poll shows how badly the $55 million media fund has damaged public trust

Newstalk ZB  Bryce Wilkinson: Former Treasury director says the Auditor-General is right to raise concerns around Covid response fund spending

Stuff  Three Waters is still a shameless asset grab

Stuff  
Likelihood that Te Pāti Māori will be 2023 'kingmaker' increasing

NZ Herald  
Mike Hosking: Open and honest government? What a joke

Gisborne Herald  
Way to go for National to form next Government

Kiwiblog  Huge majority believe media independence has been undermined by government funding

Newstalk ZB  
National surges, Labour plummets in new political poll

NZ Herald  'The public are sick of the spin': Luxon says National's surge in polls shows tide is turning against Ardern

Otago Daily Times  National continues rise over Labour in latest poll

Local Matters  Road ad campaign criticised

Homepaddock  
Quotes of the month

Homepaddock  Three Waters worse

NZ Herald  Bruce Cotterill: Looking for the Super in the City

Stuff  
How the office of Invercargill's mayor has vanished into a vacuum

NZ Herald  Bill Ralston: Political propaganda hard to swallow when Kiwis can't afford veges

Stuff  Three Waters reaction: Mayor Phil Goff says Auckland is being penalised, LGNZ welcomes ratepayer certainty

Rotorua Now  Controversial sculpture set for repaint

NZ
 Herald  From security pacts to dancing kiwifruit - was the PM's overseas trip a success?

Stuff  Controversial Rotorua sculpture set for repaint 18 months after installation

Homepaddock  Three Waters worse

RNZ  Politics: Inflation fixes, Luxon's leadership, Ardern's Asia trip

Stuff  The media has trust issues, but that's not necessarily a bad thing

Newstalk ZB Louis Houlbrooke: We need to ensure tourists cover their costs

Newstalk ZB  Nats take lead in latest poll

Newstalk ZB  Jason Walls: She’ll be looking back home at those poll numbers

Newstalk ZB  David Farrar: It’s a very stark trend

The Northland Age  Northland speed review consultation starts next month, May

NZ Herald  National takes lead in latest poll, but could not govern without Te Pāti Māori

Newshub  Nats polling higher than Labour among female voters shows 'women going to vote for best ideas', former Deputy PM Paula Bennett says

Democracy Project  Byrce Edwards: A polarising co-governance decision for Parliament

Stuff  High inflation a lose-lose for the Government, but it won’t be panicking – yet

Newshub  How NZ Govt can bring down cost of living - ACT's David Seymour

NZ Herald  Inflation nation: Matthew Hooton – Government needs to make bold moves to head off cost of living

NBR   Inflation hits a 30-year high

NZ Herald  National leader Chris Luxon’s off-piste moments and who is winning the inflation wars

Stuff  The shaky claims and untested ideology underpinning Three Waters

Inland Revenue has proposed a bonkers new tax on small business

When the Government announced its new 39% income tax bracket, we warned that high earners would simply shift income into companies and trusts.

David Parker eventually cottoned on to this problem and asked Inland Revenue to investigate ways to crack down. Now Inland Revenue has been quietly consulting on a set of proposals that are – frankly – bonkers.

•  Inland Revenue has proposed whacking most small business owners with a tax on retained earnings (i.e. profits reinvested in a company) if they sell their shares. Those earnings have already been taxed at the company tax rate of 28%, but Inland Revenue has suggested an extra tax on upon the sale of the business to make up the difference between 28% and 39%.

•  Next, and even worse, Inland Revenues proposes severely limiting which businesses will be eligible for the 28% company tax rate. A business owner who provides more than 50% of his or her company's services would now be denied access to the 28% company tax rate, even if they have dozens of clients.

To add salt to the wound, big publicly-listed companies will be exempt from these tax hikes. As our tax advisors put it, "Inland Revenue is aiming for the kings but shooting the peasants".

The full details of the proposals are actually even worse than we have space to describe here – they are extremely complex and can result in more tax payable compared with if there was a full capital gains tax. If you're interested you can read our formal submission on the proposals here.

Inland Revenue is not taking further submissions, but we understand that having read our submission and those of other experts, officials are now tearing their hair out over the mess they made of the recommendations.

We're optimistic there will be a backdown. If not, we will ensure these proposals cause a world of political pain for Labour as a disproportionate tax on small business, and another breach of the "no new taxes" promise.

Poll reveals distrust of taxpayer-funded media

Most New Zealanders believe that government funding for private media companies undermines media independence, reveals a new poll commissioned by the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

Click here to sign the petition against government funding for private media.

The scientific poll of 1,000 New Zealanders was carried out by Curia Market Research and found that 59% percent believe the funding undermines media independence, compared to just 21% who believe it doesn't. Twenty percent were unsure.Poll question 1

Crucially, the belief that media funding undermines independence is strong among supporters of all major political parties, including Labour and the Greens.

Poll question 3The poll also asked New Zealanders whether they supported the Public Interest Journalism Fund, which sees $55 million in government funding allocated to media for "public interest" reporting projects. Forty-four percent of New Zealanders oppose the fund, versus just 24% in support. Thirty-two percent were unsure.

Poll question 2Mainstream media outlets have been at pains to deny any suggestion that government funding undermines their independence. But they can no longer deny that the funding has undermined the perception of independence.

It's now clear that the Government's push to directly fund private media outlets is deeply misguided, if not dangerous. Instead of enlightening New Zealanders with high-quality journalism, the funding risks driving audiences towards fringe information sources that may be perceived as more independent.

This polling should also be a wake-up call to the media companies themselves. As tempting as it must be to accept Government handouts, in the long term it may serve to alienate readers who expect journalists to report from a position of independence.

On the flipside, this poll suggests there is a real opportunity for media outlets who differentiate themselves by refusing the funding. We're already seeing smaller outlets such as The NBR, The Platform, and interest.co.nz capitalise on this opportunity by loudly advertising the fact that they are fully privately-funded.

At the Taxpayers' Union, we share concerns that government funding undermines media independence. For example, an explicit goal of the Public Interest Journalism Fund is to promote a 'partnership' interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi. Whether media outlets admit it or not, taking the money is a direct challenge to editorial independence on highly contentious debates such as co-governance.

More broadly, it's impossible to ignore the fact that media bosses have a multi-million-dollar interest in electing a Government that will protect their funding. The risk that this will influence the way issues are reported, or what issues are reported, is obvious.

A simple immediate test for media independence will be whether they are willing to report on this poll.

The Taxpayers' Union is tracking grants paid from the Public Interest Journalism Fund here.

Taxpayer Talk: Disregarding democracy: the Government's attempt to strip away one person one vote

Last month, the Government quietly tried to pass Tamati Coffee's Rotorua District Council Bill. When electing Rotorua Councillors, it would have meant a vote on the general roll would have been worth 39% of a vote on the Māori roll. Due to public pressure and the Attorney General calling it a breach of the Bill of Rights Act, the Government backtracked. Join Jordan and David Farrar, as they discuss how the bill nearly removed one person one vote in Rotorua, and came close to setting a dangerous precedent for New Zealand democracy. 

Subscribe to Taxpayer Talk podcast via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

Peter Williams joins Taxpayers’ Union board

Peter Williams

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is welcoming Peter Williams as a board member.

Peter has nearly fifty years of experience in the media as a TVNZ news presenter, sports writer, and radio host.

"It's appropriately coincidental that my appointment to the Taxpayers' Union board is announced as New Zealand’s inflation rate hits its highest mark in over 30 years. That number alone reinforces the need for prudent government spending." -Peter Williams

Peter says, “The Taxpayers’ Union is a significant watchdog of how our taxpayer money is spent, or as has been the case too often lately, squandered. Taxpayers’ Union campaigns have a significant strike rate in changing or amending government policy, and I’m looking forward to ensuring there are many more such successes.”

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says, “We’re delighted to welcome Peter onto the Board. As one of New Zealand’s most trusted broadcasters, he is an authoritative champion for our mission of lower taxes, less waste, and more transparency. Peter’s experience in the media is complementary to the economic, public policy, political, and local government expertise around the Board table.”

Peter’s appointment follows those of former CEO of NZIER and current NZSO Chair, Laurence Kubiak, former ACT Party Chief of Staff and current Hutt City Councillor, Chris Milne, and former Finance Minister Hon Ruth Richardson, earlier this year. They are joined by Casey Costello, David Farrar, and Jordan Williams.

Founded by David Farrar and Jordan Williams in 2013, the Taxpayers’ Union enjoys the support of more than 170,000 registered supporters. Its work fighting for the mission of Lower Taxes, Less Waste, and More Transparency is made possible by the 15,000 New Zealander who financially contribute. The Board are volunteers, and are among those who donate to the organisation.

Hōne Heke didn’t just cut flagpoles – he cut taxes

A survey by Today FM has ranked Hōne Heke as the second greatest New Zealander of all time, behind Sir Edmund Hillary.

Heke’s ranking is well-warranted. He iconically cut down the British flag at Kororāreka (Russell) three times, a rebellion that has become a cornerstone of our national history. However few New Zealanders are aware of what specifically motivated the famous warrior.

Hone Heke was an anti-tax campaigner. In 1841 he was angered by the new Government’s introduction of tariffs on tea, sugar, flour, grain, spirits, tobacco, and all other foreign goods. As James Cowan writes in The New Zealand Wars (1922):

And when the storekeeper had passed on the increases to his customers, with no doubt a considerable extra margin of profit for the Maori trade, the warrior [Heke] who came in to renew his supply of whin, or twist tobacco, to purchase a new blanket or a musket, or to lay by a store of lead for moulding into bullets, received the clearest proof that the Treaty which he had signed had not improved his condition of life.

Moreover, Heke was inspired to rebellion by the way America had responded to British-imposed taxes with full-blown revolution:

[US Consul] Mayhew had helped to instil into the minds of Pomare and Heke a dislike to the British flag, consequent on the imposition of Customs duties. From him and other Americans the discontented chief had heard of the successful revolt of the American colonies against England, and the lesson was not forgotten; he burned to do likewise.

Heke went so far as to fly the American flag as a symbol of his anti-tax, anti-colonial crusade – an image that tends to be excluded from modern illustrations of Heke’s protest.

From [former US Consul] Smith he obtained an American ensign, and paddled on to Kororareka; and when the flagstaff fell to a Ngapuhi axe for a second time up went the foreign colour on the carved sternpost of Heke's war-canoe. The warrior crew paraded the harbour, their kai-hauta, or fugleman, yelling a battle-song, Heke at the steering-paddle, the American flag over his head.

Heke’s anti-tax rebellion wasn’t just provocative – it was effective. In exchange for Ngapuhi surrendering a token number of muskets and Heke offering to erect a new flag mast, the Government declared the Bay of Islands a free port, and abolished all customs duties.

The truth of Hōne Heke’s rebellion deserves to be more widely-known. His story was the beginning of a proud lineage of anti-tax protest that is today carried on by the Taxpayers’ Union (even if we prefer to use arguments over axes).

So congratulations to Hōne Heke for rightfully being recognised as one of the greatest New Zealanders. If it were up to us, he might even be ranked number one. How many taxes did Sir Ed cut, after all?

Taxpayer Talk: Should the Government finally privatise State Owned Enterprises?

The Government owns or partly owns 18 large businesses with combined assets of $78 billion. The Treasury has found that many are underperforming. Join Jordan and co-founder of TDB Advisory Phil Barry, as they discuss why these businesses would be more productive and experience higher rates of return if they were privatised – bolstering New Zealand's economic resilience and standard of living. 

Subscribe to Taxpayer Talk podcast via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

 

Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll: April 2022

Exclusive to members and supporters, we can reveal the results of the eighth Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll.

The polling period was 7 April - 13 April 2022.

Here are the headline results:

Party

Support

Change from last month

National

37.8%

↑2.5

Labour

36.8%

↑0.6

Greens

9.4%

↓3.0

ACT

8.4%

↓2.8

Māori

3.6%

↑3.5

NZ First

1.7%

↓0.1

Other

2.3%

↓0.7

National takes the lead for the first time since the Taxpayers' Union Curia Polls began. However, much of National's gain appear to have come at ACT's expense. Labour holds steady with a slight bump, the Greens drop and the Māori Party rises. 

Here is how these results would translate to seats in Parliament:

The shifts in party support result in National gaining three seats, ACT losing four, the Māori Party gaining four, the Greens losing four, and no change for the Labour Party. This means the gap between the Centre-Right and the Centre-Left blocs has shrunk from nine seats in January to just one seat in April. Both blocs would not receive enough seats to govern, thus, the Māori Party would be the 'kingmaker.'

(For the purposes of this chart, the Māori Party is not included in the two major blocs.)

Just like the TV polls, our pollsters do not read out options to participants to choose their preferred Prime Minister – we just include those who are named as preferred by more than a few people in the random sample of one thousand voters. Here are the updated preferred Prime Minister ratings, shown over time:

Preferred Prime Minister

April 2022

Change from last month

Jacinda Ardern

36.3%

↓1.5

Christopher Luxon

28.6%

↑2.0

David Seymour

4.8%

↑0.4

Winston Peters

2.6%

↓2.9

Luxon and Seymour are up. Ardern is slightly down, while support for Peters has dropped. 

New Zealanders are now almost evenly split on whether the country is heading in the “right” or “wrong” direction. There are slightly more New Zealanders that believe the country is heading in the wrong direction. 

New Zealanders were also asked to scale between 1 and 5 their favourability towards different politicians. “Very Favourable” (5) plus “Favourable” (4) are netted off against “Very Unfavourable (1) and “Unfavourable” (2) to come to a “Net Favourability” result. Those responses that are neither favourable nor unfavourable are disregarded.

Luxon has a more positive net favourability (+12%) than Ardern (+9%), but fewer people have an opinion on Luxon either way. Ardern’s net favourability continues to drop. Ardern's net favorability has fallen from +33% (October 2021) to +9%(April 2022).

For the full polling report, covering the detailed insights the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition are used to receiving, join our Taxpayer Caucus – our club of most generous financial supporters who make our work possible.


The scientific poll was conducted by Curia Market Research and commissioned by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union. The full polling report is being released exclusively to members of our Taxpayer Caucus. As is well known, but for full disclosure, David Farrar is a member of the Board of the Taxpayers' Union and also a Director of Curia Market Research Ltd.

The Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll was conducted from Wednesday 07 April to Wednesday 13 April 2022. The sample size was 1,000 eligible New Zealand voters who are contactable on a landline or mobile phone selected at random from 20,000 nationwide phone numbers. The results are weighted to reflect the overall voting adult population in terms of gender, age, and area. Based on this sample of 1,000 respondents, the maximum sampling error (for a result of 50%) is +/- 3.1%, at the 95% confidence level. This poll should be formally referred to as the “Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll”.

Taxpayer Update: Mahuta trying to gag councils on Three Waters | Auditor General slams tourism slush fund | Nats now leading Labour in latest poll

Dear Supporter,

Louis is away today, so I'm in the hot seat bringing you this week's Taxpayer Update.

Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll: Nats pull ahead of Labour

First thing's first: we've just released this month's Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll, which you can read about on our website here.

This is the first time this poll has shown Labour behind National, and also the first time Labour/Greens would not have the numbers to govern. Since our first poll in September last year, Labour has gone from 25% ahead of National to 1% behind.

National is up 3% to take the lead. ACT and Greens both dip below 10%, while the Māori Party bounces up to 3.6%. The other small parties did not poll well, with NZ First at 1.7%, New Conservatives 0.3%, and TOP 1.2%.

Under these numbers, the Māori Party would hold the balance of power.

The numbers on preferred Prime Minster, and favorability ratings, are available on our website.

💧 Three Waters: First a bribe, now a gag clause! Sneaky and desperate measure to stop councils from criticising Government 🤫

Nania Mahuta

From the "I can't believe they'd sink so low" file, Nanaia Mahuta and her Three Waters officials at the Department of Internal Affairs have been caught out badly.

Last year, at the Local Government New Zealand conference, the Prime Minister announced a $2.5 billion fund to bribe incentivise councils to jump on board the Government's Three Waters agenda. Last week, applications opened for the first $500 million.

At the time, we called it out as a slush fund. The councils are being offered the money to spend even on projects that have nothing to do with water infrastructure.

But now we learn there's a catch. Buried in the funding agreement is a sneaky clause preventing the councils who take the money to improve their infrastructure from criticising the Government!

Newshub reports:

A part of the deal has been slammed as a gag order. It states that councils who get the cash "must not at any time do anything which could have an adverse effect on the reputation, good standing or goodwill of the Department of Internal Affairs or the Government".

Along with your humble Taxpayers' Union, the vast majority of mayors and councillors are campaigning against Three Waters. To put elected officials in a position where they must choose whether or not to take money to improve services for their local community, or to fight for affordable, transparent, and accountable/democratic management of the water assets built by generations of ratepayers, is disgraceful.

As an unnamed opposition MP put it, "this is only one step away from forcing councillors to praise our glorious leader at each meeting". Indeed.

The Newshub piece goes on:

In a statement, the Department of Internal Affairs told Newshub "no clause in the Funding Agreement... prevents or prohibits any council from publicly expressing its own views".

It adds: "It is a common and prudent clause in public funding documents as a safeguard to protect against the misuse of public funds."

Mahuta is promising this is no gag order.

This is the real concern though. It's all very well for politicians to stretch the truth, but as public servants, DIA officials must conduct their duties in a fair, impartial, responsible, and trustworthy way.

Here are the words of the clause again plain and simple:

[Councils] must not at any time do anything which could have an adverse effect on the reputation, good standing or goodwill of the Department of Internal Affairs or the Government

The claim that this isn't a gag clause is a simple lie. We also find the statement from the DIA's spokesperson that such a clause is "common" and somehow protects against misuse of funds very difficult to believe.

Your humble Taxpayers' Union has filed an information request to unmask the names of the officials who approved the statement and what other government contracts contain this (apparently) "common" provision.

Instead of bribing councillors and mayors not to speak out against Three Waters, we say the Government should listen to them and their communities and Stop Three Waters. To support the Stop Three Waters effort click here.

Stop Three Waters banner

Update on Three Waters legal challenge: Mahuta cover-up or stuff up? 

You may recall a few months ago we announced our support of a High Court challenge to the advice Nanaia Mahuta provided her Cabinet colleagues to justify the Three Waters model. Specifically, she claimed that the Government's own lawyers had advised her that the co-governenace model was "necessary for the Crown to comply with its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi". 

Advice from multiple QCs is that Mahuta's advice cannot be a fair reflection of the law. Water infrastructure assets were not in existence in 1840, and while some iwi may have interests in specific and particular water bodies, that could not reasonably be extended to municipal pumps and pipes paid for by ratepayers across the country.

The Government's approach to the case is fascinating and it is surprising the media aren't turning their attention to what is going on.

Ms Mahuta's lawyers are now trying to suppress Minister Mahuta's Cabinet papers containing the above claims, even though her office authorised the public release of the papers last year!

They are trying to prevent our lawyers, the public, or the High Court, being able to refer to what Ms Mahuta was telling her Cabinet colleagues when they decided to adopt the Three Waters proposals. Just what is Ms Mahuta hiding... 

Screen shot

I recently hosted a Zoom call with the lawyers leading this effort and many of our thousands of supporters who have chipped-in financially to make this legal challenge possible. You can read the summary/watch the discussion here.

The sorry saga of the Strategic Tourism Asset Protection fund 💸

Kelvin Davis

David Farrar has been working through the recent report by the Auditor-General on the $290 million "Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme" which saw the likes of AJ Hackett Bungy NZ receiving $10.5 million over-and-above the COVID wage subsidy support (we are careful to note that Mr Hackett is no longer involved in the company). Some extracts:

The Tourism Recovery Ministers decided to fund all tourism businesses that scored more than 15 out of 30 points in the assessment process. They also decided to fund all eligible Māori tourism businesses, including those that scored less than 15 out of 30 points in the assessment process.

So if your owners have the right ancestors, you got funding from the Government even if you scored 0/30!

However, all decisions to spend public money come with an obligation to ensure that the decision-making is consistent and transparent. We saw limited evidence explaining the reasons for the decisions. Without those records, those who have made the decisions are not able to adequately explain why funding was provided. In my view, this is not acceptable practice, regardless of the circumstances. To ensure that the public can be confident in the integrity of the decisions made, the reasons for this should be clearly explained and well documented.

In other words, the Auditor General is saying that we can have no idea if Ministers just gave out money to their mates, as there was no documentation of their reasons.

This, combined with the decisions made that diverged from officials’ advice and the limited documentation to explain the divergence, makes it hard to determine whether the funding was applied fairly in accordance with the published criteria and the extent to which it represents value for money.

So Ministers overrode recommendations of neutral officials, without explaining why.

The Tourism Recovery Ministers agreed to fund Whale Watch Kaikōura. We have not seen any evidence to identify what criteria the Tourism Recovery Ministers used when making this decision. We also did not see any advice from Ministry officials. On 10 June 2020, the Minister announced that Whale Watch Kaikōura had been provided $1.5 million grant funding.

So Whale Watch Kaikōura got $1.5 million of taxpayer money from Ministers on the basis of no criteria and no advice.

This really is banana republic stuff and demonstrates why fighting for Lower Taxes, Less Waste, and More Transparency couldn't be more relevant.

Donate

Thank you for your support.

Jordan

Jordan_signature.jpg
Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

 

Water Users' group legal update

This message is much longer than usual, because we think many will be interested in the detail of the Three Waters litigation thousands of our supporters are involved in funding. It could prove very awkward for the Government, and, as yet, the media appear almost determined not to report on it.

The message is going to all of those who have chipped-in to the Three Waters litigation or otherwise financially supported our campaign efforts to stop Three Waters.

A few weeks ago, you will have received an invitation for a Zoom call where I sat down with the lawyers outlining the significance of this court challenge and providing an update. If you didn't make that, you are welcome to watch a replay here. I detail some of what was covered in the email below.

If you did participate and would like to see the revised Statement of Claim (as was discussed on the interview) it is now filed with the Court and can be found here.

This litigation goes to the heart of New Zealand’s unwritten constitution.

As you'll recall, this case is all about calling the Government's bluff on its claims that co-governance of Three Waters is required by the Treaty of Waitangi. That's what Ms Mahuta told the Cabinet – she said that was the advice from Crown Law and officials.

We don't believe her. That's why the Taxpayers' Union has invested $200,000 into this court case: we need to bring these radical interpretations of the Treaty into line with what the courts have really said about Treaty principles (not what campaigners in the Government and the media claim the courts have said).

The case might show a Minister lying to benefit her political base. It might instead show that she has faithfully reported legal advice, but uncover government lawyers who have lost connection with the Rule of Law values they’re sworn to uphold. Or it might show that the Minister and officials were just faithfully applying theories never debated in Parliament but have been repeated in the Wellington beltway and used to override Rule of Law principles.

Did Nanaia Mahuta bungle transparency? Or lie about what Crown Law told her? Or is a Cabinet Paper cover-up just 'business as usual'?

The original court application included copies of Minister Mahuta’s relevant Cabinet Papers. She proactively released them online six months earlier and the Taxpayers' Union (among many others) have used them to report on the Government's intentions and reasoning.

But in December the papers were taken offline. Crown Law wrote to the lawyers working on this case asking them to redact parts of the Cabinet Paper that they now wanted to hide from the public.

Of course, the lawyers acting for Water Users' Group refused the Crown law demand. The whole case is on the Minister’s claims about the law. Her papers put up Treaty-based interests of Maori as the reason for a bizarre anti-democratic corporate structure plus foundational recognition of Māori customs and superstitions in law, to drive water infrastructure spending and investment decisions.

The effect of the Treaty as constitutional

We have been told that the Treaty is part of our constitution. Constitutional provisions are fundamental. They become the rules of the game, with a sacred status, beyond the reach of normal democratic challenge and debate. You can argue about interpretation, but no law should be made that is inconsistent with a constitution.

So whether the Minister’s assertions about the Treaty are true or false is the heart of the case. Was Ms Mahuta wrong to claim the Treaty obliges people to accept “co-governance”? Does the Treaty entitle her political power-base to what she called “iwi/Maori interests” in that infrastructure? 

If she is merely applying the constitutional law, then it is irrelevant whether people worry about expropriating ratepayer-funded infrastructure to become a source of patronage for a tribal elite ending local democratic control of ratepayer-funded water infrastructure. If she is right and the Treaty obliges us to vest power in people immune from voter dismissal, it is inappropriate to question or challenge her proposals.

Treaty/constitutional status would make it unacceptable even to voice fears that statutory blessing for superstitions about water will become opportunities for corrupt sale of ‘cultural consents’. As local Councillors and Mayors have told us, once something is said to be Treaty-required, it becomes racist even to ask whether it will give to those eligible to inherit toll-gate positions the power to extract rentals from their legally inferior neighbours. That makes it almost impossible to flag concerns about what would be, in effect, rentals charged on property ratepayers already own and have paid for.

So whether the Minister’s assertions about the Treaty are true or false is the vital question. Yet Crown Law demanded that the Water Users' Group take key evidence out of the court application.

Crown Law’s constitutional status

Crown Law reports to the Attorney General, who is a Government Minister, but also has a separate and superior duty as the First Law Officer of the nation. The Attorney General is sometimes referred to as the ‘legal conscience’ of the Cabinet – bound to ensure that Cabinet respects the Rule of Law. Crown Law is managed by the Solicitor General, the Second Law officer of the nation. The Solicitor General and his office also have special duties to uphold the law. Unlike ordinary lawyers they cannot run a case ‘no holds barred’ to ensure their client wins. Crown Law is required to ensure that its conduct of cases upholds the law. They are constitutionally responsible for the quality of legal advice on which Ministers act.

So if Crown Law do hold the views attributed to them by Minister Mahuta, the people of New Zealand should know that. The Court hearing our case should know exactly what Crown Law were advising. Because it should be the same advice to all their government clients. Crown Law are not supposed to be like ordinary lawyers, who must put their clients’ interests ahead of all other interests (other than some limited duties to the court). All New Zealanders depend on a Crown Law responsibility to help ensure that our executive government acts under law and does not become “a law unto itself”.

The Court in our case needs to know how Crown Law sees Treaty obligations so that it can correct misinterpretations.

The Minister is now trying to hide her earlier reasoning from the public

Water User Groups' refusal to withdraw that key information for the court is not the end of the story.

You may recall that last year Ms Mahuta's main justification for Three Waters was the Treaty. She told me that during my interview with her back in November.

The claim that she had supporting Crown Law advice has now been redacted from the Cabinet Papers, so you won’t find it in the papers online.

Even the NZ Herald appears to have picked up on the Ministers' change of tune. Its Senior Political Reporter wrote last week:

The Government has lacked candour when it comes to explaining its broader ambitions for co-governance. Ministers tend to focus on why non-Māori have nothing to fear, rather than why a co-governance model is necessary.

[…] The fact the Government, and Mahuta in particular, often don't give the real answer to the co-governance question, that it is to honour the Crown's commitments under the Treaty, suggests they are not confident they could win that argument. Politicians well know it is unwise to pick a fight you are not confident of winning.

Crown Law told Water Users' Group this advice was originally included in the released Cabinet Papers "by mistake". The redacted paper now has this:


The reason now given for this redaction is this -

Why was the Crown Law opinion information in the earlier published papers?

The Minister put the reference to the legal advice/justification in her advice to Cabinet and authorised its release. We think that was because without claiming Crown Law backup the Minister’s claims about Treaty interests would have been dismissed as self-serving and preposterous. At the least, they would have been open to challenge in normal democratic debate. But Nanaia Mahuta would know that with Crown Law apparently standing behind her claims, the recommendations would likely silence critics who fear being accused of racism. She invoked the reputation of Crown Law for expertise and relative impartiality to squelch potential questions. She would know she needed ‘authority’ behind her to be believed.

By the time Water Users' Group filed the claim Ms Mahuta had achieved most of her objectives with those claims in the Cabinet Papers. She had approval to proceed with her scheme, and she has been successful in gagging debate in scores of local authorities across New Zealand.

The Water Users’ Group founded by our ratepayer subsidiary groups in Auckland and Tauranga, among others with an interest in water decided in the end that it was just too important. We could not allow ourselves to be cowed into letting it pass. Someone has to stand up to what Ms Mahuta appears to have done.

Is the Crown Law opinion privileged?

It is usual practice for the Crown to withhold its legal advice. Crown Law adopts the position that it should resist disclosure as a matter of principle, lest it becomes routine for them to be obliged to disclose the government’s legal hand. We understand that position. 

But in this case their advice was deliberately used as a way to confer apparent authority on what would otherwise have been implausible claims. Whether or not Crown Law’s views were misrepresented, deliberately or unintentionally, we say all New Zealanders have a vital constitutional interest in knowing what they actually think the current legal position is. Does Crown Law think that Treaty rights have morphed to become a general pan Maori (race)  privilege, affecting control and use of and revenue from the property of ratepayers held by local authorities, instead of being rights of specific iwi and hapu against the Crown in relation to specific assets that existed in 1840. Does the Treaty stipulate for “partnership” political structures to supplant democracy that treats all as equal under the law?

The rules on privilege provide that it is waived (i.e. no longer applies) to information a party has released. And usually, when a party refers to legal advice in circumstances where they intend to give arguments clout, they risk being obliged to disclose the advice. We cannot think of a case more appropriate for those principles to apply. The lawyers asked Crown Law for their opinion on Ms Mahuta's waiving of privilege but they didn't budge.

Now an application has been filed to ask the High Court to order the Government to front up with the advice Minister Mahuta was referring to in her claim that Three Waters co-governance is necessary to comply with the Treaty and hand it over.

There is a chance that Crown Law might agree to let just the Water Users' Group’s lawyers see the advice, and possibly the Court, but continue to oppose letting it become public.  We have been advised that Water Users' Group and their lawyers will strongly oppose anything that is not transparent.

There is of course a possibility that the opinion doesn’t say what the Minister said it does. Whatever it says, the proper interpretation of the Treaty, and knowing what our most constitutionally important law office is telling the Government about it, is something any New Zealander should be able to see.

Support the fight for transparency and accountability on Three Waters

Thank you to the thousands who have chipped in to get the court case and the campaign this far but it is clear the Government is not backing down on Three Waters without a fight.

To continue to demand transparency from Nanaia Mahuta and the Jacinda Ardern Government,
click here to donate.

Donate

Thank you for your support and making this effort possible,

Jordan

Jordan_signature.jpg
Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

 

Revealed: Waka Kotahi spends millions promoting Government policy

Waka Kotahi (NZ Transport Agency) has spent $4,737,200 on the first two television advertisements promoting the Government's Road to Zero strategy, reveals the Taxpayers' Union.

The spending is separate from the $2.4 million recently spent on the infamous 'Safe Limits' television ad.

In February, the Government officially launched its 'Road to Zero' public awareness campaign promoting its target of zero deaths and serious injuries on New Zealand's roads by 2050. Waka Kotahi has been allocated $14.7 million in new funding for the campaign but has told the Union it plans to spend as much as $197 million on Road to Zero promotions and educational activities.

The first Road to Zero ad shows a holidaying family stopped at a toll booth by a woman in a wig, who looks at the family's youngest child and says the toll will be "just the little one today." Horror music is played before we are told, "It's time we stopped paying the road toll. We have a vision to reach zero deaths by 2050."

The second ad shows a family crashing into a road barrier. One by one, mechanics, road workers and police officers emerge from the car explaining how they all helped to stop the crash from being worse. The ad cuts to "It takes everyone to get to no one."

Neither ad actually encourages drivers to change their behaviour – instead, Waka Kotahi is using its massive advertising budget to promote a Government initiative.

Released under the Official information Act, an update from officials to the Waka Kotahi board confirms our suspicions that the campaign is about influencing public opinion to support Government policies. Officials write:

To create the social licence for the interventions required for Road to Zero to be successful, we require public awareness, understanding and ultimately acceptance of the Road to Zero strategy and the philosophy and approach that underpin it.

The campaign's explicit aim to warm up the public for policy changes clearly breaches section 5(b) of the Government's own advertising guidelines: material should be free from partisan promotion of government policy and political argument.

These ads cynically exploit fear without providing viewers any useful information on specific policy changes or consultation processes being advanced by the Government.

The Department of Internal Affairs recently pulled the plug on its biased $4 million Three Waters advertising campaign after a warning from the Public Service Commissioner. Waka Kotahi needs to do the same with its manipulative Road to Zero ads.

Informing the public about policy changes and promoting road safety messages is sometimes necessary. But taxpayer-funded adverts intended to soften the public up for lower speed limits are not acceptable. Debates around ideal speed limits and acceptable trade-offs of risk on our roads have valid points on both sides – the Government shouldn't be using taxpayer money to tip the scale.

The Taxpayers' Union has written to the Public Service Commissioner asking for a judgment on Waka Kotahi's ads before the the spending gets even further out of control.

Taxpayer Talk: Fair Pay Agreements: will they cripple New Zealand's labour market?

The Government's Fair Pay Agreements Bill passed its first vote in Parliament last week. The legislation will initiate the largest shake up for employment relations in decades. Join Jordan and Business NZ CEO Kirk Hope as they discuss why Fair Pay Agreements will mean more barriers to employment, less jobs, higher labour costs and no productivity gains. 

Subscribe to Taxpayer Talk podcast via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

 

Revealed: Island Bay cycleway talkfests cost ratepayers $1 million

An official information response shows the Wellington City Council has spent more than a million dollars on the Island Bay cycleway since its completion in 2016.

In 2016, the Wellington City Council installed a 1.7km cycle-way along The Parade in Island Bay. A lackluster consultation process saw the preferences of local residents shunted aside by a loud minority of lycra activists and the resulting cycleway failed to provide safety for motorists or cyclists.

Despite its completion, an additional $1,093,759 has been spent on the cycleway in recent years apparently on consultation and planning. 

As residents will attest, no improvements have been made to the cycleway. The million-dollar spend since the cycleway's installation has only produced paperwork and hui.

Actual shovels in ground will cost far more. Last November, the Council promised to spend $2 million to $14 million more addressing safety concerns arising from the cycleway's poor design. Changes include painting the bike lane green and slightly widening the lanes with concrete 'buffers' between motorists and cyclists. The "improvements" mean motorists will lose 60-80 car parks on The Parade. The changes have been opposed by 66% of those who engaged with the brief three-week consultation, with 57% strongly opposed.

Meanwhile, Cycling Action Network, the lobby group that pushed for the installation of the cycleway, has been given $23,420 by the council since 2015. This is salt in the wound for residents who already suspected that the cycle lobby was given special consideration during the cycleway consultation process.

Table

On average around 400 trips are taken on the cycleway per weekday. That's just 200 commuters, or 2.9% of the suburb's population. Based on the spending so far, someone who's regularly commuted using the cycleway since its installation has enjoyed a $13,000 subsidy from ratepayers. Forking out millions more is madness.

NZTA plans to whack motorists, towies, and taxis with higher fees

NZTA's proposed changes to motor vehicle licensing and registration fees will whack productive New Zealanders with higher costs, warns the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

NZTA is pitching its fee changes as a kind of tax switch, reducing the cost of certain applications and increasing the cost of others. But the overall effect of the changes is a tax grab that makes a mockery of the 'no new taxes' promise – NZTA is expected to collect an additional $79 million in annual revenue as a result of its fee changes, plus another $35 million taken from the Land Transport Fund.

Losers from the proposals include:

•  Everyone renewing their vehicle registration (administration fees attached to charges increase by between 61% and 350%).

•  Anyone paying road user charges (administration fees attached to charges increase by between 67% and 182%)

•  Disabled vehicle users ($19 increase in certification cost for vehicle wheelchair modifications)

•  New Taxi and Uber drivers (181% increase in 1-year P endorsement charges)

•  New driving instructors and testing officers (161% increase in new 1-year I and O endorsement charges)

•  New tow truck drivers and vehicle transporters (161% increase in new 1-year V endorsement charges)

•  New forklift and roller drivers (39% increase in endorsement charges)

•  Restricted license drivers working night shifts or transporting children (249% increase in exemption charges)

Winners include:

•  Convicted drink drivers (85% decrease in Alcohol Interlock Licence cost)

•  Collectors of exotic vehicles (80% reduction in registration exemption cost for left-hand drive vehicles)

•  Drivers who fail their license tests (removal of re-sit fees)

•  NZTA / Waka Kotahi (a 40% increase in revenue to be spent on regulatory enforcement)

The only real winner here is the bureaucracy at NZTA, which plans to employ an additional 265 full-time equivalent staff  a 55.6% increase on 2018 numbers. The consultation document also points out that increased costs to businesses as a result of these changes are likely to flow on to households through increased prices for goods and services.

The increase in licensing costs for new towies, taxi drivers, and forklift operators will have disturbing flow-on effects. Licensing costs act as a barrier for low-income New Zealanders considering upskilling, and the higher fees will exacerbate existing skills shortages, driving up costs that are ultimately passed on to households and consumers.

Some of the changes are absurd: NZTA plans to increase the price of sitting a restricted license by 21% but remove the fee to re-sit if you fail. This is effectively a tax on those who put in the time to practice and pass on their first attempt, to subsidise those who fail one or more times. It will encourage learner drivers to use restricted tests as de facto taxpayer-funded driving lessons. Private driving instructors should be very worried.

These changes come at a time when New Zealanders are already squeezed by record fuel prices, newly introduced ute taxes that subsidise wealthy Tesla drivers, and eye-watering wasteful spending on pet projects paid for by the National Land Transport Fund and the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax.

$15 billion for a tram line in Auckland, $50 million planning a bridge that won't be built, and $197 million for the Road to Zero publicity campaign are all examples of spending that could be trimmed back or eliminated if NZTA really needs more money for regulatory costs. Moreover, NZTA should respond to rising costs by streamlining its regulatory processes to ensure less, not more, bureaucracy is needed.

New Zealanders can submit on the fee changes by emailing [email protected].

Taxpayer Talk: Three Waters and the ETS with Simon Court

 

The Government is determined to implement its controversial Three Waters reform and introduce a plethora of policies aimed at tackling climate change. Join Jordan and ACT MP Simon Court as they discuss why Three Waters will not eventuate in better water infrastructure, and why the Government's climate policies will only cost taxpayers without reducing total emissions.

Subscribe to Taxpayer Talk podcast via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

 

Taxpayer Update: Co-governance sham | Advertising bonanza | More bizarre grants

Dear Supporter,

Before I dive into the rest of the newsletter: the ute tax comes into effect today, meaning anyone buying (for example) a Toyota Hilux will have to pay an extra $5,000 to subsidise someone buying a Tesla or Prius.

If there's a change of Government, we could see the tax repealed – but only if we keep this fight on the agenda.

Bumper stickers

Click here to get a bumper sticker and show your opposition to the ute tax.

Co-governance "consultation" looks a lot like a sham

Ardern Mahuta

After a year of dodging questions on He Puapua, the Prime Minister has now confirmed that her Government will begin consultation on the wider implementation of co-governance in New Zealand.

But it's hard to see the consultation as anything but a sham while the Government presses ahead with its co-governed Three Waters scheme.

As our Executive Director Jordan Williams put it:

One of the key flaws in the proposed Three Waters model is the total lack of safeguards against rent seeking by tangata whenua. Indeed, it appears that the scheme is being set up to allow expensive water royalties and other financial ‘support’ to iwi groups – something the Minister would not deny when I asked her about this on our Taxpayer Talk podcast.

Co-governance is a recipe for rent seeking and new taxes, and decouples those imposing the costs from democratic accountability.

If the Prime Minister wants a genuine discussion on co-governance, then she shouldn't let the consultation be a sham. Cabinet needs to hit the brakes on Three Waters until New Zealanders have had their say.

Our petition to stop Three Waters has now received 88,000 signatures.

The advertising agency that's making millions off taxpayers

Clemenger campaigns

1 News reports that the Government has spent $35 million in the last year alone on COVID-19 advertising.

We understand the need to communicate complex information about alert levels, vaccine eligibility, and isolation rules, but the quantity and quality of advertisements deserves scrutiny.

Clemenger BBDO has been a major beneficiary of this Government, winning most major ad contracts and spewing out multi-million dollar, cinematic campaigns. Browse their portfolio for yourself.

It's not just COVID ads. Clemenger's 'Safer Limits' ad for Waka Kotahi cost $2.4 million. And that's just the production; another $195 million is budgeted for the wider 'Road to Zero' campaign.

EECA's 'Gen Less' ads cost taxpayers $8 million, largely spent with Clemenger. The company also won contracts with the Human Rights Commission, Oranga Tamariki, MPI, the Teaching Council, Health Promotion Agency, Fire and Emergency, and more.

Not every ad needs to be big budget. Anyone remember the Auckland Glass ads? "0800, 804, 804". Cheap as chips, and memorable. There are countless agile new producers that can pump out ads on a low budget. The Government needs to review its procurement arrangements.

The bizarre COVID grants keep on coming

Grant image

We've previously commented on the Ministry for Culture and Heritage's $60 million COVID "Innovation Fund", and it's time for an update.

The fund has now granted 105 projects a total of $15.9 million, and many of the spending decisions are truly bizarre:

  • $700,000 on a "digital storytelling experience" about the Manawatū River

  • $321,740 to tell the story of the Grey River using virtual reality

  • $20,000 on a business plan for Tongan mat-weaving

  • $250,000 on an online children's game about an albatross

  • $900,000 on an arts strategy for Christchurch

  • $20,000 on a children's book that requires the reader to install an app

  • $248,460 on traditional Māori painting

You can find a longer list of examples on our website here.

Common themes in the funded initiatives include virtual reality, storytelling, digital installations beside rivers, and bespoke IT projects.

Needless to say, none of these projects have any relevance to COVID-19, despite the money coming from Grant Robertson's rapidly-dwindling "pandemic fund". The spending decisions are almost funny until you remember that every dollar could have been spent bolstering our health system, or returned to a struggling taxpayer.

Incredibly, there is still another $44 million to be spent from the fund, and it is clear to see that the Ministry has run out of worthwhile projects to bankroll. It's only a matter of time before taxpayers are literally funding underwater basket weaving.

High inflation leads to $637 million debt write-off for uni graduates

We're blowing the whistle on a debt write-off for university graduates that's costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

While it is well-known that student loan balances do not accrue interest, it is often forgotten that balances are not even adjusted for inflation. This means student loan balances shrink in real terms every year in line with the inflation rate – effectively a taxpayer-funded debt write-off.

The total value of unpaid student debt sits at around $10.8 billion, listed as an asset in the Government books. But the real value of this debt is rapidly being eroded by high inflation – with an inflation rate of 5.9%, the Government has effectively written off $637 million in student debt in just 12 months. That's almost as much as the Government was planning to spend on the Waitemata Harbour "SkyPath" bike bridge.

The incentive problem is obvious: savvy students will repay their loans as slowly as possible, maximising costs to taxpayers in terms of both the inflation write-off and the interest write-off.

This is a regressive wealth transfer from working New Zealanders to the privileged – people with university degrees earn significantly more than those without. Even under Australia’s interest-free student loan scheme, recognised as one of the world’s most generous, loan balances are still indexed for inflation.

Spanish taxpayers have done us a $99 million favour

Thank you

This week we're thanking the taxpayers of Barcelona and Catalonia for taking the $99 million America’s Cup defence off Kiwi taxpayers’ hands.

Funding for a millionaires’ boat race was never a good use of taxpayers’ money when we are facing a generational debt monster and painful inflation.

The success of the Spanish bid means $99 million is freed up for the Government and Auckland Council to pay down debt or to be returned to taxpayers and ratepayers. And we won't have to endure another $900,000 Rod Stewart singalong:

Rod and Clarke

Revealed: DIA's furniture blowout

Furniture graphic

We've exposed how the Department of Internal Affairs spent $2 million on furniture during a period in which much of their staff were working from home.

Some staff members were even given adjustable footrests to install in their home offices!

Click here to read the details.

The polling that explains the Govt’s fuel tax cut

A month ago, the Finance Minister was blaming fuel costs on international conditions and warning that fuel tax relief would impact road funding. But then the Government changed tack, and rustled up money from the COVID slush fund to cover the revenue loss.

Perhaps the Government's internal polling showed something like this:

Fuel tax poll

That's a scientific Curia poll we commissioned just before the Government announced the temporary reduction in petrol excise tax.

In fact, 80% of Labour voters supported tax relief. In the most deprived areas of New Zealand, support for tax relief was 88%. Click here to see the in-depth data.

The lesson from the fuel tax cut is that regardless of our Government’s ideological bent, it can be forced to listen to people-power, strong campaigns, and public opinion.

The problem the Government faced was that New Zealanders had already made the mental link between high fuel costs and high government taxes. This didn’t happen out of the blue: the Taxpayers’ Union worked hard to ensure that New Zealanders knew around half of their petrol bill was made up of taxes and levies.

Newshub clipClick here to see Newshub's coverage of our 'Fuel Tax Honesty Day' event.

The Government's preferred candidate for UK High Commissioner is under investigation for corruption

Goff

According to the NZ Herald, Cabinet is set to sign off on appointing outgoing Auckland Mayor Phil Goff as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

But there's a problem. Has everyone forgotten that Goff is currently being investigated for electoral curruption over an alleged failure to declare election donations apparently linked to the CCP?

It beggars belief that Cabinet would even consider the London gig while the stench of Chinese electoral fraud is still hanging over Goff’s head.

We contacted the Minister of Foreign Affair's office and asked whether anyone has ever been appointed as an ambassador or high commissioner while being investigated for a criminal offence. They couldn't find a single instance.

New Zealand currently has a good reputation within the international diplomatic community. That reputation is vital to achieving high-quality trade deals and security arrangements. Let’s not put it at risk.

Taxpayer Talk: RNZ/TVNZ merger + Wellington's allergy to economists

The Government has confirmed plans to merge RNZ and TVNZ into a single publicly-owned media monolith. I sat down remotely with National Party Broadcasting spokesperson Melissa Lee to find out exactly what problem the Government thinks it's solving, and how this move will impact New Zealanders' trust in the independence of the media. Listen here.

The Treasury recently advertised for a senior economic analyst with "no economics background required". Professor Robert MacCulloch says this is just the tip of the iceberg and in fact reflects a wider agenda in the public service to turn away from orthodox economic rigor. I sat down with Rob to discuss the disturbing consequences for New Zealand's economic stability and quality of life. Listen here.

You can find all of our Taxpayer Talk episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or iHeart Radio.

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

The Platform Graham Adams: The no-go areas that are killing mainstream media

Newstalk ZB
Andrew Dickens on the tourism slush fund

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Jason Walls: Cost of living to dethrone Covid as the most important issue to Kiwis

Stuff Tallying up the losers in the war on meth

Newstalk ZB The Panel with Frank Ritchie.

The Guardian Jacinda Ardern united New Zealanders when Covid hit. Then a long second lockdown split ‘the team of 5 million’ Morgan Godfery

Stuff The stage is set for an election bunfight in 2023

Stuff Covid-19: Pandemic politics are on the way out, but a world of uncertainty remains

The Daily Blog Dr Bryce Edwards’ NZ Politics Daily Political Roundup: The time is right for permanent free public transport

Homepaddock Wasting $s on bureaucratic back patting

The Daily Blog New Poll: ACT & Greens soar???

Kiwiblog Taxpayer Union Curia poll March 2022

The Spinoff Auckland outbreak peaks – but hospitalisation and death rate lags behind

Stuff New poll has Labour ahead of National, but it's a tight race

NZ Herald Labour just ahead in latest poll, after crash in support

NZ Herald Thomas Coughlan: Can Nicola Willis break National's economic curse?

The Daily Blog 7.30pm Monday LIVE – The Working Group Weekly Political Podcast with Sean Plunket, Jordan Williams, & Damien Grant

Stuff If this history curriculum is shaping our future, the outlook is bleak

Homepaddock Wellbeing $s not well spent

Stuff The big media merger question is: Will state broadcasting ever be truly independent?

NZ Herald As Covid drops out of conversation, migration is back as the next political flashpoint

ACT Kiwi families under siege

The Working Group The Working Group Weekly Political Podcast with Simon Bridges, Graeme Edgeler, & Damien Grant

High inflation leads to $637 million debt write-off for uni graduates

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is raising the alarm over a $637 million debt write-off for university graduates, driven by inflation and funded by taxpayers.

While it is well-known that student loan balances do not accrue interest, it is often forgotten that balances are not even adjusted for inflation. This means student loan balances shrink in real terms every year in line with the inflation rate – effectively a taxpayer-funded debt write-off.

The total value of outstanding student debt sits at around $10.8 billion*, listed as an asset in the Government books. But the real value of this debt has been eroded by high inflation – at a rate of 5.9%, the Government has effectively written off $637 million in student debt in the space of one year. That's almost as much as the Government was planning to spend on the Waitemata Harbour bike bridge.

A lawyer who graduated in 2017 and has an $80,000 student loan has had at least $9,000 in today’s money paid off by the taxpayer. The longer the graduate takes to repay their loan, the larger the taxpayer-funded debt write-off.

The incentive problem is obvious: savvy students will repay their loans as slowly as possible, maximising costs to taxpayers in terms of both the inflation write-off and the interest write-off.

This is a regressive wealth transfer from working New Zealanders to the privileged – people with university degrees earn significantly more than those without. Even under Australia’s interest-free student loan scheme, recognised as one of the world’s most generous, loan balances are still indexed for inflation.

The Government has recently dismissed income tax relief for workers as a handout for the wealthy. That’s rich when Grant Robertson is spending millions to pay down the loan balances of lawyers, doctors, consultants, and bankers.

We’re calling on the Government to urgently begin indexing student loan balances for inflation.

---
*Source: HYEFU, page 120

Revealed: NZTA spends $15,000 per second promoting lower speed limits

Ad screenshot

Waka Kotahi (NZTA) spent $2.4 million on the first advertisement in its campaign promoting lower speed limits, reveals the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

The ad, which can be viewed here, features a wig-wearing, clipboard-wielding NZTA official explaining to a pair of children that speed limits are currently too fast.

Nine hundred thousand dollars was spent producing the one-minute video. That works out at $15,000 per second  about the same cost as Steven Spielberg's 'West Side Story'.

The remainder of the $2.4 million budget was mostly spent on advertising space, ensuring New Zealanders are tortured by the ad's repetition.

NZTA costs

The costs were provided to the Taxpayers' Union under the Official Information Act. 

Like the Government's infamous Three Waters ads, NZTA's "Safe Limits" ad appears to be more about promoting a Government policy – lower speed limits – than communicating useful information to the public.

Waka Kotahi has disabled comments on the YouTube version of the ad, but on Facebook the video has been ridiculed. Representative comments from viewers include:

•  It looks like they're "dumbing down" their information. Ridiculous ad. 

•  Once again instead of improving the roads this governments solution [is] lower the speed and spend the money on marketing.

•  The ad is a great metaphor - when the hi vis dude can't hear what the kids are saying, it's just like when Waka Kotahi asks for public consultation on speed limit reductions and road safety, and completely ignores what the public feedback is e.g. Napier-Taupo Road.

•  Waka Kotaki should be ashamed of itself, running TV ads to gain support for reducing speed limits while the massive cost of the campaign should be going into fixing roads.

•  Stop wasting tax payer money on ads about nothing. Just change the sign and everyone will know.

Motorists pay tax and road user charges with the expectation that roads will be made safer. Wide scale reductions in speed limits will be seen by many New Zealanders as an abdication of NZTA's responsibility to improve road quality. When the Government then goes and funnels millions into condescending campaigns to congratulate itself for slowing New Zealanders down, you can see why people are switching off their TV sets.

The worst of it is that NZTA has budgeted a total of $197 million for its "Road to Zero" education campaign through to 2024. This money could have been spent on median barriers, but the Government has instead decided to spend the money annoying you with dumb ads.

COVID response sees $700k spent on a "digital storytelling experience"

Grant image

The Government must pull the plug on the Ministry for Culture and Heritage's $60 million COVID "Innovation Fund" as it continues to grant taxpayer funding to bizarre projects, says the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

So far, 105 projects have received $15.9 million from the fund. Since the Taxpayers' Union's last update on the fund, new questionable grants include:

•  $700,000 on a "digital storytelling experience" about the Manawatū River

•  $321,740 to tell the story of the Grey River using virtual reality

•  $20,000 on a business plan for Tongan mat-weaving

•  $250,000 on an online children's game about an albatross

•  $900,000 on an arts strategy for Christchurch

•  $20,000 on a children's book that requires the reader to install an app

•  $248,460 on traditional Māori painting

Common themes in the funded initiatives include virtual reality, storytelling, digital installations beside rivers, and bespoke IT projects.

Needless to say, none of these projects have any relevance to COVID-19, despite the money coming from Grant Robertson's rapidly-dwindling pandemic fund. The spending decisions are almost funny until you remember that every dollar spent on "digital storytelling" is a dollar that could have been spent bolstering our health system, or returned to a struggling taxpayer.

The fund's basic "seed funding" grants are all set at $20,000, with no apparent regard for whether the project justifies the full sum. Regardless, the sheer quantity and variety of projects funded means there is little realistic possibility for follow-up analysis to ensure each project delivers value for taxpayers.

Incredibly, there is still another $44 million to be spent from the fund, and it already seems the Ministry has run out of worthwhile projects to bankroll. It's only a matter of time before taxpayers are literally funding underwater basket weaving.

Below is a longer list of project descriptions from successful grant applicants.

Steamcore
To scope and test a new interactive social gaming experience meant to democratize content creation and e-sports, increasing commercial opportunities, sector sustainability and improving access and participation
Awarded: $20,000

Toi Ōtautahi
Co-funding for the initial stages of Toi Ōtautahi, the Christchurch arts strategy. Work includes mentoring, commissioning, professional development, and creative practice platforms for artists. The project will support artists and improve access to the arts for people of Waitaha Canterbury.
Awarded: $900,000

Atawhai Interactive
To develop an accessible online game, Toroa, that gives tamariki and rangatahi an experience to fly as Toroa on its journey from the Pacific Ocean back to its home on Taiaroa head. It will explore the themes of whakapapa as the Toroa soars over the ocean, deified as Takaroa, on the winds of Tāwhirimatea.
Awarded: $250,000

Good Company Arts
To create a series of immersive virtual reality journeys that celebrate the sound and form of Taonga Pūoro [traditional instruments], thereby connecting a wider audience to the artform and to the whenua.
Awarded: $20,000

Te Rūnaka o Ōtākou
Scoping the use of a web platform to leverage pūrākau [myths and legends], and traditional and contemporary technologies to connect with the Ōtākou diaspora.
Awarded: $20,000

AKH ('Api-ko-haukinima)
To research a business plan to understand what is needed to produce authentic Tongan mats and make them more accessible for Tongan people, and to teach this craft and pass on the knowledge to those who wish to learn it.
Awarded: $20,000

Dr Rory Clifford
To develop a business plan for virtual reality recreations of current Māori wāhi tapu [sacred places] with an initial focus on Kāi Tahu marae and their historic sites of interest.
Awarded: $20,000

Greymouth Heritage Trust
To tell the story of the Grey River using virtual reality, simulative, and immersive technologies. The project will bring to life both Māori and European settlement and use of the river.
Awarded: $321,740

Makaira Waugh - Rōreka
To contribute to the creation of a te reo Māori children’s book which uses an app to embellish the story with music and claymation videos, and allows the reader to recreate waiata using instrumental loops.
Awarded: $20,000

Toi o Taranaki Ki Te Tonga
An inter-generational and multi career stage approach to encourage, empower and enable Māori artists who whakapapa to Taranaki or live in the rohe, to wānanga, create, collaborate, exhibit and sell their work and to provide improved community access to mahi toi Māori.
Awarded: $283,500

Maata Wharehoka
To further develop a project focused on transmitting, revitalising and providing accessible ways of learning tikanga Māori practices surrounding deathing, death and after death.
Awarded: $20,000

Dinnie Moeahu
To undertake research and engagement to support the development of Te Āhua o Te Tangata, a cultural competency framework for local government.
Awarded: $20,000

Ngamanawa Incorporation
To create a digital repository and digital rights management framework through development of open-source software to ensure that cultural knowledge and artefacts can be hapū governed, retained and protected for future generations.
Awarded: $371,108

Rehua Innovations
To build local capability by repurposing two under-utilised waka ama [outrigger canoes] into waka tere [racing canoes] and increasing traditional sailing capabilities through wānanga
Awarded: $250,000

Kauae Raro Research Collective
To commission and promote new works by Māori creatives using customary Māori paint making knowledge.
Awarded: $248,460

Wawata Creative Limited
To develop the sitemap and prototype ‘look and feel’ of an app that captures and stores key stories, kōrero, imagery, waiata, whakapapa, and knowledge from marae
$20,000

Pounga Wai
To produce Pounga Wai | A Digital River - an interactive, real-time, large-scale digital art installation of the Whanganui River, embedded in Māori kaupapa.
Awarded: $124,631

Whanganui Connection
To upgrade and enhance the immersive experience of the Durie Hill Elevator and Tunnel, providing access to stories about public transport, the way we build our cities and housing, engineering and built heritage. 
Awarded: $199,300

Māoriland Charitable Trust
To deliver Purita, a capability system to enable identification and development of Māori potential through the creation of content, but also a platform for this content to be distributed and seen around the world. Purita will also platform an extensive library of global indigenous content.
Awarded: $1,015,300

Central Development Agency (CEDA)
To deliver a digital storytelling experience of the Manawatū Awa [river], with interactive cultural and historical maps and a virtual guide.
Awarded: $700,000

Maungarongo Marae
To hold wānanga [classes] to brainstorm the design and content for a system for embedding mātauranga [Māori knowledge] in ngā toi [the arts] to safeguard it and provide access to it in a managed and safe way that aligns with the kaupapa of Maungarongo Marae.
Awarded: $20,000

Atuatanga
To develop 'Atuatanga', an interactive virtual reality gaming experience that will use te Reo Māori and mātauranga Māori to engage players through challenges as they navigate through an ancient world restoring the taiao for future generations.
Awarded: $585,000

Narrative Muse
To support the development of Narrative Muse, a digital platform to help Aotearoa audiences access books, movies and television content that reflects intersectionality and gender diversity.
Awarded: $500,000

Zealanesia
To scope the development and prototyping of a digital storytelling platform using the vaka as medium for navigating and exploring Tokelauan heritage. This will enable and improve Tokelauan and Pasifika access and participation in art, culture and heritage.
Awarded: $20,000

TPW - Māori Pokemon
To develop creative assets for an augmented reality app called Pūrākau. The app embeds Te Ao Māori content into the environment around us using mixed reality technology. The project is delivered via smart phone devices to enable accessibility to a wide audience.
Awarded: $328,405

Taki Rua Productions
The development and delivery of two immersive live productions of large-scale contemporary Māori performing arts pieces. By presenting mātauranga Māori within contemporary performances the project will increase access and participation to both mātauranga and contemporary performance art.
Awarded: $1,323,000

QWB Lab
To design a suite of tools that helps arts and culture organisations to measure, understand, increase and articulate their wellbeing impact in order to unlock the value of culture and their assets. The development of these tools is aimed at increasing the capacity to generate wellbeing for communities, helping improve access and participation.
Awarded: $150,000

Public Art Heritage Aotearoa NZ
To develop a website of Aotearoa’s remaining twentieth century public art heritage, which will enable New Zealanders to access and build awareness of our public art heritage. Funding will also support the development of a national public art forum to develop best-practice guidance and resources for those involved in public art.
Awarded: $300,000

NZ Festival
To develop a new values-driven ticketing platform, empowering audiences to choose their own ticket price, thereby increasing access and participation in the cultural sector.
Awarded: $200,000

Metia Interactive
To develop Guardian Maia, an online game for rangatahi that imagines a Māori future and uses culturally inclusive creative technology to explore mātauranga Māori traditions and new cultural concepts.
Awarded $290,000

Aotearoa Live Music Recovery Project
To support small to medium sized live music venues with artist and audience development that increases diversity. The project will increase access and participation in live music.
Awarded: $2,110,000

DOTDOT
To develop a platform to enable artists, arts venues, arts organisations and cultural institutions to create their own hybrid and virtual events, allowing them to reach new audiences and drive new revenue streams for their work.
Awarded: $206,965

Joel Baxendale and Karin McCracken - In World
To develop a flexible and dynamic creative tool that will enable multiple sectors to apply app-technology in an interactive context, thereby creating new opportunities for the arts sector and enabling access and participation.
Awarded: $227,605

Taxpayer Talk: Does Wellington hate economists?

The Treasury recently advertised for a senior economic analyst with "no economics background required". Professor Robert MacCulloch says this is just the tip of the iceberg and in fact reflects a wider agenda in the public service to turn away from orthodox economic rigor. Rob sits down with Louis to discuss the disturbing consequences for New Zealand's economic stability and quality of life.

Subscribe to Taxpayer Talk podcast via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

Ratepayers foot the bill for $76,000 in shoes for parking wardens

As if parking wardens weren't already costing ratepayers enough in tickets, they're also putting the boot in with surprisingly large footwear costs.

Wellington City Council has spent $75,906.35 on shoes for its parking wardens in the last three years, reveals the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

An information response from Wellington City Council shows that the Council purchased 264 pairs of shoes from 2019 and 2021, at an average cost of $287 a pair.

The Council currently employs 57 parking wardens. Each warden is provided with two pairs of shoes (summer and winter), and the shoes are audited and replaced as often as every year.

A Council recruitment video even touts the two free pairs of shoes as one of the many benefits enjoyed by parking wardens. The Council's uniform framework confirms that wardens get to keep their shoes after leaving the role, along with their ratepayer-funded hats, beanies, thermals, and fingerless gloves.

ShoesWellington parking wardens photographed wearing their winter (left) and summer (right) shoes.

Councils should regularly ask themselves whether their bulk purchases and procurement practices represent good value for money. Councils placing large orders, with long-standing relationships with suppliers, should be able to leverage off this to receive discounts.

Alternatively, the Council could simply follow typical practice in the private sector and offer each warden an allowance of, say, $200 a year to source their own shoes, cutting expenses in half. As it stands, the wardens are handed expensive shoes with no regard for their personal preference. There's even a moral hazard: wardens will happily wear out their ratepayer-funded shoes with personal use.

At the Taxpayers’ Union, we acknowledge that parking wardens need decent shoes, but we urge the Council to put the shoe on the other foot and recognise how ratepayers, hammered with rising living costs, make prudent choices to limit the cost of their own footwear.

The Taxpayers' Union investigated the Council's shoe expenditure after an irate ratepayer sent a tipoff. If you know of a case of government extravagance, waste or misspending, email [email protected].

Taxpayer Talk: What is the media mega-merge meant to solve?

The Government has confirmed plans to merge RNZ and TVNZ into a single publicly-owned media monolith. Louis sits down remotely with National Party Broadcasting spokesperson Melissa Lee to find out exactly what problem the Government thinks it's solving, and how this move will impact New Zealanders' trust in the independence of the media. 
Subscribe to Taxpayer Talk podcast via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

Revealed: How DIA spent $2 million on furniture

The Taxpayers' Union can reveal how the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) spent $2,047,388 on furniture in just 18 months.  

Last month, National MP Melissa Lee grilled the DIA for an apparent furniture blowout in 2020/21, but now we learn that she wasn't given a full accounting of the Department's shopping spree. 

An official information response obtained by the Taxpayers' Union shows that the DIA spent $1,935,674 million on furniture for its offices in the 18 months to the end of 2021. The major expenses included workstations (desks), chairs, and 'collaboration furniture' for shared spaces.

Additionally, $111,714 was spent on furniture for use in employees' homes. Two hundred and forty-eight employees received office chairs to use at home, at an average cost of $431 each. Some staff were even given adjustable foot rests, and one received a $115 floor mat.

Furniture1 Furniture2

The spending figures exclude installation costs and IT equipment.

Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, "The spending works out at $1,048 for every permanent employee. Are we expected to believe that every desk, chair, locker and beanbag all went kaput at once? Remember, this was a period in which a large portion of DIA's staff were working from home."

"It appears that DIA has pressed ahead with a department-wide furniture revamp instead of simply replacing items on an as-needed basis. This is egregious during a cost of living crisis when taxpayers are tightening their belts and making sacrifices."

"The Department even forked out for 3,526 workstations despite only employing 1,954 permanent staff. This kind of spending raises the question of whether DIA is in fact over-funded. If the Government is serious about reining in debt, it should take a close look at the budgets of DIA and other major public service entities."

More detailed descriptions of a selection of DIA furniture purchases can be found in a response to Select Committee questions by Melissa Lee (page 23). The breakdown reveals a strong proclivity for standing desks.

ENDS

Revealed: The polling that explains the Govt’s fuel tax cut

A Curia poll commissioned by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union found that 78% of New Zealanders supported a reduction in petrol tax in the days leading up to (and the day after) the Government’s reduction in petrol excise.

Eighty percent of Labour voters supported tax relief, and 88% of respondents in the most deprived areas. Click here to view the data.

The polling took place from 2–7 March and 14–15 March, with a gap in polling due to COVID-19. The Government’s announcement to cut fuel excise was made on 14 March. 

The Government’s decision to cut petrol taxes was a victory for people power. Regardless of our Government’s ideological tendencies, it can be made to listen when public opinion is against it.

Earlier in the month, the Finance Minister was blaming fuel costs on international conditions and warning that fuel tax relief would impact road funding. But then the Government correctly calculated the public mood, changed tack, and rustled up money from the COVID slush fund to cover the revenue loss.

The problem the Government faced was that New Zealanders had already made the mental link between high fuel costs and high government taxes. This didn’t happen out of the blue: the Taxpayers’ Union worked hard to ensure that New Zealanders knew around half of their petrol bill was made up of taxes and levies.

Our petition to cut fuel tax was promoted to hundreds of thousands of Kiwis on social media and gained 16,000 signatures. Our fuel tax refund event in Takapuna exposed high taxes with media coverage from Newshub, 1 News, and Radio NZ. And Taxpayers' Union supporters plastered stickers on fuel pumps – a habit that the Taxpayers’ Union does not endorse but does find funny.

We look forward to a similar Government turnaround on Three Waters as we raise awareness of the scheme’s bureaucratic, unaccountable governance model.

Taxpayer Update: Labour slides in latest poll | NZTA spends big on 'Road to Zero' propaganda

Dear Supporter,

Seldom do we send two Taxpayer Updates in the same week, but we wanted to ensure our supporters see our latest private political poll result before it is leaked to the media and reported publicly.

Today we've also blown the whistle on the cost of the propaganda campaign NZTA have been spending up on for the so-called "Road to Zero" initiative (see below).

Latest poll: Gap between centre-left and centre-right blocs continues to close

The latest Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll is now available for members and supporters here. The monthly poll is scientific, using a random sample of voting age New Zealanders, and is independently carried out by the experts at Curia Market Research.

The takeaway: Labour is polling at its lowest ever in this term of government, and the overall gap between the centre-right and centre-left continues to close.

PV over time

Revealed: This ad cost you $2.4 million

Ad screenshot

The Taxpayers' Union can reveal that Waka Kotahi (NZTA) spent $2.4 million on the first advertisement in its campaign promoting lower speed limits.

The ad, which can be viewed here, features a wig-wearing, clipboard-wielding NZTA official explaining to a pair of children that speed limits are currently too fast.

Nine hundred thousand dollars was spent producing the one-minute video. That works out at $15,000 per second – about the same cost as Steven Spielberg's 'West Side Story'.

The remainder of the $2.4 million budget was mostly spent on advertising space, ensuring New Zealanders are tortured by the ad's repetition.

NZTA costs

Like the Government's infamous Three Waters ads, NZTA's "Safe Limits" ad appears to be more about promoting a Government policy – lower speed limits – than communicating useful information to the public.

Waka Kotahi has disabled comments on the YouTube version of the ad, but on Facebook the video has been ridiculed. Representative comments from viewers include:

  • It looks like they're "dumbing down" their information. Ridiculous ad. 

  • Once again instead of improving the roads this government's solution [is] lower the speed and spend the money on marketing.

  • The ad is a great metaphor - when the hi vis dude can't hear what the kids are saying, it's just like when Waka Kotahi asks for public consultation on speed limit reductions and road safety, and completely ignores what the public feedback is e.g. Napier-Taupo Road.

  • Waka Kotaki should be ashamed of itself, running TV ads to gain support for reducing speed limits while the massive cost of the campaign should be going into fixing roads.

  • Stop wasting tax payer money on ads about nothing. Just change the sign and everyone will know.

Motorists pay tax and road user charges with the expectation that roads will be made safer. Wide-scale reductions in speed limits will be seen by many New Zealanders as an abdication of NZTA's responsibility to improve road quality. When the Government then goes and funnels millions into condescending campaigns to congratulate itself for slowing New Zealanders down, you can see why people are switching off their TV sets.

The worst of it is that NZTA has budgeted a total of $197 million for its Road to Zero "education campaign" through to 2024. This money could have been spent on road safety improvements such as median barriers, but the Government has instead decided to spend the money annoying us all with dumb ads.

We say NZTA should hit the brakes on this condescending spending, and get back to the basics of fixing our roads.

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

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Taxpayer Update: Fuel tax victory | Mahuta is cracking | MIQ madness

Dear Supporter,

⛽️💸 Our campaign for fuel tax relief pays off

Victory

The Prime Minister has read the room and responded to spiking petrol costs with a $0.25/litre reduction in fuel excise tax, lasting for at least three months.

Pulling the excise lever is exactly what we have called for – and while a 25 cent tax cut is modest, it actually goes further than what the National Party has proposed.

Here's yesterday vs today at BP in Brooklyn, Wellington:

BP image

This move is not a silver bullet for the cost of living crisis, but it does acknowledge the responsibility the Government has to limit its own contribution to household costs.

The announcement shows that the Government responds to people power. Our petition to cut fuel tax received 16,000 signatures. Our fuel tax refund event in Takapuna exposed high taxes with media coverage from Newshub, 1 News, and Radio NZ.

And Taxpayers' Union supporters have plastered stickers on fuel pumps and even their own vehicles:

Sticker on filler

Sticker on pump

(We cannot encourage putting stickers on fuel pumps. But it is funny.)

Of course, the fuel tax cut will limit funding available in the National Land Transport Fund for transport projects. Grant Robertson says he will divert money from his COVID slush fund to make up the revenue loss, but for longer-term tax relief he will need to stop raiding fuel tax revenue for cycleways, urban beautification, and other projects that don’t benefit the motorists paying the bills.

What about the other taxes on fuel?

Seymour petrol

Our fuel tax campaign has focused on the excise tax because the Government directly sets the excise tax rate. But excise isn't the only tax on petrol.

Emissions Trading Scheme levies now make up 18 cents on every litre – and the cost is set to increase as the Government releases fewer carbon credits to the market.

The Government uses revenue from ETS levies for its "climate emergency" slush fund, paying for pet projects such as cycleways and urban beautification. (Regular readers of our newsletters will understand that these projects do not actually cut emissions, because emissions are already capped and traded under the ETS.)

The thing is, the ETS was never meant to be a money-maker for the Government. It is simply meant to incentivise companies and households to cut emissions in cost-effective ways.

ACT has now announced a policy to return all ETS levies to taxpayers as an annual "carbon dividend", working out at $749 for a household of four – a policy we've been calling for. A carbon dividend would preserve the incentive effects of the ETS while removing the net cost to taxpayers.

Is Nanaia Mahuta cracking under pressure?

Mahuta headline

Nanaia Mahuta's latest attempt to pacify critics of Three Waters has failed. The 47 recommendations from her "Working Group" will only serve to add complexity and cost to the scheme.

Now commentators from Stuff, the NZ Herald, and TVNZ are openly asking whether she should still be fronting Three Waters. As Bryce Edwards writes in the Herald:

the Government may wish to have her out of the portfolio before the local government candidates begin their campaigns, which will surely utilise opposition to Mahuta and Three Waters, setting up an early warning of what Labour might be facing in 2023.

For more evidence that the Government and Nanaia Mahuta have been spooked by our efforts to stop Three Waters, look at this interview from the weekend.

Nanaia Mahuta isn't known for admitting she's wrong, so it's telling that she now admits she botched the communications campaign that saw $3.5 million spent on condescending TV ads.

But she's still standing by the Three Waters scheme as a whole, including the co-governance arrangements that will dilute accountability and open the way to water royalties (charges for the right to use water).

Thank you to the thousands of New Zealanders who have now chipped into our court action fund and general Three Waters campaign fund.

The real reason Mahuta cannot be trusted

Democracy cancelled

At the Taxpayers' Union, we oppose Three Waters because it is a bad policy – it takes assets away from local control and puts them in the hands of massive co-governed water-entities, separated from ratepayers by four layers of bureaucracy.

However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that there is another reason why Three Waters is so unpopular: New Zealanders simply don't trust Nanaia Mahuta to protect democratic values.

Last week, we saw exactly why Mahuta isn't trusted. As Minister of Local Government, she announced she's cancelling next year's elections in Tauranga, with Wellington-appointed commissioners continuing to run the Council until 2024.

At the same time that Nanaia Mahuta is meant to be refining the governance, representation, and accountability features of the Three Waters scheme, she’s hijacked governance, abolished representation, and extinguished accountability at a significant city council.

Mahuta’s decision in 2020 to dissolve the council in Tauranga resulted in a Wellington-appointed, co-governed commission pushing through a 17 percent rates hike. Why should we expect her unelected, co-governed water entities to deliver anything better for ratepayers?

Our friends at the Tauranga Ratepayers' Alliance are running a petition to restore elections: click here to sign the petition.

Sixty-four DJs jumped border queue last year

We can reveal that 316 foreign entertainers, including 64 DJs, were fast-tracked through MIQ in 2021.

Taxpayers have spent $1.2 billion on MIQ – $660 for every household in the country. And while the regime is winding down for Kiwis, the "lottery of human misery" continues for international visitors.

As reported by the Herald, we received an official information response showing how many entertainers were given border exemptions under the "other critical worker" criteria last year:

OIA

This reinforces the view that the Government's criteria for border exemptions was and is a complete shambles.

Techno performers like DJ Dimension and Dom Dolla hogged rooms in MIQ facilities while Kiwis were barred from seeing their families. Even essential workers were unable to enter the country, including hundreds of nurses. One Kiwi nurse was denied an MIQ spot eight times, and eventually resorted to sailing to New Zealand from Australia.

Dom Dolla

Melbourne DJ Dom Dolla squats in front of a helicopter on the Auckland waterfront while overseas Kiwis were barred from seeing sick relatives.

The justification that these entertainers brought a "significant wider benefit to the national or regional economy" just doesn't stack up. Last year we suggested that a more productive (and taxpayer-friendly) approach to MIQ slots would be to release a limited number of slots to foreigners that would be allocated to the highest bidder. This would naturally prioritise high-value visitors and also provide a revenue stream to recoup the massive costs of MIQ.

Luxon's tax bracket reset is underwhelming

In his State of the Nation speech, National Party leader Christopher Luxon unveiled this proposal to adjust income tax brackets for the last four years of inflation:

Luxon's tax brackets

This small adjustment to tax brackets is more of a 'tax reset' than a genuine tax cut. And even as a tax reset, it's a weak one.

We would suggest a more substantial reset: update tax brackets to make up for inflation for the full decade since the brackets were originally set, not just the last four years.

The political merit of Christopher Luxon's proposal is that it is so modest that even a Labour Government has little excuse to reject it. This policy would barely scratch the sides of the Government's $6 billion spending allowance.

Will National present a stronger tax policy before the election?

I sat down remotely with National Party Finance spokesman Simon Bridges for a discussion on bracket creep, Labour's new taxes, and whether we can expect more substantial income tax relief from National before next year's election. Click here to listen.

(Note: the interview was recorded before the Government's announcement of fuel tax cuts.)

You can find all of our Taxpayer Talk episodes on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, or iHeart Radio.

Sport NZ spends $4.7 million conducting surveys

Junk mail

After investigating a tip-off, we have discovered that Sport NZ has spent $4.7 million conducting surveys in the last four years, interrogating New Zealanders on what kind of physical activity they do, how often, and for how long.

The spending figures were provided to the Taxpayers' Union under the Official Information Act:

Table

This mammoth ongoing data-mining exercise proves that when you give an obscure agency generous taxpayer funding, they'll find a way to spend it.

Even if we accept that Sport NZ has to survey 20,000 people every year, the cost of $50 per participant is eyebrow-raising. At the Taxpayers' Union we manage to run surveys far more cheaply, even when we commission scientific market research companies like Curia.

Obsessively tracking New Zealanders' participation in yoga, gardening, and tramping may be a fun statistical exercise, but it hardly seems like a priority during a cost of living crisis. We're left wondering if Sport NZ is simply overfunded.

This newsletter is getting long...

Two last cases of wasteful spending before I sign off this Taxpayer Update:

Newshub reports that Kainga Ora has spent $24 million on renovating its own offices in the last four years. How can the housing agency claim to be in touch with low-income New Zealanders when it's spending like a mega-corporate??

The Herald reports that Michael Wood's tram to Māngere could cost $29 billion, according to Treasury officials – up from previous estimates of $14.6 billion and $24 billion. $29 billion is $15,000 for every Kiwi household, and well above a million dollars per metre of track.

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

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Media coverage:

Stuff  Things are bad enough to make me care who wins the next election

Homepaddock  One big mistake

Businessdesk  On The Money: Tesla co-founder down under, NZX, Victoria Harris, Ian Taylor

Businessdesk  Polltracker: Labour and Nats now neck and neck

NZ Herald  MIQ 'irrational': Hundreds of entertainers, dozens of DJs granted exceptions to get into NZ

NZ Herald  Political poll: National jumps past Labour in 1News-Kantar poll - Jacinda Ardern dips, Chris Luxon up in preferred prime minister race

Stuff  Wellington's empty and sad - where are the ideas to revive it?

NZ Herald  Nats hit the lead in latest polling

Democracy Project  Bryce Edwards: Political Roundup – Can Three Waters be salvaged, or will Nanaia Mahuta have to go?

Stuff  Taxpayers' Union society wrongly listed as 'dissolved' after alleged hack

NZ Herald  National Party leader Christopher Luxon draws tax, cost-of-living 'crisis' as battle lines

Stuff  Christopher Luxon to use big speech to announce National would unwind Labour tax hikes

Stuff  CEO's $30k leadership course takes up lion's share of New Plymouth District Council top tier training budget

Homepaddock  Good use of our money?

Kiwiblog  Even the PSA supports indexing tax brackets

Stuff  As the Reserve Bank stokes interest rates, vodka may be the answer

Newsroom  Dirty water and divisive politics: Three Waters reforms taken to court

NZ Adviser  Reserve Bank lifts official cash rate back to pre-pandemic state

NZ Herald  Thomas Coughlan: National attracting younger voters, will Luxon reap election reward?

Taxpayer Talk: Does National's tax policy go far enough?

National's tax policy has been criticised as 'costly' and too generous for high earners – but the Taxpayers' Union questions whether it goes far enough. Louis sits down with National Party Finance spokesman Simon Bridges to explore how he would change tax brackets to counter inflation, and whether we can expect a more comprehensive policy from National before next year's election.

Apologies for the subpar audio quality due to Simon's COVID isolation.

 

Subscribe to Taxpayer Talk podcast via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

Revealed: 316 DJs and entertainers jumped border queue last year

Three hundred and sixteen foreign entertainers, including 64 DJs, were fast-tracked through MIQ in 2021, reveals the New Zealand Taxpayers Union.

Taxpayers have spent $1.2 billion on MIQ – $660 for every household in the country. But we were badly let down by the Government's criteria that put favoured industries ahead of Kiwis and essential workers.

An official information response shows that MBIE gave border exemptions to 316 entertainers under the ‘other critical worker' criteria:

OIA

This reinforces the widely-held view that the Government's criteria for border exemptions was and is a complete shambles. How can anyone defend dishing out exemptions to dubstep and hip hop DJs while slamming the door shut on nurses that we desperately need?

Techno performers like DJ Dimension and Dom Dolla hogged rooms in MIQ facilities while Kiwis were barred from seeing their families. Even essential workers were unable to enter the country, including hundreds of nurses. One Kiwi nurse was denied an MIQ spot eight times, and eventually resorted to sailing to New Zealand from Australia.

Dom DollaMelbourne DJ Dom Dolla squats in front of a helicopter on the Auckland waterfront while overseas Kiwis were barred from seeing sick relatives. Source: Instagram

The justification that these entertainers brought a 'significant wider benefit to the national or regional economy' just doesn't stack up. Last year we suggested that a far more economically productive (and taxpayer-friendly) approach to MIQ slots would be to release a limited number of slots to foreigners that would be allocated to the highest bidder. This would naturally prioritise high-value visitors and also provide a revenue stream to recoup the massive costs of MIQ.

MIQ has wound down for Kiwis, but the Government's cruel and irrational zero-sum game remains in place for international visitors. We need to get real: COVID is now here to stay in New Zealand. MIQ no longer serves a justifiable purpose.

New Three Waters recommendations are an unholy mess

When the Government announced last year it would delay the Three Waters legislation, they appointed an “independent” Working Group to provide recommendations on ways to make the legislation more palatable for local councils. At the time, we called it out as anything but independent. The Working Group itself was 50/50 co-governed, and of the Mayors appointed to represent the interests of local government it was stacked in favour of the very few who were supporting the Government’s proposals.

Today the Working Group has released its recommendations.

Under the recommendations, councils would still not have anything close to proportionate representation on the four “Regional Representation Groups” that appoint the selection panel that appoints the board members for the new entities. For example, Auckland Council would have just four of 14 seats for the northern group, despite having 90 percent of the region’s population and contributing the lion's share of the assets.

As we predicted, the Working Group has backed Nanaia Mahuta’s co-governance model that will see half the seats for each region held by iwi/hapū members, giving iwi an effective veto right over every major decision.

Here are some of the key recommendations:

⚠️ Fresh off the back of the infamous $4 million “Better Water” television ad campaign, the Working Group wants another new public communications campaign to explain “need for change” to New Zealanders.

⚠️ Councils would now hold shares in the new water entities. This is clearly an attempt to ward off accusations that Three Waters is an asset grab. But it’s yet another deceit: regardless of their shareholdings, councils (and therefore ratepayers) will still be stripped of all the crucial rights of control that define ownership. Councils won’t be allowed to receive a return from the water entities, yet that is specifically allowed for Mana Whenua groups. In short, the “ownership” of shares will be meaningless.

⚠️ Further, the Working Group has suggested adding yet another layer of bureaucracy to the scheme, in the form of new “sub-regional” groups representing smaller councils and iwi. This would mean five layers of bureaucracy in total separate ratepayers from water services: councillors, the co-governed sub-regional representative group, the co-governed Regional Representative Group, the Selection Panel, and the water entity board.

⚠️ The Working Group also wants to establish a new Water Services Ombudsman, with a “tikanga-based dispute resolution process”. And they have demanded a new policy consultation process between the Crown and its Treaty partners, separate from public consultation.

The full set of 47 recommendations from the Working Group can be found at the bottom this article.

Together, these ideas intensify the absurd complexity of the scheme. The whole thing stinks of “jobs for the boys” that will ultimately cost ratepayers.

Nanaia Mahuta and her Cabinet colleagues will now “consider” the recommendations before unveiling the legislation that will be put before Parliament. From our perspective, there is nothing to consider: Three Waters cannot be salvaged.

Thank you for your support,

Jordan

Jordan_signature.jpg
Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

 

Sport NZ spends $4.7 million conducting surveys

The Taxpayers' Union is challenging Sport NZ's $4.7 million dollar spend on surveys since 2018.

In the space of four years, Sport NZ has spent $4.7 million conducting monthly 'Active NZ' surveys interrogating New Zealanders on what kind of physical activity they do, how often, and for how long. The spending figures were provided to the Taxpayers' Union under the Official Information Act.

Table

The surveys' annual sample size includes about 20,000 New Zealanders from the electoral roll and an additional 5,000 children.

The surveys appear to be growing more expensive each year, with 2021's surveys costing taxpayers $1.25 million, including $12,000 on voucher giveaways to incentivise participants. 

Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, "This mammoth ongoing data-mining exercise proves that when you give an obscure agency generous taxpayer funding, they'll find a way to spend it."

"Running a survey with a sample size of 20,000 could occasionally be justified. But when it costs over a million dollars, we have to question why it's being done every year." 

"Even if we accept that Sport NZ has to survey 20,000 people every year, the cost of $50 per participant is eyebrow-raising. At the Taxpayers' Union we manage to run surveys far more cheaply, even when we commission scientific market research companies like Curia."

"Obsessively tracking New Zealanders' participation in yoga, gardening, and tramping may be a fun statistical exercise, but it hardly seems like a priority during a cost of living crisis. We're left wondering if Sport NZ is simply overfunded." 

Data reports from the surveys can be found here.

According to Sport NZ's 2020/21 financial report, the agency received $299 million in funding for the financial year. The agency has 241 employees, of whom 132 are paid salaries greater than $100,000.

Exclusive polling analysis with David Farrar

 

The Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll conducted in February shows National surging. Is the writing on the wall for Labour next election? or should National not get their hopes up just yet? Levi is joined by pollster and media commentator David Farrar for analysis of the results. 

 

Subscribe to Taxpayer Talk podcast via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

 


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