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Election 2020: Whisky, Tango, Foxtrot

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is reacting with surprise and horror after being accidentally sent the results of tomorrow’s election.

Acting Labour Party General Secretary Rob Salmond inadvertently included your humble Taxpayers’ Union on their union mailing list this year. Traditionally, unions receive advance notice of the election results they have spent so much time and money on.

Election analyst and failed pundit Neil Miller said: “Obviously we were, to use a technical term, completely and utterly gobsmacked by the new Labour and Advance NZ government.”

He is currently reviewing the 2-page coalition agreement – which appears to be mainly 90s clip art – and the 471-page secret annex which has all the good stuff in it.

Campaigns Manager and Frankie Boyle lookalike Louis Houlbrooke added: “Obviously Jacinda Ardern will remain Prime Minister until her job at the United Nations opens up. Kelvin Davis becomes Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister only. His sole official role is limited to ‘looking good in the background during media standups.’”

Ms Ardern revealed Advance NZ was not seriously considered for the deputy role saying: ‘Billy is too crazy even for me, and Jami-Lee is just too… eww.” She then frantically washed her hands for ten minutes after just saying his name.

There are other changes to the Ministerial lineup.

Megan Woods picks up Davis’ Tourism portfolio. It is in mint condition because it has hardly been used. She also gains another minor portfolio in Social Development. She is demoted to number 8 in the Cabinet to, in Ardern’s words, “enable her to focus on her portfolios”. Such kindness.

Chris Hipkins gains Youth Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Veterans Affairs and Ethnic Affairs. He has been shifted to number 16 because, in Ardern’s words, “Christopher John is just a little ambitious for my liking."

Phil Twyford sheds the few remaining portfolios he had in order to become new Minister of Administrative State Services (ASS). Union analysis indicates this is basically Minister of Internal Affairs with particular responsibility for cleaning the Prime Minister’s pictures of (Saint) Michael Joseph Savage on a daily basis.

Twyford has also been promoted to number 3 in Cabinet. Ms Ardern said: “Phil would have been higher but he cannot beat Kelvin’s legendary work ethic, and he’s not bloody having my job."

The unexpectedly large Advance NZ caucus is still in the ‘getting to know you’ stage. Union spies (ok, it was Porky the Waste-hater in sunglasses and a trenchcoat, and worryingly nothing else) report the most common question in caucus is “who the heck are you?” There was also a moment of embarrassment when an errant Parliamentary Security guard was briefly appointed Under-Secretary for Revenue.

Jami-Lee Ross’s bid to become the first Minister for Sundry Affairs was met with universal hilarity.

Billy te Kahika declined all Ministerial posts, not that he was actually offered any. He justified his position saying: “Being a Minister of the Crown would mean ‘they’ would know where I was at all times.”

Sean Plunket astutely asked: “Who exactly are ‘they’? And why would they be interested in a second-rate Antipodean fruit loop?” Billy shot back: “Oh you know who ‘they’ are Sean - if that is your real name. You are one of ‘them’. You all are!” He then put on his favourite tin foil hat, pulled out his 5G cellphone, and made a collect call to the World Zionist Banking Conspiracy.

Asked how the Taxpayers’ Union would deal with such an unusual Government, Executive Director and serial litigant Jordan Williams in his usual chair at Rosie's Cafe in Parnell sobbed into his Double Ristretto Venti Half-Soy Nonfat Decaf Organic Chocolate Brownie Iced Vanilla Double-Shot Gingerbread Frappuccino Extra Hot With Foam Whipped Cream Upside Down Double Blended coffee.

“How the hell did this happen?” he lamented.

Op-ed: AAP needs to fact check itself

Neil MillerThe following is an op-ed by Taxpayers' Union Analyst Neil Miller.

During modern election campaigns there is an increasing emphasis on “fact checking” political statements across the spectrum. Companies have sprung up all over the world to judge the accuracy (or otherwise) of what politicians say on the campaign trail. AAP Fact Checker is the most prominent and prolific organisation of this nature in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is aware of growing international concern that fact checkers are moving well beyond data into politics, even to the point of partisanship in some cases. We decided to analyse the last ten fact checks by AAP Fact Check to find the answers to three questions:

  1. Who did they choose to fact check?
  2. Were the criteria for judgement applied consistently and fairly?
  3. Was there any instances of partisanship or spin?

If you only looked at the numbers, you could be forgiven for thinking that Judith Collins was Prime Minister and National was the largest party in Parliament. Judith Collins was fact checked five times compared to Jacinda Ardern’s two. The other three articles all focused on National MPs (Paul Goldsmith, Jonathan Young, and Simeon Brown). No other Government MPs were fact checked.

That means that 80% of fact checks were on National MPs, and Collins received more than twice as many checks as Ardern. To an independent organisation such as the Taxpayers’ Union, that does not seem balanced.

We move now to the case that really caught our eye. Simeon Brown’s statement on renewable electricity being judged “misleading”, even though all the figures the quoted were correct to the decimal point. We may be naïve idealists, but figures which are true are facts in our book.
Not so, it seems, at AAP Fact Check. They found an academic who opined that the good results under National and poor results under Labour had “largely been independent of government policy.” That is not a fact – that is a matter for political debate around causality and the influence of Government.

However, having introduced this new causality test, we expected it to be applied rigorously. The fact check of Jacinda Ardern’s comment regarding child poverty made no reference to the Government’s power to influence the figures. The test was not applied.

Next, the Prime Minister got credit for getting the numbers “roughly right”, while Brown was called misleading for getting them exactly right, and Collins was criticised for getting state house waiting list numbers “close to the mark with both figures she quoted, but not 100 per cent accurate.” She rounded the figures up. Politicians do that. A lot. There seems to be very different standards applied here as well.

At times, the Fact Check reads more like a political press release. For example, Ardern’s office was allowed to explain what the Prime Minister actually “meant” in her child poverty comments. A luxury that was not extended to others on the list.

The Prime Minister was also fact checked on her claim that Police numbers went down when Judith Collins was Minister of Police. Despite reporting that “NZ Police data shows actual police numbers rose between 2008 and 2016, during which time Ms Collins served two distinct periods as police minister,” the AAP went out of their way to find a wrinkle.

Triumphantly they wrote “when police numbers are described as an officer to resident ratio, they show an improvement during Ms Collins’ first period as police minister (from 1/519 in 2008 to 1/507 in 2011). However, during Ms Collins’ second run as police minister, population growth in NZ largely outstripped the growth in police numbers (1/514 in 2015 to 1/526 in 2016). This is also true when you compare police to resident ratios for 2008 to the same data for 2016.”

As a result, they concluded the Prime Minister’s statement “does contain a significant element or elements of truth.” This is despite the inconvenient fact that Jacinda Ardern‘s statement which was being checked made absolutely no reference to officer to resident ratios. It talked about Police numbers which, again perhaps naively, we assumed to mean the actual number of Police which, factually speaking, went up under The Crusher.

This example is closer to political spin than fact checking. It adds in a new element never mentioned in the original quote and certainly not what the average person would think of when they heard Police numbers.

When they stick to their core job of checking facts (the company name should be a giveaway), they can do a very valuable job. AAP Fact Check looked into David Seymour’s claim that Labour took “$6 billion surplus to a billion-dollar deficit in only two years before Covid happened." They found it was “mostly true”.

Working from Treasury papers, the surplus was $5.5b (not $6b) and the deficit was $0.9b (not $1b). AAP Fact Check concluded: “While there are minor inaccuracies in the numbers he quoted, Seymour's comments were broadly in line with budget figures reported by New Zealand Treasury.”

Now that is how you fact check properly. Just the facts. Shame it was only one out of ten checks.

The AAP Fact Checker should no longer be taken as fact in this campaign.

Op-ed: Asset tax will hit far more than six percent of New Zealanders

IslayThe following is an op-ed by Islay Aitchison, Research Officer at the Taxpayers' Union and spokesperson for the Campaign for Affordable Home Ownership.

While Labour has tried to rule out the Green Party's “wealth tax” policy, James Shaw has described those efforts as “not credible” — so at least according to the Green Party, an asset tax is on the table this election. The Greens have claimed that only the wealthiest six percent of New Zealanders would be hit by the tax, but is that accurate?
 
Any individual with net assets exceeding $1 million would be hit by the tax. While that sounds like a lot of money, many New Zealanders will exceed that in their lifetimes. According to REINZ, the median house price in Auckland was $950,000 in August — in other words, an individual with even modest retirement savings and a mortgage-free home in Auckland should expect to be paying the wealth tax by the time they retire.
 
At minimum, census data suggests approximately 45 percent of Aucklanders — that's 15 percent of the country's population — own their own home. Once mortgage-free, most of those households would find themselves liable for the tax. Many homeowners and entrepreneurs outside of Auckland would be affected by the tax as well.
 
Official statistics indicate far more than six percent of New Zealanders would be affected. Analysis of Stats NZ net wealth data by Eric Crampton of the New Zealand Initiative suggests 20 percent of 66–69 year-olds have net wealth exceeding $1 million. Our own analysis of Household Economic Survey data indicates 21.6% of households had net wealth exceeding $1 million as of 2018.
 
While the Green Party's threshold is higher for couples, it would fall again for a retiree once his or her partner passes away. Many would find themselves burdened by the tax even if they had previously fallen below the threshold while their partners were alive.
 
Even the $1 million threshold is something of a false promise. Due the effect of inflation, the thresholds would effectively become lower over time, pulling New Zealanders who are less wealthy into the scope of the tax.
 
Most importantly, a wealth tax wouldn't just tax our homes and retirement savings — it would punish the economy just as we are recovering from COVID-19. We all rely on strong levels of investment and economic growth to provide good jobs and wages. A tax on assets would punish productive investment and keep Kiwi workers in low-wage jobs, with very little hope of a better standard of living.
 
The Green Party's claim that only a small number of New Zealanders would be affected by their plan to tax wealth is unfair and inaccurate. Many households would be affected by the tax once they pay off their mortgage and retire or after their partner passes away. Many more households would be affected by the lower rates of investment and comparatively lower incomes it would cause.

Revealed: Nearly three quarters of Kiwis oppose an asset tax

Poll graph

Polling released today by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union reveals that 72 percent of New Zealanders oppose an asset tax or “wealth tax”.

Exclusive polling by Curia Market Research commissioned by the Taxpayers’ Union asked respondents, “Do you think there should be a tax that people pay on assets such as houses, cars and KiwiSaver accounts, additional to the existing income tax?

Seventy-two percent said no, 13 percent were unsure, and just 16 percent supported the tax.

Enthusiasm for the tax was particularly low in rural areas, with just 10 percent in support. And even in the most deprived areas a clear majority of respondents opposed the tax.

Islay Aitchison, spokesperson for the Campaign for Affordable Home Ownership, says, “A tax on assets, as advocated by the Green Party, appears to be even less popular than the failed capital gains tax.”

“New Zealanders’ wariness of a wealth tax is well-placed. Such a tax will discourage local investment, sending wealth offshore and making future generations poorer.”

“The polling was on the principle of a tax on assets, not the specific proposed tax by the Green Party. We think opposition would be even higher if voters were aware of the fishhooks in the Green Party’s specific policy. For example, some New Zealanders would find themselves whacked by the tax following the death of their partner, when the tax-free threshold is lowered from $2 million in assets to $1 million. The tax will even apply to a bach or nest egg held by a family trust.”

“Disturbingly, under MMP we could still see this unpopular and unfair tax forced into legislation by the Green Party. They’ve called the tax a ‘top priority’, and current polling suggests they’ll hold the balance of power, meaning they’re in a position to make demands from the Prime Minister.”

The polling covered a sample of 1080 respondents, with a 3.0% margin of error and was conducted between 22 September and 24 September.

Public Service Commissioner intervenes over Oranga Tamariki video

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union is welcoming intervention from the Public Services Commissioner over a video produced by Oranga Tamariki which appeared to endorse Hon Tracey Martin.

In a response to a complaint from the Union, Commissioner Peter Hughes explained, "In this situation, in my view the content of the video could be interpreted as political endorsement of the Minister and government policies and that is not appropriate."

"I have discussed this matter with the Chief Executive of Oranga Tamariki, Mrs Gráinne Moss. She is clear about the need to uphold neutrality in her agency and regrets that the video created the potential for that to be called into question on this occasion. The video has also been taken down."

Union spokesman Jordan Williams says, "We fund Oranga Tamariki to deliver important services for children, not to produce propaganda for its current political master. Public Sector neutrality is especially important this close to an election, so we welcome the Commissioner's intervention and suggest that other agencies take it as a warning."

Election campaign launched: Tax Relief Now!

Today the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union launches its nationwide election campaign for Tax Relief Now.

Between now and Election Day we will be making the case for tax relief as the main plank of the economic recovery. We see a basic choice this election: Government-led stimulus spending or a recovery that’s led by consumers and businesses.

Government spending is often wasteful, unfair, and puts politicians and bureaucrats in charge of the recovery. Just look at Creative New Zealand responding to COVID-19 with grants for indigenised hypno-soundscapes, or how tourism grants have propped up a handful of lucky businesses while others languish without support.

In contrast, tax relief will reward productive work, it will help all businesses, it will grow the economy and put taxpayers in the box-seat of the recovery.

Crucially, tax relief now will put a rocket under economic growth – making the huge debts we have accumulated far more manageable.

Yesterday a full-page advertisement appeared in the Herald on Sunday highlighting recent examples of wasteful government spending. Further advertisements will appear in print and online.

The campaign website at www.taxrelief.nz includes a Taxpayer Scorecard, which evaluates political parties based on their commitments to deliver tax relief. This will feature in future advertisements.

Op-ed: Why did James Shaw wreck his career for a tiny Green School?

Neil MillerThe following is an op-ed by Taxpayers' Union Analyst Neil Miller.

James Shaw did not just defy a core Green Party policy since 1997 to personally advocate for special funding to a tiny private school… he did it twice.

To their credit, the Government resisted the Green Minister’s persistent and determined attempts to get $13 million for the Green School in Taranaki.

He did, reluctantly, apologise for trying to extort $11.7 million for the provisionally registered school by threatening to block every other shovel ready project until his demand was met.

He did not reveal that the Green School had already been turned down by the Provincial Growth Fund for $1 million a year earlier.

It must be embarrassing to have Shane Jones say that the school’s business case did not add up given the dubious value of projects his slush fund has poured money into. Jones said “James got his nose out of joint and fought for it to be restored through the shovel-ready money.”

When you cannot meet the high moral and fiscal standards of Shane Jones, then you are in serious trouble.

The Taxpayers’ Union suspects that what did not add up was that the Green School is in Taranaki, not Northland. If it were in Shane Jones’ electorate, Jones’ famous nephews would probably be off the couch and already be building the principal a gold-plated office up a mighty Kauri tree.

The Greens consider themselves a principled political party – just ask them. Actually, you do not have to ask. Like a vegan at a barbeque, they will tell you whether you want to hear it or not.

When a political party holds itself to be so much more moral than everyone else, they need to be held to account for the co-Leader’s active defiance of cornerstone Green Party principles and repeated attempts at disinformation when that defiance was revealed.

We still do not even know why he did it. Why was this 50-student school in the regions so important to James Shaw that he would put his political career and possibly his party’s future in Parliament in jeopardy?

We contacted James Shaw’s ministerial office for an explanation. They referred us to Shaw’s initial press release as Associate Minister of Finance, and stressed that this was a shovel-ready job creation project, not an education project.

Still, of all the shovel-ready projects, why did he select a private school and then go so hard in personally lobbying for it given the Greens’ long-established policy? The question remains and it appears unlikely he will answer it clearly.

James Shaw’s colleagues who still believe in Green Party policy should sack him as co-leader before the election.

Jacinda Ardern's arts agency now in damage control

Dear Supporter,

Creative NZ goes into damage control

Grant image

We've spent the last week on social media releasing examples of bizarre art projects given taxpayer money by Creative NZ as part of a $16 million COVID-19 response (I've linked to my favourites at the bottom this email).

Talkback hosts Mike Hosking (clip here) and Sean Plunket (clip here) seized on the issue, and their callers are spitting tacks.

Last night, the agency finally cracked under pressure. But instead of defending the bizarre grants, it attacked us for what it called a "low blow"!

Here's their full public statement:

Creative New Zealand is proud to tautoko dedicated, hard-working artists, bolstering a sector knocked to its knees by the impact of COVID-19.

We work to encourage, promote, support and advocate for the arts for the benefit of all New Zealanders — from Bluff to Cape Reinga and beyond, through projects of all shapes and sizes, communities and cultures, glitter and all.

We’re really shocked and disappointed at recent low blow targeting of artists we’ve funded – we stand by them and our decisions. We don’t condone attacks on the arts whānau, or anyone for that matter. To the arts community and supporters: We’re with you, and we value your mahi.

They just don't get it. We're not targeting artists  we're targeting the out-of-touch bureaucrats who waste taxpayer money on weird pet projects.

Creative NZ's attempt to defend themselves is going badly. Take a look at the comments slamming the agency on their own Facebook post.

I joined Magic Talk again today to discuss the drama and this time, the CEO of Creative NZ fronted up to make his case.

In the interview, the CEO admits that artists don't even need to live in New Zealand in order to be eligible for taxpayer funds. Indeed, a number of the grants we looked into were for artists based overseas.

The CEO also admits he doesn't know what an 'indigenised hypno-soundscape' is – despite spending $50,000 on one.

Listen to the second half of this clip to hear the trainwreck interview.

We're proud of our efforts to shed light on how taxpayer-funded agencies spend our hard-earned money. With the Debt Monster forecast to grow to $150,000 per Kiwi household in 2034, our job is more important than ever.

Thank you for your support.

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Facebook links to share Creative NZ grants:

To research and write the first draft of a novel about male affection in hypermasculine spaces.
AWARDED: $13,000

Towards the composition, recording and production of music inspired by the psychogeography of the West Coast.
AWARDED: $34,900

To support the personnel costs and post-production editing for an art documentary based on Papua New Guinea tattoo practice and revival.
AWARDED: $27,500

Towards one phase of illustrating a biography of Leonardo da Vinci.
AWARDED: $21,080

Towards writing a children's picture book (text only) about sustainable community activist Helen Dew.
AWARDED: $3,200

To create and develop an online publication, arts learning resources and musical content based on children's drag theatre show, The Glitter Garden.
AWARDED: $18,000

To create a new series of collaborative quilts with my mother, textile artist Cynthia Johnson.
AWARDED: $17,850

Towards the composition and instrumental arrangement of 10 songs for children, from ideas given by children.
AWARDED: $24,600

Towards a live event watch party and livechat with fans online.
AWARDED: $24,153

Towards writing poetry that explores indigeneity and love in the time of climate change.
AWARDED: $17,798

Towards writing a novel about the collapse of democracy in an association of alpaca breeders.
AWARDED: $26,000

Towards a dance concept video showcasing the impact Coronavirus has had on the New Zealand Chinese community.
AWARDED: $24,500

Towards the development of a first draft of a play that explores the menstrual cycle.
AWARDED: $16,766

To record and livestream a performance from Fat Freddy's Drop.
AWARDED: $44,007

Towards an Indigenised Hypno-soundscape to take you to the imagined worlds of our Kōrero Pūrākau.
AWARDED: $49,999

Towards development of a movement technique that guides and empowers the participants in becoming specialists in their own body.
AWARDED: $4,530

Towards 3 x hour-long live-streamed electronic music performances with live visual animations, from a kitchen in Paekakariki.
AWARDED: $47,703

Towards composing and recording ten original compositions inspired by emotions felt during the Covid-19 lockdown.
AWARDED: $8,885

Creative NZ fights COVID-19 with “Indigenised Hypno-Soundscapes”

Grant example

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is questioning the value of the Arts Continuity Grant, a COVID-19 response fund which has so far paid out $16 million in grants to a variety of questionable short-term arts projects.

Since March, Creative NZ has offered grants of up to $50,000 for ‘a short-term arts project, or the stage of a project, that can be delivered within a changed and evolving environment as a result of COVID-19.’

Many of the descriptions of these projects are, frankly, incomprehensible. It’s hard to see how bureaucrats in Creative NZ can make an objective judgment on which projects are worthy of funding, and which aren’t.

The resulting handouts speak for themselves. Creative NZ is fighting COVID-19 by spending taxpayer money on plays about menstrual cycles, Māori ‘healing theatre’, and ‘Indigenised Hypno-soundscapes’. That’s madness and it reflects terribly on the Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage – who happens to be Jacinda Ardern.

These grants are massively unfair to taxpayers, with the benefits skewed toward politically-connected Wellington weirdos. Handouts for fringe interest groups mean less money is available for tax relief that would reward productive work.

637 projects have received taxpayer funding under the Arts Continuity Grant, including the following:

Eamonn Marra
To research and write the first draft of a novel about male affection in hypermasculine spaces.
AWARDED: $13,000

Fireplace Arts & Media
Towards the composition, recording and production of music inspired by the psychogeography of the West Coast.
AWARDED: $34,900

Julia Gray
To support the personnel costs and post-production editing for an art documentary based on Papua New Guinea tattoo practice and revival.
AWARDED: $27,500

Donovan Bixley
Towards one phase of illustrating a biography of Leonardo da Vinci.
AWARDED: $21,080

Alison Foster, Catherine Cooper
Towards writing a children's picture book (text only) about sustainable community activist Helen Dew.
AWARDED: $3,200

Glitter Garden
To create and develop an online publication, arts learning resources and musical content based on children's drag theatre show, The Glitter Garden.
AWARDED: $18,000

Jess Johnson
To create a new series of collaborative quilts with my mother, textile artist Cynthia Johnson.
AWARDED: $17,850

Kate Newby
Towards intensive artistic research and development.
AWARDED: $49,368

Kath Bee
Towards the composition and instrumental arrangement of 10 songs for children, from ideas given by children.
AWARDED: $24,600

Tamara Neilson-Tetzlaf
Towards a live event watch party and livechat with fans online.
AWARDED: $24,153

Tayi Tibble
Towards writing poetry that explores indigeneity and love in the time of climate change.
AWARDED: $17,798

Duncan Sarkies
Towards writing a novel about the collapse of democracy in an association of alpaca breeders.
AWARDED: $26,000

Kimberley Young
Towards a dance concept video showcasing the impact Coronavirus has had on the New Zealand Chinese community.
AWARDED: $24,500

Rosemarie Kirkup
Towards the development of a first draft of a play that explores the menstrual cycle.
AWARDED: $16,766

Nicole Duckworth
To record and livestream a performance from Fat Freddy's Drop.
AWARDED: $44,007

Khali Philip-Barbara, Te Kahureremoa Taumata
Towards an Indigenised Hypno-soundscape to take you to the imagined worlds of our Kōrero Pūrākau.
AWARDED: $49,999

Connor Masseurs
Towards development of a movement technique that guides and empowers the participants in becoming specialists in their own body.
AWARDED: $4,530

Iain Gordon
Towards 3 x hour-long live-streamed electronic music performances with live visual animations, from a kitchen in Paekakariki.
AWARDED: $47,703

Mad Ave
Towards a wananga for Maori healing theatre practitioners.
AWARDED: $50,000

New Zealand Comedy Trust
To examine what changes need to be made to better support a more diverse and sustainable comedy industry in Aotearoa.
AWARDED: $49,780

Benedict Fernandez
Towards composing and recording ten original compositions inspired by emotions felt during the Covid-19 lockdown.
AWARDED: $8,885

Imogen Taylor
Towards development of a new body of work exploring modernism, feminism & queerness, with specific reference to the Otago region.
AWARDED: $30,089

Claire O'Loughlin
Towards revision and editing of a sailing memoir.
AWARDED: $7,200

Jared Kane
Towards a Māori, queer, young adult novel adaptation of Hamlet based on my innovative unproduced screenplay ‘Hamarete’.
AWARDED: $21,000

Indigenous Design and Innovation Aotearoa
Towards designing new Māori typefaces for print and digital.
AWARDED: $22,110

Peter Daubé
Towards the writing, arranging and preproduction of music that forms a song-cycle from the suburban labyrinth.
AWARDED: $21,800

Update: Taxpayers' Union Campaigns Manager Louis Houlbrooke joined Sean Plunket on Magic Talk to discuss these grants. You can listen to the clip here.


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