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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.

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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.


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