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Document dump reveals DOC put politics ahead of Toa the orca’s welfare

The Department of Conservation spent $129,000 and 12 days prolonging the pain of a baby orca for the sake of politics.

That’s the takeaway from today’s massive document dump, which includes an incident management plan that explained: “An intervention approach is not the traditional DOC position that we have taken in the past with marine mammals however the Iwi, public, media and political interests are very high in this case.”

In public, the Department stated over and over that it was solely motivated by Toa's welfare. We now know this to be false.

On 15 July, eight days before Toa's death, DOC internally circulated advice from an international expert:

This calf appears to have about zero chances of survival in the wild. Finding its pod would be an interesting experiment, but do you really want to put the animal through this experiment knowing that the pod left it once already (I don't know the circumstances behind this stranding so I am making a large assumption) and would probably not welcome the animal back into the group for the same reason it left it the first time. Experience with dependent calves would indicate that it is non-releasable. In my opinion, If you can't care for the calf long term and the government is unwilling to move it to a facility that can, you should humanly euthanize it sooner than later.

The next day, text messages suggest that DOC staff were “moving toward euthanasia” – but the order was never given. DOC bosses left Toa to linger on in pain and distress for another six days, despite ongoing concerns from staff over the impact of human interaction on his ability to rejoin the wild.

Toa’s death was a tragedy – for whalekind and for taxpayers. It’s a lesson in the cruelty and waste that can be inflicted by bureaucracies motivated by public perceptions ahead of the core activities we fund them for.

DOC’s implementation plans were clear as to who bears responsibility for this waste and suffering: The decision to proceed with euthanasia sits with the Director Operations, Lower North Island Region (Jack Mace).

As an employee of DOC, Mr Mace’s job was to protect, not prolong the pain, of this precious animal. We’ve asked Mr Mace to front on this issue and answer questions. If he’s unwilling to defend his decision, he should do the honourable thing and resign.

Further notes:

  • A necropsy of Toa was vetoed by local iwi, to the confusion of international experts.
  • The $129,790 cost of Toa’s care included $62,060 in salaries and wages, $17,446 in travel and accommodation, $13,941 in meals and refreshments, and $2,800 in koha to local iwi.
  • For some reason, Hollywood filmmaker James Cameron requested to visit Toa on the day of the orca's death.
  • The Taxpayers’ Union first raised concerns about the cost and welfare implications of Toa’s care on 20 July when the orca was still alive.

Taxpayer Talk: Damien Grant on Oranga Tamariki

Jordan is joined by Damien Grant for a concerning discussion on the implications of the recent 'Moana' case that was the subject of Damien's recent column published in Stuff. They talk about ideology within Oranga Tamariki, judicial interference by a chief executive and the concerning silence from legal watchdogs. 

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

You take the low road, James Shaw takes the high road, and he will be in Scotland a’fore ye!

Shaw in a kiltGreen Party co-leader James Shaw has been under fire for planning to fly to Glasgow for a climate change conference with an unspecified number of support staff. Priding ourselves on fairness towards New Zealand’s elected representatives, the Taxpayers’ Union offered Mr Shaw the opportunity to present his defence. It has not been edited, but all the spelling and grammatical errors have been fixed.

“I am not a hypocrite. I absolutely refute all the allegations made by far-right trolls, members of the media we have not paid for, and the Leader of the Opposition, David Seymour. Let’s go through them one by one.”
 
International air travel during a pandemic:

“I have been a long-standing and shrill critic of air travel but – and this is important – only air travel by people on business, ordinary people, and right-wing politicians. I have never criticised air travel by Green MPs. In fact, under my co-leadership we continue to top the charts in Parliamentary travel expenses. I am proud of our track record, including travelling more than the Prime Minister in 2019, and the fact that Air New Zealand had to invent a Titanium Class Air Points card thanks to us.”
 
An in-person international meeting during a pandemic:

“The United Nations is a humble non-profit. It is unreasonable to expect it to have Zoom.

“My comment ‘there was a perfectly serviceable option that would enable MPs to work from home – Parliament via teleconferencing software Zoom – and politicians should be modelling the health advice to stay home’ was taken completely out of context.

“Sure, Parliament can do it, workplaces can do it, schools can do it, but what is the point of being part of the United Nations if you do not get a few overseas vacations?”

The pesky public health issue

“Here, I stand by all my statements despite some of them being contradictory.

“I was correct to say on a Tuesday that ‘I think it's absolutely irresponsible, I mean it literally risks people's lives by holding an in-person Parliament’ and I boycotted Parliament.

“The next day, having realised we lost our oral question in the House, and no one was paying attention to us in the media, then it was suddenly absolutely safe for Green MPs to fly from Auckland to Wellington and attend Parliament in person. Not that anyone noticed…

“People have pointed out that Wellington has had only a handful of COVID cases this year while Glasgow has over 5,000 new cases a week. Now, I did some research, and it turns out Glasgow City is almost twice as big as Wellington. That is hardly a global hot spot in my mind.”

Taking up spots in Managed Isolation and Quarantine facilities

“I and my unspecified entourage will not be taking up MIQ spots desperately sought by Kiwis looking to return home, receive medical treatment, or attend funerals. Our MIQ spots are in the special wing of suites continuously reserved for bands, sports stars, and United Nations officials.

“I do like that they always leave a chocolate (Fair Trade of course) on my Egyptian cotton pillow.

“This matter is closed. Now, where is my passport?”

New paper highlights how vaping brings New Zealand closer to Smokefree 2025

White paperA new white paper on international best practice towards vaping regulation features a case study on New Zealand, with data showing how increased vaping uptake has correlated with significant progress towards our Smokefree goal.
 
The white paper is published by the Property Rights Alliance, with contributions from the UK, New Zealand, France, and Canada. The New Zealand case study is written by New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union Campaigns Manager Louis Houlbrooke.
 
Mr Houlbrooke says, “Historically, public health commentators have attributed reductions in smoking rates to annual excise tax hikes. But now, despite an end to annual tax hikes, we see progress accelerating. This latest data makes it increasingly difficult to deny that it is alternative products like e-cigarettes – not tax – that will ultimately bring New Zealand to our Smokefree goal. However, the question remains to what extent our progress will be slowed by new regulations currently being implemented to reduce access to vaping products.”

Commenting on the white paper, Centre of Research Excellence Director Dr Marewa Glover says, “Enabling people to switch from smoking to vaping is not only delivering on reducing risk to health, the New Zealand experience is proof that access to vaping can reduce inequity in smoking rates. Despite the FCTC saying countries should ensure that Indigenous peoples also benefit from tobacco control measures, the gap in smoking rates between Māori and  European New Zealanders has never been reduced. The higher rates of daily vaping among Māori compared to European New Zealanders is the first sign that this inequity may be lessened. It is significant also, that daily vaping prevalence increases in line with higher deprivation. The lower the income quintile the higher the smoking prevalence, but also the higher daily vaping occurs.”
 
The white paper has been published ahead of the WHO’s COP9 conference, which will be attended by delegates from across the world as they consider updates to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
 
“We’re urging New Zealand’s delegates to tell our story with pride," says Mr Houlbrooke. "During our long period of essentially unregulated access to vaping products, the sky did not fall – in fact, smokers took the opportunity to switch in droves. This success has been reflected by the Government’s own information campaign on vaping, which highlights vaping as an effective means to quit smoking, with a 95 percent reduction in harm relative to cigarettes.”
 
This morning Mr Houlbrooke joined a live webinar hosted by the Property Rights Alliance along with contributors to the white paper. Click here to watch the recording.

Taxpayer Update: A new tax grab | Grant's confession | Super tax

Dear Supporter,

Congestion charging: A new raid on commuters' wallets?

Traffic

Parliament's Transport Select Committee has completed an inquiry into congestion charging – and every party involved is keen on the idea.

The proposal would initially involve charging motorists entering central Auckland during peak traffic hours, but the door has been left open for other councils to introduce charges of their own.

Is this just another tax grab? It doesn't have to be: Parliament could mandate that all revenue from the charge is used to cut fuel tax. That would mean motorists who avoid peak-hour inner-city traffic get a discount.

But the committee is proposing raiding the revenue for public transport projects and "active transport" (read: cycleways).

On our Taxpayer talk podcast I spoke with National MP Chris Luxon, who was part of the inquiry, about whether his party is supporting a tax grab.

Luxon🔊 Click here to listen to the podcast.

He makes a strong case for using pricing to manage congestion the same way that private companies (such as airlines) vary prices according to demand. But, while he's keen on cutting fuel tax, he doesn't rule out using some of the revenue on other projects.

As we warned in June, if there’s even a hint that this policy will be used to extract more money from commuters, the idea will become politically toxic. With the hikes to fuel taxes, the ETS, and the Ute Tax, that last thing we need is yet another nasty tax on motorists.

It's early days yet (the legislation will need to be drafted and put through a consultation process) but your humble Taxpayers' Union is ready for a fight to demand any new tax is 'revenue neutral'. Watch this space.

Robertson's stunning $3b admission shows potential for taxpayer savings

Last week in Parliament the media somehow missed Grant Robertson admit something incredible: he's looked back at his "COVID response" spending projects and reckons he can "claw back" $3 billion.

In other words, he's confessed that he misused taxpayer money.

This comes after a week of pressure from the Taxpayers' Union and Opposition MPs. Here's National's Michael Woodhouse in Parliament citing some of our examples of how the COVID response fund was frittered away:

Michael WoodhouseClick here to watch the clip.

The $3 billion Robertson says he can reclaim equals around $1600 for every household in the country from his previously-allocated spending. If he can find this much money just by looking between the couch cushions, that suggests far more money could be reclaimed if he does a deep clean.

If Robertson doesn't do a thorough job clawing back low-priority spending, he's signalled he's willing to simply borrow to cover new costs. His justification is that thanks to better-than-expected economic performance we can keep borrowing while staying within debt forecasts. But the forecasts are disastrous, showing a Debt Monster of around $100,000 per household by 2024. Why on Earth would we treat that like a target?

A new push to hike taxes on working superannuants

Susan St John

An Auckland University academic is promoting a new plan to offset rising superannuation costs: Susan St John wants to hike taxes on superannuants, with a 39 percent flat rate tax on any income additional to Super.

It's a dumb idea. Working superannuants should be celebrated, not punished with higher taxes. They make a positive contribution to our national productivity and to our tax system. In fact, once you account for income tax, GST, and council rates, many working superannuants pay more in tax than they receive in Super.

A 39 percent tax rate would discourage older New Zealanders from remaining in work, which ultimately shrinks the tax base. It would also introduce a disturbing element of age discrimination to our tax system.

This plan is an attempt to dodge the fundamental problem of rising costs. A more sensible proposal would be to adjust Super payments for inflation instead of average wages. That would curb rising costs without cutting real incomes for over-65s.

Councils shouldn't be issuing parking tickets during lockdown

Wardens

Wellington City Council is ticketing parked vehicles in the CBD during lockdown a practice out of line with other cities that have rightly told parking wardens to stay at home.

This is nasty revenue maximisation at a time when councils should be showing kindness. Parking charges and time restrictions are to ensure vehicles aren’t parked longer than necessary and to keep the parks revolving for other people. That is totally unnecessary when the City is largely abandoned.

In fact, Wellington City Council's ticketing strategy risks pushing people onto buses and trains where COVID is more likely to spread. Madness.

Three Waters reform: you need to know about this

What could be the downside to centralising our water infrastructure and allocating 50% ownership to iwi?

Three Waters reform is an issue we're following closely. The proposed reforms would remove control of billions of dollars' worth of assets from local authorities. We're preparing a tool to ensure ratepayers and taxpayers have their say in the submission process, which closes at the end of this month.

In the meantime, here's two new episodes of Taxpayer Talk to get you up to speed with the issue:

🔊 Click here to listen to the interview with Westland Mayor Bruce Smith.

🔊 Click here to listen to the interview with ACT MP Simon Court.

An Unexpected Premiere

Hobbitses

Finally, Taxpayers' Union Analyst Neil Miller has been dwelling on the disastrous outcome of the taxpayer-funded subsidy granted to Amazon's Lord of the Rings series, which has now shifted production to Britain. Below I've pasted Neil's take on the saga in full.

***

In a hole in the Beehive there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms: it was a Ministerial hole, and that means comfort. It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted bright red like a KiwiRail locomotive, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle.

The door opened on to a very comfortable office with panelled walls, floors tiled and carpeted, and polished chairs. This Minister was a very well-to-do Minister, and his name was Bilbo Twyford. Twyford had lived in the neighbourhood of The Hive for over four years. He was always accompanied by his loyal gardener, Samwise Nash.

One day, there came a loud knock. Not a ring, but a hard rat-tat on the Minister’s beautiful red door. Somebody was banging with a stick! Twyford and Nash were confused, they had no meetings in their diaries. Summoning up his most assertive tone, Bilbo Twyford wavered: “No thank you! We don't want any more visitors, well-wishers or distant relations!"

A deep voice boomed “And what about some very new friends?” The door swung open and there, clad in finest shimmering Armani, stood Amazon the Grey, the legendary wizard of taxpayer subsidies for multi-million-dollar films. “I have an adventure for you Masters Twyford and Nash. In truth, I have five seasons of adventures which will spread the name of the Hive far and wide,” Amazon told the astonished Ministers.

Bilbo and Samwise raced to their strongroom, deftly sidestepping the sleeping figure of Smaug Robertson. They returned with gold, silver, jewels, frankincense, myrrh, and most valuable of all in the Second Age of Pestilence, three-ply toilet paper. The deal was sealed with a solemn round of “paper, scissors, rock.”

In the first eon, matters appeared to be going well and there was no cause for alarum. Then, on a stormy night, Amazon the Grey returned to the Hive, this time accompanied by thirteen intellectual property lawyers, all stroking their beards and laughing into their bulging money pouches.

Amazon told the Ministers he had dark and troubling news. Then there was a flash of light and a cloud of smoke, and while Bilbo and Samwise were left gagging in the vapours of a cheap flash bang grenade, Amazon was spotted riding away on a Jaguar, laughing manically, and twirling his moustache. His lawyers left behind a short note saying the adventures had all moved to the Northern Kingdom, including taking the infrastructure of the whole series developed by the Hive, for various exciting tax purposes. They obviously attached an enormous legal bill.

A crestfallen Bilbo Twyford eventually penned a warning letter to the stout yeomen of the Northern Kingdom, to be delivered by Light Rail when the line was complete. He wrote these prophetic words:

Do not be seduced by Amazon’s bewitching words and card tricks. Watch out next year when the Kingdom of Croatia or the Lords of Canadaor come calling on the ring bearer with even larger taxpayer funded subsidies. There is no loyalty, there be only dragons. We know what it is like to have what we thought was Our Precious taken from us. Multi-national wizards like Amazon will always up and follow other people’s gold. They never put a Ring on it.

***

Enjoy the rest of your week,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

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Media coverage:

The Wanaka App  Upper Clutha District Council: pros and cons

Sunday Star-Times  An economic catastrophe is looming

Stuff  Meet the Bewildered: They're not ignorant or deplorable, just confused by change

Chapter I: An Unexpected Premiere

Hobbitses

The following is an op-ed by Taxpayers’ Union Analyst N C C Miller. It is free for publication. (544 words)

In a hole in the Beehive there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms: it was a Ministerial hole, and that means comfort. It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted bright red like a KiwiRail locomotive, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle.

The door opened on to a very comfortable office with panelled walls, floors tiled and carpeted, and polished chairs. This Minister was a very well-to-do Minister, and his name was Bilbo Twyford. Twyford had lived in the neighbourhood of The Hive for over four years. He was always accompanied by his loyal gardener, Samwise Nash.

One day, there came a loud knock. Not a ring, but a hard rat-tat on the Minister’s beautiful red door. Somebody was banging with a stick! Twyford and Nash were confused, they had no meetings in their diaries. Summoning up his most assertive tone, Bilbo Twyford wavered: “No thank you! We don't want any more visitors, well-wishers or distant relations!"

A deep voice boomed “And what about some very new friends?” The door swung open and there, clad in finest shimmering Armani, stood Amazon the Grey, the legendary wizard of taxpayer subsidies for multi-million-dollar films. “I have an adventure for you Masters Twyford and Nash. In truth, I have five seasons of adventures which will spread the name of the Hive far and wide,” Amazon told the astonished Ministers.

Bilbo and Samwise raced to their strongroom, deftly sidestepping the sleeping figure of Smaug Robertson. They returned with gold, silver, jewels, frankincense, myrrh, and most valuable of all in the Second Age of Pestilence, three-ply toilet paper. The deal was sealed with a solemn round of “paper, scissors, rock.”

In the first eon, matters appeared to be going well and there was no cause for alarum. Then, on a stormy night, Amazon the Grey returned to the Hive, this time accompanied by thirteen intellectual property lawyers, all stroking their beards and laughing into their bulging money pouches.

Amazon told the Ministers he had dark and troubling news. Then there was a flash of light and a cloud of smoke, and while Bilbo and Samwise were left gagging in the vapours of a cheap flash bang grenade, Amazon was spotted riding away on a Jaguar, laughing manically, and twirling his moustache. His lawyers left behind a short note saying the adventures had all moved to the Northern Kingdom, including taking the infrastructure of the whole series developed by the Hive, for various exciting tax purposes. They obviously attached an enormous legal bill.

A crestfallen Bilbo Twyford eventually penned a warning letter to the stout yeomen of the Northern Kingdom, to be delivered by Light Rail when the line was complete. He wrote these prophetic words:

Do not be seduced by Amazon’s bewitching words and card tricks. Watch out next year when the Kingdom of Croatia or the Lords of Canadaor come calling on the ring bearer with even larger taxpayer funded subsidies. There is no loyalty, there be only dragons. We know what it is like to have what we thought was Our Precious taken from us. Multi-national wizards like Amazon will always up and follow other people’s gold. They never put a Ring on it.

Taxpayer Talk: Will congestion charging turn into a tax grab?

A Parliamentary select committee has unanimously recommend a charge on motorists entering central Auckland at peak hours. Louis is joined by National MP Christopher Luxon to discuss whether the revenues will be used to cut fuel tax, or if they will be raided by greedy councils.

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

Taxpayer Talk: Mayor Bruce Smith on Three Waters

As part of our continuing discussion on the subject, Jordan and Bruce sit down for a chat about the now infamous Three Waters reforms. Topics include that patronising television ad, the government's reasoning for why reform is needed and the growing groundswell among Mayors and ratepayers in opposition to the reforms.

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

Taxpayer Talk: Simon Court On Three Waters

What could be the downside to centralising our water infrastructure and allocating 50% ownership to Iwi? Today on Taxpayer Talk Jordan is joined by ACT MP Simon Court for a discussion about the consequences of the 'Three Waters' proposal and what ACT would do differently.

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

Dr Oliver Hartwich on the consequences of lockdown and civil liberties

Jordan Williams is joined by the New Zealand Initiative director Oliver Hartwich for this episode of Taxpayer Talk. They discuss the impact lockdown is having on New Zealand, the similarities and lessons to be drawn from history and what the likely effects will be on our country's future.

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


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