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

Dear Supporter,

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

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

Stop Three Waters roadshow launches with a bang 🎉

Campervan

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

Crowd shot

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

Appeal

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

FootageClick here to view footage of the event.

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

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

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

Mahuta formally introduces Three Waters bill to Parliament

Nanaia Mahuta

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poll image

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

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

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

Have we already won the war?

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

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

So this is a major victory for our campaign:

Luxon tweet

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

An update on the legal challenge

High Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You funded a ballet called 'The Sl*tcracker'

Arts image

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

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

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

CreativeNZ grants

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

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

Law change for Fonterra could jack up prices and suffocate competition

Fonterra

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

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

COVID “service recognition” awards cost $5 million

Lapel pin

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

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

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

This newsletter is getting long...

Finally, a few important taxpayer stories for weekend reading:

Have a great long weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

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

Homepaddock  Public funding of political parties political poison

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

New Zealand Herald  Populism’s big dive across the ditch

New Zealand Herald  What Australia and NZ teach each other

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

Homepaddock  Bad timing for tax

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

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

Homepaddock  Backwards Budget

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

The Spinoff  Budget 2022: what chance a surprise?

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

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

Newstalk ZB  Newstalk ZB Wellington 11am - Item 2

The Platform  Is the jig up for Three Waters?

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

RNZ  Producer of Chloe Swarbrick documentary responds to ACT backlash

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

Homepaddock  Redpeace hates cows

Kiwiblog  Chloe hagiography under fire

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

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

Radio NZ  Political commentators Morten & Te Pou

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

Law change for Fonterra could jack up prices and suffocate competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You funded a ballet called 'The Sl*tcracker'

Arts image

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

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

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

CreativeNZ grants

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

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

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

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

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

Poll image

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

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

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

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

📣 Announcement: Hitting the road to Stop Three Waters ✋

Map graphic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come and meet the team

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

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

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

Peter Williams and I (no relation) will be leading the team for the first leg of the trip from Christchurch, visiting Rolleston, Ashburton, Fairlie, Queenstown, Alexandra, Gore, Balclutha, and Invercargill, before Louis takes over in Dunedin next week. 

The full itinerary is available here and we will be updating this, and our Facebook page, as the roadshow progresses with exact times and locations for each stop.

Poster with dates

Can't make your local event? You can still do your part to Stop Three Waters

Taking our grassroots campaign on the road means we're relying on you and the tens of thousands who are supporting this effort. Only by working together can we beat Labour's powerful Māori Caucus. Please take a minute to:

>>> Print and post the roadshow poster on community noticeboards and shop windows (after getting permission, of course!)

>>> Share the poster on Facebook

>>> Share the official "Stop Three Waters" petition

>>> Chip in to the Stop Three Waters fund (Three Waters is expensive, but so too is 4,000 kilometres of fuel!)

Most important, come and say hi to the team, or pick up a stack of petition pamphlets to deliver to friends and neighbours. We have plenty of "Stop Three Waters" merchandise and we want you to take it!

Donate

We can’t wait to meet you and other taxpayers up and down the country.

Regards,

Jordan

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

 

Taxpayers’ Union “exposed” for asking too many questions?

It must be that time of year again, when a journalist wakes up in the morning so concerned about government waste and secrecy they decide to ask government agencies how many official information requests your humble Taxpayers’ Union has been filing.

Yesterday we were contacted by the Department of Internal Affairs letting us know that Stuff.co.nz (we don’t know whether it’s one of their “public interest” taxpayer-funded journalists, or just one of their columnists) has requested a list of all our information requests dating back to November 2020.  We assume this relates to our popular “Stop Three Waters” campaign which Stuff has, to date, decided not to cover (though, in fairness, considering Stuff’s obligations under the NZ on Air conditions of funding, that may be rational from the newsroom’s perspective).

But what we can’t work out is why Stuff didn’t come to us first?  If the objective is to “expose” the Taxpayers’ Union for asking too many questions, why waste officials’ time by filing their own OIA, when they could have just asked us?  Perhaps there is an element of self importance: it is a sad state of affairs that the Taxpayers’ Union files more information requests / asks more questions than any media or other transparency organisation.  Indeed, in last two years of Labour’s opposition, our OIA and LGOIMA (the local government version of the Official Information Act) outnumbered the written and oral questions filed by the then-Opposition Labour Party.

And we make no apologies for it.   We are, by far, New Zealand’s largest transparency organisation, and work on behalf of our 179,000 subscribed supporters, and tens of thousands of members and donors.  Those supporters expect us to be asking the hard questions.  Many of those requests result in stories that the media pick up (for obvious reasons), are used for tools such as our popular “Ratepayers’ Report” local government league tables, and serve to remind officials and politicians that we are watching how they are spending taxpayer money. There is an auditing role, asking questions traditionally asked by local newspapers, but which are often missed now that the media is under so much pressure. For example, we use the Official Information Act to verify stories received through our confidential government waste ‘tip line’ – as unlike for Stuff, the Government’s swelling communications departments are generally “too busy” to answer our questions.

Democracy and transparency do have a cost. That’s why we encourage public agencies to proactively release information – so that the OIAs are not required.  But to criticise the media, or philanthropic groups exercising rights to promote transparency and accountability is wrong.

But in this case, we’ll make an exception: so for the Stuff journalist who asked for this information, whoever you are, next time don’t waste the time of officials – come to us direct.  Here is the information sought:

1 November 2020 – present date – OIAs filed by the Taxpayers’ Union

[Support to foreign nationals in NZ during COVID]
1.  Is the Department of Internal Affairs currently funding, or has it funded, in any way the Red Cross’ Manaaki Manuhiri program for foreign nationals stranded in New Zealand due to covid-19?
2.  If so, how much funding has it given to the program since the beginning of 2020

[Ministerial travel expenses]
This is a request for official information under the Official Information Act 1982 in relation to the travel costs of the Minister David Parker.
We request the following information:

1.  A breakdown of the cost of the Minister’s travel by means, i.e. air travel, car etcetera.
2.  A breakdown of the cost of additional travel arrangements i.e. if the Minister were to have a car travel to meet him at his destination or require a driver to stay overnight in accommodation.

[Ministerial travel follow up request]
‘a basic list of dates wherein the Minister (Hon David Parker) had a driver travel between cities to meet him or had a driver stay overnight at a location for a similar purpose, rather than make use of hired transport at his destination, since 1 January 2019.’

[Expenditure of the Royal Commission into historical abuse in care]
REFINED
We request a copy of the expenditure transactions since 1 January 2020 up until 31 December 2020 in relation to the following account codes:

80013
80060
80300
80560
80630
82001
82003
82005
82030
82101
82102
82103
82111
82112
82121
82122
82201
82205
82210
82212
82501
82670
82691
82855
82900
82905
82915
82920
82921

Please exclude all payroll transactions except for the total amounts paid in each pay run*.

Please ensure the data extract includes:
1. the supplier / vendor / payee 
2. the notation made in your accounting system
3. the transaction amount and date
4. the cost centre and general ledger assigned to the transaction.
   
Given the volume of information, we request it be made available in a suitable excel format. The above codes account for less than a third of those originally requested. I have also attached a response we received from the WAC to the same OIA as an example if you want one to refer to.

[Three Waters]
1.  Please provide the research and researcher that has lead the Minister of local government to believe that her water infrastructure reform will generate lasting jobs
2.  Please provide the research and researcher that has lead the Minister of local government to believe that her water infrastructure reform will generate savings 
3.  Do the predicted jobs generated by the reforms outweigh the jobs that will be lost to the reforms? Please provide the numbers to back this up.
4.  What are the estimated costs of the reforms? Please provide any initial budgets.
5.  Please provide the research and any cost/benefit analysis performed that lead to the conclusion that reform was needed/would be beneficial.

[Bolton Street property information]
1.  A breakdown of the amount of months over the last four years that 23 Bolton street has been occupied
2.  In the months it was occupied, how many people were residing at the property
3.  The market price of 23 Bolton Street
4.  The number of bedrooms and bathrooms in the property

[Advertising for three waters (follow up)]
A breakdown of the cost of the campaign currently running to advertise the three waters reforms.  Please include both actual costs, estimated costs (those budgeted for but not yet realized) and the full budget 

[Breakdown of advertising expenditure for Three Waters]
I request a breakdown of the $3.5 million by category / type of expenditure and communications channel.  I.e. newspaper advertising, social media, television, radio spending – broken into production and advertising placement.

[Racing Safety Development Fund applications]
This is an OIA for the applications (both successful and unsuccessful) of applications from the last funding round, and a list of those which received funding (and respective amounts).

[Government logo rebrand]
It has been suggested to the Taxpayers' Union that there has been a change in the logo (or preferred logo) used to represent the New Zealand Government. I have attached the "old" and "new" versions.
• Has there been a change to (or is the Government in the process of changing) the official "New Zealand Government" logo?
• If so, who initiated such a change and for what reason?
• What costs have been incurred (and are expected to be incurred) because of the changed logo?
o This could include, for example, updated signage and stationery, along with administrative and design costs.
• If the logo change is part of a wider rebrand, please provide the costs for that wider rebrand.
Please feel free to call me if any part of this request requires clarification.

[Timeframes for translation services]
How many requests were made to the translate email address in the last 7 days? What was the average response time for them?

[Jacinda Ardern parody]
This is an OIA for all communications (specifically emails) in the last 2 weeks that mention “Spitting Image” or the video available here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?ref=search&v=448438283127922  held by the respective agencies: Ministry of Health, DPMC, PMO, and DIA.

We are particularly interested in any communications with YouTube (or its representatives) about them hosting the same video (which has now been removed).

[Three Waters advisory group and advertising campaign]
This is an OIA regarding the “advisory group” referred to by a DIA spokesperson in this Stuff.co.nz article: https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/125570991/governments-three-waters-advertisements-slap-in-the-face-for-councils

An advisory group, including members of the local government sector, were involved in the creation of the campaign.

Who is on the advisory group? When have they met? And how much are they being paid?

The article also refers to LGNZ expressing concerns about the advertising campaign prior to it launching. Please provide that corrispondance.

[Breakdown of furniture expenditure/purchases 2020/21]
Please provide a breakdown of all furniture expenses/purchases from the 2020/2021 financial year, and the current financial year to date.

Please also identify any furniture purchased for staff to use at home.

[Three waters correspondence and expenditure]
1.  Any correspondence between the DIA and the Iwi Advisors Group for Freshwater in the past year.
2.  Any correspondence between the DIA and the Waikato-Tainui Chief Executive in the past year. 
3.  Any payments or reimbursements made to any individuals from these two entities or to the entities themselves over the past two years.
4.  The value and details of any such payment. 

[DIA website]
1.  Any correspondence or plans to update or redesign the DIA website from the past two years.
2.  When was the last time the website was redesigned and how much did this cost?
3.  Any estimates DIA has received or communicated around the costs to update or redesign the website. 
4.  The costs of maintaining the current website.

[Salary band for named DIA employee]
Salary band/range for acting Executive Director, Three Waters Iwi/Māori Maria Nepia. 

[Standard clause in public funding documents]
In a statement, the Department of Internal Affairs told Newshub "no clause in the Funding Agreement... prevents or prohibits any council from publicly expressing its own views".

On what basis is was that claim made?  Who authorised that statement to be made?  What is their name and position?  Were they relying on legal advice in making that claim?  If so, what is the date of that advice and how much did it cost?

The story goes on to say: 

[DIA] adds: "It is a common and prudent clause in public funding documents as a safeguard to protect against the misuse of public funds."

Please provide other public funding documents where DIA has included this clause in the last 12 months?

[RealMe helpdesk]
1.  How many calls have been made to the help desk on each day since 1 March 2022?
2.  How many of these calls have connected to an operator?
3.  How many of these calls have been dropped automatically due to call numbers exceeding capacity?
4.  If any of the requested data is not recorded, please explain why not.
5.  What is the capacity limit for calls to the help desk before calls are dropped automatically?
6.  Do international charges apply to calls that are dropped automatically?
7.  For the ‘Enquire online’ form, what is the average wait time between enquiries being filed and responses being sent, for the period since 1 March 2022?
8.  Finally, I would appreciate any comment as to why capacity has not kept up with call/enquiry volumes, and whether this is a recent problem or an ongoing issue.

We’ve also emailed this information to Stuff, and in the spirit of transparency, have asked the company to please detail the OIAs filed with DIA by Stuff over the same time period.  I will be tickled pink if we’ve managed to ask more.

Kāinga Ora staff busy with BBQs and pizza nights

As many as 12 Kāinga Ora staff members at a time have attended community barbecues, a pizza night, and a site blessing at one of its Auckland construction sites.

A neighbour of the Greys Ave social housing development contacted us through our Tip Line expressing frustration at constantly being sent newsletters from Kāinga Ora inviting locals to BBQs and social events connected to the new development. The housing agency spent $1,764 on food and drinks for these events, plus $600 for a site blessing and almost $2,000 on the newsletters themselves (resources, printing and distribution). 

Our official information request reveals that at least 20 paid staff members attended the four events hosted by Kāinga Ora.

In addition, 20 hours of staff time was spent writing and formatting each community newsletter. The taxpayer-funded newsletters introduce Kāinga Ora team members, highlight a "Subbie [subcontractor] of the month" and in one case express excitement about Jacinda Ardern and Housing Minister Megan Woods visiting the site.

Kāinga Ora's public relations campaign surrounding its Greys Ave development is clearly aimed at softening neighbours up to tolerate the construction and the hassles of having a social housing development next door.

Our tipster says she would prefer Kainga Ora focused on getting the construction done and dealing with dust pollution than being invited to warm and fuzzy taxpayer-funded BBQs. We tend to agree.

Budget 2022: Despite red hot economy, big spending Budget delivers higher debt, delayed

Dear Supporter,

Louis and I are just back from the 2022 Budget lock-up inside the Beehive. We’ve spent the day trawling through what is the biggest spend up (in terms of locking in permanent operating spending) we’ve ever seen. As we worked through the 24 Ministerial media releases and the hundreds of pages of Treasury forecasts and appropriations, the word front of mind is ‘overwhelming’.

While households are tightening their belts, Wellington is feasting: Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern have not read the room.

New Zealand is in a weird situation where the economy is red hot, but households are hurting.  Don’t be fooled by the gimmicks and flashy names for business-as-usual funding politicians want you to focus on. As we find in every year’s budget, the devil is always in the detail.

This update covers what the Government wants you to look at (its key announcements listed below), the economic updates by Treasury officials, and the boondoggles we’ve noticed immediately.

Key Budget 2022 announcements at a glance:

  • A new temporary “cost of living payment” for people earning up to $70,000 not already eligible to the Winter Energy Payment. The payment is $27 per week per person for three months from August. (This looks to us like a 'last minute' measure by Ministers)

  • A new Ministry for Disabled People.

  • 26,500 more insulation and heating retrofits for low-income earners.

  • Two-month extension to the half price public transport scheme.

  • Two-month extension to the fuel excise duty and Road User Charges cut (which your humble Taxpayers’ Union has been campaigning for!)

  • The various climate change "Emissions Reduction Plan" measures that were announced on Monday – see the summary on our website.

The Government’s political cover for the cost of living crisis: blame the supermarkets

The Government knows that its measures won’t be enough to paper over the financial pain that middle New Zealand is feeling with the highest inflation in 30 years.

So instead of tackling its spending problem, Grant Robertson has announced “emergency legislation” to tackle the supermarkets.

Tonight, the Government will ram through a new law to remove the ability of supermarket companies to put restrictive covenants over land as a barrier used to stop competition.

We welcome the move, but it does nothing to tackle the real problem pointed to by the Commerce Commission: it’s the Government’s own regulatory taxes – specifically land use and resource management restrictions – that make it virtually impossible for competitors to get started on the scale necessary to compete with the two big operators.

Government is growing quickly as a proportion of the economy (and it's fueling inflation)

If you received David’s email this morning, you’ll know that Mr Robertson had indicated he would increase new spending (the ‘operating allowance’) for ongoing annual spending by $6 billion (or $3,209 per household).

First the good news: Grant Robertson restrained himself by 1.6%, increasing spending by just $5.9 billion.

But this is offset by an increase in next year’s operating allowance from $2.7 billion to $4.5 billion.

Despite the GFC and the Christchurch earthquakes, Bill English averaged new operational spending allowances of just $660 million per year over his time as Finance Minister.

Core Government expenditure now amounts to 35.3% of the total economy. When Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister, the figure was 27.3%.

A better-than-expected economy means record Government revenues, but Grant Robertson’s pushed back the return to surplus

The economic forecasts are better than they were in December's half-year update. But the Government’s forecast debt will now peak $10 billion higher, and a return to surplus now isn’t expected until 2024/25. This is incredible when economic growth is forecast to hit 4.2% over the next year, and unemployment is forecast to drop from the current 3.2% (which is already the lowest in recorded history) to 3.0%.

Spiking inflation is a short-term windfall gain for the Government coffers – it drives up GST revenue and PAYE and taxpayers are driven into higher tax brackets.  Payroll costs for Governments tend to lag behind.

For the first time since the Fiscal Responsibility Act came into force in 1994 a Minister of Finance is projecting a deficit in “an overheated economy”. Despite the record tax take, and one-off COVID expenditure winding down, Budget 2022 forecasts a deficit of $6.6 billion.

Put another way, Grant Robertson will borrow $3,528 for every Kiwi household to pay for non-capital spending (i.e. he's still borrowing for day-to-day expenses) over the next 12 months.

So where is all this money going?

Louis was with me listing the big, the mad, and the interesting spending items that jumped out:

Grant’s headline Budget sweeteners

First, a victory for the Taxpayers’ Union: fuel tax and road user charge relief has been extended by another two months, expected to save motorists another $235 million (or $124 per household). This is matched by an extension of half price fares for public transport.

The next big sweetener is a bit of a fizzer: New Zealanders who are not eligible for the Winter Energy Payment and who are earning less than $70,000 will receive a temporary $27-per week “cost of living payment”, for the three months from August.

As for tax relief: except for two months at the pump, Budget 2022 delivers nothing to lighten the load. We say this is borderline criminal considering the way inflation has stealthily pushed New Zealanders into paying higher rates of income tax, even when we’re no better off. (We'll have a lot more to say on this next week!)

As is usual in a Budget, the bulk of the paperwork dumped on our table covered a laundry list of spending announcements across almost every area of government. This year's barrage of spending items is almost overwhelming. What follows is a non-comprehensive list (note some spending is spread across multiple years):

Corporate welfare:

  • $100m for a new “Business Growth Fund” to invest in small-medium businesses that banks aren’t willing to lend to – i.e. taxpayer funding for Dragon’s Den dropouts. Government representatives of the Fund will even get seats on SME the company boards!

  • $118m in “advisory services” for farmers and Maori land owners

  • $40m on “Transformation Plans” for forestry, wood processing, food and fisheries businesses

  • $350m “Affordable Housing Fund” for housing developers

  • $15.5m for “Pacific economic development” (i.e. funding for Pasifika-run businesses in New Zealand)

  • An extra $26m (now $155m in total) for “Progressive Procurement” – i.e. favouring Maori-owned businesses as government contractors

  • $349m for a Kiwirail bailout

Health:

  • An extra $3.1 billion (one-off) for the new co-governed health system ($1.8 billion of this disappears immediately: it wipes off existing DHB debt)

  • $580m for “Maori Health and wellbeing” including $188m for the new Maori Health Authority

  • $20m establishing new “Iwi-Maori Partnership Boards” (i.e. introducing co-governance to the new health system)

  • $70m for Pasifika health providers

Special interests:

  • $185m in arts and culture grants “to help build a resilient cultural sector as it continues to adapt to the challenges coming out of COVID-19”

  • $327m in funding for the new RNZ/TVNZ merged media entity

  • A $1 billion “Maori Budget” including: $91m on Maori trades, training, and cadetships, $3m for “marae connectivity”, $5m for iwi/Maori teachers

  • $200m for Maori education

  • $28m for Maori “language, culture and identity”

  • $162m for Maori organisations to reduce emissions, including $36m for “matauranga [traditional knowledge]-based approaches to reducing biological emissions” and $30m for “Maori Climate Action”

  • $38m for Pasifika training, education, and bilingual schooling

  • $14m for an "historical account of the Dawn Raids"

Miscellaneous:

  • $2 billion in extra spending on education (to smooth over the end of the decile system)

  • $662m for Defence

  • More Police ($562m), initiatives focused on organise crime ($94m), and on reoffending ($198m)

  • $100m establishing a new “Ministry for Disabled People” ($100m) – of which only $11m is allocated to providing services

  • $178m for councils dealing with RMA reform, plus a new “National Maori Entity” to co-govern resource management

  • $40m to research RNA vaccine technology

  • $114m on family violence initiatives

  • More taxpayer money pumped into the housing market via more generous First Home Grant and First Home Loan rules

Some of this spending is uncontroversial. A lot of it is mad. But what really hit me was the share scale: spending items costing tens of millions were treated like minor bulletpoints by Ministers.

And New Zealanders didn't want it!

New Zealanders weren’t even asking for this new spending. You may have heard Newstalk ZB cover our recent poll revealing that, by a margin of four to one, New Zealanders did not want to see increased spending in the Budget.

In other words, Kiwi households taking prudent financial measures in the face of a cost of living crisis hoped to see the Government doing the same, but were instead delivered a classic Labour-style spend-up, but on steroids.

You can read for yourself the full Budget 2022 material that just went online at www.budget.govt.nz.  You can also read our initial commentary to the media below.

In a few moments, I’ll be sitting down with economist Cameron Bagrie, who was also in the Budget Lock Up.  We’ll be recording a special edition of Taxpayer Talk streamed live to our Facebook page.

As is usual, our team will spend the next few weeks trawling through the detail and will no doubt uncover far more boondoggles and examples of questionable spending to hold to account those who spend your taxpayer money.

Thank you for your support.

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

MEDIA RELEASES:

Budget 2022: The Worst Budget Since Muldoon

Budget 2022: How Are We Still Responding To COVID With Arts Grants?

Fuel Tax Relief Extension: A Small Victory For Taxpayers

WTF? Stu Nash Starts A Bank?

Budget 2022: How are we still responding to COVID with arts grants?

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is almost – but not quite – lost for words over Budget 2022’s announcement of another $185 million in arts and heritage grants. 

Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “We were amazed when the Government decided it was appropriate to respond to a novel coronavirus with more than $300 million in grants for art projects. We were amazed again when they topped that up to $495 million. Now they’ve topped it up again by another $185 million, and are still calling it a COVID response!” 

“The Government boasts that this spending will ‘strengthen and complement’ the Arts and Culture COVID Recovery Programme –the same programme that saw taxpayer money allocated toward ‘indigenised hypno-soundscapes’ and interpretive dances about the impact of COVID.” 

“The $18 million specifically set aside to ‘celebrate Te Ao Maori’ seems especially indulgent – Maori face very real problems in housing and education that will not be solved with arts, crafts, and theatre.” 


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