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Auckland’s light rail issues can be easily, quickly, and cheaply solved

The New Zealand Herald has rightly argued that the Labour Government's Auckland light rail plan is facing huge hurdles to get back on track. It notes that the cost of light rail has soared from $2.3b to up to $15b.

 

Since being elected on a promise of light rail, Labour has already spent $35m of taxpayer money producing absolutely no results. In response, the Government changed the Minister in charge, and has gone back to the drawing board. It has set up an establishment unit to decide the mode, route, and cost estimates for an indicative business case for Cabinet within six months. In other words, everything. They are literally starting again from scratch. That is $35m that taxpayers will never get back.

 

There is little faith outside of Cabinet that the Light Rail v2.0 will go any better. Priding itself on being a caring organisation, the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has stepped in with a bold plan.

 

We commit to delivering exactly the same outcomes on Auckland Light Rail for the price of a sausage roll.

 

Here are the key points of the plan developed by our sausage roll loving analyst Neil Miller:

  • We will deliver 0.00mm of light rail track, easily matching the last three years record.
  • Construction costs will be eliminated because there will be no construction.
  • Valuable resources will be freed up to actually fix Queen Street.
    Consultation, which produced more problems than it solved last time, will not be necessary.
  • Equally, consultants will not be required. PWC partners may have to downgrade their new yachts.
  • There will be no legal expenses because: No Taxpayer Money = No Lawyers.
    Vast numbers of New Zealand Transport Agency staff will be freed up to work on projects which build transport things.

 

Our economist has costed this plan at between $1.70 (Big Ben Sausage Roll) and $6.60 (I Love Pies Sausage Roll).Transport Minister Michael Wood, you are most welcome.

Op-ed: Back-office bureaucrats are exploiting sympathy for frontline workers

Louis HoulbrookeThe Government’s bombshell announcement that it will rein in public sector salaries has been applauded by unionists – specifically, the Taxpayers’ Union.
 
Union co-founder, blogger, and cheeky fellow David Farrar proclaimed Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins honorary members of the Taxpayers’ Union for their fiscal restraint during a pandemic. It is hard to think of any accolade that would annoy those Ministers more.
 
Meanwhile, public sector unions reacted with fury, loudly condemning the idea of wage austerity for heroic frontline nurses, police, and teachers.
 
But this nasty prospect is a false one. Nurses, police, and teachers are locked into to a step-based pay system. This means they’ll keep climbing up the salary ladder regardless of any salary restrictions announced by politicians. They’re effectively protected from a freeze unless they’re already on the highest possible rung.
 
The Public Service Association and the Council of Trade Unions know this perfectly well. But that hasn’t stopped them from exploiting public sympathy for frontline workers to shield the wider public service from a pay freeze.
 
The Public Service Commission’s website holds a wealth of statistics on public sector pay rates, which looks beyond the front line and reveals inflated back-office salaries.

•  The average salary in the public sector is $84,500, compared to $69,000 in the private sector.

•  Last year wage growth in the public sector was 3 percent, compared to just 1.7 percent in the private sector.

•  15,000 public sector workers are paid salaries higher than $100,000. Few of these will be teachers, nurses, or police.

•  The highest-paying Government department is – wait for it – the Social Wellbeing Agency. That agency’s staff enjoy an average salary of $151,700.

•  Next highest-paying are the Public Service Commission, the Ministry of Defence (not the frontline Defence Force), and the Pike River Recovery agency, all paying average salaries above $130,000.

Department salaries

Click here to view the graph in high resolution.

Clearly, there is room for salary restraint here. You might even say these figures are obscene. The Taxpayers’ Union certainly would.

While a total freeze might be a blunt measure, the basic thrust of the move fairly reflects the sacrifices made by taxpaying businesses and employees in the private sector, who enjoyed a far lower level of income security through the fallout of COVID-19.

It’s also a sensible start to reining in the Government’s debt monster, soon set to reach $100,000 for every household in New Zealand – a terrifying figure no matter how many times Grant Robertson says “it’s not as bad as we thought it would be”.

Of course, the Government has now walked back its announcement to the point where it can no longer be called a freeze. The suffering souls at the Social Wellbeing Agency may still yet see salary adjustments in line with the cost of living.

But there is still much to be settled as the Government enters into protracted negotiation with the public sector unions.

Taxpayers should urge the Government to hold strong in the face of the wailing administrative elite. Throw a bone to the bona fide frontline workers who tend to our sick, educate our kids, and protect our communities, but don’t allow their virtue to be hijacked by back-office bureaucrats.

Louis Houlbrooke is the Campaigns Manager of the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

Petition Launched: Public sector pay freeze should extend to local councils

The Taxpayers’ Union has launched a petition to extend the recently announced public sector pay freeze to local councils.

Click here to sign the petition.

The Government’s public sector pay freeze was a prudent measure that reflects the sacrifices made by businesses and employees in the wake of COVID-19. However, the freeze should go one step further. The case for pay restraint at councils is even stronger than for central government. Local councils aren't just experiencing growth in debt, they're also pushing for massive rate hikes across the country. 

All councils should adopt the Government’s pay freeze for highly-paid staff. We’re asking the Minister of Local Government to signal that this is her expectation, and that if councils don’t restrain pay, she can introduce legislation to force them.

At minimum, councils should freeze their total spend on payroll. That way any increases in pay will need to be from attrition or efficiencies in other roles.

MPs in Depth: Tangi Utikere


Entering parliament as an MP was not how Tangi Utikere imagined 2020 would end at the beginning of that year. However circumstance conspired and Utikere is now the MP for Palmerston North and a member of the Labour Party. In this episode of MPs in Depth, Tangi and Louis discuss politics, running for office, and of course, Tax.

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotify, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio and all good podcast apps.

There and back again: taxpayers shell out for epic turtle journey

Turtle image

Taxpayers shelled out thousands of dollars transporting a dead turtle from Banks Peninsula to Wellington, storing it in a freezer for 21 months, then sending it back down to where it washed up for a high-powered and fully-catered powhiri, complete with a helicopter ride and a handmade coffin constructed by public servants. No scientific research was performed at any stage.

Based on responses to several Official Information Act requests, plus earlier media reports, the Taxpayers' Union can set out the timeline:

  • In March 2019, a dead leatherback turtle is found on the shore in Banks Peninsula. He is never named though he is known at the Taxpayers' Union as Michelangelo.
  • DOC advises Te Papa that the local Banks Peninsula marae, Koukourārata, has provided approval for Te Papa to receive the turtle.
  • A DOC ranger uses a tractor to transfer the turtle to the back of his ute, then commissions a truck belonging to a pet food company to keep the turtle chilled. The ranger warns that transporting the turtle to Wellington will be a "logistical nightmare". The ranger's wage costs are $200.
  • The turtle is collected by Te Papa from the Department of Conservation office in Christchurch and driven up to Wellington in Te Papa’s Toyota Hilux, at a reported cost of $475.75.
  • The turtle arrives at Te Papa's Tory Street facility, where staff plan to perform a necropsy, check its gut for plastic, gather biological information for "the global turtle research community", and ultimately skeletonise the corpse.
  • In an apparent change of heart from the local iwi, Ngāi Tahu representative Matui Payne tells media of "a sense of grief and sadness that we didn't have the opportunity to grieve for our kaitiaki, for our tipuna." Te Papa cites "issues relating to consultation and support" and enters into discussion with Koukourārata "regarding the return and repatriation of the honu [turtle]."
  • The late turtle spends 21 months in Te Papa's freezer.
  • No scientific research is conducted. Te Papa explains, "To enable scientific research to be undertaken, the turtle would have had to be skeletonised (i.e. processes undertaken to reduce the turtle remains to a skeleton). In conjunction with tikanga, it is usually important that all parts of the taonga or specimen (in this case, the turtle) should be buried, if possible. . .In terms of science objectives, Te Papa has not conducted any research on the turtle during its time at Te Papa so has not gained any research insights."
  • At some point, Te Papa staff build a "te honu crate" or turtle coffin, with materials costing $580.85.
  • On 11 December 2020, Te Papa staff are joined by a contingent from Koukourārata for a karakia (prayer) in Wellington.
  • DOC transports the turtle from Wellington back to Bank Peninsula in a refrigerated truck. The three-day journey includes reported costs of $940 in mileage, $448 for the Cook Strait ferry crossing, and $500 in wage costs. A Koukourārata representative accompanies the turtle during this journey.
  • Eight Te Papa staff, including members of the Board and the senior leadership team, fly to Canterbury for the deceased turtle's powhiri.
    • Domestic travel, car rental and accommodation: $4,327.77
    • Powhiri and kai for 40 people: $880.00
  • At the powhiri, the eight Te Papa staff are joined by seven DOC staff.
    • Four of the DOC staff are paid by the hour, for a total cost of $600.
    • DOC pays a $200 koha to Koukourārata.
    • DOC spends $130 on mileage.
  • The turtle arrives at its powhiri, is removed from its coffin, placed on an altar to thaw while speeches are given, and eventually strapped to a crate and flown via helicopter to its burial site: a hilltop on a nearby island. DOC pays $1600 for the helicopter service. Video and photographs from the day capture these events.
  • Two DOC staff conduct an archeological survey of the burial site, and three staff dig the hole. Reported wage costs for these activities are $900.

Union spokesperson Louis Houlbrooke says, "The total cost to taxpayers for Michelangelo's eventful afterlife is difficult to quantify, but we would place it in the tens of thousands. Te Papa and DOC's total reported expenses were $11,742.31, but that excludes the time cost for high-level salaried staff."

"Te Papa was prepared to obtain this turtle for research on a rare species. That is valid. Koukourārata, who had expressed no interest when the turtle first washed up, suddenly wanted it back and intact. The result was a truly bizarre odyssey that saw a dead turtle travel by land, sea, and air, before ultimately being buried by public servants on a hilltop."

"After thousands of dollars and 21 months of fuss, the turtle ends up right back where it started, providing no scientific insights. In fact, Te Papa told us over the phone that they couldn't even verify whether the turtle was male or female. What a waste. Such a majestic creature deserved far better than to wait 21 months in a freezer while bureaucrats negotiated a protracted repatriation mission that would make the Ministry of Foreign Affairs blush."

"We have to give some credit to Te Papa and DOC for their thorough answers to our questions. We get the sense they're proud of the enormous time, attention, and staff hours they've devoted to Michelangelo's odyssey. Unfortunately, they've tarnished the turtle's legacy with this epic saga of government waste."

Documents:

Te Papa information response 1

Te Papa information response 2

DOC information response

Turtle1Primary school children in Banks Peninsula observe the turtle. One appears to be holding her nose. (Source: Stuff)

Turtle3Te Papa receives the plastic-wrapped turtle.

CoffinAn image of the turtle coffin, built by Te Papa staff (Source: Te Papa)

Turtle4
The turtle is placed on an altar upon its return to Bank Peninsula (Source: Facebook)

Turtle5
Mourners from Koukourārata and Te Papa eulogise the turtle while a helicopter approaches.

Turtle6
The turtle is flown to its hilltop burial site.

Turtle7
The turtle is buried high above its preferred habitat.

Taxpayers’ Union refutes Davidson’s “rejection” of being quiet on emergency housing

After claiming that “some of our emergency housing is inhumane”, Associate Housing Minister Marama Davidson “rejected” criticism that as a responsible minister she had been “quiet” on the issue since the election. She said: “I've certainly been nothing but loud."

Taxpayers' Union spokesman Neil Miller says, “She may have been loud in the privacy of her office or amongst the faithful at Green Party meetings, but not at the Cabinet table where decisions are actually made. Figures obtained by the Taxpayers’ Union from the Cabinet Office show that since the election Minister Davidson has presented no Cabinet Papers or Cabinet Committee Papers on the issue of emergency housing.”

“In fact, she has presented no papers at all. In comparison, her colleague James Shaw, also a Minister outside of Cabinet, delivered seven papers on his portfolio of Climate Change. Damien O’Connor was in charge of one paper about Land Information, while Jan Tinetti put forward three for Internal Affairs. The bar has not been set very high.”

“To reject something simply means you do not accept it. To refute something means you have to provide evidence proving it false. All the evidence here says that while Minister Davidson may talk loud in limited circles, actual Ministerial action where it could make a difference is non-existent. When she is paid over $250,000 of taxpayers’ money, that is the epitome of quiet.”


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