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Ihumātao update: One year on, we still don't have a Steering Group, let alone housing

This month marks a year since the Government announced its $30 million purchase of land at Ihumātao. The decision to purchase the land was justified on the basis that it would result in the provision of housing on the site, with funding coming from the Land for Housing Programme.

However, the Taxpayers' Union can reveal that talks between the Government and Kīngitanga with regards to the use of the land have gone nowhere. In fact, there hasn't even been any agreement over who will form the Steering Committee that is meant to make decisions on the provision of housing.

The Memorandum of Understanding between the Government and Kīngitanga outlined that a new Steering Committee overseeing the management of Ihumātao should include six members: three iwi representatives supported by Kīngitanga, one on behalf of Kīngitanga, two representing the Crown and one observer from Auckland Council. Only once appointments are made can the Committee determine what happens next. 

In an official information request, the Taxpayers' Union asked for an update on the appointment status of the Steering Committee. Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson's response confirms the Committee remains unappointed, saying "The process for determining the representatives requires a considerable period of facilitation by the Kiingtanga, given the complex relationships and associations between the parties...The Kiingitanga appointment process creates pressure on the relationships between these groups, and it is important the Crown allows the process to take the time it needs to."

In other words, for all Grant Robertson's bluster about his 'unique and innovative' solution at Ihumātao, the Government has still failed to achieve consensus. Any agreement on the number, ownership, or management of homes, is being delayed indefinitely. Actual construction at this point remains a pipe dream.

The Government's intervention at Ihumātao has not facilitated new housing – it has done the opposite. Fletcher Building literally had earthworks machinery at Ihumātao's gates before the Government spent $30 million of taxpayer money to paralyse construction. Willie Jackson has blamed COVID-19 on stopping whānau from meeting to discuss Ihumātao. That's laughable when the Government is currently hosting APEC using video calls, and it raises the question of whether iwi even intend to follow through on their side of the deal and get homes built.

The Government opted not to put any clear timeframe for action in the Memorandum of Understanding, and has since clearly failed to impress any sense of urgency on iwi. In fact, Minister Jackson has not communicated with Kiingitanga on this matter since July."

Taxpayers deserve better. We forked out $30 million with the expectation of housing. Instead, all we've got is hui.

Exclusive: Taxpayers are forking out $103 per laundry service or shower provided by a Government-funded charity

Taxpayers are forking out $103 per laundry service or shower provided by a Government-funded charity, reveals the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

According to its 2020 annual review, taxpayer-funded charity Orange Sky received $437,500 from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development for the 2020 financial year and in that time provided 4,248 free mobile laundry and shower services for the homeless.

Union spokesman Annabel Fleming says, "Orange Sky claims that for its 2020 funding it produced $557,000 of "social impact", but by its own admission only a quarter of that impact came from shower and laundry services, the rest of the touted benefits supposedly coming from quality of life gained by 'friends' (the homeless) and by volunteers delivering the services."

"In other words, the supposed benefit to taxpayers from our investment is based on completely vague notions of wellbeing that cannot be measured in any objective way."

"The big winners here aren't the homeless, but the charity's Australian management. In 2020 Orange Sky paid a whopping $159,485 on management fees to its Australian parent organisation more than the claimed value of its shower and laundry services."

Shower/laundry services:

Orange Sky says that in 2020 it provided 2,378 loads of laundry and 1,870 showers, with a claimed 'social impact' worth $144,000. In other words, Orange Sky claims that each shower or laundry service it provides is worth around $34. Of course, in the real world a shower or laundry service from a public pool or laundromat costs just $5 or so.*

*A washing cycle at Newtown Laundromat, in an area in which Orange Sky operates, costs $4 for a 4kg load. Entry to Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre's facilities at the full adult price costs $6.60.

Benefit of conversations:

Orange Sky says that in 2020 it provided 3,086 hours of conversation to the homeless, with a claimed "quality of life" benefit of $274,000 – or $89 per hour of conversation. Of course, it is difficult to imagine a social service provider paying unqualified workers $89 per hour – but that is how much Orange Sky claims its conversations are worth.

Benefit for volunteers:

Orange Sky claims the benefits are even greater once the benefits to the volunteers are taken into account. Orange Sky says its 112 volunteers in 2020 enjoyed $122,000 in "quality of life" benefits $1,089 per volunteer. It is unclear how the charity calculates the quality of life benefits for their volunteers.

Background:

Orange Sky originated in Queensland, Australia and arrived in New Zealand in May of 2018, with the Government announcing funding that same year.

In its mission statement, Orange Sky markets itself as a provider of practical services for the homeless: 'We want to make sure that everyone has access to free laundry and shower services – but most importantly – the opportunity to connect and feel welcome.'

Funding for Orange Sky was first announced by Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford in 2018.

...

UPDATE: Orange Sky's Brisbane-based senior marketing manager has emailed the Taxpayers' Union with a response to this blog post. You can read their response here, and our reply here.

Call to scrap booze tax as hospitality reopens

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is calling on the Government to support the hospitality sector with a temporary suspension of alcohol excise tax paid by bars and restaurants. A petition has been launched at www.taxpayers.org.nz/happy

Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “The hospitality sector has been hammered by COVID-19 lockdowns and deserves support to bounce back. Now that Auckland bars and restaurants are back in business, the Government should kick off the summer with an immediate commitment to refund or eliminate all alcohol excise paid by hospitality operators for the next few months.”

“Aucklanders have been stuck getting drinks delivered from off-licences for 100 days now. Discounted drinks at bars and restaurants would get New Zealanders out to support the establishments we’ve been cheating on during lockdown. And many of us will stick around to pay for meals and pub snacks.”

“Even for a revenue-hungry government, temporary suspension of excise at on-license venues would be a highly affordable COVID response measure. Even if we eliminate the excise tax for 12 months, the $168 million* in lost revenue would equal just 0.24% of Grant Robertson’s $69 billion COVID response fund.”

“This idea is an economic no-brainer and a political winner. New Zealanders love happy hour. Let’s make it last all summer.”

The elimination of alcohol excise would result in:

• $0.77 off a 500ml handle of 5% beer.
• $2.73 off a 1.8L jug of beer.
• $0.58 off a 187.5ml glass of 13% wine.
• $2.33 off a bottle of wine.**

*Estimate based on $1.2 billion in total annual alcohol excise tax, of which 14% comes from on-licenses.

**Figures are based purely on the elimination of excise tax. If the Government also chose to refund the GST that is charged on the excise, savings would be greater.

Taxpayer Update: Message to Luxon | Three Waters ads canned | Taxpayers get "Milked"

Dear Supporter,

A note on National's new leadership

Luxon and Willis

You will have seen the news that Chris Luxon has been selected as the National Party's new Leader, with Nicola Willis as Deputy.

Here's the reaction from our Executive Director Jordan Williams:

It is to Chris Luxon’s credit that he is one of the few MPs to have taken a pay cut – in his case of over $4,000,000 a year – to enter Parliament, having left the top position at Air NZ. He is a person who is clearly motivated by public service rather than raiding the taxpayer’s wallet.

He is one of the few MPs who has paid more tax in this life than he has taken out of the system, unlike most Labour MPs and sadly many National MPs.

We are urging Chris Luxon to confirm he will maintain major commitments to taxpayers made by previous National Party leaders – such as indexing income tax brackets for inflation, reining in Superannuation costs, opposing new asset taxes, and repealing Three Waters legislation should it pass under this Government.

Jordan and I interviewed Chris Luxon in two recent episodes of the Taxpayer Talk podcast – on Three Waters and on congestion charging.

Taxpayer Victory: Government's Three Waters ads canned for straying into propaganda

Ad canned

You've probably seen the Government's Three Waters ads. The childish, condescending cartoons have been played to death on TV and cost taxpayers $3.5 million.

What you might not know is that the Government isn't allowed to use taxpayer funds to persuade the public to support a Government policy.

BusinessDesk has revealed that the ads have now been canned early due to concerns from the Public Service Commission that the campaign was ‘straying into advocating government policy rather than explaining policy’.

This is good news and ought to be a major embarrassment for the Government. But it still feels like too little, too late. The ads were allowed to run for months, during a highly sensitive council engagement process. And the Government’s Three Waters propaganda site, backed by taxpayer-funded Google ads, is still online.

BusinessDesk has also reported that officials at the Department of Internal Affairs have withheld the release of details of the campaign’s marketing and communications proposal, after taking 50 working days to respond to an information request.

This raises obvious questions. Is the marketing proposal being kept secret because it reveals in plain language that the campaign was always intended to influence political opinion?

The Ombudsman is currently investigating the Department of Internal Affairs's failure to explain how these ads were signed off. Watch this space.

Ratepayers drive 500km to protest Three Waters

Media scrum

How good is this! Yesterday we joined a group of Thames-Coromandel ratepayers who travelled to Wellington to hand over signatures from local residents and ratepayers calling for proper local consultation on Three Waters.

Cheers to Scott Simpson, MP for Coromandel, who accepted the petition and attracted a scrum of media desperate for his comments on the National Party's leadership contest.

Our nationwide petition is still active at www.ThreeWatersPetition.nz. Once Nanaia Mahuta formally unveils the legislation (possibly next week), we'll be making a renewed push to get the petition to 100,000+ signatures.

Taxpayers Milked by anti-dairy documentary

Milked poster

You may have seen the marketing for a new anti-dairy documentary, "Milked".

We've discovered the film is taxpayer-funded: it received a $48,550 "finishing grant" from the Film Commission.

The film argues that the dairy industry causes climate change, pollutes water, destroys land, abuses cows, and victimises dairy farmers. It's explicitly political, with constant shots of the Beehive in the trailer, and features contributions from Greenpeace, SAFE, and the Green Party. And it appears to be part of a wider anti-dairy campaign – the promoters have erected billboards attacking the dairy sector.

Milked billboard

As we've said with the Government's Three Waters ads, taxpayers should never be forced to fund political propaganda. We accept that sometimes it can be difficult to define what makes a documentary "political", but Milked is a clear-cut case of activism intended to shift public opinion on a major issue of policy and economics.

Click here to read more – including the Film Commission's pathetic response to our questions.

New Zealand's worst landlord: the Government

State housing

The past week has seen an avalanche of reports of Kāinga Ora tenants terrorising their neighbours. Kāinga Ora is the Government's social housing agency.

Despite the abuse suffered by neighbours, Kāinga Ora has not evicted a single tenant since 2018. This is part of the Government's official policy of "sustaining tenancies".

Here's just one experience from someone living next door to a Kāinga Ora property, as told to the NZ Herald:

In a terrifying 2019 incident, the man says his house was "smashed up" at 3am by a meth-crazed man linked to the Kāinga Ora property who tried to break into their home.

The homeowner chased the intruder down the road with an umbrella to protect his petrified partner and later discovered a discarded knife.

The couple then spent thousands of dollars building a fortress-like 2.5m metal perimeter fence and installing security cameras for their protection. The fence has since been repeatedly vandalised by the tenants - who have Mongrel Mob links - costing thousands of dollars in repairs.

The man suspects the Kāinga Ora property is operating as a "tinny house". He has witnessed savage beatings on the road, and has footage of the neighbours abusing him, firing an airgun at his home, hurling large river stones on to his roof and smashing a car windscreen with a brick.

This lowlife behaviour completely disrespects the efforts of taxpayers who make social housing possible. We're even forking out thousands for compensation payments to victimised neighbours.

The Government's refusal to evict problem tenants sends the message that social housing comes with a free pass to act like animals.

State housing should be set up to handle difficult tenants, but that doesn’t mean we should throw all standards out the window. Thousands of more deserving New Zealanders are currently living in cars or garages and would gratefully take the place of violent tenants.

Wellington City Council spends $11,000 on translation of spatial plan

Translation

Here's an odd case of council waste: Wellington City Council spent $11,482 producing a te reo translation of the summary of its new spatial plan – a city planning document.

Just 50 te reo copies were printed. That's a translation cost of $220 per printed copy.

This is a council that cries poverty at every opportunity and just hiked rates by 13.5%. It’s a terrible look that they still can’t resist tokenistic gestures like translating reports into Māori versions that no-one will ever read.

New episodes of Taxpayer Talk 

If you enjoy these email updates but want to see more in-depth analysis, I recommend our podcast, Taxpayer Talk. Below is a selection of recent episodes.

How do Kiwis view China? What do they think of the Queen? Will an ACT-National Government lead to radical policy from the right? David Farrar joins Taxpayers' Union researchers Max and Levi to analyse a recent mega-poll of 5000 New Zealanders. Listen here.

IRD

Inland Revenue recently sent 400 letters out to New Zealand's wealthiest individuals in an attempt to figure out how much tax they pay on their economic income. Could this be the lead up to a wealth tax grab? Jordan joins tax expert Mike Shaw for answers. Listen here.

Prior to being selected as National's new Deputy Leader, Nicola Willis broke the story of Kāinga Ora promoting an activist while planning to cover up their knowledge that the activist was about to stand for Labour. Listen here.

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

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

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Media coverage:

Homepaddock  Rural round-up

Homepaddock 
The right of reply Stuff won't publish 

Stuff  Points of Order: Covid vaccine targets become milestones

NZ Herald  Thomas Coughlan: What is Labour without Covid?

NZ Herald  Bill Ralston: The pandemic has distracted us from politics

Newshub  Climate activists plan to disrupt Groundswell protest, organizer suggests they watch Country Calendar instead

The Press  Is Ardern abdicating the leadership?

NZ Herald  Covid 19 Delta outbreak: 31 unvaccinated Oranga Tamariki staff on paid special leave

Manawatu Standard  Mayor rejects 'politiking' criticism

NZ Herald  Claire Trevett: Simon Bridges' road back to National leadership hits pothole

Indian News Link  Labour suffers at opinion polls but National is too weak to capitalise

NZ Herald  Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Big call bosses must make before demanding jabs

Newstalk ZB  Heather du Plessis Allan: the popular or polarizing Prime Minister?

Gisborne Herald  Political headwinds for Labour, Ardern

NZ Herald  This week critical for Ardern after her rating slumps

Stuff  Manawatū mayor rejects campaign against Three Waters is anti-Labour

Indian Weekender  Week in Politics: Will 1 December be Auckland's 'Freedom Day'?

Q+A  Q+A with Judith Collins

Stuff  New Covid-19 bill is a case of government overreach

Stuff  Three Waters opposition sees some of the worst political impulses leak out

NBR  Red light for Auckland, protest confusion, and a virtual Apec

Stuff  Before or after Christmas? The question Nation MPs are starting to ask about Judith Collins' leadership

RNZ  Week in Politics: Will 1 December be Auckland's 'Freedom Day'?

ACT  Newsletter: The Week in Action - ACT Party

NZ Herald  Polls highlight PM's need to get Aucklanders out of town

The Spinoff  Live updates, November 11: Six new cases of Covid-19 confirmed in Stratford, Taranaki

The Daily Blog  2 new polls highlight the problem of National & ACT

Stuff  Meta apologises for blocking links to Groundswell's website

ACT  The gap is closing and we can win in 2023

The Guardian  Jacinda Ardern's popularity plunges as New Zealand reckons with a new era of endemic Covid

Stuff  New poll shows Labour dipping below 40 per cent, National up slightly

Kiwiblog  Labour down in two polls

NZ Herald  Covid crash: Labour support slumps in two new polls

Newstalk ZB  The Huddle: School's back, Ardern visit and AstraZeneca

Taxpayers Milked to the tune of $48K for anti-dairy propaganda

Milked posterThe New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is challenging the New Zealand Film Commission’s funding criteria after it gave anti-dairy documentary Milked a $48,550 “finishing grant”.

The film, currently screening in New Zealand cinemas, argues that the dairy industry causes climate change, pollutes water, destroys land, abuses cows, and victimises dairy farmers. The film is explicitly political, with constant shots of the Beehive in the trailer, and features contributions from Greenpeace, SAFE, and the Green Party. The film appears to be part of a wider anti-dairy campaign – the promoters have erected billboards attacking the dairy sector.

The 40,000 New Zealanders employed in the dairy industry are unlikely to be happy to learn they are funding a film that attacks the source of their livelihoods. And that’s to say nothing of the rest of us, who all benefit from dairy’s enormous contribution to New Zealand’s economy.

We wish the filmmakers well in their attempts to win hearts and minds, but that doesn’t mean they should receive government money for their propaganda. Just imagine the outcry from certain groups if the Taxpayers’ Union received government money to produce a film on the evils of socialism.

BillboardThe filmmakers have been far from upfront about the government support they’ve received. The film’s marketing makes no mention of the financial contribution of the Film Commission. The only public record of the payment is deep in the Film Commission’s funding database.

The Film Commission has form for funding political propaganda. Back in 2016, they gave more than $900,000 in funding to Capital in the 21st Century, a documentary based on the book by left-wing economist Thomas Picketty. And last year, it was reported that the makers of a film about Jacinda Ardern intended to apply for funding, before the film was put on hold.

There is nothing in the Film Commission’s funding criteria to prevent political propaganda from receiving taxpayer funding. In fact, it’s worse than that – the Commission appears wilfully ignorant about the political implications of its work. We asked if the Film Commission is funding political content, and they told us no. That’s laughable.

Taxpayers should not be forced to fund political propaganda. We accept that sometimes it can be difficult to define what makes a film political, but Milked is a clear-cut case of activism with a primary purpose of shifting public opinion on a major issue of policy and economics.

The Film Commission had agreed to speak to the Taxpayers’ Union in a podcast interview about its funding practices, but then claimed its representatives were unavailable once they saw our questions. They instead provided written answers, which are pasted below.

Does the Film Commission accept that it is funding political content? i.e. documentaries that explicitly seek to shift the public’s view on issues of policy/economics.

No. The New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) supports a variety of projects with a diverse range of themes and content, through its development and production funds. There are criteria which must be met by all projects seeking funding from the NZFC, which includes market interest and the ability to attract a theatrical audience.

Are political messages a factor in decisions to fund (or not fund) films? What about the presence of active politicians within films?

No. The NZFC is an autonomous Crown entity, which funds and promotes New Zealand filmmaking. The NZFC’s funding framework is neutral and only requires films to meet the criteria of the specific fund. Section 17 of the NZFC Act states that the Minister may not give direction to the Commission in relation to cultural matters. The types of films and filmmakers that the NZFC can support is determined by Section 18 of the NZFC Act.

Does the Film Commission accept that Milked is an explicitly political film?

We have no opinion on the documentary in question which met the criteria for the funding it received.

Is the NZFC aware that Milked appears to be part of a broader anti-dairy campaign? Note the billboards being put up by the film’s producers. If the billboards promoting the film instead said, “Party Vote Green”, would this be a cause for concern for the FCTC? I.e. a taxpayer-funded film being used as a tool in a partisan campaign.

Our involvement with the documentary in question was purely in regard to the criteria of the Feature Film Finishing Grant, which the production met.

In the case of films applying for the Feature Film Finishing Grant, the NZFC examines the content’s diversity and inclusion factors. Does this include political diversity?

There are clear guidelines and criteria that productions have to meet when applying for the Feature Film Finishing Grant. The documentary in question met these criteria.

What about more commercial films such as those funded under the NZSPG? Is it ‘open slather’ in terms of the content that is funded, political or otherwise?

Productions that meet the criteria, both New Zealand and International, are eligible to submit an application for the New Zealand Screen Production Grant, which is assessed by the NZSPG Panel.  Once the NZFC receives an application, it is checked to ensure that it is complete and includes all relevant documents.

The complete application may be sent to an independent consultant contracted by the NZFC or assessed internally at the NZFC. The independent consultant’s role is to assess the application against the requirements of the criteria. If necessary, the applicant will be contacted to provide further information about the application,

The NZFC will prepare a report, based on the independent consultant’s report, for the NZSPG Panel to consider. It is NZSPG Panel’s role to assess whether the application satisfies the criteria.

Filmmakers are themselves an interest group with values and political leanings distinct from the general population. Their beliefs are presumably reflected in the product they create, and that you fund on behalf of taxpayers. If it turns out that films applying for funding are disproportionately informed by (say) left-wing values, is this a problem? How does, or how could, the NZFC deal with this?

The NZFC supports a diverse range of New Zealand and international stories to be told and seen by audiences everywhere. Market attachment, either by an invitation to screen at an international film festival, local distribution or a sales agent indicates audience interest And of course, the criteria of the particular fund must be met.

Has any work been done to retrospectively to evaluate the political content of films/documentaries funded by the Film Commission? Do you think a wide spectrum of political ideas are represented in films the NZFC funds? Milked aside, can you name any other examples of political content funded by the NZFC?

The films the NZFC funds must meet the funding criteria and show the ability to reach a theatrical audience in New Zealand. We aim to represent all New Zealand’s diverse voices, stories, and communities.

We conduct ongoing research about audiences and the industry.  This, and our regular publications, including Annual Reports, Statements of Intent and Statements of Performance Expectations can be found in the Resource Library.

We are strongly committed to increasing diversity in the film industry. We have developed new initiatives that support filmmakers from all backgrounds and encourage them to express their unique voices through original storytelling.

Women remain under-represented in our screen industry, so we have introduced programmes, including bespoke production funding initiatives, to assist women to build sustainable careers.

If the Taxpayers’ Union produced a film with a strong political message and wanted the same grant Milked got, how would we go about that? What are our chances?

Like any production, the Taxpayers’ Union would have to submit an application which meet the Feature Film Finishing Grant criteria.  

 

David Farrar on Lord Ashcroft's Mega-Poll

How do Kiwis view China? What do they think of the Queen? Will an ACT-National Government lead to radical policy from the right? Pollster David Farrar joins Taxpayers' Union researchers Max and Levi for a discussion about all this and more from a recent mega-poll of 5000 New Zealanders.

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

Is Inland Revenue Hunting for a New Wealth Tax?

Inland Revenue recently sent 400 letters out to New Zealand's wealthiest individuals in an attempt to figure out how much tax they pay on their economic income. Could this be part of a lead up to a wealth tax grab? Join Jordan and tax expert Mike Shaw for answers.  

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

The Three Waters op-ed Stuff doesn't want you to read

The following op-ed was written by Taxpayers' Union Executive Director Jordan Williams in response to a piece published by Stuff and the Sunday-Star Times. Stuff refused to publish this, even when the Taxpayers' Union offered to pay for it as a half-page ad.

Op-edIrresponsible to label Three Waters critics racist

In her drive to ram through the Three Waters reform package, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has been aided by commentators eager to write off opposition to reform as scare-mongering or even racist. There is perhaps no better example than Andrea Vance’s recent column.

Vance dismisses councils who have protested the theft of assets. She argues it’s not theft because – as the Government says – water assets will still ‘belong’ to local communities, just with some loss of control.

What does Vance think ownership means? Here’s how Gary Judd QC puts it: “Legal scholars argue about what is meant by ownership, but it is certain that if one has no rights in relation to a thing — e.g., no right to use it, to enjoy it, to gain a return from it, to dispose of it, to destroy it, to control it or to control its use — one does not own the thing.”

It's like a car thief writing to say how much they’re enjoying ‘your’ set of wheels. Nice of them to say it’s yours, but that doesn’t fill the hole in your garage.

Vance’s relaxed attitude toward theft is not, however, what prompted me to write this column.

Vance makes a serious accusation: certain groups are exploiting fear by playing the race card. She even names the groups – Hobson’s Pledge, the Opposition parties (presumably National and ACT), and your humble Taxpayers’ Union are singled out as encouraging a ‘nasty undercurrent of racism’.

This demands a response.

It is true that these groups have highlighted or protested the co-governance model which will see iwi join with councils on a 50-50 basis to appoint the representative groups that form the ‘community voice’ under the new regime.

It is also unfortunately true that any debate over co-governance will spur a bitter minority of New Zealanders to voice anti-Māori rhetoric. (Credit to the interns who have to moderate such comments on the Taxpayers’ Union Facebook page.)

But it is not true that merely raising the issue of co-governance equates to race-baiting. Co-governance is an important aspect of the Three Waters proposal, and its implications require scrutiny.

Iwi will bring distinct values and interests to the water board table. What are the financial implications – which will be borne by all ratepayers – of iwi using their 50 percent input to advance these interests? What protections will there be from what economists call ‘rent seeking’?

To what extent will iwi have control over water pricing and investment under a model that confers iwi half the votes, while the other half are given to councils that are themselves introducing co-governance through Māori wards?

And doesn’t the requirement for a 75 percent vote on any major decisions result in an effective iwi veto right? It certainly looks that way to us, but Mahuta was at pains to deny it during an interview on the Taxpayers’ Union podcast.

There are major problems here that require attention in the media and Parliament. And none of the problems here have to do with the fact that iwi representatives are Māori. The problems lie in an elevated level of control exercised by a chosen set of interest groups above any other unelected entities.

In fact, conflating issues of iwi governance with issues of race only makes it easier for those best-connected iwi that are given seats at the table to claim that they represent all Māori, while less-connected Māori communities are shut out.

Co-governance is far from the only problem with the Three Waters reforms. Iwi representation is just one aspect of four levels of bureaucracy that will separate all ratepayers – including Māori – from the valuable water assets we’ve all paid for. But co-governance does seem to be the issue that sticks in the noses of liberal commentators weighing up which side of a policy debate is the side of virtue.

Whenever the Taxpayers’ Union mentions the words ‘co-governance’, we expect an instinctive lashing out from advocacy groups on the political left. But political journalists have greater power – the ability to set the boundaries of mainstream debate – and therefore greater responsibility to avoid accusations like that of racism, which serve to shut down substantive concerns over major reform from reasonable people who fear being branded bigots.

Stuff has insisted that its decision to accept funding from the Government’s Public Interest Journalism Fund does not make it beholden to the Government. That’s great to hear. But anyone who cares to check can read the Government’s five stated goals for the fund. The third goal: ‘Actively promote the principles of Partnership, Participation and Active Protection under Te Tiriti o Waitangi’.

Vance’s column will have done little to mend perceptions that, at least when it comes to Three Waters, the media is influenced by Government funds.

Revealed: Wellington City Council spends $11,000 on Māori translation of spatial plan

Document

Wellington City Council spent $11,482 plus GST producing a te reo translation of the summary of its new spatial plan, reveals the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

Just 50 te reo copies were printed – resulting in a translation cost of $220 per printed copy.

Māori translations of planning documents are exactly the kind of low-priority council spending that should be on the chopping block during a pandemic.

This is a council that cries poverty at every opportunity and just hiked rates by 13.5%. The council needs to demonstrate that it’s making sacrifices commensurate with what it’s demanding from Wellington ratepayers. It’s a terrible look that they still can’t resist tokenistic gestures like translating reports in te reo versions that no-one will ever read.

The information was provided after the Union filed an official information response written in te reo. The response was also provided in te reo, however in this case the Council used an internet translation service.

Nicola Willis on Kainga Ora Corruption

National's housing spokesperson Nicola Willis has broken a story about corruption and collusion within our national housing agency. Sadly, this isn't the first time Nicola has broken such a story about Kainga Ora but it is certainly the most shocking. Join Jordan for the full sordid story.  

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

Taxpayer Update: Our latest poll | Buzzing the Beehive | Inflation menace

Dear Supporter,

Taxpayers’ Union Curia poll: Labour down six points

The results of November's Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll, exclusive to our members and supporters like you, are available here.

Labour are down six points to 39%. The National Party up four to 26%. And that's not the only bad news for the Government with both Jacinda Ardern's popularity as Preferred Prime Minister sinking (but she is still well ahead) and – for the first time in more than a decade – more Kiwis saying the country is heading in the wrong direction than the right one.

Party support graph

Head over to our website to see the results.

Three Waters: We take to the skies in Wellington, and grill the Minister

Plane and banner

Ministers and bureaucrats got a fright when they looked up yesterday. We organised for a Taxpayers' Union supporter to fly a "Stop Three Waters" banner across the city and over the Beehive.

Banner over Beehive

This came the day after Nanaia Mahuta fronted up to us for a podcast interview, fielding a volley of questions submitted by Taxpayers' Union supporters.

Click here to listen to the full interview.

Here's the key takeaway from the interview:

We asked Mahuta very clearly whether Three Waters would result in the introduction of water royalties (i.e. payments to iwi for the right to use water). Mahuta ducked, dived, and ran up our limited interview time with standard talking points, but ultimately failed to rule out introducing water royalties.

Our petition against Three Waters has now reached 81,000 signatures. We're running ads against Three Waters on TV, radio, Facebook, and Youtube. And we commissioned a poll revealing that 56% of New Zealanders oppose the reforms, versus just 19% in support.

If you've not already, please take a moment to "share" our Say No to Three Waters television ad on Facebook.

The fact Nanaia Mahuta even agreed to the interview demonstrates that the Beehive is feeling the pain from this campaign. They know our Three Waters effort is resonating with New Zealanders, so that's why we're doubling down.

We're planning to put even more pressure on the Prime Minister to overrule Nanaia Mahuta so long as our supporters ensure we have the campaign funds available. If you've not yet chipped in, our crowd-funded campaign hasn't finished. Every dollar donated on this page will be used to fight Three Waters.

The next big economic problem for taxpayers

Inflation is becoming a real problem. Stats NZ has confirmed that prices have lifted 4.9% in the last year. Inflation memeRising inflation is an indictment on the Government’s print, borrow, and spend economic strategy. But it's great for the Government's coffers – inflation pushes our wages up into higher tax brackets even when we’re no better off in real terms.

So far, the Government has refused to adjust tax thresholds to reflect the effect of inflation, even though it happily adjusts Super and benefits annually.

80%

Already, due to inflation, the average worker is paying a marginal tax rate of 30%. Soon that will be 33%.

Here at the Taxpayers' Union, we've uncovered the Reserve Bank's proposed new bank notes which we expect to be in circulation by 2026...

Mock bank note

PM's welfare package punishes the productive

At the Labour Party's big conference over the weekend, Jacinda Ardern announced a boost to Working for Families tax credits.

But in her enthusiasm to make the policy appear more generous, she has intensified the way that welfare traps New Zealanders in poverty.

She is offsetting the cost of higher payments by increasing the abatement rate for the Family Tax Credit from 25% to 27%. (Ten years ago it was just 20%.)

In other words, low-earning New Zealanders who choose to work harder, achieve a promotion, or take on a side-hustle will be whacked by even higher effective marginal tax rates. That reduces incentives to work, and sets the poverty trap.

The abatement rate is effectively a marginal income tax rate. The combination of income taxes and abatement rates on tax credits means some Kiwis are already paying effective marginal tax rates of more than 50%. We should be fixing this problem, but the Prime Minister is making it worse.

Government waste honoured at 2021 Jonesie Awards

Jonesie photo

We hosted the fourth annual Jonesie Waste Awards in the Beehive last week – our Oscars-style awards ceremony celebrating the best of the worst of local and central government waste from the last 12 months. Click here to find out who was nominated and who won.

Jonesie video
To watch our (firmly tongue in cheek) event in full click here.

While the presentation of awards is designed to be ironic, it does serve a very serious purpose: the Jonesies remind those who squander public money that they risk public embarrassment. The awards give those who fleece the taxpayer the credit they so richly deserve.

You can't beat COVID with Māori Pokemon

Once again, we've delved into dodgy arts grants handed out in the guise of the COVID response.

This time it's not Creative NZ, but the parent agency – the Ministry for Culture and Heritage – which is splurging with a new $60 million COVID-19 "Innovation Fund"

Here's a small sample of the taxpayer-funded projects announced so far:

  • $585,000 to develop a te Reo Māori virtual reality game.

  • $20,000 on "a digital storytelling platform using the vaka [canoe] as medium for navigating and exploring Tokelauan heritage"

  • $2,110,000 for live music venues to increase diversity.

  • $290,000 to "an online game for rangatahi [youth] that imagines a Māori future".

  • $500,000 on a tool to give readers book recommendations that reflect intersectionality and gender diversity.

  • $328,405 to develop a Pokemon Go-style augmented reality game based on Te Ao Māori.

  • $1,323,000 on two productions of Māori performing arts.

It is hard to see how a Māori ripoff of Pokemon Go could be considered a COVID-19 response. Especially when our health system is crying out for more nurses and ICU beds.

The arts funding is an absolute lottery. We understand that even many artists are questioning handouts from this fund based on the incredible size of certain grants, and the lack of apparent logic behind the selection of recipients.

You can read more about these grants here.

Kiwis not keen on James Shaw's Glasgow junket

Climate Change Minister James Shaw has now touched down in Glasgow for the United Nations' big climate talkfest.

We commissioned independent Curia public polling on Shaw's decision to attend (along with 14 staff).

Shaw poll 1

Just 30% of New Zealanders support the trip, versus 55% opposing. 15% are ‘unsure’.

We say the Glasgow junket flies in the face of New Zealanders’ sacrifices. Taxpayers currently denied opportunities to travel will foot the bill for the Minister and his staff’s flights, accommodation, and dinners. New Zealanders waiting for spots in MIQ have been shunted aside in favour of Shaw's entourage. And the emissions-heavy travel itinerary is, of course, a glaring case of climate hypocrisy.

You can read the full results (including a breakdown in views by political party) here.

Victory for taxpayers: Labour’s trade unions repay wage subsidies

E Tu

The Taxpayers’ Union has revealed that the Labour Party’s trade unions – First Union and E Tū – have repaid the full $1.6 million they received in wage subsidies, as we called on them to do earlier this year.

E Tū admitted to Stuff that its repayment came after an audit by MSD found it didn’t qualify. First Union has not revealed whether it qualified in the first place.

As beneficiaries of steady revenue from membership dues, it was always questionable how these unions were ever eligible for the subsidy. The fact they could afford to spend money on campaigns to re-elect the Government last year suggests they were hardly strapped for cash.

The weird part is how secretive these unions have been about their decision to repay the subsidy. They could have announced it proudly and encouraged other unions to do the same. Instead, the repayment has only been made public thanks to an eagle-eyed Taxpayers’ Union researcher monitoring MSD records and confirming the repayment using the Official Information Act.

The incredible numbers behind Michael Wood's tram to Māngere

Michael Wood

After ditching his doomed bike bridge, Transport Minister Michael Wood has unveiled a spending project that might be even dumber. His revamped Auckland tram proposal comes with a revamped price tag of $14.6 billion.

That number is almost too high to comprehend, so we've broken the cost down in terms that hopefully even Michael Wood can understand:

  • $608,000,000 per kilometre

  • $608,000 per metre

  • $6,080 per centimetre

  • $608 per millimeter
  • $7,978 for every Kiwi household from Kaitaia to the Bluff

  • More than twice as much as Labour's original 2017 tram-to-airport proposal and five times higher than NZTA's 2016 tram-to-airport proposal

  • Equal to the estimated cost of a second Waitematā Harbour crossing

  • Enough to build four new Transmission Gully motorways

  • Enough to build ten new Dunedin Hospitals

  • Enough to build 21 Waitematā Harbour cycle bridges

  • Enough to conduct another 540 flag referenda

  • Enough to buy every house in Whanganui

Clearly, the cost has ballooned into lunacy before shovels have even touched ground. Every dollar thrown at this gold-plated transport project is a dollar that can't be used to ease financial pressures on Kiwi households dealing with the economic effects of a pandemic.

New episodes of Taxpayer Talk 

In addition to our interview with Nanaia Mahuta, we've released four new episodes of our Taxpayer Talk podcast since my last Taxpayer Update.

Tina Nixon of Masterton District Council famously called the Government "A deceitful, lying pack of bastards" for their proposed Three Waters reforms. Join her and Jordan as they dive into the danger of this asset confiscation by central government. Listen here.

Nanaia Mahuta has announced that the government will mandate to seize Three Waters assets from councils. Jordan is joined by National's spokesperson for Local Government Christopher Luxon to discuss the implications, the flaws and what can be done about the government's plans. Listen here.

What's the secret to ACT's success? Why after years of campaigning are they opposing housing reforms? Who does David Seymour think should win the biggest government spending blowout award? Jordan and David discuss this and more. Listen here.

Jordan is joined by New Zealand Initiative Economist Matt Burgess for a detailed discussion about the Emissions Trading Scheme. They reflect on the government's long standing stance of ignoring the realities of the trading scheme, the inefficiency of climate change vanity projects and what we can do moving forward. Listen here.

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

Magic Talk  Panel discusses the government's summer festival insurance announced today - adequate enough or does it fall short?

Newshub  Judith Collins brushes off speculation her leadership under threat from Simon Bridges

Timaru Herald  Mackenzie District CEO to depart after turning down contract extension

Sunday Star-Times  Losing faith in our central bank

Homepaddock  Jonesie Awards highlight waste

BusinessDesk  On the Money: Peter Beck's midas touch, BTS, James Cameron, and more

Kiwiblog  What you could get instead of Michael’s trams?

Democracy Project  Graham Adams: Jacinda Ardern and the Ghost of David Lange

Stuff
 E tu and First Union repay $1.6 million wage subsidies, Unite says it can’t

Kiwiblog  Propaganda campaign not working

Dominion Post  Audacity of water assets grab boggles the mind

Stuff  This week shows not all political flip-flops are created equal

Kiwiblog  Fund this ad to stop Three Waters

NZ Herald  Mahuta right on water reforms

Newshub  Nanaia Mahuta admits Three Waters ’not a popular set of decisions’, says ‘misinformation’ causing unnecessary fear

The Daily Blog  Global pressure mounts ahead of COP9 conference

The Country  Three Waters: Decisions announced by Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta

Newshub  Government to force Three Waters reforms on councils

Newshub  Jacinda Ardern denies Taxpayer resources used to organise wedding, would cooperate with investigation

NZ Herald  PM defends staffer's role in wedding plans, says they worked hard to follow the rules

Home Paddock  Inflation steals from us all

The Daily Blog  Moving To The Right

Otago Daily Times  Ardern denies allegation parliamentary resources used to help plan wedding 

The Daily Blog  Taxpayers Union Poll - What if pundits are wrong & this is National's death spiral?

NZ Herald  Let's get Kiwis home for Xmas

NZ Herald  Jacinda Ardern pours cold water on wedding allegations, saying staffer helping as a friend

National Business Review  Economic recovery, a climate plan, an excited Act

Stuff  If these poll numbers continue, Nats could have a new leader by Christmas

Newshub  Coronavirus: International media paints grim picture of New Zealand COVID outbreak

Waatea News  Martyn Bomber Bradbury – Political Commentator

NZ Herald  New Taxpayers Union poll had National just six points ahead of Act

Home Paddock  Higher costs for no gain


Taxpayer Talk: Nanaia Mahuta grilled by Taxpayers’ Union on Three Waters

In a long-awaited interview with Nanaia Mahuta, the Local Government Minister fields questions from Taxpayers’ Union supporters on her controversial Three Waters reforms. Listeners will decide for themselves whether her ducking and diving effectively addressed concerns over ratepayer input, iwi veto power, and forecast costs.  

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

>>> Click here to visit our Stop Three Waters campaign site <<<

"A deceitful, lying pack of bastards" Three Waters with Tina Nixon

Cr Tina Nixon has no shortage of harsh words for the proposed Three Waters reforms. Join her and Jordan as they dive into the dangerous implications of this asset confiscation by central government.  

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

>>> Click here to visit our Stop Three Waters campaign site <<<

Government waste honoured at 2021 Jonesie Awards

The fourth annual Jonesie Waste Awards were hosted at the Beehive today, celebrating the best of the worst of local and central government waste from the last 12 months.

The Taxpayers’ Union selected five nominees and a winner from each of the local and central government categories, along with one Lifetime Achievement Award winner.

Taxpayers are likely to view the wasteful spending presented today in the context of the current pandemic. How, for example, can the Government justify spending $17 million on art therapy programmes when our DHBs are crying out for more resources in intensive care?

Similarly, local councils across the country have this year implemented record rate hikes, while failing to make the budgetary sacrifices experienced by households losing income during lockdown.

While the presentation of awards is tongue-in-cheek, it does serve a serious purpose: the Jonesies remind those who squander public money that they risk squandering their public reputation, and potentially, their careers. The awards give those who fleece the taxpayer the credit they so richly deserve.

2021 Local Government Nominations

AUCKLAND COUNCIL: "INNOVATIVE" DOTS AND ROAD BLOCKS
Auckland Council used a multi-million dollar cash injection from Wellington to innovate its streets. $100,000 was spent painting dots and patterns in Takapuna. In Onehunga $41,000 was spent blocking a road with plywood crates, which were promptly vandalised and moved by locals.

HAMILTON CITY COUNCIL: TURNING GOVERNANCE INTO CHILD'S PLAY
While planning an 8.9% rate hike, Hamilton City Council hired a "play advocate" who tasked councillors and staff with making lego ducks. The council also sent staff into school classrooms to collect submissions from children on its iwi partnership strategy.

NELSON CITY COUNCIL: SPENDING $800,000 ON A TOILET BLOCK, TWICE
Nelson City Council's new toilet blocks at Tahunanui and Millers Acre cost $800,000 each. This adds to a proud history of toilet-related overspends in the sunny city.

TAURANGA COMMISSION CHAIR ANNE TOLLEY: FIX-IT FAIL
Anne Tolley is paid $1,800 a day to fix problems at Tauranga City Council. Under her watch the city has seen record rate hikes, council salary bloat, and infrastructure botch-ups.

ROTORUA LAKES MAYOR STEVE CHADWICK: SEVEN DEPUTY CHIEF EXECUTIVES
Rotorua Lakes Mayor Steve Chadwick has overseen an "organisational realignment", giving her chief executive seven deputies, each paid more than $200,000.

2021 Local Government Waste Award Winner: Tauranga Commission Chair Anne Tolley

2021 Central Government Nominations

DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION AND TE PAPA: MISTREATMENT OF A DEAD TURTLE
The Department of Conservation shipped a dead leatherback turtle from Bank's Peninsula to Wellington and stored it in a Te Papa freezer for 21 months, before trucking it back down to Canterbury for a high-powered, fully-catered funeral and a helicopter ride to a hilltop burial site.

RT HON TREVOR MALLARD: DRAGGING TAXPAYERS THROUGH THE MUCK
The Speaker of the House incurred $333,000 in legal fees and settlement costs after falsely accusing a Parliamentary staffer of rape. When facing defamation action, Mallard threatened to plead truth, despite later admitting he knew he was wrong within 24 hours of the accusation.

HON PHIL TWYFORD AND HON MICHAEL WOOD: THE $785 MILLION BIKE BRIDGE
The budget for Twyford's troubled 'Skypath' proposal blew out by 1000% when Michael Wood turned it into a stand-alone cycle bridge. The bridge has now been scrapped, but $51 million and has already been wasted, and spending on engineering reports hasn't stopped.

RT HON JACINDA ARDERN (AND CO): $2.75 MILLION FOR THE MONGREL MOB
The Prime Minister, along with the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Justice, signed off on $2.75 million in funding from the Proceeds of Crime Fund for a Hawke's Bay meth rehab programme run by members of the Mongrel Mob – the key supplier of meth in the region.

TOURISM NZ: $918,000 FOR A ROD STEWART SINGALONG
Tourism NZ spent $918,000 to have Rod Stewart sing his hit "Sailing" for the America's Cup. Sir Rod did not appear in person, or even cross live – the performance was pre-recorded on a barge in London, lip-synched, and prefaced by an interview with Clarke Gayford.

2021 Central Government Waste Award Joint Winners: Department of Conservation and Te Papa

Lifetime Achievement in Waste Award Winner:

Hon Grant Robertson gained his political experience in student politics, even writing a dissertation on the subject, before graduating to roles at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the United Nations.

After stints advising Helen Clark and working for the University of Otago, he was elected as the MP for Wellington Central, the one seat that doesn't seem to care about private sector experience.

In 2017 he was appointed Finance Minister for the Labour Government, and maintained a fairly conservative approach to public finances until the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

He announced a $12 billion COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund and quickly topped it up by another $50 billion. This soon revealed itself to be a Provincial Growth Fund-style slush fund, only at far greater scale.

Examples of spending from the Finance Minister's "COVID response" fund include $12 million for flood protection in the Far North, $26 million for cameras on fishing boats, $50 million for "regional digital connectivity", $52 million for the horse racing industry, $55 million for "public interest" journalism, $87 million on internet modems for school kids (including Mike Hosking's child), $100 million for affordable housing projects, $155 million for "Transformative energy" projects, $200 milion on a new building for the University of Auckland, $210 million for "Climate resilience" projects, $374 million in arts grants (including $17 million for art therapy programmes), $515 million for school lunches, $761 million to support Three Waters reform, and $1.2 billion on "jobs for nature" such as paying people to shoot wallabies.

Only about a quarter of the money was spent on wage subsidies.

Inevitably, the fund ran dry upon the arrival of a second COVID outbreak. Grant Robertson simply announced he would top it up by another $7 billion.

Grant Robertson's "no new taxes" promise was also jettisoned at some point, with new taxes on housing investments and a new 39 percent tax rate for high-earners.

It is only fair that we give Grant Robertson the 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in government waste – for making Shane Jones look like a symbol of lean and efficient government.

Notes to editors:

The Jonesies are named after Hon Shane Jones, the winner of the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in Government Waste. The Jonesies follow the same format as the Canadian “Teddy” Awards, which have been presented annually by the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation since 1999.

The Jonesie Waste Awards are made possible by the members and financial supporters of the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

Taxpayer Talk: Three Waters with Christopher Luxon

Nanaia Mahuta has announced that the government will mandate to seize Three Waters assets from councils. Jordan is joined by National's spokesperson for Local Government Christopher Luxon to discuss the implications, the flaws and what can be done about the government's plans.  

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

It’s no wonder local councils are rebelling against LGNZ

The following is an opinion piece by Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams.

Local Government New Zealand President Stuart Crosby resorted to name calling in a recent opinion piece, calling the thousands of New Zealanders who emailed local councillors about Three Waters “wilfully ill-informed keyboard warriors”.

This is a desperate attempt to find a scapegoat for the crumbling support for the Government’s Three Waters proposals, which LGNZ are supporting.

New Zealanders’ opposition to the Three Waters proposal has spilled over into anger at LGNZ for their support of the reform programme. Ironically LGNZ’s president accuses the reform’s opponents of playing fast and loose with the facts for political gain.

Crosby, in an opinion piece published by stuff, suggests New Zealanders are victims of deception, while refusing to explain exactly what he think that deception is.

Which ‘facts’ does he dispute? That the reform will introduce four layers of bureaucracy between ratepayers and the new water entities? That the Government’s own peer review found the touted financial benefits to be detached from reality? Or that 60 out of 67 councils have signalled either an intention to opt out or major concerns with the reforms?

LGNZ’s president returns to the tired justification trotted out by proponents of the Government scheme that greater efficiencies from economies of scale will translate to more manageable debt and more affordable water costs. The theory goes that the absolute loss of local control over water assets is simply an acceptable for tradeoff for these hypothetical financial benefits.

This theory is undermined by two simple questions. What incentive will unelected water monopolies have to keep costs low? What guarantee is there that councils will provide commensurate rates relief to offset the new water bills charged to ratepayers?

Some councillors are surprised that the president of LGNZ is supporting such fundamental reforms opposed by his member councils.

There is a very simple reason LGNZ is playing puppet for the Government on Three Waters. The organisation signed an agreement with central government which sees it receive taxpayer funding in exchange for a commitment “to build support within the local government sector for the Three Waters Reform Programme”. This sits at odds with Mr Crosby’s claim in his opinion piece that LGNZ “tends to stay on the side-lines” in this debate.

In other words, LGNZ’s support for Government’s Three Waters plan is bought and paid for.

This shady deal was signed without consultation with LGNZ’s member councils. That’s despite the reforms promising a fundamental transfer of control over billions of dollars’ worth of local assets.

It’s no wonder that a growing faction of rebel councils is denouncing LGNZ, with Timaru District Council voting to leave the body, and others set to vote on doing the same.

Blinkered by central government dollars and underestimating the strength of ratepayer pushback, Stuart Crosby has backed his organisation into a corner, pushing an absurd false dichotomy that councils must either support the reforms or perpetually endure crumbling pipes. Hawkes’ Bay councils’ independent proposal for regional amalgamation show us there are other options.

In the end ignoring your constituent members and launching ad-hominem attacks on their ratepayers isn't going to make their concerns disappear. With legislation not having yet reached Parliament, the debate over Three Waters has just begun.

REVEALED: Government’s favoured unions repaid $1.6 million in wage subsidies

The Taxpayers’ Union has today revealed that the Labour Party’s trade unions – First Union and E Tū – have repaid the full $1.6 million they received in wage subsidies. This comes after the Union called on them to do so earlier this year.

We’d like to congratulate these left wing unions on finally doing the right thing by taxpayers. As beneficiaries of steady revenue from membership dues (as opposed to donations), it was always questionable how these trade unions were ever eligible for the subsidy. The fact they could afford to spend money on campaigns to re-elect the Government last year suggests they were hardly strapped for cash.

The weird part is how secretive these unions have been about their decision to repay the subsidy. They could have announced it proudly and encouraged other unions to do the same, like we did. Instead, the repayment has only been made public thanks to an eagle-eyed Taxpayers’ Union researcher monitoring MSD records and confirming the repayment using the Official Information Act.

E Tū admitted to Stuff today that its repayment came after an audit by MSD found it didn’t qualify. First Union has not revealed whether it qualified in the first place.

Of course, the Taxpayers’ Union came forward to repay its wage subsidy, even though, unlike the left wing unions, we qualified to receive it. For us, it was a matter of principle: it’s difficult to claim you’re an independent watchdog when you’re funded by the Government.

Taxpayer Talk: David Seymour

What's the secret to ACT's success? Why after years of campaigning are they opposing housing reforms? Who does David think should win the biggest government spending blowout award? Jordan and David discuss this and more in this weeks episode of Taxpayer Talk. 

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

Poll reveals what New Zealanders think of Three Waters

Main poll

Newly-released data from the Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll reveals opposition to the Government’s Three Waters reform plans outweighs support by three to one.

The poll of 1,000 New Zealanders reveals 56% oppose the reforms, with just 19% in support. 24% are unsure. The full polling report is available here.

Opposition outweighs support among supporters of every significant political party. Labour supporters oppose the policy at a rate of 39%, versus 28% in support and 34% unsure.

Opposition outweighs support across every age group, and is especially strong among older New Zealanders who are more likely to pay rates.

Wellington has the lowest rate of opposition to the reforms, but even there opposition outweighs support, with the largest grouping being unsure. Opposition is highest in small towns and rural areas.

The Government didn’t give councils time to conduct proper consultation with their communities before submitting feedback on the reforms, but many thousands of New Zealanders made their voices heard anyway by emailing their local councillors. Now we have the hard data to back up evidence of widespread opposition.The Government’s $3.5 million ad campaign has failed to shore up support for Three Waters reform.

This poll reveals that opponents of Nanaia Mahuta’s multi-billion dollar asset grab are far more than a vocal minority. Most ratepayers are repelled by the prospect of removing control of water assets from local councils and burying it under four layers of co-governed bureaucracy.

Mahuta’s Three Waters crusade is rapidly turning into albatross around the Government’s neck. We’ve previously seen the Prime Minister acknowledge public opinion by u-turning on the capital gains tax and the Auckland cycle bridge. It’s time for a similar captain’s call over Three Waters.

The poll was taken from Sunday 3 October to Monday 11 October. The Taxpayers’ Union is running a petition against the Three Waters reforms which so far has 63,000 signatures. It can be signed at www.threewaterspetition.nz

Exclusive: New poll reveals opposition to Shaw's Glasgow trip

Shaw poll 1

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union has today released independent Curia public polling on Climate Change Minister James Shaw's upcoming attendance at the Glasgow climate conference. 

The Minister, accompanied by 14 staff, will fly to Glasgow where daily COVID-19 cases currently exceed 400. On his return, Shaw and nine of his staff will occupy 10 MIQ spots. The Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll asked whether New Zealanders believed the Minister and his staff should be attending this conference.

The poll shows just 30% of New Zealanders support the trip, versus 55% opposing. 15% are 'unsure'.

Only Green Party supporters expressed a majority in favour of the trip. Labour supporters were split roughly in opinion; National, ACT and unaffiliated respondents showed strong opposition.

Shaw poll 2

With the current severe domestic and international COVID-19 travel restrictions, the Minister's overseas adventure flies in the face of New Zealanders' sacrifices. Given the evident lack of public support, the trip is an unwanted blow to the taxpayers footing the bill for the Minister and his entourage's flights, accommodation, and dinners.

While one already struggles to see economic justification for the trip, the environmental costs seems even more unbalanced. With an average fly time of 50 hours for a return trip from Auckland to Glasgow, the Minister and his staffers will emit more than 125 tonnes of CO2 travelling to and from the climate conference. As we've said previously, if the Minister had wanted to avoid perceptions of climate hypocrisy and wasteful travel, he should have announced the New Zealand contingent would be calling in via Zoom.

You can't beat COVID with Māori Pokemon

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union is challenging the value of large arts grants handed out under the Ministry for Culture and Heritage's new $60 million COVID-19 "Innovation Fund"

So far, thirty two projects have received $6.2 million from the fund. The questionable taxpayer funded projects include:

•  $585,000 to develop a te Reo Māori virtual reality game.

•  $20,000 on "a digital storytelling platform using the vaka as medium for navigating and exploring Tokelauan heritage"

•  $2,110,000 for live music venues to increase diversity.

•  $290,000 to "an online game for rangatahi that imagines a Māori future".

•  $500,000 on a tool to give readers book recommendations that reflect gender diversity.

•  $328,405 to develop a Pokemon Go-style augmented reality game based on Te Ao Māori.

•  $1,323,000 on two productions of Māori performing arts.

It is hard to see how a Māori ripoff of Pokemon Go could be considered a COVID-19 response. Especially when our health system is currently crying out for more nurses and ICU beds.

We've criticised arts grants in the past, but these particular handouts are even more shocking for their sheer size. $1.3 million for two performance art productions does not represent good value for taxpayer money. In fact, that's more tax than an average worker would pay in their lifetime. It would be far fairer to split this money between all artists as a tax credit or just return it to the taxpayer for that matter.

The most incredible thing is that so far barely a tenth of the total fund has been allocated. If these are the projects first off the rank, that doesn't bode well for the remaining rounds of handouts.

This funding is an absolute lottery. We understand that even many artists are questioning handouts made under this fund based on the incredible size of certain grants, and the lack of apparent logic behind the selection of recipients.

Below is a longer list of project descriptions from successful grant applicants.

Atuatanga
To develop 'Atuatanga', an interactive virtual reality gaming experience that will use te Reo Māori and mātauranga Māori to engage players through challenges as they navigate through an ancient world restoring the taiao for future generations.
Awarded: $585,000

Narrative Muse
To support the development of Narrative Muse, a digital platform to help Aotearoa audiences access books, movies and television content that reflects intersectionality and gender diversity.
Awarded: $500,000

Zealanesia
To scope the development and prototyping of a digital storytelling platform using the vaka as medium for navigating and exploring Tokelauan heritage. This will enable and improve Tokelauan and Pasifika access and participation in art, culture and heritage.
Awarded: $20,000

TPW - Māori Pokemon
To develop creative assets for an augmented reality app called Pūrākau. The app embeds Te Ao Māori content into the environment around us using mixed reality technology. The project is delivered via smart phone devices to enable accessibility to a wide audience.
Awarded: $328,405

Taki Rua Productions
The development and delivery of two immersive live productions of large-scale contemporary Māori performing arts pieces. By presenting mātauranga Māori within contemporary performances the project will increase access and participation to both mātauranga and contemporary performance art.
Awarded: $1,323,000

QWB Lab
To design a suite of tools that helps arts and culture organisations to measure, understand, increase and articulate their wellbeing impact in order to unlock the value of culture and their assets. The development of these tools is aimed at increasing the capacity to generate wellbeing for communities, helping improve access and participation.
Awarded: $150,000

Public Art Heritage Aotearoa NZ
To develop a website of Aotearoa’s remaining twentieth century public art heritage, which will enable New Zealanders to access and build awareness of our public art heritage. Funding will also support the development of a national public art forum to develop best-practice guidance and resources for those involved in public art.
Awarded: $300,000

NZ Festival
To develop a new values-driven ticketing platform, empowering audiences to choose their own ticket price, thereby increasing access and participation in the cultural sector.
Awarded: $200,000

Metia Interactive
To develop Guardian Maia, an online game for rangatahi that imagines a Māori future and uses culturally inclusive creative technology to explore mātauranga Māori traditions and new cultural concepts.
Awarded $290,000

Aotearoa Live Music Recovery Project
To support small to medium sized live music venues with artist and audience development that increases diversity. The project will increase access and participation in live music.
Awarded: $2,110,000

DOTDOT
To develop a platform to enable artists, arts venues, arts organisations and cultural institutions to create their own hybrid and virtual events, allowing them to reach new audiences and drive new revenue streams for their work.
Awarded: $206,965

Joel Baxendale and Karin McCracken - In World
To develop a flexible and dynamic creative tool that will enable multiple sectors to apply app-technology in an interactive context, thereby creating new opportunities for the arts sector and enabling access and participation.
Awarded: $227,605

Taxpayers’ Union asks Jacinda Ardern to clarify role of electorate secretary acting as wedding planner

The Taxpayers’ Union has today written to the MP for Mt Albert asking for more details about her electorate agent’s role in managing the Gisborne wedding venue, given the staffer is based in Auckland and wouldn’t normally travel for her job.

We know of at least two visits to Gisborne by the electorate agent, and it remains unclear whether taxpayers paid for the travel and any accommodation.

MPs enjoy a privileged position. It is important for public confidence that it is made clear no taxpayer money is being used for personal benefit.

This isn’t the first time the Taxpayers’ Union has taken an investigative role in the spending of taxpayer money by MPs. Under the last Government we held to account National Party MP Claudette Hauiti after she used her budget to pay for a personal trip to Australia, and National Party Ministers who used Crown limos to travel to Northland to campaign for the 2015 by-election.

Unfortunately, MPs have a special carve-out from the Official Information Act, meaning that it is up to the Prime Minister to release this information. But given her public commitments to transparency, and her office’s assurance that everything is above board, we look forward to being furnished with the information sought.

The letter is available here.

Wilful Ignorance: disregarding the ETS will hurt us all

Jordan is joined by New Zealand Initiative Economist Matt Burgess for a detailed discussion about the ETS. They reflect on the government's long standing stance of ignoring the realities of the trading scheme, the inefficiency of climate change vanity projects and what we can do moving forward. 

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

Taxpayer Update: Our exclusive new poll | Taxpayer-funded political parties | Bike bridge $$

Dear Supporter,

New Taxpayers’ Union Curia poll released: Labour & Greens down, National & ACT up 📊

Exclusive to members and supporters like you, we commissioned another Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll that shows support for National and ACT is up, while Labour and the Greens are down. ACT is at a record high for our polling company.

Our expert pollster (and Taxpayers’ Union Co-founder) David Farrar has advised numerous Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition. On election night in 2014, John Key described David as “New Zealand’s best pollster”.

David and our Executive Director Jordan Williams have just recorded a podcast where they delve into the numbers, what they mean, and the advice David would be giving Judith Collins and Jacinda Ardern reading this report. You can listen to the Taxpayer Talk episode here (the episode will also appear on Apple Podcasts, and Spotify in the next few hours).

Head over to our website to read the results.

Trend graph

The Government is putting taxpayer funding for political parties onto its agenda 💸

Faafoi

The Government has announced a review of electoral laws that will consider, among other things, taxpayer funding for political parties.

We will be fighting this for four key reasons:

  • Morally wrong: Taxpayers should not be forced to fund political parties that they find reprehensible. We expect our money to be spent on services, not party political propaganda.

  • Corrupted process: Kris Faafoi says he will be reaching out to political parties for ideas on this review. But elected political parties – the very same ones who will vote on this reform – have a vested interest in cementing their place in Parliament and maximising their revenue. Of course politicians on the left and right will jump at the chance of getting taxpayer money, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.

  • Entrenches power: Elected political parties already have a massive advantage over political outsiders thanks to their Parliamentary funding. Giving money to the private wings of these parties will only serve to further disadvantage outside voices during elections.

  • Erodes grassroots democracy: If political parties are given taxpayer money, they will be less dependent on membership dues and cake stall fundraisers, reducing the incentive to act according to their members’ values. That’s a disaster for democracy. Guaranteed taxpayer funding for political parties will result in a less accountable, Wellington-centric political environment.

In short, we can't trust politicians to lead these reforms. Perhaps we need to nominate a taxpayer representiative for the review board. Watch this space...

Why is Sean Hendy’s modelling group getting $6m for advice Treasury is paying $30k for elsewhere? 💰

Hendy and co

The NZ Herald reports that the Prime Minister's department has awarded Shaun Hendy and Siouxie Wiles's modelling group $6 million in contracts to forecast COVID-19.

For perspective, Treasury has commissioned its own pandemic modelling from an independent advisory firm costing a mere $30,000.

Here's what Jordan had to say:

Te Punaha Matatini (TPM) appears to be acting as the ‘single source of truth’ for this Government, and is getting paid like a greedy monopolist. Given the wild inaccuracies of pandemic modelling around the world, our leaders should be getting advice from multiple agencies and experts, not betting the house on friends of the Government.

It stinks of arrogance by the Prime Minister’s Department to refuse to answer questions posed by the NZ Herald about the procurement rules followed in awarding the TPM contract. That raises very real questions about this contract, and quite what it was for.

LGNZ must stop its Three Waters sock puppetry 🎭

Crosby

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) is the ratepayer-funded lobby group meant to represent the interests of local councils.

But they missed the memo on Nanaia Mahuta's Three Waters reform, a multi-billion dollar asset grab that is opposed by the vast majority of local councils.

In fact, LGNZ has literally sold out its position to the Government, signing a "Heads of Agreement" which sees the group getting taxpayer funding in exchange for "build[ing] support within the local government sector for the Three Waters Reform Programme".

Timaru District Council is so frustrated with LGNZ's kowtowing to the Government that they have seceded from the group, and Christchurch City Council is preparing to do the same.

This week LGNZ President Stuart Crosby wrote an opinion piece for Stuff in a labourious attempt to quell dissent from councils. He complains about "wilfully ill-informed keyboard warriors on social media" and makes the extraordinary claim that "we have tended to stay on the sidelines of public debate about Three Waters reforms".

He fails to disclose the fact that LGNZ is explicitly paid to advance the reform agenda! Nor did Stuff's editors note this obvious conflict of interest.

LGNZ is broken, misleading the public, and totally unaccountable to ratepayers. In fact, due to a legislative mistake, LGNZ is exempt from official information laws despite being a publicly-funded body. We're glad to see local councils waking up to the LGNZ's failures.

More than 55,000 New Zealanders have now signed our petition against Three Waters. If you haven't already, add your name here.

55k have now signed

The Government is still burning money on the cancelled Auckland bike bridge 🚴 🚒

The Problem With Auckland&#39;s $685m Cycle Bridge | Scoop News

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated the Government's decision to scrap its $785 million cycle bridge across the Waitemata Harbour. That move came after 59,000 New Zealanders signed our petition on the issue, backed by our billboard campaign.

But now the NZ Herald reports the Government is still paying a consortium of contractors to complete designs of Auckland’s scrapped cycle bridge.

$51 million has already been thrown at this scrapped project, with shovels never even touching ground.

And now we're still spending, just to get some pretty pictures. This is the kind of waste that only happens when you’re dealing with ‘other people’s money’.

It’s time to end this rort and move on. Tell the engineers and consultants to put down their pencils and find work on projects New Zealanders actually want.

Emissions reduction plan will create costs without reducing emissions 🍂

Yesterday the Government unveiled a new 140-page Emissions Reduction Plan setting forth a raft of new restrictions on our economy and lifestyles. Here are some of the proposals:

  • A 20 percent target reduction on vehicle kilometres travelled by 2035

  • A 25 percent target reduction from freight transport by 2035

  • A target to have 30 percent zero emissions vehicles by 2035

  • Increase public transport subsidies

  • A vehicle scrappage scheme to incentivise low-income New Zealanders to shift to low-emissions transport

  • Investigate how the tax system should be used to push low-emissions transport options

  • Set a maximum CO2 limit for individual light petrol vehicle imports to tackle the highest emitting vehicles

  • Introduce measures to limit imports of high-emitting vehicles rejected by other countries

  • Limit additional highway and road capacity in line with climate change targets

  • Use congestion pricing to discourage driving

  • End the expansion of gas pipeline infrastructure and eliminate "fossil" gas in all buildings as recommended by the Climate Change Commission

  • Investigate a mandatory energy performance certificate for commercial and public buildings

But there's a massive elephant in the room: none of these proposals will actually reduce New Zealand's total emissions, because these emissions are already set by the Emissions Trading Scheme.

In short, when the Government uses regulation to cut emissions from a source already covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme – say, transport – carbon credits are simply freed up making it more affordable to produce emissions in other ways. That is why the UN advises countries against regulatory interventions when cap-and-trade schemes are in place.

Even if the laundry list of new regulations did succeed in reducing total emissions, a Government-knows-best approach inevitably means blunt measures with higher costs than a carbon pricing system. The particular circumstances of some businesses will mean switching to electric heating or electric vehicles, for example, will involve inordinate cost.

Ignoring the ETS and using a hundred different regulations to whack unfashionable sectors is divisive, costly, and cynical politicking.

Our members and supporters made up the largest group of submitters to the Climate Change Commission on the same plan, sending twice as many submissions as the next largest group (Forest and Bird). You can read our submission here.

Our response to the OCR hike 🏦

Last week the Reserve Bank increased the Official Cash Rate for the first time in seven years. Here's what Jordan told the media:

Today’s OCR hike – which will see households squeezed with higher mortgage payments – is a direct result of the Government’s reckless spending over the last 18 months.  Even worse, with COVID’s economic shock now coming, it comes at the very worst time for households.

The Government needs to do all it can to focus on quality, not quantity, of spending. Its programme of money-printing and borrowing for political purposes has pumped up inflation to unacceptable levels and left future generations of taxpayers with a debt monster. Higher interest rates will increase the financial pain caused by that debt.

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

NZ Herald  Three Waters: Minister Nanaia Mahuta defends Māori involvement after councillors criticise 'asset grab'

Democracy Project 
Graham Adams: The debate over the $55 million media fund erupts again

Indian Weekender 
World Health Organisation could learn from NZ's stance on vaping

Stuff 
Elimination has been abandoned - or not. The PM isn't clear

NZ Adviser 
Industry slams government for OCR announcement

Newsroom 
Three Waters: The 7 mayors pushing back against a tide of effluent

The Country 
Councils buckling under Three Waters pressure from 'ill-informed' community, mayor says

Homepaddock 
Interest rates rising

Kiwiblog 
110 additional taxpayer funded journalists

Kiwiblog 
Guest Post: In defence of James Shaw

Stuff 
There's a case for water reform - but not this undemocratic asset grab

Homepaddock 
Pravda Project at work

RNZ 
More time, consultation needed for Three Waters reform - Whakatāne District Council

Stuff 
'It's just a bloody nuisance': Southland Mayor on Three Waters email bombardment

Stuff 
Why we should be concerned that public service neutrality is eroding

Parliament 
Simon Bridges on the COVID-19 Response (Management Measures) Legislation Bill

Newsroom 
Timaru secedes from NZ councils in Three Waters fight against Government

Te Awamutu Courier 
Time up for Three Waters decision

Gisborne Herald 
Polling message to both major parties

RNZ 
Political commentator Ben Thomas on National Party poll drop

The Daily Blog 
TVNZ Poll – The rise of ACT

NZ Herald 
Claire Trevett: Covid lockdown poll slump a warning to PM that patience is wearing thin; and things get worse for Judith Collins

Indian Weekender 
National will struggle to win back lost ground without a convincing Covid plan

NZ Herald 
1 News-Colmar Brunton poll: National, Labour down; Judith Collins crashes to 5% as preferred PM

NZ Herald 
Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Claire Trevett - is Sir John Key's comments a bigger headache for Judith Collins or Jacinda Ardern?

Stuff 
Covid-19: The Prime Minister continuing to use the term 'elimination' is disingenuous

NZ Herald 
Judith Collins doubles down on her future as National Party leader

Hawkes Bay Today 
The Outsider Insider: Awful week for the National Party

Taxpayer Talk: Exclusive polling and analysis with David Farrar

Labour, Greens down and National, ACT up. Those are the headlining figures from the exclusive Taxpayers' Union Curia Market Research monthly poll. A change in COVID-19 strategy has been harsh on the governing coalition with the opposition swooping in to pick up support. Jordan is joined by Curia owner and media commentator David Farrar for analysis of the results. 

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

New survey reveals WHO at odds with Kiwi vapers

Vaping survey

More than two thirds of vapers believe New Zealand’s approach to vaping as a tobacco harm reduction tool is world-leading and should be promoted overseas to save millions of lives, according to a new survey conducted by research house IRI.
 
The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has released this research an anticipation of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Conference (COP9) this November.
 
The IRI survey, conducted in September, asked more than 500 Kiwi vapers what they thought of New Zealand’s use of vaping as a tool to help smokers quit. Over 80 per cent said vaping had helped them to reduce or quit smoking. A further 62 per cent believed New Zealand should speak out against any efforts by the WHO to ban or restrict vaping.
 
Union spokesman and vaper Louis Houlbrooke says, “First, the WHO pressured countries like New Zealand into adopting sky-high tobacco taxes. Now, the same organisation is expressing unfounded hostility to vaping – a tool that in New Zealand has been shown to help smokers quit cigarettes, saving on tax and reducing harms to health.”
 
New Zealand’s own Ministry of Health has endorsed vaping as a quit aide and the Union is calling on the Ministry’s delegates at COP9 to promote this position internationally.
 
Vaping has been proven to be more than twice as effective in helping smokers quit as other methods, such as nicotine patches, gum or lozenges, and New Zealand’s success at using vaping to drive down smoking rates was recently featured in a white paper on international best practices authored by the Property Rights Alliance.
 
“Vaping is a New Zealand success story,” says Mr Houlbrooke. “Smoking rates have plummeted to all-time lows since vaping was legalised, and we’re seeing Jacinda Ardern’s Government embrace vaping to help Kiwis quit. It’s irresponsible of the WHO to peddle vaping misinformation when eight million people globally still die from tobacco-related illnesses annually. That’s almost twice the population of New Zealand, every year.”
 
“Kiwi vapers recognise that New Zealand has a moral imperative to speak up at COP9 and work with other countries who’ve embraced vaping, such as the UK. Millions of lives are at stake.”
 
Notes to editors:
 
The complete polling dataset can be found hereTaxpayers’ Union Campaigns Manager Louis Houlbrooke contributed research to the white paper on international best practices, which can be found here.
 
Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall says the Government has yet to decide whether it will support the formation of an inter-sessional working group to examine evidence on vaping as a harm reduction tool at COP9.
 
The Coalition of Asia Pacific Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA) has a website dedicated to collecting testimonials from former smokers who have used vaping to quit or reduce their tobacco consumption. It includes more than 14,500 testimonials and can be found at www.righttovape.org.

We need to stop Three Waters reform

Dear Supporter,

Three Waters report cover page

Over the last few months, we’ve been swamped with questions from supporters across the country about Nanaia Mahuta’s plan to reform “Three Waters”. She and her Cabinet colleagues want to take billions of dollars’ worth of drinking water, waste water, and storm water assets off the hands of local councils and put them under the control of four new unelected, co-governed entities. Those entities will be able to impose limitless water charges (i.e. tax) without the power of ratepayers to hold them to account.

While it’s unusual for us to defend the competence of local councils, the idea that unaccountable water entities co-governed with iwi are going to result in efficiencies is laughable.

Today we are launching our plan to defeat it by mobilising councils against this undemocratic asset grab. We're asking for two minutes of your time to email your local council to tell them to 'opt-out' of the Government's proposals, before it is too late.

Click here to use our new tool to quickly contact your local councillors and tell them to reject Nanaia Mahuta’s plan.

Here’s why Three Waters reform must be defeated

We’ve produced a briefing paper for New Zealanders to get up to speed with Mahuta’s Three Waters proposal. I’ve summarised the most alarming points below.

✖️ Four layers of bureaucracy will separate the new water entities from accountability to ratepayers.

✖️ The entities will be represented by Entity Boards, each appointed by an Independent Selection Panel, which is appointed by a Regional Representative Group, which is appointed by iwi and local councils (as many as 20 of them) on a co-governance basis.

✖️ Major decisions will require 75% majorities, so in effect, iwi will have veto rights over these decisions. That will hand unelected iwi groups the negotiating power to impose new costs on ratepayers such as water royalties – a payment for ratepayers’ right to use water.

Government spin on Three Waters has been appalling

The Government claims its reforms will reduce costs. But as councils up and down the country have pointed out, the financial modelling is based on error-ridden spreadsheets and unrealistic assumptions. Nor does the model take into account the financial implications of iwi control “co-governance”.

And even if the plan does reduce costs on councils, there is no guarantee savings will be passed on to ratepayers. Do you really trust your council to cut rates just because it’s no longer funding water services? On what we’ve seen, no council is planning on cutting rates for the money they might save!

Incredibly, the Government claims the assets will still be “owned” by local councils. But as Gary Judd QC has explained: As the proposal deprives local authorities of all the rights of ownership, this “ownership” is a fiction. It is “spin” on a grand scale. Listing in the legislation does not confer ownership if it does not confer ownership rights.

It's crunch time: tell your Council to opt out before it is too late

The Government is pressuring 67 local councils to sign away water assets without giving them time to consult with ratepayers. But despite a $2.5 billion funding bribe, most councils are suspicious of the reforms.

In a recent Taxpayer Talk podcast interview, Westland Mayor Bruce Smith stated that 35 mayors may oppose the reforms, including mayors of Auckland, Christchurch, Whangārei, and potentially Wellington. Those mayors have pointed out that the bribe money comes from the revenue produced by the very assets being transferred away from councils. You can listen to that interview here.

Councils have until Friday to formally tell the Government whether they will opt in or out of the scheme. That’s why we’re asking you to have your say and tell your Council now, before it is too late. Tell your local Council to opt-out of these reforms.

Will you take two minutes to tell your local councillors to reject Nanaia Mahuta’s plan?

We’ve made it easy with our online tool – simply enter your details, select your council, and select the points to send to your local councillors. You are free to customise the message – a personal touch goes a long way, but try to keep it polite as the message will be sent to all your local councillors.

--> Click here to email your local councillors <--

By uniting New Zealanders and councils against the reform, we can deny Nanaia Mahuta the ability to claim a mandate for this asset grab.

What else can you do?

Firstly, you can forward this message to friends, family, and neighbours.

Secondly, you can sign and share our petition against Three Waters reform. This petition builds a database of New Zealanders who can be mobilised in the months to come in the likelihood that Parliament begins a legislative process.

Thirdly, you can boost the reach of this campaign by making a contribution to our war chest. There is power in numbers, and we will use your donation to extend the reach of our online ads, driving New Zealanders to our petition and email tool.

Donate

Thank you for your support.

Jordan

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

 

Taxpayer Update: Gang bill drawn | Toa's torture | Tax-funded media

Dear Supporter,

Bill drawn to end government funding of gangs

When it was revealed that a Mongrel Mob-affiliated group received $2.75 million to run a meth rehab programme, Taxpayers' Union supporters pitched in to publicise the Prime Minister's dodgy decision with nationwide newspaper ads and promotion of a petition signed by 24,000 New Zealanders.

Gangs ad

National MP Simeon Brown was paying attention. He submitted a bill to cancel the funding, and this week it was drawn from the Parliamentary members' ballot. This is fantastic news. The Government parties will now be forced to declare with a clear vote whether they believe gangs should be taxpayer-funded.

Hawke’s Bay meth bust stunning proof of why Mob shouldn’t get public money

The timing of the Bill couldn't be worse for the Government.

On Thursday eight people connected to the Mongrel Mob were arrested for selling meth in Hawke's Bay – the same community served by the rehab programme! It's stunning evidence of what we (and frontline police) have been saying all along: the Mongrel Mob profits from meth addiction, and therefore cannot be trusted to profit from the rehab too.

Harry Tam (the patched member who runs the rehab programme) should be hauled before a Parliamentary select committee to explain his relationship with the eight individuals arrested. Can he honestly say he’s not in cahoots with the gangsters slinging meth on his turf? We doubt it.

Taxpayers' Union briefs MPs on SkyPath disaster

SkyPath graphic

Government Ministers haven't mentioned their planned $685 million cycle bridge for a while – probably because they know it's turned into a political disaster.

59,000 New Zealanders signed our petition against the bridge, and many of our supporters like you chipped in to fund ads like the one above to expose the Government's misplaced spending priorities.

Thanks to the petition efforts, on Thursday MPs on Parliament's Petitions Committee were forced to consider the issue. I was given the opportunity to brief them on the many reasons why this project should be dumped.

Presentation to MPsClick here to watch my presentation.
(Skip forward to the 25:50 mark)

I summarised the problem with this point: shovels aren't even in the ground, and yet the proposal has already seen four massive budget blowouts. Just how much are we willing to waste on this project? $1 billion? $5 billion? When does it stop?

The response from the Green MP on the Committee: "You just don't like cyclists."

There's no winning with some people.

REPORT: How DOC spent $130,000 prolonging the pain of a baby orca

Toa image

After exposing the debacle involving DOC, Te Papa, a chartered helicopter and a funeral for a turtle, we decided it was worth asking for details of DOC's intervention around Toa, the baby orca that died after 12 days in confinement.

A full cost breakdown and stacks of internal correspondence have now been released. I sifted through the material personally and was shocked by what I found.

Click here to read the full report.

In short: DOC received advice from international orca experts that Toa couldn't survive in the wild, and that euthanasia was the most humane option. But the Department ignored the advice specifically citing interest from media, iwi, and politicians. That meant Toa died a slow, painful, and inevitable death.

This is a sad story that reflects badly on DOC.

COVID fund sucked dry, topped up

Grant Robertson

As we warned at the beginning of the Delta outbreak, Grant Robertson has now officially depleted his $50 billion COVID-19 response fund, and has now topped it up with another $7 billion in borrowed money.

On social media and in our communications to journalists we have been aggressively exposing examples of how the Government raided the COVID-19 response fund for political purposes.

The message is getting through. Take a look at this piece from Jason Walls of Newstalk ZB: Not a single cent more for podcasts, poetry and picture books in the name of ‘Covid recovery’

Billions and billions of dollars have been spent on projects that don’t come close to a semblance of sensible spending, let alone meeting the threshold for Covid Recovery.

Take the $18,000 for writing poetry that “explores indigeneity and love in the time of climate change,” for example.
...
Some $26.7 million was spent on cameras on fishing boats, in the name of Covid recovery.

There was also $200m for the construction of a new building at the University of Auckland.

And a whopping $1.22 billion was spent on the jobs for nature scheme – as a little perspective, that’s enough to buy roughly 1000 houses in Auckland.

If these examples seem familiar, it's likely because we were the ones to publicise them. The Opposition parties are now regularly citing our examples of waste, and it's getting under the skin of the governing parties.

In Question Time, Judith Collins asked the Prime Minister what $26,000 on a novel about alpaca breeders has to do with COVID-19. That was an example we highlighted from Creative NZ's $374 million COVID response package.

The Prime Minister waffled on about live arts performances being affected by COVID. I'm not sure what that has to do with an alpaca novel. But the interesting part was when her old friend James Shaw jumped in to take a dig at your humble Taxpayers' Union.

You can watch the exchange in Parliament here, at the 3:00 mark.

Questions in Parliament

The Government knows that the reason it's under pressure for its spending is us. And we are only able to sustain this pressure thanks to New Zealanders like you who support us to make this work possible.

Would you trust a Government-funded journalist?

Child journo

NZ on Air has announced grants for 110 new taxpayer-funded journalists.

For example, The Spinoff gets $427,800 of taxpayer money for two new journalists for two years. Stuff gets an incredible 20 new journalists, costing taxpayers $2.8 million!

At what point does the "Public Interest Journalism" fund begin to undermine the media's independence? Will articles written by these journalists include disclaimer statements?

If you're worried about the independence of our media, I strongly recommend you read this eye-opening piece by Graham Adams.

Mr Adams is a highly experienced journalist, and he released this article free for syndication – but no media outlets were interested in publishing it! I wonder why...

$62 million Dubai pavilion insults taxpayers and stranded expats

New Zealand Pavilion at Expo 2020

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise has unveiled its $62 million pavilion set up for this year's trade expo in Dubai.

The whole thing is a crass extravagance. Tens of thousands of Kiwis are stuck overseas, fighting for limited MIQ spots, while 400 bureaucrats, a few business people, and bands of entertainers get to skip the queue for the sake of a glorified convention.

Reportedly, some MPs plan on attending the expo. If they know what’s good for them, they’ll skip it. No one wants to see photos of Kelvin Davis greasing up Arabian princes. 👀

Spending tens of millions to have bureaucrats brown-nose billionaires sends the completely wrong signal about our business culture. New Zealanders take pride in having a fair go – that means getting ahead with hard work, not by hobnobbing with politicians and regulators.

(National shares the blame here for choosing to join the expo back in 2016.)

If the Government wants to woo international business, it should do so by removing regulatory barriers or winding back our 28 percent corporate tax rate – one of the highest in the developed world.

More waste and special treatment: James Shaw's Scottish odyssey

Shaw in a kilt

In a perfect world, extended disruption to international travel would have taught our politicians how to live without indulgent junkets. But James Shaw appears determined to make up for lost air miles: he's not just jetting to climate talks in Glasgow, he's bringing a contingent of 14 staff with him!

Shaw and eight of the staff will get special MIQ slots on their way home. This is becoming a bit of a theme, isn't it?

The Minister’s plan to burn jet fuel and taxpayer money is offensive on multiple levels. It’s a slap in the face to Kiwis queuing for limited MIQ spaces. It makes a joke of public health guidelines against unnecessary travel. It’s a clear case of climate change hypocrisy. And it’s an insult to taxpayers who have made financial sacrifices during a pandemic.

Taxpayer Talk: How Oranga Tamariki's ideology is harming Kiwi kids

We fund Oranga Tamariki to ensure the best possible outcomes for vulnerable children. But all too often, the agency is putting cultural dogma ahead of kids' needs. That's the theme of a recent column by Taxpayers' Union member Damien Grant published in Stuff in the Sunday Star-Times.

Damien joined our Executive Director Jordan Williams on the Taxpayer Talk podcast to discuss the tragic case of a girl named Moana, Oranga Tamariki's ideology, judicial interference by a Government chief executive, and the concerning silence from legal watchdogs.

🔊 Click here to listen to the episode.

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

NZ Herald  While the right revives, National seems focused on internal warfare

NZ Parliament  Oral Questions — Questions to Ministers

NZ Herald  
Louis Houlbrooke: World Health Organisation could learn from NZ's stance on vaping

Homepaddock  
Stop the ‘smorgasbord of abject waste’

Indian Newslink  WHO and global foundations accused of harmful interference

Newsroom  Manufactured outrage over Shaw’s Glasgow trip

Hawke's Bay Today  
The Outsider Insider: Awful week for the National Party

Wanaka App  
Upper Clutha District Council: Pros and cons

RNZ  The Panel with Sue Kedgley and Neil Miller

1 News  Judith Collins 'very secure' in role of National leader despite low polling

Stuff  We’re talking about nothing short of a National Party revolution

NZ Herald  Claire Trevett: A Simon Bridges, Judith Collins, National Party coup - whose terms would it be on?

RNZ  Metal jazz orchestra wins fans after Taxpayers’ Union criticism

Democracy Project  
The double-edged sword of the $55m government journalism fund cuts deep

RNZ  
The Week in Politics: Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate 

CAPHRA  Countries' case studies on vaping shatter WHO’s lies

Sunday Star-Times  What happened to 'Moana' was abuse at the hands of Oranga Tamariki

Gisborne Herald  Is the end nigh for Judith Collins?

NZ Herald  On the tiles: National’s pollster David Farrar on what the party needs to do

Kiwiblog  A curia poll the media have overlooked

Newshub  National shouldn’t overreact - Simon Bridges talks down leadership spill rumours

Newsroom  Collins is the master of her own death spiral

RNZ  Calls for pension extension for those stuck in Australia

NZ Herald  National knows something needs to change

The Spinoff  Judith’s doing a great job - senior national MP backs leader despite crushing poll

NewstalkZB  David Seymour: There is a growing appetite for change in Government

RNZ  Chris Bishop backing Judith Collins after Curia poll, says party needs to do better

Politik  Is Bridges the answer?

Newsroom  ‘Paranoid storm’ and a poll from hell cloud Collins’ leadership

Newshub  National Party slumps to 21.3 pct, ACT just 6 points behind in new NZ Taxpayers’ Union poll

NZ Herald  The National Party’s polling company has the party crashing to within six points of ACT

 

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

Donate

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.

Taxpayer Update: Where your money went | Clean car propaganda | Higher ETS levies

Dear Supporter,

Exposed: how the Government exploited COVID-19 to spend more of your money

Since my last newsletter, the Taxpayers’ Union has continued to expose how the Government has frittered away the $62 billion COVID-19 response fund.

The COVID response fund was 20 times larger than Shane Jones’s infamous Provincial Growth fund, and yet even before the current lock down, Grant Robertson had whittled it down from $62 billion to a measly $5 billion.

COVID meme

So, what happened to the money?

Grant Robertson is trying to tell New Zealanders that the money went toward essential business support like the wage subsidy. In reality, wage subsidies made up less than a quarter of the spending.

Below are some examples of how the money was actually spent. Judge for yourself whether this spending really has anything to do with COVID-19.

  • Flood protection in the Far North: $12,500,000

  • Cameras on fishing boats: $26,600,000

  • "Regional digital connectivity": $50,000,000

  • Horse racing: $52,500,000

  • "Public Interest" Journalism: $55,000,000

  • Internet modems for students: $87,000,000 (even Mike Hosking’s kid got one)

  • Affordable housing projects: $100,000,000

  • "Transformative energy" projects: $155,000,000

  • Various large-scale construction projects: $180,000,000

  • Construction of one building at the University of Auckland: $200,000,000

  • "Climate resilience" projects: $210,000,000

  • Arts grants: $374,000,000 (e.g. $17 million for art therapy clinics)

  • School lunches: $515,800,000 (yes, half a billion dollars)

  • "Jobs for Nature": $1,219,000,000 (e.g. the infamous wallaby-culling job creation scheme, which cost $200,000 per low-paying job created)

In short, the Government abused New Zealanders’ trust, exploiting a pandemic to establish New Zealand’s largest-ever political slush fund.

Following our work exposing this abuse of the COVID fund,it's good to see the Opposition parties now picking up our examples and pushing them hard in the media.

With a new lockdown imposing massive costs on businesses, households, and taxpayers, there is a real risk that the money will run out. Grant Robertson now claims that he can claw back some of the funding that was allocated but not spent – that’s almost an admission that he misused the fund.

But he’s also talking down the problem of the dwindling fund, saying that New Zealand’s overall economic position is better than expected. That’s code for: don’t worry, I'll just keep borrowing.

Revealed: Government spends $183,000 advertising 'Clean Car Discount'

You might have noticed recently full-page ads like this in the newspaper:

Clean car ad

Notice how the ad is all about the discount on EVs, and completely ignores the other side of the policy: new fees on petrol vehicles.

This ad was funded by taxpayers. In fact, as we revealed to Radio New Zealand's Morning Report, the New Zealand Transport Agency has spent a total of $183,751 advertising its “Clean Car Discount”.

What a pointless exercise in self-promotion. The amount of media attention this feebate scheme has received since it was announced has surpassed anything NZTA might hope to achieve through paid advertising.

Regardless, retailers of low-emissions vehicles already have an incentive to promote the discount themselves. If the widely-publicised discount is failing to attract people to electric vehicles, that suggests a problem with the policy itself.

The most egregious part of this campaign is the $34,000 allocated for 'content partnerships' with Stuff and NZME. In other words, NZTA is buying positive media coverage. You can view the taxpayer-funded fake news story here.

This raises serious questions about the independence of the media. How can a media outlet effectively scrutinise a policy when at the same time they're paid to promote it?

This campaign isn’t just wasteful – it’s misleading. The ads say the discount will help you 'do your bit to help get New Zealand to carbon neutral'. A simple understanding of New Zealand's Emissions Trading Scheme shows that choosing an EV over a petrol vehicle just frees up emissions to be produced elsewhere under the cap. Buying an electric vehicle might reduce the emissions for your household – but claiming it cuts New Zealand's overall emissions is greenwashing. NZTA should do better.

Higher fuel levies are coming: so why introduce a ute tax?

James Shaw

With the headlines dominated by COVID-19, an important story escaped attention: motorists are set to pay more in ETS levies at the pump. That’s because the Government is lifting the price cap on carbon credits.

ETS levies are nothing new. But this latest move raises an obvious question: if the Government can reduce transport emissions with the ETS, why is it bothering with the new ute tax?

The ute tax is paid in addition to the ETS levies you pay at the pump, making it a double tax.

At least ETS levies are fair – the cost to the taxpayer is proportionate to the amount of emissions produced. In contrast, the planned ute tax unfairly whacks a minority of New Zealanders with disproportionate costs. It's less about reducing emissions and more about bullying ute drivers into lifestyle change – costs and practicality be damned.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw needs to explain to his colleagues that, because we have an ETS, we can scrap the ute tax, along with the other costly and pointless regulatory interventions proposed by the Climate Change Commission.

Fire service wastes money, then runs out of fire trucks

Ladder trucks

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) has a major problem: its fire trucks are breaking down, and it doesn’t have any plans to replace them.

FENZ does not have a funding shortage. In fact, its latest annual report reveals that it collected $13 million more in revenue from the fire services levy than it had forecast for the financial year.

The problem here is a failure to focus spending on the things that matter. A research paper we released last year found that the merger of urban and rural fire services led to massive cost blowouts in back-office bureaucracy.

The department’s culture of wasteful spending appears to have been solidified by the merger. We revealed the rebranding alone for that merger came with a $6.2 million price tag.

Graphic

Meanwhile, new fire stations, even in small communities, have been gold-plated with extra bays, kitchen facilities, and training rooms. Lake Okareka's station cost $1.9 million, Wanaka's $4 million. FENZ's newest fire station in Athol, a community of 87 people, cost $1.6 million – an incredible $46,000 per resident. Admittedly in that case, FENZ was able to swindle most of the station's cost out of the Government's COVID response fund, not that they needed the extra money.

FENZ does not have to justify wasteful spending to Cabinet, as it collects revenue through the fire insurance levy, bypassing the Budget bid process. We’re urging the Government to switch to a more accountable funding model as part of the current review into FENZ's funding.

A very strange new government job

A now-deleted job ad reveals that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is hiring someone specifically to track "disinformation".

DisinformationClick here to view a larger version of this image.

This sounds Orwellian, to say the least. Who gets to decide what counts as disinformation?

DPMC of course reports to the Prime Minister's office.

Taxpayer Talk: 'Aoteanomics' – the latest public sector fad

Leading public sector bosses are increasingly dismissing the importance of productivity, preferring to focus on broader concepts of "wellbeing". Some have called this new way of thinking "Aoteanomics".

In our latest episode of our Taxpayer Talk podcast series, I was joined by Professor Robert MacCulloch of Auckland University to find out what exactly Aoteanomics is, and why such a radical shift in public sector thinking has escaped public debate.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

Alternative, find and subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

A final message from the Taxpayers' Union propaganda communications department

UniteClick here to share this on Facebook.

We hope you and your family are doing OK in the current lockdown. Fingers crossed for a great weekend at home.

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

RNZ  $180k Clean Car Discount ads a waste of money - Taxpayers' Union

Stuff  Timaru District Council says staff turnover below national rate

RNZ  The Weekend Panel with Lavina Good and Louis Houlbrooke

Newshub  Grant Robertson says strong economy means there's enough money to get us through another lockdown

NZ Initiative  Get it done

Revealed: Government spends $183,000 advertising 'Clean Car Discount'

Clean car ad
The New Zealand Transport Agency (Waka Kotahi) has spent $183,751 advertising its Clean Car Discount, reveals the 
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

An official information response shows the advertising campaign was developed by Clemenger BBDO and ran for most of July including print, radio, posters, flyers, Google ads, and "content partnerships".

What a pointless exercise in self-promotion. The amount of media attention this feebate scheme has received since it was announced has surpassed anything NZTA might hope to achieve through paid advertising.

Regardless, retailers of low-emissions vehicles already have an incentive to promote the discount themselves. If the widely-publicised discount is failing to attract people to electric vehicles, that suggests a problem with the policy itself.

The most egregious part of this campaign is the $34,000 allocated for 'content partnerships' with Stuff and NZME. In other words, NZTA is buying positive media coverage. This raises serious questions about the independence of the media. How can a media outlet effectively scrutinise a policy when at the same time they're paid to promote it?

Examples of the advertisements can be viewed here and here (bottom right). The online ‘content partnership’ can be viewed here.

The ads weren't just wasteful but misleading, saying that the scheme would help you 'do your bit to help get New Zealand to carbon neutral'. Anyone with a basic understanding of climate policy knows that in New Zealand carbon emissions are capped and traded, so choosing an EV over a petrol vehicle just frees up emissions to be produced elsewhere under the cap.

Taxpayer Update: What on earth happened to the COVID-19 response fund?

Dear Supporter,

None of us can know what the coming weeks will bring, but like the first time around, the Taxpayers' Union team is working from home laser-focused on demanding more efficient spending in Wellington.

Lockdowns – and their inevitable economic consequences – make every dollar of taxpayer money even more precious. 

Grant Robertson is again dipping into his $50 billion COVID-19 response fund to keep businesses afloat with wage subsidies. But there's a big problem: most of the fund has already been allocated to projects announced last year. Remember horse tracks for COVID? "Jobs for Nature" – which cost $200,000 per low-paying job created?

We hate to say "told you so", but all that dipping into the rainy-day-fund now looks very silly. Today's newsletter has some more examples.

Remember: this is all borrowed money, set to be repaid by future generations of taxpayers with interest.

Government spends $17 million fighting COVID with art therapy

Art image

I wish we were joking. Minister Carmel Sepuloni is spending $17 million on "creative spaces" for "marginalised" New Zealanders to "build up their confidence and self-esteem" and gain "a sense of fulfilment".

You can browse the full list of grants here.

The money comes from Creative NZ's $374 million ‘Arts and Culture COVID Recovery Programme’, part of the overall COVID response fund.

We've previously highlighted dodgy COVID-19 arts grants, but at least they had a vague link to the pandemic (i.e. projects that could be progressed during lockdown). Now, Creative NZ is just grifting us.

Sorry to say it, but art therapy is not an established inoculant for COVID-19. Nor does art therapy work as an economic response to the pandemic when there are so many more vital projects in health and infrastructure.

If the Government really wants to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at art projects, so be it – but at least drop the pretense that this has anything to do with COVID-19.

Taxpayers fund a nasty diatribe accusing National MP of racism

Newsroom poem

Here's another howler from Creative NZ.

You might remember how they're funding a series of poorly-written political poems for Newsroom. The latest taxpayer-funded effort from Victor Billot characterises National MP Simeon Brown as a far-right colonialist lamenting “natives refusing to die off”.

It's a nasty, slanderous diatribe. And like the grants above, this poem is technically part of the Government's COVID-19 response!

We say Creative NZ shouldn't be funding any political material. But the arts agency has grown out of control, frenzied on an injection of taxpayer funding post-COVID. They’ve hijacked a crisis in order to commission reactionary woke propaganda.

Revealed: Health Research Council throwing millions at woke nonsense

HRC grant image

Health Minister Andrew Little is crowing about the latest round of taxpayer-funded research grants handed out by the Health Research Council.

He probably wasn't expecting anyone to look at the grants too closely but your humble Taxpayers' Union did.

Here are some highlights:

  • $1.2 million examining the lived experiences of intersectional ethnic minority youth

  • $5 million on iwi-led research explaining how partnership models can improve the health system

  • $1.1 million using the lunar calendar to help Māori connect with their environment

  • $387,000 providing gay teenagers with “decolonising and mātauranga Māori-informed bodies of knowledge”

  • $258,000 to “decolonise the western construct of pharmacist services”

  • $150,000 to design a virtual reality video game about foetal alcohol syndrome

This spending is an insult to New Zealand's COVID-19 response. In fact, only a tiny fraction of the projects have anything to do with the pandemic or vaccinations.

Frankly, it's disgraceful that research in the hard medical sciences is forced to compete for the same pool of funding as vague and uber-PC academic papers about decolonisation, intersectionality, and traditional Māori knowledge.

Click here to find a list of 2021's dodgiest health research grants.

(Trigger warning: the official project summaries contain serious academic gobbledygook).

Amazon ditches New Zealand: taxpayers got played

Jeff Bezos

Remember how the Government offered $162 million to Amazon so they'd film their Lord of the Rings TV series here?

That decision was justified on the basis that Amazon could bring another four TV seasons and even a spinoff series to New Zealand. But now, after just one season in New Zealand, Amazon is shifting production to the UK.

The Government has now learned firsthand why Jeff Bezos is the richest man on Earth. Amazon successfully played the New Zealand and UK governments off each other to secure one massive handout after another.

As we’ve warned time and time again, the only way to win the film subsidy game is to not play. Both National and Labour-led Governments have naively been drawn into taxpayer-funded bidding wars to woo film productions. The truth is that we cannot outbid richer countries forever.

We're sending a wreath to our friends at the UK TaxPayers’ Alliance in commiserations for the massive sum that Britain's taxpayers will be forking out to appease Amazon.

It's Tim to say goodbye

Sir Tim Shadbolt is New Zealand’s longest serving Mayor, certainly one of the best known, and definitely one of the most beloved, both in his home of Invercargill and around the country.

But a recent video of an extraordinary council meeting reveals the sad truth: Sir Tim is no longer capable of doing his job.

Meeting video

Repeatedly, faced with basic procedural motions, councillors are forced to explain: “Your Worship, we have already voted on that”.

This is not a one-off bad day. Six months ago, the Thomson Report, commissioned after the Department of Internal Affairs raised concerns about troubles at the Invercargill City Council described "obvious concerns including short term memory deficits, confusion, and the need to be closely managed ... increasing incidents of embarrassment during meetings which a, generally, compassionate Council has done their best to hide from the general public."

In the past we've given Sir Tim stick for his odd spending habits, but this is sadder and more serious. His ratepayers deserve capable representation. We like Sir Tim, and it's not easy to say this, but you only need watch the video above to appreciate that he needs to stand down.

Meanwhile in Christchurch...

Chch bridge

Here's a great example from Christchurch of how art, engineering, and other people’s money are a dangerous mix.

In 2017, Crown agency Otakaro spent $90,000 on a competition to design a pedestrian bridge, only to scrap all the submissions due concerns over maintenance costs.

Then, facing backlash from local artists, they engaged Ngāi Tahu to design flax-inspired ‘decorative elements’ for the bridge. Now, before the bridge has even opened, the decorative balustrades are *rusting* and require remedial work. The agency’s excuse: it rained last month!

This should have been a small project. But it’s now cost taxpayers $3.1 million, and we still don’t have an opening date for the bridge. What a shambles.

MPs, Councillors appear on our podcast

Our Researcher, Max, continues to crank out episodes of Taxpayer Talk. Here are some our recent guests:

Make sure you don't miss fresh episodes by subscribing to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

Kiwiblog  
Guest Post: It’s Tim to say goodbye

Newshub  
Lord of the Rings TV show: Minister under fire for not securing second season pledge

Offsetting Behaviour  Afternoon roundup

Rotorua Daily Post  Rotorua Lakes Council owed $4.6 million in unpaid rates for past financial year

Sunday Star-Times  The scourge of the celebrity CEO

Rural News
  How Much?

 

Op-ed: Minister's righteous frustration at enormous spending for mediocre results

Andrew Little

The following is an opinion piece by Taxpayers' Union analyst Neil Miller. It is free for publication.

Andrew Little is frustrated at the health system – again, that’s hardly news these days – but this time he has a very good point. Facing an incredibly hostile crowd of GPs at their conference, the Minister of Health said he was struggling to get his head around the fact the government pumped billions of extra dollars into the health system, and “the same pressures that were evident three years ago are evident now”.

How do you spend billions of taxpayer dollars on health and not see any practical outcomes for New Zealanders? It is a question that Little should be asking of his predecessors Dr David Clark and Chris Hipkins, and, frankly, of himself.

Labour has controlled the health portfolio for four years, controlled the budget for four years. This is not a problem inherited from the fabled “nine long years of neglect” under National. In fact, Labour just stole one of National’s central health policies – measuring results – after having abolished it immediately upon becoming Government. 

The answer to Little’s conundrum is unfortunately simple. Labour Health Ministers have been almost exclusively focused on money. That money provides slogans, billboards, election adverts, infographics, talking points for interviews, and nice-looking graphs for the media. What successive Health Ministers should have been asking was: “What improvements are actual patients seeing from all this expenditure?” That bit fell off the radar.

The attitude of “make a policy announcement, give lots of money, then presume everything else goes well” is not good enough for such a large and important portfolio. For every taxpayer dollar taken, 20 cents goes to Health. It is not pocket change and Ministers need to follow up on results.

The Government’s announcement of 12 health indicators is a step in the right direction, even if they are largely restoring measurements that they previously dumped. Let us hope this reflects a shift in focus to outputs and outcomes, not raw spending.

Unfortunately, in this modern media environment, perhaps the enduring quote from the announcement was Minister Little telling reporters that he's "not here to be licked up and down". The Taxpayers’ Union office is deeply divided on what this actually meant. His office has been contacted for official clarification.

Health Research Council throwing millions at woke nonsense

HRC grant image

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is challenging the value of the latest round of research grants funded by the Health Research Council.

Comparing to last year’s grants, we’ve noticed a big shift towards ‘wellbeing’-centred research that is often, frankly, woke nonsense. Research in the hard medical sciences is forced to compete for the same pool of funding as vague and uber-PC academic papers about decolonisation, intersectionality, and traditional Māori knowledge.

Examples of grants approved in 2021 include:

•  $1.2 million examining the lived experiences of intersectional ethnic minority youth

•  $5 million on iwi-led research explaining how partnership models can improve the health system

•  $1.1 million using the lunar calendar to help Māori connect with their environment

•  $387,000 providing gay teenagers with “decolonising and mātauranga Māori-informed bodies of knowledge”

•  $258,000 to “decolonise the western construct of pharmacist services”

•  $150,000 to design a virtual reality video game about foetal alcohol syndrome

This spending is an insult to New Zealanders stuck in surgery wait lists or seeking access to life-saving drugs. Deep down, Andrew Little must know this is an embarrassing use of taxpayer funds. It’s telling that he opened his statement about the grants by praising the research on cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, conspicuously skipping over the millions handed out to projects that would be received with derision by New Zealanders navigating our bureaucratic health system.

Inevitably, the vested interests profiting from this funding will accuse us of unfairly targeting ‘diversity’ focused grants. But it’s simply the case that intersectionality and ‘mātauranga Māori’ dominates the list of projects. If we ignored the woke grants, there wouldn’t be many left!

The most incredible part of this spending is that’s it’s happening during a global pandemic. You’d think the Health Research Council would be focused on that, but of the 173 grants awarded this year, only seven mention COVID-19.

The Health Research Council gives out around $126 million in funding per year. Below is a list of questionable grants from this year.

Intersectional ethnic minority youth: harnessing creativity for health gains
Approved budget: $1,199,984
our study engages with Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American and African youth to explore how their varying social identities, including gender diversity, sexuality, migration, and interactions with health, education and social sectors, intersect with their lived experiences of being from non-dominant ethnic groups.

Kia puawai ake ngā uri whakatupu: flourishing future generations
Approved budget: $4,999,949.60
This collaborative programme of research, hosted by an iwi-owned research centre, comprises an integrated suite of Māori-led studies that seek to contribute to the achievement of equitable health outcomes. The programme will explore the positive change that can occur when Māori have the opportunity to drive solutions and work in authentic partnership models.

Te Maramataka - restoring 'health' by reconnecting with Te Taiao
Approved budget: $1,125,097.05
The maramataka [lunar calendar] is a system our tūpuna used to connect environmental tohu to certain activities – some days were better for intense work, while others were considered ideal for rest and ‘giving back’. … This study aims to … co-design a maramataka-based ‘intervention’ that will support Māori to connect with te taiao [the environment] in uniquely Māori ways

Kia taiohi te tū
Approved budget: $386,985.00
Little is known about the needs and experiences of taiohi [teenagers] growing up in te reo Māori-speaking whānau and with regard to intimate relationships, gender and sexualities. … This kaupapa Māori research is a mana whānau project which aims to build whānau-centred bodies of knowledge that incorporate the successes and challenges whānau are experiencing in using mātauranga Māori [Māori knowledge] to support taiohi on their journeys. … providing access to decolonising and mātauranga Māori-informed bodies of knowledge.

He tono whakapiki ora: Whānau and pharmacists’ knowledge exchange
Approved budget: $258,471.00
Informed by a kaupapa Māori paradigm, the research will examine the intersect between pharmacists and mātauranga Māori [Māori knowledge] in a contemporary context to attempt to decolonise the western construct of pharmacist services.

Walk a mile in their shoes - Developing a virtual reality experience of FASD
Approved budget: $150,000.00
We propose to 1) use novel data collection methods to capture everyday lived experiences of FASD [Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder] individuals, and 2) using the data gathered, develop and test if the VR game can raise awareness and foster positive attitudes toward individuals with FASD.

Exploring the role of Tongan faith leaders in influencing wellbeing
Approved budget: $84,033.00
The proposed doctoral study will investigate the role of faith leaders in influencing the wellbeing of Tongan people living in Aotearoa.

Te Kura Mai i Tawhiti - kaupapa Māori early years provision and health outcomes
Approved budget: $1,199,860.64
Our proposed research is led by Māori and draws on mātauranga Māori and Western science. … Findings will help address the need for proven interventions for tamariki Māori that strengthen culturally relevant positive behaviours and can be rolled out nationally.

Aho Tapairu: Developing a mana wahine wellbeing toolkit
Approved budget: $394,035
I am a kaupapa Māori mana wahine researcher committed to projects motivated by decolonial and transformatory agendas. My background is in revitalising customary Māori knowledge as healing interventions for Māori women and their whānau today. … I am also committed to overturning derogatory colonial redefinitions of Māori femininity that leads to poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes for Māori women and girls. … I will also create a framework for Māori women to recover their own tikanga and ceremony as healing interventions.

Pacific Islands Families: Thriving Pacific Young Adults
Approved budget: $1,199,365.95
The Pacific Islands Families: Thriving Pacific Young Adults (PIF: TPYA) study seeks to explore how cultural identity, family functioning, and employment impact the mental wellbeing of a cohort of 850 Pacific young adults (aged 22 years).

A kaupapa Māori analysis of Māori cannabis and methamphetamine use
Approved budget: $554,400
I have a deep commitment to improving Māori health outcomes through kaupapa Māori health research. This is reflected in my career development to date, with 15 years' experience in Māori and indigenous health research, including the completion of a PhD in public health exploring the potential of rongoā Māori [traditional healing]. The proposed postdoctoral fellowship includes a kaupapa Māori analysis of the multiple dimensions of Māori cannabis and methamphetamine use.

Kia taiohi te tū
Approved budget: $386,985.00
Little is known about the needs and experiences of taiohi [teenagers] growing up in te reo Māori-speaking whānau and with regard to intimate relationships, gender and sexualities. … This kaupapa Māori research is a mana whānau project which aims to build whānau-centred bodies of knowledge that incorporate the successes and challenges whānau are experiencing in using mātauranga Māori [Māori knowledge] to support taiohi on their journeys. … providing access to decolonising and mātauranga Māori-informed bodies of knowledge.

Collaboration for child wellbeing
Approved budget: $890,709.00
This grant supports collaboration for child wellbeing. … With the Manaiakalani Kahui ako, we will adapt and test a play-based intervention to improve self-regulation so it is culturally-grounded, engaging, and developmentally scaffolded.

Experiences of children and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic
Approved budget: $242,645.00
This project aims to explore the experiences of children, young people and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK with a health equity lens.

A smart toothpaste for the twenty-first century
Approved budget: $150,000.00
A novel bioactive smart toothpaste will be prepared using bioceramics and a natural anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent will provide an inexpensive clinical-grade formulation to mitigate oral infections and ensure implant longevity while also offering the traditional benefits of plaque removal and whiter teeth. The affordable and easily accessible smart toothpaste will significantly improve the oral health of all communities in New Zealand and across the world.

ENDS

Simeon Brown on Gangs

Max is joined by Simeon Brown to address exactly why the donation of 2.75 million to the gang-run Kahukura program was a poor decision by this government, and to rebut some of the points that have been brought up in support of it.

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

Taxpayer Update: SkyPath u-turn? | Bureaucracy booming | Dodgy media funding

Dear Supporter,

The Government's feeling the pressure on its cycle bridge

SkyPath petition

The proposed $685 million cycle bridge has perhaps been the Government’s worst political misfire. 

In June we commissioned a Curia poll which showed that 63 percent of New Zealanders oppose the cycle bridge. Now, a new Newshub poll corroborates our findings, showing its even more unpopular! Eighty-one percent of New Zealanders are now opposed.

And it seems the Finance Minister is feeling the heat: he's now just describing SkyPath 2.0 as the "current" proposal, and is talking up the changes of building an alternative tunnel crossing.

This progress is the result of people power. Our petition against the bridge has been signed by an incredible 58,000 New Zealanders, and our online ads and billboards have been seen by millions of New Zealanders.

With one last push, let's put the final nail in the coffin and force the Government to bin this wasteful project. Click here to chip in to the campaign fund to stop SkyPath and keep the heat on the Beehive.

Revealed: Andrew Little's "former gang member" claim was wrong

Little and Tam

Remember how Andrew Little defended giving a $2.75 million contract to a Mongrel Mob-affiliated organisation by claiming its leader was just a "former" gang member?

We can now confirm what many of you suspected: Hard2Reach director Harry Tam is in fact a patched lifetime member of the Mongrel Mob Notorious chapter. Our research team have uncovered a new interview with a small Māori media outlet where Mr Tam couldn't be clearer.

Andrew Little now has some explaining to do. Was he misled by Mr Tam, or officials, or was he being economical with the truth? Either way Kiwis deserve a retraction, an apology, and a review of the funding.

We're keeping the heat on the Government's gang funding

In case you missed it, here's a photo of the ad we ran on page two of Wednesday's NZ Herald:

Herald ad 1Click here to view a larger picture of the ad.

The ad was rejected by two separate billboard companies, so we were relieved to get it over the line with the NZ Herald. Thanks to everyone who chipped in to make it possible!

Bureaucracy is booming

The Public Service Commission collects a wealth of statistics on the public sector, including the total headcount of public service employees.

It turns out growth in taxpayer-funded staff has boomed under this Government:

Staffing graphClick here to view a large version of this image.
Click here to share it on Facebook.

And that's based on figures from 2020. The Public Service Commission will update its figures in December, and based on recent reports from Radio NZ, we're expecting another big jump for 2021.

We asked the Public Service Commissioner for his thoughts. In an email to us, he said he's comfortable with such rapid growth, pointing to "an increase in investment to implement government priorities", and challenges like COVID-19 and two Royal Commissions of Inquiry.

But that doesn't explain why staff growth has been so consistent *across* the public sector.

For example, Stats NZ grew its staff numbers by 41% in just two years. Even the Beehive has become crowded with political advisors. A battalion of 332 staff now serve the Government's 20 Cabinet members:

DPMC

To us, that suggests a culture change towards bureaucratic growth, starting at the very top of the New Zealand Government.

NZ on Air throwing taxpayer money at dubious "journalism"

NZ on Air grantTaxpayers are paying for Stuff journalists to learn how to be more woke.

Media outlets have enjoyed a bonanza of taxpayer funding under this Government – especially with the introduction of NZ on Air's new "public interest journalism" fund.

But as you'll see, many of the funded programmes are at best strange, and at worst, stray into political propaganda.

Judge for yourself:

  • Recipient: Stuff
    Amount: $301,000
    Project: A "cultural competency course" for Stuff journalists "to fundamentally shift representation in NZ media"

  • Recipient: Stuff
    Amount: $143,000
    Project: A documentary on the production of an opera about the “unruly British tourists”

  • Recipient: Stuff
    Amount: $97,000
    Project: A podcast series named “Crying At Work” that shows “what the real-life consequences are for the women who find themselves in the brutal news cycle”

  • Recipient: Stuff
    Amount: $120,000
    Project: Four podcast episodes about “the anarchic radical feminists who put their feet on the accelerator of social change”

  • Recipient: Stuff
    Amount: $591,000
    Project: “an animated fact-checking project designed to protect public health”

  • Recipient: Newsroom
    Amount: $51,000
    Project: “Training to upskill Newsroom’s two recently employed graduate journalists”

  • Recipient: Radio Bay Of Plenty
    Amount: $97,000
    Project: “report on the $200m worth of Provincial Growth Fund projects in the Eastern Bay of Plenty”

We've also looked into the funding of one particular media outlet: our "friends" at The Spinoff, an online lifestyle magazine for left-wing millennials.

The Spinoff has had its funding spike in the last year, and is now engaged in a hiring spree.

Spinoff graph

Click here to see the full list of NZ on Air grants received by The Spinoff.

All of this raises the question: can a government-dependent media outlet truly be considered ‘independent’?

Report reveals how the RMA drives up grocery prices

Groceries

Plenty of media attention has been paid to the Commerce Commission’s draft report on New Zealand’s grocery market. But most commentators seem to have missed the most interesting part of the report.

The report absolutely skewers the Resource Management Act for the way it restricts access to suitable retail sites, drives up site prices, and helps existing shops lock out competition. All of this results in higher grocery costs for households.

If there’s one sentence in the entire report that epitomises the destructive power of regulation, it’s this: We note that the major grocery retailers have historically opposed each other’s resource consent applications under the RMA.

Madness! We should have scrapped this regulatory tax long ago.

A message for ute owners

Dear legitimate and illegitimate ute owners,

First, the Government came after your wallets with the virtue signaling but carbon-useless ute tax. Now, taxpayer-funded academics are coming after your ute’s name too.

You probably do not know Kirsty Wild and Alistair Woodward at the University of Auckland, but you do pay their salaries.

Their research into utes apparently revealed that themes of dominance and violence are strong: vehicles have names like “Raptor” and “Gladiator”.

If they had their way, you'd presumably be working your farm in your Ford Kindness, driving to the construction site in your Toyota Unicorn, or taking the kids to school in your Nissan Neve.

Stand up for your ute by signing the petition at www.UteTax.co.nz.

A cause that deserves your support: Have your say on proposed "hate speech" laws

We seldom back causes outside our wheelhouse of Lower Taxes, Less Waste, More Transparency, but we're making an exception for the Government's proposed hate speech law changes, and the threat they present to the Taxpayer's Union's ability to do our job. 

In 2018, several Taxpayers' Union staff were involved in forming the Free Speech Coalition, which has now transformed into a registered trade union fighting for free speech in workplaces across New Zealand. It operates independently, but we keep abreast of their work.

The Free Speech Union is leading the charge against the Government's hate speech law changes which could criminalise our criticism of wasteful spending and exorbitant taxation.

In fact one of the potential categories of 'hate speech' is insulting on the basis of political belief. That is chilling.

Already, the Taxpayers' Union is regularly accused by the Twitter mob of "divisive" and even "hateful" speech when we take controversial positions on sensitive spending. Under the proposed law change, insult and offence will be given the upper hand and could jeopardise our ability to hold government to account. 

Would you be willing to have your say on the Government's hate speech reforms? Our friends at the Free Speech Union have created a tool to make filing a submission a two minute job.

Submissions close end of tomorrow so please act now before it's too late.

Consultation closes at 5pm tomorrow. Click here to make a brief submission.

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

Farmers Weekly  
Opinion divided on climate change advice

Homepaddock  But the $billion bridge

Stuff  Air NZ wanted Climate Commission to go faster, dairy and meat groups said slow down

Bay of Plenty Times  Green light for 15pc rates rise as Tauranga City approves controversial Long-term Plan

SunLive  Commissioner reacts to ratepayer protests

Kiwiblog  Govt may backtrack on billion dollar bike bridge

Kiwiblog  $6.1 million to The Spinoff from Taxpayers

RNZ  The ethics and costs of saving wild animals

 

Reserve Bank spends almost $400,000 on Tāne Mahuta art

The Reserve Bank spent $373,739 on artwork in its lobby promoting its new 'Tāne Mahuta' narrative, reveals an official information response released to the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

The centerpiece of the artwork is a massive swamp kauri sculpture of Tāne Mahuta, the Māori god of the forest.

Sculpture

The artwork also includes (in the Bank's words):

•  three pou (pillars) representing Te Ngahere (the Forest Tāne)
•  mosaic floor tiles running the length of the lobby representing Ngā Pūtake (the roots of Tāne Mahuta), and
•  a resdesigned reception desk area representing a waka hourua (a double-hulled canoe)

The Bank justifies the spending by saying, "As the lobby had not been refurbished in more than 13 years, we took the opportunity to redesign it to reflect our strategic direction and incorporate out Tāne Mahuta narrative as its framework. This enabled the Reserve Bank to further communicate its commitment to our Te Ao Māori strategy and visually reinforce this narrative to our staff and visitors to the building."

Clearly, the Reserve Bank has let its money-printing powers go to its head.

We entrust the Reserve Bank to maintain the stability and security of our money supply. This requires hard-headed, rational leadership. But under the leadership of Adrian Orr, the Bank has become distracted with its own fluffy, feel-good marketing and internal "narrative". This is bureaucratic navel-gazing at its most absurd.

This was part of a wider refurbishment of the lobby, the total cost of which was $1.2 million, reports the Herald.

Revealed: $2.75m funding for Mongrel Mob was signed off by PM

Image

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that the fund that gave a $2.75 million drug rehab contract to Mongrel Mob leaders is managed by just three Ministers, meaning the grant was signed off by the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, and Minister of Justice.

The Ministry of Justice’s website confirms that for Proceeds of Crime Fund proposals:

If an agency is successful in getting its proposal shortlisted, it will be invited to submit a more detailed funding proposal for the [evaluation] Panel to consider.

The Panel will then provide recommendations to the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister of Justice, who determine which proposals should be approved and funded.

At first, this sounded like the kind of lapse of judgment typically made by unelected, out-of-touch bureaucrats. But now we learn that this funding was approved by our highest elected officials. There is no running from your own decision.

Jacinda Ardern needs to front up and explain exactly how this disgraceful spending made it past her desk. We can only hope it was some kind of horrible mistake – in which case she needs to apologise, pick up the phone, and cut off the funding.

The Union today launched a petition to end all taxpayer-funded contracts given to gangs and gang-run organisations at www.taxpayers.org.nz/gangs.

Taxpayer Update: Your money given to the Mongrel Mob | Even more tax on ute owners | Debt Monster is coming

Dear Supporter,

Louis took a much-deserved break this week, but the Government's attacks on taxpayers have continued. Thankfully the whole team is back on Monday!

Wondering where the Mongrel Mob gets its money? You!

Defence Force

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt made an appalling decision to give a taxpayer-funded koha to the Mongrel Mob when he spoke at one of their events earlier this year. When details came out on Monday, we told the media:

“The only koha Paul Hunt should be paying in relation to the Mongrel Mob is to Victim Support and Women’s Refuge.”

“The Commissioner's initial display of poor judgment, when he legitimised the ‘conference’ of this criminal organisation, was bad enough. To actually gift the gang taxpayer money is disgraceful.”

It's taken until today for Mr Hunt to front media. He's now saying "protocol" required him to make the koha.

Here's our message to Mr Hunt: the 'protocol' is you make a koha from your own pocket, not taxpayers...

Our friendly mascot, Porky the Waste Hater, is standing by too. He might just make an appearance at Mr Hunt's next speaking event to demand a koha back for taxpayers...

So much for 'revenue neutral' – Car Tax revealed as a money grab 💸🚗

PCC graphic

The sheer scale and cost of Labour’s ‘clean car rebate’ Car Tax has been revealed with official advice to Ministers suggesting that some 100,000 car owners are likely to be affected next year alone.

In addition, the Government is projected to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars more from the Car Tax than it will pay back in rebates. There are simply not enough electric vehicles available – now and in the foreseeable future – to make this a revenue-neutral policy as Ministers have claimed.

Of course, the elephant in the room is that this policy does nothing for the environment because transport is already covered by our Emissions Trading Scheme. That means any emissions saved by the move to electric cars are simply made available for cheaper emissions elsewhere under the ETS 'cap and trade' framework. As we've said all along: what is really promoting this is the boost to the Government coffers.

And now Ministers want IRD to chase farm and tradie utes! 🛻

Ute tax crack down

Documents released under the Official Information Act show Revenue Minister David Parker is talking to IRD officials about cracking down on how utes are taxed due to what they say is a “proliferation” of double-cab utes.

This is yet another tax grab on kiwi farmers and tradies.

The reason the FBT is so complex is that it’s hard to distinguish between professional and personal use when it comes to work on the farm – something the 9 to 5 governmental bureaucracy doesn’t seem to understand. Even IRD acknowledges that chasing down those who are abusing the exemption is futile because of the little funding it would bring in.

The message couldn’t be clearer: if you own a double-cab ute, this Government is coming for your wallet. Be damned that these measures hit hardest those who are the working backbone of our economy.

If you've not already {{recipient.first_name_or_friend}}, stand up for the humble Kiwi ute, and add your name to the petition at www.UteTax.co.nz 👈

Speaking of the Ute Tax - our bumper stickers for 'legitimate ute owners' are flying out the door.

Legitimate Ute owner bumper sticker
>> Click here to get yours <<

Tax these bumper sticker>> Click here to get yours <<

IRD wonky tax calculator a shambles 🖥️

Masterton CCTV

The IRD had a red face this week when a public-spirited accountant in Nelson blew the whistle on a flaw in an IRD online calculator that has lead people with overseas shares to pay too much tax. The calculator was pulled offline on Monday – just 48 hours before personal income tax returns were due. The calculator relates to tax calculations for Kiwis having invested in foreign shares to work out their taxable profits under IR Fair Dividend Rate (FIF) tax regime.

The one thing IRD is supposed to know about is tax. If the system is so complex that IRD's boffins and IT people can't get it right, what hope is there for Joe-taxpayer?

To add salt to the wound, it's just come out that IRD had in fact been told about the fault 15 months earlier!

Let's put the shoe on the other foot: if IRD had a faulty calculator that saw too little tax being paid, Wellington will have moved heaven and earth to fix it.

Your humble Taxpayers' Union has been lobbying the IRD to confirm that any taxpayers with late or amended returns caused by the error will not face overdue fees or interest. Thankfully, IRD saw sense and agreed to this (but please get in touch if they try to do otherwise).

Science funding should focus on performance, not ancestry 🔬

Ardern

New Zealand's focus on improving the research quality (and therefore international rankings) of our universities is under threat after the Government quietly changed the rules so that the $315-million-a-year Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) will now pay Māori researchers 2.5 times the rate of non-Māori, while Pasifika academics will be paid two times the non-Pasifika rate.

Politicising science research on racial grounds is not the pathway to improving our international standings. The PBRF, in the Government’s own words, was established "to encourage and reward excellent research based on performance". It was never meant to be dependent on the ancestry of academics.

Treasury warns government debt is on 'unsustainable trajectory' 💣

This week the Government’s main economic adviser, Treasury, published a draft report warning the Government that its debt is on an “unsustainable trajectory” thanks to an ageing population driving up superannuation and health costs.

Treasury is right to blow the whistle on the impact of Government debt on New Zealanders’ living standards, but it's not just the long term challenges that are a concern. Right now New Zealand has close to full employment but the Government is running a Budget deficit of nearly 5% of GDP. That means that debt has already clocked up more than $66,000 for every Kiwi household.

Debt Clock

The Government is mortgaging our kids' futures when it is not needed. Poor quality spending like the ridiculous Auckland harbour bike bridge isn't free or without consequence.

Track the Debt Monster in real-time at www.DebtClock.nz – how much does your household owe thanks to the Government?

MPs in Depth Podcast: ACT MP Karen Chhour 🎙️

MPs in depth podcast

This week our Researcher Max sat down with newbie ACT Party MP Karen Chhour to discuss the switch to working in Parliament, why the Government isn't walking its talk in regards to child poverty reduction, and the role of ACT in opposition.

Click here to listen to the episode online or subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

Have a great weekend,

Jordan

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

 

Donate


Media coverage:

Whanganui Chronicle  Are They Paid Enough? What our councillors earn and why some say it should be more

NZ Local Government Magazine  Water reform savings ‘laughable’

RNZ  The Panel, with Taxpayers' Union Analysis Neil Miller

Stuff South Cantabrians to join 'A Howl of a Protest' against Government regulations

Homepaddock  Really is a tax grab

Northland Age  Taxpayers’ Union says that trickle up theory works

Northland Age  Water plan a ‘recipe for gold plating’

Newstalk ZB  The Huddle with Taxpayers' Union Analysis Neil Miller

Kiwiblog  Clarke Gayford – “genius”, “top bloke”, “first man” – or just engaged to the Prime Minister?

Petition launched to end all taxpayer funding for gangs

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has launched a petition calling for the cancellation of all taxpayer funding for gangs, at www.taxpayers.org.nz/gangs. 

This is in response to the revelation that the Ministry of Health is paying the Mongrel Mob $2.75 million to run a drug rehab programme.

Last week, New Zealanders rightly condemned the Human Rights Commissioner for giving a $200 koha to the Mongrel Mob. But now we learn our Ministry of Health is giving them almost $3 million.

The thugs making millions by selling drugs have been given millions more to run the rehab programmes. It’s a sickening cycle of profiteering at the expense of our communities’ health, safety, and taxpayer funds.

Putting aside the ghastliness of giving taxpayer money to the mob, it’s also a conflict of interest. How can we pay an organisation to rehabilitate drug users when its business model depends on ongoing addiction? Gangs have a vested interest in addiction and should therefore be kept well away from the rehab business.

A few months ago, we never thought such a cosy relationship between government and organised crime was possible. But it appears these back door financing arrangements are widespread. We’re calling on all Government agencies to front up about what contracts they hold with gangs and gang-run organisations, and to cut these contracts off before the Taxpayers’ Union exposes them.

 

MP in Depth: Karen Chhour

In this episode of our "MPs in Depth" series, our Researcher Max Salmon interviews newbie ACT Party MP Karen Chhour to discuss the switch to working in parliament, why the Government isn't walking its talk in regards to child poverty reduction, and the role of ACT in opposition. 

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

Taxpayer Update: Māori procurement | Missing $1.9b | Rest in Peace

As you'll see at the bottom of this post, the team have been busy responding to media enquiries about our 2021 edition of Ratepayers' Report – our council league tables. Meanwhile, our campaigns against the planned car tax and the $685 million bike bridge are still going strong.

But there are plenty of other issues facing taxpayers (and no shortage of work to do!):

Government entities are now asking contractors to prove they're Māori

Defence Force

Midge Holdings is a small business owner in Christchurch. She's contracted by the Defence Force to provide them with special makeup effects and fake blood for their training.

However, she's now received a letter from the Defence Force asking her to prove her business is 'Māori owned'. It's not, and that could mean she loses the contract under new procurement rules coming into effect.

Here's what we told the media:

The Taxpayers’ Union were the first to raise the alarm over 'indigenous procurement' policies back in 2019, when we found the idea buried deep in a Cabinet paper. Now that the policy has been rammed through without consultation, we're seeing the ugly results.

We should welcome government entities reviewing contracts to maximise value, but that's not what's happening here. A government entity is threatening a specialist contractor's livelihood on the basis of her race. It's almost unbelievable that this could happen in 2021 in a developed country.

Chopping off best-placed contractors for the sake of political correctness will result in second-best contractors providing less value for the taxpayer.

New Zealanders shouldn't be forced to lie about their family background, or to pay genealogists and consultants to verify their Māori credentials, in order to offer services to the Government. The key consideration – in fact, the only consideration – in Government procurement should be value for the taxpayer.

Mental health: Where did the $1.9 billion go?

Ardern

Remember the "Wellbeing Budget"? In 2019, Jacinda Ardern made a huge splash in international media with her $1.9 billion investment announcement in mental health.

Popular left-wing American news site Vox said the Budget showed how Ardern's Government "emphasizes citizen happiness over capitalist gain."

But they also quoted your humble Taxpayers' Union: in the same article, I warned that the Government could just be throwing money into a black hole.

Two years later, it's fair to say the results are in: the $1.9 billion announcement bought us just five new mental health beds. If that's not a case of money disappearing into the abyss, I don't know what is.

Meanwhile, mental health advocate Mike King has returned his order of merit medal, saying that in hindsight, the $1.9 billion actually made life worse for people by providing a sense of false hope.

The Health Minister's response? He says he's "frustrated".

Taxpayers' Union Analyst Neil Miller has penned a ferocious op-ed in response:

Sorry Andrew Little, that is simply not good enough.

You are not an impartial observer, a mid-level official, a health journalist, or a political commentator. You are the Minister of Health, you are the boss, and you should have been all over this issue months ago.

Too often we are seeing Ministers of the Crown responding to a lack of results in their portfolio by saying they are “disappointed”, “frustrated”, “annoyed”, or that their “expectations have not been met”.

Ministers seem to assume that issuing a press release means the policy, after being developed by a Working Group and/or Expert Advisory Board, will be implemented on the frontlines.

You can read the full op-ed here (it was originally published in the Northern Age).

Caught on camera: Masterton Council boss loses the plot

Masterton CCTV

We'd love to say local government brings out the best and brightest... but this story out of Masterton makes you wonder what planet some of these people come from.

The District Council's Chief Executive (Kath Ross, salary: $247,000) has been caught on camera ripping down posters that advertised a ratepayer group’s protest against her own Council.

Unfortunately for her, the posters were on private property, in a carpark managed by someone supporting the protest!

There is absolutely no excuse for this behaviour. It undermines the dignity of her position and will only serve to entrench the suspicions of ratepayers who think she’s trying to shut down public criticism.

(The protest, which was organised to oppose a new $30 million council building, was by all accounts a great success.)

Revealed: ‘Living Wage’ trickles up to higher paid staff

PCC graphic

When Porirua City Council announced it was adopting a "Living Wage" policy, it sold the idea to ratepayers as a way to help workers on the bottom rung, just enough for them ‘to live a life of dignity’.

But we have now revealed that for every council worker who was bumped up to the Living Wage, another three higher-paid workers also received a pay hike in the name of 'relativity adjustments'.

In other words, the Council exploited public sympathy for high-vis workers to give a handout to back-office staff. And they did it during a pandemic when ratepayers and businesses were cutting back.

This should serve as a warning to all Councils: the intention to help low-paid workers is noble, but other staff are likely to demand commensurate pay hikes.

Claims that three waters reform will save money are laughable

Nanaia MahutaThe Taxpayers’ Union is slamming Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta's proposal to remove local democratic control over water assets and says that regional cross subsidisation is a recipe for gold plating and higher costs.

The claim this will save ratepayer money is laughable. It will see Auckland water users funding new water treatment plants in the far north, and force gold plated solutions onto tiny communities. Even worse, these proposals remove the ability of ratepayers to hold the water bodies to account. They’re going to be able to impose huge costs, without being accountable, even indirectly, to the communities who will pick up the bills.

We don’t often say Phil Goff is right, but on this, he is bang on with his warnings that this will cost ratepayers and uncouples Watercare from democratic accountability.

The proposed matrix of committee and iwi governance is a bugger’s muddle, and the claim councils will still "own" the assets is at best misleading. 'Ownership' will be true in name only. Elected councillors won’t be able to do a thing – i.e. sack directors or govern the water assets local communities have paid for.

Rest in Peace 😢

Funeral

Finally this week, we’re encouraging our supporters to their respects to the passing of Labour’s “No New Taxes” promised by sharing this memorial on Facebook.

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

PS. I'm away next week on annual leave so that means our Grassroots Coordinator Grace will be monitoring the replies to this email for me. Thank you to everyone who sends kind messages of support even if we can't always reply promptly, we read and appreciate them all!


Media coverage:

Kapiti News  
Kapiti Coast District Council plan endorses average 7.79% rates hike for 2021-2022

Kapiti Independent News  Kapiti rates to soar by 8%

Radio NZ  Sue Bradford and Jordan Williams

Bay of plenty Times  Is working for families tax credit really working?

Tasman Leader  Tasman ratepayers face hefty bills

1 News  NZTA to update benefit to cost ratio of AKL cycle bridge

Bay of Plenty Times  
Working for Families: Taxpayers' Union says $2.8 billion scheme should be cut back in favour of tax cuts

NZ Herald  Auckland harbour bridgeNational Party labels bridge a vanity project

Kiwiblog  Some so-called science grants


Stuff  Tasman residential ratepayers face fourth highest bills in New Zealand

Homepaddock  Central control freakery

SunLive  Councillors set Whakatane’s Long-Term Plan

Radio NZ  Whakatāne’s rates set to rise

Stuff  Taranaki councils ranked according to rates bills in report

NewstalkZB  Taxpayers' Union: Government 'misjudged' public opinion on Auckland cycleway bridge

Bay of Plenty Times  Jo Raphael: is Working for Families payments helping our children?

Stuff  Nelson business community welcomes fall in commercial rate differential

South Taranaki Star  Taranaki councils at lower end of rates

Radio NZ  'Unsustainable' rates raises - West Coast councils blame govt

Op-ed: Be the Minister, not just a frustrated onlooker

Andrew LittleThe following is an op-ed by New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union Analyst Neil Miller. It is free for publication.
 
The headlines read “Health Minister 'extraordinarily frustrated' as just five new acute mental health beds added after $1.9b investment”.
 
Sorry Andrew Little, that is simply not good enough.
 
You are not an impartial observer, a mid-level official, a health journalist, or a political commentator. You are the Minister of Health, you are the boss, and you should have been all over this issue months ago.

Instead, it apparently took Written Parliamentary Questions from the opposition and queries from Newshub for you to find out that there have been only five actual beds added since the flagship near $2b mental health announcement in the “Well-Being Budget” of 2019. The building part of that one announcement alone was $285m.

Too often we are seeing Ministers of the Crown responding to a lack of results in their portfolio by saying they are “disappointed”, “frustrated”, “annoyed”, or that their “expectations have not been met”. The fundamental problem is that the Government is great at making announcements and good at throwing lots of taxpayer money at issues.
 
Ministers seem to assume that issuing a press release means the policy, after being developed by a Working Group and/or Expert Advisory Board, will be implemented on the frontlines.
 
Being a good Minister is more than just the title and the (non-electric) limousine. It is about being on top of the details in your portfolio and following through. National’s Tony Ryall was the best Health Minister in modern history, despite having no background in the health sector or health policy. Most observers expected him to be Police Minister – I did, and I worked for him!
 
Once given the traditionally tricky and thankless task of Health Minister, Mr Ryall focussed on information. His officials were told he wanted data, he wanted trends, he set targets, he demanded measurements, and he published them regularly, good or bad. A bureaucrat’s nightmare sure, but patients loved it.
 
When District Health Boards were set measurable targets for Emergency Department waiting times, they dropped significantly. When Labour, at the behest of the unions, abolished the targets and reporting, ED waiting times predictably ballooned back out.
 
Minister Ryall would not have taken two years to find out from the media that a new acute mental bed was only arriving every five months. He would have known, and officials would have been made aware that he knew and was not satisfied.
 
Instead, Health Minister Andrew Little swung into action and… announced yet another review. Taxpayers should be deeply concerned that the issues this review will examine include “what the holdup is”, “where that money has gone” and to find out exactly “how decisions have been made.” That is not a sign of a Minister on top of his portfolio.
 
So, a simple tip for Minister Little: Re-instate the health performance dashboards (adding mental health), set targets, monitor the results, and hold health providers accountable.
 
Health Minister – heal thyself.
 
Neil Miller is a writer, commentator, and New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union Analyst.

Revealed: Porirua City Council’s ‘Living Wage’ hike trickles up to higher paid staff

PCC graphic

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that Porirua City Council’s introduction of a ‘Living Wage’ policy resulted in 52 percent of Council staff receiving wage hikes.

In July 2020, while 39 staff were moved up to the living wage rate, a further 176 received ‘relativity adjustments’ in pay as a result of the Living Wage policy – including staff already paid as much as $30.53 per hour.

For every council worker who was bumped up to the Living Wage, another three workers paid more also received a pay hike.

The announcement of the Living Wage policy was sold to Porirua ratepayers as helping out workers on the bottom rung, just enough for them ‘to live a life of dignity’. Now we learn that more than half of the Council’s staff got a pay hike as a result. That is an under-handed, self-serving way of increasing Council pay.

Of course, this occurred in the immediate wake of New Zealand’s COVID-19 lockdown, when ratepayers and businesses were cutting back to ensure financial survival. The pandemic should have led the Council to reconsider its Living Wage policy – instead, it was expanded. Ratepayers will see the clear link behind this kind of indulgent spending and the Council’s planned eight percent rate hike.

The Council is now planning to demand that any and all private contractors working for the Council also pay their workers a Living Wage. The cost of this move will likely blow out as the Living Wage effect trickles up to higher-paid contractor employees.

This should serve as a warning to all Councils considering a Living Wage policy. The intention to help low-paid workers may sound noble, but other staff are likely to demand commensurate pay hikes. That cost needs to be taken into account and communicated transparently before any decision is made.

The information was obtained via an official information request and passed on to the Union by a concerned ratepayer.

New poll shows 63% of Kiwis oppose Auckland's cycle bridge

Poll graphic

Polling commissioned by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union shows that nearly two-thirds of Kiwis ‘oppose’ or ‘strongly oppose’ the Government’s planned $685 million cycle and pedestrian bridge for Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour. Meanwhile, just 18 percent ‘support’ or ‘strongly support’ it.

The full data set can be viewed here. The polling was conducted by Curia Market Research, with a sample size of 992 respondents.

Excel graph

Opposition to the bridge outweighs support by more than three to one. And it’s not just soft opposition – a majority of respondents stated they are strongly opposed.

Opposition to the bridge is firm across a broad spectrum of the population: women and men, every age group, Aucklanders and non-Aucklanders. In fact, the only demographic that seems to support the bridge is Green Party voters, and even that’s only by a slim margin.

This scientific polling explains the enormous response to our petition against the bridge, which has so far been signed by 57,000 New Zealanders. Clearly, the Government has massively misjudged the public appetite for such a brazenly wasteful project that will disproportionately serve a small group of privileged Aucklanders.

We’re calling on the Government to admit they’ve got this one wrong, and divert the $685 million to projects that benefit the many, not the few. It’s easier to back down now than further down the track when millions have been sunk into engineering reports and consultation documents.

Taxpayer Update: Our campaigns ramp up | You fund propaganda | A taxpayer victory

Stormclouds forming over SkyPath 2.0? 🚴🌧️

Our petition to withdraw taxpayer funding for the proposed $685 million cycle and pedestrian bridge has now reached 56,000 signatures. That's incredible, and it shows the depth of public opposition to such a brazenly wasteful vanity project.

Our "Stop SkyPath" billboards are currently hammering the message in Auckland and thanks to a few hundred supporters chipping in we've got some more going up next week.

Skypath billboard 1Click for big image Skypath billboard 2Click for big image

The fundraising effort has also allowed us to commission a professional pollster to get a measure of public opinion. We're releasing the data over the weekend, but I can already tell you it does not look good for the bridge.

Thanks again to all of you who have chipped in to make this effort possible. We've got more billboard sites lined up in other parts of the country, so watch this space.

Here's how the numbers (don't) stack up 🧮

Meanwhile, the Government was today forced to reveal that the benefit-cost-ratio for this project is 0.40.6 to one. That means that for every taxpayer dollar spent, the Transport Ministry expects to see just 40 to 60c of value created.

As ACT's David Seymour put it, Michael Woods is basically throwing your money away.

Woods throwing money

And even that figure seems wildly optimistic. It doesn't take into account likely cost blowouts. And the Ministry's calculations are based on 2,700 cyclists taking the trip across the bridge every day.

Assuming the cost of capital for the $685 million bridge is six percent, that equals a cost of $41.1 million per year, or $113,000 per day. Divided by 2,700 cyclists, that works out as a $41 subsidy for every individual trip!

In other words, a cyclist who uses the bridge to get to the city each day gets a taxpayer-funded handout of $15,000 per year!

Labour's car tax breaks a promise and whacks working New Zealanders 🚗💸

Grant Robertson's "no new taxes" promise is well and truly out the window.

First, it was new taxes on landlords, then it was a levy on wages to fund unemployment insurance, and now there's a new tax on petrol vehicles:

Car tax amounts

The car tax unfairly hits tradies, farmers, and large families, in favour of wealthy urban elites 🥂 buying Teslas who will get a fat taxpayer-funded subsidy. Robin Hood would be turning in his grave.

–> Click here to add your name to the petition against Labour's car tax <–

Twenty thousand have signed so far.

Sticker photoWe've also received over a thousand orders for our "Stop Labour's Car Tax" bumper stickers. Click here to order a sticker.

After you enter your address, you'll be taken to a donation page. You're not obliged to donate, but if you'd like to, $2.50 covers the cost of the sticker and postage. Anything extra will be used to extend the reach of the Car Tax campaign.

Fact check: The car tax won't even "drive down emissions" 😡

The car tax does zip for saving overall emissions due to transport already being in the Emissions Trading Scheme.

Transport Minister Michael Woods claims that up to 9.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions will be ‘prevented’ by 2050. But land transport is already covered by our cap-and-trade emissions scheme. That means that every emission ‘saved’ frees up credits to make emissions cheaper elsewhere. It’s called the ‘waterbed effect’ and is precisely why the UN recommends against the sort of direct political intervention the Government is pursuing.

Michael Woods either doesn’t understand the ETS or is lying about environmental benefits of this scheme.

A tax on petrol vehicles simply makes motorists (who already pay ETS levies on fuel) pay even more. It's a double tax.

Taxpayers are set to pay for Hollywood propaganda 🎥

Taika Waititi ad

Taxpayers could fork out millions in subsidies for a new film about Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s response to the Christchurch mosque shootings.

It's been reported that the production team intends to apply for a Screen Production Grant from the New Zealand Film Commission.

If Jacinda Ardern gets the Hollywood treatment while she’s still an active politician, that looks suspiciously like propaganda. Taxpayers should not be forced to fund it.

We say the Film Commission needs to update its processes to ensure that party-political films aren’t eligible for funding.

In fact, if the film is screening during the 2023 election period, it may cross the line into election advertising. Remember the infamous ‘Aroha’ posters? Our friend Eric Crampton at the NZ Initiative think tank has a good article on these issues here.

There are other good reasons for the Government to distance itself from this film. Families affected by the shootings have understandably denounced the film as exploitative. Taxpayers shouldn’t be made complicit in a production that profits from a community’s grief.

In case you missed it: 2021 Ratepayers’ Report now available 🧾✨

Rates graph

This week we published the 2021 edition of our popular local government league tables: Ratepayers' Report.

Ratepayers' Report gathers over two thousand data points to allow you to compare your local council with others on key metrics such as rates, liabilities, and staff salaries.

—> Click here to see how your local council compares <—

The major point of interest in the Ratepayers’ Report has always been our leaders' table for average residential rates, which uses a standardised formula to include all residential rates, local taxes, and levies.

Highest average residential rates:

1. Carterton District Council: $3,639
2. Auckland Council: $3,599
3. Whakatāne District Council: $3,314
4. Tasman District Council: $3,228
5. Manawatū District Council: $3,176

Lowest average residential rates:

1. Buller District Council: $1,815
2. Ōtorohanga District Council: $1,855
3. Mackenzie District Council: $1,893
4. Southland District Council: $1,976
5. Waimate District Council: $2,075

Good news: taxpayers save $99 million ⛵🥳

SkyPath meme

Team New Zealand has rejected the Government’s taxpayer-funded $99 million offer to host the America’s Cup in New Zealand.

This is sad news for America’s Cup fans, but good news for taxpayers and Auckland ratepayers. It means we've saved $99 million. That money can now go to more deserving causes: Pharmac, Police, nurses, roads, reining in debt, or even tax relief that puts food on the tables of hard-working New Zealanders.

Explained: the Climate Change Commission's costly agenda 🚩

carr_shaw.jpg

In today’s Herald, Matthew Hooton does fantastic job of explaining how the Climate Change Commission has overstepped its mandate to promote a “far left utopia” – an approach that would actually be less effective at reducing emissions than our existing Emissions Trading Scheme.

The article is paywalled, but here are the key lines:

It has become clear that the commission is not primarily or even mainly concerned with New Zealand reducing global emissions.

By far the biggest contribution New Zealand can make to reducing climate change is funding projects in developing economies to reduce their emissions and prevent clear-felling of rainforests. Such projects cost less than $20 to remove the equivalent of one tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2e tonne) from the atmosphere.

But despite the commission believing climate change is a global crisis, it doesn't want New Zealand to do this. Instead, it wants New Zealand to achieve net zero when measured almost entirely by activity within our borders. Even then, it says we could achieve net zero for around $50 per CO2e tonne … But the commission doesn't want to do that either.

Instead, Carr explicitly rejects New Zealand achieving the biggest possible reduction in CO2e emissions for the least cost. He says he wants to use climate change to radically transform every aspect of how we live our lives.

This includes how we work and make money, but Carr and his commission's ambitions are much bigger, including what amounts to constitutional change. This is the commission pursuing a wider agenda at the expense of its first statutory purpose, to mitigate climate change.

Taxpayer victory: MSD commits to scrutinising eligibility of wage subsidy recipients 🙌

Taxpayer Victory

The Ministry of Social Development has confirmed that wage subsidy recipients will face renewed scrutiny and potential prosecution if they are found to have been ineligible.

This is exactly what we called for in the wake of the Auditor-General’s damning criticism of ‘verbal audits’ for wage subsidy recipients. Taxpayers deserve to know that the $14 billion was actually paid to businesses who met the criteria.

We’d like to see the Prime Minister back this action with a clear message from the Beehive: "If you took money for which you weren’t eligible, expect to be found out. Cough up now or face serious penalties."

With $722 million already repaid, there is a good chance we’ll see hundreds of millions more flood back, so long as the Government demonstrates it's taking enforcement seriously.

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate


Media coverage:

Stuff  Taupō mayor who had kidney transplant takes medical leave

Homepaddock  Taxing poor to help rich

TVNZ  Divorced from people doing daily life - National’s Christopher Luxon slams Govt’s billion dollar bridge

Bowalley Road  Hoping for Divine Intervention 

Newshub  They Are Us producer responds to 'too soon' backlash over Christchurch terror attack film

TVNZ  Cycling opponents plan to block Auckland cycle route in bridge counter-protest

Hansard  Tabling the petition to stop SkyPath 2.0

Homepaddock  There’s a better recipe

TVNZ  Taxpayers’ Union calls on Govt to can cycle bridge over Auckland Harbour

2021 Ratepayers’ Report released, methodology explained

RPR banner

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union has today published the 2021 edition of Ratepayers' Report – online local government league tables – at www.ratepayersreport.nz

With these league tables, New Zealanders can easily compare their local council’s performance and financial position for 2019/20 against others.

Setting out more than two thousand data points, the Ratepayers' Report provides transparency for ratepayers, and rates figures are presented on a per-household basis to ensure fair comparisons between councils. The league tables rank councils on metrics including average residential rates, staffing costs, and council liabilities among others.

Taxpayers’ Union Campaign Manager Louis Houlbrooke says, “Our annual Ratepayers' Report helps ratepayers answer the question: could you be getting a better deal from your local council? The league tables reveal huge disparities between councils in terms of how much they take in rates, how much they owe, and how much they spend on salaries. Local council staff should pay close attention to the rankings and ask themselves how they might emulate their better-performing neighbours.”

Notable Findings:

Rates are still on the rise. The average council increased its rates by $111, with the average residential rate nationwide now $2,572.

  • Rates: Carterton District Council once again ranks highest for average residential rates at $3,639, just ahead of Auckland Council at $3,599. The lowest average residential rates in New Zealand is Buller District Council ($1,815).

  • Liabilities: Christchurch City Council continues to have the highest liabilities (debt) per household compared to any other council ($30,096). Auckland Council follows in second place, with liabilities per household of $29,611. Central Otago District Council has the country's lowest liabilities per household – $527.

  • Staffing efficiency: Waitomo District Council (including its CCOs) has the highest number of staff on a per-household basis  a staff member for every 20 households. In contrast, Thames-Coromandel District Council serves 122 households for each of its staff members.

  • Salaries: Auckland Council and its CCOs pays 3,161 staff salaries greater than $100,000  an increase of 330 people from 2020. Meanwhile, Otorohanga and Rangitikei District Councils each pay just five staff salaries greater than $100,000.

  • Fiscal safeguards: Only four councils meet the full criteria for prudent Audit and Risk Committees: Dunedin, Kawerau, Marlborough and Porirua.

This year's Ratepayers' Report has been published earlier in the year than previous editions: the data is up to date as of the most recent council fiscal year – the 12 months to 30 June 2020. That means it reflects the first three months of COVID-19's arrival in New Zealand.

Editors' notes:

Data for the report was compiled by the Taxpayers' Union and was supplied to all councils for review (and any necessary correction) prior to publication.

Ratepayers' Report facilitates straightforward comparison of average residential rates via a formula first used by Napier City Council which allows for an 'apples to apples' comparison of average residential rates and charges, based on each council’s definition of a residential rating unit. Only Waikato District Council was unwilling to provide the Taxpayers' Union with either residential or non-residential rates figures.

For non-rates figures (i.e. liabilities, personnel costs) we have assessed council data against the number of households counted by Stats NZ’s latest census. We have used Stats NZ household data because councils have different definitions of what constitutes a residential ratepayer or ‘rating unit’.

Q & A

What is the purpose of Ratepayers’ Report?

Ratepayers' Report provides accountability and transparency to New Zealand ratepayers by allowing them to compare their local territorial authority with others around the country.

Where was the data sourced?

The Taxpayers' Union compiled the data in Ratepayers' Report after reviewing each council's annual report for the year ending June 30, 2020.

Other figures were obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, and cover the 2019/20 financial year.

The data was sent to each individual authority for their review and error checking prior to public launch.

Population and household data is from Stats NZ.

Where did the group finance figures come from?

They are taken from each Council's annual report. They are council figures, plus all those of subsidiary council-controlled organisations.

Which councils are assessed in Ratepayers' Report?

Of New Zealand's 67 territorial authorities, 66 are examined in Ratepayers' Report. That includes all city, district, and unitary councils, with the exclusion of the Chatham Islands Council (due to concerns surrounding that Council's workload pressure and unique position).

What about regional councils?

While we anticipate including regional councils in future editions of the Report, gathering data for these councils has proved more difficult. Our previous research suggests that regional councils charge anywhere from $42 to $553 per residential ratepayer on top of the bill charged by territorial authorities.

Is this the first Ratepayers' Report?

No. Ratepayers' Report was first published in 2014 jointly by the Taxpayers' Union and Fairfax Media (now Stuff). The Taxpayers’ Union have since published updated versions in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. This is the sixth edition.

How are the councils grouped?

Unitary authorities – the five territorial authorities which also carry out the functions of a regional authority are grouped.
Metropolitan – the five large councils with a population of over 120,000.
City – five smaller metropolitan councils with populations between 40,000 and 120,000.
Provincial – the largest group, 27 non-metropolitan councils with population over 20,000.
Rural – the remaining 23 councils.

How was the average rates calculated?

Calculating an 'apples to apples' figure for residential rates is difficult because councils use various mixes of rates, levies, and user charges. Our approach is based on work by Napier City Council to find an average residential rate. The methodology councils were asked to use to calculate the figures disclosed in Ratepayers' Report is available here.

While we think this approach is useful and fair, the average residential and non-residential rate figure should be a guide only.

Unitary authorities (Auckland Council, Nelson City Council, Gisborne, Tasman, and Marlborough District Councils) perform the functions of a regional council and therefore can be expected to have higher rates than other territorial authorities.

Were councils consulted in the process?

Yes. Every council was sent a draft version of their respective data to review. 

Can the results of the 2021 report be compared to the 2020 edition?

Yes. All non-rates figures (i.e. liabilities, staff) were assessed using council data from Stats NZ’s 2018 census figures. We have done this because councils have different definitions of what constitutes a residential ratepayer or ‘rating unit’.

The methodology means that the per-household figures can be compared with the 2019 and 2020 report, but not with the 2018 report which used a per-ratepayer figure (aside from the average rates metric which has remained consistent).

What are the potential limitations of Ratepayers’ Report?

Queenstown-Lakes, Taupo, and Thames-Coromandel District Councils have previously objected to the use of Stats NZ’s household figures, as these tend to exclude properties left empty, i.e. baches. As a result, per-household figures for these districts may be somewhat inflated. This does not affect the rates figures, which are based on rating units.

Empty or undeveloped sections are counted as rating units. This means the average residential rates figure for a territory with a high proportion of undeveloped sections, such as Wairoa District Council, may appear relatively low while the actual level of rates levied on an average Wairoa homeowner is likely to be higher.

Op-ed: Sir Tim – What would you say you actually do here?

The following is an op-ed written by New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union Analyst Neil Miller. It is free for publication.

Sir Timothy Richard Shadbolt has had a very long, often illustrious, always colourful career in local government. He famously ‘did not care where as long as he was Mayor’, which took him from losing in Waitemata to winning in Invercargill where he has held the Mayoral chains since 1998. Shadbolt is the longest serving Mayor in New Zealand, but it is time for him to go.

He is known for his roguish grin, the famous concrete mixer (“Karl Marx”) he towed behind the Mayoral car, and being arrested for uttering the word “bullshit”, one of his 33 arrests for political protests and later inspiration for the title of his autobiography “Bullshit and Jellybeans” (1971).

In the last year, Mayor Tim is suddenly not so funny anymore.

An independent review of Invercargill City Council concluded he is not fit for the role. Shadbolt needs help chairing meetings and “is struggling to fulfil significant aspects of his role”.

The Mayor can no longer drive the Mayoral car after his license was revoked. He has refused to explain why to ratepayers.

This begs the question – if you have to be driven to council meetings where councillors and staff have to help you chair the meeting, “Sir Tim, what would you say you actually do here?”

Faced with the review which all but calls for his resignation, Shadbolt belligerently doubled down. He promised to run for another three to four terms (by which time he would be 86 years old), or to, in his words, “semi-retire” to the Southland Regional Council (Environment Southland).

The first course of action shows a stunning lack of self-awareness about his growing limitations and arrogance about his popularity, the second shows complete disdain for an important layer of local government. Being a regional councillor is a job, not a retirement junket for lifetime politicians.

Sir Tim should test his mandate with ratepayers right now without stretching this embarrassing decline to the next election. He should resign and stand for re-election. When he loses, and he would, he should retire gracefully.

He has got his gong, and rightly so. Shadbolt is a remarkable New Zealander to whom we will always owe a debt. Like all political careers, there needs to be a final curtain call. We’re sorry Sir Tim, but that time for you is now.

The most open and transparent Government should not take a year to supply official information

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pledged: “This government will foster a more open and democratic society. It will strengthen transparency around official information.”

The fact that it took Radio New Zealand a year to get a response to an Official Information Act request about a heated bureaucratic turf war between the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) over COVID-19 border exemptions makes a mockery of that promise.

Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Neil Miller said:

“A year is far too long to wait for a simple official information request given the Act has a timeframe of 20 working days to respond and a presumption to release unless there is good reason not to.”

“Too often, we see Government agencies attempt to stonewall legitimate requests in the hope that the people requesting the information will simply give up over time.”

“We submit more official information requests than any non-media organisation and constantly run up against obfuscation, unjustified delays, demands for money, and at times, straight up lies. We have the Ombudsman on speed dial.”

“Our message to the Prime Minister is simple. Live up to your promise and answer the questions, openly and transparently.”

Taxpayer Talk: Climate Change Commission delivers the big kahuna – wholesale economic transformation uncoupled to climate change mitigation

The Climate Change Commission’s final advice to the Government was released today. Our Executive Director Jordan Williams speaks again to Matt Burgess from the NZ Initiative to discuss the implications. 

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

Taxpayer Update: Tinder studies | SkyPath 2.0 | Fake climate protest

Radical climate plan set to be unveiled

Carr and Shaw

This afternoon the Climate Change Commission releases its final recommendations for the Government. Based on recent statements from the Commission Chair, they are pushing ahead with a plan to radically up-end New Zealand's economy with costly regulations.

The draft plan seeks to:

•  Ban imports of light petrol and diesel vehicles from 2032.

•  Cull dairy, sheep and beef numbers by 15% by 2030.

•  Reshape cities so that we walk 25% more, cycle 95% more, and take public transport 120% more by 2030.

•  Subsidise electric vehicles further.

•  Ban new coal boilers.

•  Ban all coal generation, regardless of security of supply.

•  Ban new natural gas connections.

•  Ban gas BBQs.

•  Require new and replacement heating systems to be electric or bioenergy, not gas.

There are far better ways to reduce our emissions. In fact, according to the Commission’s own analysis we are already on track to meet the 'net zero' carbon goal using the Emissions Trading Scheme!

Last week Jordan sent out this message to our supporters who submitted on the draft plan. If you're unfamiliar with the Commission's agenda, I highly recommend you read it.

In short, the Commission is:

•  undermining our excellent Emissions Trading Scheme (cap and trade) by trying to centrally plan emissions (at huge cost);

•  using its powers to achieve lofty objectives totally unrelated to the climate; and

•  rejecting Parliament’s ‘net emissions’ approach in favour of ‘gross emissions’ no matter the cost.

Our team will be working through the detail as soon as it is released.

$300,000 to study Tinder... and that's just the beginning

Grant image

Last week we exposed examples of the bizarre cost of Marsden Grants awarded to academic research of dubious value.

259 grants were awarded in the last two years, accounting for $158 million of taxpayer money.

The Marsden Fund was established to fund "excellent fundamental research". But you might question whether these projects are "excellent" spending:

•  $300,000 to prove it is “benevolently sexist” to believe that “men ought to protect and cherish women”.

•  $842,000 to find out why there aren't many Asian people on New Zealand television or in cinema.

•  $300,000 to examine how New Zealanders are using dating apps.

•  $870,000 to find out whether multiculturalism harms indigenous people.

•  $300,000 to examine the relationship between housing and security in Papua New Guinea.

•  $870,000 to “re-imagine anti-racism theory in the health sector”.

•  $842,000 to study ethnic women politicians in New Zealand.

•  $300,000 to find out how religion affects inequality in Fiji.

Our researcher has compiled the full abstracts of these examples and more here.

At the Taxpayers' Union, we take the view taxpayer money should be spent on New Zealand's highest areas of need. How can the Government possibly tell taxpayers that we need to spend $300,000 studying Tinder when we're facing problems like a housing crisis and a pandemic?

Interestingly, even hard-headed research proposals have been pitched in ideological terms for example, an investigation of human impacts on Antarctic ecology was pitched as examining 'how vulnerable Antarctica's coasts are to colonization'. Funding applicants clearly understand that themes of intersectional politics are likely to win them taxpayer money.

SkyPath 2.0 puts wealthy cyclists ahead of the needy

SkyPath meme

Last week the Government announced a massive handout for the lycra lobby: their very own $685 million dedicated cycle bridge.

It's the latest iteration of the ever-mutating 'SkyPath' project. The new bridge will cost $370 for every household in the country, from Kaitaia to the Bluff, and the benefits will be concentrated on a tiny group of disproportionately wealthy Aucklanders.

It’s astounding that a Labour Government is championing such a regressive, elitist project.

In fact, the Government might lose traditional supporters over this issue. On Sunday I joined Josie Pagani on Radio NZ's Weekend Panel to discuss the bridge. Josie is a former Labour candidate, and even she said it's possibly the worst decision she's seen from this government yet!

Petition image

Our petition to withdraw taxpayer funding of SkyPath, originally launched last year, saw an explosion of support over the weekend. If you haven't already, click here to sign the petition. Help us get the petition to 20,000 by clicking here to share it on Facebook.

Revealed: EECA spent $500,000 staging a fake climate march

In another exclusive from your humble Taxpayers' Union, we have revealed the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) spent $500,000 of taxpayer money staging a fake climate march, complete with major streets closed in Wellington.

This was part of EECA's $3 million "Gen Less" ad campaign calling on New Zealanders to commit to living a "less is more" lifestyle.

The Gen Less campaign centres around two ads.

•  The first ad, produced in 2019, presents quotes from historical figures including Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, Martin Luther King Jr, and Anne Frank, edited to sound like calls for climate action.

• The second ad, produced in 2020, features a bearded, pierced narrator walking through a crowd of chanting protestors. Smoke bombs are set off in the background. The narrator urges viewers to buy less, fly less, and drive less. Important Wellington streets were closed for the fake protest, including Featherston St and Hunter St.

Each ad cost around $500,000 to produce, with the remainder of the $3 million spent to buy air time, radio time, digital advertising, and a series of congratulatory Stuff articles.

The sheer cost is incredible. EECA's old ads may have been annoying, but at least they looked cheap!

The absurdity of shutting down streets and hiring fake climate protestors is amplified by the fact the ad was produced shortly after a series of ‘School Strike 4 Climate’ marches, from which plenty of footage was already available. Instead, EECA disrupted traffic and blew out its own emissions by transporting dozens of actors to Wellington for a fake protest.

As for the ethics of EECA's choice to exploit the legacy of Anne Frank and purchase positive news coverage for its campaign, you can judge for yourself.

Government’s favourite advertising conglomerate benefits from COVID-19 but keeps wage subsidy

Taika Waititi ad

EECA's $3 million ad campaign was delivered by the Government's pet advertising agency, Clemenger BBDO. 

Clemenger also received the massive taxpayer-funded contract for the "Unite Against COVID-19" ad campaign, and makes ads for NZTA, KiwiRail, Oranga Tamariki, and the Human Rights Commission (remember the "Give Nothing to Racism" campaign?).

The value of Clemenger BBDO's taxpayer-funded contracts alone have totalled more than $5 million since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Now the NZ Herald reports that the parent company, Clemenger Group, accepted a $2.5 million wage subsidy during COVID-19, and has refused to pay it back despite making a healthy profit during the pandemic. In other words, they're double dipping from the taxpayer purse.

Other companies who weathered COVID-19 better than they expected are now repaying the wage subsidy voluntarily – and they never enjoyed the security of cushy government contracts.

It’s a shame that the company so keen on lecturing us in its pious ad campaigns doesn’t back up its words with moral integrity.

Money-printing agency wastes money on a rebrand

The Reserve Bank has spent $100,000 on a rebrand inspired by the legend of Tāne Māhuta.

Here's their old logo:

RBNZ old logo

And here's their new one:

RBNZ logo

The Bank has even released a painfully-worded explanation of its new logo's meaning:

Our adoption of this legend is honoured through the logo’s growing lines which represent the various parts of Tāne Mahuta, (the financial system), working together as one.

  • Nga Pūtake (roots) is the governing legislation

  • Te Tariwai (vascular), the payment and settlement systems

  • Te Toto (sap) speaks to the flow of money

  • Te Pekenga (branches and leaves), the system’s regulated entities.

The very top lines, representing the canopy, embody kaitiakitanga (guardianship) of the financial ecosystem. Its upward momentum, exemplifies our people all pulling together with the shared purpose of enabling the economic wellbeing and prosperity of all New Zealanders.

The white triangle formed at the bottom of the logo represents our three values – wānanga (integrity), tauira (innovation) and taura (inclusion) – creating a solid foundation to build our ecosystem on.

I guess when you have the power to print money, it's easy to think you can waste it on babble like this.

Seriously though: it's pointless for any Government agency to spend six figures on a rebrand. The Reserve Bank doesn't compete for customers like a private company, so it doesn't need a flashy new logo to distinguish itself from competitors.

Did a Government Minister just compare us to a gang? 🤔

Finally in this edition, we were taken by surprise last week when Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson stood up in Parliament and explained why he's been meeting with gangs and mentioned us!

JacksonClick here to watch the clip.

Here's the relevant quote:

We, sadly, see the silly ACT Party jumping on the bandwagon again because they found out that I had spoken with gang members at the end of last year...

It's important we discuss things. As the Māori development Minister, I retain that right to talk with whoever I like. Just like the ACT Party meets with the Taxpayers' Union and people who avoid paying tax, I'll meet with any Māori who needs help.

In terms of gangs, I don't see gangs; I see whānau, I see communities, I see tamariki, I see mokopuna.

Thanks for the shout-out, Willie. You're welcome to meet with us any time. Taxpayers are whānau too.

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

RNZ The Weekend Panel with Josie Pagani and Louis Houlbrooke

Contractor Magazine SkyPath morphs into expensive standalone bridge

Northland Age  
Consider the plight of the smoker

The Press  Christchurch council insists it has implemented ex-mayor's cost-saving measures

Sky Path climate claim doesn't stack up

We were surprised to hear the Minister of Transport use climate change to try and justify his announcement to scrap other transport projects in favour of a new bike bridge over Auckland harbour. Our consulting environmental economist did this back of the envelope calculations to check whether the Minister's claims about being good for climate change stack up.

The new Auckland crossing costs $685M. That is a daily cost of $112,500 (at a 6% cost of capital). The Minister justifies the bridge based partly on emissions.

Assume 10,000 one-way crossings/day and an average commute profile between Takapuna and Sky City = 8.7km.

Depending on whether each bridge user would otherwise have done their commute by bus or car, the bridge will avoid 8-14 tonnes of emissions per day.

So that is $7,800-$14,700/tonne abated.

To be competitive with the ETS (currently at $37 per tonne) would require 1.3-4.0 million crossings per day.

If bridge users would otherwise use the ferry, which may be the most likely alternative, then the bridge avoids just 0.5 tonnes of emissions per day at a cost of $237,000 per tonne.

$237,000 per tonne abated, vs buying an emissions credit via the ETS cap and trade market price of $37.

Head over to our Facebook page and tell us what you think.

The Climate Change Commission is out of control

Dear Supporter,

This message is a bit longer than usual, but it's important.

It's about the recommendations of the Climate Change Commission. I'd like to update you on where things are at. It's not good.

Thanks thousands of Taxpayers' Union supporters like you, it is likely a majority of public submissions opposed the Commissioners' radical plans to up-end our economy and reshape our lifestyles. But it appears they've not listened.

It's not yet in the media, but the Taxpayers' Union understands that at noon on Wednesday, the finalised recommendations will be publicly released.

To date, the Prime Minister and Climate Change Minister have said the Government will implement whatever the Climate Change Commission recommends. We have to make them see sense. We have to step up our effort and I am putting the call out to ensure we have a campaign fund to mount this battle.

Countless economists and analysts have tried to explain to the Commissioners that their plans aren't just costly – they won't even work to reduce emissions. When the Government uses regulations to push down emissions in parts of the economy covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme ('cap and trade'), it just frees up credits for people to increase emissions in other parts of the economy – this is the “waterbed effect”.

But the Commission Chair, Rod Carr, looks to have stuck his fingers in his ears and said "I'm not listening".

A scary insight into Rod Carr's thinking

In a blog just published on the Climate Change Commission's website, the Commission Chair doubles down on his decision to abandon a 'least cost' approach in favour of heavy-handed regulation. It leaves no doubt the Climate Change Commission intend to use climate regulation to advance radical social and economic agendas.

Rod Carr writes:

While cost matters, it is only one of the things we need to care about – and it is not the only factor that drives our choices. We need to care holistically about the approach Aotearoa will take to transition to a low emissions future.

We care about risk and uncertainty. About the next generation. About how land and resources are used. And we care about our personal relationships, and relationships between our communities.

"Care holistically" in this case means taking a simple goal reducing emissions and turning it into an excuse to pursue new ideological goals.

These new goals are incredibly vague and subjective. How on earth does an unelected bureaucrat plan to put a value on "personal relationships" and "relationships between our communities"? How is it possible to hold the Government to account according to these priorities?

You can’t put a price on these things.

Actually, you can put a price on risk and uncertainty. Private firms price in risks of their decisions every day. Insurance companies even specialise in this.

Pursuing the cheapest path fails to consider impacts on individuals, communities, workers, businesses, families, and the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Wrong. It is precisely for the sake of these communities that the Commission should minimise the cost of its climate plan. When the economy is derailed, all of us suffer.

Remember, the whole idea of the Commission was to take the politics out of climate change. It seems Rod Carr is determined to undermine it.

We know that the least cost option often creates poor outcomes.

Economic costs are themselves a poor outcome. If the Commissioner wants to damage the economy beyond what is necessary to achieve his zero-carbon goal, he needs to clearly explain why. We're still waiting for that clear explanation.

At the moment, with policy settings in Aotearoa, the cheapest option would be for us to continue planting our land with pine trees.

There's an even cheaper option: use ETS levies to fund tree planting overseas. Carbon emissions are a global problem, so it doesn't matter whether a forest is planted in Eketahuna or Ethiopia. The only reason New Zealand won't do that is because the Climate Change Commission is ruling it out!

Our advice focuses on removing emissions at source, rather than trying to plant our way out of the problem.

Why? It's the net change in emissions that should be relevant here, but the Commissioner's plan focuses on gross emissions, ruling out affordable and innovative methods of sequestering carbon. This has turned the Commission's approach into zealotry, not expert advice.

During our consultation, some questioned why the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) alone won’t meet our emissions reduction goals

Submitters weren't just "questioning" this – they were pointing out that the Commissioner's own data reveals the ETS has already put us on track to reach net zero emissions.

Emissions pricing won’t provide support to people hit hardest by the direct or indirect impacts of climate change–

Wrong. Emissions pricing supports these people by sparing them from the economic destruction advocated by the Commission!

–and it won’t ensure transformation across all sectors.

What's wrong with that? Why is the Commission worshipping at the altar of economic "transformation"?

Our draft advice...looks at how we can enable a transition that is fair and equitable, rather than simply focusing on the cheapest cost.

The safest way to ensure an 'equitable' transition is to minimise costs. That way, if politicians in the future decide a certain group has been hard done by, we'll at least have some wealth left over to address those issues.

If we take responsibility for our emissions now...we can provide ourselves, our children and our children’s children with better opportunities to manage our future world.

Our children won't have better opportunities if they inherit a crippled economy.

One more thing...

Last month, one of our staffers bumped into Dr Carr in the [checks notes] Air NZ Wellington Koru Lounge. We couldn't help but ask his office for comment:

Quote

Of course, some would say it is hypocritical for Dr Carr to be telling others not to fly while he himself is a Gold standard frequent flier.

This meme had a lot of comment over on our Facebook page.

Carr graphic

Remember that Dr Carr is not actually adding any harm to the climate domestic air travel is covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme. What that means is that every extra flight will see reduced emissions elsewhere.

And it is there that the hypocrisy lies. He wants the rest of us to fly less (and take a gross emissions approach), but when it comes to his own habits, that's apparently too inconvenient.

So if the media won't hold Rod Carr to account, we will.Donate

Thank you for your support,

Jordan

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

PS. we'll be working through the detail as soon as the final advice is out and will update you on what, if anything, has changed from the draft. If Rod Carr won't listen, we'd best make sure Jacinda Ardern does! To date the Government has said that they will be implementing whatever Dr Carr recommends. We have to stop them. Chip in to the campaign here.

$300,000 to study Tinder? Marsden Grants deserve greater scrutiny

Grant image

The Taxpayers Union is questioning the cost of Marsden Grants awarded to academic research of dubious value.

259 grants were awarded in the last two years, accounting for $158 million of public money. The full list of Marsden Grants awarded in 2019 and 2020 can be found here and here.

The Marsden Fund was established in 1994 to fund "excellent fundamental research".

It's hard to see how some recently-funded projects are either ‘excellent’ or ‘fundamental’. We're exposing examples of the grants so that taxpayers can judge for themselves.

•  $300,000 to prove it is “benevolently sexist” to believe that “men ought to protect and cherish women”.

•  $842,000 to find out why there aren't many Asian people on New Zealand television or in cinema.

•  $300,000 to examine how New Zealanders are using dating apps.

•  $870,000 to find out whether multiculturalism harms indigenous people.

•  $300,000 to examine the relationship between housing and security in Papua New Guinea.

•  $870,000 to “re-imagine anti-racism theory in the health sector”.

•  $842,000 to study ethnic women politicians in New Zealand.

•  $300,000 to find out how religion affects inequality in Fiji.

Full abstracts of these examples and more can be found at the bottom of this piece.

Recommendations for funding are made by a council of 11 researchers hand-picked by the Minister for Research, Science and Innovation – Megan Woods.

Some Marsden Grants go toward tangible scientific research that will conceivably provide a return for New Zealand taxpayers. But the funding council seems to give equal priority to vague, navel-gazing treatises that will only ever be read by a handful of academics.

At the Taxpayers' Union, we take a simple view: taxpayer money should be spent on New Zealand's highest areas of need. How can Megan Woods possibly tell taxpayers that we need to spend $300,000 studying Tinder when we're facing problems like a housing crisis and a pandemic?

The Marsden Grant seems to deal in default funding figures, such as $300,000 or $842,000, which suggests there isn't much, if any, scrutiny of whether these projects actually need the full sum. Many of the projects involve international collaborations, meaning funds can easily be eaten up by overseas junkets.

We're asking Megan Woods whether she's actually read what grants her funding panel has approved, and if she seriously thinks that all these projects are worth the many millions they're costing taxpayers.

Interestingly, even hard-headed research proposals have been pitched in ideological terms for example, an investigation of human impacts on Antarctic ecology was pitched as examining 'how vulnerable Antarctica's coasts are to colonization'. Funding applicants clearly understand that themes of intersectional politics are likely to win them taxpayer money.

Many Kiwis will support the principle of funding blue-skies academic research. But we're urging taxpayers and the media to take a closer look at where the money actually goes.

A selection of abstracts from questionable grants proposals can be found below.

2019:

Religious and Moral Fictionalism
When we are confronted with what appear to be competing theological or moral paradigms, must we always take sides? Many longstanding philosophical arguments about religion and ethics presuppose a choice among only three attitudes that people can take: belief, disbelief, or indecision. (In the context of religion, for example, we have words for each: one is either a theist, an atheist, or an agnostic.) But this traditional philosophical view misses something important: the possibility that our judgements about morality and religion need not express genuine beliefs, but nevertheless can amount to a kind of “acceptance” that commits us in significant practical ways to moral or religious frameworks. This view is called “fictionalism.” This project, first, articulates precisely what this additional possibility amounts to; second, it explores how fictionalism can be employed to help one engage respectfully with others who adopt an alternative religious or moral framework; and, third, it examines the relationship between morality and religion through a fictionalist lens. We will also show how fictionalism can help people to engage in meaningful cross-cultural moral and religious discussions. As a case study, we will consider the belief systems of indigenous groups, which fictionalism is well-suited to illuminate.

Awarded: $660,000

How do relationship needs promote sexist idealization and aggression?
The idea that “men ought to protect and cherish women” may seem romantic. But this belief is not protective. It is what psychologists term a benevolently sexist belief. Men who hold benevolently sexist beliefs are more likely to blame women who are the victims of violence. Where do these beliefs come from, and why are they counterintuitively linked with justification of aggression?

These questions are typically investigated by examining societal-level beliefs and inequalities, which overlooks the personal needs and contextual factors underlying sexism. I predict that heightened needs for a romantic relationship are one source of men’s benevolently sexist beliefs. However, these beliefs foster entitled feelings that women ought to reciprocate men’s romantic interest, fuelling aggression when men face rejection.
I test my predictions by studying how people’s gender beliefs change as they naturally initiate and dissolve dating relationships. I combine a two-year longitudinal study with lab-based experiments, providing real-life and causal evidence of the motives and consequences of men’s benevolently sexist beliefs.
Findings from these studies will help researchers to understand why sexist beliefs and dating violence exist in egalitarian countries like New Zealand and will pave the way for future intervention research on dating aggression.
Awarded: $300,000

Ngā Taonga o Wharawhara: The World of Māori Body Adornment
What makes a chief push a live bird through his earlobe and enjoy the spectacle of it dying? What makes someone wear a long feather through his septum? And why is the hei tiki so significant that they retain their ceremonial, political and economic roles over four centuries? Body adornment is a critical visual marker that can send out specific messages as well as reinforce social, economic and political status. Ngā Taonga o Wharawhara will offer the first comprehensive study of these adornments, and will address a gap in Māori art historical research to investigate the nature of adornments (types, materials), the practices of making, and the people involved (makers, wearers and kaitiaki/caretakers). By using Kaupapa Māori and art historical methodologies, this project will offer research models to address recent imperatives in Art History to understand it as a global discipline, and be made accessible through articles and a major book.
Awarded: $523,000

Asian New Zealanders on Screen: visibility past and present
This project examines why Asian New Zealanders, despite being a significant proportion of the national population, remain virtually absent from New Zealand screen culture. Few of their stories have been seen or heard in film, on television, or online and disproportionately few work in the culture industries. Those who do, struggle to find institutional funding and distribution for projects that reflect their identities and experiences. This lack of visibility is typically explained in terms of market forces (Asian New Zealand audiences are commercially unviable) and individual creative choice (their stories are immaterial to or unrepresentative of ‘New Zealanders’). Instead, we argue that racial marginalisation is a consequence of institutional and industrial ideologies and screen production practices. Our project will construct the first history of Asian New Zealand screen production (1980-2019) and trace several contemporary case histories (2020). These data enable us to analyse whether recent developments in Asian New Zealand screen production genuinely alter cultural politics and power or if they reiterate hegemonic tendencies to manage diversity. We study the dynamic relationship between national policy, social and economic production practices, ‘diversity’ initiatives, and everyday screen production cultures to interrogate how certain narratives are perpetuated and others are silenced.

Awarded: $842,000

#MeToo; A Cultural Shift?: Young New Zealanders' Exposure and Responses to Sexual Harassment Media
Can #MeToo lend momentum to a cultural shift around sexual harassment? #MeToo and related pervasive media discussions of gender and sexual harassment provide us with a key moment to explore what sense young people make of such content, which is often shared on social media. How do they understand it, what do they feel about it, and how do they respond to it in their everyday lives? Learning about boys is particularly important because lack of understanding and knowledge about gender equality directly relates to support for violence against women. A small literature exists about, mostly, white, middle class young feminists’ use of social media to resist sexual harassment, but research with boys/young men and minority groups is absent. We use multimodal qualitative methods to investigate with diverse groups of youth the sexual harassment media stories they see in their social media accounts, and how these affect them. We explore the meanings young people make of these texts and ways these meanings form and flow through their friendship and peer networks and wider contexts (e.g. schools, families, communities). Our work will contribute to identifying strategies for diverse groups of young people to challenge and shift inequitable gender and sexuality norms.
Awarded: $842,000

Double jeopardy or double advantage? Ethnic women in New Zealand politics
Although ethnic minority women are increasingly visible actors within mainstream politics in western democracies, there is little scholarship focusing on their experiences. This dearth is especially evident in the context of Aotearoa/New Zealand. Like elsewhere in the Anglo-European world, ethnic women in New Zealand are integral to politics – e.g., as MPs, councillors, party members, and political candidates – yet, they are overlooked in academic research. This research seeks, at one level, to understand the experiences of ethnic women as politicians within NZ’s political systems. Conceptually, however, their lived realities are a window to examining intersectionality and governance in NZ’s bicultural and multi-ethnic democracy. Drawing on a five-fold analytical framework, the study focuses on the politics of: (a) Representation (b) Symbolism (c) Governance (d) Identity, and (e) Discrimination. The study collates and uses ‘thick biographies’ of 20-25 ethnic women politicians for an array of qualitative and quantitative cross-cutting analyses. Uniquely ‘about and by’ ethnic women, this study is timely, contributing to emergent international scholarship on gender/ethnic minority politics while also providing insights for practical consideration for current and prospective ethnic women politicians in NZ.
Awarded: $842,000

It looks grim: The future of Māori academics in New Zealand universities
The future looks grim for Māori academics and for the New Zealand universities hoping to recruit them. Māori academics are 'underrepresented' in New Zealand universities, making up only 6% of the university academic workforce despite being 14.9% of the New Zealand general population. Although often well meaning, New Zealand universities have at times worked to ‘exclude’ Māori academic intellectualism from the mainstream; at other times they have worked to ‘exploit’ Māori academics for their cultural knowledges to further advance university agendas. While these observations give reason to be concerned for the future of Māori academics and New Zealand universities, a look to New Zealand’s historical past reveals it even more so, suggesting an orchestrated series of institutional effects which warns the grim future won’t be so easy to avoid. This study draws on an institutional framework utilising self-correcting induction, conversational and archival inquiry, and narrative analysis to examine the political power relations between the New Zealand university sector and Māori academics between the 1990s and 2021. Our ultimate purpose is to subvert this deep-seated grim looking future for Māori academics and New Zealand universities, as well as open up new conversations about indigenous exclusion and exploitation in other postcolonial contexts.

Awarded: $300,000

Growing old in an adopted land: Redefining 'ageing well' in the context of migration
Growing old involves complex developmental and social changes for all individuals. However, navigating the ageing process can be especially challenging for migrants because of their dual cultural and transnational contexts that often present contradictory expectations. In the Western, individualistic world, health and independence are the yardsticks by which successful ageing is measured. Collectivistic societies value harmonious relationships, and indigenous communities further emphasise multi-generational reciprocity. For migrants, however, ageing well may be more than maintaining health, remaining independent, having strong family ties, or community involvement; it lies in the ability to negotiate expectations of multiple cultures effectively throughout the lifespan. Complicating this further, cultural diversity in ageing is underpinned by the opportunities and freedom people have to access resources and make choices as they grow older. Migrants’ capabilities to age well are hindered by social and institutional factors that create systematically different access to resources over the lifespan. By integrating scholarship on life-course inequalities and cultural gerontology, my research draws on narrative interviews, survey, and life history data to explore what ageing well means for migrants and how it is achieved over the life-course. This will produce a culturally sensitive and ethical framework with a life-course focus for understanding multicultural ageing.

Awarded: $300,000

Listening to the Voices of our Harbours: Kāwhia, Manukau and Whangarei
This project investigates kaitiakitanga over Aotearoa’s harbours, emphasising the work of Māori activists at multiple levels, from the shores and waters of their harbours to the steps of Parliament. The word ‘kaitiaki’ has entered our legal system, but in practice it is often used as a convenient Māori shorthand for ‘stakeholder,’ without recognition that the term is deeply embedded in the culture from which it comes. The voices of kaitiaki are seldom heard beyond their local communities. Our research is a collaboration with flaxroots Māori, using Kaupapa and Tikanga methods, and provides a platform for their understandings and experiences of kaitiakitanga to be widely known.
Māori activists mobilised the word kaitiakitanga in the 1980s, particularly in the Manukau Harbour claim led by Dame Nganeko Minhinnick. Our project also explores how kaitiakitanga has evolved since then, in the context of increasing neoliberalisation in environmental management.
Harbours are historically significant and environmentally threatened sites of kaitiakitanga. Our project centres on the varied Kāwhia, Manukau and Whangarei Harbours, building from our existing relationships with these communities. Ultimately our project aims to develop new ways of envisaging harbours, promoting mātauranga Māori as instrumental in the past, present, and future wellbeing of our harbours.
Awarded: $660,000

Languaculture within Te Ao Māori: Learning from infants, whānau and communities
Effective communication is key to one’s lifetime participation as a literate local and global citizen. However, within many colonised societies, the interrelationships and subtleties of language, culture and identity generated from Indigenous epistemologies have been eroded, belittled and overlooked by an education system that has favoured Eurocentric models. Associated education policies, grounded in racial hierarchies, continue to promote assimilation into the worldview of the coloniser, which features at all levels of education systems. In New Zealand, this situation has continued to detrimentally influence how Māori have viewed their own language, culture and identity across successive generations, and how it is viewed by others.
The proposed research seeks to understand the implications of intergenerational loss while unlocking important interrelationships between language and culture (‘languaculture’) for infants, their whānau (families) and communities across a range of Indigenous/Māori sociocultural settings. Learning from Māori epistemologies about conception, birth and infancy will help us to understand the experiences of babies learning to speak into their world. This research supports more effective social interactions, literacy development and improved hauora (wellbeing) across diverse communities by better understanding the socialisation of tamariki/mokopuna (children/grandchildren) within whānau, and their sense of belonging, emerging identities and language acquisition.
Awarded: $841,000

Housing and Everyday Security in Papua New Guinea
This project explores how landowners and settlers in urban Papua New Guinea (PNG) can work together to create safer homes. Towns in PNG are considered dangerous places. A shortage of safe and affordable housing contributes to this perception. In response to housing shortages, customary landowners may informally lease plots to outsiders, leading to inter- and intra-community tensions. In the context of often-troubled relationships between customary landowners and migrant settlers, my research asks: What does security mean for people in PNG’s growing towns? How do residents understand the risks and opportunities associated with a changing housing landscape? How do both tenants and landowners try to create safe homes? How are these practices transforming ideas about risk, well-being, and agency? Using ethnographic methods in two towns and bringing together theoretical frameworks from housing studies, the anthropology of security, and medical anthropology, this research will generate new insights on the cultural consequences of a rapidly changing housing landscape. As urbanisation accelerates in the Pacific, it is important to understand how customary owners and tenants frame their mutual responsibilities beyond the cash nexus.
Awarded: $300,000

Sleep loss in children: perchance to eat?
The literature strongly suggests sleep loss in children promotes unhealthy eating, but 'how' this occurs is largely unknown. We propose a randomised, crossover experimental design (home setting) to determine how sleep loss influences energy intake. Specifically, we will manipulate individual sleep patterns of 110 children aged 8-12 years so each child receives one week of sleep restriction (1h less time in bed than usual) and sleep extension (1h longer), with one week washout in between (resume normal sleep) whilst undertaking repeated assessments of outcomes of interest: eating in the absence of hunger within an ad libitum feeding experiment (primary outcome) at the end of each experimental week; eating behaviours (appetite regulation, eating for reasons other than hunger); type, quantity and timing (24 hour recalls); context of eating including hidden eating (using novel wearable cameras) and desire for treat foods (computerized task). We will also determine if sleep loss changes energy balance through promoting more sedentary behaviour and less physical activity (7 day actigraphy/motion sensor). Collectively, this data will advance our understanding of the pathways by which sleep loss may change eating behaviours and appetite in children, leading to a cascade of effects on food choices, energy intake and weight gain.
Awarded: $852,000

Exploration of Pāsifika funds of knowledge in mathematics
Equity in schooling can only be achieved when educators develop understandings of the identities of diverse learners and their ‘funds of knowledge’. New Zealand’s population includes the largest group of Pāsifika people in the Western world. Our Pāsifika communities are woven from many threads of diverse ethnicities, nationalities, languages, and cultures. However, while schools are culturally and ethnically diverse, the cultural knowledge of many Pāsifika learners is excluded from the classroom. This project will explore the culturally embedded ways of knowing and successful mathematical experiences of Pāsifika learners outside of school, in their everyday settings in the home and community. The aim of this 3-year study is to describe Pāsifika mathematical funds of knowledge by actively involving participants (aged 7 to 15 years old) and their families in documenting their out of school experiences with mathematics through photography and video recording and then describing this during interviews. The project will raise awareness of the strengths of Pāsifika learners and address current equity issues in education.
Awarded: $300,000

Te whai wawewawe ā Māuitikitiki-ā-Taranga: Revitalisation of Māori string figure knowledge and practice
Māori string figures are known as “whai”, from “te whai wawewawe ā Māuitikitiki-ā-Taranga” - to follow in the deft footsteps of the mythical hero Māui. Whai are a unique method used by many indigenous and Pacific Islands cultures to store, record and transmit cultural knowledge. Whai requires patience, focus, discipline, mental agility and dexterity. It develops memory, involving extraordinary imagination to create numerous patterns from a simple looped string. There are over 500 whai patterns yet most current practitioners would struggle to produce 20, let alone know the individual chants, prayers and associated narratives embedded within whai.
Today, whai is a culturally important art and knowledge system close to extinction. It was documented in 1927 that whai knowledge and practice was suffering significant loss. Since then, there has been no extensive examination of whai, let alone widespread use of it. Employing a kaupapa Māori approach, our all Māori research team will examine the knowledge system and practice of whai, develop best practice intergenerational transfer of whai knowledge and appropriate storage of whai knowledge for Aotearoa and the Pacific. Our work will be vital in revitalising this unique, complex mnemonic system that documents and transmits Māori knowledge and practice.
Awarded: $842,000

The Longitudinal Study of Cohesion and Conflict: Testing Hypotheses of Social and Religious Change in Fiji
Religion is ubiquitous, yet the fundamental question of how religion affects people remains unclear. Some see religion as social glue; others view it as a mechanism for social control. Existing datasets cannot settle these enduring debates. We will collect longitudinal ethnographic and cooperative network data from individuals living in Fijian villages and squatter settlements undergoing intense social change, creating the Pacific’s first longitudinal ethnographic study of religion and society. By simultaneously measuring individual and community units over time, these social conditions will function as “natural experiments,” affording an understanding of the dynamic interplay between religious institutions, cooperation and inequality. Published datasets, data analysis scripts, and data visualisations will furnish an enduring and fully open scholarly resource; five peer-reviewed articles in high impact journals, four conference presentations, a workshop, and a new methodological textbook will advance a pioneering quantitative approach to the ethnographic study of cultures among the next generation of social researchers. Dissemination of findings will involve local communities in applied policy recommendations.
Awarded: $300,000

 

2020:

Shifting intimacies: Navigating the 'game' of mobile dating
In this digitally-mediated world, initiating sexual or romantic intimacy now frequently occurs on mobile dating apps. This requires people to navigate new technologies and enables them to explore different possibilities for intimacy. The opportunities that mobile dating holds for creating intimacy, and how people take these up, is particularly relevant in light of the global pandemic of COVID-19, when human connection and contact is intertwined with worries about viral contamination, risk, and future uncertainty. This timely research will offer up-to-the-minute insight and understanding into how people from various backgrounds are finding ways of creating and experiencing intimacy, through mobile dating, in the context of an unfolding pandemic. This research will involve people who vary in age, ethnicity, sexuality, and other backgrounds across Aotearoa New Zealand – a country that has successfully emerged from immediate crisis. Using novel, interactive and in-depth methods, we will explore meanings, activities, and stories attached to using dating technologies while living through this pandemic. Findings will contribute empirical evidence and extend theoretical understandings of how people engage with digital technologies and navigate intimacy, risk, and emotion across different living conditions in a COVID-19 world.
Awarded: $300,000

Our game by our rules: Bringing an Indigenous perspective to the Sport-for-Development (SFD) field
Despite 20 years of dedicated Sport-for-Development (SFD) theorising, research and practice, Indigenous worldviews remain silenced and positioned at the margins. This is deeply concerning as Indigenous people are frequently the target of deficit-focused SFD initiatives, while at the same time being excluded in decision making. In transforming the field of SFD, our project will probe, deconstruct and contest current SFD discourse in order to develop a co-constructed, Indigenous-centred, gendered, re-theorised understanding of SFD. Using Kaupapa Māori Methodology and the Fijian Vanua Framework, case studies will be conducted in Aotearoa and Fiji to shine light on SFD initiatives which are informed by Indigenous viewpoints, and align with Indigenous aspirations. Along with observations and in-depth interviews with groups involved in rugby, Iron Māori and outrigger canoeing, we will engage in hui and talanoa and collect thick, deep, narratives. An international survey will provide us with rich quantitative data, while the cases will build a nuanced understanding of different contexts of SFD Indigeneity for the purpose of theorising upwards. We will make an original contribution to Indigenous and feminist scholarship, SFD and sport management knowledge, by creating a space for new conversations, and thus new opportunities for innovating SFD concepts, methods and applications.
Awarded: $870,000

Re-imagining anti-racism theory in the health sector
Racism and dishonouring of te Tiriti o Waitangi are significant contributors to Māori health inequities in Aotearoa New Zealand. While there is growing acknowledgement of this situation and some improvement in individual practice within various disciplines, few initiatives have attempted to engage with racism in the health sector at an institutional level. We propose to develop a transformational theory and practice of anti-racism that is relevant to all levels of the health sector. The current study draws on existing research by the team around cultural safety, health inequities and mapping racism that identifies the need for a cohesive approach to addressing racism in the health sector. The study is underpinned by Māori health aspirations, and focuses on the nexus of Māori and Tauiwi knowledges. Our novel methodological approach is based on kaupapa Māori theory, Western change theories, Critical te Tiriti Analysis and informed by Te Ara Tika ethical principles. The study comprises four iterative stages over three years which will generate, refine, test, and disseminate a theory of anti-racism in collaboration with health sector partners. Governance will be provided by a Kaitiaki Rōpū complemented by an expert Advisory Rōpū to construct an equitable relational space for the project.
Awarded: $870,000

Psychology of Pacific Peoples or Pacific Psychologies? How Pacific psychologists are changing the discipline
This project will identify how Pacific psychology academics, post-graduate students, and practitioners adapt psychology to meet the needs of Pacific communities in Aotearoa. Understanding how Pacific psychologists re-centre their discipline on Pacific epistemologies and challenge Euro-American dominance in psychology can provide innovative and ground-breaking advancements across research, teaching, and practice. By drawing connections on what Pacific psychologists do and what universities teach, it may be possible to establish a broad platform of “Pacific Psychologies” as a paradigm within Indigenous Psychology. Furthermore, this project will illuminate how Pacific research and researchers are bringing in Pacific knowledge and practices across other all of psychology (such as developmental, social, educational) highlighting innovative ways in which Pacific research can enrich and enhance the psychological education and training of Pacific and non-Pacific psychologists alike.
Awarded: $300,000

Is Multiculturalism Helpful or Harmful to Indigenous Peoples?
Is multiculturalism helpful or harmful to indigenous peoples? Does it offer opportunities or lead to marginalisation? Close the gaps in social, economic and health disparities or threaten indigenous rights and resources? Although research shows that multiculturalism benefits many immigrant and ethnic minorities, little is known about its impact on indigenous communities either in Aotearoa or overseas. We adopt an innovative approach in collaboration with Māori and Native American tribes to address these controversial questions. The project: 1) explores indigenous understandings of multiculturalism, including its perils and promises; 2) combines this indigenous knowledge with current psychological theorizing to examine the impact of multiculturalism on physical, social, psychological and spiritual dimensions of well-being; and 3) investigates the extent to which socio-political and historical context affects the relationship between multiculturalism and well-being in these indigenous communities.
Awarded: $870,000

Retracing the Storylines of Pacific Women Voyagers and Navigators
Retracing the Storylines of Pacific Women Voyagers and Navigators aims to re-narrate Pacific ‘her-stories’ to articulate the complex roles that women have played in voyaging, migration, movement, identity, places and displacements, diasporas and connections to imagine a future for Pacific Islands women, peoples and islands that forges new possibilities for Pacific women leaders and activists. This project re-navigates moʻokūʻauhau, whakapapa, genealogies and storylines of Pacific women voyagers and visionaries, past and present, to investigate what this body of knowledge reveals about mana wahine, feminine epistemologies, ontologies, women in leadership, gender and Pacific women’s power. The research aim is to restore the legacies of legendary Pacific Island women voyagers and navigators by retracing the voyaging storylines of Pacific women with a commitment to researching the connections between Hina/Hine/Ine/Sima/Sina and Nimʻanoa throughout Oceania. The research will explore her centrality to leadership, continuity, and her role as a voyager and navigator. Despite a long-term career interest in sites across Oceania, the research will be limited to three geographical locations in Aotearoa-New Zealand, Tahiti, and Hawaiʻi gathering, examining and analyzing the Indigenous archive and conducting interviews with Pacific Island women.

Awarded: $300,000

Wellbeing through Nature-based Urban Design: Co-designing Climate Adaptations in Oceania
The pressures of climate change and urbanisation in Aotearoa and the Pacific islands are detrimental to ecosystems and human wellbeing, particularly of vulnerable communities. This must be urgently addressed. This research co-designs, with communities, urban design strategies that are centred in Indigenous ecological knowledge and nature-based solutions (NbS) as a means to adapt to climate change impacts. It generates five case studies: two in Aotearoa, and one each in Kiribati, Vanuatu, and Samoa, in order to determine how to effectively forefront Indigenous knowledges and solutions that work with nature in urban design, so that both human and ecological wellbeing are simultaneously increased as a response to the impacts of climate change. The methodology draws out the specificities of each context, and then breaks new ground by working alongside mana whenua (people of that place) to centre their knowledge, thus developing a unique place-centred Oceanic urban NbS climate change adaptation strategy. The overall aim is to develop nature-based urban design solutions, rooted in Indigenous knowledges that support climate change adaptation and individual and community wellbeing in different contexts across Oceania.

Awarded: $870,000

Nursery Crimes: Does the popularity and pricing of alien plant species traded in New Zealand ornamental horticulture markets determine the risk of introducing environmental weeds?
Ornamental horticulture is the primary source of environmental weeds worldwide, and particularly in New Zealand. Yet, predicting why only some species escape from cultivation to become environmental weeds is a major challenge.  Our research will, for the first time, integrate economic variables, human behaviour and biological attributes to forecast future biological invasions by non-native ornamental plants. We will test the novel hypothesis that the likelihood that a non-native ornamental plant species will become invasive can largely be explained by the factors that affect demand for garden plants: gardener preferences for particular biological attributes and plant prices.  Using an extensive collection of historical nursery catalogues, we will assess how the risk of plant invasions is shaped by the price, permanence, prevalence and popularity of non-native plants relative to their biological attributes.  Our results will have a major impact on how the risks of plant invasions are assessed and we will generate new risk assessment tools that also integrate the social dimension of biological invasions. A clearer understanding of the behavioural and economic drivers of ornamental plant invasions will underpin development of broader and more successful methods to manage potentially invasive plant species than current approaches based on sales and import bans.

Awarded: $798,000

Taxpayer Update: Socialist MPs | Notes to Nanaia | Debt clock ticking

Why didn't these MPs boast they were socialists before the election?

McAnulty quote

Thursday night's Budget Debate took a weird turn. Multiple Labour MPs (and one Green MP) took off their centre-left masks and professed allegiance to socialism.

The following quotes are taken direct from Parliament’s “Hansard” transcript:

Kieran McAnulty: “Yes, I am a socialist and I'm proud of it. Yeah—there you go. [Applause] Thank you very much. Bring it on, and I'm very proud to say to the good people of the Wairarapa that they elected a proud socialist as their MP.”

Angie Warren-Clark: “Oh, what a pleasure it is to speak after my colleague, my comrade, Kieran McAnulty.”

Duncan Webb: “Well, there's so many of us great socialists on this side of the House.”

Deborah Russell: “I stand here as a very proud member of the great socialist democratic Labour Party.”

Anna Lorck: “I'm a socialist!”

Ricardo Menendez-March: “The Green Party will continue working hard to offer our support to Labour to enact genuine bold socialist policy.”

If these MPs are such proud socialists, why didn't they tell New Zealanders during the election campaign?

Could it be that they knew taxpayers would object to a political system that holds contempt for individual rights of property and liberty?

It’s easy to write these things off as a joke, but socialism is the leading man-made cause of death and misery across the world. The Prime Minister should ask these MPs to publicly retract their outbursts. At the very least, they should meet with New Zealanders who escaped socialist regimes in China, Venezuela, Cambodia, and the Soviet Union.

Until then, they deserve our mirth. We've pulled together clips from Parliament TV that capture the ideological fever surrounding Red Robbo’s benefit-boosting budget:

Propaganda videoClick here to watch the video.
Click here to share it on Facebook.

How Grant Robertson's Budget pulls New Zealand to the Left

Budget image

A Government Budget can either grow the economic pie, or divide it.

Grant Robertson's Budget unveiled last week was very much a dividing-the-pie budget. Instead of improving incentives for New Zealanders to be productive, he did the opposite, announcing bigger rewards for anyone who goes on the benefit.

Our Executive Director Jordan Williams and consulting economist Joe Ascroft both attended the Budget lock up. I sat down with them immediately afterwards for an in-depth discussion of the economics and politics of Budget 2021. Click here to listen.

I also joined The Panel on Radio New Zealand to explain why the Taxpayers' Union calls Budget 2021 a "major shift in the economic dial to the Left'. Click here to listen.

Some Budget spending that escaped media attention

Budget 2021 divvies out $5 million for public servants and iwi to explain to New Zealanders what Matariki is:

Matariki

Next up, the Budget spends $44 million on getting bureaucrats to teach businesses how to use computers:

Digital skills

Finally, $5.5 million is being given to Beehive offices to help them deal with the findings of a review of "harmful behaviour" in the workplace.

Francis review

(Translation: $5.5 million more for extra political advisors spin doctors, using the Francis Review as cover.)

Grant Robertson says his new levy isn't a tax

The headline says it all.

The Government's proposed unemployment insurance scheme (which will pay people who lose their jobs 80 percent of their salaries) will be funded by all workers via a levy – similar to ACC.

We say that if it looks like a tax and quacks like a tax, it's a tax.

Levy meme

Grant Robertson is claiming it isn't a tax because he doesn't want to look like he's breaking his pre-election "no new taxes" promise. But we all know he's already broken this promise with his new taxes on landlords. He can stop playing games now.

An inside view of Nanaia Mahuta's office

Nanaia Mahuta

We received a fascinating tip-off earlier this year from a very reliable source that Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta had requested officials change the way they format their briefing papers. Specifically, she asked officials to use fewer words and more pictures in her Ministerial briefings!

As is our practice, we used an Official Information Act request to confirm it was really true.

First, they extended the four week deadline to six "due to the necessity for consultation". Then, they provided only a partial response: one of the three relevant pieces of correspondence was withheld on the basis of "confidentiality of advice" and "to protect the free and frank expression of opinions by departments".

So we weren't able to verify the tip-off – but the fact they won’t answer the question says it all.

The Ministry did inform us of this change the Minister requested to the way her letters are written:

MFA style guideClick here to view a larger image.

Focusing on the things that matter!

Maybe we should do a fundraiser for a picture book atlas to present to the Minister.

MSD isn't enforcing parental responsibility rules for beneficiaries

Parents who are on the benefit are required to meet certain obligations to keep getting their payments, including having their children in school or early education, and enrolled with a doctor.

The obligations were put in place in 2013, but it turns out the Ministry of Social Development can’t be bothered enforcing them. In fact, they never have! To date, no parents have had benefits docked for failing to meet these basic obligations.

The Ministry's excuse: enforcing the rules would involve "a burdensome administrative process".

We say that's not good enough. Sure, there should be some room for flexibility, but to ignore legal obligations carte blanche makes them meaningless. The rules were put in place by an elected Government. It's the job of the Ministry to put in place systems that allow those rules to be enforced efficiently.

We'll be watching to see whether the Minister (Carmel Sepuloni) gets her officials to crack down, or scraps these sensible rules.

Secrecy continues at Christchurch City Council as crucial report withheld from ratepayers

Christchurch City Council last year spent $95,000 on a review of Council spending. It turns out the review found millions in Council waste – but the Council refuses to release the report publicly!

This is yet another appalling display of secrecy from Christchurch City Council. Our fight back in 2018 to get the Council to release the cost of a $1.3 million touch screen led us all the way to the steps of the High Court before the information was grudgingly released. The saga led to a damning judgment from the Ombudsman. Now, it appears the Council’s new Chief Executive is continuing the City Council’s culture of secrecy.

The Council argues that releasing the report would raise privacy concerns. Fine then: release it in redacted form, with identifying details of individuals blanked out. The Council might fear the political consequences of releasing a critical report, but that’s not a legitimate reason to withhold public information.

The Debt Clock still running hot ⏰

We've updated the Official New Zealand Debt Clock at www.DebtClock.nz with the latest figures from Budget 2021. Turn on the news and you’d think everything is fine, but the numbers don’t lie.

Debt Clock

Grant Robertson's borrowing now totals almost $64,000 for every Kiwi household. All of this will have to be paid off, with interest, by taxpayers in the decades to come. And if interest rates return to the long run average, God help us.

Enjoy the rest of your week,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

ps. Unlike most pressure groups in Wellington, we are 100% funded by our members and supporters. But we can’t save the world if we can’t keep the lights on. Click here so we can continue to hold the politicians' feet to the fire and fight for taxpayers.Donate

Media coverage:

RNZ  Budget 2021: Hillside railway workshops coming back to life

RNZ  
$85m Hillside workshop Budget boost: Seymour's comments 'ludicrous'

RNZ  
We don’t need to be nervous about double digit inflation

RNZ  
The Panel with Duane Major and Amy Adams

NZ Herald  
Look to the future, don’t dwell on rewriting the past

NZ Herald  
KiwiRail the big transport winner with money for new locomotives and locally built wagons

RNZ  
Masterton councillors to vote on Maori wards for 2022

Sunday Star-Times  The Fair Pay Working Group will undo Jim Bolger's enduring legacy

Revealed: EECA spent $500,000 staging a fake climate march

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) spent $500,000 staging a fake climate march, complete with major streets closed in Wellington. This was part of EECA's $3 million "Gen Less" ad campaign – "a call to people and businesses to commit to living a 'less is more' lifestyle in their energy use."

The spending information, released to the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union under the Official Information Act, can be viewed here.

The $3 million cost was made of two sub-campaigns, each centred around different versions of two ads.

•  The first ad, produced in 2019, presents quotes from historical figures including Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, Martin Luther King Jr, and Anne Frank, edited to sound like calls for climate action.

• The second ad, produced in 2020, features a bearded, pierced narrator walking through a crowd of chanting protestors. Smoke bombs are set off in the background. The narrator urges viewers to buy less, fly less, and drive less. Important Wellington streets were closed for the fake protest, including Featherston St and Hunter St.

Each ad cost around $500,000 to produce, with the remainder of the $3 million spent to buy air time, radio time, digital advertising, and a series of congratulatory Stuff articles.

The sheer cost is incredible. EECA's old ads may have been annoying, but at least they looked cheap. For perspective, EECA could have simply used the $3 million to supply energy-efficient lightbulbs for hundreds of thousands homes.

The absurdity of shutting down streets and hiring fake climate protestors is amplified by the fact the ad was produced shortly after a series of School Strike 4 Climate marches, from which plenty of footage was already available. Instead, EECA disrupted traffic and blew out its own emissions by transporting dozens of actors to a fake protest.

The message behind the Gen Less campaign is so broad and obvious that it's redundant. People know how to save energy in fact, they've already got an incentive to do so in order to cut their power bill and avoid the cost of carbon credits.

Taxpayers will judge for themselves the ethics of exploiting the legacy of Anne Frank and purchasing positive news coverage for this campaign.

The total reported spending on the Gen Less advertising campaign, as of February, was $2,979,423.42.

Op-ed: Enforce electoral laws – Let’s do this!

Newshub headline

Faced with a steadily growing number of electoral finance investigations by the Serious Fraud Office, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stared kindly into the camera and intoned, “we should be looking at the way our regime works. Clearly, it's not currently, so let's do something about that."

The Taxpayers’ Union could not agree more that we should “do something about that.” However, the “something” is not to change the rules again or argue they are unclear (which they are not). The real “something” is to actually enforce the law. These prosecutions are proof that the regime is finally starting to work.

It is a terrible look for the Prime Minister to suggest that the electoral finance law needs to be changed so soon after her party has been charged. National was charged – the law was fine. New Zealand First was charged – the law was fine. Labour is charged and their ally the Māori Party is under investigation – the law is not working and needs to be changed. That is Banana Republic behaviour.

Of course, all parties are presumed innocent until found guilty of course, and all have pleaded innocence in relation to the charges.

Prime Minister, the problem is not the regime or the system – it is how politicians try to constantly push the boundaries of the system. They do it because it often works, there are rarely any consequences of note, and, if there are, they come long after the election affected by the activity in question. By the time any judgment is made most voters, if they were even aware of it, will have forgotten about the issue.

National and Labour are well established parties with teams constantly working on the minutiae of election finances. There are no excuses. The Māori Party is alleged to have missed deadlines for declarations which seems to be a cut and dried issue. Either they did, or they did not. There is no room for interpretation.

There is no hope of taxpayers ever seeing a cent paid back from New Zealand First – sorry, the completely separate New Zealand First Foundation – now that the organisation is essentially moribund. If Winston Peters wants to come back, he will likely disband New Zealand First (and its debts), then create the First New Zealand Party with Rt Hon Winston Peters as the leader.

Advance New Zealand’s Billy TK can plausibly plead ignorance – there is plenty of evidence of that in his public comments. His co-leader, Jami-Lee Ross, much less so. In fact, what Labour is being charged with (hiding the identity of donors and the size of the donations) is – allegedly – known in Wellington as “the JLR shuffle”.

We do need to do something and that is to support the Serious Fraud Office finally enforcing the existing laws. Parliament has not done it, the Police have shown no interest in doing it, and the Electoral Commission cannot enforce them.

All power to the Serious Fraud Office.

Op-ed: We should be thanking smokers. Instead, we’re making them miserable

Next time you splutter your way through a cloud of second-hand smoke, consider the plight of the poor sod who exhaled it.

The average smoker earns less, has poorer mental health, and will live a shorter life than the rest of us. They face social stigma, restricted employment opportunities, and all the inconveniences and anxieties that come with servicing an addiction.

And holy smokes do they pay for it. Annual tax hikes have driven even the cheapest cigarettes to $30 a pack, 80 percent of which goes straight to the taxman.

All up, smokers pitch in around $2 billion a year in excise and GST to fund schools, roads, puppy dogs for the blind, Parliamentary playgrounds, and so on – far more than what they cost the health system. Instead of giving them dirty looks, we ought to give them medals for services to the taxpayer.

The darker side of the tax is that it makes already-poor families even poorer. When taxes are taken out of a low-earning household’s budget, that means less for the kids’ school lunches, shoes, and extra-curriculars. It’s enough to make a kid want a smoke.

Fortunately, the Government now appears to recognise tobacco taxes have gone far enough. This year was the first in a decade that didn’t see tobacco tax hiked beyond the rate of inflation.

What changed? Maybe it was the Tax Working Group’s warning against higher taxes on the poor. Or the spate of often-violent dairy robberies, driven by the sky-high street value of stolen durries. Perhaps most significant is the growing consensus within public health circles that, having whittled down the smoking rate to 13 percent, we’re now dealing with the most serious addicts for whom price is no object.

However, the Government is stuck with the optimistic goal of Smokefree 2025, set a decade ago by politicians who probably knew they wouldn’t still be in office come crunch time. Officially, achieving Smokefree 2025 means getting the smoking rate below five percent.

It’s with that goal in mind that the Government has unveiled new proposals to replace excise tax hikes. It turns out a rigid adherence to a blunt 10-year-old goal is not a formula for sensible policy.

The most striking suggestion – it would be a world-first – is to force tobacco companies to reduce the nicotine content of cigarettes.

The Government ought to ask why other countries haven’t attempted this. First thing first: nicotine may be addictive, but it’s not what kills people. That would be the tar and other by-products of combustion. Reduced-nicotine cigarettes would be just as harmful as the full-strength stuff, but a smoker would have to huff down more sticks to achieve the same buzz.

That means more tar and more tax. Even if that spurs a few smokers at the margin to quit, is it really a victory for public health if the remaining smokers intensify their smoking habit and its associated health risks?

Then there’s the proposal to restrict where cigarettes are sold. It’s hard to see how this would deter a smoker from buying darts if they’ve already tolerated a decade of tax hikes. It would, of course, be a boon for the supermarkets or pharmacies that secure local monopolies on tobacco sales, while small dairies on the edge of profitability go out of business without visits from smokers who make additional purchases.

Next is a proposal to ban anyone born after a certain date from ever buying smokes, meaning eventually even 40 or 50 year-old smokers will be ID’d each time they buy a pack. The idea is to create a ‘smokefree generation’, but we already have one – 15–17-year-olds have a smoking rate of just three percent and sinking, well below the Smokefree 2025 threshold. For perspective, Māori women have a smoking rate of 32 percent.

Perhaps the downright meanest proposal is to ban filters on cigarettes. While filtered certainly aren’t safe, they’re better than the alternative. At best, banning filters will just make smokers miserable; at worst, it’ll kill them. Welcome to Smokefree Aotearoa!

There’s an overarching failing that applies to all of these proposals: they’ll only affect legal cigarettes.

Already, thanks to sky-high taxes on legal tobacco, one in ten cigarettes smoked in New Zealand are illicit – either home grown, or illegally smuggled from Asia in suitcases and shipping containers. Imagine how this black market will thrive once it’s the only source of filtered, full-strength tobacco.

In fact, the Ministry of Health has even advised that the proposals will increase illicit trade, necessitating (presumably costly) strengthened measures to crack down on the black market.

So should we just give up on the smokefree dream? Not at all, even if the 2025 deadline is unrealistic. Smokers are increasingly working out for themselves that they can transition off the death sticks and on to vaping, which is estimated to be 95 percent safer.

We should celebrate that. All the Government needs to do is ease off its plans to regulate the bajesus out of vaping products. Meanwhile, the rest of us can do our part by casting a little less judgment at the guy blowing blueberry clouds on smoko.

Louis Houlbrooke is the Campaigns Manager of the Taxpayers’ Union and is a vaper

For disclosure, around 10 percent of the Taxpayers’ Union’s total income comes from industry membership, a subset of which is tobacco.

Submissions on the Government’s proposals for Smokefree 2025 can be made here.

Budget 2021 is a major shift of the economic dial to the left

Banner

We’re just out of the Budget 2021 lock up, where your humble taxpayer advocates and analysts have spent the morning working through the Budget papers.

I’m afraid to tell you that from a taxpayer perspective there are no redeeming features of this Budget. It represents a major shift of the economic dial to the left by rejigging the tax and transfer system strongly towards those not in employment.

And there’s yet another broken promise. As predicted by the Taxpayers’ Union, Grant Robertson’s ‘no new taxes’ promise is out the window. He’s foreshadowed a new Unemployment Insurance Tax – to operate like ACC, where unemployed will get 80% (that’s not a typo) of their income if they lose their job.

The Government’s spin is that this is the ‘Recovery Budget’ but the sole economic plan is to hike benefits. There is no reference to productivity in the material we’ve seen, and the only help for business is an expansion of an initiative for MBIE bureaucrats to teach businesspeople how to sell things on the internet.

Labour is out of control

Despite significant improvement in the economic and fiscal outlook, Grant Robertson has decided we are now in a permanent emergency.

  • Benefit increases pushed through last year as part of our “Covid Response” have been entrenched and expanded – even while unemployment is forecast to fall. The cost of this amounts to $3.3 billion or $1822.22 per household.

  • The “Covid Recovery Fund” has been raided for all and sundry poor-quality spending. Here’s a small(ish) example: $527 million is being used to expand the rollout of so-called “free school lunches”. Strangely, this measure is not only linked to COVID, it is also justified in the Budget documents as a “job creation” measure for 2000 roles. For those following along, that’s a cost of $263,500 per job (far more than the jobs lost due to the tax taken in the first place!).

  • With the economy running stronger than expected, taxpayers should be picking up less of the tab – but government spending is forecast to run nearly $14 billion ($7,722.22 per household) higher between 2022 and 2025 than forecast in December.

It’s one thing to prop up the economy when we’re all locked inside, but now we’re (mostly) back to normal, isn’t it time to turn off the tap?

Return to 1980s-style social welfare will reduce long term living standards

The benefit hikes announced today will reduce the incentive for Kiwis to work, and result in more intergenerational unemployment poverty.

Economic analysis in the United States over recent weeks suggests that if you increase unemployment benefits too high (as Biden has done) people simply won’t show up to work – one reason why experts have said employment growth there has been so disappointing. With large benefit increases on the way, we risk making the same mistake: why turn up to work, when staying home pays so well?

Unlike President Biden’s relief, our Government is locking in these measures permanently and with their new policy to link benefits to wage growth, the problem doesn’t go away even in a hot economy.

Labour rightly applauded Bill English’s targeted social investment approach – to get people off welfare and into work. Labour’s abandonment of that approach will see higher intergenerational welfare dependency.

Making trains at home

In the 1980s we learned the hard way that making everything at home is an expensive way to live. Forty years later, the Government has decided to rekindle the spirit of Muldoon and begin making KiwiRail’s equipment in Dunedin rather than buying it in from overseas. The total increase in funding for KiwiRail will cost taxpayers $722.22 per household.

Grant Robertson's new unemployment tax

And if that wasn’t enough, we can reveal the Government is doing a deal with the unions to introduce an expensive new unemployment insurance programme. The scheme will cover 80 percent of incomes for those who become unemployed. That sounds generous – and it is – if the scheme follows similar European models, it will mean a new tax.

Health sector sucks up billions more

Health takes the lion’s share of new spending – with more than $4.6 billion allocated to the sector alone through 2025. More than two-thirds of that amount is just allocated to support budget-busting DHBs. But the Government should read our reports on health productivity – unless the sector focuses on becoming more efficient and catching up with other OECD counterparts, our health system will continue to be an unpredictable liability.

Joe Ascroft, our consulting economist who joined us in the lock up, is equally unimpressed:

The Economist’s View

This time last year, the country was staring down economic armageddon. Coronavirus had all-but closed the economy and near-term forecasts for unemployment, debt, and economic growth were extremely dire.

A year on and the economic environment is better than all but the most optimistic of forecasts. Yet, even as unemployment sits at 4.7% (forecast to fall further) and economic growth is again firmly positive (expected to peak at 4.4% in 2023) debt is still expected to climb considerably reaching a peak of $184.2 billion in 2024 (46.9% of GDP or $102,333.33 per household).

While that is considerably better than even Treasury’s forecasts in December (debt was then expected to peak at $194.2 billion – or $5,555 more per household than today), the Government has taken advantage of the rosier economic forecasts to spend even more over the forecast period than had been forecast just six months ago. Between 2022 and 2025, government spending is now expected to cumulatively come in $13.9 billion ($7,722.22 per household) higher than in December.

Normally you might expect forecast government spending to come in lower with the economy tracking better (lower unemployment should mean less social spending), but clearly the Government has chosen to take advantage of the moment and press on with some of the more expensive items on their policy wish list.

The Big Picture

It’s now been a decade since New Zealanders last received a tax cut (legislated in Budget 2010, taking effect in 2011) – but main benefits have been increased four times (three times under Labour and once under National). Instead, a new tax is in the pipeline to fund the Government’s planned unemployment insurance scheme.

At some point, something has to give. With the global economy opening up and opportunities to work overseas expanding, many taxpayers will be thinking seriously about moving overseas to earn more and pay less tax. That could be the start of a nasty downward spiral - as high-earning taxpayers move overseas, the burden of Government spending grows with higher taxes or debt required to fund the gap.

Obviously the circuit breaker is stronger growth and higher incomes – but there was no sign of any focus on that problem in today’s budget.

More to come

We’ve spent the last hour talking to journalists who have also just got a hold of the documents. I’m joining Magic Talk at 6:30 tonight, and we’ll keep you in the loop as we continue to work through the detail.

With the new economic figures, our official Government debt clock will also be updated in the next few hours. Keep an eye on www.debtclock.nz – it’s slowed, but only a little…

Thank you for your support.

Our comments to media

Jordan

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

 

Taxpayer Update: KiwiSaver interference | Boozy dinners | Wailing unions

Government sticks its nose into your KiwiSaver portfolioDavid Clark

Our old friend David Clark is back in the news. Today he rolled up to work 🚴 and announced the Government will force default KiwiSaver providers to boycott fossil fuel investments.

I told the media why this is a terrible idea:

The last thing KiwiSaver members need is for politicians to micromanage our funds. KiwiSaver providers are meant to make independent investment decisions in order to maximise returns. Politicising these decisions will ultimately result in lower rates of return.

Once the Government starts sticking its nose in, where does it stop? Will KiwiSaver providers be barred from investing in, say, meat production? Alcohol? GMOs?

The Government already manages carbon emissions at the macro level – take the Emissions Trading Scheme – which has a flow-on effect on KiwiSaver investment decisions. Diktats on the micro level are unneeded.

This move won’t even affect total carbon emissions. Any move to cut emissions below the cap set by the Emissions Trading Scheme creates a ‘waterbed effect’ which frees up credits to produce emissions elsewhere.

Would you spend $24 on two bottles of water?

We used the Official Information Act to obtain the original receipts from the Film Commission's boozy dinners with Amazon film executives.

We highlight this kind of spending not because it's outrageous, but because public servants are likely to be more sensible with the "company card" if they know there's a chance we'll publish the receipts.

Receipt 1 Receipt 2

Click here and here to view the receipts in high resolution.

These dinners were of course part of a junket set up to facilitate a deal that saw Amazon handed hundreds of millions in taxpayer subsidies for its new Lord of the Rings TV show.

Back-office bureaucrats are exploiting sympathy for frontline workers

Salaries

The Government's proposal to rein in public sector salaries has had a furious reaction from the public sector unions.

They're loudly condemning the idea of wage austerity for heroic frontline nurses, police, and teachers. But that's not what's on the table.

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 salary restraint.

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.

Wage growth

  • 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 salariesClick here to view the graph in a separate window.

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. The New Zealand Government Debt Clock is about to tick over $70,000 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. Lucky them!

But there is still much to be settled as the Government enters into protracted negotiations 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 well-paid Wellington back-office bureaucrats.

It’s time for random comprehensive audits of wage subsidy recipients

This week the Auditor General slammed the Government’s weak 'audits' of recipients of the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy. The audits consisted of a few questions over the phone, without requiring documentation to actually prove that recipients were eligible.

We say the time has come for full audits, substantiated with hard evidence.

The Ministry doesn’t need to shake down every wage subsidy recipient – it just needs to start making examples of wrongful recipients by pursuing tip-offs and conducting random audits. In fact, the Minister could stand up tomorrow and announce an amnesty period for wrongful recipients to return the money before penalties kick in.

$703 million has already been voluntarily returned, which suggests that, with a stronger nudge, hundreds of millions more could come surging back to the taxpayer.

We’ve asked unions like E Tū and First Union how they were eligible for the wage subsidy, considering their revenue comes from regular union dues. We hit a brick wall. It’s time for the Ministry to start asking these questions, and to demand proof of the answers.

"It is unbelievable": Heather Du Plessis Allan on the taxpayer-funded turtle funeral

Last week we exposed the incredible tale of how DOC and Te Papa trucked, shipped, and helicoptered a dead turtle up and down the country just to throw it a highly-catered funeral.

On her prime-time Newstalk ZB Drive show, Heather du Plessis Allan talked through the details:

HDPA clipClick here to listen to the clip.

Even the left-wing Daily Blog picked up on the story

When we can’t feed kids lunch and breakfast at school and can’t lift benefits but can spend $12000 on a turtle funeral, it’s difficult not to feel angry. . . this fiasco is so ridiculous it’s mockable and the power of mockery can destroy any earnest progress in a millisecond.

In case you missed our full investigation, you can read it here.

Simon Bridges joins Taxpayer Talk

You might have heard the news that former National Party leader Simon Bridges is releasing a book.

In a total coincidence, he also joined our Taxpayer Talk podcast to discuss his perspective as a former Party leader, growing intellectual intolerance, and the scourge of tax bracket creep. Click here to listen.

And as part of our 'MPs in Depth' series, I sat down with new Labour MP Tangi Utikere. Tangi was the Deputy Mayor of Palmerston North before jumping ship to Parliament when Iain Lees-Galloway decided not to stand again. Click here to listen.

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

Donate

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Media coverage:

The Weekend Sun  
Deep freeze for turtles and servants

Star News  Cost of Crusaders partnership with ChristchurchNZ still unknown

Newstalk ZB  Heather du Plessis Allan on the flying turtle

The Daily Blog  The danger of the $12000 flying turtle funeral

RNZ  Bryce Edwards: The public sector worker backlash against Labour

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.”

Taxpayer Update: Mahuta reviews local govt | MBIE embraces Greenpeace | Court rorts

Dear Supporter,

Nanaia Mahuta has appointed a crew of foxes to guard the local government hen house

Mahuta

Nanaia Mahuta's wide-ranging review of the local government sector should be laser-focused on increasing value for money for ratepayers.

But having looked closely at the review panel, we're predicting it will do the opposite.

Firstly, the panelists are basically has-been local government insiders and professional bureaucrats. These appointees are the last people you'd expect to rein in the local government gravy train.

The terms of reference and the panel make up are disturbing. Instead of a focus on better infrastructure, more transparency, or accountability, it appears the Minister wants to move to a co-governance model with less democracy

In fact, the panel is tasked to "reimagine the role and function of local government". That’s code for "growing the beast", when what ratepayers need is a return to core services and abolishing the powers that allow local councils to duplicate central government activities like public health campaigns, climate action, and corporate welfare.

Greenpeace campaigner, school striker appointed to an MBIE working group

Amanda Larsson Isla Day

The just-announced Battery Project Technical Reference Group is meant to provide “technical expertise and sector knowledge relating to the quantitative analysis MBIE is undertaking, including modelling” for its hydro battery project.

But the Ministry has made two very odd appointments to this group:

  • Amanda Larsson currently works as one of Greenpeace’s key staff. It’s hard to see MBIE appointing a Taxpayers’ Union campaigner for its reference groups – in fact, it would rightly cause controversy – but appointing a Greenpeace campaigner is no different in principle. Her contribution will inevitably be to advance an ideological agenda.

  • Isla Day is 20 years old and helped to start School Strike 4 Climate. Her expertise is in organising protests, nothing to do with energy or environmental science. She does, however, appear to be carving out a cosy career filling seats in taxpayer-funded working groups – she’s also a member of a Wellington City Council reference group. We can't blame her for jumping at well-paid opportunities, but you have to question the judgement of those who appointed her.

It’s one thing to have a political Minister making hare-brained and politicised appointments, but this group was appointed by public servants. How did no-one within MBIE raise red flags over such blatantly political appointments? Is public service neutrality is being eroded?

Members of the reference group are paid $560 per meeting. 

Quotas for government contracts will cost taxpayers dearly

Scales image

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson has introduced a five percent quota for government contracts awarded to businesses that present themselves as Māori or Pasifika-owned.

You may recall we were first to sound the alarm back in 2019 when found this idea buried deep in a Ministerial briefing. 

But some say the new quota doesn't go far enough. First it was the Productivity Commission (under the leadership of Labour's pet economist Ganesh Nana), and now the company that verifies the "Māori-owned" businesses wants the Government to combine the quota with a spending target for these companies (well they would say that, wouldn't they!).

This is what political analysts call "mission creep". Instead of focusing solely on delivering value for taxpayers, procurement policy is now being hijacked to hit politically-determined targets.

That means less competitive tenders, leading to either higher costs for taxpayers, lower quality services, or both. It’s also incredibly unfair for those businesses – many of which employ Māori – that will miss out on contracts purely because their owners don't tick the right diversity boxes.

Court rort #1: cultural reports

Taxpayers forked out $3.3 million for the cost of “cultural reports” for offenders in 2020. That’s five times as much as the year prior.

These reports argue how each offender should receive a reduced sentence due to “personal, family, whānau, community and cultural background”.

And it appears a cottage industry has emerged: anyone familiar with the courts system can charge up to $6,600 to write one, copy-pasting the standard lines they know will work to convince judges to cut sentences.

Court rort #2: interpreters

Taxpayers paid private contractors more than $13 million in just five years for interpretation services for people facing the courts.

In many cases the Ministry of Justice is paying these interpreters more than $125 per hour.

As the Herald reports:

Examples include $1700 paid to a te reo interpreter for a one-day hearing in Kaikohe; $2628 to a Māori translator at a two-day hearing in Wellington; and a $3197 bill for two sign-language interpreters for just 3.5 hours' work in January. The ministry said the cost included return flights.

Ihumātao deal found to be unlawful: here's who needs to resign

Illegal deal

Last week we learned that the Government didn’t just capitulate to illegal Ihumātao occupiers – it joined them in their illegality!

The Auditor-General released a damning judgement that the $30 million taxpayer-funded bailout should have been approved by a vote in Parliament.

Remember, the Government doesn’t have the excuse of ignorance here. Treasury had sternly warned the Government against using KiwiBuild money in this way.

There should be serious consequences. All eyes should now be on Attorney-General David Parker. It's literally his job to ensure the Government follows the law. We say if he endorsed this illegal deal across the Cabinet Table, then he's unfit for his position.

Will Grant Robertson bail out New Zealand's own Bernie Madoff?

Grant Robertson

The Finance Minister has confirmed a new insurance scheme for collapsing banks and finance companies, funded by via levies on banks.

There are a number of reasons for alarm here:

  • Guaranteeing an effective bailout for banks will see those banks take greater risks with their lending. That’s exactly the kind of moral hazard that led to America’s sub-prime mortgages and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. The Reserve Bank argued this very point, recommending the guarantee be capped at $50,000 per depositor, per institution. But Grant Robertson went for double that amount, $100,000.

  • The cost of the new levies on banks will naturally be passed on to deposit-holders. As if term deposit rates weren’t already low enough!

  • The inclusion of finance companies in the scheme is likely to see deposit-holders pay for bailouts of fraudulent finance companies. In fact we wrote to the Finance Minister in October warning him that the Serious Fraud Office prosecutes on average about one Ponzi scheme a year, and under the Government's proposals, those Ponzi schemes would become eligible for deposit insurance.

We asked Treasury officials if they gave the Minister any advice on this last problem. To our astonishment, they haven't.

Hamilton City Council shouldn’t throw $10 million into a pond

Lagoon

A private developer wants Hamilton ratepayers to pitch in $10 million to an inland lagoon resort.

That is completely unjustified, considering the Council is already proposing a nine percent rate hike.

If the lagoon proposal makes good business sense, then it shouldn’t need a ratepayer subsidy. There’s a risk the lagoon fails to pull in punters and becomes a stagnant pond. That risk should be borne by the developer, not Hamilton ratepayers.

It’s a concern in and of itself that the developer had the cheek to ask the Council for ten million bucks. Hamilton City Councillors need to eradicate any perception that they’ll hand over ratepayer money to every passing monorail salesman.

Taxpayer Talk: is this ACT MP a "nutter"?

Another two episodes of our Taxpayer Talk podcast have gone live.

Nicole McKee

Stuart Nash recently called ACT MP Nicole McKee a "nutter" for her views on firearms. I chat with her to help Taxpayer Talk listeners decide for themselves. Listen here.

Oliver Hartwich

The New Zealand Initiative's Oliver Hartwich and our own Jordan Williams discuss National's policy to pay councils for consenting houses. Listen here.

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

Satire: Government creates one new job

The Government has today appointed a “Minister for Announcements.”

This announcement was announced at an announcement hosted by the Acting Minister for the Announcement of the Minister for Announcements, Chris Hipkins, while he was IDed on his way into the Upper Hutt Cossie Club.

Hipkins said: “For too long, Ministers have had to make individual announcements about their own announcements. National’s nine years of neglect almost certainly caused this crisis. It is time to centralise announcements to improve efficiency. Centralising always works.”

Hipkins introduced journalists to the new Minister of Announcements, Georgie Dansey, a first term list MP.

Jill Pettis

Ms Dansey is an MP you think about so infrequently that you probably don’t realise that photo is not of Georgie Dansey – that is Jill Pettis, a Labour MP who left Parliament in 2008.

This is the first-term list MP, the now Hon Georgie Dansey.

Georgie Dansey

Except that she isn’t an MP – because while this time it is actually Ms Dansey pictured and she was a Labour candidate last year, she was ranked 84th, last on the list. She once told The Spinoff that she would have been an MP if only 5.5 million New Zealanders voted Labour.

The actual Minister of Announcements will be Megan Woods on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and Chris Hipkins for Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Ramadan. However, for any really good news, announcements will be made by Jacinda Ardern and the country’s first man, Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

When asked about the actual results of all the announcements over previous years, Hipkins snapped back: “Don’t change the subject. This has nothing to do with outcomes.”

Gallery journalists described the Minister’s aggressive response as “like being savaged by a vegan lemur.”

Editor's note: This last section of the newsletter was provided by Taxpayers' Union Analyst (and occasional in-house comedian) Neil Miller.

We can't save the world, if we can't keep the lights on

As you can see, the range and craziness of what is going on in Wellington (and many town halls) is out of control. Our team has never been busier calling out the madness and fighting for taxpayers across a huge range of files.  But we can't save the world if we can't keep the lights on. Our work relies on the financial support of our supporters like you. Click here to make a secure donation.

Donate

Have a great week,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Media coverage:

NZ Herald  
Inflation could be making a comeback

NZ Herald  
Beehive Diaries: The bubble, coughing fits and health reform typos

The Weekend Sun  
Join The Tauranga Ratepayers’ Alliance

Newstalk ZB  
The Huddle: Is it fair for employers to punish staff stuck in trans-Tasman bubble limbo?

How much is your council planning to hike rates?

This dashboard is subject to ongoing updates. Please contact [email protected] if you have more up to date information.

Council

Proposed 21/22 rates increase

Actual 21/22 rates increase

Ashburton District Council 6.28% 6.3%
Auckland Council 5.0% 5.0%
Bay of Plenty Regional Council 5.8% 5.8%
Buller District Council 6.5% 6.7%
Carterton District Council 5.65% 5.65%
Central Hawke's Bay District Council 7.8% 8.7%
Central Otago District Council 6.7% 6.7%
Christchurch City Council 5.0% 4.65%
Clutha District Council 3.53% 3.93%
Dunedin City Council 9.8% 9.8%
Environment Canterbury Regional Council 24.5% 18.8%
Environment Southland 20.0% 20.0%
Far North District Council 5.5% 6.7%
Gisborne District Council 5.3% 5.9%
Gore District Council 8.22%  
Greater Wellington Regional Council 12.64% 12.95%
Grey District Council 9.99% 9.99%
Hamilton City Council 8.9% 8.9%
Hastings District Council 6.8% 6.8%
Hauraki District Council 4.23% 4.5%
Hawke's Bay Regional Council 19.5% 19.5%
Horizons Regional Council 8.0% 8.4%
Horowhenua District Council 6.7% 7.8%
Hurunui District Council 8.49% 8.49%
Hutt City Council 5.9% 5.9%
Invercargill City Council 5.0% 5.0%
Kaikoura District Council 5.2% 5.9%
Kaipara District Council 3.37% 5.1%
Kapiti Coast District Council 7.8% 7.79%
Kawerau District Council 5.1%  
Mackenzie District Council    
Manawatu District Council 5.1% 5.75%
Marlborough District Council 5.73% 5.1%
Masterton District Council 5.5% 5.5%
Matamata-Piako District Council 11.85% 11.73%
Napier City Council 8.0% 8.0%
Nelson City Council 5.7% 5.7%
New Plymouth District Council 12.0% 12.0%
Northland Regional Council 19.8% 17.6%
Opotiki District Council 6.48% 6.33%
Otago Regional Council 73.2%  
Otorohanga District Council 7.93% 8.08%
Palmerston North City Council 6.9% 8.2%
Porirua City Council 8.04% 7.65%
Queenstown-Lakes District Council 4.56% 5.45%
Rangitikei District Council 6.95% 7.07%
Rotorua Lakes Council 9.2% 9.2%
Ruapehu District Council 4.92% 4.92%
Selwyn District Council 4.9% 4.9%
South Taranaki District Council 4.73% 4.73%
South Waikato District Council 7.7% 7.6%
South Wairarapa District Council 17.65% 29%
Southland District Council 10.15% 9.38%
Stratford District Council 4.25% 4.63%
Taranaki Regional Council 9.9% 9.9%
Tararua District Council 9.82% 9.44%
Tasman District Council 4.54% 4.4%
Taupo District Council 6.5% 8.7%
Tauranga City Council 17.0%  
Thames-Coromandel District Council 7.1% 8.8%
Timaru District Council 10.5% 11.5%
Upper Hutt City Council 4.8% 4.91%
Waikato District Council 9.0% 6.5%
Waikato Regional Council 7.3% 7.7%
Waimakariri District Council 3.95% 4.3%
Waimate District Council 9.9%  
Waipa District Council 4.1% 4.6%
Wairoa District Council 10.0%  
Waitaki District Council 8.95%  
Waitomo District Council -0.53% -0.54%
Wellington City Council 13.53% 13.5%
West Coast Regional Council    
Western Bay of Plenty District Council 12.0% 11.5%
Westland District Council 13.0% 13.0%
Whakatane District Council 6.84%  
Whanganui District Council 5.7%  
Whangarei District Council 6.5% 7.0%

 

Taxpayer Talk: What's really stopping houses from getting built?

Louis sits down with Kathryn Marshall of Williams Corporation, a residential property developer, to find out whether an extended bright line test and the removal of interest deductibility will lead to more affordable housing. Kathryn makes the case that the real solution is in tackling consenting processes at local councils.

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

Taxpayer Talk: Climate Change Commission head Dr Rod Carr, with NZ Initiative's Matt Burgess


Jordan Williams gets 30 minutes with the Climate Change Commission's Chair, Dr Roderick Carr at their offices.  He is joined by Matt Burgess, the Senior Economist at the New Zealand Initiative think tank to put to Dr Carr many of the criticisms of the report.

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

Taxpayer Talk: Ian Harrison on the Climate Change Commission

Jordan is joined by Ian Harrison, Principal at Tailrisk Economics for a discussion on the Climate Change Commission, the benefits of an ETS and why the commission is wrong about Electric Vehicles.

Read Ian's submission here: http://www.tailrisk.co.nz/documents/ClimateChangeCommission-13march.pdf

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

 



EXCLUSIVE: Hamilton City Council harvested submissions from school children

Hamilton City Council staff members have been visiting classrooms and harvesting submissions from children on the Council’s Māori partnership strategy, the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union can reveal.

We have been contacted by a Hamilton ratepayer who was perplexed to discover the name of his 13-year-old daughter among the publicly-listed submitters for the Council’s ‘Pillars of Wellbeing’ strategy.

It turned out that the student and her classmates at Rototuna Junior High School were visited by a Council staff member who spoke to them about the proposed strategy for engaging with iwi, and then prompted the children to fill out forms which were subsequently processed as formal submissions.

The Council has confirmed these school visits to media previously, but until now it wasn’t clear that the Council’s goal is to harvest submissions from school children.

In fact, this propaganda campaign had a marked effect on total submissions. A Council meeting agenda reveals that 20% of submissions on the strategy came from children below the age of 16, and a further 7% from 16-19 year-olds. The vast majority of submissions supported all aspects of the Council’s strategy.

Graph

This is a local council rigging its own consultation process in the most cynical, abhorrent way imaginable.

Council officers visiting schools to get form submissions is, frankly, creepy. Children will happily fill out a form without a second thought if it means they can get out for lunch. It’s also a gross violation of parental rights. Parents were not asked for their consent, or given any opportunity to request the presentation of an alternative viewpoint to the one being pushed by the Council onto impressionable students. This was an explicit and direct campaign to bring politics into the classroom, that discredits not just the Council’s consultation methods, but its ethics.

Tomorrow, Hamilton City Council’s Hearings and Engagement Committee will be meeting to discuss the results of the consultation process. The Taxpayers’ Union will be watching closely to see which councillors condemn the consultation methods.

We need to stop the Climate Commission’s radical plan

Dear Supporter,

I’m writing with some urgency. At the end of next week, submissions close for the draft recommendations of the Climate Change Commission – recommendations that the Government has signalled it will simply adopt.

I'm not going to sugar coat this. The media haven't been doing their job and instead of critically reviewing what is the most radical reforms to our economy since the Douglas-Lange era, they're blindly cheering it along.

Here's the how the Climate Change Commission Chair Dr Rod Carr has put it:

The transformation that New Zealand will confront in the decade ahead… is going to be on a scale that will rival the transformation from our controlled and regulated economy in the 1970s through to the early 1990s. It will be on a scale of the demilitarisation after the second world war. It will be on a scale equal to getting ourselves out of the great depression of the late 1920s. And I would guess it might rival the sum of all those parts…

The Commissioner plans to up-end our economy with central planning, forcing costly regulations on New Zealanders in an attempt to change the way we live and the entire shape of the economy.

Here’s just a taste of what the Commission’s plan involves:

•  Ban imports of light petrol and diesel vehicles from 2032.
•  Cull dairy, sheep and beef numbers by 15% by 2030.
•  Reshape cities so that we walk 25% more, cycle 95% more, and take public transport 120% more by 2030.
•  Subsidise electric vehicles further.
•  Ban new coal boilers.
•  Ban all coal generation, regardless of security of supply.
•  Ban new natural gas connections.
•  Ban gas BBQs.
•  Require new and replacement heating systems to be electric or bioenergy, not gas.

These measures may seem unrealistic – but with the Government having publicly committed to implement whatever the Commission recommends, we need to blow the whistle now before it is too late.

And here's the thing: according to the Commission’s own analysis, this plan isn’t even necessary. New Zealand is already on track to meet its “net zero carbon” target using existing tools i.e. the existing Emissions Trading Scheme.

The waterbed effect

In fact, the proposed regulations will do nothing to reduce our overall emissions. This is because of the way the ETS works: emissions are already capped and paid for. This means that when the Government goes beyond the ETS and uses regulations to push down emissions in parts of the economy covered by cap and trade, it just frees up credits for people to increase emissions in other parts of the economy – it’s what climate economists call the “waterbed effect”.

Here's just one example: recently James Shaw announced the Ministry of Education will spend $50 million to replace or convert 90 coal boilers in schools. According to the government this will reduce emissions by 33,000 tonnes – that is reducing emissions at $1,515 per tonne. By comparison, the ETS can remove one tonne of emissions for $39, a nearly 40-fold performance gap!

And because coal is already in the ETS, the waterbed effect means replacing the school boilers will see emissions raise somewhere else. There is absolutely no gain for the climate.

If you listen to one thing this weekend, make sure it's this podcast

Oliver HartwichYesterday I sat down with New Zealand Initiative Executive Director Oliver Hartwich. A trigger warning: what you will hear will make you angry.

Dr Hartwich explains the dangerous folly of the Climate Change Commission’s plan – and how they’ve refused to show their working on how much it will cost New Zealand families. Click here to listen to the podcast.

Taxpayer Talk

We've got to raise the alarm, and we don't have long to do it

We’ve come to this issue late because it’s taken time to wrap our heads around the Commissioner’s 800 pages of draft recommendations. But we’ve now prepared a submission that, quite frankly, I think destroys the Commission’s arguments. If you’ve got some time over the weekend, I strongly encourage you to read our draft submission here.

Regardless, we need your help now to ensure the consultation process isn’t swamped by special interest groups like Greenpeace and Generation Zero, who never saw an expensive eco-regulation or tax they didn’t like.

>> Click here to use our template submission tool <<

It only takes 30 seconds.

Thank you for your support,

Jordan

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

 

No more elections for you – Mike’s Minute of Madness

Mike Hosking

In just one minute this morning, Broadcaster of National Importance Mike Hosking made a fundamental error in his comments urging local councils to “merge, merge, and merge some more”.

He completely dismissed the entire concept of local democracy. You know, that thing where you get to vote for the people who will be representing you on council and spending your rates. He says: “Democracy is a wonderful thing… but like most things you can have too much, and that’s our plight.” He hopes the unelected commissioners at Tauranga City Council, who immediately proposed a 12 percent rates hike, “show that expertise actually beats democracy.”

Slow down tiger. You may have the highest rated radio show in New Zealand but abolishing elections in favour of Government appointed officials changes the entire nature of our council system. This would take both the “local” and the “democracy” out of “local democracy”, and our country would be the poorer for it.

Are there underperforming councillors or representatives who are out of their depth? Absolutely, but we ratepayers can vote them out at the next election, or more quickly if the Government adopts the Taxpayers’ Union’s well-researched policy of local body recall elections. As it stands, the hard-working families of Tauranga have no say in how long Commissioner Anne Tolley will be in charge nor the ability to pass judgement on her sweeping (and expensive) changes.

Sure, there may be “hobbyists”, “do-gooders” and even the odd weirdo in our Council chambers, but they are our hobbyists, do-gooders and weirdos. We do not want the Minister of Local Government or even the host of Newstalk ZB appointing our councils because they think they can judge “expertise” over representation.

The Union’s focus is on holding elected councillors to account for their actions and helping them do better, not replacing them with Government stooges and bureaucrats. "Expertise actually beats democracy" should send chills down the spine of every New Zealander.

Mike, we hope you take a minute to read this and reflect on the true value of democracy.


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