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Taxpayer Update: Co-governance sham | Advertising bonanza | More bizarre grants

Dear Supporter,

Before I dive into the rest of the newsletter: the ute tax comes into effect today, meaning anyone buying (for example) a Toyota Hilux will have to pay an extra $5,000 to subsidise someone buying a Tesla or Prius.

If there's a change of Government, we could see the tax repealed – but only if we keep this fight on the agenda.

Bumper stickers

Click here to get a bumper sticker and show your opposition to the ute tax.

Co-governance "consultation" looks a lot like a sham

Ardern Mahuta

After a year of dodging questions on He Puapua, the Prime Minister has now confirmed that her Government will begin consultation on the wider implementation of co-governance in New Zealand.

But it's hard to see the consultation as anything but a sham while the Government presses ahead with its co-governed Three Waters scheme.

As our Executive Director Jordan Williams put it:

One of the key flaws in the proposed Three Waters model is the total lack of safeguards against rent seeking by tangata whenua. Indeed, it appears that the scheme is being set up to allow expensive water royalties and other financial ‘support’ to iwi groups – something the Minister would not deny when I asked her about this on our Taxpayer Talk podcast.

Co-governance is a recipe for rent seeking and new taxes, and decouples those imposing the costs from democratic accountability.

If the Prime Minister wants a genuine discussion on co-governance, then she shouldn't let the consultation be a sham. Cabinet needs to hit the brakes on Three Waters until New Zealanders have had their say.

Our petition to stop Three Waters has now received 88,000 signatures.

The advertising agency that's making millions off taxpayers

Clemenger campaigns

1 News reports that the Government has spent $35 million in the last year alone on COVID-19 advertising.

We understand the need to communicate complex information about alert levels, vaccine eligibility, and isolation rules, but the quantity and quality of advertisements deserves scrutiny.

Clemenger BBDO has been a major beneficiary of this Government, winning most major ad contracts and spewing out multi-million dollar, cinematic campaigns. Browse their portfolio for yourself.

It's not just COVID ads. Clemenger's 'Safer Limits' ad for Waka Kotahi cost $2.4 million. And that's just the production; another $195 million is budgeted for the wider 'Road to Zero' campaign.

EECA's 'Gen Less' ads cost taxpayers $8 million, largely spent with Clemenger. The company also won contracts with the Human Rights Commission, Oranga Tamariki, MPI, the Teaching Council, Health Promotion Agency, Fire and Emergency, and more.

Not every ad needs to be big budget. Anyone remember the Auckland Glass ads? "0800, 804, 804". Cheap as chips, and memorable. There are countless agile new producers that can pump out ads on a low budget. The Government needs to review its procurement arrangements.

The bizarre COVID grants keep on coming

Grant image

We've previously commented on the Ministry for Culture and Heritage's $60 million COVID "Innovation Fund", and it's time for an update.

The fund has now granted 105 projects a total of $15.9 million, and many of the spending decisions are truly bizarre:

  • $700,000 on a "digital storytelling experience" about the Manawatū River

  • $321,740 to tell the story of the Grey River using virtual reality

  • $20,000 on a business plan for Tongan mat-weaving

  • $250,000 on an online children's game about an albatross

  • $900,000 on an arts strategy for Christchurch

  • $20,000 on a children's book that requires the reader to install an app

  • $248,460 on traditional Māori painting

You can find a longer list of examples on our website here.

Common themes in the funded initiatives include virtual reality, storytelling, digital installations beside rivers, and bespoke IT projects.

Needless to say, none of these projects have any relevance to COVID-19, despite the money coming from Grant Robertson's rapidly-dwindling "pandemic fund". The spending decisions are almost funny until you remember that every dollar could have been spent bolstering our health system, or returned to a struggling taxpayer.

Incredibly, there is still another $44 million to be spent from the fund, and it is clear to see that the Ministry has run out of worthwhile projects to bankroll. It's only a matter of time before taxpayers are literally funding underwater basket weaving.

High inflation leads to $637 million debt write-off for uni graduates

We're blowing the whistle on a debt write-off for university graduates that's costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

While it is well-known that student loan balances do not accrue interest, it is often forgotten that balances are not even adjusted for inflation. This means student loan balances shrink in real terms every year in line with the inflation rate – effectively a taxpayer-funded debt write-off.

The total value of unpaid student debt sits at around $10.8 billion, listed as an asset in the Government books. But the real value of this debt is rapidly being eroded by high inflation – with an inflation rate of 5.9%, the Government has effectively written off $637 million in student debt in just 12 months. That's almost as much as the Government was planning to spend on the Waitemata Harbour "SkyPath" bike bridge.

The incentive problem is obvious: savvy students will repay their loans as slowly as possible, maximising costs to taxpayers in terms of both the inflation write-off and the interest write-off.

This is a regressive wealth transfer from working New Zealanders to the privileged – people with university degrees earn significantly more than those without. Even under Australia’s interest-free student loan scheme, recognised as one of the world’s most generous, loan balances are still indexed for inflation.

Spanish taxpayers have done us a $99 million favour

Thank you

This week we're thanking the taxpayers of Barcelona and Catalonia for taking the $99 million America’s Cup defence off Kiwi taxpayers’ hands.

Funding for a millionaires’ boat race was never a good use of taxpayers’ money when we are facing a generational debt monster and painful inflation.

The success of the Spanish bid means $99 million is freed up for the Government and Auckland Council to pay down debt or to be returned to taxpayers and ratepayers. And we won't have to endure another $900,000 Rod Stewart singalong:

Rod and Clarke

Revealed: DIA's furniture blowout

Furniture graphic

We've exposed how the Department of Internal Affairs spent $2 million on furniture during a period in which much of their staff were working from home.

Some staff members were even given adjustable footrests to install in their home offices!

Click here to read the details.

The polling that explains the Govt’s fuel tax cut

A month ago, the Finance Minister was blaming fuel costs on international conditions and warning that fuel tax relief would impact road funding. But then the Government changed tack, and rustled up money from the COVID slush fund to cover the revenue loss.

Perhaps the Government's internal polling showed something like this:

Fuel tax poll

That's a scientific Curia poll we commissioned just before the Government announced the temporary reduction in petrol excise tax.

In fact, 80% of Labour voters supported tax relief. In the most deprived areas of New Zealand, support for tax relief was 88%. Click here to see the in-depth data.

The lesson from the fuel tax cut is that regardless of our Government’s ideological bent, it can be forced to listen to people-power, strong campaigns, and public opinion.

The problem the Government faced was that New Zealanders had already made the mental link between high fuel costs and high government taxes. This didn’t happen out of the blue: the Taxpayers’ Union worked hard to ensure that New Zealanders knew around half of their petrol bill was made up of taxes and levies.

Newshub clipClick here to see Newshub's coverage of our 'Fuel Tax Honesty Day' event.

The Government's preferred candidate for UK High Commissioner is under investigation for corruption

Goff

According to the NZ Herald, Cabinet is set to sign off on appointing outgoing Auckland Mayor Phil Goff as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

But there's a problem. Has everyone forgotten that Goff is currently being investigated for electoral curruption over an alleged failure to declare election donations apparently linked to the CCP?

It beggars belief that Cabinet would even consider the London gig while the stench of Chinese electoral fraud is still hanging over Goff’s head.

We contacted the Minister of Foreign Affair's office and asked whether anyone has ever been appointed as an ambassador or high commissioner while being investigated for a criminal offence. They couldn't find a single instance.

New Zealand currently has a good reputation within the international diplomatic community. That reputation is vital to achieving high-quality trade deals and security arrangements. Let’s not put it at risk.

Taxpayer Talk: RNZ/TVNZ merger + Wellington's allergy to economists

The Government has confirmed plans to merge RNZ and TVNZ into a single publicly-owned media monolith. I sat down remotely with National Party Broadcasting spokesperson Melissa Lee to find out exactly what problem the Government thinks it's solving, and how this move will impact New Zealanders' trust in the independence of the media. Listen here.

The Treasury recently advertised for a senior economic analyst with "no economics background required". Professor Robert MacCulloch says this is just the tip of the iceberg and in fact reflects a wider agenda in the public service to turn away from orthodox economic rigor. I sat down with Rob to discuss the disturbing consequences for New Zealand's economic stability and quality of life. Listen here.

You can find all of our Taxpayer Talk episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or iHeart Radio.

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

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Media coverage:

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The Guardian Jacinda Ardern united New Zealanders when Covid hit. Then a long second lockdown split ‘the team of 5 million’ Morgan Godfery

Stuff The stage is set for an election bunfight in 2023

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The Daily Blog Dr Bryce Edwards’ NZ Politics Daily Political Roundup: The time is right for permanent free public transport

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The Spinoff Auckland outbreak peaks – but hospitalisation and death rate lags behind

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The Daily Blog 7.30pm Monday LIVE – The Working Group Weekly Political Podcast with Sean Plunket, Jordan Williams, & Damien Grant

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ACT Kiwi families under siege

The Working Group The Working Group Weekly Political Podcast with Simon Bridges, Graeme Edgeler, & Damien Grant

High inflation leads to $637 million debt write-off for uni graduates

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is raising the alarm over a $637 million debt write-off for university graduates, driven by inflation and funded by taxpayers.

While it is well-known that student loan balances do not accrue interest, it is often forgotten that balances are not even adjusted for inflation. This means student loan balances shrink in real terms every year in line with the inflation rate – effectively a taxpayer-funded debt write-off.

The total value of outstanding student debt sits at around $10.8 billion*, listed as an asset in the Government books. But the real value of this debt has been eroded by high inflation – at a rate of 5.9%, the Government has effectively written off $637 million in student debt in the space of one year. That's almost as much as the Government was planning to spend on the Waitemata Harbour bike bridge.

A lawyer who graduated in 2017 and has an $80,000 student loan has had at least $9,000 in today’s money paid off by the taxpayer. The longer the graduate takes to repay their loan, the larger the taxpayer-funded debt write-off.

The incentive problem is obvious: savvy students will repay their loans as slowly as possible, maximising costs to taxpayers in terms of both the inflation write-off and the interest write-off.

This is a regressive wealth transfer from working New Zealanders to the privileged – people with university degrees earn significantly more than those without. Even under Australia’s interest-free student loan scheme, recognised as one of the world’s most generous, loan balances are still indexed for inflation.

The Government has recently dismissed income tax relief for workers as a handout for the wealthy. That’s rich when Grant Robertson is spending millions to pay down the loan balances of lawyers, doctors, consultants, and bankers.

We’re calling on the Government to urgently begin indexing student loan balances for inflation.

---
*Source: HYEFU, page 120

Revealed: NZTA spends $15,000 per second promoting lower speed limits

Ad screenshot

Waka Kotahi (NZTA) spent $2.4 million on the first advertisement in its campaign promoting lower speed limits, reveals the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

The ad, which can be viewed here, features a wig-wearing, clipboard-wielding NZTA official explaining to a pair of children that speed limits are currently too fast.

Nine hundred thousand dollars was spent producing the one-minute video. That works out at $15,000 per second  about the same cost as Steven Spielberg's 'West Side Story'.

The remainder of the $2.4 million budget was mostly spent on advertising space, ensuring New Zealanders are tortured by the ad's repetition.

NZTA costs

The costs were provided to the Taxpayers' Union under the Official Information Act. 

Like the Government's infamous Three Waters ads, NZTA's "Safe Limits" ad appears to be more about promoting a Government policy – lower speed limits – than communicating useful information to the public.

Waka Kotahi has disabled comments on the YouTube version of the ad, but on Facebook the video has been ridiculed. Representative comments from viewers include:

•  It looks like they're "dumbing down" their information. Ridiculous ad. 

•  Once again instead of improving the roads this governments solution [is] lower the speed and spend the money on marketing.

•  The ad is a great metaphor - when the hi vis dude can't hear what the kids are saying, it's just like when Waka Kotahi asks for public consultation on speed limit reductions and road safety, and completely ignores what the public feedback is e.g. Napier-Taupo Road.

•  Waka Kotaki should be ashamed of itself, running TV ads to gain support for reducing speed limits while the massive cost of the campaign should be going into fixing roads.

•  Stop wasting tax payer money on ads about nothing. Just change the sign and everyone will know.

Motorists pay tax and road user charges with the expectation that roads will be made safer. Wide scale reductions in speed limits will be seen by many New Zealanders as an abdication of NZTA's responsibility to improve road quality. When the Government then goes and funnels millions into condescending campaigns to congratulate itself for slowing New Zealanders down, you can see why people are switching off their TV sets.

The worst of it is that NZTA has budgeted a total of $197 million for its "Road to Zero" education campaign through to 2024. This money could have been spent on median barriers, but the Government has instead decided to spend the money annoying you with dumb ads.

COVID response sees $700k spent on a "digital storytelling experience"

Grant image

The Government must pull the plug on the Ministry for Culture and Heritage's $60 million COVID "Innovation Fund" as it continues to grant taxpayer funding to bizarre projects, says the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

So far, 105 projects have received $15.9 million from the fund. Since the Taxpayers' Union's last update on the fund, new questionable grants include:

•  $700,000 on a "digital storytelling experience" about the Manawatū River

•  $321,740 to tell the story of the Grey River using virtual reality

•  $20,000 on a business plan for Tongan mat-weaving

•  $250,000 on an online children's game about an albatross

•  $900,000 on an arts strategy for Christchurch

•  $20,000 on a children's book that requires the reader to install an app

•  $248,460 on traditional Māori painting

Common themes in the funded initiatives include virtual reality, storytelling, digital installations beside rivers, and bespoke IT projects.

Needless to say, none of these projects have any relevance to COVID-19, despite the money coming from Grant Robertson's rapidly-dwindling pandemic fund. The spending decisions are almost funny until you remember that every dollar spent on "digital storytelling" is a dollar that could have been spent bolstering our health system, or returned to a struggling taxpayer.

The fund's basic "seed funding" grants are all set at $20,000, with no apparent regard for whether the project justifies the full sum. Regardless, the sheer quantity and variety of projects funded means there is little realistic possibility for follow-up analysis to ensure each project delivers value for taxpayers.

Incredibly, there is still another $44 million to be spent from the fund, and it already seems the Ministry has run out of worthwhile projects to bankroll. It's only a matter of time before taxpayers are literally funding underwater basket weaving.

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

Steamcore
To scope and test a new interactive social gaming experience meant to democratize content creation and e-sports, increasing commercial opportunities, sector sustainability and improving access and participation
Awarded: $20,000

Toi Ōtautahi
Co-funding for the initial stages of Toi Ōtautahi, the Christchurch arts strategy. Work includes mentoring, commissioning, professional development, and creative practice platforms for artists. The project will support artists and improve access to the arts for people of Waitaha Canterbury.
Awarded: $900,000

Atawhai Interactive
To develop an accessible online game, Toroa, that gives tamariki and rangatahi an experience to fly as Toroa on its journey from the Pacific Ocean back to its home on Taiaroa head. It will explore the themes of whakapapa as the Toroa soars over the ocean, deified as Takaroa, on the winds of Tāwhirimatea.
Awarded: $250,000

Good Company Arts
To create a series of immersive virtual reality journeys that celebrate the sound and form of Taonga Pūoro [traditional instruments], thereby connecting a wider audience to the artform and to the whenua.
Awarded: $20,000

Te Rūnaka o Ōtākou
Scoping the use of a web platform to leverage pūrākau [myths and legends], and traditional and contemporary technologies to connect with the Ōtākou diaspora.
Awarded: $20,000

AKH ('Api-ko-haukinima)
To research a business plan to understand what is needed to produce authentic Tongan mats and make them more accessible for Tongan people, and to teach this craft and pass on the knowledge to those who wish to learn it.
Awarded: $20,000

Dr Rory Clifford
To develop a business plan for virtual reality recreations of current Māori wāhi tapu [sacred places] with an initial focus on Kāi Tahu marae and their historic sites of interest.
Awarded: $20,000

Greymouth Heritage Trust
To tell the story of the Grey River using virtual reality, simulative, and immersive technologies. The project will bring to life both Māori and European settlement and use of the river.
Awarded: $321,740

Makaira Waugh - Rōreka
To contribute to the creation of a te reo Māori children’s book which uses an app to embellish the story with music and claymation videos, and allows the reader to recreate waiata using instrumental loops.
Awarded: $20,000

Toi o Taranaki Ki Te Tonga
An inter-generational and multi career stage approach to encourage, empower and enable Māori artists who whakapapa to Taranaki or live in the rohe, to wānanga, create, collaborate, exhibit and sell their work and to provide improved community access to mahi toi Māori.
Awarded: $283,500

Maata Wharehoka
To further develop a project focused on transmitting, revitalising and providing accessible ways of learning tikanga Māori practices surrounding deathing, death and after death.
Awarded: $20,000

Dinnie Moeahu
To undertake research and engagement to support the development of Te Āhua o Te Tangata, a cultural competency framework for local government.
Awarded: $20,000

Ngamanawa Incorporation
To create a digital repository and digital rights management framework through development of open-source software to ensure that cultural knowledge and artefacts can be hapū governed, retained and protected for future generations.
Awarded: $371,108

Rehua Innovations
To build local capability by repurposing two under-utilised waka ama [outrigger canoes] into waka tere [racing canoes] and increasing traditional sailing capabilities through wānanga
Awarded: $250,000

Kauae Raro Research Collective
To commission and promote new works by Māori creatives using customary Māori paint making knowledge.
Awarded: $248,460

Wawata Creative Limited
To develop the sitemap and prototype ‘look and feel’ of an app that captures and stores key stories, kōrero, imagery, waiata, whakapapa, and knowledge from marae
$20,000

Pounga Wai
To produce Pounga Wai | A Digital River - an interactive, real-time, large-scale digital art installation of the Whanganui River, embedded in Māori kaupapa.
Awarded: $124,631

Whanganui Connection
To upgrade and enhance the immersive experience of the Durie Hill Elevator and Tunnel, providing access to stories about public transport, the way we build our cities and housing, engineering and built heritage. 
Awarded: $199,300

Māoriland Charitable Trust
To deliver Purita, a capability system to enable identification and development of Māori potential through the creation of content, but also a platform for this content to be distributed and seen around the world. Purita will also platform an extensive library of global indigenous content.
Awarded: $1,015,300

Central Development Agency (CEDA)
To deliver a digital storytelling experience of the Manawatū Awa [river], with interactive cultural and historical maps and a virtual guide.
Awarded: $700,000

Maungarongo Marae
To hold wānanga [classes] to brainstorm the design and content for a system for embedding mātauranga [Māori knowledge] in ngā toi [the arts] to safeguard it and provide access to it in a managed and safe way that aligns with the kaupapa of Maungarongo Marae.
Awarded: $20,000

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

Taxpayer Talk: Does Wellington hate economists?

The Treasury recently advertised for a senior economic analyst with "no economics background required". Professor Robert MacCulloch says this is just the tip of the iceberg and in fact reflects a wider agenda in the public service to turn away from orthodox economic rigor. Rob sits down with Louis to discuss the disturbing consequences for New Zealand's economic stability and quality of life.

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

Ratepayers foot the bill for $76,000 in shoes for parking wardens

As if parking wardens weren't already costing ratepayers enough in tickets, they're also putting the boot in with surprisingly large footwear costs.

Wellington City Council has spent $75,906.35 on shoes for its parking wardens in the last three years, reveals the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

An information response from Wellington City Council shows that the Council purchased 264 pairs of shoes from 2019 and 2021, at an average cost of $287 a pair.

The Council currently employs 57 parking wardens. Each warden is provided with two pairs of shoes (summer and winter), and the shoes are audited and replaced as often as every year.

A Council recruitment video even touts the two free pairs of shoes as one of the many benefits enjoyed by parking wardens. The Council's uniform framework confirms that wardens get to keep their shoes after leaving the role, along with their ratepayer-funded hats, beanies, thermals, and fingerless gloves.

ShoesWellington parking wardens photographed wearing their winter (left) and summer (right) shoes.

Councils should regularly ask themselves whether their bulk purchases and procurement practices represent good value for money. Councils placing large orders, with long-standing relationships with suppliers, should be able to leverage off this to receive discounts.

Alternatively, the Council could simply follow typical practice in the private sector and offer each warden an allowance of, say, $200 a year to source their own shoes, cutting expenses in half. As it stands, the wardens are handed expensive shoes with no regard for their personal preference. There's even a moral hazard: wardens will happily wear out their ratepayer-funded shoes with personal use.

At the Taxpayers’ Union, we acknowledge that parking wardens need decent shoes, but we urge the Council to put the shoe on the other foot and recognise how ratepayers, hammered with rising living costs, make prudent choices to limit the cost of their own footwear.

The Taxpayers' Union investigated the Council's shoe expenditure after an irate ratepayer sent a tipoff. If you know of a case of government extravagance, waste or misspending, email [email protected].

Taxpayer Talk: What is the media mega-merge meant to solve?

The Government has confirmed plans to merge RNZ and TVNZ into a single publicly-owned media monolith. Louis sits down remotely with National Party Broadcasting spokesperson Melissa Lee to find out exactly what problem the Government thinks it's solving, and how this move will impact New Zealanders' trust in the independence of the media. 
Subscribe to Taxpayer Talk podcast via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

Revealed: How DIA spent $2 million on furniture

The Taxpayers' Union can reveal how the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) spent $2,047,388 on furniture in just 18 months.  

Last month, National MP Melissa Lee grilled the DIA for an apparent furniture blowout in 2020/21, but now we learn that she wasn't given a full accounting of the Department's shopping spree. 

An official information response obtained by the Taxpayers' Union shows that the DIA spent $1,935,674 million on furniture for its offices in the 18 months to the end of 2021. The major expenses included workstations (desks), chairs, and 'collaboration furniture' for shared spaces.

Additionally, $111,714 was spent on furniture for use in employees' homes. Two hundred and forty-eight employees received office chairs to use at home, at an average cost of $431 each. Some staff were even given adjustable foot rests, and one received a $115 floor mat.

Furniture1 Furniture2

The spending figures exclude installation costs and IT equipment.

Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, "The spending works out at $1,048 for every permanent employee. Are we expected to believe that every desk, chair, locker and beanbag all went kaput at once? Remember, this was a period in which a large portion of DIA's staff were working from home."

"It appears that DIA has pressed ahead with a department-wide furniture revamp instead of simply replacing items on an as-needed basis. This is egregious during a cost of living crisis when taxpayers are tightening their belts and making sacrifices."

"The Department even forked out for 3,526 workstations despite only employing 1,954 permanent staff. This kind of spending raises the question of whether DIA is in fact over-funded. If the Government is serious about reining in debt, it should take a close look at the budgets of DIA and other major public service entities."

More detailed descriptions of a selection of DIA furniture purchases can be found in a response to Select Committee questions by Melissa Lee (page 23). The breakdown reveals a strong proclivity for standing desks.

ENDS

Revealed: The polling that explains the Govt’s fuel tax cut

A Curia poll commissioned by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union found that 78% of New Zealanders supported a reduction in petrol tax in the days leading up to (and the day after) the Government’s reduction in petrol excise.

Eighty percent of Labour voters supported tax relief, and 88% of respondents in the most deprived areas. Click here to view the data.

The polling took place from 2–7 March and 14–15 March, with a gap in polling due to COVID-19. The Government’s announcement to cut fuel excise was made on 14 March. 

The Government’s decision to cut petrol taxes was a victory for people power. Regardless of our Government’s ideological tendencies, it can be made to listen when public opinion is against it.

Earlier in the month, the Finance Minister was blaming fuel costs on international conditions and warning that fuel tax relief would impact road funding. But then the Government correctly calculated the public mood, changed tack, and rustled up money from the COVID slush fund to cover the revenue loss.

The problem the Government faced was that New Zealanders had already made the mental link between high fuel costs and high government taxes. This didn’t happen out of the blue: the Taxpayers’ Union worked hard to ensure that New Zealanders knew around half of their petrol bill was made up of taxes and levies.

Our petition to cut fuel tax was promoted to hundreds of thousands of Kiwis on social media and gained 16,000 signatures. Our fuel tax refund event in Takapuna exposed high taxes with media coverage from Newshub, 1 News, and Radio NZ. And Taxpayers' Union supporters plastered stickers on fuel pumps – a habit that the Taxpayers’ Union does not endorse but does find funny.

We look forward to a similar Government turnaround on Three Waters as we raise awareness of the scheme’s bureaucratic, unaccountable governance model.

Taxpayer Update: Labour slides in latest poll | NZTA spends big on 'Road to Zero' propaganda

Dear Supporter,

Seldom do we send two Taxpayer Updates in the same week, but we wanted to ensure our supporters see our latest private political poll result before it is leaked to the media and reported publicly.

Today we've also blown the whistle on the cost of the propaganda campaign NZTA have been spending up on for the so-called "Road to Zero" initiative (see below).

Latest poll: Gap between centre-left and centre-right blocs continues to close

The latest Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll is now available for members and supporters here. The monthly poll is scientific, using a random sample of voting age New Zealanders, and is independently carried out by the experts at Curia Market Research.

The takeaway: Labour is polling at its lowest ever in this term of government, and the overall gap between the centre-right and centre-left continues to close.

PV over time

Revealed: This ad cost you $2.4 million

Ad screenshot

The Taxpayers' Union can reveal that Waka Kotahi (NZTA) spent $2.4 million on the first advertisement in its campaign promoting lower speed limits.

The ad, which can be viewed here, features a wig-wearing, clipboard-wielding NZTA official explaining to a pair of children that speed limits are currently too fast.

Nine hundred thousand dollars was spent producing the one-minute video. That works out at $15,000 per second – about the same cost as Steven Spielberg's 'West Side Story'.

The remainder of the $2.4 million budget was mostly spent on advertising space, ensuring New Zealanders are tortured by the ad's repetition.

NZTA costs

Like the Government's infamous Three Waters ads, NZTA's "Safe Limits" ad appears to be more about promoting a Government policy – lower speed limits – than communicating useful information to the public.

Waka Kotahi has disabled comments on the YouTube version of the ad, but on Facebook the video has been ridiculed. Representative comments from viewers include:

  • It looks like they're "dumbing down" their information. Ridiculous ad. 

  • Once again instead of improving the roads this government's solution [is] lower the speed and spend the money on marketing.

  • The ad is a great metaphor - when the hi vis dude can't hear what the kids are saying, it's just like when Waka Kotahi asks for public consultation on speed limit reductions and road safety, and completely ignores what the public feedback is e.g. Napier-Taupo Road.

  • Waka Kotaki should be ashamed of itself, running TV ads to gain support for reducing speed limits while the massive cost of the campaign should be going into fixing roads.

  • Stop wasting tax payer money on ads about nothing. Just change the sign and everyone will know.

Motorists pay tax and road user charges with the expectation that roads will be made safer. Wide-scale reductions in speed limits will be seen by many New Zealanders as an abdication of NZTA's responsibility to improve road quality. When the Government then goes and funnels millions into condescending campaigns to congratulate itself for slowing New Zealanders down, you can see why people are switching off their TV sets.

The worst of it is that NZTA has budgeted a total of $197 million for its Road to Zero "education campaign" through to 2024. This money could have been spent on road safety improvements such as median barriers, but the Government has instead decided to spend the money annoying us all with dumb ads.

We say NZTA should hit the brakes on this condescending spending, and get back to the basics of fixing our roads.

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

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