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More Transparency

Championing Value For Money From Every Tax Dollar

Tell Steven Joyce to pay it back

steven_joyce.jpgYesterday saw the disclosure of MPs' and Ministers' expenses - the perks they get courtesy of taxpayers to fulfil their duties.

Like most taxpayers, we were aghast to learn that Steven Joyce had racked up a mind-boggling taxi bill while on a day-trip to Sydney. The driver was instructed to keep the meter going... and going... and going.

That meter kept clicking over for a whole 9 hours and cost taxpayers an eye-watering $1,248.

We say that $1,248 taxi bill is unfair to the hard working taxpayers who earned it. Politicians should be as frugal with taxpayers' money as if they were spending their own - and we cannot think of anyone who would keep a taxi meter clicking over for nine hours.

Click here to sign our petition demanding Mr Joyce to pay back his $1,248 taxi fare.

Taniwha Tax petition launched

 New Mana Whenua rules

After the launch of The Taniwha Tax: Briefing paper on Auckland Council's new Mana Whenua rules, we were inundated with emails from our members and supporters, aghast at the silent imposition of this regulatory tax upon Auckland property owners.

Many expressed concern that Central Government appeared to be sitting on its hands regarding this issue and wanted to have their opposition to this new tax noted.

We've launched an online petition for member and the concerned public to send a message to the Government.

Click here to sign the petition to repeal the Taniwha Tax.

Check whether your property is one of the 18,000 affected by the Taniwha Tax

Although some types of resource consent activities (such as discharging into water or air) may trigger 'cultural impact assessments' regardless of where they are in Auckland, the main impact is likely to be initially felt by property owners within 200m of more than 3,600 sites of value to Mana Whenua.

Auckland Council has a mapping program that allows you to search for your property.

Here's our guide to use it:

1. Go to http://acmaps.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz (if a pop-up box appears - 'click to continue')

2. Search for your address in the search bar.

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3. On the left hand side (in the 'layers' tab)

3.1 Untick "Zones"
3.2 Untick "NonStatutoryInformaiton"
3.3 Next to the tick for "Overlays" press the "+" button (a sub menu should appear)
3.4 Ensure that only "Sites and Places of Significance to Mana Whenua" and "Sites and Places of Value to Mana Whenua" are ticked.

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The purple triangles are sites of significance to Mana Whenua while the purple shaded areas are sites of value.Note that even if your property does not have a purple triangle, if it is within 250m it is affected. 
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Taxpayers' Union launch 'Taniwha Tax' briefing paper

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The Taxpayers’ Union, with support from the Auckland Property Investors’ AssociationAuckland Ratepayers’ Alliance and Democracy Action today launched a briefing paper on Auckland Council’s new Mana Whenua Cultural Impact Assessment provisions. The paper, entitled The Taniwha Tax: Briefing paper on Auckland Council’s new Mana Whenua rules.

We believe that every Auckland homeowner or potential homeowner needs to know how the new provisions affect them.

Most affected property owners will not become aware of the provisions until they suddenly find there is a site on or near their land, or they are told they may need to get a Cultural Impact Assessment (CIA) when applying for resource consent. Worse, the Council isn’t even sure that some of the 3,600 sites deemed ‘of value’ even exist. It didn’t bother to check.

The Briefing Paper quotes extensive criticisms of the provisions made on behalf of some of New Zealand’s largest corporates, including Vodafone, Spark, Chorus, Transpower, Vector, Watercare.

If you thought that navigating RMA red tape was hard, these provisions could require you to negotiate with up to nineteen Mana Whenua groups in order to gain development consent, the rules mean that resource consents may be subject to expensive modifications, even if the reasons are entirely spiritual in nature.

The Council has previously tried to dampen public concerns, claiming that not many Cultural Impact Assessments have been required so far. They ignore the cost and delay of applicants having to go to iwi groups to ask whether a CIA is required.

Most of the messages contained in the Paper are not those of the Taxpayers’ Union. We have deliberately repeated what would otherwise go undiscovered in the files of lawyers, planners and Council insiders. Our work is to shine some democratic light onto what has happened."

The report is available to download here. 

 

UPDATE: To check if your property is one of the estimated 18,000 affected by these provisions, please click here for our guide.

Launch of Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance

You asked and we delivered

Over the last 18 months, we have received a lot of feedback from members and supporters that something needs to be done to hold the flame to Len Brown and Auckland Council’s culture of waste. We've been doing our best from here in Wellington, but the time has come for an Auckland-based group dedicated to holding the Super City to account.

This morning the Taxpayers’ Union’s newest initiative - the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance publicly launched. The Ratepayers' Alliance will stand up against Auckland Council’s wasteful spending, poor financial mismanagement, the proposed rates increases and the new taxes the Council wants to introduce. The group has very similar objectives to the Taxpayers' Union, albeit focused just at the Super City. You can read more about the group's plans at www.ratepayers.nz.

Best of all it's free to join the Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance by clicking here.

The media spokesperson for the Ratepayers' Alliance is Jo Holmes. Jo is a natural, and I just know she will do a great job sticking up for ratepayers and cutting through the Council's spin.

I am sure you will join me in wishing our new sister organisation every success.

10-year passports shouldn't come at a price

We are repeating our calls on the Government to increase the term and lower the price of New Zealand passports. Documents obtained under the Official Information Act show that despite the review having been scheduled for completion by the Department of Internal Affairs in December 2014, it only now before Cabinet which is expected to come to a decision next week on whether to return to 10-year passports.

In August last year Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne made it clear that the review of our current passport regime would be complete by December 2014 and presented to Cabinet for approval. We were worried that he had been sitting on his hands for four months or perhaps hoping that the issue would go away. Instead we understand that officials are advising that technical barriers exist which make ten-year passports difficult (presumably those difficulties do not apply to Australia, the UK, the USA, and those european countries listed in our report on 10-year passports).

Nevertheless, there is positive news in this morning's NZ Herald:

New Zealanders are set to enjoy 10-year passports once again - but at a price.

It is understood the Cabinet will decide in the next few weeks to extend the passport validity period, which was reduced to five years in 2005.

This will require an amendment to the Passports Act, and is likely to lead to higher fees for renewing a passport.

Prime Minister John Key said officials wanted the validity period to remain at five years. But he hinted that the Government would go against their advice and revert to 10-year passports.

"Good news is coming," he told NewstalkZB.

The change followed an independent review of passport security measures by former diplomat and Foreign Affairs chief Simon Murdoch, and a separate review of the costs related to processing passports.

The two reports were finished in December and sent to Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne to make a recommendation to the Cabinet.

The Government is unlikely to use urgency in Parliament to change the legislation. But it may seek a shortened public consultation process, which would require agreement from other political parties.

Mr Key has previously warned that a return to 10- year passports is likely to lead to higher fees because revenue from processing the documents will fall. At present, it costs $135 to renew a passport. Analysis by the Taxpayers' Union showed that fee was more expensive than nearly every other comparable country.

Increasing the cost of passports is unjustified. When we released the report on 10-year passports the Department of Internal Affairs was claiming on their website that the New Zealand passport fees compared ‘favourably’ with other countries. We proved them wrong.

Even if a 10-year passport cost the same as the existing 5-year one, New Zealanders would still be paying more than our trading partners for the ability to travel.

The price for a passport should reflect the cost. The Government has previously ran the passport regime at a profit and while returning to 10-year passports will help, the price should be benchmarked against our trading partners to ensure Kiwis are getting a fair deal.

We will be keeping a close eye on this issue.

 

Len Brown gagging ethnic advisory panel members

The message Auckland Council is effectively giving members of its Ethnic Advisory Panel is "Shut up until you're told to speak."

The Council appears to be in damage control after a member of the panel joined the Chairman and resigned labeling the Panel 'tokenism' and a 'waste of money'.

These advisory panels are supposed to be about communities having their say, but now the Council is trying to gag them from speaking to the media. It seems as though Len Brown and Auckland Council want the pretense of inclusiveness, but officials are telling panel members to zip-it when they don’t sing to the right tune.

It is becoming clear to us that the only person wanting this expensive tokenism is Len Brown.

Currently the Council has advisory panels for Youth, Ethnic Affairs, Pacific, Senior, Disability and Rural interests.

We have called on the Council to abolish the expensive advisory panels, with the exception of the disability panel, which provides important advice on the plight of assess-impaired members of Auckland’s community.

There are currently plans to introduce a ‘Rainbow Panel’ of GLBTI representatives.

Rather than ramming identity politics down ratepayers’ throats, Auckland Council should focus on keeping costs down. This expensive faux-democracy via expensive token ‘representatives’ delivers next to no value for money to ratepayers.

It’s time for these panels to go.

Bribe-O-Meter - cost of NZ First Northland bribes now more than $200 per NZ household

Following another week of policy announcements on the Northland by-election campaign trail, NZ First is now clocking up promises that, if implemented, would cost more than $200 per New Zealand household.

As of today, National has promised $63.5 million for Northland, while NZ First's promises total $378.9 million. The amounts are equivalent to a cost per New Zealand household of $35.67 for National’s promises and $212.87 for NZ First.

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The largest new bribe since last week's update was Mr Peters’ pledge to use taxpayer money to bailout the Kaipara District Council’s debt arising from the Mangawhai Heads wastewater project. This alone increased Mr Peters’ Bribe-O-Meter total by $80 million.

On yesterday’s TVNZ Q&A debate, Mr Peters made reference to a policy to build a ‘fast’ train service to the North. An independent economic expert commissioned by the Taxpayers’ Union for the Bribe-O-Meter, estimates that a high-speed rail link to Northland would cost at least $6.5 billion, more than Northland’s total annual GDP.

But you can breathe a sigh of relief. Winston Peters’ Chief of Staff confirmed to us this morning that the NZ First leader was not meaning high-speed rail. Apparently Mr Peters’ comments relating to ‘fast’ rail to Northland was a reference to line upgrades, already factored into the Bribe-O-Meter, and an express passenger service.

We are proud that the Bribe-O-Meter is forcing politicians to be transparent about the cost of their promises, but with one week to go there is still a risk that politicians turn the by-election into a lolly scramble at taxpayers’ expense.

Over the flip is a breakdown of the promises and our methodology.

Winston Peters' flagship policy an unwanted handout

It appears that Mr Peters wants to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a NorthPort rail link, but hasn't even spoken to the Port's management.

The Taxpayers' Union can reveal that Winston Peters has never visited, nor spoken to the management of the port company his key Northland by-election promise is framed around. Mr Peters announced soon after his Northland campaign launch that his party would champion an extension of the Northland railway line to the Port Whangarei and channel growth there, rather than allow expansion at the Port of Auckland.

Below is a letter we sent to Mr Peters last week seeking clarification of the cost to taxpayers of the policy and confirmation that he has never visited the port. The letter also outlines Mr Peters' apparent confusion between Northport (operating near Marsden Point) and the now defunct Port Whangarei (which for legal and technical reasons is unable to be reopened). 

Last week, Northport's CEO  told us that the Port does not want the rail link and that Mr Peters had never spoken to them about any rail proposal.

This is just the sort of expensive political promise our Northland Bribe-O-Meter is designed to expose. Mr Peters appears to consider New Zealand's hard earned tax dollar so expendable that to win a by-election he's willing to throw nearly $200 million at a Port, despite having never visited or spoken to those in charge.

Our letter is here: 

No response has been received from Mr Peters or his staff.

Northland Bribe-O-Meter update

Today we have released updated figures for our Northland by-election edition of the election costing Bribe-O-Meter. The figures show that National is catching up with NZ First in the amount of taxpayer funding pledged to the electorate.

We have updated our figures to take account of Simon Bridges' Akerama Curves Realignment Project announcement this afternoon. We have also revised the cost estimate of Mr Peters' rail policy pledge downward from $198 million to $172 million, reflecting advice received from KiwiRail.

As of today the National Party's election promises total $35.67 per New Zealand household. That compares to NZ First having pledged policy we estimate would cost $165.96 per New Zealand household if implemented.

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The National Party may argue that the new bridges and motorways come from existing roading budgets and therefore are not 'new spending'. Nevertheless, where it appears projects have jumped the queue ahead of other projects, we have included them in the Bribe-O-Meter figures.

This by-election is quickly turning into a buy-election paid for by all New Zealand taxpayers. The Bribe-O-Meter's purpose is to provide transparency on pork barrelling taxpayers are being forced to pay for.

Over the flip is a breakdown of the promises and our methodology.


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