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Waste watch: Auckland Council funds conference on polyamory

Yesterday afternoon we received a tipoff that Auckland Council recently funded a one day conference to explore the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved, also known as polyamory. 

Last month the gaynz.com website reported that among the first recipients of Auckland Council’s first ever 'Rainbow Door Fund’ was 'Poly Panel, Discussions around Queer Polyamory’, a one day event exploring a framework of ethical, healthy polyamory relationships.

We think that Auckland ratepayers will be horrified that it appears their rates are being used to promote alternative lifestyles.

Why should Auckland Council be concerning itself with matters in the bedroom?

This is just as concerning as it would be were Auckland Council funding conservative lobby group conferences such as for Family First.

Earlier this year the Rainbow Door Fund was established to provide grants for glbti people. We think it is questionable for Auckland Council to fund community groups based on the sexual preferences of their members. Conferences such as these should be funded by the interest groups themselves, not from money meant for roads and core services.

Given the spiralling levels of Auckland Council debt, the Council should be focused on value for money, not throwing funding at favoured groups.

Are our priorities right in Tonga?

This morning we received the following press release from the Government:

NZ to contribute to the upgrade of Teufaiva Stadium
John Key
4 JUNE, 2014

Prime Minister John Key has today announced New Zealand will contribute around $2 million towards upgrading Tonga’s national stadium in Nuku’alofa ahead of the 2019 Pacific Games.

Why are Kiwi taxpayers contributing to this?

“New Zealand looks forward to working with the Tongan Government to improve Teufaiva Stadium in the lead up to the 2019 Pacific Games and other international events,’’ says Mr Key.

“Teufaiva Stadium is already an important site for domestic rugby, athletics and community events and will be a great venue for the Pacific Games.

“New Zealand supports a fit-for-purpose upgrade of the stadium that will expand its utility while supporting the strong community that participates in current stadium events.

“I’m happy that New Zealand can assist Tonga in its efforts to promote sports and healthy lifestyles in Tonga,” says Mr Key.

We’re not sure that contributing funds to a sports stadium is much of a promotion of healthy lifestyles, but more importantly is this really the highest priority to better the lives of those living in the Kingdom of Tonga? If the goal is to improve health, why isn't New Zealand spending the $2 million directly on health, implementing exercise programmes in schools or encouraging a healthy lifestyle?

The first step in the upgrade work will be a New Zealand-funded feasibility study and design, and technical support for the Tongan Government.

Mr Key made the announcement in Tonga today where he is visiting from June 3-5, as part of the 2014 Pacific Mission.

We would have thought that spending $2 million on a sports stadium is a purely nice-to-have rather than something that makes a difference to the lives of struggling families.

While drafting some comment on the Government's priorities we received the following: 

NZ to invest $5 million to rebuild Tongan schools 
John Key
4 JUNE, 2014

Prime Minister John Key has today announced New Zealand will contribute $5 million to rebuilding schools in Tonga’s Ha’apai islands following the devastating Cyclone Ian earlier this year.

 Good! 

“The $7.5m joint project with the Asian Development Bank and the Tongan Government will have a big impact on the lives of nearly 1,300 students affected by the cyclone,” says Mr Key.

“Getting children back into a regular school is vital for their education, safety and emotional well-being. Education is one of the priority areas for Tonga under the New Zealand Aid Programme and we are very pleased to be able to respond to the Tongan Government’s request for assistance,” says Mr Key.

We couldn’t agree more with the value ascribed to education by Mr Key in this quote.

In January of this year, Cyclone Ian caused extensive damage to infrastructure, public utilities and services, agriculture and housing, as well as severely damaging schools in the Ha’apai island group. 

The funding will be used to reconstruct classrooms and staff quarters, and replace school equipment across the island group by 2016.

“New Zealand enjoys a strong relationship with Tonga and the two countries are important regional partners,” says Mr Key.

“There is a significant Tongan population living in New Zealand, so it’s important that we are able to help Tonga in times of need.”

Mr Key made the announcement while visiting Government Primary School in Nuku’alofa today. While in Tonga, Mr Key also met with Tongan Prime Minister Tuʻivakanō and had high level discussions with Tongan members of cabinet. 

Mr Key is visiting Tonga as part of the 2014 Pacific Mission. He will visit Niue on Thursday before returning home.

Whilst we applaud our foreign aid obligations being spent on such worthy causes, it doesn’t alleviate our concern around the sports stadium funding.

That $2 million would still be better off earmarked for the core services of government that influence daily life for the people of Tonga.

We're disappointed that our Government is effectively saying funding for the vanity project of a sports stadium is 40% as important as rebuilding Tongan schools and getting children back into regular education.

Happy Tax Freedom Day

Today is Tax Freedom Day – the first day of the year when Kiwis stop paying for the state and start working for themselves. The Taxpayers’ Union believe that it is high time ordinary people saw the rewards of hard work going into their pockets, not the taxman’s.

Congratulations New Zealand, as at 10.04am today you are working for yourself. However, the fact the Government accounts for all the money earned until today means it is unlikely New Zealanders will be celebrating. The government has effectively sucked up all of our earnings for the first 154 days of the year.

OECD figures put the current burden of government in New Zealand as 42.2% of GDP. This is larger than the 30% recently quoted by Finance Minister Bill English because it also takes into account crown entities, such as SOEs as well as local government.

At 42.2% this year, the burden of government is even larger than when National took office in 2008. While core government expenditure has gone down, the wider crown portfolio and particularly local government has exploded.

We need to aspire to countries like South Korea, Switzerland and Australia. Tax Freedom day this year fell on 21 April in South Korea, 2 May in Switzerland and 11 May in Australia.

Tax Freedom Day is a day for New Zealanders to consider the egregious amount of tax foisted upon us by successive governments. Tax should be used to deliver the key functions of government in the most efficient way possible.

We should be aiming to start working for ourselves in April, not still working for politicians in June. The only way to do that is to reduce the high tax burden on New Zealanders.

We want to keep working to make sure next year's Tax Freedom Day is earlier. Help us do it, by joining, or supporting, the Taxpayers' Union.

Taxpayers' Union calls for changes to the Official Information Act to include trusts

Trust investigates 'irregular payments' claim The New Zealand Herald - 27/05/2014

A taxpayer-funded South Auckland disability support provider which received $30 million last year is investigating its own accounts, after claims from New Zealand First leader Winston Peters of "irregular payments".

… 

The Taxpayers' Union called for changes to the Official Information Act to cover groups such as the trust.

"Unlike government agencies, these non-profit groups are not required to comply with the act. This means that too often, taxpayer money disappears into a void," union executive director Jordan Williams said.

Click here to read more.

Te Roopu Taurima O Manukau Trust shows need for OIA reform

The NZ Herald has picked up our comments in response to the recent scandal surrounding "irregular payments" at the taxpayer-funded South Auckland disability support provider, Te Roopu Taurima O Manukau Trust

Trust investigates 'irregular payments' claim NZ Herald 27 May 2014

Trust investigates 'irregular payments' claim

A taxpayer-funded South Auckland disability support provider which received $30 million last year is investigating its own accounts, after claims from New Zealand First leader Winston Peters of "irregular payments".

Te Roopu Taurima O Manukau Trust confirmed yesterday that its investigation had been ongoing for several months.

Among Mr Peters' claims were $360,662.90 paid to a bakery over two years for property maintenance, $250,000 to two firms unqualified to give financial advice and payments to a security systems company that does not exist. [...]

The Taxpayers' Union called for changes to the Official Information Act to cover groups such as the trust.

"Unlike government agencies, these non-profit groups are not required to comply with the act. This means that too often, taxpayer money disappears into a void," union executive director Jordan Williams said. Read more.

London return for the money written-off on rail since 2008

We’re currently working though the budget announcements and stack of material released last week.  What’s caught our eye are the unbelievable amounts taxpayers are forking out for KiwiRail.  On Budget day the Government announced a further $198 million of funding for KiwiRail’s Turnaround Plan. That brings the total cost to taxpayers of rail to a whopping $12.2 billion dollars since rail was renationalised in 2008.

Worse, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee has warned that KiwiRail is likely to need more what the Government is calling a 'turn around plan'.

The $12.2 billion taxpayer money written off on KiwiRail is equivalent to over $2,700 per taxpayer - nearly enough buy every Kiwi a return flight to London.

Per household, the amount is $6,900 - enough to buy a good, reliable second hand car.

The $12.2 billion refers to the total Crown investment of $2.4 billion since 2008 and write downs totalling $9.8 billion. 

We've put out a statement calling on the Government to do a U-turn on KiwiRail. At what point will the Government stop throwing good money after bad? Taxpayers should not be burdened with bringing dead rats to life.

It is incredible that for all this money, we still have locomotives with asbestos and ferries that are lemons. We think taxpayers deserve better.

Wairoa responds to Taxpayers' Union rates claim

Further to our questioning of the use of a rates figure that does not include new targeted rates, the Wairoa District Council has issued a media release:

Wairoa District Council Defends Against Negativity

Wairoa is transforming into a vibrantly energetic part of New Zealand and will no longer accept spin-driven criticism. This is the message from newly-appointed CEO of Wairoa District Council Fergus Power, in response to recent criticism by the New Zealand Taxpayers Union over a proposed budget increase.

Describing it as just another example of ‘Wairoa-bashing’, Mr Power said it was a cheap shot that distracted from the fact that the district is very much open for business.

“I have been appointed to bring about a transformation within Council, and within the district. The first step requires active rebut of the sort of nonsense that has been promulgated for years – that Wairoa is in decay, has inept leadership, and is incapable of a sustainable, prosperous future. In fact, Wairoa district has the youngest and most vibrant population structure of all of the cities and districts in the Hawke’s Bay region – with 25% of the population aged between 0-14,” said Mr Power.

“That is backed up with some of the warmest and most welcoming people, a rich and proud Maori culture, the kindest climate imaginable, and a surfeit of fish, game, and opportunities to recreate in the vast outdoors – which includes the stunning Lake Waikaremoana and Te Urewera National Park, and the world-renowned beaches of the Mahia Peninsula, with sun, sand and surfing”, he said.

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little said Wairoa would no longer accept baseless scaremongering.

“I will defend Wairoa district’s reputation aggressively. We are no longer a punching bag. We are punching above our weight and we have much work to do as a community”.

"When the punching bag looks like blue sea, warm sand, sunshine, and an energised and dedicated community committed to a complete transformation of the district – it becomes a slightly harder target. In fact, why would you even want to diminish it?

NZTU criticism was centred around the Draft Annual Plan 2014-2015, which is currently in the consultation phase.

The plan includes a 5.43 percent increase in the budget, which does not include the funding requirements for the Mahia and Opoutama Wastewater Schemes. Ratepayers not involved in either wastewater scheme are not affected by these funding requirements.

Participants in the wastewater schemes are being consulted with separately, as they have several options for repayment. Figures that relate to these schemes in the Draft Plan reflect the default repayment option, although the choices those participants make will have a significant impact on the projected rates requirement.

All Wairoa ratepayers are sent individual draft rates notices, which record the proposed rates amount for their individual properties under the Draft Annual Plan.

Visit www.wairoadc.govt.nz to view the plan in full and make an online submission. Consultation closes at noon on Thursday, June 12.

Ends

We reject that our comments were 'Wairoa bashing' and would rather stick to the issues. 

We accept that the Wairoa District Mayor and CEO were not intentionally misleading Wairoa ratepayers in relation to rate increases related to the Mahia and Opoutama Wastewater Schemes. We also accept that the Council has consulted widely on those schemes and those ratepayers affected are likely to be aware, or will soon be aware, of the financial implications of the schemes and following further clarification we without reservation apologise for any malignment of the character of the Mayor and CEO of the Wairoa District Council.

We still believe that the Council was wrong to use the 5.43% in material issued publicly, without making it clear that this figure did not include spending and rates related to the wastewater schemes. The draft annual plan shows that total rates income (including the targeted rates) is estimated to increase by 15.9%. We thought that it was proper, and still think it proper, to raise the matter publicly. In part we relied on a statement from a Council officer  that the wording was ‘loose’. After assurances from the Council’s CEO that the Council had not meant to mislead the public, we are happy to let the matter be debated as part of the normal draft annual plan consultation process.

Oops - $2 billion mistake in budget appropriations

 

We’ve spent most of this week immersed in the budget documents and making notes of potentially questionable spending or unusually large increases.

To our great surprise yesterday we noticed that one of the primary growth partnerships (PGPs) that the Government is funding appeared to have undergone a massive growth in spending. We’ve expressed much concern in the past about PGPs and consider them inappropriate corporate welfare and the Government picking favourites.

According to the budget estimates distributed on Budget Day, the New Zealand Sheep Industry Transformation Project (NZSTX) is to receive 644 times more than in 2013/14. As you can see from the scan below, the budget documents show an increase in spending from  $3.3 million to just under $2.4 billion dollars.

For comparison, $2.4 billion is roughly the same amount of appropriations for corrections, courts and customs combined!

We've previously made noise that the hundreds of millions committed to PGP funding is wasteful spending.. So you can imagine our shock when we saw that the Sheep Industry would be receiving close to $2.4 billion of hard earned taxpayer money.

We emailed the Minister of Finance’s office and have been told, to our relief, that the figure is mistakenly 1,000 times more than intended.

We are delighted that the Sheep Industry haven’t had a bank error in their favour of over $500 from every New Zealander. Like anyone else they might want all their Christmases to come at once, but thankfully the New Zealand Merino Company, who runs the programme, won’t get to run off into the sunset with designer sheep bedecked in glittering jewels.

The mistake reminds us of the Westpac couple who went on the run after $10 million was mistakenly deposited in their bank account. Luckily this one is more easily rectified as the money is not yet spent!

Vote Primary Industries by TaxpayersUnion

 

***Correction*** In much the same way Treasury made a mistake, an earlier version of this post referred to 2.4billion equalling roughly the same as the total amount spent on Education in Budget 2014. That was incorrect. The $2.4 billion only relates to output expenses in Vote Education.

Where does 5.43% actually equal 15.9%?

Wairoa ratepayers should be furious with the Wairoa District Council for misleading the public on its forecast rate hikes. Earlier today the Taxpayers’ Union discovered that statements by the District’s Mayor and CEO that rates are forecast to increase by 5.43% are fanciful. The real figure is in fact 15.9%.

Earlier today the Taxpayer's Union were alerted to a slight problem with two statements contained in Wairoa's draft annual plan, currently open to public consultation.

In the introductory statement by the Mayor and Council CEO they claim that on average rates are increasing by 5.43%. But when we do the math, not based on the spin but on the financial numbers in the same paper, we come to a whopping 15.9%

So how do the two amounts reconcile? We wrote to the CEO to ask:

 

Here's the draft annual plan we quote. Note pages 1 and 91: 

Late this afternoon we received a call from a Council official who reports to the CEO and had a frank conversation. Amazingly the official acknowledged what he termed as 'loose' wording by the CEO and Mayor. Apparently when the figure was originally reported to the Council it included a significant proviso that two new rates were not included.

The 5.43% figure does not include two new rates which relate to two waste water schemes. Once you include those the rates increase is nearly three times the percentage the Mayor and CEO were trumpeting.

We're calling on the Wairoa Council CEO, Fergus Power, and Mayor, Craig Little, to apologise to Wairoa ratepayers, and correct their misleading statements in the draft annual plan.

What do you think? Acceptable spin, or misleading the public? Comment on our Facebook page here.

Dusting off the cheque book to qualify for tax relief

Yesterday we were scathing of Mr English's lack of tax cuts in yesterday's budget.

Nevertheless, we were eager to qualify for the only tax cut that was it - the removal of cheque duty - worth about $1 a year per New Zealander.

Budget lock up

To avoid missing out on the tax cut, earlier today we delivered a cheque to The Treasury to cover the lunch provided at yesterday’s budget lock-up.

Rather than pay for our taxpayer funded lunch with cash, we dusted off our cheque book to make the payment. As only the minority of New Zealanders who still use cheques will qualify for the tax relief, we wanted to make sure we are among them.

Yesterday’s budget forecasts that over the next four years, total surpluses will equal $4,935 per household. Of that, Kiwi taxpayers get back $1 from the only tax cut contained in yesterday's budget.

We’re calling on the Government to lay out a clear and meaningful program of reducing tax and compliance costs.

Cheque and note to Treasury

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