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ACC cans useless scheme publicly, but extended the contract within the last month

Yesterday it looked like the Taxpayers' Union struck up it's first win, with ACC announcing that it would scrap the health and safety training scheme which has cost levy holders $19million to date, with 84 cents per dollar being wasted (even with optimistic assumptions).

ONE News3 Newsthe HeraldStuffRadio NZ, and Newstalk ZB all reported that ACC had decided to scrap the programme late last year.

ACC wastes millions on a cosy deal with Business NZ and the CTU

ACC has a cozy deal with Business NZ and the CTU despite knowing 84 cents per dollar wasted

Material released by the Taxpayers’ Union show a cosy deal between Business New Zealand, the Council of Trade Unions ("CTU") and ACC has cost ACC-levy payers $19 million since 2003.

The documents, available and summarised below show ACC knew that millions paid to Business NZ and the CTU to provide health and safety training did little, if anything, to reduce workplace accidents.

Cr Young on Wellington City Council's living wage

Cr Nicola Young, whose motion to consult before Wellington implemented the living wage was defeated 8 votes to 5, writes in today's Dominion Post.

Wellington City Council has lit a fuse leading to a bomb of unknown size, with its vote to implement a "living wage" for its employees from January 1.

Councillors often stress the need for evidence-based, reasoned and clear decisions; correct process; and the need to avoid writing blank cheques but there was little - if any - consultation and analysis of the impact this wages policy would have on Wellington households and businesses. Ironic, considering the council has also committed to the capital being "open for business".

This is key. As we've pointed out before, the study by Auckland Council, and advice from the Treasury on the question of whether a living wage policy is a good tool to reduce poverty is damning.

Mayor Celia Wade- Brown has defended this Alice in Wonderland approach by pointing out the council didn't consult on the chief executive's salary either. The reality is that the CEO is paid the going rate in a competitive international market, whereas the "living wage" is an artificial intervention to boost incomes of lower paid workers who happen to work at the council.

The "living wage" proposed by the Living Wage Aotearoa New Zealand Campaign, is higher (relative to GDP per capita) than the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. Incredibly, ours is higher than London's; the 18th most expensive city in the world (Wellington is ranked at 74th in Mercer's Cost of Living survey).

This is incredible.  Wellington Council want low income Wellintonians to pay more in rates to fund a 'living wage' higher than London's!  

The piece doesn't mention the hypocrisy of some Wellington Councillors voting to implement a living wage despite not paying it to their own staff.

We're all for higher wages, but taxing more in rates to artificially pay some more is not the way to get there.

Click here to read the rest of Cr Young's piece on the Dominion Post's website.

Oops - looks like DoC isn't the only 'supporter' of the AAE caught unaware

Further to my discovery and blog post earlier today that DoC is in fact not supporting the Australian Antarctic Expedition ("AAE") - despite being listed as such on the AAE website, the Australian blog "Watts Up With That" reports that the Australasian Antarctic Devision (i.e. a division of the Australian Department of the Environment) has also been caught on the hop as an unknown 'supporter' of the AAE trip to the ice.  The Ministry has made an effort to disassociate itself on Australian radio ABC.

Australian Antarctic Division head Tony Fleming says they’ll make efforts to recover the cost of #spiritofmawson rescue

From radio 666 ABC in Canberra, Australia, full audio follows.

Tony Fleming, director of the Australian Antarctic Division tells Louise Maher the AAD wasn’t linked to the Australasian Antarctic Expedition despite an implication by the expedition head that he had an “official stamp of approval”.

The expedition was brought to a halt when its ship became trapped in ice, stranding the 52 tourists and scientists on board.

A Chinese ice-breaker which went to its rescue of the Russian ship also became stuck in the ice. The ship’s passengers were airlifted to an Australian ice breaker Aurora Australis – which is due to reach Hobart in about a fortnight.

Tony Fleming says the AAD will make efforts to recover the cost of the rescue which set back their own missions.

Listen to the audio:

 

Also, since this morning's post one of our volunteers has  pointed out the following on the AAE website:

That would appear inconsistent with what DoC told us yesterday, i.e. that no support was being provided.

 

So what's going on? Are the Australian scientists or DoC fibbing? Or it is a case of the right hand of DoC not being aware of the left is up to? Is it just a coincidence that the Australian equivalent of the Ministry for the Environment was mistakenly included as a 'supporter' with our own DoC?

I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Good work DoC - but questions about AAE claiming support

Following the well publicised case of global warming scientists being stuck in record pack ice in Antarctica (ironically the expedition was intended to study the dwindling sea ice) and the efforts to rescue them, the Taxpayers' Union began enquires late last year to find out precisely how much taxpayers' money the NZ Government "supporters" listed on the expedition's website had contributed.

It appears that thankfully New Zealand taxpayers' haven't forked out the huge amounts feared. In fact, it appears that the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) is claiming at least one 'supporter' it doesn't have...

The expedition's website lists expedition supporters the Department of Conservation, Landcare Research, and the University of Waikato.

 

Despite asking the AAE leader (via email and his very active twitter account), and the media contacts at the University of New South Wales, no one would tell us how much kiwi taxpayers had contributed via the three agencies.

On 1 January we lodged Official Information Act requests with DoC, Landcare and the University of Waikato.

To DoC's credit it responded by 8 January, stating that DoC were not participants in the expedition and therefore the information (i.e. what financial and non-financial support was given) does not exist. DoC's letter and our response is below.

Department of Conservation response and Taxpayers' Union request for clarification re AAE January 2014.

 

Last night DoC's Director of Policy Jeff Flavell called me and confirmed that the Department not being 'a participant' in the expedition was intended to mean that DoC did not provide any support to AAE at all. In fact he seemed surprised that DoC was listed as a supporter on the AAE website and that he would ask his officials whether it was known that the AAE was using the DoC logo and claiming support.

So credit for DoC for coming back to us so quickly and from someone so senior, especially given our recent expose of failings within the department.

We await the responses from Waikato and Landcare.

MP employment spats costing taxpayers

This morning the New Zealand Herald covered figures released by the Taxpayers' Union show that MPs are chewing through more than $65,000 per month on payouts to avoid messy employment grievances.

Parliamentary Service spent nearly $400,000 on payouts for former staff in the second half of last year, a period in which the agency was mired in controversy.

Figures released by the Speaker showed that since June, 20 former employees had received a severance payment. On average, former staff received nearly $20,000 each.

Parliamentary Service employed around 650 people including assistants and advisers for MPs in Wellington and regional offices, and also staff within the parliamentary precinct such as security guards.

Eleven of the people who received severance packages had worked for MPs.

Parliamentary Service group manager shared services Anne Smith said the number and amount of payments was higher than usual because the agency was being restructured and because of a high turnover of MPs in the second half of the year.

She said the costs would be offset by the improvements made in the restructuring.

Labour Party MP Grant Robertson said that the payments reflected a turbulent period for the agency.

"It would be fair to say that morale has been pretty low in the Parliamentary Service and obviously from the point of view of MPs we don't want to see that carry on."

General manager Geoff Thorn resigned in August after it was revealed that Parliamentary Service had passed on emails between Fairfax reporter Andrea Vance and United Future leader Peter Dunne to an inquiry investigating the leak of a sensitive report.

Taxpayers' Union spokesman Jordan Williams criticised the costly use of public money to pay out former staff. He claimed that Parliamentary Service was "buying the silence" of workers who had been sacked on the spot by MPs.

A clause in parliamentary staff contracts allowed instant dismissal of staff in cases of "irreconcilable differences".

Mr Williams said he knew of two dismissals in which a minor party leader refused to hear their employee's response to allegations made by other colleagues.

Parliamentary Service would not confirm how many of the payments related to the irreconcilable differences clause, but said the agency followed strict processes in dealing with employment disputes.

The payments usually covered three months' wages and any outstanding leave or other entitlements.

The figures released did not include ministerial staff.

Severance payments

MP support staff: Eleven payments totalling $122,935.
Other staff: Nine payments totalling $273,006.

The two instant dismissals referred to in the Herald story, were due to a minor party leader being unwilling to hear his employee’s response to a minor allegation made by a colleague. The former employees were offered confidential payouts from Parliamentary Service well above what the individuals were advised they would likely be awarded in court. 

While every other New Zealander must follow the letter of employment law, information released to the Taxpayers' Union suggests that MPs are often ignoring it and having taxpayers fund the resulting payouts. It appears that parliamentary officials offer generous settlements to avoid cases going to the Employment Relations Authority. We think that protecting MPs with such a practise affords them a privilege that only invites further abuse. 

To date Ministerial Services has refused to provide the equivalent information for ministerial staff. The Taxpayers' Union currently has a complaint regarding that decision before the Ombudsman.

The Herald on the iTax

This morning's NZ Herald covers an opinion poll it commissioned on public support for lowering the threshold GST is applicable to for purchases made on foreign websites:

A Herald-DigiPoll survey this month found that almost 55 per cent of the 750 New Zealanders polled had bought goods from foreign websites.Of those surveyed, 53 per cent said the $400 exemption should not be removed as the tax would be too inconvenient to collect.

Surprisingly, just under 40 per cent - 38.5% - agreed with the view of the Retailers Association that the 15 per cent GST should be applied to all overseas online purchases to level the playing field for local retailers.

Cost of Royal visit less than full time head of state

Taxpayers' Union positive about royal visit Newstalk ZB 21/12/2014

A body set up to critique the way taxpayers' money is spent is feeling positive about next year's royal visit.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge - William and Kate - have confirmed a trip to New Zealand in April.
It's not yet clear if Prince George will travel with them.
Taxpayers' Union spokesman Jordan Williams says while the cost of the trip isn't yet known....it may not be as bad as some people expect.
He says New Zealand is only picking up the tab for the few days the royals are here, while other countries have to carry the cost of a royal family or a president all year.

Taxpayers' Union Uncovers Massive IT Screw Up Within DOC

The Taxpayers’ Union revealed a massive cost overrun of a mismanaged IT project jointly commissioned by DoC and Land Information New Zealand (LINZ).  Two independent reports on the project are damning of DoC.  They blame mismanagement and ineffective governance for the project’s failure. It appears that LINZ has walked away from the project and has left DoC to pick up the pieces.  A selection of the media coverage is below.

Another govt IT project failure - this time at DoC New Zealand Herald - 18/12/2013

Yet another Government IT project has gone off the rails with a new Department of Conservation land management system costing taxpayers millions in budget overruns while still failing to deliver as promised.

And as in the case of the Novopay debacle, officials have blamed an Australian IT company.

The National Property and Land Information System (NaPALIS) initiated two years ago was joint programme intended to replace the Department of Conservation's (DoC) and Land Information NZ's (Linz) existing systems, with Tasmanian company ICS winning the contract.

However documents obtained under the Official Information Act by activist group the Taxypayers Union reveal the $5.6 million project was completed several months late in September last year, required an extra $588,967 to complete and even then failed to function as required by DoC.

DoC has now allocated about $2 million of additional funding to make the programme fully operational.

Personality clashes causing budget blowout Newstalk ZB - 18/12/2013 

Trouble between LINZ and DOC 

Personality clashes between government departments could be to blame for a failing and over budget information system.

Documents released to the Taxpayers' Union show efforts for the Department of Conservation and Land Information New Zealand to work together to create a database of the country's land have been dodgy at best.

Union spokesperson Jordan Williams says the project is now $2 million over budget, and still not fully operational.

He says two independent reports blame ineffective governance, and even officials from the the two departments not getting along.

System now top priority

An expensive and overdue information system is now the top priority for Department of Conservation bosses to see fixed.

The National Property and Land Information System was due to be finished early last year, but still isn't fully operational, and needs an injection of $2 million for bug fixes.

Director-General Lou Sanson says he doesn't like waste, so he's determined to get it sorted.

He says taxpayers can be assured he'll wring maximum value out of the system to make up for the delays.

DoC admits failings over IT blow-out Radio New Zealand - 18/12/2013 

Click here to listen to Checkpoint interview with Lou Sanson, Director General, DOC

Click here to listen to Checkpoint interview with Jordan Williams, Taxpayers' Union

Cost overruns with DOC computer system Otago Daily Times - 18/12/2013

Taxpayers' Union 'uncover massive IT screw up' Yahoo! New Zealand - 18/12/2013


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