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Taxpayer Update: Statue madness | Taxpayer-funded propaganda | $4000 for tea

Statue controversy is pathetic

John Hamilton

We are currently facing the economic fallout of a literal pandemic. But our country's media and politicians have decided the biggest issue affecting New Zealanders is whether or not our statues are racist.

On Thursday, Hamilton City Council removed a statue of the city's namesake, John Hamilton, after a local kaumatua threatened to tear it down himself.

What a pathetic capitulation. Why are councillors focused on a statue? Don’t they realise that by so swiftly agreeing to pull it down, they’re inviting wasteful new debates over other statues, and even Hamilton’s name?

Councillors need to refocus their time and attention away from petty controversies and onto issues that matter: namely, their annual budget. Tear down wasteful spending, not statues.

Statues of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, Captain Cook, and Richard Seddon are also under siege, as are street names and museum exhibitions deemed 'colonial'. The Māori Party wants to make it an election issue.

God help us.

Here's a real problem

New data from the OECD confirms hard economic times ahead for New Zealand: we are looking at a forecast decline in productivity of 8.9%, or 10% if there’s a second wave of COVID-19. That’s worse than the average forecast decline for the OECD countries.

Because of New Zealand's lackluster contact tracing capabilities, the Government pursued an extremely strict lockdown in response to COVID-19. This hammered our output.

The lockdown also necessitated massive amounts of spending. Already, Government debt has risen from below 20% of GDP to above 25% – and it’s expected to peak much higher, at $109,000 household. And once the wage subsidy ends in September, we can expect an unemployment spike too.

In short: why are we talking about statues?

COVID-19 ads looking more like propaganda

You might think that the taxpayer-funded ad campaign to 'Unite against COVID-19' is now over. Instead, it's been replaced with a new one: 'Unite for the recovery'.

This double-page ad is being promoted in the Herald and the Dominion Post:

Unite ad
The message is being promoted by the Government in other platforms, along with the 'Be kind' slogan that is closely associated with Jacinda Ardern.

These advertisements are not primarily informative or educational, unlike earlier Government COVID-19 advertisements. We have now moved into the realm of thinly veiled political propaganda at the taxpayers’ expense.

‘Unite for the recovery’ is expected to be the central theme of the Labour Party’s 2020 election campaign. With Government debt going through the roof, we say borrowed funds should be used on vital services, not propaganda. 

Before previous elections, Auditors General have slapped down incumbent Governments for using taxpayer money for political messages. We've laid a formal complaint with the Auditor General – we'll let you know what he comes back with.

Napier City Council's morning tea is only the tip of the iceberg

Wayne Jack

RNZ reports that Napier City Council's CEO has thrown himself a $4,251 farewell morning tea.

Incredibly, the Mayor's only complaint about the spending was that she wasn't invited!

The RNZ report seems to skim the real waste in this story: CEO Wayne Jack has been given a $1 million golden handshake to leave. Ratepayers are forced to reward poor performance.

Mr Jack assumed 660 council staff would want to attend his farewell. On that note: does Napier City Council really need 660 staff on payroll??

Cutting council payrolls is key to rates relief

We've been advising councils to respond to COVID-19 by freezing rates. While some councils have taken our advice, many more are complaining that a rates freeze would involve major cuts to spending.

That's true. Why not review payroll spending?

A new report from local government analyst Larry Mitchell reveals that council employees earn, on average, 37.9% more than those in the private sector.

The average council spends 23.8% of its budget on payroll, but there is significant variation: Kapiti Coast District Council spends 34.7% on payroll, whereas Rangitikei spends just 10.3%. This suggests councils could cut down on staff or salaries if they were serious about relief for ratepayers.

You bought a free internet modem for Mike Hosking

Routers

This might be my favourite waste story of the year. Buried among the Government's countless "COVID-19 response" spending projects was $87 million worth of IT equipment for kids studying from home. The idea was to get the kit to kids in poor households without access to the internet.

The result: hundreds of unwanted internet modems are piling up in school offices, or being sent to families that don't need them. Even Mike Hosking's son got one!

Is the discriminatory elective surgery policy really a response to COVID-19?

The Taxpayers’ Union has filed a complaint with the Race Relations Commissioner over Capital and Coast DHB's policy of prioritising Māori and Pacific patients on elective surgery waiting lists.

Taxpayer-funded health resources should be allocated solely on clinical need in all instances, not racial preference. We hoped this was just a rogue DHB making policy on the hoof. We were wrong.

Eight other DHBs have introduced or are looking to introduce this clearly discriminatory policy. Three more refused to rule it out.

Supposedly, this policy is a response to COVID-19. There was a backlog of surgeries created when hospitals effectively shut down bracing for a tsunami of virus patients that never arrived.

Those days are past. There are no patients still in hospital with COVID-19. When the elective surgery backlog is cleared, and in many instances that has already happened, this policy should be immediately dropped if it really is just related to COVID-19.

The Union doubts that DHBs will do that. There is an agenda here and Official Information Act requests will be lodged to discover the truth.

Taxpayers’ Union lays complaint over ‘Unite for the recovery’ ads

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has laid a formal complaint with the Auditor General regarding today’s full-page advertisements placed in a number of newspapers, including the NZ Herald and the Dominion Post, by the Government (pictured below).

Unite ad

These advertisements are not primarily informative or educational, unlike earlier Government COVID-19 advertisements. Today’s ads have moved into the realm of thinly veiled political propaganda at the taxpayers’ expense.

'Unite for the recovery’ is widely expected to be the central theme of the Labour Party’s 2020 election campaign. Only 102 days from an election, the public service should be vigilant to political masters using taxpayer-funded resources to support political messages.

Full page newspaper adverts of a political nature, even in this depressed media environment, are expensive. With Government debt going through the roof, borrowed funds should be used on vital services, not propaganda.

Formal complaint to the Race Relations Commissioner from Taxpayers’ Union

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has lodged a formal complaint regarding the recent Capital and Coast District Health Board’s decision to move Māori and Pacific patients to the front of their elective surgery queues. We welcome Race Relations Commissioner Dr Meng Foon’s recent comments on radio that on the basis of our complaint he would “look into” the policy. However, he needs to go much further.

Taxpayer-funded health resources should be allocated solely on clinical need in all instances, not racial preference. Even if we are wrong, elective surgery waiting lists are not like primary health care, where race is sometimes used as a cheap proxy for need. For elective surgery, precise clinical data is available to determine the need of each and every individual. That is how the lists are constructed. The arguments that a particular race has higher or lower (on average) need is invalid.

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is disappointed that Dr Foon has chosen to not speak up on this issue. He had time to acknowledge Rotuman Language Week on his Facebook page but apparently not enough time to address this clearly unfair policy which is based on ethnicity. The Capital and Coast District Health Board’s policy is a critical race relations issue and Dr Foon should bring the full force of his office against it immediately.

We are also extremely concerned by comments by Sean Plunket on his radio show that he was aware of ‘anecdotal evidence’ of other District Health Boards considering the same policy. This policy needs to be stopped before it starts.

Taxpayer Talk: Socialism – The Failed Idea that Never Dies

By many measures, socialist ideas are more popular than ever, with academics and increasingly hip activists unashamedly promoting the collective ownership of wealth and centralised government-led decision making. Louis has a discussion with Dr Kristian Niemietz from the Institute of Economic Affairs, who has written a book named 'Socialism: The Failed Idea that Never Dies'.

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, iHeartRadio and all good podcast apps.

Taxpayer Update: Race-based hospital waiting lists | Chch rates U-turn | Public health follies

DHB prioritises patients according to race

Wellington hospital

We were amazed to find out this week that Wellington's DHB now has a policy which moves Māori and Pacific patients to the front of their elective surgery queues.

We all pay tax into the health system with the expectation that we will receive help when we need it. This DHB's decision to use skin colour to determine who goes to the front of the queue isn't just racist, it goes against the egalitarian vision of a publicly-funded health system. What would Michael Joseph Savage say?

We say the Health and Disability Commissioner needs to step in to protect the integrity of the health system – taxpayer-funded health resources should be allocated on clinical need, not race politics. We've approached him for comment, and are preparing a complaint to the Race Relations Commissioner. We'll let you know how we get on.

Election Day's convenient timing

This week our analysts have been going back through the enormous volume of Budget announcements. One thing is clear: the Government's electoral strategy is to do all it can to keep the patient alive until after the election – then it'll send you the bill. Grant Robertson is spending like mad to keep New Zealanders happy... until after the election. To illustrate:

We would hope that, when politicians respond to a crisis with a spend-up costing tens of billions, they do it purely with the public interest at heart. But the timeline above does seem awfully convenient.

Auckland Council shamed with CBD billboards

Goff billboard

Our sister group, the Auckland Ratepayers' Alliance, has been doggedly campaigning to expose the "Rich List" of Auckland Council staff paid more than $250,000.

Thanks to a grassroots fundraising push, they are raising billboards across central Auckland. Pictured is an epic example from Eden Terrace.

Click here to browse the full Town Hall Rich List.

If you live in Auckland, make sure you sign up here to get updates on the campaign tackling Phil Goff's attempt to hike Council taxes again this year.

Betrayal in Christchurch? Council looks set to U-turn on rates freeze commitment

Lianne Dalziel

After initially opposing and then supporting a rates freeze, Christchurch City Mayor Leanne Dalziel is once again on track to hike rates.

The three options put in front of councillors this week – rate increases of 3.5%, 4.65%, and 5.5% – are offensive to households who've had their livelihoods damaged by COVID-19.
 
It is especially galling that councillors were swayed by self-interested staff warning of redundancies. Countless ratepayers have lost their livelihoods in the wake of COVID-19. Why should council employees be a protected class?
 
A rates freeze would have required some tough but necessary cuts to salaries and non-essential spending. But Dalziel is now pushing a budget that includes a massive $118 million discretionary spend on a sports centre! It’s like she’s decided the reality of this crisis is too hard to deal with, and has returned to a dreamworld in which COVID-19 never happened.

We'll be ensuring Christchurch ratepayers submit in favour of a zero rate increase during the consultation period, regardless of the "options" presented by the Council.

We continue to track where each local council stands on our Rates Freeze Dashboard.

Most recently, we've had to change the status of Waitomo District Council: the Mayor had been pushing for a rates freeze, but this week all of his councillors voted against the idea. Shame on them. Our statement is here.

Public health units waste our money – now using COVID-19 to claim they're underfunded.

Public health rules

This week public health specialists were touring media studios demanding more taxpayer funding.

This campaign could be taken more seriously if they stopped wasting money on pointless public relations campaigns under the guise of public health.

Here at the Taxpayers' Union we thought we should fact check their claims of poverty.

Public health units get around $440 million annually from the taxpayer. Fair enough. But what are they using it for? In recent years they've used these funds to:

Imagine if all this time and money had been used for pandemic planning! Public health units could have used their resources to set up contact-tracing capabilities, instead of telling New Zealanders how to live Government-approved ultra-PC lifestyles.

Two incredible tales of waste from Dunedin City Council

It's been an odd couple of weeks for Dunedin ratepayers.

Dots

First, the City Council spent $40,000 on a "street makeover" which consisted mainly of colourful dots painted directly onto the road. This was apparently a response to COVID-19. (We can't figure out how, either.)

Now, the Council has revealed its new tourism campaign:

Plan D

The slogan is Dunedin – A Pretty Good Plan D. The price tag for ratepayers is $145,000.

I'll admit, I think it's funny. But Dunedin ratepayers are apparently fuming at how much of their money has been spent on a campaign that insults under-sells their beloved town.

And in all seriousness, central government is already devoting funds to a major domestic tourism promotion campaign. What's the value in having every local council spend money to fight over a limited number of domestic tourists?

Public art, or election advertising?

Here's the sight that greeted Taxpayers' Union staff as we arrived at the office this week:

Poster

First we thought it was Wellington City Council trolling us (the ad is literally just outside thr entrance of our building), but it turns out these posters of Jacinda Ardern are rolling out across the country.

The massive posters are reminiscent of Barack Obama's "HOPE" ads and include the Māori word for "love".

Some research eventually revealed the ads are run by billboard company Phantom Billstickers. The art team is Weston Frizzell, who say:

We think Jacinda has done a brilliant job leading Aotearoa though the Covid19 pandemic. We were proud to show our support with an iconic painted portrait.

We've created this giant street poster. For $190 (+P&P) you can buy one hand signed by both of us, and we will paste up another FOR FREE as part of a nationwide street poster campaign to share this message of AROHA.

For the sake of transparency, election advertisements are legally required to carry a 'promoter statement' stating who is responsible. These posters don't.

We'll see what the Electoral Commission thinks!

Have a great long weekend,

Louis


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

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Three regional councils drag the chain on rates relief

A round-up of the country’s regional and unitary councils reveals that ratepayers in Wellington, Otago, and Southland are being ripped off by authorities who are forging ahead with rate hikes planned prior to COVID-19.

Rates table

New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “An economic crisis is the worst time to increase tax – and that includes the taxes set by our regional authorities. Unlike income taxes, the level of rates does not reflect a household’s ability to pay, meaning they’re especially unfair on Kiwis who have lost income and livelihoods.”

“Three regional councils in particular need a kick up the arse – Greater Wellington, Otago, and Southland are on track to hike rates by 5%, 9.1%, and 5.9% respectively – in line with plans set prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Now is not the time for a business-as-usual approach to rates.”

“Other regional councils have revised rate hikes downward in the face of COVID-19, but the real benchmark has been set by those freezing rates entirely. Congratulations to the regional councils of Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Hawke’s Bay, Tasman, and West Coast, who have committed to a zero rate increase. By finding savings and deferring non-essential spending they have done right by struggling ratepayers.”

The Taxpayers’ Union is tracking the rates status of all local councils at www.taxpayers.org.nz/rates_dashboard, and will be releasing region-by-region roundups of local councils as information comes to hand.

Taxpayer Update: What will PM Muller do | Race-based funding | Pork 🐷

The National Party has a new Leader

Todd Muller image

This afternoon, Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller successfully challenged Simon Bridges for the National Party Leadership.

While we don't endorse political parties, we watch National very closely as a party of 'limited government'. Even if they fail to take back the Beehive in September, they have the power to force the Government's hand on policies that seriously impact taxpayers.

What would a Prime Minister Muller do?

With the media focused on the politics and personalities of this saga, there has been next to zero coverage given to what matters: the policies Todd Muller would push as Prime Minister.

Any promises made by Simon Bridges are now effectively void, meaning Muller has to answer questions like:

  • Does National still pledge to adjust income tax bracket thresholds in line with the cost of living?

  • Does National still pledge to repeal the Auckland fuel tax, and to not increase fuel taxes if elected?

  • Does National still plan to make NZ Superannuation more affordable by increasing the entitlement age to 67 in 2040?

We're seeking a meeting with Mr Muller next week to get a steer on where he stands on these issues and more.

Coincidentally, we sat down with Todd Muller for a podcast interview just a few days before he announced his leadership bid. He described himself as "broadly socially conservative, and from an economic perspective reasonably liberal".

If you want a measure of the man, I recommend listening to Islay's interview with Muller here.

Podcast image

It is to Todd Muller’s credit that he is one of the few MPs to have taken a pay cut in his case of over $600,000 a year – to enter Parliament, having left a high-powered position at Fonterra. This suggests he is 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.

Revealed: COVID-19 GP funding is race-based

This week we revealed that COVID-19 support funding for general practitioners was allocated significantly on the basis of enrolled patients’ ethnicities.

A response we obtained under the Official Information Act showed that GPs received $4.50 in funding per Māori or Pacific patient with any other ethnicities worth only $1.50 only a third of the amount.

Info response

Elderly and individuals from low socio-economic areas were valued at the increased Māori/Pacific amount. 

So much for the Government’s COVID-19 slogan that ‘we’re all in this together’. Skin colour shouldn’t be the proxy for how much money the Government allocates for healthcare.

COVID-19 doesn’t spread to Māori and Pacific patients more than other patients. In fact, only 8% of cases in NZ involve someone of Māori ethnicity and 5% for patients of Pacific ethnicity. This is around half their respective shares of the population so in fact they are less affected than other ethnicities, yet they get 200% more funding. This is putting wokeness ahead of public health.

Sometimes Māori and Pacific health is targeted because those communities are generally in low socioeconomic circumstances. But for GPs the Government has all of that socioeconomic data, and could have targeted the money on that basis.

Had the Taxpayers’ Union not sought out clarification over how funding was distributed, the information would never have been available to the public.

Rates freeze campaign: “Now is not the time to put up Council taxes”

An economic crisis is the worst time to increase taxes – and that includes council taxes.

On Monday night Jordan spoke to Q&A making the case for rates freezes: unlike income taxes, the level of rates don’t reflect the ability to pay. This means struggling businesses and households who have lost their livelihoods are still hammered.

Q&A interview

Has your local council agreed to a rates freeze?

We’re tracking the status of all councils on our rates freeze dashboard, with recent significant victories including Taranaki Regional Council and Nelson City Council.

The message is starting to sink in. So far, 14 councils have agreed to our call for a freeze rates. Another 37 have reduced their planned rate hikes.

A minority of councils are still proceeding with their pre-COVID rate hike plans, but I'm confident we can make them flip.

Here's how the regional and unitary councils are tracking:

Rates table

Find out how where your local council (and its neighbours) stands on our rates freeze dashboard. Please let us know if you have more up-to-date information on your local council.

What about Auckland Council?

Our sister group, the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance, will soon be rolling out its own campaign for a zero rates increase in Auckland. This will include leaflet drops, yard signs, and a dedicated website through which ratepayers can make submissions as part of the Council's 'emergency' consultation.

Next week the Alliance is also unveiling billboards promoting the Auckland Town Hall Rich List. If you haven't already, take 30 seconds to look at www.richlisters.nz.

We’ve got Phil Goff from a 3.5% rate hike down to 2.5%, but we think he can do better.

The Council’s “2.5% or 3.5%” consultation options are designed so that the Mayor can claim Aucklanders support a rate hike when submissions inevitably favour the 2.5% option. We want to achieve a majority of submissions favouring a zero rate hike (or temporary reduction), regardless of the options currently being put forward by Auckland Council.

Government ignores advice – taxpayers now buying 285 pigs everyday!

Porky pigs

Seven weeks ago, Ministers learned that, with butchers closed, a surplus of pigs threatened to create animal welfare problems.

Officials suggested allowing retail butchers to open under COVID-19 rules, but the Government dismissed that advice. As a result, taxpayers are now buying 2,000 pigs a week.

The Government’s determination to shut down butchers against official advice hurt those businesses, damaged the pork industry, and made conditions worse for pigs. Even with the taxpayer footing the bill for 2,000 pigs a week, this only covers up to 40% of the weekly surplus. The other 60% will have to be destroyed. What a waste.

Our mascot, Porky the Waste-hater, asked me to include his thoughts in this newsletter:

Everyone knows how the life of a pig on the farm will end. Pigs are smart and sociable creatures and deserve to be treated with respect. When they do make the ultimate sacrifice, it should be for something noble like a bacon sandwich. Instead, 5,000 pigs a week are being killed for nothing. Where's the kindness in that?

Have a great weekend,

Louis


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

 

Revealed: Covid-19 funding for GPs is race based

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that COVID-19 support funding for general practice clinics was allocated significantly on the basis of enrolled patients’ ethnicities. Information obtained under the Official Information Act 1982 showed that organisations received $4.50 in funding per Māori or Pacific patient with any other ethnicities worth only $1.50 only a third of the amount.

Elderly and individuals from low socio-economic areas were valued at the increased Māori/Pacific amount. 

So much for the Government’s slogan ‘we’re all in this together’.  Skin colour shouldn’t be the proxy for how much money the Government allocates for healthcare.

Covid-19 doesn’t spread to Māori and Pacific patients more than other patients. In fact, only 8% of cases in NZ involve someone of Maori ethnicity and 5% for patients of Pacific ethnicity. This is around half their share of the population so in fact they are less affected than other ethnicities, yet they get 200% more funding. This is putting wokeness ahead of public health.

Sometimes Māori and Pacific health is targeted because those communities are generally in low socioeconomic circumstances. But for GPs the Government has all of that socioeconomic data, and could have targeted the money on that basis.

There was also an alarming lack of transparency around this funding. In fact David Clark wheeled out the ‘we’re all in this together’ line in announcing the GP funding package. Had the Taxpayers’ Union not sought out clarification over how funding was distributed, this information would not have been available to the public. Increased demands on healthcare due to COVID-19 mean it is more important than ever that resource allocations are subject to public scrutiny.

Information response from the Office of the Director-General of Health:

Info response

MPs in Depth: Reform priorities, time in the private sector and long-held political aspirations — Todd Muller MP

This morning it was reported that Todd Muller is making a challenge for the National Party Leadership. Prior to these reports, Islay Aitchison sat down with him to hear more about his political philosophy, his goals and his background.

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, iHeartRadio and all good podcast apps.


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