Lower Taxes, Less Waste,
More Accountability

Championing Value For Money From Every Tax Dollar

Petition Launched: Public sector pay freeze should extend to local councils

The Taxpayers’ Union has launched a petition to extend the recently announced public sector pay freeze to local councils.

Click here to sign the petition.

The Government’s public sector pay freeze was a prudent measure that reflects the sacrifices made by businesses and employees in the wake of COVID-19. However, the freeze should go one step further. The case for pay restraint at councils is even stronger than for central government. Local councils aren't just experiencing growth in debt, they're also pushing for massive rate hikes across the country. 

All councils should adopt the Government’s pay freeze for highly-paid staff. We’re asking the Minister of Local Government to signal that this is her expectation, and that if councils don’t restrain pay, she can introduce legislation to force them.

At minimum, councils should freeze their total spend on payroll. That way any increases in pay will need to be from attrition or efficiencies in other roles.

MPs in Depth: Tangi Utikere

Entering parliament as an MP was not how Tangi Utikere imagined 2020 would end at the beginning of that year. However circumstance conspired and Utikere is now the MP for Palmerston North and a member of the Labour Party. In this episode of MPs in Depth, Tangi and Louis discuss politics, running for office, and of course, Tax.

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotify, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio and all good podcast apps.

There and back again: taxpayers shell out for epic turtle journey

Turtle image

Taxpayers shelled out thousands of dollars transporting a dead turtle from Banks Peninsula to Wellington, storing it in a freezer for 21 months, then sending it back down to where it washed up for a high-powered and fully-catered powhiri, complete with a helicopter ride and a handmade coffin constructed by public servants. No scientific research was performed at any stage.

Based on responses to several Official Information Act requests, plus earlier media reports, the Taxpayers' Union can set out the timeline:

  • In March 2019, a dead leatherback turtle is found on the shore in Banks Peninsula. He is never named though he is known at the Taxpayers' Union as Michelangelo.
  • DOC advises Te Papa that the local Banks Peninsula marae, Koukourārata, has provided approval for Te Papa to receive the turtle.
  • A DOC ranger uses a tractor to transfer the turtle to the back of his ute, then commissions a truck belonging to a pet food company to keep the turtle chilled. The ranger warns that transporting the turtle to Wellington will be a "logistical nightmare". The ranger's wage costs are $200.
  • The turtle is collected by Te Papa from the Department of Conservation office in Christchurch and driven up to Wellington in Te Papa’s Toyota Hilux, at a reported cost of $475.75.
  • The turtle arrives at Te Papa's Tory Street facility, where staff plan to perform a necropsy, check its gut for plastic, gather biological information for "the global turtle research community", and ultimately skeletonise the corpse.
  • In an apparent change of heart from the local iwi, Ngāi Tahu representative Matui Payne tells media of "a sense of grief and sadness that we didn't have the opportunity to grieve for our kaitiaki, for our tipuna." Te Papa cites "issues relating to consultation and support" and enters into discussion with Koukourārata "regarding the return and repatriation of the honu [turtle]."
  • The late turtle spends 21 months in Te Papa's freezer.
  • No scientific research is conducted. Te Papa explains, "To enable scientific research to be undertaken, the turtle would have had to be skeletonised (i.e. processes undertaken to reduce the turtle remains to a skeleton). In conjunction with tikanga, it is usually important that all parts of the taonga or specimen (in this case, the turtle) should be buried, if possible. . .In terms of science objectives, Te Papa has not conducted any research on the turtle during its time at Te Papa so has not gained any research insights."
  • At some point, Te Papa staff build a "te honu crate" or turtle coffin, with materials costing $580.85.
  • On 11 December 2020, Te Papa staff are joined by a contingent from Koukourārata for a karakia (prayer) in Wellington.
  • DOC transports the turtle from Wellington back to Bank Peninsula in a refrigerated truck. The three-day journey includes reported costs of $940 in mileage, $448 for the Cook Strait ferry crossing, and $500 in wage costs. A Koukourārata representative accompanies the turtle during this journey.
  • Eight Te Papa staff, including members of the Board and the senior leadership team, fly to Canterbury for the deceased turtle's powhiri.
    • Domestic travel, car rental and accommodation: $4,327.77
    • Powhiri and kai for 40 people: $880.00
  • At the powhiri, the eight Te Papa staff are joined by seven DOC staff.
    • Four of the DOC staff are paid by the hour, for a total cost of $600.
    • DOC pays a $200 koha to Koukourārata.
    • DOC spends $130 on mileage.
  • The turtle arrives at its powhiri, is removed from its coffin, placed on an altar to thaw while speeches are given, and eventually strapped to a crate and flown via helicopter to its burial site: a hilltop on a nearby island. DOC pays $1600 for the helicopter service. Video and photographs from the day capture these events.
  • Two DOC staff conduct an archeological survey of the burial site, and three staff dig the hole. Reported wage costs for these activities are $900.

Union spokesperson Louis Houlbrooke says, "The total cost to taxpayers for Michelangelo's eventful afterlife is difficult to quantify, but we would place it in the tens of thousands. Te Papa and DOC's total reported expenses were $11,742.31, but that excludes the time cost for high-level salaried staff."

"Te Papa was prepared to obtain this turtle for research on a rare species. That is valid. Koukourārata, who had expressed no interest when the turtle first washed up, suddenly wanted it back and intact. The result was a truly bizarre odyssey that saw a dead turtle travel by land, sea, and air, before ultimately being buried by public servants on a hilltop."

"After thousands of dollars and 21 months of fuss, the turtle ends up right back where it started, providing no scientific insights. In fact, Te Papa told us over the phone that they couldn't even verify whether the turtle was male or female. What a waste. Such a majestic creature deserved far better than to wait 21 months in a freezer while bureaucrats negotiated a protracted repatriation mission that would make the Ministry of Foreign Affairs blush."

"We have to give some credit to Te Papa and DOC for their thorough answers to our questions. We get the sense they're proud of the enormous time, attention, and staff hours they've devoted to Michelangelo's odyssey. Unfortunately, they've tarnished the turtle's legacy with this epic saga of government waste."


Te Papa information response 1

Te Papa information response 2

DOC information response

Turtle1Primary school children in Banks Peninsula observe the turtle. One appears to be holding her nose. (Source: Stuff)

Turtle3Te Papa receives the plastic-wrapped turtle.

CoffinAn image of the turtle coffin, built by Te Papa staff (Source: Te Papa)

The turtle is placed on an altar upon its return to Bank Peninsula (Source: Facebook)

Mourners from Koukourārata and Te Papa eulogise the turtle while a helicopter approaches.

The turtle is flown to its hilltop burial site.

The turtle is buried high above its preferred habitat.

Taxpayers’ Union refutes Davidson’s “rejection” of being quiet on emergency housing

After claiming that “some of our emergency housing is inhumane”, Associate Housing Minister Marama Davidson “rejected” criticism that as a responsible minister she had been “quiet” on the issue since the election. She said: “I've certainly been nothing but loud."

Taxpayers' Union spokesman Neil Miller says, “She may have been loud in the privacy of her office or amongst the faithful at Green Party meetings, but not at the Cabinet table where decisions are actually made. Figures obtained by the Taxpayers’ Union from the Cabinet Office show that since the election Minister Davidson has presented no Cabinet Papers or Cabinet Committee Papers on the issue of emergency housing.”

“In fact, she has presented no papers at all. In comparison, her colleague James Shaw, also a Minister outside of Cabinet, delivered seven papers on his portfolio of Climate Change. Damien O’Connor was in charge of one paper about Land Information, while Jan Tinetti put forward three for Internal Affairs. The bar has not been set very high.”

“To reject something simply means you do not accept it. To refute something means you have to provide evidence proving it false. All the evidence here says that while Minister Davidson may talk loud in limited circles, actual Ministerial action where it could make a difference is non-existent. When she is paid over $250,000 of taxpayers’ money, that is the epitome of quiet.”

Taxpayer Update: Mahuta reviews local govt | MBIE embraces Greenpeace | Court rorts

Dear Supporter,

Nanaia Mahuta has appointed a crew of foxes to guard the local government hen house


Nanaia Mahuta's wide-ranging review of the local government sector should be laser-focused on increasing value for money for ratepayers.

But having looked closely at the review panel, we're predicting it will do the opposite.

Firstly, the panelists are basically has-been local government insiders and professional bureaucrats. These appointees are the last people you'd expect to rein in the local government gravy train.

The terms of reference and the panel make up are disturbing. Instead of a focus on better infrastructure, more transparency, or accountability, it appears the Minister wants to move to a co-governance model with less democracy

In fact, the panel is tasked to "reimagine the role and function of local government". That’s code for "growing the beast", when what ratepayers need is a return to core services and abolishing the powers that allow local councils to duplicate central government activities like public health campaigns, climate action, and corporate welfare.

Greenpeace campaigner, school striker appointed to an MBIE working group

Amanda Larsson Isla Day

The just-announced Battery Project Technical Reference Group is meant to provide “technical expertise and sector knowledge relating to the quantitative analysis MBIE is undertaking, including modelling” for its hydro battery project.

But the Ministry has made two very odd appointments to this group:

  • Amanda Larsson currently works as one of Greenpeace’s key staff. It’s hard to see MBIE appointing a Taxpayers’ Union campaigner for its reference groups – in fact, it would rightly cause controversy – but appointing a Greenpeace campaigner is no different in principle. Her contribution will inevitably be to advance an ideological agenda.

  • Isla Day is 20 years old and helped to start School Strike 4 Climate. Her expertise is in organising protests, nothing to do with energy or environmental science. She does, however, appear to be carving out a cosy career filling seats in taxpayer-funded working groups – she’s also a member of a Wellington City Council reference group. We can't blame her for jumping at well-paid opportunities, but you have to question the judgement of those who appointed her.

It’s one thing to have a political Minister making hare-brained and politicised appointments, but this group was appointed by public servants. How did no-one within MBIE raise red flags over such blatantly political appointments? Is public service neutrality is being eroded?

Members of the reference group are paid $560 per meeting. 

Quotas for government contracts will cost taxpayers dearly

Scales image

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson has introduced a five percent quota for government contracts awarded to businesses that present themselves as Māori or Pasifika-owned.

You may recall we were first to sound the alarm back in 2019 when found this idea buried deep in a Ministerial briefing. 

But some say the new quota doesn't go far enough. First it was the Productivity Commission (under the leadership of Labour's pet economist Ganesh Nana), and now the company that verifies the "Māori-owned" businesses wants the Government to combine the quota with a spending target for these companies (well they would say that, wouldn't they!).

This is what political analysts call "mission creep". Instead of focusing solely on delivering value for taxpayers, procurement policy is now being hijacked to hit politically-determined targets.

That means less competitive tenders, leading to either higher costs for taxpayers, lower quality services, or both. It’s also incredibly unfair for those businesses – many of which employ Māori – that will miss out on contracts purely because their owners don't tick the right diversity boxes.

Court rort #1: cultural reports

Taxpayers forked out $3.3 million for the cost of “cultural reports” for offenders in 2020. That’s five times as much as the year prior.

These reports argue how each offender should receive a reduced sentence due to “personal, family, whānau, community and cultural background”.

And it appears a cottage industry has emerged: anyone familiar with the courts system can charge up to $6,600 to write one, copy-pasting the standard lines they know will work to convince judges to cut sentences.

Court rort #2: interpreters

Taxpayers paid private contractors more than $13 million in just five years for interpretation services for people facing the courts.

In many cases the Ministry of Justice is paying these interpreters more than $125 per hour.

As the Herald reports:

Examples include $1700 paid to a te reo interpreter for a one-day hearing in Kaikohe; $2628 to a Māori translator at a two-day hearing in Wellington; and a $3197 bill for two sign-language interpreters for just 3.5 hours' work in January. The ministry said the cost included return flights.

Ihumātao deal found to be unlawful: here's who needs to resign

Illegal deal

Last week we learned that the Government didn’t just capitulate to illegal Ihumātao occupiers – it joined them in their illegality!

The Auditor-General released a damning judgement that the $30 million taxpayer-funded bailout should have been approved by a vote in Parliament.

Remember, the Government doesn’t have the excuse of ignorance here. Treasury had sternly warned the Government against using KiwiBuild money in this way.

There should be serious consequences. All eyes should now be on Attorney-General David Parker. It's literally his job to ensure the Government follows the law. We say if he endorsed this illegal deal across the Cabinet Table, then he's unfit for his position.

Will Grant Robertson bail out New Zealand's own Bernie Madoff?

Grant Robertson

The Finance Minister has confirmed a new insurance scheme for collapsing banks and finance companies, funded by via levies on banks.

There are a number of reasons for alarm here:

  • Guaranteeing an effective bailout for banks will see those banks take greater risks with their lending. That’s exactly the kind of moral hazard that led to America’s sub-prime mortgages and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. The Reserve Bank argued this very point, recommending the guarantee be capped at $50,000 per depositor, per institution. But Grant Robertson went for double that amount, $100,000.

  • The cost of the new levies on banks will naturally be passed on to deposit-holders. As if term deposit rates weren’t already low enough!

  • The inclusion of finance companies in the scheme is likely to see deposit-holders pay for bailouts of fraudulent finance companies. In fact we wrote to the Finance Minister in October warning him that the Serious Fraud Office prosecutes on average about one Ponzi scheme a year, and under the Government's proposals, those Ponzi schemes would become eligible for deposit insurance.

We asked Treasury officials if they gave the Minister any advice on this last problem. To our astonishment, they haven't.

Hamilton City Council shouldn’t throw $10 million into a pond


A private developer wants Hamilton ratepayers to pitch in $10 million to an inland lagoon resort.

That is completely unjustified, considering the Council is already proposing a nine percent rate hike.

If the lagoon proposal makes good business sense, then it shouldn’t need a ratepayer subsidy. There’s a risk the lagoon fails to pull in punters and becomes a stagnant pond. That risk should be borne by the developer, not Hamilton ratepayers.

It’s a concern in and of itself that the developer had the cheek to ask the Council for ten million bucks. Hamilton City Councillors need to eradicate any perception that they’ll hand over ratepayer money to every passing monorail salesman.

Taxpayer Talk: is this ACT MP a "nutter"?

Another two episodes of our Taxpayer Talk podcast have gone live.

Nicole McKee

Stuart Nash recently called ACT MP Nicole McKee a "nutter" for her views on firearms. I chat with her to help Taxpayer Talk listeners decide for themselves. Listen here.

Oliver Hartwich

The New Zealand Initiative's Oliver Hartwich and our own Jordan Williams discuss National's policy to pay councils for consenting houses. Listen here.

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

Satire: Government creates one new job

The Government has today appointed a “Minister for Announcements.”

This announcement was announced at an announcement hosted by the Acting Minister for the Announcement of the Minister for Announcements, Chris Hipkins, while he was IDed on his way into the Upper Hutt Cossie Club.

Hipkins said: “For too long, Ministers have had to make individual announcements about their own announcements. National’s nine years of neglect almost certainly caused this crisis. It is time to centralise announcements to improve efficiency. Centralising always works.”

Hipkins introduced journalists to the new Minister of Announcements, Georgie Dansey, a first term list MP.

Jill Pettis

Ms Dansey is an MP you think about so infrequently that you probably don’t realise that photo is not of Georgie Dansey – that is Jill Pettis, a Labour MP who left Parliament in 2008.

This is the first-term list MP, the now Hon Georgie Dansey.

Georgie Dansey

Except that she isn’t an MP – because while this time it is actually Ms Dansey pictured and she was a Labour candidate last year, she was ranked 84th, last on the list. She once told The Spinoff that she would have been an MP if only 5.5 million New Zealanders voted Labour.

The actual Minister of Announcements will be Megan Woods on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and Chris Hipkins for Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Ramadan. However, for any really good news, announcements will be made by Jacinda Ardern and the country’s first man, Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

When asked about the actual results of all the announcements over previous years, Hipkins snapped back: “Don’t change the subject. This has nothing to do with outcomes.”

Gallery journalists described the Minister’s aggressive response as “like being savaged by a vegan lemur.”

Editor's note: This last section of the newsletter was provided by Taxpayers' Union Analyst (and occasional in-house comedian) Neil Miller.

We can't save the world, if we can't keep the lights on

As you can see, the range and craziness of what is going on in Wellington (and many town halls) is out of control. Our team has never been busier calling out the madness and fighting for taxpayers across a huge range of files.  But we can't save the world if we can't keep the lights on. Our work relies on the financial support of our supporters like you. Click here to make a secure donation.


Have a great week,

Louis circle

Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Media coverage:

NZ Herald  
Inflation could be making a comeback

NZ Herald  
Beehive Diaries: The bubble, coughing fits and health reform typos

The Weekend Sun  
Join The Tauranga Ratepayers’ Alliance

Newstalk ZB  
The Huddle: Is it fair for employers to punish staff stuck in trans-Tasman bubble limbo?

How much is your council planning to hike rates?

This dashboard is subject to ongoing updates. Please contact [email protected] if you have more up to date information.


Proposed 21/22 rates increase

Actual 21/22 rates increase

Ashburton District Council 6.28% 6.3%
Auckland Council 5.0% 5.0%
Bay of Plenty Regional Council 5.8% 5.8%
Buller District Council 6.5% 6.7%
Carterton District Council 5.65% 5.65%
Central Hawke's Bay District Council 7.8% 8.7%
Central Otago District Council 6.7% 6.7%
Christchurch City Council 5.0% 4.65%
Clutha District Council 3.53% 3.93%
Dunedin City Council 9.8% 9.8%
Environment Canterbury Regional Council 24.5% 18.8%
Environment Southland 20.0% 20.0%
Far North District Council 5.5% 6.7%
Gisborne District Council 5.3% 5.9%
Gore District Council 8.22%  
Greater Wellington Regional Council 12.64% 12.95%
Grey District Council 9.99% 9.99%
Hamilton City Council 8.9% 8.9%
Hastings District Council 6.8% 6.8%
Hauraki District Council 4.23% 4.5%
Hawke's Bay Regional Council 19.5% 19.5%
Horizons Regional Council 8.0% 8.4%
Horowhenua District Council 6.7% 7.8%
Hurunui District Council 8.49% 8.49%
Hutt City Council 5.9% 5.9%
Invercargill City Council 5.0% 5.0%
Kaikoura District Council 5.2% 5.9%
Kaipara District Council 3.37% 5.1%
Kapiti Coast District Council 7.8% 7.79%
Kawerau District Council 5.1%  
Mackenzie District Council    
Manawatu District Council 5.1% 5.75%
Marlborough District Council 5.73% 5.1%
Masterton District Council 5.5% 5.5%
Matamata-Piako District Council 11.85% 11.73%
Napier City Council 8.0% 8.0%
Nelson City Council 5.7% 5.7%
New Plymouth District Council 12.0% 12.0%
Northland Regional Council 19.8% 17.6%
Opotiki District Council 6.48% 6.33%
Otago Regional Council 73.2%  
Otorohanga District Council 7.93% 8.08%
Palmerston North City Council 6.9% 8.2%
Porirua City Council 8.04% 7.65%
Queenstown-Lakes District Council 4.56% 5.45%
Rangitikei District Council 6.95% 7.07%
Rotorua Lakes Council 9.2% 9.2%
Ruapehu District Council 4.92% 4.92%
Selwyn District Council 4.9% 4.9%
South Taranaki District Council 4.73% 4.73%
South Waikato District Council 7.7% 7.6%
South Wairarapa District Council 17.65% 29%
Southland District Council 10.15% 9.38%
Stratford District Council 4.25% 4.63%
Taranaki Regional Council 9.9% 9.9%
Tararua District Council 9.82% 9.44%
Tasman District Council 4.54% 4.4%
Taupo District Council 6.5% 8.7%
Tauranga City Council 17.0%  
Thames-Coromandel District Council 7.1% 8.8%
Timaru District Council 10.5% 11.5%
Upper Hutt City Council 4.8% 4.91%
Waikato District Council 9.0% 6.5%
Waikato Regional Council 7.3% 7.7%
Waimakariri District Council 3.95% 4.3%
Waimate District Council 9.9%  
Waipa District Council 4.1% 4.6%
Wairoa District Council 10.0%  
Waitaki District Council 8.95%  
Waitomo District Council -0.53% -0.54%
Wellington City Council 13.53% 13.5%
West Coast Regional Council    
Western Bay of Plenty District Council 12.0% 11.5%
Westland District Council 13.0% 13.0%
Whakatane District Council 6.84%  
Whanganui District Council 5.7%  
Whangarei District Council 6.5% 7.0%


Taxpayer Talk: What's really stopping houses from getting built?

Louis sits down with Kathryn Marshall of Williams Corporation, a residential property developer, to find out whether an extended bright line test and the removal of interest deductibility will lead to more affordable housing. Kathryn makes the case that the real solution is in tackling consenting processes at local councils.

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotify, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio and all good podcast apps.

Taxpayer Talk: Climate Change Commission head Dr Rod Carr, with NZ Initiative's Matt Burgess

Jordan Williams gets 30 minutes with the Climate Change Commission's Chair, Dr Roderick Carr at their offices.  He is joined by Matt Burgess, the Senior Economist at the New Zealand Initiative think tank to put to Dr Carr many of the criticisms of the report.

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotify, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio and all good podcast apps.

Taxpayer Talk: Ian Harrison on the Climate Change Commission

Jordan is joined by Ian Harrison, Principal at Tailrisk Economics for a discussion on the Climate Change Commission, the benefits of an ETS and why the commission is wrong about Electric Vehicles.

Read Ian's submission here: http://www.tailrisk.co.nz/documents/ClimateChangeCommission-13march.pdf

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotify, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio and all good podcast apps.


EXCLUSIVE: Hamilton City Council harvested submissions from school children

Hamilton City Council staff members have been visiting classrooms and harvesting submissions from children on the Council’s Māori partnership strategy, the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union can reveal.

We have been contacted by a Hamilton ratepayer who was perplexed to discover the name of his 13-year-old daughter among the publicly-listed submitters for the Council’s ‘Pillars of Wellbeing’ strategy.

It turned out that the student and her classmates at Rototuna Junior High School were visited by a Council staff member who spoke to them about the proposed strategy for engaging with iwi, and then prompted the children to fill out forms which were subsequently processed as formal submissions.

The Council has confirmed these school visits to media previously, but until now it wasn’t clear that the Council’s goal is to harvest submissions from school children.

In fact, this propaganda campaign had a marked effect on total submissions. A Council meeting agenda reveals that 20% of submissions on the strategy came from children below the age of 16, and a further 7% from 16-19 year-olds. The vast majority of submissions supported all aspects of the Council’s strategy.


This is a local council rigging its own consultation process in the most cynical, abhorrent way imaginable.

Council officers visiting schools to get form submissions is, frankly, creepy. Children will happily fill out a form without a second thought if it means they can get out for lunch. It’s also a gross violation of parental rights. Parents were not asked for their consent, or given any opportunity to request the presentation of an alternative viewpoint to the one being pushed by the Council onto impressionable students. This was an explicit and direct campaign to bring politics into the classroom, that discredits not just the Council’s consultation methods, but its ethics.

Tomorrow, Hamilton City Council’s Hearings and Engagement Committee will be meeting to discuss the results of the consultation process. The Taxpayers’ Union will be watching closely to see which councillors condemn the consultation methods.

We need to stop the Climate Commission’s radical plan

Dear Supporter,

I’m writing with some urgency. At the end of next week, submissions close for the draft recommendations of the Climate Change Commission – recommendations that the Government has signalled it will simply adopt.

I'm not going to sugar coat this. The media haven't been doing their job and instead of critically reviewing what is the most radical reforms to our economy since the Douglas-Lange era, they're blindly cheering it along.

Here's the how the Climate Change Commission Chair Dr Rod Carr has put it:

The transformation that New Zealand will confront in the decade ahead… is going to be on a scale that will rival the transformation from our controlled and regulated economy in the 1970s through to the early 1990s. It will be on a scale of the demilitarisation after the second world war. It will be on a scale equal to getting ourselves out of the great depression of the late 1920s. And I would guess it might rival the sum of all those parts…

The Commissioner plans to up-end our economy with central planning, forcing costly regulations on New Zealanders in an attempt to change the way we live and the entire shape of the economy.

Here’s just a taste of what the Commission’s plan involves:

•  Ban imports of light petrol and diesel vehicles from 2032.
•  Cull dairy, sheep and beef numbers by 15% by 2030.
•  Reshape cities so that we walk 25% more, cycle 95% more, and take public transport 120% more by 2030.
•  Subsidise electric vehicles further.
•  Ban new coal boilers.
•  Ban all coal generation, regardless of security of supply.
•  Ban new natural gas connections.
•  Ban gas BBQs.
•  Require new and replacement heating systems to be electric or bioenergy, not gas.

These measures may seem unrealistic – but with the Government having publicly committed to implement whatever the Commission recommends, we need to blow the whistle now before it is too late.

And here's the thing: according to the Commission’s own analysis, this plan isn’t even necessary. New Zealand is already on track to meet its “net zero carbon” target using existing tools i.e. the existing Emissions Trading Scheme.

The waterbed effect

In fact, the proposed regulations will do nothing to reduce our overall emissions. This is because of the way the ETS works: emissions are already capped and paid for. This means that when the Government goes beyond the ETS and uses regulations to push down emissions in parts of the economy covered by cap and trade, it just frees up credits for people to increase emissions in other parts of the economy – it’s what climate economists call the “waterbed effect”.

Here's just one example: recently James Shaw announced the Ministry of Education will spend $50 million to replace or convert 90 coal boilers in schools. According to the government this will reduce emissions by 33,000 tonnes – that is reducing emissions at $1,515 per tonne. By comparison, the ETS can remove one tonne of emissions for $39, a nearly 40-fold performance gap!

And because coal is already in the ETS, the waterbed effect means replacing the school boilers will see emissions raise somewhere else. There is absolutely no gain for the climate.

If you listen to one thing this weekend, make sure it's this podcast

Oliver HartwichYesterday I sat down with New Zealand Initiative Executive Director Oliver Hartwich. A trigger warning: what you will hear will make you angry.

Dr Hartwich explains the dangerous folly of the Climate Change Commission’s plan – and how they’ve refused to show their working on how much it will cost New Zealand families. Click here to listen to the podcast.

Taxpayer Talk

We've got to raise the alarm, and we don't have long to do it

We’ve come to this issue late because it’s taken time to wrap our heads around the Commissioner’s 800 pages of draft recommendations. But we’ve now prepared a submission that, quite frankly, I think destroys the Commission’s arguments. If you’ve got some time over the weekend, I strongly encourage you to read our draft submission here.

Regardless, we need your help now to ensure the consultation process isn’t swamped by special interest groups like Greenpeace and Generation Zero, who never saw an expensive eco-regulation or tax they didn’t like.

>> Click here to use our template submission tool <<

It only takes 30 seconds.

Thank you for your support,


Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union


No more elections for you – Mike’s Minute of Madness

Mike Hosking

In just one minute this morning, Broadcaster of National Importance Mike Hosking made a fundamental error in his comments urging local councils to “merge, merge, and merge some more”.

He completely dismissed the entire concept of local democracy. You know, that thing where you get to vote for the people who will be representing you on council and spending your rates. He says: “Democracy is a wonderful thing… but like most things you can have too much, and that’s our plight.” He hopes the unelected commissioners at Tauranga City Council, who immediately proposed a 12 percent rates hike, “show that expertise actually beats democracy.”

Slow down tiger. You may have the highest rated radio show in New Zealand but abolishing elections in favour of Government appointed officials changes the entire nature of our council system. This would take both the “local” and the “democracy” out of “local democracy”, and our country would be the poorer for it.

Are there underperforming councillors or representatives who are out of their depth? Absolutely, but we ratepayers can vote them out at the next election, or more quickly if the Government adopts the Taxpayers’ Union’s well-researched policy of local body recall elections. As it stands, the hard-working families of Tauranga have no say in how long Commissioner Anne Tolley will be in charge nor the ability to pass judgement on her sweeping (and expensive) changes.

Sure, there may be “hobbyists”, “do-gooders” and even the odd weirdo in our Council chambers, but they are our hobbyists, do-gooders and weirdos. We do not want the Minister of Local Government or even the host of Newstalk ZB appointing our councils because they think they can judge “expertise” over representation.

The Union’s focus is on holding elected councillors to account for their actions and helping them do better, not replacing them with Government stooges and bureaucrats. "Expertise actually beats democracy" should send chills down the spine of every New Zealander.

Mike, we hope you take a minute to read this and reflect on the true value of democracy.

Megan Woods: House of Cards


The following is a diary note from Dr Megan Woods. (satire)

My big housing announcement did not go nearly as well as expected.

People are missing the big picture which is about community, inclusivity, well-being, and kindness.

Instead, they are overly fixated on the numbers. Specifically, the number 12 – because that is the exact number of homes we have gotten people into within just three years of my flagship housing policy.

You know it is a bad sign when Phil Twyford is mocking you in caucus. I caught him outside my electorate office building a billboard with that terrible “The Count” cartoon on it. In the ten minutes I watched, Phil managed to nail his jacket to the framing, and then the semi-erect billboard fell on him. It took me ten minutes to get through to emergency services because I was laughing so hard.

This was poetic justice as Phil is responsible for my PR issue.

When I took over his “Kiwibuild Triumph” (as he and only he called it), I foolishly asked for his advice. I had already decided to pretend his flagship policy never happened and not mention it ever again. However, I was bit hazier on the details of my own flagship policy which was going to replace Kiwibuild (if it existed, which it didn’t) and solve the housing crisis (which existed when we were in opposition but ended the instant Jacinda was sworn in).

Dr Woods: Phil honey, I was thinking the target should be a nice round number. For three years and all the money Grant Robertson has given me, 100,000 seems reasonable.

Phil: Oh no Megan poppet. Housing is so much more complicated than just building a house.

Dr Woods: You have certainly demonstrated that in recent years Phil bunny. How about 10,000?

Phil: I fear you are being overly optimistic Meggy Weggy. I was thinking 10.

So, this week we actually exceeded our own secret internal target by 20%, and yet we get zero credit for it! This policy was approved at the very highest level. Working on it late one night in the Beehive, Helen Clark emerged from the shadows in my office and cast her firm but caring eye over my document.

Dr Woods: I need your advice o great and wise one. I was thinking of applying a policy principle that government and councils should get out of the way and make it easier for people to get their own homes.

Rt Hon Helen Clark: Wrong youngling. That sounds like something National would promise and then fail to deliver. You need something that sounds like what Labour would say, and then fail to deliver.

My policy proposal spontaneously caught fire under her kindly stare. Fortunately, Heather Simpson had prepared a completely different housing policy and it was implemented the next morning. Democracy in action is a marvelous thing.

Satire: My heroic journey back to New Zealand


The following is a leaked diary entry written by Ricardo Menendez March MP.  [Satire]

Gracefully returning from Mexico, the third most deadly hotspot for COVID-19, suddenly I am confronted by a border guard demanding all this paperwork about quarantine, isolation, and contact tracing that apparently I, a busy Member of Parliament, should have filled in “months ago”. “Months ago?” – who can understand such bureaucratic jargon?

Responding to the frontline staff, I point out the obvious absurdity in his argument. “Next”, I quip, “you will be saying that Kiwis should not travel to Mexico at all.” He produces a piece of paper from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade saying exactly that. However, I spot that it is almost a year old. I cannot be expected to keep up with these historical edicts about the country of my birth and long intended travel destination. I am a list MP.

This will not stand. I fix the guard with my most smoldering Central American gaze and confidently ask: “Do you know who I am?”

Turns out he has absolutely no idea who I am, and no one in the growing and increasingly restless line behind me can help him. Someone quipped that I might be “Cliff Curtis’ less famous brother” which was the best of a bad bunch.

I decide to go over the guard’s head and ask my old comrade Chris Hipkins for an emergency MIQ slot. Problem solved, so I return to Koru Club for a free-range soy latte with a twist of GMO-free lemon.

Well, it seems that Minister Hipkins (as he insists I call him) either does not know who I am, does not care who I am, or does not consider backbench Green list MPs to be a service “time-critical for the purpose of delivering specialist health services required to prevent serious illness, injury or death; or the maintenance of essential health infrastructure.”

Undeterred, I lodge another application for an emergency exemption on the grounds that my “urgent travel is required for national security, national interest or law enforcement reasons.” It is also declined, but I do not think the Minister had to address the letter “To who it may concern”.

Over a leisurely dandelion and bog myrtle muffin in the lounge, I realise this situation could actually look bad from a PR perspective. Even the tamest of journalists will occasionally latch onto stories about Green MPs who preach carbon neutrality constantly topping the frequent flyer mile chart, or members of the most principled party in Parliament repeatedly trying to use their status to jump the queue on the grounds of non-existent health expertise or for reasons of national security.

I call in our communications “big gun” – though the Greens' musterer insists he/she/they are referred to as “the sizable inclusive conversationalist”.

It is Clint. He may have a surname, but everyone calls him “Hey Clint” for some reason. Probably a cultural title… Hola Ricardo has quite a ring to it. Will write to the Speaker and see what he/she/they think of my plan.

“Hey Clint” has come up with a great strategy for when the opposition and media find out what I have done. I should say that I never wanted either of the emergency exemptions I applied for. You know, both those applications that used up time and resources from officials, the head of MBIE, party leader James Shaw, and Minister Hipkins. I am sure they relished a bit of excitement during these quiet days of summer.

He – and I now have written permission to call Clint he – suggested I mention family illnesses and my long-term partner as often as possible, but not mention I go to Mexico at this time every year.

On reflection, this might actually be good for my career. I have never had so much coverage. I should go on holiday more often.

REVEALED: Farewell bash for Winston Peters cost taxpayers $12,000

The Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that former Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters was thrown an $11,733 farewell party by the new Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta and her Ministry. 

The bill covered catering, event furniture hire, and technical costs. Guests included the Prime Minister, other Ministers, diplomats, and their spouses. The Taxpayers’ Union understands that, despite Parliamentary protocol requiring invitations to all Parliamentary Parties for events held at Parliament, no opposition MPs were invited - not even one.

Nanaia Mahuta needs explain why she thought it was a good idea to spend $12,000 of our money on party for a politician who has already enjoyed a lifetime of largesse.

We can think of no other instance where an MP that has failed to be re-elected has had a party thrown for him by his successor. When we asked MFAT how much the department spent, they tried to ease the blow by saying that they had only covered 50 percent of the bill. It wasn’t until after further prodding that they revealed the rest of the spending came from their new Minister!

Considering venue hire was free, that's a hell of a lot of good food and top shelf grog.

Many taxpayers could think of far better uses of $12,000 than a party thrown for a politician, by politicians.

Taxpayers' Union submission on Māori wards bill

Below is the Taxpayers' Union's submission on the Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill. You can also read it in a new window here.

Jordan Williams also presented to the Māori Affairs select committee, and took questions from MPs. Video is available below.

Taxpayers' Union calls on all unions to pay back wage subsidy

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is repaying the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy and is calling on other unions and political groups to do the same. A petition has been launched at www.taxpayers.org.nz/payitback.
When the Government last year made the unprecedented decision to lock down New Zealand’s economy, the Taxpayers’ Union publicly supported the Government’s moves to assist businesses in retaining employees.
However, the wage subsidy’s broad eligibility criteria and New Zealand’s surprising short-term economic bounceback has left many entities in a position to repay their taxpayer-funded subsidy.”
In December, the Taxpayers’ Union made the decision to repay its own wage subsidy payment, with monthly instalments over a period no longer than 24 months.
Unlike other unions we are almost totally funded by donations. That saw our revenue particularly hard-hit by the lockdowns. But we are in a better position now, and we are confident that over the coming months, we’ll be able to pay it back and return to our default position of not being government funded.
We’re challenging other all other unions to do the same. No union should profit, especially when financed by taxpayers, from a pandemic.
The Government’s trade union partners such as First Union and E Tū received hundreds of thousands in taxpayer money, despite having steady revenue streams from member dues. In fact, these unions were left with enough funds to run campaigns during the election to help re-elect the Government.
A handful of local councils also received the wage subsidy, despite having the ability to extract revenue from ratepayers at will. Even worse, instead of cutting back, councils actually grew their staff numbers in 2020. We’re calling on Tauranga District Council, Waikato District Council, and Northland Regional Council to repay the subsidy that all other local councils survived without.

The Taxpayers' Union's wage subsidy payment was audited by the Ministry of Social Development, which found that the Union qualified for the payment.

Diplomacy 101: A helpful and not at all patronising guide for our Australian friends


A masterclass by Hon Damien O’Connor, Minister of Trade

The enhanced free trade agreement with China has passed and I was ready to bask in the media adulation. This was quite the feather in my West Coast fishing hat given I had only been Minister of Trade for less than four months – most of that over the summer break.

I must confess to being later surprised and disappointed at the lack of media adulation, even from The Spinoff. Apparently, this deal had been worked on for years and was bound to happen. One of my young staffers (or possibly a new Labour MP, it’s hard to tell these days) suggested that “even Phil Twyford could have gotten this agreement through.”

Back home we would have thrown the troublemaker down a mine, back in the days we had mines on the West Coast. Today, he’d probably hit some camera drone stuck in a rockfall and I would get sued. I miss the old days.

Putting that slight setback behind, it was time to establish my legacy beyond just trade. I plan to be a player on the world stage. The starting point was obvious: Our closest neighbour and major trading partner, Australia. They are always open to constructive criticism from Kiwis.

International relations with China seemed like a safe place to start my global punditry. Neither Australia nor China are at all touchy about third parties commenting on their geo-political affairs.

After reading a copy of The Economist which had been sitting in my lobby for nearly four months, I decided against lecturing the Aussies. Under that brash exterior, they are sensitive and surprisingly fragile souls. So instead, I went with the educative approach.

My key messages were:

◾ Do what New Zealand does, because we are better than Australia.

◾ Be respectful to China like New Zealand is. Australia, by inference, is not.

◾ Develop a mature relationship with China like New Zealand has. Australia, by inference, has not. I am not saying the Sino-Ocker relationship is immature, just that it is not mature.

◾ My counterparts in Canberra should choose their words carefully because words matter in diplomacy. I think that I have graphically demonstrated that principle here.

My comments got a lot of media coverage which is obviously a good thing when most people do not know that you have been an MP for 26 years and a Minister of the Crown for nine years.

Once I actually read the media coverage, it was not as positive as I expected. In fact, it was not positive at all. I wanted headlines like “Magnanimous Minister helps struggling Trans-Tasman sibling”. Instead, I get “A trade minister goes on record going way off script.” That’s not very kind. Ingrates.

The media has overlooked my credentials in cross-border trade. I have brokered deals between Greymouth and New Plymouth, which counts as international commerce where I come from.

I heard that the Australian Trade Minister – you know, whatshisname – respects my view. Quite right, and I think this reflects my standing in the international pecking order. However, that same pesky staffer, who I would have fired if Andrew Little had not abolished all the laws allowing you to fire people, pointed out that “respects my view” in Australian Parliamentary slang is short for “bring it outside mate, if you think you are hard enough.”

Australian politics are odd. Still, at least Grant Robertson respects my view here. He told me himself at Cabinet the other day.

Bottom line: I antagonised both our major trading partners in one interview for no discernable reason.

Key thing is: Got my name in the paper!

Taxpayer Update: Climate tax | Corruption index | Vaccines

Dear Supporter,

Fuel tax hikes are back on the table (and that's just the beginning!)

Climate Change Commission logoOn Sunday the Climate Change Commission released its long-awaited draft advice for cutting New Zealand's emissions.

It's a long (800 page) list of demands. It basically goes through every emissions sector to pick and choose who will be allowed to emit what over the coming years.

The media have focused on the proposed ban on importing petrol and diesel vehicles by 2032. But the Commission's suggestion that fuel prices need to increase by 30 cents has received less attention.

Prior to the election, Jacinda Ardern made a promise that her Government would not increase fuel tax any further. She must now confirm to New Zealanders whether her promise still stands.

Fuel tax is nasty enough as it is. It disproportionately hits the poor, who generally own older, less efficient vehicles, and for whom electric vehicles aren’t realistic. It’s not good enough for the Beehive to expect shift workers in outer suburbs to ‘get the bus’ or cycle while the rich can go electric.

Cost of "1% of GDP" is nonsense on stilts

The Commission’s economic forecasts are ridiculously optimistic. Their report claims the costs of its emissions plans represent just one percent of GDP.

That figure contrasts with work done by the NZ Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) two years ago. As we pointed out to Stuff, the NZIER boffins concluded that this sort of pathway would cost 16.8 percent of GDP. That's a big difference!

Central planning approach is counter productive

The significance of this document and the six-week consultation process cannot be overstated. It plans wholesale changes to the New Zealand economy through central planning. That didn’t work well for economies, and it wont work for emissions.

New Zealand already has a successful Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). We say, rather than have bureaucrats dictate every sector’s transformation and emissions cap, the budget should simply determine the overall cap and allow the ETS to do its job. That would see those sectors that can more easily adjust follow market incentives.

The key question is this: should politicians be planning who can emit what and when, or should they be setting the overall cap and let New Zealanders figure out where emissions can be most efficiently cut through the ETS?

Auckland tram: Government didn't bother with a cost-benefit analysis

Light rail

For the most expensive infrastructure project in New Zealand’s history the Government has failed to even conduct a standard cost-benefit analysis to find out whether the project was actually worthwhile, Stuff reports.
A cost-benefit analysis should be the first step, but instead the Government rushed ahead and spent $5 million on reports to work out who should build the thing.
The Government’s plan to choose the contractor first and do the cost benefit analysis later stinks of railroading a pet project through Cabinet regardless of the value for taxpayers. It's a recipe for 'Think Big' style waste.

Silliness from the Reserve Bank

The Reserve Bank, which is currently printing $100 billion in the name of economic stimulus, is looking for a new "Diversity, Inclusion & Wellbeing" advisor.

RBNZ hire

You'd think the Bank could hire someone to sort out more pressing problems: the impact of its monetary policy on the housing crisis, for example. Or the holes in its cybersecurity systems.

Stop pretending the marae spend-up is about jobs


The Infrastructure Minister has claimed that a $9 million spend on a marae facility in Southland will create 41 jobs.
He is wrong. This spending will destroy jobs.

Because the money is borrowed, future taxpayers from Kerikeri to the Bluff will pay for it plus interest. Those taxpayers will then have less to spend on businesses that provide goods and services that people actually want. When those businesses lose revenue, they’ll be less able to employ New Zealanders.

Further, that tax will create a disincentive for New Zealanders to work and be productive. Economists call this effect 'deadweight loss'. We released a briefing paper on the topic last year which reveals that the deadweight loss effect of the government's total $96 million spend on marae renovations will destroy around 205 jobs.

Of course, this spend-up isn't really about creating jobs: it’s classic pork-barrel politics dressed up as a COVID-19 response.

Why can't iwi pay?

The Reserve Bank this week announced that between 2013 and 2018 the 'Māori economy' grew almost twice as fast as GDP.

In practice, the Bank is measuring the growth of iwi-owned businesses.

Why are these businesses doing so much better than others? Here's one good reason: they pay a lower corporate tax rate of 17.5%, compared to 28% for non-iwi-owned companies.

No-one should begrudge businesses for doing well. But wouldn't it be great if all businesses benefited from a lower tax rate?

In the meantime, perhaps iwi could use a drop of their booming wealth to cover the cost of their marae do-ups?

More transparency needed for government contracts and payments

New Zealand has once again ranked best in the world in Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index. But let's not break out the bubbly.

The corruption perception index measures just that: perception. In fact, a low perception of corruption could be taken as a warning sign of complacency.

We need to be particularly alert to the government’s tendering processes. As a small country where it sometimes feels like everyone knows everyone, New Zealand is especially vulnerable to cosy deals between the government and its preferred contractors.

Taxpayers deserve competitive and fair tender processes, but the trend is in the opposite direction, with the government and local councils limiting access to tenders with "Māori procurement" targets and "local procurement" policies. This should ring alarm bells.

And then there are slush funds like the Provincial Growth Fund – over the weekend it was revealed that one of the Fund's West Coast bosses has now been appointed CEO of a local tourism company that received $18 million from that fund. Read Jordan's comments to media here.

'Front of the queue' for a COVID-19 vaccine?

In November, Chris Hipkins claimed New Zealand would be 'at the front of the queue' for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Instead, while 32 out of 37 OECD countries have already begun mass vaccinations, we're not on track to begin until April at the earliest.


We're being left in the dust by other countries. The media should be tracking these figures:


Taxpayers are already facing a massive blowout in public debt due to last year's lockdown. We cannot afford another.

With our managed isolation facilities continuing to present a major risk, the government should be moving heaven and earth to at the very least get our border workers vaccinated ASAP.

Thank you for your support.

Louis circle

Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union


Media coverage:

Judith Collins suspects economic cost of climate action would be higher than commission estimates

Waatea News  
Lobby group smell pork in marae funding

Cactus Kate  The Reserve Bank's Bold Answer To The Housing Crisis - Diversity!

Stuff  Scramble in Trevor Mallard case when judge won't rubberstamp suppression

Rotorua Daily Post  
Hemo sculpture Te Ahi Tupua completed with official blessing

Point of Order  The political payoff is plain but is it smart to borrow $219,512 per job (mostly temporary) to spruce up the Murihiku Marae?


Taxpayer Update: Creative NZ sends $$ overseas | Payout for overstayer | RNZ propaganda

Dear Supporter,

Creative NZ sending your money overseas

Creative NZ map

This morning we revealed that in just 12 months Creative NZ paid out grants worth $631,266 to recipients in Germany, the UK, Sweden, Finland, Australia, Poland, South Korea, Fiji, the Netherlands, the Cook Islands, and the United States.

And of the 25 grants, 15 came from a COVID-19 response fund!

Examples include:

  • Ngahiraka Mason, who resides in the USA, was given $24,000 towards “a reflective, comparative and critical piece of writing”.

  • Brian Falkner in Australia was given $13,334 towards “writing a new novel set in an all too possible near future”.

  • Susie Elliot, who is Fijian and resides in Fiji, was given $11,790.99 towards “wage, materials, production costs, travel and accommodation to create and develop a new body of illustrations and video works”.

  • Luke Thompson, based in the United Kingdom, was awarded $42,000 towards “intensive research and development”.

Creative NZ released this information to us via an official information request which admits that Creative NZ does not require grant recipients to be New Zealand citizens. In fact, recipients included foreign arthouses such as London’s Royal Academy of Arts, which was paid $75,000 to exhibit paintings by New Zealand artist Rita Angus.

It’s galling that while Kiwi families were grappling with the economic effects of the worst pandemic in living memory, Creative NZ sent hundreds of thousands of dollars overseas to high-flying arts luvvies and international art houses.

At least when Creative NZ gave someone $50,000 to make an ‘indigenised hypno-soundscape’, that money was spent in New Zealand. But the cash Creative NZ sends overseas is a total loss for the local economy. We don’t even get back the GST!

Anti-taxpayer propaganda published by RNZ – and (surprise, surprise) they refuse to publish a balancing viewpoint

RNZ article

RNZ, which is funded by taxpayer money, recently published an article written by Victoria University lecturer who argues that the government's money does not belong to taxpayers and the media should stop calling it 'taxpayer money'.

The author even singles out the Taxpayers' Union and accuses us of "breaching the social contract!'

We approached RNZ with a response, but apparently they're not interested in publishing both sides. Regardless, you can read my response here.

An excerpt:

Regardless of whether the government’s money is taxed, borrowed, or freshly-minted, every dollar spent on theatre for the homeless or slides on the lawn of Parliament is a dollar that could have instead been spent by the taxpayers and ratepayers who keep this country afloat, on things they actually need and desire. The phrase ‘taxpayer money’ is shorthand for this inescapable trade-off.

Minister must explain ACC payout for illegal overstayer

Carmel Sepuloni

The Herald reports that ACC sent a taxpayer-funded payout to China for the death of an illegal worker at an Auckland building site.

While New Zealanders will have immense sympathy for the victim’s family, many will also be appalled that an overstayer seemingly has the same rights as New Zealanders who pay tax and levies into the ACC system.

To make things worse, ACC is refusing to confirm how or why it became policy to make payouts for illegal overstayers.

We say the ACC Minister, Carmel Sepuloni, must explain how this became the policy, and if she agrees with it.

Monument to waste is also a health and safety risk!

Remember we said over summer that there'd be even more costs associated with Rotorua's $743,000 bungled Hemo Gorge Statute Monument to Government Waste? Well it turns out the whole thing is at risk of collapse and now a safety fence has been erected by the Rotorua Lakes Council!

Safety fence

When contractors tried to install the monument last September, the pieces literally didn’t fit together. Contractors had to cut out pieces so the inner parts could fit. That cutting revealed the tubing structure has not been built to specifications, with an engineering report saying engineers ‘cannot prove whether the defects observed are isolated or systematic throughout the inner and/or outer [monument] tubes’.

The report concludes that the monument "exceeds design loads by 620 per cent”.

As Jordan told Stuff: This Rotorua ‘monument to government waste’ is truly living up to its name. It’s time the engineers at NZTA stepped in and took over this bungled Council vanity project.

Vaccines should be targeted by need, not race

Facing a serious risk of ongoing lockdowns, we literally cannot afford to derail the COVID-19 vaccination rollout with race-based politics.

But that's what's happening, with Māori reportedly being prioritised for the vaccine.

Vaccination against a pandemic is core government service – taxpayers fund the vaccination programme to build resilience for the wider community, not one particular demographic.

We must not elevate race above the many more relevant factors that determine vulnerability to COVID-19, such as age, pre-existing conditions, and physical exposure to other people. Likewise, if we want to target groups with historically low vaccination rates, we should be precise with our targeting, looking at factors like income level and geographic isolation.

Singling out the entire Māori cohort – 17 percent of the population – as a target group will mean our limited vaccination resources are targeted away from non-Māori individuals with greater need. That’s not just unfair, it’s potentially disastrous for our COVID-19 response.

Dodgy, dodgy stuff happening at Queenstown-Lakes District Council

Boult and Theelen

An extraordinary investigation by Crux has uncovered serious apparent conflicts of interest at Queenstown-Lakes District Council.

In one example, consultants with personal connections to Mayor Jim Boult – including his children's nanny – were paid $150 an hour for 135 days to review one of three council bylaws. And they got the contract without an open tender process.

Our team is looking into the detail of this story, and we've also written to the Auditor-General to investigate.

A tale of two rainbow crossings

Welly rainbow

When Wellington City Council installed a rainbow crossing (pictured above) in 2018, it cost ratepayers $26,844.

Now, New Plymouth has unveiled its own rainbow crossing (below), so we asked how much was spent.

NP rainbow

It turns out New Plymouth District Council got the job done for just $6,954 – a quarter of the price!

Perhaps proximity to the Beehive increases the cost of public works? 🤔

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle

Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union


Media coverage:

Crux Mayor asks CEO Theelen to investigate himself as ZQN7 scandal grows

Stuff Claim and counter claim as $740,000 sculpture stoush rumbles on

RNZ Government money not equal to 'taxpayer money'

Crux You be the judge: Is QLDC telling the truth over how it spends our money?

Stuff Sculpture stoush heats up with claims of 'red herring' reports and 'DIY disaster'

NZ Herald Mayors spending thousands of dollars on food, wine and flowers

Northland Age Money for nothing

Homepaddock Anatomy of a Prison Disorder Incident

Point of Order Privacy Commissioner posts his peeve about the power of private companies (on Twitter) after social media giants gag Trump


Revealed: Creative NZ sent $631,000 overseas in just 12 months

Map graphic

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that in just 12 months Creative NZ paid out grants worth $631,266 to recipients in Germany, the UK, Sweden, Finland, Australia, Poland, South Korea, Fiji, the Netherlands, the Cook Islands, and the United States.

Of the 25 grants, nine were from the agency’s general Arts Grant fund, while a further 15 came from the Arts Continuity Grant, which was established in response to COVID-19. One grant was from the Arts Pasifika Awards fund.

Examples include:

• Ngahiraka Mason, who resides in the USA, was given $24,000 towards “a reflective, comparative and critical piece of writing”.
• Brian Falkner in Australia was given $13,334 towards “writing a new novel set in an all too possible near future”.
• Susie Elliot, who is Fijian and resides in Fiji, was given $11,790.99 towards “wage, materials, production costs, travel and accommodation to create and develop a new body of illustrations and video works”.
• Luke Thompson, based in the United Kingdom, was awarded $42,000 towards “intensive research and development”.

The Union discovered this spending in an official information request. In its response, Creative NZ confirmed it does not require grant recipients to be New Zealand citizens. In fact, recipients included completely foreign entities such as the United Kingdom’s Royal Academy of Arts, which was paid $75,000 to exhibit paintings by New Zealand artist Rita Angus.

It’s galling that while Kiwi families were grappling with the economic effects of the worst pandemic in living memory, Creative NZ sent hundreds of thousands of dollars overseas to high-flying arts luvvies and international art houses.

At least when Creative NZ gave someone $50,000 to make an ‘indigenised hypno-soundscape’, that money was being spent in New Zealand. But the cash Creative NZ sends overseas is a total loss for the local economy. We don’t even get back the GST.

This kind of profligate spending undermines the Government’s economic response to COVID-19 and insults local taxpayers who are being told to buckle up for a massive spike in Government debt.

Many taxpayers will look at this spending and conclude that Creative NZ must be grossly overfunded. If Grant Robertson is at all interested in cutting wasteful spending in this year’s Budget, he knows where to look.

Response letter (from Creative NZ)
List of grants (covers the 12 months to 27 October 2020)

Op-ed: Why we won’t stop calling it ‘taxpayer money’

The following is an op-ed written by Taxpayers' Union Campaigns Manager Louis Houlbrooke. It is free for publication with attribution.

Louis imageJonathan Barrett, a taxation lecturer at Victoria University, wants New Zealanders and the media to stop talking about “taxpayer money”.

He makes the bland observation that when the government takes our money, that money legally becomes government property, and therefore the government can spend it however it likes. That’s all correct in a semantic kind of way, but pointless for policy debate – legality does not equal morality, and might does not make right.

There’s a reason Jacinda Ardern isn’t praised as the country’s greatest businessperson, despite the enormous wealth she controls. That wealth is produced by the rest of us, and taken from us under the threat of jail time.

So when we talk about “taxpayer money”, we do so as a reminder of who created that wealth, and of the government’s moral obligation to use its extraordinary tax-and-spend power responsibly.

Of course, tax isn’t the only way the government pads out its budget. For New Zealand’s COVID-19 response, the Finance Minister borrowed $50 billion on international markets. But this spending is still funded by taxpayers: specifically, future taxpayers, who will pay for it with interest.

The government can also just print its funds – think “quantitative easing”. That’s what the Reserve Bank is doing right now to the tune of $100 billion. The effect is still essentially that of a tax: money-printing erodes the value of the currency already held by taxpayers.

Regardless of whether the government’s money is taxed, borrowed, or freshly-minted, every dollar spent on theatre for the homeless or slides on the lawn of Parliament is a dollar that could have instead been spent by the taxpayers and ratepayers who keep this country afloat, on things they actually need and desire. The phrase ‘taxpayer money’ is shorthand for this inescapable trade-off.

When our representatives forget this, all New Zealanders have the right to doggedly challenge them on their abuse of our earnings.

It is not enough to simply cast a vote every three years and then suck it up, as Mr Barrett seems to believe. New Zealand’s democratic process is ongoing, and often informal. Politicians understand that when they’re caught squandering New Zealanders’ hard-earned wages they risk embarrassing headlines, social media backlash, or at least an earful at the farmers’ market.

Individual taxpayers, the media, and civil society groups like the Taxpayers’ Union are all vital participants in this dance of open democracy. When taxpayers organise into groups and highlight – for example – how the government gave $1 million from its COVID-19 response fund to a dance troupe, we are not “breaching the social contract”. Rather, we are providing information that will stick in taxpayers’ minds and hopefully still be there come ballot day. And we do this in competition with countless other groups, from Greenpeace to the Automobile Association, all with different visions of how (and how much) money should taxed and spent.

Left-wing academics like Mr Barrett are welcome to participate in this contest of ideas. But he should do so with some humility: unlike most of us, his salary is paid with taxpayer money.

Louis Houlbrooke is Campaigns Manager at the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

SATIRE: Kelvin Davis: Anatomy of a prison disorder incident


2020 was one heck of a year – excuse my strong language – and I definitely need this six-to-eight-week taxpayer funded holiday to recharge my batteries.

Happily out fly fishing, which is clearly listed as one of my key strengths on my Ministerial CV, before being interrupted by a call from a random press secretary about some prison riot. I inform her that I am the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and would be Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand if hadn't given that up totally voluntarily, and this is clearly a matter for the mere Minister of Corrections.

She rather tersely informs me that I am the mere Minister of Corrections, that she is my press secretary, and she has been so for three years. Well, that was awkward. I think the tension scared all the fish away. So, might as well do one of my patented strategy sessions when dealing with a crisis.

First, some research. It turns out Waikeria Prison is a real prison and there is a riot going on right now. For me, there were three tell-tale clues of riotness – prisoners are supposed to be in the cells, guards should be in charge and the only ones with weapons, and the top half of the prison should definitely not be on fire.

I build myself a desk fort, to keep to the haters out, while I think. The Ministerial cushions I have ‘borrowed’ from my Ministerial residence are excellent for this task. Part of the COVID-19 tourism recovery fund was used to embroider my name, face, and signature, on every piece of my office furniture. I will sleep well tonight.

The next day at the lodge, after a leisurely brunch of paua fritters, cantaloupe salad, and pineapple Raro, I pull out my best Winnie the Pooh notebook and a fresh pack of coloured pencils. This is going to be my best plan ever, though admittedly H1 and H2 had drafted a pretty comprehensive crisis response template for me after several ‘communication issues’ in the first term.

  1. Do nothing. I cannot stress this enough.
  2. Say nothing.
  3. Wait to see if someone else does something. If it works, take credit for it.
  4. If it does not work, accuse people of politicising the event.
  5. Have your staff avoid media calls as best as possible. If they absolutely have to talk to the vultures, they should refer only to “protestors” in a “prison disorder incident”.
  6. If at all possible, somehow blame the previous National Government and particularly former Corrections Minister Judith Collins.
  7. Wait for the disorder to end, emerge, and take credit. Six days should be enough.
  8. Reveal that you were receiving hourly updates on the incident, but do not explain why you never mentioned this before the riot ended.
  9. Do not, under any circumstances, get drawn on whether you actually read those briefings, far less what you did about them.
  10. Resume fly fishing. Trout for dinner. Job well done.

Grant Robertson comes down to my office, carried on a sedan chair by four aides, with a fifth sprinkling rose petals in his path. This is rarely a good sign.

He proclaims that my portfolio might have to pay for rebuilding the prison that got burnt down. That seems unfair. I had absolutely nothing to do with it. The disorder was about housing standards so, like every second policy in this Government, it is Megan Woods’s responsibility. She should have to pay.

Defending myself, I argue to Grant that if Waikeria Prison had been properly upgraded then there would not have been these issues of standards. Grant agrees, but then ruins the moment by pointing out that one of my first and only moves as Minister of Corrections was to cancel National’s planned upgrade of Waikeria. This is a setback.

Oh well, at least I am still Labour Deputy Leader and Minister of Corrections. It seems literally nothing can change that.

Taxpayer Update: Signposting waste in Rotorua | More Creative NZ madness

Dear Supporter,

Happy New Year! I hope you've enjoyed some sunny days.

Our office was shut down for the holiday period, but we still managed to cause some mischief in Rotorua and expose even more waste from Creative NZ...

"Monument to waste ahead" in Rotorua

Remember Rotorua's $743,000 Hemo Gorge sculpture that ran three years late and still isn't finished? We thought it was such a good example of government and council waste that we hired an electronic billboard so the summer traffic knew what it was:

Sign image

And in case the thousands of passing holidaymakers didn't get the message, some of our local supporters erected more signs at the site of the sculpture:

Other signs

Remember, the installation of the sculpture ran three years late and $200,000 over budget, and the final bill is likely to be higher than $1 million once installation and lighting costs are counted.

What's worse, the final product looks nothing like the grand concept drawings — in fact, ratepayers and taxpayers can only see half of the sculpture because it's been erected below road level.

Unfortunately, it's not just Rotorua ratepayers footing the bill: the sculpture was co-funded by NZTA, meaning we all paid for it!

Our signage received coverage in The Waikato Times, the Rotorua Daily Post, and on Magic Talk.

Waikato Times

NZTA even complained to local media that the signs could distract drivers. Our response: it was NZTA that installed a behemoth sculpture in the centre of a busy roundabout. You couldn’t get more of a distraction than that! After the faux outrage and threats to remove the sign, they've since backed down.

Rotorua Daily Post

Rotorua Daily Post

The Mayor responds: it's OK as the overrun is just NZTA money!

Following Jordan’s interview on Magic Talk, Rotorua Mayor (and former Labour MP) Steve Chadwick was forced to respond. She said the cost overrun was a “storm in a teacup” as the reason the monument went over-budget was because it was so complex and groundbreaking! She also said that our group was wrong to complain because the Council’s contribution was fixed — most of the overrun was covered NZTA (i.e. taxpayers!).

Listen to the interviews (and the resulting talkback) here.

Finally, a big thank you to Reynold Macpherson (a local councillor, Taxpayers' Union member, and representative of Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers) who protected the electronic message board from tampering by irate supporters of the sculpture Council!

"Radical fat positivity" funded by taxpayers

Last year we exposed Creative NZ's bizarre arts grants, including $50,000 for "indigenised hypno-soundscapes".

But wait, there's more. Last month Creative NZ released the year's fourth round of Arts Grants. Taxpayers forked out $50,800 for events about "radical fat positivity", $57,000 for "a play about the COVID-19 pandemic", and $39,930 for "a new app-driven immersive theatrical experience".

Fat positivity

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Creative NZ has been handing out far larger grants under its new Adaptation Fund, which has handed out $6.78 million, supposedly in response to COVID-19.

The single largest grant was a massive $1 million for the Fa'a Black Grace dance troupe, to deliver "an immersive dance experience in a non contact world."

That's more than the average Kiwi's tax bill for an entire lifetime.

[One more point: some of Creative NZ's defenders have claimed this is Lotteries money, not taxpayer money. They're wrong. While Lotteries has historically been the key funder of Creative NZ, Jacinda Ardern gave the agency a massive top-up in funding last year, so most of its money now comes directly from the Government. Regardless, Lotteries is still a public body and ought to spend its money more wisely.]

1,247 public servants paid more than $200,000

On Boxing Day it was reported that the cost of salaries in the public sector has increased by 13 percent in just one year.

Funneling ever more taxpayer money into the state sector is not sustainable, necessary, or fair. It's outrageous that government agencies are padding their own salaries while families and businesses cut costs in the wake of a pandemic.

Public sector staff are paid significantly more than private sector workers, and the pay gap is increasing. It's not enough for a few state sector bosses to take temporary pay cuts: pay cuts need to go wider and deeper.

Taxpayer Talk: What do our new MPs stand for?


One third of the new Parliament is made up of new MPs, and you deserve to know who they are and what they stand for.

That's why we're releasing new episodes of the Taxpayer Talk podcast, in which Neil interviews the new politicians.

Get to know ACT MP James McDowall here, or listen to our interview with fellow ACT MP Damien Smith here. National MP Simon Watts is next up.

You can find all of our podcast episodes here (or look us up on Spotify, iTunes, or wherever you find good podcasts).

All the best,

Louis circle

Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union



Message board erected in Rotorua highlighting monumental waste

New Zealanders approaching the Hemo Gorge roundabout from the south will from today be greeted by an electronic message board warning motorists of the 12-metre 3D-printed monument to Government waste at the Te Hemo Gorge roundabout, where State Highway 5 meets State Highway 30.
The sign reads MONUMENTAL WASTE AHEAD / COST: $743,000 / AND COUNTING, and is an initiative of the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union, installed by volunteers from the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers (RDRR).
Union spokesman Jordan Williams says, "This monument to waste was installed three years behind schedule and $240,000 over budget. But we understand the final bill will be even higher, once the costs of the botched installation are counted."
"The final product looks nothing like the grand concept drawings - in fact, ratepayers and taxpayers can barely see the sculpture because it's been erected below road level!"
"Sometimes the best antidote to government waste is sunlight. We're glad to expose to holiday period travelers how Rotorua District Lakes Council and the New Zealand Transport Authority have squandered public money while so many households struggle to make ends meet, and roads need basic maintenance."
“The monument looks a bit like flames going up into the air.  It takes little imagination to see it’s taxpayer and ratepayer money going up in smoke.”
RDRR spokesman and local councillor Reynold Macpherson says, "The Council can't seriously expect ratepayers to tolerate year after year of rate hikes when we've now literally got a monument showing how that money is wasted. This ill-advised public art project risks putting our town on the map for all the wrong reasons."

Video of the sign in action can be viewed here, and an image of the site is here.
The Hemo Gorge sculpture was nominated in the local government category of the 2020 Jonesie Waste Awards.

Petition launched for Trevor Mallard to pay back taxpayers for his defamation settlement and legal costs

--> Click here to sign the petition <--

A written Parliamentary question has confirmed the Taxpayers’ Union’s understanding that the Speaker paid a six-figure settlement to a staffer he accused of rape.

Taxpayers should not have to cover the bill for Trevor Mallard’s careless accusations. It’s not like making defamatory allegations is part of his job description.

Trevor Mallard must commit to paying back the taxpayer money handed over to the accused staffer and the Labour Party’s law firm.

The Union has launched a petition calling for the repayment at www.taxpayers.org.nz/trevor.

The Speaker is paid a taxpayer-funded salary of $296,000, so we’re sure he can work out a payment plan with Parliamentary Services.

As a gesture of goodwill, if Trevor Mallard repays the money the Taxpayers’ Union will stop hassling him for spending $572,000 on a slide outside Parliament.

Highest and lowest council rates in New Zealand revealed -Ratepayers’ Report

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union’s 2020 Ratepayers’ Report reveals the highest and lowest average council rates in the country. The league tables are available at www.ratepayersreport.nz.

Rates graph

Taxpayers’ Union spokesperson Louis Houlbrooke says: “The key attraction of Ratepayers’ Report has always been the league table for average residential rates, which uses a standardised formula to include all residential rates, local taxes, and levies.”

“This year’s table has a new champion of high rates, knocking Auckland Council and Kaipara District Council off the top. Carterton District Council has moved up the rankings from third last year to take out the title of the highest-rating council in 2020, charging $3,472 on average for residential rates.”

“However, our largest city continues to loom large in second place, with Auckland Council charging an average rates bill of $3,469 – only just below Carterton, and well ahead of Christchurch ($2,588).”

“On the other end of the table, Central Otago District Council is now officially the lowest-rating council. Central Otago charges less than half what Carterton does.”

“The average residential rate nationwide is $2,445 – an increase of $84 from the previous year. Councils are extracting even more rates, taxes and levies from the average ratepayer, but the range of different rates levels in the league table demonstrates that high rates need not be an inevitability. High-rating councils should take notes on how others are able to run tighter ships.”

Highest average residential rates:

  1. Carterton District Council: $3,472
  2. Auckland Council: $3,469
  3. Tasman District Council: $3,186
  4. Western Bay of Plenty District Council: $3,168
  5. South Wairarapa District Council: $3,151

Lowest average residential rates:

  1. Central Otago District Council: $1,444
  2. Grey District Council: $1,739
  3. Mackenzie District Council: $1,884
  4. Southland District Council: $1,914
  5. Otorohanga District Council: $1,919

More about the Report is available here, and specific methodology for calculating average rates is here.

2020 Ratepayers’ Report released, methodology explained


The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union, in partnership with the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance, has today published the 2020 edition of Ratepayers' Report  – online local government league tables – at www.ratepayersreport.nz

With these league tables, New Zealanders can easily compare their local council’s performance and financial position for 2018/19 against others.

Setting out more than two thousand data points, the Ratepayers' Report provides transparency for ratepayers, and rates figures are presented on a per-household basis to ensure fair comparisons between councils. The league tables rank councils on metrics including average residential rates, staffing costs, and council liabilities among others.

Taxpayers’ Union Campaign Manager Louis Houlbrooke says, “Every dollar spent by a local council was earned by a hard-working ratepayer. Ratepayers' Report allows ratepayers to understand if they could be getting a better deal. The league tables reveal huge disparities between councils in terms of how much they take in rates, how much they owe in liabilities, and how much they spend on salaries. The league tables suggest there is major scope for councils to find efficiencies to reduce the burden on ratepayers.”

Notable Findings:

  • Carterton District Council now ranks highest for average residential rates at $3,472, just pipping Auckland Council at $3,469.
  • The lowest average residential rates in New Zealand are levied by the Central Otago District Council at $1,444.
  • Christchurch City Council continues to have the highest liabilities per household compared to any other council ($27,510) – up from last year. Auckland Council follows in second place, with liabilities per household of $25,372 – another significant increase from last year.
  • The average liabilities per household of all councils is $6,144.
  • There are were 2,831 staff paid salaries greater than $100,000 at Auckland Council and its CCOs.
  • The least efficient council in terms of staffing is Waitomo District Council, with a staff member for every 20 households. The most efficient is Thames-Coromandel District Council, with a staff member for every 128 households.
  • Only four Councils meet the full criteria for prudent Audit and Risk Committees. Western Bay of Plenty District Council failed to have a separate Audit and Risk Committee while Grey District Council didn’t have one at all, which is considered basic financial prudence.

All figures are based on the 2018/19 financial year, and therefore do not reflect changes in council positions caused by COVID-19 and the ensuing 2020 budgets.

Editors' notes:

Data for the report was compiled by the Taxpayers' Union and was supplied to all councils for review (and any necessary correction) prior to publication.

Ratepayers' Report facilitates straightforward comparison of average residential rates via a formula first used by Napier City Council which allows for an 'apples to apples' comparison of average residential rates and charges, based on each council’s definition of a residential rating unit. Only Kaipara District Council was unwilling to provide the Taxpayers' Union with the necessary rates information, while Wellington City Council did not respond to our request.

This formula was also used to ascertain non-residential average rates for the first time. A number of councils were unable or unwilling to provide us with this information.

For non-rates figures (i.e. liabilities, personnel costs) we have this year assessed council data using Stats NZ’s 2018 census, with some councils opting to replace this with a more recent figure. We have done this because councils have different definitions of what constitutes a residential ratepayer or ‘rating unit’.

Q & A

What is the purpose of Ratepayers’ Report?

Ratepayers' Report provides accountability and transparency to New Zealand ratepayers by allowing them to compare their local territorial authority with others around the country.

Where was the data sourced?

The Taxpayers' Union compiled the data in Ratepayers' Report after reviewing each council's annual report for the year ending June 30, 2019.

Other figures were mostly obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, and cover the 2018/19 financial year.

The data has been sent to each individual authority for their review and error checking prior to public launch.

Population and household data is from Stats NZ.

Where did the group finance figures come from?

They are taken from each Council's annual report. They are council figures, plus all those of subsidiary council-controlled organisations.

Which councils are assessed in Ratepayers' Report?

Of New Zealand's 67 territorial authorities, 66 are examined in Ratepayers' Report. That includes all city, district, and unitary councils, with the exclusion of the Chatham Islands Council (due to concerns surrounding that Council's workload pressure and unique position).

What about regional councils?

While we anticipate including regional councils in future editions of the Report, the data we have on their average residential rates bills is at this stage incomplete. Our research suggests that regional councils charge anywhere from $42 to $553 per residential ratepayer on top of the bill charged by territorial authorities. Gaps in the data and different definitions for residential ratepayers dictate that these figures should be considered as supporting evidence, rather than determinative.

Is this the first Ratepayers' Report?

No. Ratepayers' Report was first published in 2014 jointly by the Taxpayers' Union and Fairfax Media (now Stuff). The Taxpayers’ Union have since published updated versions in 2017, 2018 and 2019. This is the fifth edition.

How are the councils grouped?

Unitary authorities – the 5 territorial authorities which also carry out the functions of a regional authority are grouped.
Metropolitan – the 5 large councils with a population of over 120,000.
City – 6 smaller metropolitan councils with populations between 40,000 and 120,000.
Provincial – the largest group, 27 non-metropolitan councils with population over 20,000.
Rural – the remaining 23 councils.

How was the average rates calculated?

Calculating an 'apples to apples' figure for residential rates is difficult because councils use various mixes of rates, levies, and user charges. Our approach is based on work by Napier City Council to find an average residential rate. The methodology councils were asked to use to calculate the figures disclosed in Ratepayers' Report is available here.

The report also included average non-residential rates for the first time this year using the same methodology.

While we think this approach is useful and fair, the average residential and non-residential rate figure should be a guide only.

Unitary authorities (Auckland Council, Nelson City Council, Gisborne, Tasman, and Marlborough District Councils) perform the functions of a regional council and therefore can be expected to have higher rates than other territorial authorities.

Were councils consulted in the process?

Yes. Every council was sent a draft version of their respective data to review. 

Can the results of the 2020 report be compared to the 2019 edition?

All non-rates figures (i.e. liabilities, staff) were assessed using council data from Stats NZ’s 2018 census figures, with some councils opting to replace this with a more up to date figure. We have done this because councils have different definitions of what constitutes a residential ratepayer or ‘rating unit’.

The methodology means that the per-household figures can be compared with the 2019 report, but not with the 2018 report which used a per-ratepayer figure (aside from the average rates metric which has remained consistent).

What are the potential limitations of Ratepayers’ Report?

Queenstown-Lakes, Taupo, and Thames-Coromandel District Councils have previously objected to the use of Stats NZ’s household figures, as these tend to exclude properties left empty, i.e. baches. As a result, per-household figures for these districts may be somewhat inflated. This does not affect the rates figures, which are based on rating units.

Empty or undeveloped sections are counted as rating units. This means the average residential rates figure for a territory with a high proportion of undeveloped sections, such as Wairoa District Council, may appear relatively low while the actual level of rates levied on an average Wairoa homeowner is likely to be higher.

Taxpayer Update: Return of the CGT | Uni's mansion rort | Bad poetry

Dear Supporter,

It's a longer Taxpayer Update this week – but there is just so much silliness in Wellington that we're swamped.

Ruled-out taxes back on the agenda

Jacinda Ardern has previously ruled out both a capital gains tax and an asset tax. In fact, both she and the Finance Minister promised that other than a new income tax bracket, there would be no further tax changes this term.

But just weeks after the election, it looks like those promises could unravel.

Faced with increasing pressure over rising house prices, the Finance Minister appears to be “un-ruling out” new taxes on housing.

Egged on by Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr, Robertson is asking Treasury for advice on an extension of the “bright-line” test.

Our new TV ad:

VideoClick here to share the ad on Facebook.

Extending the bright line test is effectively imposing a nasty capital gains tax – at a rate of up to 39% – for property owners who sell within ten years.

Click here to tell Grant Robertson to stick to his word.

Taxing houses will not make them more affordable. What this tax would do is hammer people who need to cash out of property for personal reasons. It would reduce liquidity in the market, and could even incentivise politicians to drive up house prices further in order to reap tax revenue from the capital gain.

The Government also appears to have “un-ruled out” increasing the tax rate for trusts to 39%, to match the new top income tax bracket.

Both of these tax proposals would be harmful. But here’s the biggest worry: if the Government decides it’s okay to break its tax promises, it won’t stop at these. A Green Party-style asset tax or even a Michael Cullen-style capital gains tax could be back on the agenda. That's why we've set up a tool for New Zealanders to tell Grant Robertson to keep his promises. Sent him your message at www.StickToYourWord.nz.

Auckland University’s $5 million mansion rort


A year ago, the University of Auckland purchased a $5 million Parnell mansion for its new Vice-Chancellor, Dawn Freshwater.

The Auditor-General opened an investigation and on Wednesday released his report. He could hardly be more scathing: he says that the University failed to show a justifiable business purpose, failed to demonstrate objectivity, failed to display adequate transparency, failed to show the expenditure was moderate and conservative, and failed to follow its own policy on sensitive expenditure.

By charging the Dawn Freshwater half the market rent, the University effectively topped up her $755,000 salary in a way that wouldn’t be transparent to observers.

The victims here are fee-paying students and taxpayers, who expected their hard-earned money to be spent on education, not luxury housing for a public sector bigwig.

It’s not enough for the University to just sell the mansion. We’re calling on Dawn Freshwater to backpay the University for the real value of her discounted rent. If she can’t show this basic respect to taxpayers and students, she is unfit for the top job.

Consultants are getting rich off the Ihumātao stand-off

PM / Ihumatao

Last year the Prime Minister made a big show of announcing her intervention at Ihumātao, but in reality she’s fobbed off the nuts and bolts of negotiations to highly-paid consultants.

The Government has paid consultants more than $150,000 to provide advice regarding the dispute, with some paid $325 an hour, according to the Herald.

The problem is that all parties involved at Ihumātao – the occupiers, Fletcher Building, and the consultants – know that the Government has deep pockets and that the Prime Minister isn’t willing to walk away from the negotiating table. This means they can be aggressive with their demands.

If the Government is willing to pay Ihumātao consultants $325 per hour, taxpayers can expect the Government to fork out a horrendous sum for any eventual settlement of the dispute. And with Auckland land values rapidly increasing, the likely bill only gets worse as the standoff drags on.

The Prime Minister needs to do right by taxpayers and call off the negotiations, reasserting Fletcher Building’s property rights. That way, if the occupiers want the land, they’ll need to convince Tainui to buy it.

Green Party MPs once again the highest spenders on air travel

Yesterday saw the release of MP expenses for July-September.

It turns out Green Party MPs are burning taxpayer money and fossil fuels at a faster rate than any other party as they jet up and down the country:

Air travel graph

These spending figures arrive in the same week the government declared a climate emergency at the Greens’ behest. The hypocrisy is enough to make you weep.

Children’s Commissioner is a pointless taxpayer-funded lobbyist

Andrew Becroft

Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft has used his latest “Child Poverty Monitor” report to call for costly policies that aren’t even targeted at children. He wants the Government to spend more on benefits and accommodation supplements, and is even pushing for the internationally discredited policy of rent control.

Taxpayer-friendly proposals to address child poverty, such as GST relief or RMA reform, never seem to feature in the Commissioner’s proposals.

On Wednesday, we called it for what it is: the Commissioner is a taxpayer-funded left-wing lobbyist. He offers no ideas that aren’t already being pushed by countless left-wing groups who at least get their points across without taxpayer funding.

The Commissioner is funded by taxpayers to the tune of $3.2 million a year. $2.7 million of that is spent on salaries, including $272,000 for the Commissioner himself. He could do far more for children by winding up his office and just giving that money to the kids!

You've got to be kidding...

Remember Trevor Mallard's $572,000 Parliamentary playground? It's been open for barely a year and it's already closed for maintenance!


Ministers need to explain surprise new priorities

Priority graphic

Just six weeks after the election, Labour Ministers are unveiling surprise new 'top priorities' that were completely absent from the party's election manifesto.

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta stated of that one her top priorities is abolishing the ability of ratepayers to initiate a public referendum if a Maori ward is going to be established in their area. This policy is not referred to in Labour's manifesto. Ironically, the manifesto does commit to having ‘major decisions about local democracy involve full participation of the local population from the outset.’ The Minister seems intent on shutting out full participation on certain major decisions about local democracy. She has no mandate for this.

Labour's success in the election gives the party a clear mandate, but only for the policies it campaigned on. The public has not endorsed abolishing referenda, nor switching to bilingual road signs, which the Minister of Transport has also named as a priority.

If other Labour Ministers are harbouring unannounced priorities, they should release them now in a transparent manifesto update, rather than revealing them on an ad-hoc basis throughout the next three years.

Creative NZ fights COVID-19 with poems attacking National, ACT

Newsroom screenshot

In the lead-up to the 2020 general election, Newsroom was awarded $21,150 “towards commissioning weekly NZ book reviews, short stories and poems” as part of Creative NZ’s "Arts Continuity" COVID-19 response fund.

Newsroom used taxpayer money to commission a series of poems targeted at political party leaders, penned by writer Victor Billot – a former trade union official and former co-leader of the socialist Alliance party.

On Judith Collins, Mr Billot writes:

“But when the Queen first speaks, Lady Judith just cackles.
F-bombs and eye rolls, head high verbal tackles
When Her Kindness speaks again, JC says look at me!
And spins her head round in circles, demonically”

An attempted satire of David Seymour reads:

“But now fascism is casting a shadow over our fair land.
Queen Cindy’s one party state is close at hand
To despots I proclaim; I have no time for your treaty!
On principle I REFUSE to holiday on Matariki”

Meanwhile, a poem addressed to Jacinda Ardern merely encourages her to push harder for her political agenda:

“The kind of kindness we need to see
now must go beyond reassuring speech.
It must extend both breadth and reach.
That’s what we need J.A. to deliver
Those houses she mentioned, those fresh blue rivers.”

Here’s what we told the media:

Mr Billot is entitled to write childish screeds about politicians he doesn’t like, and Newsroom is welcome to publish them – but taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for it.

This is yet another example of Creative NZ using its funding to support political propaganda. The agency, which claims to support the arts for the benefit of all New Zealanders, recently also gave money to The Spinoff to agitate for entrenched Maori electoral wards.

The Newsroom poems are especially egregious in that they were published in the lead-up to an election. At the very least, Creative NZ needs to review its grants approval process to ensure it is funding a range of political perspectives, or simply not funding political material at all.

Amusingly, after we criticised this spending, the poet himself published a tirade calling us “a front for far right political interests who are opposed to taxes in principle”. Our in-house poet Neil Miller decided to respond in poetry form:

There once was a poet called Billot
Evil Taxpayers’ Union put his funding on a skillet
He responded to this fiscally conservative swinge
With an extended far left wing whinge

Criticisms of his time at the public trough
Were met with a challenge and a mighty scoff
He then unleashed interminable verses of rage
“Taxpayers should fund my hobby in my dotage”

Calling David Seymour a fascist marching the street
That might make a nice low-grade tweet
But taxpayers should not have to pay for your socialist rants
The Union took a poll – your poems are pants

We ridiculed your poems just by publishing them
That got more readers than the usual arty scrum
Your poems are so bad they would almost be funny
If they weren’t being paid for by our hard-earned money.

Neil Miller
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union Poet Laureate (27 November 2020-)

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle

Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union



Leaked: MP Election Diaries


Your stupendous yet humble New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has obtained copies of Members of Parliament’s election diaries. We requested them under the Official Information Act from new MPs, who apparently do not know that the OIA does not apply to them. Stuart Smith answered because he was desperate to talk to someone… even us apparently.

Hon David Seymour was not asked for his diaries but sent them to us irregardless. We got two emails, a signed bound hard copy of his diary, 14 autographed copies of his book “Own your Future: A David Seymour Story”, 4 signed glossy photographs, and a pallet of bumper stickers promoting his new website www.thesecretdiariesofdavidseymouraged37andahalf.com.

Anna Lorck, Labour List MP

Arrive at first caucus meeting early. Only a few people here – they also look new and nervous.

We exchange socially distanced nods.

A polite gentleman called Matt Doocey informs me that this is the National Party Caucus Room.

On the walk of shame down the wrong corridor, I overhear a staff member saying they had to use Google Images to figure out who I actually was.

Arrive at Labour Caucus Room. Told curtly I am late and that I should put the coffee and muffins on the corner table.

Maureen Pugh, National List MP (correct at time of writing)

Election Day:
I’m in!

Election Night:
I’m out (again…)

I’m in (again)!

Note to self:
Send cards to Matt King and Denise Lee who have lost their seats. Do not use any smiley emojis. Organise party. Bound to have some invites, banners, and plastic cups from the last two elections (never used).

Chris Luxon, National MP for Botany

First act as a new MP is to lodge an indignant complaint to the Electoral Commission that I was not directly elected to Prime Minister. Sir John Key definitely implied it was inevitable.

Quick reply from Electoral Commission saying that being elected to Prime Minister is constitutionally and historically impossible, particularly from Opposition.

Archive my “What I will achieve in the first 100 days as your Prime Minister” document. What a shame. I had just finished colouring it in.

Begin revising my three-year plan starting with “write a stern letter to Sir John”, “get a much bigger office”, and “find out what my portfolios are… better not be Statistics.”

Chloe Swarbrick, Green MP for Auckland Central

Election Night  

I’m running to boost the Green vote.

I’m running to boost the Green vote.

Next Day             

Oh my god (if she exists which she doesn’t), I’m an electorate MP! Just as I always planned.

I have 1,274 emails and 47 phone messages from locals wanting me to do stuff for them – for nothing! Seriously, this must be why Green MPs never want to win an electorate.

Marama Davidson (who is not an electorate MP I should note) sends me a GIF of a laughing cat next to her Ministerial warrant. I have the electorate seat, but she has the seat in the Ministerial limousine (which is not electric I should note).

David Seymour, Act MP for Epsom, Act Party Leader     

Election Night



Fly my pretties! Victory is mine! All your base are belong to us!

Try to look sober on TV.


Act vote goes up.

Strut a little.

Sit down for a while.

Next day

Try to get up. Ouch.

Get up – slowly.

Wonder who are all these strange people sleeping in my opulent red velvet lounge room? Turns out they are my caucus.

Try to learn their names before they wake up. Fortunately, most of them are deep sleepers and had driver’s licences with all the relevant information. Make notes.

Ring the Parliamentary Library and request a book about managing a team. Obviously, I have never needed one before. I am in luck – Todd Muller had just returned one.

Stuart Smith, National MP for Kaikoura

Head to Caucus in a tremendously good mood.

Mood dented by Parliamentary Security saying that tours were not allowed in this area. This is my third term as an MP. They apologise.

Stopped by different Parliamentary Security while heading to the bathroom. Point to the Guide to Parliament 2020-2023 poster which clearly has my photo on it. Glad I carry it around.


Caucus meeting. On balance, I should have let security escort me from the Parliamentary precinct.

Taxpayer Update: More money printing | Ping pong for COVID | Poor form from Stats NZ

Dear Supporter,

We need tax relief, not desperate money printing

Adrian Orr

The Reserve Bank Governor’s announcement of a new $28 billion 'Funding for Lending' money printing programme is a desperate measure. Clearly, monetary policy tools have become ineffective at fueling economic recovery.

In fact, Adrian Orr’s loose monetary policy may do more harm than good as New Zealanders pump all this extra cash into an already-unaffordable housing market.

It is becoming increasingly clear that it’s fiscal policy – especially the wage subsidy – that has propped up New Zealand's economy in the wake of COVID-19. But the wage subsidy has now run its course and we need new options.

The Green Party and special interest groups are clamoring for higher benefits, but that was sensibly ruled out by the Prime Minister on Monday. Other groups are calling for 'helicopter money'. We say, instead, look to tax relief as a way of bolstering real incomes and encouraging productivity.

A temporary reduction in GST would encourage New Zealanders to bring forward future spending, bolstering business revenues, employment, and economic growth. It's been done before, successfully. In the United Kingdom, a temporary cut to VAT saw households bring consumption spending forward, mimicking the traditional role of looser monetary policy (i.e. lower interest rates). A cut to GST certainly beats printing money and stoking the housing market!

New Zealanders would actually have to spend their money on goods and services (not houses!) to reap the benefits of a GST cut.

Grant Robertson fights COVID-19 with table tennis

Ping pong

First it was horse racetracks. Then it was arts grants for "indigenised hypno-soundscapes". Now the Government’s taxpayer-funded pandemic response includes table tennis, badminton, downhill luge, and Sea Scouts.

Grant Robertson is doling out $15 million to over 2,000 sporting organisations as part of his "Community Resilience Fund".

The funding was recently increased "due to the demand for the fund in the initial three weeks". Well, of course. There will always be demand for "free" money!

To the extent that these organisations contribute to the economy, they'll have been eligible for the wage subsidy. Why is the sports sector getting extra special treatment?

CCDHB appointment process creates conflict of interest

Spending at our DHBs needs far more scrutiny especially when it comes to conflicts of interest and "jobs for the boys".

As RNZ reports, we're raising the alarm about such a case at Wellington's Capital & Coast DHB, as it selects a new Director of Pacific Health.

The DHB’s selection panel includes Tino Pereira, who chairs the Central Pacific Collective – a group that last year received a $1.35m contract from the previous Director of Pacific Health.

In other words, this man will have a say on hiring the person who will be responsible for evaluating his service delivery and potentially renewing his million-dollar contract.

Our full letter to the DHB outlining the concerns can be read here.

Stats NZ wades into the American election

The day before the US election, our Government's statistics agency produced this graphic for social media:

Stats NZ post

The post reads: "We thought we would squeeze in some data before the result. NZ imported 4.8 million kgs of fresh oranges from the USA in the year ended September 2020."

The image is clearly meant to be a p*sstake of Donald Trump.

As Newshub reports, we challenged Stats NZ for using the election of a close diplomatic ally as social media fodder:

If a government department wants to use humour on social media that’s fine, but they should steer clear of the culture wars and pandering to what they think is politically fashionable.

Stats NZ defended the post in the Newshub piece, but has since deleted it. Perhaps the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had a stern word with them!

A letter from Snoopy


Have a great weekend,

Louis circle

Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

PS. The election may be over, but the Debt Monster still stalks our politicians. This week he welcomed newly-sworn-in Ministers to Parliament as the official Government debt clock ticked over one hundred thousand million dollars.


Revealed: Taxpayers cover animal welfare fines for Landcorp farmers

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is today calling on Landcorp to stop reimbursing farmers fined for animal welfare offences.

The Taxpayers’ Union requested correspondence pertaining to staff reimbursements of fines paid by Landcorp over the last three years. Landcorp provided information revealing the following:

• A $500 reimbursement for an animal welfare fine for transporting a cow that birthed a calf en route to slaughter on a moving truck.

• A $500 reimbursement for an animal welfare fine for transporting an angus bull which was tender on its forelimbs and sore in all four feet.

• Two $500 reimbursements for animal welfare fines for transporting a calf for slaughter which had contracted tendons in both forelimbs.

Taxpayers’ Union spokesperson Louis Houlbrooke says “A fine is imposed as punishment for breaking the law and should be duly paid by the infringing individual rather than law-abiding taxpayers. We wouldn’t expect a government entity – or a private company – to reimburse its staff for speeding tickets.”

“Paying the fines of farmers who are deemed to have broken the Animal Welfare Act disincentivises them to care for their animals properly. As our state farming entity, Landcorp should be setting the gold standard for the treatment and care of animals. Landcorp’s website asserts a commitment to ‘leading industry standards with exceptional animal care’ but it is hard to see how bailing out farmers for animal welfare offences supports that.”  

“In one instance we discovered, a farm manager sought a waiver of fees after a cow gave birth to a calf on a moving truck en route to slaughter because there was ‘no intent’ for that outcome and only ‘one animal that was sent’ had this experience.”

“In another, a lame calf with contracted tendons was sent to the works unable to walk properly. Landcorp paid the fine because it considered the farm manager had delegated responsibility to a team who lacked the necessary education to know that sending lame animals for slaughter was not permissible. How is that not negligence?”

“We understand that on farms mistakes happen and animals sometimes suffer for it. But we fine farmers for mistakes and negligence so that they have a stinging financial reminder of their duty of care. Letting Landcorp farmers off scot-free isn’t fair on private sector farmers who work hard to maintain standards of care, and it’s certainly not fair on the animals.”

The Taxpayers’ Union enquired whether Landcorp had a general policy of reimbursing farmers when fined for animal welfare offences, and was told Landcorp assessed each fine on a ‘case by case basis’. Landcorp purportedly take account of whether there is ‘individual wrongdoing’ and ‘acceptable mitigating reasons’ in deciding whether a farmer should be reimbursed. However, Landcorp was unable to provide any correspondence surrounding fines for which it considered reimbursement but ultimately did not pay.

Source documents:

Taxpayers' Union correspondence with Landcorp 

Internal Landcorp emails and infringement notices 


Election 2020: Whisky, Tango, Foxtrot

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is reacting with surprise and horror after being accidentally sent the results of tomorrow’s election.

Acting Labour Party General Secretary Rob Salmond inadvertently included your humble Taxpayers’ Union on their union mailing list this year. Traditionally, unions receive advance notice of the election results they have spent so much time and money on.

Election analyst and failed pundit Neil Miller said: “Obviously we were, to use a technical term, completely and utterly gobsmacked by the new Labour and Advance NZ government.”

He is currently reviewing the 2-page coalition agreement – which appears to be mainly 90s clip art – and the 471-page secret annex which has all the good stuff in it.

Campaigns Manager and Frankie Boyle lookalike Louis Houlbrooke added: “Obviously Jacinda Ardern will remain Prime Minister until her job at the United Nations opens up. Kelvin Davis becomes Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister only. His sole official role is limited to ‘looking good in the background during media standups.’”

Ms Ardern revealed Advance NZ was not seriously considered for the deputy role saying: ‘Billy is too crazy even for me, and Jami-Lee is just too… eww.” She then frantically washed her hands for ten minutes after just saying his name.

There are other changes to the Ministerial lineup.

Megan Woods picks up Davis’ Tourism portfolio. It is in mint condition because it has hardly been used. She also gains another minor portfolio in Social Development. She is demoted to number 8 in the Cabinet to, in Ardern’s words, “enable her to focus on her portfolios”. Such kindness.

Chris Hipkins gains Youth Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Veterans Affairs and Ethnic Affairs. He has been shifted to number 16 because, in Ardern’s words, “Christopher John is just a little ambitious for my liking."

Phil Twyford sheds the few remaining portfolios he had in order to become new Minister of Administrative State Services (ASS). Union analysis indicates this is basically Minister of Internal Affairs with particular responsibility for cleaning the Prime Minister’s pictures of (Saint) Michael Joseph Savage on a daily basis.

Twyford has also been promoted to number 3 in Cabinet. Ms Ardern said: “Phil would have been higher but he cannot beat Kelvin’s legendary work ethic, and he’s not bloody having my job."

The unexpectedly large Advance NZ caucus is still in the ‘getting to know you’ stage. Union spies (ok, it was Porky the Waste-hater in sunglasses and a trenchcoat, and worryingly nothing else) report the most common question in caucus is “who the heck are you?” There was also a moment of embarrassment when an errant Parliamentary Security guard was briefly appointed Under-Secretary for Revenue.

Jami-Lee Ross’s bid to become the first Minister for Sundry Affairs was met with universal hilarity.

Billy te Kahika declined all Ministerial posts, not that he was actually offered any. He justified his position saying: “Being a Minister of the Crown would mean ‘they’ would know where I was at all times.”

Sean Plunket astutely asked: “Who exactly are ‘they’? And why would they be interested in a second-rate Antipodean fruit loop?” Billy shot back: “Oh you know who ‘they’ are Sean - if that is your real name. You are one of ‘them’. You all are!” He then put on his favourite tin foil hat, pulled out his 5G cellphone, and made a collect call to the World Zionist Banking Conspiracy.

Asked how the Taxpayers’ Union would deal with such an unusual Government, Executive Director and serial litigant Jordan Williams in his usual chair at Rosie's Cafe in Parnell sobbed into his Double Ristretto Venti Half-Soy Nonfat Decaf Organic Chocolate Brownie Iced Vanilla Double-Shot Gingerbread Frappuccino Extra Hot With Foam Whipped Cream Upside Down Double Blended coffee.

“How the hell did this happen?” he lamented.

Op-ed: AAP needs to fact check itself

Neil MillerThe following is an op-ed by Taxpayers' Union Analyst Neil Miller.

During modern election campaigns there is an increasing emphasis on “fact checking” political statements across the spectrum. Companies have sprung up all over the world to judge the accuracy (or otherwise) of what politicians say on the campaign trail. AAP Fact Checker is the most prominent and prolific organisation of this nature in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is aware of growing international concern that fact checkers are moving well beyond data into politics, even to the point of partisanship in some cases. We decided to analyse the last ten fact checks by AAP Fact Check to find the answers to three questions:

  1. Who did they choose to fact check?
  2. Were the criteria for judgement applied consistently and fairly?
  3. Was there any instances of partisanship or spin?

If you only looked at the numbers, you could be forgiven for thinking that Judith Collins was Prime Minister and National was the largest party in Parliament. Judith Collins was fact checked five times compared to Jacinda Ardern’s two. The other three articles all focused on National MPs (Paul Goldsmith, Jonathan Young, and Simeon Brown). No other Government MPs were fact checked.

That means that 80% of fact checks were on National MPs, and Collins received more than twice as many checks as Ardern. To an independent organisation such as the Taxpayers’ Union, that does not seem balanced.

We move now to the case that really caught our eye. Simeon Brown’s statement on renewable electricity being judged “misleading”, even though all the figures the quoted were correct to the decimal point. We may be naïve idealists, but figures which are true are facts in our book.
Not so, it seems, at AAP Fact Check. They found an academic who opined that the good results under National and poor results under Labour had “largely been independent of government policy.” That is not a fact – that is a matter for political debate around causality and the influence of Government.

However, having introduced this new causality test, we expected it to be applied rigorously. The fact check of Jacinda Ardern’s comment regarding child poverty made no reference to the Government’s power to influence the figures. The test was not applied.

Next, the Prime Minister got credit for getting the numbers “roughly right”, while Brown was called misleading for getting them exactly right, and Collins was criticised for getting state house waiting list numbers “close to the mark with both figures she quoted, but not 100 per cent accurate.” She rounded the figures up. Politicians do that. A lot. There seems to be very different standards applied here as well.

At times, the Fact Check reads more like a political press release. For example, Ardern’s office was allowed to explain what the Prime Minister actually “meant” in her child poverty comments. A luxury that was not extended to others on the list.

The Prime Minister was also fact checked on her claim that Police numbers went down when Judith Collins was Minister of Police. Despite reporting that “NZ Police data shows actual police numbers rose between 2008 and 2016, during which time Ms Collins served two distinct periods as police minister,” the AAP went out of their way to find a wrinkle.

Triumphantly they wrote “when police numbers are described as an officer to resident ratio, they show an improvement during Ms Collins’ first period as police minister (from 1/519 in 2008 to 1/507 in 2011). However, during Ms Collins’ second run as police minister, population growth in NZ largely outstripped the growth in police numbers (1/514 in 2015 to 1/526 in 2016). This is also true when you compare police to resident ratios for 2008 to the same data for 2016.”

As a result, they concluded the Prime Minister’s statement “does contain a significant element or elements of truth.” This is despite the inconvenient fact that Jacinda Ardern‘s statement which was being checked made absolutely no reference to officer to resident ratios. It talked about Police numbers which, again perhaps naively, we assumed to mean the actual number of Police which, factually speaking, went up under The Crusher.

This example is closer to political spin than fact checking. It adds in a new element never mentioned in the original quote and certainly not what the average person would think of when they heard Police numbers.

When they stick to their core job of checking facts (the company name should be a giveaway), they can do a very valuable job. AAP Fact Check looked into David Seymour’s claim that Labour took “$6 billion surplus to a billion-dollar deficit in only two years before Covid happened." They found it was “mostly true”.

Working from Treasury papers, the surplus was $5.5b (not $6b) and the deficit was $0.9b (not $1b). AAP Fact Check concluded: “While there are minor inaccuracies in the numbers he quoted, Seymour's comments were broadly in line with budget figures reported by New Zealand Treasury.”

Now that is how you fact check properly. Just the facts. Shame it was only one out of ten checks.

The AAP Fact Checker should no longer be taken as fact in this campaign.

Op-ed: Asset tax will hit far more than six percent of New Zealanders

IslayThe following is an op-ed by Islay Aitchison, Research Officer at the Taxpayers' Union and spokesperson for the Campaign for Affordable Home Ownership.

While Labour has tried to rule out the Green Party's “wealth tax” policy, James Shaw has described those efforts as “not credible” — so at least according to the Green Party, an asset tax is on the table this election. The Greens have claimed that only the wealthiest six percent of New Zealanders would be hit by the tax, but is that accurate?
Any individual with net assets exceeding $1 million would be hit by the tax. While that sounds like a lot of money, many New Zealanders will exceed that in their lifetimes. According to REINZ, the median house price in Auckland was $950,000 in August — in other words, an individual with even modest retirement savings and a mortgage-free home in Auckland should expect to be paying the wealth tax by the time they retire.
At minimum, census data suggests approximately 45 percent of Aucklanders — that's 15 percent of the country's population — own their own home. Once mortgage-free, most of those households would find themselves liable for the tax. Many homeowners and entrepreneurs outside of Auckland would be affected by the tax as well.
Official statistics indicate far more than six percent of New Zealanders would be affected. Analysis of Stats NZ net wealth data by Eric Crampton of the New Zealand Initiative suggests 20 percent of 66–69 year-olds have net wealth exceeding $1 million. Our own analysis of Household Economic Survey data indicates 21.6% of households had net wealth exceeding $1 million as of 2018.
While the Green Party's threshold is higher for couples, it would fall again for a retiree once his or her partner passes away. Many would find themselves burdened by the tax even if they had previously fallen below the threshold while their partners were alive.
Even the $1 million threshold is something of a false promise. Due the effect of inflation, the thresholds would effectively become lower over time, pulling New Zealanders who are less wealthy into the scope of the tax.
Most importantly, a wealth tax wouldn't just tax our homes and retirement savings — it would punish the economy just as we are recovering from COVID-19. We all rely on strong levels of investment and economic growth to provide good jobs and wages. A tax on assets would punish productive investment and keep Kiwi workers in low-wage jobs, with very little hope of a better standard of living.
The Green Party's claim that only a small number of New Zealanders would be affected by their plan to tax wealth is unfair and inaccurate. Many households would be affected by the tax once they pay off their mortgage and retire or after their partner passes away. Many more households would be affected by the lower rates of investment and comparatively lower incomes it would cause.

Revealed: Nearly three quarters of Kiwis oppose an asset tax

Poll graph

Polling released today by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union reveals that 72 percent of New Zealanders oppose an asset tax or “wealth tax”.

Exclusive polling by Curia Market Research commissioned by the Taxpayers’ Union asked respondents, “Do you think there should be a tax that people pay on assets such as houses, cars and KiwiSaver accounts, additional to the existing income tax?

Seventy-two percent said no, 13 percent were unsure, and just 16 percent supported the tax.

Enthusiasm for the tax was particularly low in rural areas, with just 10 percent in support. And even in the most deprived areas a clear majority of respondents opposed the tax.

Islay Aitchison, spokesperson for the Campaign for Affordable Home Ownership, says, “A tax on assets, as advocated by the Green Party, appears to be even less popular than the failed capital gains tax.”

“New Zealanders’ wariness of a wealth tax is well-placed. Such a tax will discourage local investment, sending wealth offshore and making future generations poorer.”

“The polling was on the principle of a tax on assets, not the specific proposed tax by the Green Party. We think opposition would be even higher if voters were aware of the fishhooks in the Green Party’s specific policy. For example, some New Zealanders would find themselves whacked by the tax following the death of their partner, when the tax-free threshold is lowered from $2 million in assets to $1 million. The tax will even apply to a bach or nest egg held by a family trust.”

“Disturbingly, under MMP we could still see this unpopular and unfair tax forced into legislation by the Green Party. They’ve called the tax a ‘top priority’, and current polling suggests they’ll hold the balance of power, meaning they’re in a position to make demands from the Prime Minister.”

The polling covered a sample of 1080 respondents, with a 3.0% margin of error and was conducted between 22 September and 24 September.

Public Service Commissioner intervenes over Oranga Tamariki video

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union is welcoming intervention from the Public Services Commissioner over a video produced by Oranga Tamariki which appeared to endorse Hon Tracey Martin.

In a response to a complaint from the Union, Commissioner Peter Hughes explained, "In this situation, in my view the content of the video could be interpreted as political endorsement of the Minister and government policies and that is not appropriate."

"I have discussed this matter with the Chief Executive of Oranga Tamariki, Mrs Gráinne Moss. She is clear about the need to uphold neutrality in her agency and regrets that the video created the potential for that to be called into question on this occasion. The video has also been taken down."

Union spokesman Jordan Williams says, "We fund Oranga Tamariki to deliver important services for children, not to produce propaganda for its current political master. Public Sector neutrality is especially important this close to an election, so we welcome the Commissioner's intervention and suggest that other agencies take it as a warning."

Election campaign launched: Tax Relief Now!

Today the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union launches its nationwide election campaign for Tax Relief Now.

Between now and Election Day we will be making the case for tax relief as the main plank of the economic recovery. We see a basic choice this election: Government-led stimulus spending or a recovery that’s led by consumers and businesses.

Government spending is often wasteful, unfair, and puts politicians and bureaucrats in charge of the recovery. Just look at Creative New Zealand responding to COVID-19 with grants for indigenised hypno-soundscapes, or how tourism grants have propped up a handful of lucky businesses while others languish without support.

In contrast, tax relief will reward productive work, it will help all businesses, it will grow the economy and put taxpayers in the box-seat of the recovery.

Crucially, tax relief now will put a rocket under economic growth – making the huge debts we have accumulated far more manageable.

Yesterday a full-page advertisement appeared in the Herald on Sunday highlighting recent examples of wasteful government spending. Further advertisements will appear in print and online.

The campaign website at www.taxrelief.nz includes a Taxpayer Scorecard, which evaluates political parties based on their commitments to deliver tax relief. This will feature in future advertisements.

Op-ed: Why did James Shaw wreck his career for a tiny Green School?

Neil MillerThe following is an op-ed by Taxpayers' Union Analyst Neil Miller.

James Shaw did not just defy a core Green Party policy since 1997 to personally advocate for special funding to a tiny private school… he did it twice.

To their credit, the Government resisted the Green Minister’s persistent and determined attempts to get $13 million for the Green School in Taranaki.

He did, reluctantly, apologise for trying to extort $11.7 million for the provisionally registered school by threatening to block every other shovel ready project until his demand was met.

He did not reveal that the Green School had already been turned down by the Provincial Growth Fund for $1 million a year earlier.

It must be embarrassing to have Shane Jones say that the school’s business case did not add up given the dubious value of projects his slush fund has poured money into. Jones said “James got his nose out of joint and fought for it to be restored through the shovel-ready money.”

When you cannot meet the high moral and fiscal standards of Shane Jones, then you are in serious trouble.

The Taxpayers’ Union suspects that what did not add up was that the Green School is in Taranaki, not Northland. If it were in Shane Jones’ electorate, Jones’ famous nephews would probably be off the couch and already be building the principal a gold-plated office up a mighty Kauri tree.

The Greens consider themselves a principled political party – just ask them. Actually, you do not have to ask. Like a vegan at a barbeque, they will tell you whether you want to hear it or not.

When a political party holds itself to be so much more moral than everyone else, they need to be held to account for the co-Leader’s active defiance of cornerstone Green Party principles and repeated attempts at disinformation when that defiance was revealed.

We still do not even know why he did it. Why was this 50-student school in the regions so important to James Shaw that he would put his political career and possibly his party’s future in Parliament in jeopardy?

We contacted James Shaw’s ministerial office for an explanation. They referred us to Shaw’s initial press release as Associate Minister of Finance, and stressed that this was a shovel-ready job creation project, not an education project.

Still, of all the shovel-ready projects, why did he select a private school and then go so hard in personally lobbying for it given the Greens’ long-established policy? The question remains and it appears unlikely he will answer it clearly.

James Shaw’s colleagues who still believe in Green Party policy should sack him as co-leader before the election.

Jacinda Ardern's arts agency now in damage control

Dear Supporter,

Creative NZ goes into damage control

Grant image

We've spent the last week on social media releasing examples of bizarre art projects given taxpayer money by Creative NZ as part of a $16 million COVID-19 response (I've linked to my favourites at the bottom this email).

Talkback hosts Mike Hosking (clip here) and Sean Plunket (clip here) seized on the issue, and their callers are spitting tacks.

Last night, the agency finally cracked under pressure. But instead of defending the bizarre grants, it attacked us for what it called a "low blow"!

Here's their full public statement:

Creative New Zealand is proud to tautoko dedicated, hard-working artists, bolstering a sector knocked to its knees by the impact of COVID-19.

We work to encourage, promote, support and advocate for the arts for the benefit of all New Zealanders — from Bluff to Cape Reinga and beyond, through projects of all shapes and sizes, communities and cultures, glitter and all.

We’re really shocked and disappointed at recent low blow targeting of artists we’ve funded – we stand by them and our decisions. We don’t condone attacks on the arts whānau, or anyone for that matter. To the arts community and supporters: We’re with you, and we value your mahi.

They just don't get it. We're not targeting artists  we're targeting the out-of-touch bureaucrats who waste taxpayer money on weird pet projects.

Creative NZ's attempt to defend themselves is going badly. Take a look at the comments slamming the agency on their own Facebook post.

I joined Magic Talk again today to discuss the drama and this time, the CEO of Creative NZ fronted up to make his case.

In the interview, the CEO admits that artists don't even need to live in New Zealand in order to be eligible for taxpayer funds. Indeed, a number of the grants we looked into were for artists based overseas.

The CEO also admits he doesn't know what an 'indigenised hypno-soundscape' is – despite spending $50,000 on one.

Listen to the second half of this clip to hear the trainwreck interview.

We're proud of our efforts to shed light on how taxpayer-funded agencies spend our hard-earned money. With the Debt Monster forecast to grow to $150,000 per Kiwi household in 2034, our job is more important than ever.

Thank you for your support.

Louis circle

Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Facebook links to share Creative NZ grants:

To research and write the first draft of a novel about male affection in hypermasculine spaces.
AWARDED: $13,000

Towards the composition, recording and production of music inspired by the psychogeography of the West Coast.
AWARDED: $34,900

To support the personnel costs and post-production editing for an art documentary based on Papua New Guinea tattoo practice and revival.
AWARDED: $27,500

Towards one phase of illustrating a biography of Leonardo da Vinci.
AWARDED: $21,080

Towards writing a children's picture book (text only) about sustainable community activist Helen Dew.
AWARDED: $3,200

To create and develop an online publication, arts learning resources and musical content based on children's drag theatre show, The Glitter Garden.
AWARDED: $18,000

To create a new series of collaborative quilts with my mother, textile artist Cynthia Johnson.
AWARDED: $17,850

Towards the composition and instrumental arrangement of 10 songs for children, from ideas given by children.
AWARDED: $24,600

Towards a live event watch party and livechat with fans online.
AWARDED: $24,153

Towards writing poetry that explores indigeneity and love in the time of climate change.
AWARDED: $17,798

Towards writing a novel about the collapse of democracy in an association of alpaca breeders.
AWARDED: $26,000

Towards a dance concept video showcasing the impact Coronavirus has had on the New Zealand Chinese community.
AWARDED: $24,500

Towards the development of a first draft of a play that explores the menstrual cycle.
AWARDED: $16,766

To record and livestream a performance from Fat Freddy's Drop.
AWARDED: $44,007

Towards an Indigenised Hypno-soundscape to take you to the imagined worlds of our Kōrero Pūrākau.
AWARDED: $49,999

Towards development of a movement technique that guides and empowers the participants in becoming specialists in their own body.
AWARDED: $4,530

Towards 3 x hour-long live-streamed electronic music performances with live visual animations, from a kitchen in Paekakariki.
AWARDED: $47,703

Towards composing and recording ten original compositions inspired by emotions felt during the Covid-19 lockdown.
AWARDED: $8,885

Creative NZ fights COVID-19 with “Indigenised Hypno-Soundscapes”

Grant example

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is questioning the value of the Arts Continuity Grant, a COVID-19 response fund which has so far paid out $16 million in grants to a variety of questionable short-term arts projects.

Since March, Creative NZ has offered grants of up to $50,000 for ‘a short-term arts project, or the stage of a project, that can be delivered within a changed and evolving environment as a result of COVID-19.’

Many of the descriptions of these projects are, frankly, incomprehensible. It’s hard to see how bureaucrats in Creative NZ can make an objective judgment on which projects are worthy of funding, and which aren’t.

The resulting handouts speak for themselves. Creative NZ is fighting COVID-19 by spending taxpayer money on plays about menstrual cycles, Māori ‘healing theatre’, and ‘Indigenised Hypno-soundscapes’. That’s madness and it reflects terribly on the Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage – who happens to be Jacinda Ardern.

These grants are massively unfair to taxpayers, with the benefits skewed toward politically-connected Wellington weirdos. Handouts for fringe interest groups mean less money is available for tax relief that would reward productive work.

637 projects have received taxpayer funding under the Arts Continuity Grant, including the following:

Eamonn Marra
To research and write the first draft of a novel about male affection in hypermasculine spaces.
AWARDED: $13,000

Fireplace Arts & Media
Towards the composition, recording and production of music inspired by the psychogeography of the West Coast.
AWARDED: $34,900

Julia Gray
To support the personnel costs and post-production editing for an art documentary based on Papua New Guinea tattoo practice and revival.
AWARDED: $27,500

Donovan Bixley
Towards one phase of illustrating a biography of Leonardo da Vinci.
AWARDED: $21,080

Alison Foster, Catherine Cooper
Towards writing a children's picture book (text only) about sustainable community activist Helen Dew.
AWARDED: $3,200

Glitter Garden
To create and develop an online publication, arts learning resources and musical content based on children's drag theatre show, The Glitter Garden.
AWARDED: $18,000

Jess Johnson
To create a new series of collaborative quilts with my mother, textile artist Cynthia Johnson.
AWARDED: $17,850

Kate Newby
Towards intensive artistic research and development.
AWARDED: $49,368

Kath Bee
Towards the composition and instrumental arrangement of 10 songs for children, from ideas given by children.
AWARDED: $24,600

Tamara Neilson-Tetzlaf
Towards a live event watch party and livechat with fans online.
AWARDED: $24,153

Tayi Tibble
Towards writing poetry that explores indigeneity and love in the time of climate change.
AWARDED: $17,798

Duncan Sarkies
Towards writing a novel about the collapse of democracy in an association of alpaca breeders.
AWARDED: $26,000

Kimberley Young
Towards a dance concept video showcasing the impact Coronavirus has had on the New Zealand Chinese community.
AWARDED: $24,500

Rosemarie Kirkup
Towards the development of a first draft of a play that explores the menstrual cycle.
AWARDED: $16,766

Nicole Duckworth
To record and livestream a performance from Fat Freddy's Drop.
AWARDED: $44,007

Khali Philip-Barbara, Te Kahureremoa Taumata
Towards an Indigenised Hypno-soundscape to take you to the imagined worlds of our Kōrero Pūrākau.
AWARDED: $49,999

Connor Masseurs
Towards development of a movement technique that guides and empowers the participants in becoming specialists in their own body.
AWARDED: $4,530

Iain Gordon
Towards 3 x hour-long live-streamed electronic music performances with live visual animations, from a kitchen in Paekakariki.
AWARDED: $47,703

Mad Ave
Towards a wananga for Maori healing theatre practitioners.
AWARDED: $50,000

New Zealand Comedy Trust
To examine what changes need to be made to better support a more diverse and sustainable comedy industry in Aotearoa.
AWARDED: $49,780

Benedict Fernandez
Towards composing and recording ten original compositions inspired by emotions felt during the Covid-19 lockdown.
AWARDED: $8,885

Imogen Taylor
Towards development of a new body of work exploring modernism, feminism & queerness, with specific reference to the Otago region.
AWARDED: $30,089

Claire O'Loughlin
Towards revision and editing of a sailing memoir.
AWARDED: $7,200

Jared Kane
Towards a Māori, queer, young adult novel adaptation of Hamlet based on my innovative unproduced screenplay ‘Hamarete’.
AWARDED: $21,000

Indigenous Design and Innovation Aotearoa
Towards designing new Māori typefaces for print and digital.
AWARDED: $22,110

Peter Daubé
Towards the writing, arranging and preproduction of music that forms a song-cycle from the suburban labyrinth.
AWARDED: $21,800

Update: Taxpayers' Union Campaigns Manager Louis Houlbrooke joined Sean Plunket on Magic Talk to discuss these grants. You can listen to the clip here.

Taxpayer Talk: Kelvin Clout on dysfunctional Council culture and recall elections

In this episode of Taxpayer Talk, Taxpayers' Union Research Officer Islay Aitchison interviews Tauranga City Councillor Kelvin Clout on dysfunctional Council culture and recall elections. They discuss the COVID-19 Government assistance Tauranga Council is hoping to receive for future infrastructure projects.

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotify, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio and all good podcast apps.

Op-ed: An ode to Phil Twyford’s epic record of failure


The following is an op-ed from Taxpayers' Union Campaigns Manager Louis Houlbrooke.

Phil Twyford says he will build light rail in Auckland if Labour wins the next election.
Of course, he promised exactly the same thing at the last election and, after spending two and a half years in discussions and $5 million of taxpayers’ money commissioning reports, nothing has been decided, far less built.
A Minister reaches a low point when he goes for re-election solemnly vowing to implement an old flagship policy ‘for real’ this time around. It was promised previously, it was not delivered. But perhaps it’s for the best: Twyford’s record of expensive policy failures suggests a tram down Dominion Road would terminate in hell.
When elected in 2017, Phil Twyford promised to build 100,000 KiwiBuild homes in 10 years, with an initial investment of $2 billion. More than two years into that period, KiwiBuild has delivered just 548 houses. At the current rate, Twyford’s promise will be fulfilled in a mere 436 years. He’s been stripped of his KiwiBuild responsibilities and the new Minister in charge, Megan Woods, avoids even uttering the policy’s name.
He also promised to build SkyPath – a cycleway across Auckland’s Harbour Bridge – for $67 million. The budget has already blown out to $360 million, with work not yet begun.
Then there was his 2017 promise to make “virtually all” of the Government’s 15,000 vehicles electric by 2025. So far, he’s achieved it for less than one percent.
Not content with a track record that makes David Clark look like Mr Fix-it, Phil Twyford appears determined to one-up himself. In the last month, he has unleashed a new tranche of disappointment and waste.
Twyford said he was a “huge advocate” for a rapid rail, a 60-minute service between Hamilton and Central Auckland, even though it was not a 2020 election pledge. That last part was surprising, considering he had commissioned a business case for his beloved project.

The business case put the cost of rapid rail “between several billion and more than $10 billion.”
The Taxpayers’ Union economist’s reaction was to start sobbing into his well-loved copy of Adam Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations’. “What kind of business case is that?” he lamented. “It’s going to be between two billion and more than ten. How do you even start to do a proper cost-benefit analysis when you have no real idea of the cost?”
We told our economist to do his job and find the midpoint of several billion and infinity. His head exploded and the Union is currently looking for a new economist.
Then there are the ongoing blowouts and delays in the Transmission Gully highway project. But according to Phil Twyford, Phil Twyford is not to blame. Apparently, 2020’s pandemic caused the problems of 2019 and 2018. Bad news, Dr Bloomfield: the virus is time-travelling.
Twyford had nine long years in opposition to develop policy, and now three longer years in government to implement it. He has failed at every major hurdle so far and shows no sign of reforming.
So, how has the Prime Minister responded to Twyford’s epic series of failures? She’s promoted him. Now at number four on Labour’s list, Twyford trails behind political powerhouse Kelvin Davis, but is ahead of Chris Hipkins, who runs a third of the Government, and Megan Woods – who seems to run the rest.
The Honourable Phil Twyford’s record this year won him the award for lifetime achievement in government waste. The previous year’s recipient, Sir Tim Shadbolt, troughed away for 35 years to receive that honour. Twyford got there in three. He’s that good at being bad.

Growing out of it: Five policies to encourage growth and conquer debt

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has released a new paper outlining a suite of proposals to lift economic growth and therefore reduce debt as a proportion of GDP.

On current forecasts, government debt is set to reach $150,000 per New Zealand household. There are two ways to slay this debt monster: cut spending, or grow the economy. While we need to do both, our latest paper hones in on the second approach.

Growing out of it: Five policies to encourage growth and conquer debt makes five recommendations, all funded from the $14 billion set aside in the Government’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund:

• Cut GST from 15% to 10% for the next 12 months
• Permanently cut the $70,000-threshold rate from 33% to 30%
• Permanently cut the $48,000-threshold from 30% to 27%
• 15-month hiring trial periods from October 2020 to end of 2021
• Increase the $100 million overseas investment threshold to $500 million

Targeted tax relief will spur economic activity when we need it most. We propose a temporary GST cut which will incentivise New Zealanders to bring forward planned spending, and we also suggest cuts to marginal income tax rates that will reward productive work.

Traditional tax relief, however, should only be one part of a growth package. Growth can also be encouraged through relief from regulatory taxes. Specifically, we propose temporary but significant relaxation in rules that make employers less willing to hire staff, and foreign businesses less likely to invest in New Zealand.

Decade of deficits revealed as Treasury opens the books

Dear Supporter,

I’m writing to you from the media and analyst “lock-up” where Treasury just presented its Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Update.

The Update, which the Public Finance Act requires of Treasury just prior to every election, lays bare the Government’s books and include the latest projections on debt, spending, and the economy. This is the first proper update we’ve had from Treasury since the Budget way back in May.

In short, Treasury is projecting at least 15 years of deficits, unemployment to remain elevated for some time, and our economic recovery to be slower than previously expected.

Mood in the room

Understandably, the room was sombre. Journalists targeted the Minister of Finance Grant Robertson with questions on accelerating house prices and inequality, while analysts in the room noted the substantial increase in projected debt over the next decade.

On debt, the Minister was defensive. He tried to argue that he was unwilling to introduce austerity-style cuts to New Zealand, but didn't present a plan for New Zealand to get out of our looming 15 year debt spiral. More explanation will be needed from Labour if they want to remain credible on the economy.


With economic growth expected to be weaker in the next four years than previously forecast, Treasury is now projecting deficits right out until the end of their projection range in 2033/34. This is a change from its forecasts at the May Budget – when Treasury had expected we would return to surplus by 2027/28.

The result for taxpayers: net crown debt is expected to be $269.3 billion – or $149,600 per household – in 2033/34. That’s up from the $132,700 per household forecast at the Budget in May.

Weaker long-term economic recovery

The latest forecasts indicate unemployment is expected to remain persistently high. While unemployment is not expected to spike as aggressively as Treasury forecast in May, peak unemployment (of 7.8%) is now not expected to arrive until March 2022 – so the economic pain for some households may continue to intensify for the next 18 months. Previously unemployment had been expected to be down at 6% by March 2022.  

But worst fears for 2020 avoided 

At the Budget in May, the economy had been expected to contract by 24% (on an annualised basis) in the second quarter of this year, but Treasury now expects the contraction to be smaller at 16%. We will find whether that’s accurate tomorrow when Stats NZ release the official numbers. Treasury are attributing this smaller contraction to the Government’s wide-spread (and expensive) wage subsidy scheme and a faster than expected bounce-back from national lockdown.  

In the near term that is having an impact on deficits, which are generally not as high as Budget forecasts in May. These better-than-expected near-term forecasts are reflected in the labour market – the fear of unemployment reaching 9.8% in the third quarter of this year hasn’t borne out.


With so much deficit spending, the Taxpayers’ Union's message of fiscal prudence and ensuring quality government spending is more important than ever. Today's numbers provide alarming context to the questionable lolly-scramble announcements being made on the election campaign trail.

You can read Louis’ comments to media here: “Decade of deficits” are a national crisis

Thank you for your support,

Joe Ascroft
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union


Taxpayer Update: Politicians kill jobs | MP's office rort | Goodie bags

New paper reveals how 'job creation' projects destroy jobs

Too often, our politicians fall into the trap of thinking they can create jobs by piling on more and more government taxpayer spending. But if that were true, high-spending countries like Greece and Spain wouldn't be facing a decades-long employment crisis.

The Taxpayers' Union's latest briefing paper reveals how Government spending – including projects intended to create jobs – destroys productivity and employment.

We draw on work from Treasury and New Zealand economists estimating the 'deadweight loss' of our tax system  this is the way taxation motivates people to work less, and spend and invest less, leading to economic distortions. Applying it to some recently announced pet projects is sobering:

Jobs cost image

Because government spending projects are funded via taxation, we can use what economists call the "deadweight loss" to see how many jobs are killed by handouts such as James Shaw's $11.7 million grant to a "Green School".

Click here to read the paper.

While it's true that economic stimulus is needed in the era of COVID-19, this needn't come in the form of giant cheques. Leaving this money in the economy via lower tax rates will allow money to circulate in a way that creates jobs passively, without costly perverse incentives.

Taxpayers rorted by Labour MP's electorate office deal

Ginny  + Monster

The cozy deal between list MP Ginny Anderson (pictured above with the Debt Monster), the Labour Party, and the NZ Professional Firefighters Union is a rort on taxpayers.

As Stuff explains, Labour gets cheap rent on office space off a local union, sublets the rooms to Andersen, and then bills parliament (i.e. taxpayers) at a markup, pocketing the difference.

Taxpayer funding for offices is meant to cover the costs of being an MP and servicing constituents. Here, Ginny Anderson has abused that trust to line the pockets of her political party.

This sort of union backhander is what we’d expect to see in the corrupt unions of Australia. Here in New Zealand, we expect such favours to be disclosed as donations, so why weren't they?

With the discounted rent not being disclosed as a political donation, we've referred the matter to the Electoral Commission. We're also writing to every other MP to ensure they're not funneling their office funding to political mates or their business interests.

"Green School" handout shows dangerous trend of horse-trading over funds

James Shaw

It's been revealed that James Shaw put billions of dollars in infrastructure funding on the line in order to negotiate his $11.7 million handout for a private "Green School".

This is a perfect example of a worrying trend in the way the Government makes funding decisions. Here's what Jordan had to say:

The spectacle of politicians horse-trading individual funding decisions is something we expect to see in smoke-filled rooms of yesteryear, not a modern day New Zealand with a reputation of being corruption-free.

The Provincial Growth Fund, and now the COVID ‘shovel ready’ fund, are normalising a process of decision making that rewards companies which are politically connected. It is a dangerous path.

Steven Joyce reintroduced the sort of corporate welfare largess not seen in New Zealand since the Muldoon Government. But instead of fixing the problem, the current Government has doubled down and we have now returned to politicians making funding decisions for individual projects and pet causes.

Enough is enough. Now we are seeing the warts and all flaws in the process, New Zealand should return to a transparent process of the politician’s job being limited to setting criteria and objectives, and leaving it to officials to make the individual grant decisions.

State Services Commissioner responds to our complaint regarding the Ardern-Bloomfield ad

Bloomfield ad

Remember the Labour Party's ad featuring Dr Ashley Bloomfield and other public servants? We complained to the State Services Commissioner that it was an improper use of taxpayer-funded staff.

Now, the Commissioner has responded:

It would not be appropriate for a public servant to agree to feature in party political electoral material in their official capacity where this implies endorsement by the public servant of the political party. To do so would compromise their political neutrality and by implication that of the Public Service as a whole.
Placing footage of Ministers and public servants doing their official work on a political party branded platform could create confusion about the motivations and political neutrality of the public servants concerned. ... In this instance, and having regard to all the circumstances, my judgement is that on balance there is potential for questions to be raised regarding the participation of the public servants in the video

The Commissioner isn't taking further action (the video has already been removed) but at least he's has sent the message to bureaucrats that it is totally inappropriate for public servants to feature in a party political advert. Taxpayers pay public servants to do their jobs, not to aid their political masters in re-election campaigns.

The Commissioner also said, “I understand that none of the public servants involved were aware that the footage would be used in the way that it was.”

Based on this, it appears there has been a clear breach of the Cabinet Manual, which states ‘Ministers must uphold the political neutrality of the public service and not ask officials to act in any way which would conflict with their obligation of neutrality.’ But enforcement of the integrity of the Manual is ultimately up to the Prime Minister. Some would say that’s a case of the fox guarding the henhouse!

Revealed: Taxpayer-funded ‘wellbeing’ goodie bags during lockdown

Goodie bags

Our research team recently revealed that the NZ Super Fund spent over $15,000 on “COVID-19 well-being parcels” from designer supermarket Farro Fresh for its highly-paid staff over lockdown.

According to NZSF, the parcels included ‘sundry goods’ such as coffee and hot cross buns.

Forty-five of the Super Fund's staff are paid more than $300,000. Pretty much everyone else is paid more than $100,000.  As I told the Herald, these people do not need care packages paid for by taxpayers who are going without during COVID-19 lockdown.

The Taxpayers’ Union requested the credit card statements of the NZSF from the 1st of March 2020 – 31 May 2020 under the Official Information Act. In addition to the goodie bags, other interesting payments included:

  • Inspired Accountants team building trip for corporate strategy team for $1359.90 paid for during Level 3 lockdown.

  • A canoe hire for $794.00.

  • Hand sanitiser for $568.80.

  • Renewal of a practicing certificate with the NZ Psychologists Board for $550.85.

  • A 10-year anniversary gift for a staff member for $515.

  • Lunch at White & Wongs for $156 the day it was announced New Zealand would enter Level 4 lockdown.

  • “Motivation morning tea” before working from home for the investments team, for $107.61.

Have a great week,

Louis circle

Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Complaint laid with Broadcasting Standards Authority re Labour Party TV ad

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has laid a complaint with the Broadcasting Standards Authority regarding the Labour Party’s first television advertisement for the 2020 election campaign.

In the advertisement, Jacinda Ardern misleadingly claims that her Party will “make apprenticeships free”. In reality, these apprenticeships are not free – they are paid for by taxpayers.

Spreading the myth that there is such a thing as a free lunch – or a free apprenticeship – is wrong. That’s why we’re holding the politicians to account.

Under Labour everyone who earns up to $300,000 a year will pay more tax in NZ than Australia

Labour have just announced a new tax rate of 39% on incomes over $180,000. This is in contrast to Australia that has legislated to cut taxes.

Of course the 39% new tax rate is just the beginning. If they have a Labour/Green Government then they could strike a deal to implement part of the Greens’ tax agenda also.

But even with just what Labour is promising, this will see every New Zealander who earns up to and including $300,000 a year paying more income tax in New Zealand than they would in Australia.

Income NZ Aust Extra tax NZ
 $    10,000  $      1,050  $             –    $          1,050
 $    20,000  $      2,520  $          342  $          2,178
 $    30,000  $      4,270  $      2,242  $          2,028
 $    40,000  $      6,020  $      4,142  $          1,878
 $    50,000  $      8,020  $      6,592  $          1,428
 $    60,000  $    11,020  $      9,592  $          1,428
 $    70,000  $    14,020  $    12,592  $          1,428
 $    80,000  $    17,320  $    15,592  $          1,728
 $    90,000  $    20,620  $    18,592  $          2,028
 $  100,000  $    23,920  $    21,592  $          2,328
 $  110,000  $    27,220  $    24,592  $          2,628
 $  120,000  $    30,520  $    27,592  $          2,928
 $  130,000  $    33,820  $    30,592  $          3,228
 $  140,000  $    37,120  $    33,592  $          3,528
 $  150,000  $    40,420  $    36,592  $          3,828
 $  160,000  $    43,720  $    39,592  $          4,128
 $  170,000  $    47,020  $    42,592  $          4,428
 $  180,000  $    50,320  $    45,592  $          4,728
 $  190,000  $    54,220  $    48,592  $          5,628
 $  200,000  $    58,120  $    51,592  $          6,528
 $  210,000  $    62,020  $    56,092  $          5,928
 $  220,000  $    65,920  $    60,592  $          5,328
 $  230,000  $    69,820  $    65,092  $          4,728
 $  240,000  $    73,720  $    69,592  $          4,128
 $  250,000  $    77,620  $    74,092  $          3,528
 $  260,000  $    81,520  $    78,592  $          2,928
 $  270,000  $    85,420  $    83,092  $          2,328
 $  280,000  $    89,320  $    87,592  $          1,728
 $  290,000  $    93,220  $    92,092  $          1,128
 $  300,000  $    97,120  $    96,592  $             528
 $  310,000  $  101,020  $  101,092  $             (72)

A person earning $40,000 a year pays 45% more income tax in NZ than Australia. On $70,000 you are paying 11% more here than Australia and on $200,000 you are paying 13% more here than Australia.

The amount of revenue this will bring in is trivial compared to the amount of extra spending and debt Labour is incurring. So beyond doubt, if re-elected, they’ll then say they need to increases tax even more.

National on the other hand says it is unfair that inflation pushes you into a higher tax bracket even when your disposable income remains constant, so National will inflation adjust tax brackets to stop inflation pushing up your tax bill every year.

David Farrar is a Cofounder of the Taxpayers' Uion. This post originally appears on Kiwiblog.co.nz


105 police line: callers waiting longer, hanging up during lockdown

Documents released to the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union under the Official Information Act revealed that during lockdown, almost 40% of callers to the non-emergency 105 police number abandoned calls rather than wait for an answer. Further, the average wait-time appeared to increase significantly during this period.

For the period of 1-17 April:

• 38.28% of callers abandoned calls.
• Average wait time was 6 minutes 11 seconds.*
• Ten callers waited longer than 45 minutes, with the longest wait being 53 minutes.

It is a concern if frustrated callers were opting to not report crime or breaches of the COVID-19 level 4 lockdown rules.

The police spent $1.22 million on an advertising campaign to promote the 105 number. The callers who spend more than 45 minutes waiting for the police to pick up would probably have preferred some of that money was used on the frontline service.  

While the average waiting time, is reported in 2019 was 56-73 seconds, during COVID-19 lockdown that extended to more than six minutes.

Many government departments found themselves with nothing to do during lockdown. Smart all-of-government thinking would have seen under-utilised human resources reallocated away from non-essential departments to frontline services such as police communication. 

*Police were unable to provide us with the average estimated waiting time given to callers at the beginning of calls.


Information Response Document 1
Information Response Document 2

Briefing paper: The jobs cost of taxpayer-funded projects

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union can reveal that the $11.7 million payment to the Green School will result in 25 fewer jobs in the private sector.

This calculation was made based on a new briefing paper, The jobs cost of taxpayer-funded projects, released by the Union today.

Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, "Our latest research examines work by the Treasury and New Zealand economists estimating the 'deadweight loss' of our tax system this is the measure of the cost of taxation that is not the amount of money taken from the private sector, but the way the taxation motivates people to work less, and spend and invest less, leading to economic distortions."

"Because government spending is funded via taxation, we can examine the deadweight loss of handouts such as that announced by James Shaw last week."

"Research from local economists leads us to a conservative estimate that the deadweight loss of tax (or the spending it funds) is about 15%. That means the Green School handout didn't just take $11.7 million from taxpayers; it cost the economy an additional $1,755,000."

"So how many jobs did this eliminate? Based on the government's own job creation estimates, a job can be created for around $70,000. That means the deadweight loss of the Green School handout cost the economy 25 jobs." 

"Too often, our politicians fall into the trap of thinking they can create employment with increased spending. But if that were true, high-spending countries like Greece and Spain wouldn't be facing employment crises. While it's true that economic stimulus is needed in the era of COVID-19, this needn't come in the form of giant cheques. Leaving this money in the economy via lower tax rates will allow money to circulate in a way that creates jobs passively, without costly perverse incentives."

Spending items singled out as examples in the briefing paper include:

• The $72.5 million support package for the racing industry generated $10.9 million of deadweight loss and cost the economy 155 jobs.
• The $1 billion annual allocation for the Provincial Growth Fund over the last three years has generated $150 million of deadweight loss per year and cost the economy 2140 jobs per year.

Opinion: Ratepayers deserve the right to fire their representatives

This op-ed is written by Taxpayers' Union Co-Founder Jordan Williams and was published in the print edition of The Northland Age on 3 September 2020.

Sir Winston Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.  He is right, but not for the reason opinion leaders now pontificate.

In modern times democracy is lauded for its ‘representation’. But if that were true, surely we’d want a system better at picking the best and brightest to ‘represent’ us. No, it’s not the representation that makes democracy great, it’s the opposite: the ability to sack our elected leaders – to ‘kick the buggers out’.

But as we’ve seen so often in local government, the chance to kick the underperforming, the dishonest, or the lame ducks out does not come round enough.  Auckland was lumped with Len Brown for three years too long after his antics and abuse of office became public. We’ve now got a Mayor under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office and offering no assurances that he will stand down if charges are laid.

Voter recall options are gaining popularity overseas and it's time New Zealand had the conversation. That’s why the Taxpayers’ Union has launched a proposal with other ratepayer groups advocating for the introduction of recall elections at all levels of local government, including District Health Boards.

A motion to recall an elected official would need the signatures of at least ten percent of voters in that official’s constituency. This is called the trigger threshold. If the threshold is reached, there will be a poll to determine if the representative should be recalled. If recall is supported by a majority, a by election would occur. A recalled official would be eligible to stand in that election (unless they are otherwise prohibited by existing law).

A recall option would improve democratic accountability by holding officials to account directly. When a local politician ignores public sentiment, misbehaves, or breaks an election promise, they would risk having to face the people again, prior to the next scheduled poll. The policy would enable voters to have a say within a term of office, rather than just at election time every three years.

It affirms the basic concept of “sovereignty of the people”. The right to elect should include the right to eject.

We propose some constraints, such as not allowing for a recall to be triggered within six months of a scheduled election and preventing the same official facing a recall election within six-months of winning an earlier poll. We also suggest the term of local government bodies could be extended by one year to four years, once the safety mechanism of recall elections is in place.

A ten percent trigger threshold is the same as applies for citizens-initiated referenda. For the Auckland Mayor, it would mean around 38,000 signatures would be required – not an easy task. A recall poll for an Auckland City Councillor could be triggered by around 11,000 signatures from the applicable ward.

With recall elections, Auckland ratepayers could have ejected Len Brown for his expense shenanigans, histrionics, and tabletop dalliances. Kāpiti Coast ratepayers could have ousted David Scott who refused to resign for more than a year after being convicted of indecently assaulting a female colleague by rubbing his genitals against her during a council morning tea.

It's time to return the power to the people, and ensure that our elected officials have voters firmly in mind as they exercise their civil decision making on behalf of us all.

The joint proposal paper, ‘Recall Elections for Local Government’, is available to read at www.taxpayers.org.nz/recall_paper

Police plan to turn motorists into cash cows

Title image

Did you see the news break yesterday that the Police are abolishing their 10km/h speed tolerance nationwide?

That means that from today Police will be issuing fines for going as little as 101km/h on the open road – even when passing another vehicle!

This Government has put up fuel taxes every year, and introduced the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax.  Now they’re using the Police as tax collectors.

Click here to sign our petition against this nasty revenue grab.

Road safety advocates have labelled the move as “petty, vindictive and ineffective”.  Deliberate speeding is one thing.  But unintentional speeding where it’s a few kms over, such as when a driver is not fixated on the speedo, should not be fined.  Crashes caused by speeding are seldom due to a driver doing one or two kms over the limit.

This new policy that will see thousands of New Zealanders fined for going only one or two kms over the posted limit – even while passing another vehicle.

Police Minister Stuart Nash can overrule this policy

The one person who can overrule this policy is the Police Minister Stuart Nash. 

Jordan knows Stuart pretty well from his electorate in the Hawke’s Bay.  Jordan says that Minister Nash will almost certainly buckle to public pressure if we put enough on him. 

We'll deliver the petition to the Minister when it reaches 5,000 signatures, but in the meantime, let the Minister of Police know you've signed by flicking him a message at s.nash@ministers.govt.nz.

Thank you for your support.

Louis circle

Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

PS. You can share our petition to keep the 10km/h tolerance on Facebook by clicking here.

Revealed: Taxpayer-funded ‘wellbeing’ goodie bags during Level 4 lockdown

Farro parcelThe New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that the NZ Super Fund spent over $15,000 on “COVID-19 well-being parcels” from designer supermarket Farro Fresh for the Fund’s highly-paid staff over lockdown.

Taxpayers’ Union spokesperson Louis Houlbrooke says: “At a time when global markets were plummeting, and the fund’s investment portfolio was dwindling, the leadership at NZSF were focused on buying goodie bags for their well-remunerated staff.”

According to NZSF, the parcels included ‘sundry goods’ such as coffee and hot cross buns. Assuming every full-time staff member received a goodie bag, the average parcel cost about $106.

“The CEO of NZSF is paid around a million dollars per year.  Forty-five staff are paid more than $300,000. Pretty much everyone else is paid more than $100,000 – 121 out of 135 full-time staff.  These people do not need home-delivered hot-cross buns funded by taxpayers who are going without during COVID-19 lockdown.”

“The pandemic has once again highlighted the mismatch between the public and private sectors during an economic crisis. The unprecedented economic fallout of COVID-19 left many in the private sector reeling. Businesses unable to trade during the Level 4 lockdown were left scrambling to make up the losses on their balance sheets, with closures and lay-offs common.”

“In stark contrast, staff at NZSF enjoyed complete job security and hot cross buns while the taxpayers who fund their salaries were cutting back.” 

The Taxpayers’ Union requested the credit card statements of the NZSF from the 1st of March 2020 – 31 May 2020 under the Official Information Act. We found:

$9,782.00 spent on Farro Covid-19 wellbeing parcels on 2 April

$5,174.00 spent on Farro Covid-19 wellbeing parcels on 4 May

$89.50 spent on an individual Covid-19 wellbeing parcel from Baskits on 4 April

$88.58 spent on an individual Covid-19 wellbeing parcel from Baskits on 3 May

Other statements of interest included:

Inspired Accountants team building trip for corporate strategy team for $1359.90 paid for on 6 May – during Level 3 lockdown.

A canoe hire for $794.00 on 9 March.

Hand sanitiser for $568.80 on 6 March.

Renewal of a practicing certificate with the NZ Psychologists Board for $550.85 on 6 March.

A 10-year anniversary gift for a staff member for $515 on 24 April.

Lunch at White & Wongs for $156 on 23 March – the day it was announced New Zealand would enter Level 4 lockdown.

“Motivation morning tea” before working from home for the investments team, for $107.61 on 23 March.

Meals from Farro for a staff member “having difficult time during lockdown” for $94.97 on 2 April.

Taxpayer Update: Bloomfield ad | Recall elections | Burger subsidies

Labour uses Ashley Bloomfield for the election campaign

Bloomfield ad
On Saturday the Labour Party posted a new ad on its Facebook page. The ad was filmed in the Ministry of Health's contact tracing centre and included a number of public servants, including Dr Ashley Bloomfield (see the still image above).

This is disgraceful. Taxpayer-funded civil servants should not be made complicit in the governing party’s political propaganda.

And during an election campaign, it is especially important that the Prime Minister does not use her special access to public servants in a way that advantages her political party. You can read our full comments here.

Shortly after we (and ACT) drew attention to these problems, Labour took down the video for a re-edit. But it's hard to see how this ad can be salvaged.

We've lodged a complaint with the State Services Commission.

Local leadership woes show need for recall elections

Tenby Powell

Two recent stories are sadly typical examples of failed leadership at the local level.

At Tauranga City Council, elected officials are calling for the resignation of Mayor Tenby Powell, who has apparently created a toxic culture, abusing colleagues in front of staff and causing one councillor to claim he hates working at the Council.

Meanwhile, at Canterbury DHB, seven out of 11 executives have resigned, with the chief medical officer blaming the Board's adversarial culture.

Frustratingly, in both cases local voters have to wait two years for the chance to eject those responsible.

We say that's not good enough. In the latest episode of Policy in 60 Seconds, Islay explains how recall elections could be introduced in New Zealand to boot out failed politicians before their term is up:

Click here to watch on Facebook.

Last week we teamed up with the Ratepayers' Alliance and the Rodney-based Northern Action Group to launch a joint campaign for recall elections.

Here's Jordan discussing the idea with Peter Williams on Magic Talk.

You can read the policy proposal paper here, and add your voice to the campaign here.

Burger subsidies? There's got to be a better way


The Restaurant Association is campaigning for a taxpayer-funded subsidy on dining out.

Usually, a business group wouldn’t dare ask for such a blatant special favour. But in the age of COVID-19, the floodgates have opened with the Government agreeing to handouts for favoured sectors such as the racing industry, and to fashionable businesses like AJ Hackett Bungy.

Financial assistance should apply fairly to all. A temporary cut to GST, for example, would benefit all struggling businesses by encouraging consumers to bring forward spending, whether that be on eating out or on a new washing machine.

I made the case for a temporary GST cut in this op-ed on Interest.co.nz.

We'd also suggest that instead of handouts, many businesses could benefit from regulatory relief which doesn’t cost taxpayers a cent. In fact, the Restaurant Association was on to a good thing earlier last week when it suggested restaurants should be able to sell alcohol with their deliveries and takeaways.

$8.8 million beautification of council chamber is obscene

WRC office

Ratepayers in the Waikato are forking out $8.8 million for the Regional Council's fit-out of its new office.

The Chairman, Russ Rimmington, complained that before renovation the chamber looked like a badminton hall and had ‘no style’.

Diddums. Self-important regional councillors might think they’re entitled to more extravagant surroundings, but most ratepayers will never see the inside of this building.

The Council doesn’t even own the building, so the $3.1 million spent on building works won’t be reclaimed at sale down the line. From a ratepayer perspective, this money may as well have been tossed in the river.

More Debt Monster sightings

After a brief disappearance during the new COVID-19 outbreak, the Debt Monster is back with a vengeance.

New Zealand First staff were alarmed to see him approaching their campaign bus outside Parliament, and drove away moments after this photo was taken:

DM with bus

Later, he was seen trying out Trevor Mallard's $572,000 slide:

DM on slide

Witnesses report he's a big fan.

The Debt Monster even tried to give James Shaw a hug at a business breakfast, but the Green Party co-leader wouldn't face him. 😔

DM with Shaw

Taxpayer Talk podcast going strong

Two more episodes of our Taxpayer Talk podcast are available.

In the first, Islay sits down with former Treasury economist Michael Reddell to discuss what the Reserve Bank's money-printing and interest rate-cutting means for the economy. Listen here.

In the second, I challenge the CEO of Tourism NZ to explain why his agency is spending $10 million on an international tourism campaign while the borders are closed. Listen here.

You can find all our Taxpayer Talk episodes on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, and iHeartRadio.

Have a great week,

Louis circle

A picture containing mirror

Description automatically generated
Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union


Media coverage:

Newshub  ACT's David Seymour says Labour acting like a 'one-party state' after releasing video featuring shot of Ashley Bloomfield

Newstalk ZB  Labour campaign ad featuring Ashley Bloomfield has been taken down

Stuff  Mega polytech has 21 staff with chief executive in their title

Stuff  Restaurants want Government to spend $27m subsidising meals

Northland Age  A pattern of sloppiness

KiwiBlog  Taxpayer Talk: Michael Reddell on Unemployment, Negative Interest Rates and a Temporary Cut to GST

Sunday Star-Times  The price of our vain belief in Covid-19 exceptionalism

Interest.co.nz  If we can't cut the OCR, how about GST?

Stuff  'Don't blame us, we don't decide what we're paid' - the catchcry of mayors and councillors everywhere

NZ Herald  Covid 19 coronavirus lockdown: Auckland Mayor Phil Goff on extension - 'Do not panic buy'

Northland Age  A tale of two speeches

Homepaddock  No indexation = tax increase

Sunday Star-Times  What NZ's economy can learn from the myth of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal success

Otago Daily Times  Councillor's $100k-plus salary for 30hrs a week

Timaru Herald  Another SCDHB surplus 'sets an example' for others


Proposal paper: A recall option for local government

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, its sister group, the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance, and Rodney-based ratepayer group Northern Action Group, are today launching a joint campaign and proposal paper calling for the introduction of recall elections across local government, including District Health Boards.

To support this campaign, click here to email the Labour and National Parties calling on them to adopt recall elections into the their 2020 election manifestos.

Louis Houlbrooke a Taxpayers’ Union spokesperson says:

“Recall elections affirm the basic concept of ‘sovereignty of the people’. In a democracy, it is a fundamental right to elect representatives and that should also include the right to remove them from office and replace them at any time. It is also suggested in the report that the term of local government bodies be extended by one year to four years, once the safety mechanism of recall elections is in place.”

Jo Holmes a Ratepayers’ Alliance spokesperson says:

“Ratepayers deserve the right to fire their poorly performing representatives. We’ve had Len Brown, and the pain of having to wait three years to get rid of a lame-duck mayor after the expose of his abuse of office. Now we have a Mayor facing an SFO investigation, with no way to get rid of him should charges be laid.”

William Foster a Northern Action Group spokesperson says:

“A right to elect should mean a right to eject.  Ratepayers deserve the right to fire their poorly performing representatives.  We’re backing this proposal to increase the democratic accountability of elected officials.”

Under the system proposed, a motion to recall a named elected official will need to acquire signatures from 10% of the number of voters who last voted in the constituency. This is called the trigger threshold. If the threshold is reached, there will be a recall poll to determine if the representative should be recalled. If recall is supported by a majority, the official is recalled. There would then be a special election to fill the vacant position. A recalled official would be eligible to stand in that election (unless they are otherwise prohibited by existing law).

Mr Houlbrooke says:

“We are encouraging people to express their support for recall elections and put it on the political agenda for the coming election. To aid this, we have built an email tool which will allow people to email Local Government Minister Hon Nanaia Mahuta and the National Party local government spokesman Lawrence Yule directly. The policy could easily be adopted for the October’s election.”

Recall Elections for Local Government, a joint proposal paper, can be read below.

Taxpayer Talk: Tourism NZ and its new $10m international ad campaign

Despite our closed borders, Tourism NZ is spending $10 million on a new campaign meant to bring overseas travellers to New Zealand. The campaign is supposed to bolster New Zealand’s international brand of “kaitiaki, manaakitanga, and integrity”. In the latest episode of Taxpayer Talk, Louis questions Tourism NZ CEO Stephen England-Hall on whether this will deliver value for taxpayers.

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

Barrie Saunders: COVID revisited – brickbats and suggestions

A few months back I gave the government a seven out of ten for its handling of COVID.  That assessment has plummeted in over the last week, as revelations about its management of at risk border workers has shown astonishing gaps.  There has been a breakdown in the MoH-Ministerial relationship in respect of expectations and communication, and now the panicked dictate to the port sector.

It is clear that a majority of staff working to protect us all from high-risk arrivals to New Zealand have not been given the tests that Minister Hipkins had assured the public were happening.  Rather than being grumpy about this failure of the Ministry/DHBs to perform as expected he, and the public, should be outraged.  We are all entitled to know exactly how the Minister’s expectations were communicated to officials and see their explanation for what actually happened.

It is quite likely this failure to meet Ministerial and public expectations will result in thousands of people losing their jobs and businesses failing, as Auckland endures at least two weeks at level three.  This is not a simple oversight – it's a major public policy failure.  It fits a pattern of sloppiness, which started when then-Police head Mike Bush told Simon Bridges’ Select Committee that the Police were not following up on all people in self-isolation, as had been stated to be Government policy.

It reinforces the importance of a quality, efficient inquiry into how we have handled COVID from the beginning.

Having failed in the last 100 plus days to protect at risk workers, the public and the economy from the arrivals, last Friday the MoH issues an order to seaports:  “We now require everyone who works at the maritime border to get a test for COVID-19 over the next three days.”

This was presumably driven by the remote possibility that the Aucklander, who worked at a cool store, may have picked up COVID-19 from an imported product, that could have come via a seaport.

We have 13 ports that handle international vessels but it is very unlikely that any port, other than POAL or Port of Tauranga (POT), could have sent product to that cool store.  So why did such a blanket order go to all ports and why was the requirement the tests be done within three days when such a sloppy attitude was taken for months to the at risk workers, mostly at the airports and quarantine facilities?

Its understood after some pushback from the port sector the order was limited to the two major import ports.  It covers anyone who visited the port between July 21 and August 17.  Clearly those making the policy don’t understand how ports work.   Many businesses operate at the ports and when you cover everyone who has visited the two ports we could be looking at around 12,000 people altogether, who are widely dispersed in Auckland and Tauranga.

Did MoH check the local DHBs could actually do this testing within the timetable, or did they think this would happen within three days from the Friday decree by simply waving a wand?

In addition to the two above failures, it's apparent MoH has done zip since the first round to refine policy settings.  We still have the absurd nonsense of butchers, greengrocers and bakeries being banned from opening at the higher COVID levels thereby channelling all food business to the supermarket duopoly.  It's about safe practices not the product range.  Surely MBIE, which must have some understanding of business, could educate MoH and Ministers.

I sincerely hope we get on top of this latest outbreak very soon and we don’t end up like the state of Victoria.  However, as a matter of urgency whoever is in Government after the election will need to overhaul both the policies and operation of our pandemic system, because it has been found wanting far too many times.

There are two ways I think the pandemic could be better managed.  First equip pharmacies to do the testing.  Second have a mobile unit in at least Auckland to go to likely sites where people have COVID instead of sending them off to join some long queue.  We will get more outbreaks and pandemics and need an enduring system.

Barrie Saunders is the Chairman of the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union and a former Chair of the NZ Port CEOs Group. This piece was originally published on his personal blog at https://barriesaunders.wordpress.com.

Briefing paper: Cut GST for COVID-19 economic stimulus

GST paperA new briefing paper released by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union makes the case for a temporary cut in the rate of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) from 15 percent to 10 percent, mimicking what the United Kingdom Government did with VAT immediately following the Global Financial Crisis.

Policymakers are currently grappling with the question of how to spur spending in the economy as we face a recession. This question will become urgent as the wage subsidy scheme ends in September and we see the real effects of COVID-19 on our economy.

With the official cash rate already close to zero, monetary policy has become increasingly ineffective as a stimulus tool. This has seen politicians propose fiscal interventions, such as the Government’s interest-free business loan scheme, but these interventions are often poorly targeted and create perverse incentives.

Fortunately, our tax system already provides a sound, indiscriminate mechanism to encourage spending. A temporary cut to GST during the height of recession would encourage New Zealanders to bring forward consumption – similar to a cut in the official cash rate.

This spending would breathe life into revenue-starved businesses, ensuring they can continue to employ New Zealanders and keep supply chains unbroken.

We suggest a sunset clause kicking in after a year to avoid long-term deficit effects or politicians replacing the lost revenue with increases to more economically damaging taxes.

On a yearly basis, the fiscal impact of this cut would be a $7.36 billion reduction in reduction in revenue for the Government. However, this impact could be reduced implementing the policy for a shorter period of time.

Taxpayer Update: Damning report | Green manifesto | Debt Monster selfie

Damning report on Provincial Growth Fund confirms pork barrelling, conflicts, and worse


damning new report from the Auditor-General has confirmed what your humble Taxpayers' Union has been saying about the Provincial Growth Fund all along. He found failing processes with regards to the approval of grants, managing conflicts of interests, and tracking of performance.

The Auditor-General said:

It was not always clear from the documentation why certain projects were considered for funding from this part of the Fund. . . it was difficult to find evidence of how projects had fully met the normal criteria for the Fund.

When the Auditor-General with all his expertise does a deep dive into the application documents and still can’t figure out why recipients were granted funding, we have a serious problem.

The Auditor-General goes on:

In my view, in the interests of the transparency of the overall process, it is important for the public and Parliament to have better visibility of how all the parts of the Fund operate

We couldn’t agree more. Post COVID-19, every dollar handed out from the fund is borrowed from future generations of taxpayers. New Zealanders deserve more information to shed light on whether Shane Jones’s slush fund justifies a mortgage on our future.

The report’s breakdown of spending by region shows the real motivation behind the Provincial Growth Fund. The region to receive the most funding – half a billion dollars and counting – is Northland. That’s a $3,671 election bribe for every man, woman, and child in the region that New Zealand First is targeting for votes. It is banana republic stuff and is a blot on New Zealand’s reputation for having incorruptible institutions.

Labour candidate does the right thing. But what about National in Port Hills?


The Labour Party’s new Palmerston North candidate, Tangi Utikere (pictured left), is the City's deputy mayor.

Last week we called on Mr Utikere to give up his ratepayer-funded salary – and now he’s agreed.

Good on him. The amount of money saved might be small in the scheme of things, but it's an important principle: ratepayers should not be forced to pay a councillor to campaign full time for a political party they may not support. It also sends the right message about the attitude Tangi Utikere will bring to Parliament when it comes to the use of public funds.

Meanwhile, National’s candidate in Port Hills – Catherine Chu, a Christchurch City Councillor – continues to take a $114,000 salary from ratepayers while she campaigns, on top of a taxpayer-funded salary as a DHB member! As we told The Pressratepayers deserve more focus from their local representatives.

Taxpayer Briefing: The Green Party Manifesto

Greens graphic

Our Analyst, Neil Miller, was tasked with trawling through the Green Party's 52-page manifesto so you don't have to. Highlights/lowlights include:

  • A "wealth" tax – i.e. a tax on retirement, housing, entrepreneurship, and death for the average Auckland homeowner.

  • Not one, but two more income tax brackets above 33%.

  • "Investigating" a sugar tax.

  • A "water only" policy for sports clubs.

  • Taxpayer-funded snorkeling lessons (yes, seriously).

Clear here to read Neil's full briefing for taxpayers.

AJ Hackett Bungy process could set chilling precedent

AJ Hackett Bungy

Crux reports that MBIE handed over taxpayer money to AJ Hackett Bungy without even confirming that private funding wasn't available.

As one of New Zealand's most successful tourism operators, AJ Hackett Bungy would have survived without corporate welfare. It is completely unacceptable that it received a taxpayer-funded handout of $5,100,000 (and access to a further loan of the same amount) while smaller, less well-known and less politically connected businesses continue to struggle and fail.

The least taxpayers expect is a thorough process to make sure alternatives are unavailable before public funding is provided. In this case, AJ Hackett Bungy simply stated that it had not received a response from its bank – incredibly, that single line was enough to be given a cool $5 million.

We say Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis must signal to the wider corporate community that this is not the standard process. Otherwise, businesses may pursue a strategy of making merely token attempts to secure private funding (or making no such attempts at all) before asking for a handout.

AJ Hackett’s reputation should not be tainted by handout

AJ Hackett ONZM

In our annual Jonesie Waste Awards, we nominated the handout given to AJ Hackett Bungy as an example of unfair corporate welfare, joking that AJ Hackett is the only tourism operator in Queenstown who doesn’t want to throw Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis off a bridge.

An associate of Mr Hackett's family has since contacted us to clarify that AJ Hackett separated from his company’s New Zealand operations several years ago. He had no involvement with the lobbying for taxpayer funding.

It’s a shame that an iconic New Zealand innovator should have his reputation tarnished, through no fault of his own, as a result of a politically-motivated handout. The Taxpayers’ Union apologises to Mr Hackett, having now learned he is not liable for payments given to the company that bears his name.

If only AJ Hackett Bungy the company valued their reputation as much as Mr Hackett's family, they wouldn't have attempted this cosy special deal.

No Marama, tax is not "love"

Q&A clip

We've laughed before about commentators claiming that "tax is love". But now our politicians are saying it too.

Here's our response to Green Party co-Leader Marama Davidson, who made the claim on Q&A:

Marama Davidson is asking New Zealanders struggling to pay higher income taxes, fuel taxes, rubbish taxes, and tobacco taxes, to accept all this with a warm feeling of affection. That’s not just delusional, it’s offensive.

Frankly this is a grotesque, masochistic, Orwellian distortion of language. The Green Party should be ashamed.

Tax punishes productive New Zealanders and takes food off the table. For those who have recently lost their jobs, tax paid is the difference between meeting mortgage payments and losing the house. And then, come election time, politicians fritter away our hard-earned taxes on political bribes to serve their own re-election chances.

Debt Monster gets a selfie with the Prime Minister

It's been a busy couple of weeks for the Debt Monster. Here he is posing with the Prime Minister at a campaign event in Naenae:


The Debt Monster is a big fan of Jacinda. He even woke up early to meet her and Grant Robertson for a breakfast event at Te Papa! Click here to watch the short clip on Facebook.

The Debt Monster is our malevolent symbol of the cost of politicians' borrowing – set to reach $109,000 per Kiwi household in 2024.

He's not party political – he loves to stalk any politician who vies for votes with taxpayer money. Look at this photo from Judith Collins's recent event in Petone:

DM + Judith Collins

Judith seemed to see the funny side. She even posted on Facebook about the encounter.

The Debt monster also visited New Zealand First's campaign launch in Auckland:

DM + Shane Jones

Who's that in the background? Another Debt Monster??

He was hoping to hear Winston Peters' big speech, but New Zealand First staff members wouldn't let him in.

The Debt Monster will be an inescapable presence on the campaign trail. We won't let politicians forget that their promises are paid for by future generations of taxpayers.

Have a great week,

Louis circle

Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union


Media coverage:

Timaru Herald  Another SCDHB surplus 'sets an example' for others

Hawke's Bay Today  Tukituki MP Lawrence Yule told taxpayer-funded signs breached rules

Democracy Action  Infrastructure costs now include an 8 percent Taniwha Tax

The Press  Christchurch City councillors enjoy a bit (of work) on the side

Bay of Plenty Times  Tax write-off: IRD waives hundreds of millions of dollars in debt

Sunday Star-Times  The Government's Covid-19 spending will be an economic albatross for decades

Newsroom  Ardern hypes up housing in the Hutt

The Press  National candidate resists call to forgo ratepayer-funded salary during campaign

Hawke's Bay Today  Resident claims Wairoa rates restructure could 'kill' town

Crux  A J Hackett $10 million - company claims "no support from shareholders or banks"

Taxpayer Briefing: The Green Party Manifesto

Greens graphicIntroduction

The Green Party of Aotearoa (they do not use the term New Zealand) has launched a 52-page manifesto. We at the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union read the modestly titled “Think Ahead. Act Now. Our Green vision for Aotearoa” so you do not have to.

Crunching the numbers did not take long. There are literally no costings – none. However, reading through page after page after page of expensive policies confirm that any number would be very large indeed.

Here are the key terrifying points for taxpayers in the Green Party Manifesto for the 2020 general election.

[My comments in brackets.]

Healthy nature

• Establish a Minister for Animals and a Parliamentary Commissioner for Animal Welfare.

[More bureaucracy and another Commissioner job for ex-Green MPs. Is this really a priority in a COVID-19 environment with soaring debt? This is literally the third policy listed in their document.]

• Uphold the kaitiaki, proprietary, and customary rights of iwi and hapū over water.

[This would dramatically expand the rights of iwi and hapū over all water.]

• Create a fairer system for water allocation by introducing fees for commercial users like bottling plants. Iwi and hapū would be involved in designing the framework.

[Why would iwi and hapū have input into a commercial framework?]

• Increase funding support for iwi and hapū, landholders, and community organisations to restore the health of forests and waterways.

• $1.3 billion to create thousands of jobs for nature over the next four years, including 6,000 jobs in conservation.

[The NZTU has never seen a robust definition of what a job for nature is. Does it count jobs that would have already been created?]

• The Green Party is not in the pocket of big fishing companies.

[Gee… I wonder who that is a dig at?]

• Phase out low-grade plastic products that can be easily replaced with reusable alternatives, especially plastic water bottles, cotton buds, and fruit stickers.

[While people are losing their jobs, the Greens are focused on banning cotton buds and fruit stickers.]

• Review the New Zealand-Aotearoa Tourism Strategy in light of COVID-19.

[A five-agency review of the Tourism Strategy in light of COVID-19 was already announced last week. Just a shame we will not be getting any tourists any time soon.]

Fairer communities

• Develop a Kids in Nature programme where schools get operational funding to enable students to learn in outdoor classrooms, build their outdoor recreation skills, and go kayaking, bush walking, and snorkelling.

[Taxpayer funded snorkelling for rich city kids.]

• Roll out Te Reo Māori as a core school subject through to Year 10.

[Can students snorkel and learn Te Reo Māori at the same time for double NCEA credits?]

• Embed ecological sustainability and civics education in the curriculum.

• Fund arts, culture, and creativity in schools, including supporting the Creatives in Schools programme.

[Is there going to be any time left in school for maths?]

• Secretive donations and unequal access by lobbyists creates an uneven playing field.

[Probably talking about that miscreant Jordan Williams at that terrible Taxpayers’ Union.]

• Uphold human rights by lowering the voting age to 16 and extending voting rights to all people in prison.

[All people in prison. Clayton Weatherston’s vote will be worth the same as yours!]

• Entrench Māori seats in Parliament.

[This would effectively make it impossible for future Parliaments to remove Māori seats as Labour and the Greens will always support them.]

• Make local elections fairer and more accessible by… removing barriers to the establishment of Māori electoral wards.

[The main barrier is that most people do not want Maori wards.]

• Strengthen accountability by reforming the Official Information Act and providing greater transparency of political lobbying.

[Presumably a reference to Greenpeace or Forest and Bird, noted lobbyists with Parliamentary passes.]

• Significantly reduce alcohol advertising and sponsorship of sporting and cultural events.

[Have they checked whether there are companies or charities ready and willing to step up to fill the massive funding gap this would create?]

• Remove the ability of big alcohol and supermarket corporates to challenge Local Alcohol Policies.

• Require health warning labels on all legal drugs, including alcohol.

• Guarantee equal gender representation in Government appointments, while addressing other gaps including ethnicity and disability.

[Quotas! Where are we going to find all those male nurses?]

• Increase funding to Family Planning clinics to ensure contraception and abortion care is available everywhere.

• Ensure Aotearoa’s defence forces promote peace, justice, and environmental protection (such as fisheries enforcement) throughout the Pacific and the world.

[Groovy man!]

• [Defence Force] Establish a Conflict Prevention Unit.

[Even groovier man!]

• Oppose Aotearoa’s participation in the Five Eyes spy network.

[Some pretty serious geo-political consequences in that short sentence.]

• Work with global partners to support the forgiveness of unjust Global South debt, and fair debt relief measures, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis.

[A trillion-dollar sentence right there.]

• Incorporate matauranga Māori into the health system, and fund provision of primary healthcare through Māori organisations, overseen by a new Māori health agency.

• Investigate a levy on sugary drinks to fund affordable dental care.

• Support water-only policies in schools, hospitals, and sports clubs.

[No more beers after the match for you, peasants!]

• Facilitate finance for development of papakāinga [housing] on Māori land.

[We’re halfway through with no reference to tax. The only references to economic growth are negative.]

• Review the use of algorithms and risk profiling in immigration decisions.

[We suspect most people would support risk profiling.]

• Reform sentencing, bail and parole laws to enable the gradual replacement of most prisons with community-based rehabilitation.

[Abolish most prisons!]

• Oppose the use of the Public Works Act to acquire Māori land.

• [Page 31] Introduce a new tax of 1 per cent on an individual’s net wealth above $1 million and 2 per cent on net wealth over $2 million. This tax would only affect the wealthiest 6 per cent of New Zealanders.

• Create two new top income tax brackets for a more progressive tax system that redistributes wealth.

[Oprah voice: You get more taxes! You get more taxes! You get more taxes!]

• Support green roofs and other “soft” infrastructure.

[Whisky Tango Foxtrot is “soft” infrastructure?]

Clean economy

• Phase-out the most environmentally degrading agricultural inputs, such as synthetic fertilisers and harmful pesticides, and ban Palm Kernel Expeller (PKE) imports.

• Support farmers to transition to organic agriculture.

• Make donations to non-profit art and creative organisations tax-deductible, like charities are.

• Ensure funding of arts and culture organisations does not solely rely on gambling revenue, and work with venues to secure revenue that doesn’t rely solely on alcohol consumption.

[Again, who is going to step up to fill up this funding gap? Probably the taxpayer.]

[Arts and culture is listed under economic policy but there is no section on tax…]

• Embed creativity in future Wellbeing Budgets and the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework, so it influences policy-making right across government.

[Hopefully we can pay off our huge national debt with creativity. What’s the exchange rate on that?]

• Establish a Public Interest Journalism Fund, making grants available for projects and journalists, with criteria to ensure diversity of voice in media is considered as part of the grants process.

[Formalise Government funding for selected journalists. Yet somehow the influence of lobbyists is the bigger problem.]

• Implement a ‘digital services tax’ on digital advertising revenue, to disincentive sending revenue offshore and provide a new stream of funding for local media.

[Basically, try to force government agencies and businesses to use New Zealand advertising even though Facebook or Google are more effective and cheaper. This goes even further than the media companies’ desperate pleas to the Epidemic Response Committee.]

• Increase RNZ’s funding, including RNZ Concert, which could then employ journalists losing jobs in the private media sector.

[“Funding” = taxpayer money for what is considered by New Zealanders to be the most left-leaning media outlet.]

• Make electric cars more affordable and invest in better cycle lanes, buses, and trains.

[Taxing tradies to subsidise Teslas.]

• Commit government departments to buying more goods and services from Aotearoa businesses.

[This would breach multiple trade agreements.]

• Use government procurement to support local suppliers and open-source software, including hosting government data onshore, to deliver broader value to Aotearoa.

[NZ Made even if there are cheaper and better alternatives from overseas.]

• Review regulatory frameworks that distinguish between commercial businesses and non-profit organisations, to support social enterprises to thrive.

• Commit to open data so people can innovate, while protecting individual privacy and data sovereignty, including Māori data sovereignty.

[Second reference to Maori data sovereignty in the document.]

• Design people-friendly streets that are safer for walking and cycling, particularly around schools.

• Expand electric vehicle charging stations across Aotearoa.

[Current usage – 1%-3% of the time they are active.]

• Move to default union membership so people automatically join a union when they start a new job, but can opt out.

[Will this include the Taxpayers’ Union?]

• Restore the right to solidarity strikes and political strikes.

[The 70s called – they want their strikes back!]

• Progressively shift to five weeks annual leave.

[Another burden on employers.]

• Improve redundancy processes and provide a minimum of one-month full pay for people made redundant.

• Extend the living wage beyond the core public sector, including to contractors.

[Costly implications for many government agencies and businesses.]

• Develop specific employment and equity standards to be used when selecting contracts for government procurement.

[Again, no focus on value for money, just virtue signalling.]


Green Party Manifesto

Lawrence Yule billboard found to be an election ad

Taxpayer-funded billboards promoting National MP Lawrence Yule have now been deemed candidate advertisements by the Electoral Commission.

The Commission's decision was made in response to a complaint by the Taxpayers' Union, which understood the large billboards were recently erected and therefore could not be considered part of Mr Yule's standard display of contact details.

As a result of the Commission's decision, the money spent on these billboard will be apportioned into the election period, and will count towards Mr Yule's election spending limit.

Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, "Mr Yule claimed he had written approval to erect these billboards with taxpayer money, but now we see the Electoral Commission find against him. Either the Commission has made a remarkable u-turn, or Lawrence was telling porkies."

"The question now is whether taxpayers will get their money back. That's a matter for Parliamentary Services, who, according to Yule, approved the billboard. However, now that the Electoral Commission has determined these billboards are candidate ads, Parliamentary Services needs to demand Yule repay costs for the portion of time the billboards have stood during the election period."

The Taxpayers' Union has written to the Speaker of the House to ensure this action is taken.

Taniwha taxes adding 8% to cost of infrastructure builds

Taniwha tax graphic

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union can reveal that councils are allocating up to eight percent of total build costs for iwi engagement for COVID-19 response projects.

Taxpayers' Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says, "While trawling through council applications for 'shovel-ready' funding, we came across a proposal from the Waipa District Council that allocates eight percent of the total build costs for iwi engagement. When compared to project management costs of just six percent of the budget, eight percent — or $2,000,000 — for iwi engagement is outrageous."

"Ratepayers would be disturbed to know that eight cents on the dollar of these projects are going toward iwi engagement. Particularly since they're already on the hook for an expensive Resource Management Act process: $609,000 for the full $25,000,000 proposal."

​"The Council has framed this consultation as 'mana whenua will be invited to be involved through co-design of some aspects in the proposal and the sharing of iwi narratives of the region.' But there's a difference between inviting mana whenua to participate and making ratepayers hand over millions for iwi engagement."

"Greasing up local iwi so they agree to shoo away taniwha really isn't necessary, especially for minor cases like the Council's proposal. The proposal is a package of projects such as toilet facilities and playground upgrades. These projects aren't major builds, they're community facilities. Ratepayers are especially feeling the pinch right now and a taniwha tax cannot be justified." 

The Taxpayers' Union is conducting an audit of council 'shovel-ready' proposals to determine how widespread these practices are.


Taxpayer Talk: Auckland’s water crisis – interview with Water Care CEO Raveen Jaduram

Auckland’s water crisis has been in the media over recent weeks, and the 2020 drought reminds us a lot of the water restrictions in 1994.  Auckland’s population is now 50% larger than 1994, has water infrastructure kept up?  Just how vulnerable are we to dry years?  Is the Waikato river the solution?  Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director, and Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance Founder Jordan Williams sits down with the CEO of Water Care Raveen Jaduram for a deep dive into Water Care - its business model, how it’s funded, and how it trades the risk of drought with affordability.

To subscribe to the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union visit www.taxpayers.org.nz/sign_up

To subscribe to the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance visit www.ratepayers.nz/join

*** If you are struggling to pay your Water Care bill and need some assistance, including details on the Water Utility Consumer Assistance Trust is available at https://www.watercare.co.nz/Help-and-advice/Help-with-your-account/Need-help-paying-a-bill and http://www.waterassistance.org.nz ***

Support the show (http://www.taxpayers.org.nz/donate)

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

Government waste celebrated at 2020 Jonesie Awards

Photo from event

The third annual Jonesie Awards were hosted at Parliament today, celebrating the best of the worst of Government waste.

Every year, we host a glamourous Oscars-style award ceremony to highlight and lament the most absurd examples of wasted taxpayer money to emerge in the last 12 months.

Behind the tuxedos and gilded statuettes is a serious message: politicians and bureaucrats in both local and central government happily fritter away your hard-earned money on bizarre pet projects and ill-planned schemes without fear of consequence.

The Jonesies serve as a shot across the bow for anyone in charge of a government chequebook: rein in the waste, or see your name up in lights at the next Jonesie Awards.

Local government nominees

Dunedin City Council: Responding to COVID-19 with dots

Dunedin City Council responded to COVID-19 by spending $40,000 on red and blue dots for its main street. The dots were variously justified as a tool to assist social distancing, a way to attract people to the city, and as a “traffic calming” device. The Council also spent $145,000 on a new tourism slogan: “Dunedin, a pretty good plan D”.

Napier City Council: Golden handshake for a failed CEO

After a series of headline-grabbing failures, Napier City Council gave its CEO Wayne Jack a reported $1 million payout to leave before his contract expired. Mr Jack’s final official act was to throw himself a $4,000 farewell tea party. The Mayor complained that she was not invited.

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster for Extraordinary Leadership

When nine-term councillor Andy Foster was unexpectedly elected Mayor last year, he promptly enrolled himself in a $30,000 leadership course at Arrowtown’s Millbrook estate. However, he has refused to say what, if anything, he learned – and has since spent more money on a team facilitator to smooth over problems on his Council.

Auckland Council: Temporary cycleways for COVID-19

Auckland Council installed 17 kilometres of temporary cycleway in response to COVID-19. Like Dunedin’s dots, the initiative was intended to assist social distancing. All works had to be reversed in a matter of weeks. The total cost is estimated to be more than a million dollars.

Rotorua Lakes District Council: $743,000 for the Hemo Gorge sculpture

Rotorua’s 12-metre, 3D printed Hemo Gorge sculpture was initially planned to open in 2017 at a cost of $500,000. Three years later, it is still under construction, and costs have blown out to at least $743,000.

WINNER: Wellington Mayor Andy Foster for Extraordinary Leadership

Central government nominees

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Responding to COVID-19 with horse tracks

The Deputy Prime Minister and New Zealand First Party Leader led the Government’s COVID-19 response by announcing a $72 million funding package for the racing industry. This package included two synthetic horse tracks. No-one has been able to establish how horse tracks relate to coronavirus.

Rt Hon Trevor Mallard: $572,000 for a Parliamentary slide

As part of his initiative to make Parliament more “family-friendly”, the Speaker of the House commissioned the construction of a playground on Parliament’s lawn. The playground, which essentially consists of a slide and some stepping stones, was budgeted at $400,000, but ultimately cost $572,000.

Hon Chris Hipkins: $87 million for unwanted internet modems

An $87 million package to give students the means to study remotely during COVID-19 lockdown resulted in thousands of unwanted modems being sent to wealthy schools. Epsom’s Auckland Grammar alone received 137 unwanted modems, and even Mike Hosking’s child was a beneficiary of the policy.

Hon Shane Jones: Three train trips for $6.2 million

The Regional Economic Development Minister re-opened the Wairoa-Napier rail line last year, predicting that up to six train services would run per week. As of last month, only three services had run in total: a cost of more than $2 million per train trip.

Hon Kelvin Davis: $10 million for AJ Hackett Bungy

In response to a tourism downturn due to COVID-19, Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis singled out one of Queenstown’s most successful businesses – AJ Hackett Bungy – for a taxpayer handout. AJ Hackett received a $5.1 million grant, plus a potential $5.1 million loan, all on top of its substantial payout received under the COVID-19 wage subsidy scheme.

WINNER: Rt Hon Winston Peters for responding to COVID-19 with horse tracks

Lifetime Achievement Award

Hon Phil Twyford is this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award Winner for excellence in government waste.

First elected as a list MP in 2008, Phillip Stoner Twyford was thrust into power as Minister of Housing, Urban Development, and Transport in 2017.

His most high-profile election promise was to build 100,000 KiwiBuild homes in 10 years, with an initial investment of $2 billion. Two years into that period, KiwiBuild has delivered just 395 houses – fewer than the number of houses blocked by protestors at Ihumātao. At the current rate, Phil Twyford’s promise will be fulfilled in 436 years.

Even with the taxpayer subsidy, these homes are too expensive or located in places people don’t want to buy. As a result, many finished homes have sat on the market for six months or more, and the Government has promised to buy back homes that do not sell.

Last year, the Prime Minister finally removed Phil Twyford from the Housing portfolio.

However, his record of waste now extends far further than KiwiBuild. As Transport Minister, Twyford blew out the cost of SkyPath – a cycleway across Auckland’s Harbour Bridge – from $67 million to $360 million, with more cost increases expected once construction actually begins.

Twyford has also increased fuel taxes by 12 cents per litre – and even more in Auckland – across three years.

This tax hike was justified on the basis of paying for light rail from Auckland Central, down Dominion Road to the airport. Last month, after two and a half years and $5 million was spent investigating the project, the light rail proposal was shelved.

Despite the main justification for fuel tax hikes being void, Twyford has no plans to reverse his increases to the tax on commuters.

In his maiden speech in Parliament, he remarked: “At the end of our times here, some of us will be remembered, but most of us will not.”

He need not worry. We are confident that taxpayers will never forget Phillip Stoner Twyford.

'Aroha' posters deemed to be Labour Party ads

Poster with stamp

The Electoral Commission has confirmed that the 'Aroha' posters of Jacinda Ardern, promoted by artists Weston Frizzell and advertiser Phantom Billstickers, does indeed constitute a party advertisement for the Labour Party.

This judgment comes after the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union laid a complaint regarding the posters. The Commission's response to the Union can be viewed below.

Union spokesman Jordan Williams says: "It's a relief to have clarity on this matter. As a campaign organisation, we're forced to comply with strict rules around political advertising, especially in the lead-up to an election. It's a matter of democratic integrity that these rules are applies equally, regardless of a campaigner's political slant."

"These posters were obviously advertisements, even if the artists didn't think of them as such. You can imagine a scenario where a poster of Jacinda Ardern  or Todd Muller for that matter  was on every street corner, a week out from an election. This could absolutely influence voters, so the posters should have authorisation statements and count toward campaign spending limits."

"In its letter to the artists, the Electoral Commission notes that some posters may still be up, and that the artists will have to take 'corrective action'. If the Commission is not satisfied with this action, it has the power to refer the advertiser to the Police."

"Initial signs suggest the artists are not taking this warning seriously. They continue to actively promote the poster – without an authorisation statement – on their social media. Regardless, the posters have already reached hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders through social media and news coverage. Strong actions will be needed to remedy this influence. Perhaps, for example, the advertiser could fund poster space for campaigners with different political views."


Blog: Why alternative monetary policy may not lead to investment spending in the economy

This blog post is written by Taxpayers' Union Economist Karan Menon.

Facing the biggest economic shock in our lifetime, Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr is signaling his support for the use of “alternative monetary policy” to jog the Kiwi economy.

He is currently holding the Official Cash Rate at 0.25%, the lowest it has been since the OCR was introduced in 1999, till March 2021.

The cash rate is predicted to be cut even further by the end of the year to fall below zero – that means banks will now be charged on their deposits with the Reserve Bank. The intention of this expansionary monetary policy is to curb a deflationary spiral (an overall decrease in price levels) caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and to disincentivise retail bank deposits held in the central bank.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) is already implementing another form of ‘alternative’ monetary policy with its LSAP (Large Scale Asset Purchase) programme.

The LSAP programme will reduce market interest rates further and thereby reduce borrowing costs for retail banks as their wholesale borrowing costs have reduced. This is due to interest rates being inversely related to bond prices. As the RBNZ purchases government bonds, the demand for bonds increases, thereby increasing the price of those bonds and decreasing interest rates.

The RBNZ will purchase $60 billion of government bonds over the next 12 months to achieve these reductions in interest rates on mortgages and term deposits. This value roughly amounts to 29% of NZ GDP.  This process is known as an open market operation where money supply is linked to the sale and purchase of government bonds

These tools are used by the RBNZ to control inflation – in this case, to keep it from dropping too low.

The RBNZ is given operational independence to keep inflation between 1 and 3 percent on average over the medium term, but with the recent COVID pandemic, sharp projected contractions in economic activity will likely reduce inflation and employment targets below RBNZ’s objectives.

Therefore, the RBNZ aims to lower the borrowing costs for households and businesses and increase spending across the economy. Retail banks are in the business of lending, and this lending is financed by depositor funds or borrowed funds. The ability to service this lending is based on a bank’s liquidity which is calculated by taking the total lending as a proportion of total deposits.

With expansionary monetary policy decreasing “hoarding behaviour”, we can expect lower retail interest rates on both mortgages and deposits for businesses and households.

The complication with decreased interest rates on deposits is that we could see (and in fact already are seeing) investments diverted away from bank deposits to other financial investments with higher rates of return.

The relationship between expansionary monetary policy and the diversion of investments can be seen internationally. The US currently has its cash rate at 0%, while its stock market has seen steady increases. The NASDAQ closed on a high Tuesday and the S&P 500 index saw a 0.43% gain. The increases in those indices obviously have additional explanations, but deposit interest rates are also decreasing, implying investors are looking to the financial market for higher returns.

Real economic conditions in the US are simply not reflected in the US stock market. A wave of optimism is sweeping through Wall Street, which stands in contrast to the stark economic realities of the US. Unemployment, which hovered around 4% in February shot up to 13% in May.

The real-world macroeconomic implication of expansionary monetary policy, and the subsequent diversion of investments, would be to diminish the capacity of retail banks to lend and further, lending would be on the back of bank borrowings.

Adrian Orr’s intention of increasing investment spending and incentivising businesses to spend more on their operations is in fact reasonable. The risk, however, is that the outcome of his approach will be an over-extension of the banking sector, which could further exacerbate the economic crisis. If in fact the RBNZ achieved its goal to encourage spending for both households and businesses, banks would be unable to increase their cash position in the case of any further shocks to spending.

If banks become unable to lend, any good achieved by Orr’s expansionary monetary policy would be wiped away and the economy would be left in an even worse condition than currently projected.

Taxpayer Talk: Chris Penk - Flattening the Country

In our newest episode of Taxpayer Talk, Jordan sits down (in-person!) with Helensville MP Chris Penk who has written a book investigating the claim that the Government had "gone early and hard" in its fight against
COVID-19. Support the show (http://www.taxpayers.org.nz/donate)

Flattening the Country is available at https://chrispenk.national.org.nz/flattening_the_country.

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

Tool launched for Christchurch ratepayers to submit against rate hike

Chch rates preview

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has launched a tool for Christchurch ratepayers to submit against Christchurch City Council’s proposed rate hike options.

The official consultation form for the Council’s updated budget is frankly a scam. Ratepayers are asked to choose between three different rate hikes – 3.5 percent, 4.65 percent, and 5.5 percent. This is a false choice, engineered to manipulate submitters into endorsing the 3.5 percent rate hike, when in reality many or most ratepayers would prefer a freeze or even a cut.

With the submission period closing on Monday, we’re encouraging Christchurch ratepayers to submit against the proposed rate options. Our submission form, available at www.ChchRates.nz, provides different rate options, and submissions are sent straight to the Council’s consultation inbox.

Christchurch City Council cannot seriously cry poverty while setting aside $118 million for a sports stadium, and paying 531 of its staff salaries higher than $100,000.

In April, Lianne Dalziel said she was “laser-focused” on delivering a rates freeze to reflect the hardships caused by COVID-19. But she and a majority of her Councillors have been swayed by self-interested Council staff warning of redundancies. That’s disgraceful – the responsibility of a Council is to protect ratepayers, not to provide livelihoods for its own staff.

With unemployment forecast to spike in coming months, the case against increasing council taxes is stronger than ever.

Taxpayer Update: Ihumātao | Sack Dr Clark | Posters investigated

Will Winston put the kibosh on the Ihumātao deal?


After months of delays, it's been reported again that the Government is on the verge of purchasing the land at Ihumātao using $30 million of taxpayer money.

This would be a disgraceful capitulation to illegal occupiers. 

However, we understand that New Zealand First Leader Winston Peter is furious about the deal and had a tense exchange with the Prime Minister on Tuesday night. He has the power to block the deal at the 11th hour and gain huge publicity.

Jordan texted Winston yesterday to remind him of our petition against the deal, which has 11,000 signatures. We're watching very closely.

Petition launched for resignation of David Clark

David Clark

Health Minister Dr David Clark was missing in action for virtually all of the COVID-19 pandemic after repeatedly breaching his own guidelines by travelling unnecessarily, mountain biking when that was forbidden, and moving house and his office at the exact time he was requiring people to stay home and work from home.

And now he's overseen a series of quarantine failures: most spectacularly, the two COVID-19 positive women who were allowed to travel the length of the North Island without being tested.

In fact, 51 out of 55 quarantined individuals released under compassionate exemptions were not tested. That is disgraceful and Dr Clark has accepted no responsibility.

He's now been shunted away from the media, with Megan Woods brought in as a "Dr Fix-It". Why keep David Clark on a $300,000 salary?

We've launched a petition calling on the Prime Minister to immediately sack the Minister for his repeated failures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

--> Click here to sign the petition <--

Electoral Commission investigating 'Aroha' posters

Aroha poster

We're glad to hear that the posters of Jacinda Ardern plastered across the country have been taken down while the Electoral Commission investigates whether they count as election advertisements.

The posters are clearly advertisements: by the artist's own admission, they are drawn in a "propaganda style" and are inspired by the famous "Hope" posters of Barack Obama.

This means they need a promoter statement and should fall within election spending limits.

If the Commission finds that the posters are legit, we'll be surprised, but it means we can crowdfund our own poster campaign. Our posters could look like this:

Tax is Love poster

Ratepayer heroes! Horowhenua Council CUTS rates in response to COVID-19

Levin clock tower

This is what leadership looks like. Horowhenua District Council hasn't just frozen rates – it's cut them by 1.83% in response to COVID-10 hardships.

The Mayor and his officials wanted higher rates, but six out of eleven Horowhenua Councillors seized their democratic responsibility and put the interests of ratepayers first.

Well done to Councillors Wayne Bishop, Victoria Kaye-Simmons, Todd Isaac, Robert Ketu, Pirihira Tukapua and Sam Jennings.

Yes, the Council will have to cut employee costs and sacrifice spending plans, but it’s a necessary sacrifice that reflects the cut-backs being made in households across the country.

Ultimately, this move will make Levin and surrounding areas better off. More money in ratepayers’ pockets means more demand for local goods and services. And ratepayers from other parts of the country will be looking on in envy – perhaps even considering a move!

Is your local council hiking rates? Contact them NOW and tell them what Horowhenua District Council has done.

Petition launched: Keep it The Tron!

Hamilton sign

As if New Zealand doesn't have bigger issues to debate, Newshub, Stuff, and RNZ are all reporting on calls to change the name of Hamilton to "Kirikiriroa".

If the Council considers a name change, it will mean a divisive consultation process, a potential referendum, ratepayer-funded revamps of branding and signage, and staff and councillors' time wasted.

The change would then be considered by the New Zealand Geographic Board, meaning taxpayers across the country cough up.

--> Click here to sign our petition against the name change <--

We say Hamilton City Council should ignore the vocal minority and stick to their core business of delivering value for ratepayers.

There's also the suggestion the Council could go for a "compromise" option of a dual name. Based on previous government and council rebrands, we can imagine the new council logo looking like this:

Kirikiriroa logo

As if that will make anyone happy!

A surprise from Labour's list ranking...

Twyford promoted

Last week Labour revealed their updated Party list for the 2020 election.

We were astonished to see Phil Twyford moved from #5 up to #4 after his calamitous management of KiwiBuild, and more recently, his total failure to deliver his Auckland tram project.

(In fact, Twyford has now confirmed he's given up on Auckland Light Rail this side of the election. That project was the main reason for increased fuel taxes, so why is he planning to hike fuel tax again on 1 July?!)

For fun, I also researched Labour's lowest-ranked candidates. At the very bottom, #84, is a teacher unionist named Georgie Densey. Her Twitter page has one post, where she shares this praise of Metiria Turei:

Labour tweet


How would this look on a billboard?

National MP Nick Smith has revealed that Parliament's architecturally designed playground – which is basically just a slide and some stepping stones – went $172,000 over budget.

All up, the design, construction, landscaping, and engineering fees totalled $572,000.

Slide poster

We plan to make taxpayers remember this kind of waste when they cast their votes on 19 September.

All the best,

Louis circle

Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union


Media coverage:

Horowhenua Mail  Horowhenua District Council labelled 'heroes' for cutting rates

Stuff  Taxpayers' Union urges Human Rights Commission to speak up on Kiwis paying for quarantine

Star News  Ardern posters make cash, draw complaints

Southland Times  Southland District Council approve rate amid deficit budget

Stuff  Shots fired: Hunters hit back at Keep It Real Online ad campaign

Newstalk ZB  Artist behind Jacinda Ardern poster denies it's political advertising

Newshub  Hunters up in arms over Government's new online safety ad campaign

Croaking Cassandra  Little fiscal discipline at the RB

1 News  Art or political propaganda? Electoral Commission investigating artists' Jacinda Ardern appreciation poster

NZ Herald  Shovel-ready projects get the green light to go ahead under new infrastructure law

Newshub  'Forget about tax cuts': Economist warns of hikes ahead no matter who wins election

Newshub  ACT Party demands end to Government's 'Unite for the Recovery' campaign

1 News  John Armstrong: Is Jacinda Ardern utilising taxpayer-generated revenue in order to run a 'propaganda unit'?

The Press  Surprise in the post as Christchurch rates hike is less than thought

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


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.


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:


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 Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union


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 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.

Taxpayer Update: Debt clock launched | Tram shelved | Rock bottom journalism

Watch Government debt tick up in real time

Debt clock preview

Following the Budget’s eye-wateringly high debt forecast, the team have been thinking about how to best illustrate what it looks like to borrow $200.8 billion by 2024 (or $109,700 added to the mortgage of every New Zealand household).

A couple of the staff put together a website at www.DebtClock.nz which makes it clear just how quickly the Government is racking up debt.

!! Watch it and weep ‼️

As you watch the debt tick up in real time, remember that you and your children will be forced to pay for it plus interest.

After COVID-19, paying down debt will become one of our country’s' most important challenges. Here at the Taxpayers' Union we’ll be challenging the politicians to come up with smarter ways to cut government waste so the debt clock stops ticking without the need for painful new taxes.

Light rail "on hold" – so why hike fuel tax?

Sad Twyford

In a statement quietly released the evening before Budget Day, Transport Minister Phil Twyford confirmed that he's put his troubled Auckland tram proposal "on hold".

Funding this project was a key excuse for annual fuel tax hikes. Now that light rail is on hold, we say July's 4c/L tax hike should be shelved too. This would provide vital economic relief for low-income families and the struggling regional tourism sector.

Since our public advocacy, the National Party has jumped on board with Simon Bridges also pointing to the light rail cancelation as justification for shelving the tax hike.

The question of fuel tax aside, Twyford's decision to defer light rail trams down Dominion Road is the right one. He's walking away from a growing financial headache, and that deserves praise. In fact, he should consider doing the same with the failed KiwiBuild initiative, or perhaps even the City Rail Link. He may find that the COVID-19 crisis gives him cover to make prudent decisions that would otherwise be politically embarrassing.

Tourism talkfests waste time and money

Minister Davis

Among the slew of Budget announcements was the formation of yet another working group: a ‘New Zealand Futures Tourism Taskforce’ that will ‘lead the thinking on the future of tourism’. Working group members will presumably be paid by the taxpayer.

Kelvin Davis should already be taking advice from the tourism sector – it’s one of his key duties. Why does he need to set up a working group to spend months producing and consulting on reports?

There’s a risk that the group will be captured by special interests. The Minister has a responsibility to the general taxpayer, and mustn’t allow a select group of tourism operators and bureaucrats to dominate his thinking, especially when it comes to taxpayer-funded handouts.

Then there’s another new committee: the ‘Tourism Recovery Ministers Group’, featuring Davis, Grant Robertson, Nanaia Mahuta, Eugenie Sage, and Fletcher Tabuteau. This one is just baffling. Why does Kelvin Davis need three other Ministers and an Under-Secretary to help him to his job? Don’t his colleagues have enough on their plates?

KiwiRail handout is about politics, not COVID-19

Budget 2020’s $1.2 billion spend on KiwiRail has nothing to do with COVID-19 relief as advertised.

KiwiRail is a state-owned enterprise, and as such is expected to run a profit. However, it’s never paid out a single cent in dividends to the Government.

KiwiRail already got a billion dollars in Budget 2019. At the time, we said that was the equivalent of setting money on fire – that’s basically what Treasury analysis has said for decades. This latest package will cost another $656 per Kiwi household.

There are countless other potential projects with better cost-benefit ratios – and all the jobs ‘created’ by paying for new InterIslander ships will be in South Korean ship yards. The KiwiRail handout is really about satisfying the Greens’ train fetish and assisting NZ First’s quest to move Auckland’s port to Northland. Why not be transparent about it?

You paid someone to write this article (EXPLICIT) 🔞

Ending HIV

I'm not making this up: someone was paid with taxpayer money to write a diary of their day in the office wearing a...

*clears throat*. Sorry, I can't finish that sentence.

If you dare, you can view the article here. But seriously, you might not want to. It is certainly not safe for work.

The NZ AIDS Foundation and its 'Ending HIV' website is taxpayer-funded, receiving $4.23 million a year from the Ministry of Health.

Last year a Ministry spokesman said: "The Ministry is committed to continuing its support for NZAF and its Ending HIV campaign."

To be fair to the Foundation, they are entrusted with some very important work around HIV testing. But we're not convinced the Foundation's 'journalism' is an essential use of borrowed money. Call us prudes!

Have a great week,


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

PS. Our Taxpayer Talk podcast is going strong. Listen to our Budget Day analysis here. We also sat down with National MP Simon O'Connor as part of our "MPs in Depth" series.Donate

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Taxpayer Talk: Out of the Budget 2020 lock-up – Joe Ascroft and Neil Miller on the economics and politics of the biggest budget of our lifetime.

The Taxpayers' Union's Consulting Economist Joe Ascroft, and former Treasury (now Taxpayers' Union) Analyst Neil Miller, sits down with Jordan Williams to discuss Budget 2020, the economic and political risks, and what it says about the Government's election strategy.

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

Budget 2020: The Politics - Neil Miller

Budget Special from the Taxpayers' Union

The Minister of Finance Grant Robertson describes Budget 2020 as a “once in a generation” budget to combat “a 1-in-100-year threat” of the global COVID-19 pandemic. It certainly contains high level of additional spending, headlined by the $50 billion COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund (of which only about $20 billion is still actually available today).

To put $50 billion in context – the amount of new spending in a normal year’s budget is usually about one to three billion.

This spending will be funded by significant increases in debt as tax revenue will remain steady. There are no new taxes or tax increases announced which will be something of a relief to taxpayers.

However, it is also a “blank cheque” budget. Under the large headline figures, there is often a lack of detail about the spending which makes the quality of many proposals hard to assess. During questions, the Minister indicated that some of the $20 billion will go to Health (including laboratories and contact tracing) but the decisions were yet to be made. We have the bill, but do not know what we are going to be served.

In Defence, over half the new spending – the purchase of Super Hercules planes – is contingent because Cabinet has not considered a business case, far less approved it. That is a $900 million ($491/household) “maybe” even though Defence Minister Ron Mark says it remains his number one priority in Defence. Yes, the Budget was put together quickly under tremendous pressure but COVID-19 can not be blamed for over two years of delays on the planes. Treasury is publishing a summary of initiatives not in the Estimates on the week ending 22 May 2020. Most of this is information that would usually be in the Budget itself.

In any case, how buying more planes resolves a pandemic is unclear.

The Government has locked in high spending, but many of the hard decisions have been deferred until after the election. It is only after the election that New Zealanders will have to face the realities of paying back debt, and new policies from a new Government. Budget 2020 has one eye firmly on the election, hoping the economy can continue a slow recovery, hoping there is no second wave of infections, and hoping the current Government can be returned with a mandate.

If it is, expect a change in policy direction. Questioned about the lack of significant tax reform in the Budget, the Finance Minister confirmed there was none, and none would happen this term. That carefully leaves open the possibility of significant tax reform (including new taxes and tax increases) in the next term if Labour retains the Treasury benches.

In short, buy now, pay later.

There are other worrying trends.

There is evidence of interest group capture resulting in high levels of spending which are hard to justify. This includes funding boosts for certain industries (racing, fishing, arts, sports and more coming soon for media), certain voting blocks (including the $911m Maori COVID-19 package and the Pasifika funding parcel), and certain failing industries (KiwiRail gets a projected boost and NZ Post gets Government support despite being “no longer financially viable”).

The Government is also centralising decision making into new bureaucracies. "Workforce Development Councils" will "strategically plan" for the recovery of industries and jobs, and "Regional Skills Leadership Groups" will "improve information gathering". This is not a small investment – $276 million ($150/household) for a lot of officials, boards, reference groups, and consultation meetings. The Government is also planning to run a bulk food distribution operation called the "New Zealand Food Network" despite a number of companies and organisation already working in this space.

A "Infrastructure Industry Reference Group" is considering 1924 applications for $136 billion of projects. Clearly not all of these will be of high quality or quick to start.  A new road in starting in 2023 is little use to the unemployed in 2020 and 2021.

The increased Government control of the economy mirrors increased Government control of freedoms. Budget 2020 confirms that this is a hands-on Government, even if the details of what it might have its hands on remain sketchy.

The Taxpayers’ Union will continue to provide expert additional analysis as our team has time to consider the details further. One early concern is that the Government’s projections on unemployment remaining under 10% and economic growth returning next year seem very optimistic.

It appropriate to finish by acknowledging the hard work of Treasury officials and Ministerial staff preparing this document. This Budget was not what they planned six months ago or even six weeks ago. The key decisions were signed off on 6 April, very late in the normal Budget cycle. Minister Robertson even mentioned that some of the decisions in today’s papers were made on Monday. However, it is an important Budget and needs to be scrutinised closely to ensure taxpayers are receiving value for their money.

Also: Kiwiblog: Budget Lockup 2020 – A report from the inside

Neil Miller is a former Treasury Analyst, a former Director of Research in Office of the Leader of the Opposition, and is an Analyst at the Taxpayers' Union.

Budget 2020: The Economic View - Joe Ascroft

Budget Special from the Taxpayers' Union

Skyrocketing debt

Unsurprisingly, the Government’s Budget Responsibility Rules (which capped Government spending and debt in coming years) are dead. Net debt is forecast to climb from $57.7 billion ($31,500 per household or 19% of GDP) to $200.8 billion ($109,700 per household or 53.6% of GDP) by 2024. Deficits are expected to average $28 billion ($15,300 per household) per year across 2020 to 2022.

It’s easy to get lost in the numbers – but these are truly eye-watering figures. More than one in every four dollars spent by the taxpayers will be borrowed over the next three years.

Luckily for the Government (and taxpayers) borrowing costs are expected to remain low – in no small part due to the Reserve Bank’s quantitative easing (freshly-printed cash used to purchase Government debt) programme, which yesterday was doubled from $30 billion to $60 billion. If the Reserve Bank hadn’t embarked on this programme, financial markets might have struggled to digest forecast debt in coming years.

To put that in context, $60 billion amounts to more than half what the Government plans to spend in the next year. To say the least, the Reserve Bank is doing a lot of heavy lifting to enable the Government's spending programme.

The big risk? If there is any inflationary pressure in the coming years, the Reserve Bank will have to pull back on printing money and push up interest rates. In that world, Government debt would become a problem very quickly. 

Unemployment climbs

Treasury predicts unemployment to climb to 8.3% in 2020 and – with the aid of the Government’s $50 billion recovery fund – fall to 4.2% by 2022. However, if the fund fails in its goal to stimulate the economy (perhaps because the spending is poorly targeted, politically manipulated, or poorly managed) then unemployment will remain higher for longer. The main forecast (excluding the recovery fund) assumes unemployment will remain at 5.7% in 2022.  

The $50 billion fund

The Budget centre-piece is a $50 billion ($27,332 per household) ‘Covid-19 Recovery Fund’ to be spent over five years.

Today the Government has announced $15.9 billion ($8688 per household) of new initiatives to be packaged under the ‘Recovery Fund’ including:

  • an extension of the wage subsidy scheme for businesses who have suffered at least a 50% fall in revenue ($3.2 billion or $1750 per household); and,

  • a jobs package split across a variety of sectors including $1.6 billion ($874 per household) for trades and apprenticeships and $1 billion ($546 per household) for ‘environmental’ jobs.

$10.7 billion ($5,847 per household) of this fund has already been allocated through to April. 

The Rest?

The sector allocations Budget (at least in fiscal terms) pale in comparison to the sheer size of the recovery fund, but still deserve mentions:

  • $1.2 billion ($655 per household) more has been wasted on KiwiRail – despite a decade of Treasury advice that rail is not worth the cost.

  • $1.77 billion ($967 per household) has been allocated for defence – of which about half is for new aircraft.

  • A $3 billion ($1640 per household) infrastructure investment fund.

  • A $55.6 million increase in foreign aid.

  • $280 million ($153 per household) for NZ Post (old-fashioned snail mail, not couriers).

Joe Ascroft is the Consulting Economist for the Taxpayers' Union

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