Media Enquiries: 04 2820302 (24hr)

Lower Taxes, Less Waste,
More Transparency

Championing Value For Money From Every Tax Dollar

Petition launched to end all taxpayer funding for gangs

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has launched a petition calling for the cancellation of all taxpayer funding for gangs, at www.taxpayers.org.nz/gangs. 

This is in response to the revelation that the Ministry of Health is paying the Mongrel Mob $2.75 million to run a drug rehab programme.

Last week, New Zealanders rightly condemned the Human Rights Commissioner for giving a $200 koha to the Mongrel Mob. But now we learn our Ministry of Health is giving them almost $3 million.

The thugs making millions by selling drugs have been given millions more to run the rehab programmes. It’s a sickening cycle of profiteering at the expense of our communities’ health, safety, and taxpayer funds.

Putting aside the ghastliness of giving taxpayer money to the mob, it’s also a conflict of interest. How can we pay an organisation to rehabilitate drug users when its business model depends on ongoing addiction? Gangs have a vested interest in addiction and should therefore be kept well away from the rehab business.

A few months ago, we never thought such a cosy relationship between government and organised crime was possible. But it appears these back door financing arrangements are widespread. We’re calling on all Government agencies to front up about what contracts they hold with gangs and gang-run organisations, and to cut these contracts off before the Taxpayers’ Union exposes them.

 

MP in Depth: Karen Chhour

In this episode of our "MPs in Depth" series, our Researcher Max Salmon interviews newbie ACT Party MP Karen Chhour to discuss the switch to working in parliament, why the Government isn't walking its talk in regards to child poverty reduction, and the role of ACT in opposition. 

Subscribe to Taxpayer Talk podcast via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

Taxpayer Update: Māori procurement | Missing $1.9b | Rest in Peace

As you'll see at the bottom of this post, the team have been busy responding to media enquiries about our 2021 edition of Ratepayers' Report – our council league tables. Meanwhile, our campaigns against the planned car tax and the $685 million bike bridge are still going strong.

But there are plenty of other issues facing taxpayers (and no shortage of work to do!):

Government entities are now asking contractors to prove they're Māori

Defence Force

Midge Holdings is a small business owner in Christchurch. She's contracted by the Defence Force to provide them with special makeup effects and fake blood for their training.

However, she's now received a letter from the Defence Force asking her to prove her business is 'Māori owned'. It's not, and that could mean she loses the contract under new procurement rules coming into effect.

Here's what we told the media:

The Taxpayers’ Union were the first to raise the alarm over 'indigenous procurement' policies back in 2019, when we found the idea buried deep in a Cabinet paper. Now that the policy has been rammed through without consultation, we're seeing the ugly results.

We should welcome government entities reviewing contracts to maximise value, but that's not what's happening here. A government entity is threatening a specialist contractor's livelihood on the basis of her race. It's almost unbelievable that this could happen in 2021 in a developed country.

Chopping off best-placed contractors for the sake of political correctness will result in second-best contractors providing less value for the taxpayer.

New Zealanders shouldn't be forced to lie about their family background, or to pay genealogists and consultants to verify their Māori credentials, in order to offer services to the Government. The key consideration – in fact, the only consideration – in Government procurement should be value for the taxpayer.

Mental health: Where did the $1.9 billion go?

Ardern

Remember the "Wellbeing Budget"? In 2019, Jacinda Ardern made a huge splash in international media with her $1.9 billion investment announcement in mental health.

Popular left-wing American news site Vox said the Budget showed how Ardern's Government "emphasizes citizen happiness over capitalist gain."

But they also quoted your humble Taxpayers' Union: in the same article, I warned that the Government could just be throwing money into a black hole.

Two years later, it's fair to say the results are in: the $1.9 billion announcement bought us just five new mental health beds. If that's not a case of money disappearing into the abyss, I don't know what is.

Meanwhile, mental health advocate Mike King has returned his order of merit medal, saying that in hindsight, the $1.9 billion actually made life worse for people by providing a sense of false hope.

The Health Minister's response? He says he's "frustrated".

Taxpayers' Union Analyst Neil Miller has penned a ferocious op-ed in response:

Sorry Andrew Little, that is simply not good enough.

You are not an impartial observer, a mid-level official, a health journalist, or a political commentator. You are the Minister of Health, you are the boss, and you should have been all over this issue months ago.

Too often we are seeing Ministers of the Crown responding to a lack of results in their portfolio by saying they are “disappointed”, “frustrated”, “annoyed”, or that their “expectations have not been met”.

Ministers seem to assume that issuing a press release means the policy, after being developed by a Working Group and/or Expert Advisory Board, will be implemented on the frontlines.

You can read the full op-ed here (it was originally published in the Northern Age).

Caught on camera: Masterton Council boss loses the plot

Masterton CCTV

We'd love to say local government brings out the best and brightest... but this story out of Masterton makes you wonder what planet some of these people come from.

The District Council's Chief Executive (Kath Ross, salary: $247,000) has been caught on camera ripping down posters that advertised a ratepayer group’s protest against her own Council.

Unfortunately for her, the posters were on private property, in a carpark managed by someone supporting the protest!

There is absolutely no excuse for this behaviour. It undermines the dignity of her position and will only serve to entrench the suspicions of ratepayers who think she’s trying to shut down public criticism.

(The protest, which was organised to oppose a new $30 million council building, was by all accounts a great success.)

Revealed: ‘Living Wage’ trickles up to higher paid staff

PCC graphic

When Porirua City Council announced it was adopting a "Living Wage" policy, it sold the idea to ratepayers as a way to help workers on the bottom rung, just enough for them ‘to live a life of dignity’.

But we have now revealed that for every council worker who was bumped up to the Living Wage, another three higher-paid workers also received a pay hike in the name of 'relativity adjustments'.

In other words, the Council exploited public sympathy for high-vis workers to give a handout to back-office staff. And they did it during a pandemic when ratepayers and businesses were cutting back.

This should serve as a warning to all Councils: the intention to help low-paid workers is noble, but other staff are likely to demand commensurate pay hikes.

Claims that three waters reform will save money are laughable

Nanaia MahutaThe Taxpayers’ Union is slamming Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta's proposal to remove local democratic control over water assets and says that regional cross subsidisation is a recipe for gold plating and higher costs.

The claim this will save ratepayer money is laughable. It will see Auckland water users funding new water treatment plants in the far north, and force gold plated solutions onto tiny communities. Even worse, these proposals remove the ability of ratepayers to hold the water bodies to account. They’re going to be able to impose huge costs, without being accountable, even indirectly, to the communities who will pick up the bills.

We don’t often say Phil Goff is right, but on this, he is bang on with his warnings that this will cost ratepayers and uncouples Watercare from democratic accountability.

The proposed matrix of committee and iwi governance is a bugger’s muddle, and the claim councils will still "own" the assets is at best misleading. 'Ownership' will be true in name only. Elected councillors won’t be able to do a thing – i.e. sack directors or govern the water assets local communities have paid for.

Rest in Peace 😢

Funeral

Finally this week, we’re encouraging our supporters to their respects to the passing of Labour’s “No New Taxes” promised by sharing this memorial on Facebook.

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

PS. I'm away next week on annual leave so that means our Grassroots Coordinator Grace will be monitoring the replies to this email for me. Thank you to everyone who sends kind messages of support even if we can't always reply promptly, we read and appreciate them all!


Media coverage:

Kapiti News  
Kapiti Coast District Council plan endorses average 7.79% rates hike for 2021-2022

Kapiti Independent News  Kapiti rates to soar by 8%

Radio NZ  Sue Bradford and Jordan Williams

Bay of plenty Times  Is working for families tax credit really working?

Tasman Leader  Tasman ratepayers face hefty bills

1 News  NZTA to update benefit to cost ratio of AKL cycle bridge

Bay of Plenty Times  
Working for Families: Taxpayers' Union says $2.8 billion scheme should be cut back in favour of tax cuts

NZ Herald  Auckland harbour bridgeNational Party labels bridge a vanity project

Kiwiblog  Some so-called science grants


Stuff  Tasman residential ratepayers face fourth highest bills in New Zealand

Homepaddock  Central control freakery

SunLive  Councillors set Whakatane’s Long-Term Plan

Radio NZ  Whakatāne’s rates set to rise

Stuff  Taranaki councils ranked according to rates bills in report

NewstalkZB  Taxpayers' Union: Government 'misjudged' public opinion on Auckland cycleway bridge

Bay of Plenty Times  Jo Raphael: is Working for Families payments helping our children?

Stuff  Nelson business community welcomes fall in commercial rate differential

South Taranaki Star  Taranaki councils at lower end of rates

Radio NZ  'Unsustainable' rates raises - West Coast councils blame govt

Op-ed: Be the Minister, not just a frustrated onlooker

Andrew LittleThe following is an op-ed by New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union Analyst Neil Miller. It is free for publication.
 
The headlines read “Health Minister 'extraordinarily frustrated' as just five new acute mental health beds added after $1.9b investment”.
 
Sorry Andrew Little, that is simply not good enough.
 
You are not an impartial observer, a mid-level official, a health journalist, or a political commentator. You are the Minister of Health, you are the boss, and you should have been all over this issue months ago.

Instead, it apparently took Written Parliamentary Questions from the opposition and queries from Newshub for you to find out that there have been only five actual beds added since the flagship near $2b mental health announcement in the “Well-Being Budget” of 2019. The building part of that one announcement alone was $285m.

Too often we are seeing Ministers of the Crown responding to a lack of results in their portfolio by saying they are “disappointed”, “frustrated”, “annoyed”, or that their “expectations have not been met”. The fundamental problem is that the Government is great at making announcements and good at throwing lots of taxpayer money at issues.
 
Ministers seem to assume that issuing a press release means the policy, after being developed by a Working Group and/or Expert Advisory Board, will be implemented on the frontlines.
 
Being a good Minister is more than just the title and the (non-electric) limousine. It is about being on top of the details in your portfolio and following through. National’s Tony Ryall was the best Health Minister in modern history, despite having no background in the health sector or health policy. Most observers expected him to be Police Minister – I did, and I worked for him!
 
Once given the traditionally tricky and thankless task of Health Minister, Mr Ryall focussed on information. His officials were told he wanted data, he wanted trends, he set targets, he demanded measurements, and he published them regularly, good or bad. A bureaucrat’s nightmare sure, but patients loved it.
 
When District Health Boards were set measurable targets for Emergency Department waiting times, they dropped significantly. When Labour, at the behest of the unions, abolished the targets and reporting, ED waiting times predictably ballooned back out.
 
Minister Ryall would not have taken two years to find out from the media that a new acute mental bed was only arriving every five months. He would have known, and officials would have been made aware that he knew and was not satisfied.
 
Instead, Health Minister Andrew Little swung into action and… announced yet another review. Taxpayers should be deeply concerned that the issues this review will examine include “what the holdup is”, “where that money has gone” and to find out exactly “how decisions have been made.” That is not a sign of a Minister on top of his portfolio.
 
So, a simple tip for Minister Little: Re-instate the health performance dashboards (adding mental health), set targets, monitor the results, and hold health providers accountable.
 
Health Minister – heal thyself.
 
Neil Miller is a writer, commentator, and New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union Analyst.

Revealed: Porirua City Council’s ‘Living Wage’ hike trickles up to higher paid staff

PCC graphic

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that Porirua City Council’s introduction of a ‘Living Wage’ policy resulted in 52 percent of Council staff receiving wage hikes.

In July 2020, while 39 staff were moved up to the living wage rate, a further 176 received ‘relativity adjustments’ in pay as a result of the Living Wage policy – including staff already paid as much as $30.53 per hour.

For every council worker who was bumped up to the Living Wage, another three workers paid more also received a pay hike.

The announcement of the Living Wage policy was sold to Porirua ratepayers as helping out workers on the bottom rung, just enough for them ‘to live a life of dignity’. Now we learn that more than half of the Council’s staff got a pay hike as a result. That is an under-handed, self-serving way of increasing Council pay.

Of course, this occurred in the immediate wake of New Zealand’s COVID-19 lockdown, when ratepayers and businesses were cutting back to ensure financial survival. The pandemic should have led the Council to reconsider its Living Wage policy – instead, it was expanded. Ratepayers will see the clear link behind this kind of indulgent spending and the Council’s planned eight percent rate hike.

The Council is now planning to demand that any and all private contractors working for the Council also pay their workers a Living Wage. The cost of this move will likely blow out as the Living Wage effect trickles up to higher-paid contractor employees.

This should serve as a warning to all Councils considering a Living Wage policy. The intention to help low-paid workers may sound noble, but other staff are likely to demand commensurate pay hikes. That cost needs to be taken into account and communicated transparently before any decision is made.

The information was obtained via an official information request and passed on to the Union by a concerned ratepayer.

New poll shows 63% of Kiwis oppose Auckland's cycle bridge

Poll graphic

Polling commissioned by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union shows that nearly two-thirds of Kiwis ‘oppose’ or ‘strongly oppose’ the Government’s planned $685 million cycle and pedestrian bridge for Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour. Meanwhile, just 18 percent ‘support’ or ‘strongly support’ it.

The full data set can be viewed here. The polling was conducted by Curia Market Research, with a sample size of 992 respondents.

Excel graph

Opposition to the bridge outweighs support by more than three to one. And it’s not just soft opposition – a majority of respondents stated they are strongly opposed.

Opposition to the bridge is firm across a broad spectrum of the population: women and men, every age group, Aucklanders and non-Aucklanders. In fact, the only demographic that seems to support the bridge is Green Party voters, and even that’s only by a slim margin.

This scientific polling explains the enormous response to our petition against the bridge, which has so far been signed by 57,000 New Zealanders. Clearly, the Government has massively misjudged the public appetite for such a brazenly wasteful project that will disproportionately serve a small group of privileged Aucklanders.

We’re calling on the Government to admit they’ve got this one wrong, and divert the $685 million to projects that benefit the many, not the few. It’s easier to back down now than further down the track when millions have been sunk into engineering reports and consultation documents.

Taxpayer Update: Our campaigns ramp up | You fund propaganda | A taxpayer victory

Stormclouds forming over SkyPath 2.0? 🚴🌧️

Our petition to withdraw taxpayer funding for the proposed $685 million cycle and pedestrian bridge has now reached 56,000 signatures. That's incredible, and it shows the depth of public opposition to such a brazenly wasteful vanity project.

Our "Stop SkyPath" billboards are currently hammering the message in Auckland and thanks to a few hundred supporters chipping in we've got some more going up next week.

Skypath billboard 1Click for big image Skypath billboard 2Click for big image

The fundraising effort has also allowed us to commission a professional pollster to get a measure of public opinion. We're releasing the data over the weekend, but I can already tell you it does not look good for the bridge.

Thanks again to all of you who have chipped in to make this effort possible. We've got more billboard sites lined up in other parts of the country, so watch this space.

Here's how the numbers (don't) stack up 🧮

Meanwhile, the Government was today forced to reveal that the benefit-cost-ratio for this project is 0.40.6 to one. That means that for every taxpayer dollar spent, the Transport Ministry expects to see just 40 to 60c of value created.

As ACT's David Seymour put it, Michael Woods is basically throwing your money away.

Woods throwing money

And even that figure seems wildly optimistic. It doesn't take into account likely cost blowouts. And the Ministry's calculations are based on 2,700 cyclists taking the trip across the bridge every day.

Assuming the cost of capital for the $685 million bridge is six percent, that equals a cost of $41.1 million per year, or $113,000 per day. Divided by 2,700 cyclists, that works out as a $41 subsidy for every individual trip!

In other words, a cyclist who uses the bridge to get to the city each day gets a taxpayer-funded handout of $15,000 per year!

Labour's car tax breaks a promise and whacks working New Zealanders 🚗💸

Grant Robertson's "no new taxes" promise is well and truly out the window.

First, it was new taxes on landlords, then it was a levy on wages to fund unemployment insurance, and now there's a new tax on petrol vehicles:

Car tax amounts

The car tax unfairly hits tradies, farmers, and large families, in favour of wealthy urban elites 🥂 buying Teslas who will get a fat taxpayer-funded subsidy. Robin Hood would be turning in his grave.

–> Click here to add your name to the petition against Labour's car tax <–

Twenty thousand have signed so far.

Sticker photoWe've also received over a thousand orders for our "Stop Labour's Car Tax" bumper stickers. Click here to order a sticker.

After you enter your address, you'll be taken to a donation page. You're not obliged to donate, but if you'd like to, $2.50 covers the cost of the sticker and postage. Anything extra will be used to extend the reach of the Car Tax campaign.

Fact check: The car tax won't even "drive down emissions" 😡

The car tax does zip for saving overall emissions due to transport already being in the Emissions Trading Scheme.

Transport Minister Michael Woods claims that up to 9.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions will be ‘prevented’ by 2050. But land transport is already covered by our cap-and-trade emissions scheme. That means that every emission ‘saved’ frees up credits to make emissions cheaper elsewhere. It’s called the ‘waterbed effect’ and is precisely why the UN recommends against the sort of direct political intervention the Government is pursuing.

Michael Woods either doesn’t understand the ETS or is lying about environmental benefits of this scheme.

A tax on petrol vehicles simply makes motorists (who already pay ETS levies on fuel) pay even more. It's a double tax.

Taxpayers are set to pay for Hollywood propaganda 🎥

Taika Waititi ad

Taxpayers could fork out millions in subsidies for a new film about Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s response to the Christchurch mosque shootings.

It's been reported that the production team intends to apply for a Screen Production Grant from the New Zealand Film Commission.

If Jacinda Ardern gets the Hollywood treatment while she’s still an active politician, that looks suspiciously like propaganda. Taxpayers should not be forced to fund it.

We say the Film Commission needs to update its processes to ensure that party-political films aren’t eligible for funding.

In fact, if the film is screening during the 2023 election period, it may cross the line into election advertising. Remember the infamous ‘Aroha’ posters? Our friend Eric Crampton at the NZ Initiative think tank has a good article on these issues here.

There are other good reasons for the Government to distance itself from this film. Families affected by the shootings have understandably denounced the film as exploitative. Taxpayers shouldn’t be made complicit in a production that profits from a community’s grief.

In case you missed it: 2021 Ratepayers’ Report now available 🧾✨

Rates graph

This week we published the 2021 edition of our popular local government league tables: Ratepayers' Report.

Ratepayers' Report gathers over two thousand data points to allow you to compare your local council with others on key metrics such as rates, liabilities, and staff salaries.

—> Click here to see how your local council compares <—

The major point of interest in the Ratepayers’ Report has always been our leaders' table for average residential rates, which uses a standardised formula to include all residential rates, local taxes, and levies.

Highest average residential rates:

1. Carterton District Council: $3,639
2. Auckland Council: $3,599
3. Whakatāne District Council: $3,314
4. Tasman District Council: $3,228
5. Manawatū District Council: $3,176

Lowest average residential rates:

1. Buller District Council: $1,815
2. Ōtorohanga District Council: $1,855
3. Mackenzie District Council: $1,893
4. Southland District Council: $1,976
5. Waimate District Council: $2,075

Good news: taxpayers save $99 million ⛵🥳

SkyPath meme

Team New Zealand has rejected the Government’s taxpayer-funded $99 million offer to host the America’s Cup in New Zealand.

This is sad news for America’s Cup fans, but good news for taxpayers and Auckland ratepayers. It means we've saved $99 million. That money can now go to more deserving causes: Pharmac, Police, nurses, roads, reining in debt, or even tax relief that puts food on the tables of hard-working New Zealanders.

Explained: the Climate Change Commission's costly agenda 🚩

carr_shaw.jpg

In today’s Herald, Matthew Hooton does fantastic job of explaining how the Climate Change Commission has overstepped its mandate to promote a “far left utopia” – an approach that would actually be less effective at reducing emissions than our existing Emissions Trading Scheme.

The article is paywalled, but here are the key lines:

It has become clear that the commission is not primarily or even mainly concerned with New Zealand reducing global emissions.

By far the biggest contribution New Zealand can make to reducing climate change is funding projects in developing economies to reduce their emissions and prevent clear-felling of rainforests. Such projects cost less than $20 to remove the equivalent of one tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2e tonne) from the atmosphere.

But despite the commission believing climate change is a global crisis, it doesn't want New Zealand to do this. Instead, it wants New Zealand to achieve net zero when measured almost entirely by activity within our borders. Even then, it says we could achieve net zero for around $50 per CO2e tonne … But the commission doesn't want to do that either.

Instead, Carr explicitly rejects New Zealand achieving the biggest possible reduction in CO2e emissions for the least cost. He says he wants to use climate change to radically transform every aspect of how we live our lives.

This includes how we work and make money, but Carr and his commission's ambitions are much bigger, including what amounts to constitutional change. This is the commission pursuing a wider agenda at the expense of its first statutory purpose, to mitigate climate change.

Taxpayer victory: MSD commits to scrutinising eligibility of wage subsidy recipients 🙌

Taxpayer Victory

The Ministry of Social Development has confirmed that wage subsidy recipients will face renewed scrutiny and potential prosecution if they are found to have been ineligible.

This is exactly what we called for in the wake of the Auditor-General’s damning criticism of ‘verbal audits’ for wage subsidy recipients. Taxpayers deserve to know that the $14 billion was actually paid to businesses who met the criteria.

We’d like to see the Prime Minister back this action with a clear message from the Beehive: "If you took money for which you weren’t eligible, expect to be found out. Cough up now or face serious penalties."

With $722 million already repaid, there is a good chance we’ll see hundreds of millions more flood back, so long as the Government demonstrates it's taking enforcement seriously.

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate


Media coverage:

Stuff  Taupō mayor who had kidney transplant takes medical leave

Homepaddock  Taxing poor to help rich

TVNZ  Divorced from people doing daily life - National’s Christopher Luxon slams Govt’s billion dollar bridge

Bowalley Road  Hoping for Divine Intervention 

Newshub  They Are Us producer responds to 'too soon' backlash over Christchurch terror attack film

TVNZ  Cycling opponents plan to block Auckland cycle route in bridge counter-protest

Hansard  Tabling the petition to stop SkyPath 2.0

Homepaddock  There’s a better recipe

TVNZ  Taxpayers’ Union calls on Govt to can cycle bridge over Auckland Harbour

2021 Ratepayers’ Report released, methodology explained

RPR banner

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union has today published the 2021 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 2019/20 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, “Our annual Ratepayers' Report helps ratepayers answer the question: could you be getting a better deal from your local council? The league tables reveal huge disparities between councils in terms of how much they take in rates, how much they owe, and how much they spend on salaries. Local council staff should pay close attention to the rankings and ask themselves how they might emulate their better-performing neighbours.”

Notable Findings:

Rates are still on the rise. The average council increased its rates by $111, with the average residential rate nationwide now $2,572.

  • Rates: Carterton District Council once again ranks highest for average residential rates at $3,639, just ahead of Auckland Council at $3,599. The lowest average residential rates in New Zealand is Buller District Council ($1,815).

  • Liabilities: Christchurch City Council continues to have the highest liabilities (debt) per household compared to any other council ($30,096). Auckland Council follows in second place, with liabilities per household of $29,611. Central Otago District Council has the country's lowest liabilities per household – $527.

  • Staffing efficiency: Waitomo District Council (including its CCOs) has the highest number of staff on a per-household basis  a staff member for every 20 households. In contrast, Thames-Coromandel District Council serves 122 households for each of its staff members.

  • Salaries: Auckland Council and its CCOs pays 3,161 staff salaries greater than $100,000  an increase of 330 people from 2020. Meanwhile, Otorohanga and Rangitikei District Councils each pay just five staff salaries greater than $100,000.

  • Fiscal safeguards: Only four councils meet the full criteria for prudent Audit and Risk Committees: Dunedin, Kawerau, Marlborough and Porirua.

This year's Ratepayers' Report has been published earlier in the year than previous editions: the data is up to date as of the most recent council fiscal year – the 12 months to 30 June 2020. That means it reflects the first three months of COVID-19's arrival in New Zealand.

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 Waikato District Council was unwilling to provide the Taxpayers' Union with either residential or non-residential rates figures.

For non-rates figures (i.e. liabilities, personnel costs) we have assessed council data against the number of households counted by Stats NZ’s latest census. We have used Stats NZ household data 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, 2020.

Other figures were obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, and cover the 2019/20 financial year.

The data was 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, gathering data for these councils has proved more difficult. Our previous research suggests that regional councils charge anywhere from $42 to $553 per residential ratepayer on top of the bill charged by territorial authorities.

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, 2019 and 2020. This is the sixth edition.

How are the councils grouped?

Unitary authorities – the five territorial authorities which also carry out the functions of a regional authority are grouped.
Metropolitan – the five large councils with a population of over 120,000.
City – five 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.

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 2021 report be compared to the 2020 edition?

Yes. All non-rates figures (i.e. liabilities, staff) were assessed using council data from Stats NZ’s 2018 census figures. 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 and 2020 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.

Op-ed: Sir Tim – What would you say you actually do here?

The following is an op-ed written by New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union Analyst Neil Miller. It is free for publication.

Sir Timothy Richard Shadbolt has had a very long, often illustrious, always colourful career in local government. He famously ‘did not care where as long as he was Mayor’, which took him from losing in Waitemata to winning in Invercargill where he has held the Mayoral chains since 1998. Shadbolt is the longest serving Mayor in New Zealand, but it is time for him to go.

He is known for his roguish grin, the famous concrete mixer (“Karl Marx”) he towed behind the Mayoral car, and being arrested for uttering the word “bullshit”, one of his 33 arrests for political protests and later inspiration for the title of his autobiography “Bullshit and Jellybeans” (1971).

In the last year, Mayor Tim is suddenly not so funny anymore.

An independent review of Invercargill City Council concluded he is not fit for the role. Shadbolt needs help chairing meetings and “is struggling to fulfil significant aspects of his role”.

The Mayor can no longer drive the Mayoral car after his license was revoked. He has refused to explain why to ratepayers.

This begs the question – if you have to be driven to council meetings where councillors and staff have to help you chair the meeting, “Sir Tim, what would you say you actually do here?”

Faced with the review which all but calls for his resignation, Shadbolt belligerently doubled down. He promised to run for another three to four terms (by which time he would be 86 years old), or to, in his words, “semi-retire” to the Southland Regional Council (Environment Southland).

The first course of action shows a stunning lack of self-awareness about his growing limitations and arrogance about his popularity, the second shows complete disdain for an important layer of local government. Being a regional councillor is a job, not a retirement junket for lifetime politicians.

Sir Tim should test his mandate with ratepayers right now without stretching this embarrassing decline to the next election. He should resign and stand for re-election. When he loses, and he would, he should retire gracefully.

He has got his gong, and rightly so. Shadbolt is a remarkable New Zealander to whom we will always owe a debt. Like all political careers, there needs to be a final curtain call. We’re sorry Sir Tim, but that time for you is now.

The most open and transparent Government should not take a year to supply official information

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pledged: “This government will foster a more open and democratic society. It will strengthen transparency around official information.”

The fact that it took Radio New Zealand a year to get a response to an Official Information Act request about a heated bureaucratic turf war between the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) over COVID-19 border exemptions makes a mockery of that promise.

Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Neil Miller said:

“A year is far too long to wait for a simple official information request given the Act has a timeframe of 20 working days to respond and a presumption to release unless there is good reason not to.”

“Too often, we see Government agencies attempt to stonewall legitimate requests in the hope that the people requesting the information will simply give up over time.”

“We submit more official information requests than any non-media organisation and constantly run up against obfuscation, unjustified delays, demands for money, and at times, straight up lies. We have the Ombudsman on speed dial.”

“Our message to the Prime Minister is simple. Live up to your promise and answer the questions, openly and transparently.”


Join Us

Joining the Taxpayers' Union costs only $25 and entitles you to attend our annual conference, AGM and other events.

Donate

With your support we can make the Taxpayers' Union a strong voice exposing waste and standing up for Kiwi taxpayers.

Tip Line

Often the best information comes from those inside the public service or local government. We guarantee your anonymity and your privacy.