Lower Taxes, Less Waste,
More Accountability

Championing Value For Money From Every Tax Dollar

New poll: 76% believe water entities should be accountable to voters

Three quarters of New Zealanders believe that those responsible for water services should be directly accountable to voters, reveals a new scientific poll commissioned by the Taxpayers’ Union.

The poll of 1,000 New Zealanders was undertaken by Curia Market Research, and asked, Do you think those who are responsible for provision of local drinking, waste, and storm water services should be directly accountable to voters?

Poll image

Seventy-six percent said yes, and just eight percent said no. Fifteen percent were unsure.

Support for democratically accountable water services is consistent across every part of the country and with voting bases of every major political party.

Of course, Nanaia Mahuta’s Three Waters regime would run roughshod over local accountability. The boards of the new water monopolies would be insulated from accountability by multiple layers of bureaucracy. The one layer that is nominally democratic – the representation group – is in fact co-governed with iwi appointees, who will have effective veto power over major decisions.

To put it simply, ratepayers unhappy with the value or reliability of their water services won’t be able to vote out the people in charge. This removes the incentive for the water monopolies to keep water bills reasonable and deliver reliable services.

📣 Announcement: Hitting the road to Stop Three Waters ✋

Map graphic

Thanks to the generous support of tens of thousands of New Zealanders like you, later this week we're taking to the road to fight the Government's Three Waters proposals.

>>> Click here to add your name to the Stop Three Waters petition and we'll email you when we're coming to your town/city.

With the support of our grassroots network, we'll be spreading the message directly within the local communities whose water assets Nanaia Mahuta is trying to remove from local control to put into 'co-governed' entities.

The roadshow will highlight just how unpopular these proposals are, put pressure on those few councils still holding out from resisting the Government, and pile the pressure onto Labour's provincial MPs who are the key to overruling Mahuta's undemocratic agenda.

While the media continue to run Mahuta's lines about Three Waters our people-powered effort is exposing why Three Waters is zero gain, and holding her to account. Come along to show your support.

We’ve decked out a campervan with ‘Stop Three Waters’ gear and, starting this Friday, will be meeting local ratepayers, mayors, councillors, and community leaders in 39 local centres across the country.

Come and meet the team

I'm emailing to ask for your support by way of coming along and meeting Louis, Annabel, Josh, Levi, Connor, and the whole Taxpayers' Union team over the next five weeks. 

We’ll be holding old-fashioned soapbox events outside local councils and in town squares across the country. We are inviting local leaders to come and speak out against Nanaia Mahuta’s asset grab and sign our "Community Leaders' Appeal to Protect Local Democracy and Stop Three Waters" addressed to the Prime Minister.

And regardless of Three Waters, we're keen to meet Taxpayers' Union supporters like you across the country.

Peter Williams and I (no relation) will be leading the team for the first leg of the trip from Christchurch, visiting Rolleston, Ashburton, Fairlie, Queenstown, Alexandra, Gore, Balclutha, and Invercargill, before Louis takes over in Dunedin next week. 

The full itinerary is available here and we will be updating this, and our Facebook page, as the roadshow progresses with exact times and locations for each stop.

Poster with dates

Can't make your local event? You can still do your part to Stop Three Waters

Taking our grassroots campaign on the road means we're relying on you and the tens of thousands who are supporting this effort. Only by working together can we beat Labour's powerful Māori Caucus. Please take a minute to:

>>> Print and post the roadshow poster on community noticeboards and shop windows (after getting permission, of course!)

>>> Share the poster on Facebook

>>> Share the official "Stop Three Waters" petition

>>> Chip in to the Stop Three Waters fund (Three Waters is expensive, but so too is 4,000 kilometres of fuel!)

Most important, come and say hi to the team, or pick up a stack of petition pamphlets to deliver to friends and neighbours. We have plenty of "Stop Three Waters" merchandise and we want you to take it!

Donate

We can’t wait to meet you and other taxpayers up and down the country.

Regards,

Jordan

Jordan_signature.jpg
Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

 

Taxpayers’ Union “exposed” for asking too many questions?

It must be that time of year again, when a journalist wakes up in the morning so concerned about government waste and secrecy they decide to ask government agencies how many official information requests your humble Taxpayers’ Union has been filing.

Yesterday we were contacted by the Department of Internal Affairs letting us know that Stuff.co.nz (we don’t know whether it’s one of their “public interest” taxpayer-funded journalists, or just one of their columnists) has requested a list of all our information requests dating back to November 2020.  We assume this relates to our popular “Stop Three Waters” campaign which Stuff has, to date, decided not to cover (though, in fairness, considering Stuff’s obligations under the NZ on Air conditions of funding, that may be rational from the newsroom’s perspective).

But what we can’t work out is why Stuff didn’t come to us first?  If the objective is to “expose” the Taxpayers’ Union for asking too many questions, why waste officials’ time by filing their own OIA, when they could have just asked us?  Perhaps there is an element of self importance: it is a sad state of affairs that the Taxpayers’ Union files more information requests / asks more questions than any media or other transparency organisation.  Indeed, in last two years of Labour’s opposition, our OIA and LGOIMA (the local government version of the Official Information Act) outnumbered the written and oral questions filed by the then-Opposition Labour Party.

And we make no apologies for it.   We are, by far, New Zealand’s largest transparency organisation, and work on behalf of our 179,000 subscribed supporters, and tens of thousands of members and donors.  Those supporters expect us to be asking the hard questions.  Many of those requests result in stories that the media pick up (for obvious reasons), are used for tools such as our popular “Ratepayers’ Report” local government league tables, and serve to remind officials and politicians that we are watching how they are spending taxpayer money. There is an auditing role, asking questions traditionally asked by local newspapers, but which are often missed now that the media is under so much pressure. For example, we use the Official Information Act to verify stories received through our confidential government waste ‘tip line’ – as unlike for Stuff, the Government’s swelling communications departments are generally “too busy” to answer our questions.

Democracy and transparency do have a cost. That’s why we encourage public agencies to proactively release information – so that the OIAs are not required.  But to criticise the media, or philanthropic groups exercising rights to promote transparency and accountability is wrong.

But in this case, we’ll make an exception: so for the Stuff journalist who asked for this information, whoever you are, next time don’t waste the time of officials – come to us direct.  Here is the information sought:

1 November 2020 – present date – OIAs filed by the Taxpayers’ Union

[Support to foreign nationals in NZ during COVID]
1.  Is the Department of Internal Affairs currently funding, or has it funded, in any way the Red Cross’ Manaaki Manuhiri program for foreign nationals stranded in New Zealand due to covid-19?
2.  If so, how much funding has it given to the program since the beginning of 2020

[Ministerial travel expenses]
This is a request for official information under the Official Information Act 1982 in relation to the travel costs of the Minister David Parker.
We request the following information:

1.  A breakdown of the cost of the Minister’s travel by means, i.e. air travel, car etcetera.
2.  A breakdown of the cost of additional travel arrangements i.e. if the Minister were to have a car travel to meet him at his destination or require a driver to stay overnight in accommodation.

[Ministerial travel follow up request]
‘a basic list of dates wherein the Minister (Hon David Parker) had a driver travel between cities to meet him or had a driver stay overnight at a location for a similar purpose, rather than make use of hired transport at his destination, since 1 January 2019.’

[Expenditure of the Royal Commission into historical abuse in care]
REFINED
We request a copy of the expenditure transactions since 1 January 2020 up until 31 December 2020 in relation to the following account codes:

80013
80060
80300
80560
80630
82001
82003
82005
82030
82101
82102
82103
82111
82112
82121
82122
82201
82205
82210
82212
82501
82670
82691
82855
82900
82905
82915
82920
82921

Please exclude all payroll transactions except for the total amounts paid in each pay run*.

Please ensure the data extract includes:
1. the supplier / vendor / payee 
2. the notation made in your accounting system
3. the transaction amount and date
4. the cost centre and general ledger assigned to the transaction.
   
Given the volume of information, we request it be made available in a suitable excel format. The above codes account for less than a third of those originally requested. I have also attached a response we received from the WAC to the same OIA as an example if you want one to refer to.

[Three Waters]
1.  Please provide the research and researcher that has lead the Minister of local government to believe that her water infrastructure reform will generate lasting jobs
2.  Please provide the research and researcher that has lead the Minister of local government to believe that her water infrastructure reform will generate savings 
3.  Do the predicted jobs generated by the reforms outweigh the jobs that will be lost to the reforms? Please provide the numbers to back this up.
4.  What are the estimated costs of the reforms? Please provide any initial budgets.
5.  Please provide the research and any cost/benefit analysis performed that lead to the conclusion that reform was needed/would be beneficial.

[Bolton Street property information]
1.  A breakdown of the amount of months over the last four years that 23 Bolton street has been occupied
2.  In the months it was occupied, how many people were residing at the property
3.  The market price of 23 Bolton Street
4.  The number of bedrooms and bathrooms in the property

[Advertising for three waters (follow up)]
A breakdown of the cost of the campaign currently running to advertise the three waters reforms.  Please include both actual costs, estimated costs (those budgeted for but not yet realized) and the full budget 

[Breakdown of advertising expenditure for Three Waters]
I request a breakdown of the $3.5 million by category / type of expenditure and communications channel.  I.e. newspaper advertising, social media, television, radio spending – broken into production and advertising placement.

[Racing Safety Development Fund applications]
This is an OIA for the applications (both successful and unsuccessful) of applications from the last funding round, and a list of those which received funding (and respective amounts).

[Government logo rebrand]
It has been suggested to the Taxpayers' Union that there has been a change in the logo (or preferred logo) used to represent the New Zealand Government. I have attached the "old" and "new" versions.
• Has there been a change to (or is the Government in the process of changing) the official "New Zealand Government" logo?
• If so, who initiated such a change and for what reason?
• What costs have been incurred (and are expected to be incurred) because of the changed logo?
o This could include, for example, updated signage and stationery, along with administrative and design costs.
• If the logo change is part of a wider rebrand, please provide the costs for that wider rebrand.
Please feel free to call me if any part of this request requires clarification.

[Timeframes for translation services]
How many requests were made to the translate email address in the last 7 days? What was the average response time for them?

[Jacinda Ardern parody]
This is an OIA for all communications (specifically emails) in the last 2 weeks that mention “Spitting Image” or the video available here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?ref=search&v=448438283127922  held by the respective agencies: Ministry of Health, DPMC, PMO, and DIA.

We are particularly interested in any communications with YouTube (or its representatives) about them hosting the same video (which has now been removed).

[Three Waters advisory group and advertising campaign]
This is an OIA regarding the “advisory group” referred to by a DIA spokesperson in this Stuff.co.nz article: https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/125570991/governments-three-waters-advertisements-slap-in-the-face-for-councils

An advisory group, including members of the local government sector, were involved in the creation of the campaign.

Who is on the advisory group? When have they met? And how much are they being paid?

The article also refers to LGNZ expressing concerns about the advertising campaign prior to it launching. Please provide that corrispondance.

[Breakdown of furniture expenditure/purchases 2020/21]
Please provide a breakdown of all furniture expenses/purchases from the 2020/2021 financial year, and the current financial year to date.

Please also identify any furniture purchased for staff to use at home.

[Three waters correspondence and expenditure]
1.  Any correspondence between the DIA and the Iwi Advisors Group for Freshwater in the past year.
2.  Any correspondence between the DIA and the Waikato-Tainui Chief Executive in the past year. 
3.  Any payments or reimbursements made to any individuals from these two entities or to the entities themselves over the past two years.
4.  The value and details of any such payment. 

[DIA website]
1.  Any correspondence or plans to update or redesign the DIA website from the past two years.
2.  When was the last time the website was redesigned and how much did this cost?
3.  Any estimates DIA has received or communicated around the costs to update or redesign the website. 
4.  The costs of maintaining the current website.

[Salary band for named DIA employee]
Salary band/range for acting Executive Director, Three Waters Iwi/Māori Maria Nepia. 

[Standard clause in public funding documents]
In a statement, the Department of Internal Affairs told Newshub "no clause in the Funding Agreement... prevents or prohibits any council from publicly expressing its own views".

On what basis is was that claim made?  Who authorised that statement to be made?  What is their name and position?  Were they relying on legal advice in making that claim?  If so, what is the date of that advice and how much did it cost?

The story goes on to say: 

[DIA] adds: "It is a common and prudent clause in public funding documents as a safeguard to protect against the misuse of public funds."

Please provide other public funding documents where DIA has included this clause in the last 12 months?

[RealMe helpdesk]
1.  How many calls have been made to the help desk on each day since 1 March 2022?
2.  How many of these calls have connected to an operator?
3.  How many of these calls have been dropped automatically due to call numbers exceeding capacity?
4.  If any of the requested data is not recorded, please explain why not.
5.  What is the capacity limit for calls to the help desk before calls are dropped automatically?
6.  Do international charges apply to calls that are dropped automatically?
7.  For the ‘Enquire online’ form, what is the average wait time between enquiries being filed and responses being sent, for the period since 1 March 2022?
8.  Finally, I would appreciate any comment as to why capacity has not kept up with call/enquiry volumes, and whether this is a recent problem or an ongoing issue.

We’ve also emailed this information to Stuff, and in the spirit of transparency, have asked the company to please detail the OIAs filed with DIA by Stuff over the same time period.  I will be tickled pink if we’ve managed to ask more.

Kāinga Ora staff busy with BBQs and pizza nights

As many as 12 Kāinga Ora staff members at a time have attended community barbecues, a pizza night, and a site blessing at one of its Auckland construction sites.

A neighbour of the Greys Ave social housing development contacted us through our Tip Line expressing frustration at constantly being sent newsletters from Kāinga Ora inviting locals to BBQs and social events connected to the new development. The housing agency spent $1,764 on food and drinks for these events, plus $600 for a site blessing and almost $2,000 on the newsletters themselves (resources, printing and distribution). 

Our official information request reveals that at least 20 paid staff members attended the four events hosted by Kāinga Ora.

In addition, 20 hours of staff time was spent writing and formatting each community newsletter. The taxpayer-funded newsletters introduce Kāinga Ora team members, highlight a "Subbie [subcontractor] of the month" and in one case express excitement about Jacinda Ardern and Housing Minister Megan Woods visiting the site.

Kāinga Ora's public relations campaign surrounding its Greys Ave development is clearly aimed at softening neighbours up to tolerate the construction and the hassles of having a social housing development next door.

Our tipster says she would prefer Kainga Ora focused on getting the construction done and dealing with dust pollution than being invited to warm and fuzzy taxpayer-funded BBQs. We tend to agree.

Budget 2022: Despite red hot economy, big spending Budget delivers higher debt, delayed

Dear Supporter,

Louis and I are just back from the 2022 Budget lock-up inside the Beehive. We’ve spent the day trawling through what is the biggest spend up (in terms of locking in permanent operating spending) we’ve ever seen. As we worked through the 24 Ministerial media releases and the hundreds of pages of Treasury forecasts and appropriations, the word front of mind is ‘overwhelming’.

While households are tightening their belts, Wellington is feasting: Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern have not read the room.

New Zealand is in a weird situation where the economy is red hot, but households are hurting.  Don’t be fooled by the gimmicks and flashy names for business-as-usual funding politicians want you to focus on. As we find in every year’s budget, the devil is always in the detail.

This update covers what the Government wants you to look at (its key announcements listed below), the economic updates by Treasury officials, and the boondoggles we’ve noticed immediately.

Key Budget 2022 announcements at a glance:

  • A new temporary “cost of living payment” for people earning up to $70,000 not already eligible to the Winter Energy Payment. The payment is $27 per week per person for three months from August. (This looks to us like a 'last minute' measure by Ministers)

  • A new Ministry for Disabled People.

  • 26,500 more insulation and heating retrofits for low-income earners.

  • Two-month extension to the half price public transport scheme.

  • Two-month extension to the fuel excise duty and Road User Charges cut (which your humble Taxpayers’ Union has been campaigning for!)

  • The various climate change "Emissions Reduction Plan" measures that were announced on Monday – see the summary on our website.

The Government’s political cover for the cost of living crisis: blame the supermarkets

The Government knows that its measures won’t be enough to paper over the financial pain that middle New Zealand is feeling with the highest inflation in 30 years.

So instead of tackling its spending problem, Grant Robertson has announced “emergency legislation” to tackle the supermarkets.

Tonight, the Government will ram through a new law to remove the ability of supermarket companies to put restrictive covenants over land as a barrier used to stop competition.

We welcome the move, but it does nothing to tackle the real problem pointed to by the Commerce Commission: it’s the Government’s own regulatory taxes – specifically land use and resource management restrictions – that make it virtually impossible for competitors to get started on the scale necessary to compete with the two big operators.

Government is growing quickly as a proportion of the economy (and it's fueling inflation)

If you received David’s email this morning, you’ll know that Mr Robertson had indicated he would increase new spending (the ‘operating allowance’) for ongoing annual spending by $6 billion (or $3,209 per household).

First the good news: Grant Robertson restrained himself by 1.6%, increasing spending by just $5.9 billion.

But this is offset by an increase in next year’s operating allowance from $2.7 billion to $4.5 billion.

Despite the GFC and the Christchurch earthquakes, Bill English averaged new operational spending allowances of just $660 million per year over his time as Finance Minister.

Core Government expenditure now amounts to 35.3% of the total economy. When Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister, the figure was 27.3%.

A better-than-expected economy means record Government revenues, but Grant Robertson’s pushed back the return to surplus

The economic forecasts are better than they were in December's half-year update. But the Government’s forecast debt will now peak $10 billion higher, and a return to surplus now isn’t expected until 2024/25. This is incredible when economic growth is forecast to hit 4.2% over the next year, and unemployment is forecast to drop from the current 3.2% (which is already the lowest in recorded history) to 3.0%.

Spiking inflation is a short-term windfall gain for the Government coffers – it drives up GST revenue and PAYE and taxpayers are driven into higher tax brackets.  Payroll costs for Governments tend to lag behind.

For the first time since the Fiscal Responsibility Act came into force in 1994 a Minister of Finance is projecting a deficit in “an overheated economy”. Despite the record tax take, and one-off COVID expenditure winding down, Budget 2022 forecasts a deficit of $6.6 billion.

Put another way, Grant Robertson will borrow $3,528 for every Kiwi household to pay for non-capital spending (i.e. he's still borrowing for day-to-day expenses) over the next 12 months.

So where is all this money going?

Louis was with me listing the big, the mad, and the interesting spending items that jumped out:

Grant’s headline Budget sweeteners

First, a victory for the Taxpayers’ Union: fuel tax and road user charge relief has been extended by another two months, expected to save motorists another $235 million (or $124 per household). This is matched by an extension of half price fares for public transport.

The next big sweetener is a bit of a fizzer: New Zealanders who are not eligible for the Winter Energy Payment and who are earning less than $70,000 will receive a temporary $27-per week “cost of living payment”, for the three months from August.

As for tax relief: except for two months at the pump, Budget 2022 delivers nothing to lighten the load. We say this is borderline criminal considering the way inflation has stealthily pushed New Zealanders into paying higher rates of income tax, even when we’re no better off. (We'll have a lot more to say on this next week!)

As is usual in a Budget, the bulk of the paperwork dumped on our table covered a laundry list of spending announcements across almost every area of government. This year's barrage of spending items is almost overwhelming. What follows is a non-comprehensive list (note some spending is spread across multiple years):

Corporate welfare:

  • $100m for a new “Business Growth Fund” to invest in small-medium businesses that banks aren’t willing to lend to – i.e. taxpayer funding for Dragon’s Den dropouts. Government representatives of the Fund will even get seats on SME the company boards!

  • $118m in “advisory services” for farmers and Maori land owners

  • $40m on “Transformation Plans” for forestry, wood processing, food and fisheries businesses

  • $350m “Affordable Housing Fund” for housing developers

  • $15.5m for “Pacific economic development” (i.e. funding for Pasifika-run businesses in New Zealand)

  • An extra $26m (now $155m in total) for “Progressive Procurement” – i.e. favouring Maori-owned businesses as government contractors

  • $349m for a Kiwirail bailout

Health:

  • An extra $3.1 billion (one-off) for the new co-governed health system ($1.8 billion of this disappears immediately: it wipes off existing DHB debt)

  • $580m for “Maori Health and wellbeing” including $188m for the new Maori Health Authority

  • $20m establishing new “Iwi-Maori Partnership Boards” (i.e. introducing co-governance to the new health system)

  • $70m for Pasifika health providers

Special interests:

  • $185m in arts and culture grants “to help build a resilient cultural sector as it continues to adapt to the challenges coming out of COVID-19”

  • $327m in funding for the new RNZ/TVNZ merged media entity

  • A $1 billion “Maori Budget” including: $91m on Maori trades, training, and cadetships, $3m for “marae connectivity”, $5m for iwi/Maori teachers

  • $200m for Maori education

  • $28m for Maori “language, culture and identity”

  • $162m for Maori organisations to reduce emissions, including $36m for “matauranga [traditional knowledge]-based approaches to reducing biological emissions” and $30m for “Maori Climate Action”

  • $38m for Pasifika training, education, and bilingual schooling

  • $14m for an "historical account of the Dawn Raids"

Miscellaneous:

  • $2 billion in extra spending on education (to smooth over the end of the decile system)

  • $662m for Defence

  • More Police ($562m), initiatives focused on organise crime ($94m), and on reoffending ($198m)

  • $100m establishing a new “Ministry for Disabled People” ($100m) – of which only $11m is allocated to providing services

  • $178m for councils dealing with RMA reform, plus a new “National Maori Entity” to co-govern resource management

  • $40m to research RNA vaccine technology

  • $114m on family violence initiatives

  • More taxpayer money pumped into the housing market via more generous First Home Grant and First Home Loan rules

Some of this spending is uncontroversial. A lot of it is mad. But what really hit me was the share scale: spending items costing tens of millions were treated like minor bulletpoints by Ministers.

And New Zealanders didn't want it!

New Zealanders weren’t even asking for this new spending. You may have heard Newstalk ZB cover our recent poll revealing that, by a margin of four to one, New Zealanders did not want to see increased spending in the Budget.

In other words, Kiwi households taking prudent financial measures in the face of a cost of living crisis hoped to see the Government doing the same, but were instead delivered a classic Labour-style spend-up, but on steroids.

You can read for yourself the full Budget 2022 material that just went online at www.budget.govt.nz.  You can also read our initial commentary to the media below.

In a few moments, I’ll be sitting down with economist Cameron Bagrie, who was also in the Budget Lock Up.  We’ll be recording a special edition of Taxpayer Talk streamed live to our Facebook page.

As is usual, our team will spend the next few weeks trawling through the detail and will no doubt uncover far more boondoggles and examples of questionable spending to hold to account those who spend your taxpayer money.

Thank you for your support.

Jordan Jordan_signature.jpg
 Jordan Williams
 Executive Director
 New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

MEDIA RELEASES:

Budget 2022: The Worst Budget Since Muldoon

Budget 2022: How Are We Still Responding To COVID With Arts Grants?

Fuel Tax Relief Extension: A Small Victory For Taxpayers

WTF? Stu Nash Starts A Bank?

Budget 2022: How are we still responding to COVID with arts grants?

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is almost – but not quite – lost for words over Budget 2022’s announcement of another $185 million in arts and heritage grants. 

Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “We were amazed when the Government decided it was appropriate to respond to a novel coronavirus with more than $300 million in grants for art projects. We were amazed again when they topped that up to $495 million. Now they’ve topped it up again by another $185 million, and are still calling it a COVID response!” 

“The Government boasts that this spending will ‘strengthen and complement’ the Arts and Culture COVID Recovery Programme –the same programme that saw taxpayer money allocated toward ‘indigenised hypno-soundscapes’ and interpretive dances about the impact of COVID.” 

“The $18 million specifically set aside to ‘celebrate Te Ao Maori’ seems especially indulgent – Maori face very real problems in housing and education that will not be solved with arts, crafts, and theatre.” 

Fuel tax relief extension: a small victory for taxpayers

Responding to Budget 2022’s two-month extension of fuel tax and road user charge relief, New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says: 

“This is a small but significant victory for taxpayers and will save the average household an extra $124 over two months.” 

“We campaigned hard for the reduction in fuel tax by presenting commuters with the shocking truth that for many Kiwis, half of the money spent at the pump was going to Grant Robertson. However, the plan to hike the tax back up again was always questionable during a cost of living crisis.” 

“Robertson deserves credit for seeing sense on fuel tax – at least for now. If he doesn’t get the cost of living under control in the next two months, he’ll just have kicked his fuel tax problem down the road.” 

WTF? Stu Nash starts a bank?

The Taxpayers’ Union representatives choked on Treasury’s budget lock up sausage rolls when they discovered Stuart Nash’s announcement that he’s launching an investment bank for business rejected by the banking sector and to appoint government workers as directors of SMEs.

Jordan Williams, spokesman for the Taxpayers’ Union, said: “$100 million for an investment bank, run by politicians and bureaucrats, to take equity and even board seats in businesses that can’t borrow from the banking sector. What could possibly go wrong? 

“According to Minister Nash, a feature of the fund is to exclude equity financers who ‘push for aggressive growth plans, and short term results’.  He says the fund will have ‘more modest return expectations and no hard exit deadlines.  No kidding.”

“Coming from the Minister who back in 2014  wrote a foreword to the outstanding Taxpayers’ Union corporate welfare report, Monopoly Money, it seems Mr Nash has lost his mind.”

“Mr Nash claims these funds are common overseas. What he fails to mention is that they are not led by Government officials.”

“If Mr Nash wants to play investment banker, he should do a Simon Power and play banker with Westpac’s money, not ours.”

Budget 2022: The worst budget since Muldoon

Grant Robertson is the first Minister of Finance since Muldoon to fail to deliver a budget suplus during a time of economic boom, says the Taxpayers’ Union, commenting from today’s Budget 2022 Beehive lockup.

“With Government revenues booming, it is stunning that Grant Robertson has failed to deliver either tax relief or a surplus,” says Jordan Williams, the Executive Director of the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

“The spike to inflation has seen record revenue flooding into the Beehive due to workers paying higher income tax rates and more GST. But despite the inflation, the lowest unemployment since records began, the end of COVID lockdowns, and better than expected economic numbers, Grant Robertson has actually pushed back the return to surplus.”

“It is stunning that, during a cost of living crisis, Grant Robertson has failed to give back any of his windfall gain to the workers who earned it.  His failure to deliver either income tax relief or a balanced budget beggars belief: while households tighten belts, Wellington balloons.”

“With Government revenues as strong as they are, the Finance Minister could have today announced both income tax relief and a surplus. Instead, he’s decided to feast on the revenue with a laundry list of spending commitments.” 

“The temporary $27-per week ‘cost of living’ payment is a cruel joke. Unlike genuine tax relief, it fails to improve productivity incentives. It’s just a three month handout, and an ineffective one at that. At current prices, it wouldn’t even buy two blocks of cheese!” 

“The only silver lining is pushing back by three months the hike to petrol taxes and Road User Charges. With inflation running at 6.9%, the hike to petrol taxes should have been squashed permanently”

The Emissions Reduction Plan: What taxpayers need to know

On Monday James Shaw unveiled his long-awaited Emissions Reduction Plan (we’ll call it the ERP).

The good news is that it’s far from the radical plan of central economic control proposed by the Climate Change Commission’s “big kahuna” report. We opposed that plan very loudly and helped thousands of New Zealanders swamp the consultation process with opposition.

The bad news is that it’s simply more of what we’ve come to expect from this Government: big politically-driven spending announcements wrapped up in the rhetoric of “climate action”.

The ERP raids $2.9 billion in revenue from the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and spends it on handouts to big business and fat bribes for middle class households buying electric vehicles. For context, $2.9 billion is about $1,500 of spending for every Kiwi household.

The elephant in the room is that because of the way our ETS works, most of this spending will do nothing to reduce our emissions. More on that below, but first, the headline announcements from today:

Cash for Clunkers

A new “Cash for Clunkers” scheme will see buyers of EVs or hybrids get a big subsidy in return for scrapping their old petrol vehicles. In fact, during the policy’s trial the subsidy works out (on average) as more than $12,000 for every scrapped vehicle!

This is classic middle class welfare dressed up as climate action. The policy will primarily benefit New Zealanders who are already in the market for an EV – and these buyers don’t tend to be low-income. In fact, scrapping petrol cars will drive up costs for the poor due to reduced supply in the used car market. And of course, the new subsidies and costs come on top of the “feebate” scheme (i.e. the ute tax) which already hammers the less well-off.

James Shaw also announced a target for New Zealanders to drive less in total – 20 percent fewer kilometres by 2035, to be exact. Question: if we’re all expected to be driving non-emitting vehicles, why do we also need to drive less?

Boilers for Big Business

Shaw has announced he’s sloshing another $650 million into the ‘decarbonising industry’ corporate welfare fund.

This is the same pot of money that we exposed in a recent Taxpayer Update, which has handed millions to the likes of Silver Fern Farms, ANZCO, and DB Breweries so that they can upgrade their heating systems. Smaller competitors never seem to get a look in.

Regardless, as we have previously pointed out, the funding is redundant: based on the Government's own numbers, big businesses already have a strong enough incentive to replace coal boilers and avoid ETS levies.

The fund (also known as the GIDI fund) is a classic case of a left-wing Government cosying up to big business under the pretence of “green” policy. Browse the handouts so far: Round 1Round 2Round 3.

The Elephant in the Room

The vast majority of interventions announced this week will fail to reduce emissions.

That’s because, outside of agriculture, our emissions are governed by the Emissions Trading Scheme – not by ad hoc government interventions.

The ETS caps total emissions and allows private businesses to bid for the right to produce emissions by purchasing carbon credits. Each year the cap shrinks, so fewer carbon credits are released to the market and in practice it becomes more costly for businesses to buy the right to produce emissions.

While the scheme itself may sound complicated, the upshot for New Zealanders is simple: energy and fuel becomes more costly each year, and households and businesses are free to decide for themselves how to cut emissions in ways that are most affordable for their circumstances. Left to their own devices businesses will, for example, replace coal boilers with electric heating systems to save on ETS levies.

When the Government then comes along with expensive additional policies to reduce emissions in say, the transport sector, total emissions remain unchanged. People switching from petrol to electric vehicles simply free up carbon credits for the rest of us to burn. It’s called the “waterbed effect”: if you try to lower a waterbed by pushing down on one spot, it’ll just pop up somewhere else.

The beauty of the ETS is that it’s designed to limit the Government to using a single tool – reducing the overall cap on carbon credits – to cut emissions. The problem is that this Government is wilfully ignoring the way the ETS works so that it can give handouts to middle class households and big businesses, and encourage “behaviour change” that appeals to its supporters’ ideological instincts.

As the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put it: if a cap-and-trade system has a sufficiently stringent cap then other policies such as renewable subsidies have no further impact on total greenhouse emissions.

Of course, James Shaw knows how the ETS works, but he’s exploiting confusion over the policy to maximise his number of feel-good announcements and photo-ops with electric vehicles, cycleways, and school children.

Will National at least be honest with taxpayers?

We know that Christopher Luxon understands the ETS. His new economist Matt Burgess wrote extensively about the waterbed effect in his previous role at the New Zealand Initiative think-tank.

The risk is that Luxon will support the Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan anyway, locking a future National-led Government into a path of wasteful, pointless climate spending. He might think that New Zealanders are too simple to understand the ETS – and he might just be wary of being seen to oppose “climate action”, even when that action is costly and completely ineffective.

At the Taxpayers’ Union, we feel it’s our duty to be up front with New Zealanders. When we already have an ETS, a separate “Emissions Reduction Plan” is the emperor’s new clothes.

It’s not enough for National to quibble with the details of the ERP. They need to reject outright the entire approach of intervening in sectors already covered by the ETS.

Exclusive poll: Four to one, Kiwis don't want more spending in the Budget

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union can reveal that, by a margin of more than four to one, most New Zealanders oppose increasing Government spending in this week's Budget.

A new scientific poll of 1,000 respondents was conducted by Curia Market Research and asked, Given the current levels of inflation, do you think the Government should continue to increase overall spending in this year’s budget, or keep it about the same?

Only 15% support increasing spending, versus 65% who support keeping it at the same level. 20% are unsure.

Headline result

Majorities favour spending restraint in every age group, area, gender, and deprivation level.

Even among Labour and Green voters, only 27% favour increased spending. Among undecided voters, only 8% want an increase in spending.

Poll by Party

With $6 billion of new operational spending earmarked for Thursday's Budget, it appears Grant Robertson has badly misjudged the public appetite for big spending. New Zealanders understand that one driver of higher living costs is Government spending bidding up the prices of goods and services.

Moreover, Kiwi households are responding to higher costs by making prudent sacrifices, and they expect the Government to do the same.

New Zealanders know that a big reason the Finance Minister has so much money in his fiscal envelope is because inflation has pushed workers into higher tax brackets. The best thing Grant Robertson could announce on Thursday is to return these ill-gotten gains to productive New Zealanders via income tax relief.

Taxpayer Talk: Greg Murphy on why the Government's Road to Zero stratergy is spin with no substance

In February, the Government launched its road safety strategy called Road to Zero. The strategy hopes to reduce road deaths to zero by 2030. The Government has allocated $85 million on advertising this strategy alone. Join Louis and motorsport champion Greg Murphy, as they discuss why this unrealistic strategy is purely spin, which will not reduce the number of deaths on New Zealand's roads. 

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

Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll: May 2022

Exclusive to members and supporters, we can reveal the results of the ninth Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll.

The polling period was 4 May - 11 May 2022.

Here are the headline results:

Poll graphic 1

Party

Support

Change from last month

National

36.8%

↓1.0

Labour

34.2%

↓2.6

Greens

9.7%

↑0.3

ACT

10.9%

↑2.5

Māori

2.4%

↓1.2

NZ First

1.8%

↑0.1

Other

4.2%

↑1.9

For the first time since the Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll began in September last year, National and ACT have the numbers to form a Government. This means the Māori Party are no longer kingmakers.

From experience, the less frequent TV polls have tended to closely follow the monthly Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll. This is the first mainstream scientific poll (i.e. the three public political polls that subscribe to the Research Association’s “New Zealand Political Polling Code”) to show that together National and ACT have enough support to form a Government since Simon Bridges led the National Party. Put another way: ACT have supplanted the Māori Party to hold the balance of power.

Here is how these results would translate to seats in Parliament (assuming all electorate seats are held):

Poll graphic 2

The shifts in party support result in National retaining its number of seats, ACT gaining four, the Māori Party losing two, no change for the Greens, and Labour losing two, resulting in 61 seats for the Centre-Right, versus 56 for Labour and the Greens.

The continued trend toward the Centre-Right could be explained by the changing priorities for voters. The Cost of Living now easily rates as the most significant voting issue, while Covid-19 has become insignificant.

Poll graphic 4

Finally, voters increasingly believe New Zealand is headed in the wrong direction. 48% believe we are headed in the wrong direction versus 34% who believe we are headed in the right direction. This is a massive change from this time last year.

Poll graphic 5

In fact, the "net direction" (right direction minus wrong direction) now sits at a 14 year low.

For the full polling report, including preferred Prime Minister ratings, favourability ratings, and the detailed insights the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition are used to receiving, join our Taxpayer Caucus – our club of most generous financial supporters who make our work possible.


The scientific poll was conducted by Curia Market Research and commissioned by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union. The full polling report is being released exclusively to members of our Taxpayer Caucus. As is well known, but for full disclosure, David Farrar is a member of the Board of the Taxpayers' Union and also a Director of Curia Market Research Ltd.

The Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll was conducted from Wednesday 04 May to Wednesday 11 May 2022. The sample size was 1,000 eligible New Zealand voters who are contactable on a landline or mobile phone (700 respondents) or online panel (300 respondents), selected at random from 20,000 nationwide phone numbers. The results are weighted to reflect the overall voting adult population in terms of gender, age, and area. Based on this sample of 1,000 respondents, the maximum sampling error (for a result of 50%) is +/- 3.1%, at the 95% confidence level. This poll should be formally referred to as the “Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll”.

Film Commission's Oscars jaunt costs taxpayers $58,000

Two New Zealand Film Commission officials spent $58,188 on a 10-day excursion to Los Angeles for the Oscars, reveals the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

After two years cooped up by COVID travel restrictions, the Film Commission's Chief Executive David Strong and Head of International Attractions Philippa Mossman made up for lost time, jetting to Los Angeles for the Oscars and a Netflix afterparty, and hosting fully-catered, alcohol-included dinners and drinking functions.  

The two officials burned through $21,000 in flights (business class for the Chief Executive) and accommodation, $10,350 for gifts of carved Māori cloak pins, and $1,743 in Uber trips.

The big-ticket event was a cocktail function at the New Zealand Consulate-General residence, where the officials served around 100 Hollywood figures and bureaucrats $5,152 of wine and $8,648 in food and catering. Premiere Valet Services were engaged for the evening at a cost of $3,400, and the Sauv-soaked guests were sent home with custom-printed goodie bags containing Whittaker's chocolate.

At a separate drinks event for film industry figures, $1,223 was spent on spirits, beer, wine, and bar snacks, again charged to the New Zealand taxpayer.

On top of the near-daily wining and dining events, Mr Strong and Ms Mossman were given an additional $115 each per day for food and other incidental expenses.

The full information response given to the Taxpayers' Union can be read here.

Actual receipts charged to the taxpayer by the two officials (receipt figures are in US dollars).

Working at the Film Commission must be one of the cushiest jobs in New Zealand's public sector. You're paid big bucks to wine and dine Hollywood bigwigs before giving them billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded subsidies.

Taxpayer Talk: The Port of Auckland: a costly political football that hasn't scored success

 

In 2005, the Port of Auckland was delisted from the NZX and was taken over by what is now Auckland Council. Since then, the port has underperformed, become inefficient, and lagged behind other ports such as the Port of Tauranga. Jordan sits down with Greg Smith from Devon Funds to discuss how a public ownership model of Auckland's port has decimated its performance, value and status – costing Auckland ratepayers dearly. 

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

Taxpayer Update: Media funding backfires | IRD goes bonkers | Corporate bludgers

Dear Supporter,

If you're a business owner this update is more important than usual: we're blowing the whistle on backroom changes to IRD's rules that will result in enormous tax bills for small and medium-size business owners. We've also been busy on multiple campaign fronts, from Three Waters to wealth taxes, and we've had huge win on the Rotorua Bill. Broadcaster Peter Williams has also joined our Board.

But first...

Revealed: Taxpayer funding for media backfires

This week we released the results of a new scientific poll confirming what we have long suspected: New Zealanders don't trust Government-funded media outlets to hold the Government to account.

Poll graph

Payments from the likes of the $55 million "Public Interest Journalism" Fund present a clear conflict of interest to media outlets like Stuff and the NZ Herald, who now have millions of dollars at stake in electing a government that protects their funding.

Whenever we challenge media bosses on this they always insist that their company is immune from editorial influence. But they can no longer deny that the decision to accept funding has eroded readers' trust.

One day after the poll's publication, the media outlets failed an obvious test: not one of the outlets to have received PIJF funding has covered the results of the poll.

The poll has however been covered by The Platform  a new outlet with a policy of not accepting taxpayer money. Graham Adams's article explains how funding recipients are pressured into skewing their coverage of Treaty/co-governance issues.

For the record, we are tracking all payments from the Public Interest Journalism Fund on our website. Click here to find out who got taxpayer money.

We're calling on media outlets to salvage their credibility by repaying taxpayer funding, and declining any future payments.

Click here to sign the petition calling for the media to Pay Back the $55 Million.

Changes to IRD rules will see an enormous new tax burden on business owners

When the Government announced its new 39% income tax bracket, we warned that high earners would simply shift income into companies and trusts.

David Parker eventually cottoned on to this problem and asked Inland Revenue to investigate ways to "crack down". Now Inland Revenue has been quietly consulting on an alarming set of proposals that are – frankly – bonkers.

  • Inland Revenue has proposed whacking most small business owners with a tax on retained earnings (i.e. profits reinvested in a company) if they sell shares. Those earnings have already been taxed at the company tax rate of 28%, but Inland Revenue has suggested an extra tax upon the sale of the business to make up the difference between 28% and 39%. This means that for any non-listed company that, say, takes on a new business partner (or sells to the next generation) that proportion of retained earnings will be immediately taxed at the marginal rates for the previous owner, all in the one income year!

  • Next, and even worse, Inland Revenues proposes severely limiting which businesses will be eligible for the 28% company tax rate. A business owner who provides more than 50% of his or her company's services would now be denied access to the 28% company tax rate, even if they have dozens of clients.

To add salt to the wound, big publicly-listed companies will be exempt from these tax hikes. As our tax advisors put it, "Inland Revenue is aiming for the kings but shooting the peasants".

The full details of the complex proposals are actually even worse than I have space to describe here  for many business owners it will result in more tax payable than if there was a full capital gains tax.  You can read our formal submission on the proposals here, with analysis from one of New Zealand's leading tax advisory firms.

Inland Revenue is not taking further submissions, but we would still encourage business owners to add their voice by emailing [email protected]. The good news is we understand that having read our submission and those of other experts identifying similar problems, officials are now tearing their hair out over the mess they made of the recommendations. Our sources within IRD tell us that officials know the only opportunity the Government has to ram these changes through is in this year's omnibus tax bill expected before Parliament in the next few months. Even the mandarins in Wellington know this is an election year stink bomb.

Remember Ardern's wealth tax promise?

Despite earlier promises, Jacinda Ardern is now refusing to rule out the introduction of a wealth tax if she's re-elected.

Our team put this ad together which is now running across social media and Youtube to remind New Zealanders of Jacinda Ardern's 2020 promise to never introduce a wealth tax while she's Prime Minister:

Wealth tax adClick here to watch.

Wealth taxes are notoriously difficult to implement fairly or simply. Someone who owns a house in Auckland may look wealthy on paper while still struggling to pay weekly bills.

Fundamentally, a wealth tax is a tax on savings and investment – it punishes New Zealanders who have been productive, made prudent financial decisions, and who have already paid more than their share of taxes.

Under pressure in Parliament this week, Ardern attempted a tougher line, saying "I stand by my ruling out the wealth tax policy that was put to me in 2020". The problem is, the wealth tax put to her in 2020 was the Green Party's policy. She is intentionally leaving herself wriggle room for Labour to introduce its own wealth tax.

We've relaunched our Three Waters television ads

Thank you to everyone who chipped in to our Stop Three Waters campaign fund in the last week.

With your support, we've been able to secure a number of prime time spots for our Three Waters television ad. Here's what we've booked so far:

Ad slots

We're pushing this campaign hard because we know that the more New Zealanders learn about Three Waters, the less they like about it. By the time official consultation opens, New Zealanders will be primed to swamp the select committee with submissions against the scheme.

But advertising alone is not enough. In the next few weeks will be announcing the next steps for this campaign. We will be targeting those few councils and mayors that are not yet standing up to the Government to protect the theft by Nanaia Mahuta of local community water assets.

We're also going to be specifically holding to account Labour's provincial MPs who we think are the key to overcoming the strong Māori caucus within Labour that is driving the Three Waters and anti-democratic co-governance agenda. Watch this space...

Peter Williams joins our Board

Peter Williams

You might have received an email from Peter Williams recently asking you to support our campaign to stop Three Waters.

We’re delighted to confirm that Peter has joined our Board. As one of New Zealand’s most trusted broadcasters, he is an authoritative champion for our mission of lower taxes, less waste, and more transparency.

Peter says: 

It's appropriately coincidental that my appointment to the Taxpayers' Union board is announced as New Zealand’s inflation rate hits its highest mark in over 30 years. That number alone reinforces the need for prudent government spending.

The Taxpayers’ Union is a significant watchdog of how our taxpayer money is spent, or as has been the case too often lately, squandered. Taxpayers’ Union campaigns have a significant strike rate in changing or amending government policy, and I’m looking forward to ensuring there are many more such successes.

Peter’s appointment follows those of former CEO of NZIER and current NZSO Chair, Laurence Kubiak, former ACT Party Chief of Staff and current Hutt City Councillor, Chris Milne, and former Finance Minister Hon Ruth Richardson, earlier this year. All our Board members are unpaid volunteers who provide strategic guidance and wisdom to our team and lend substantial credibility to the efforts of the Taxpayers' Union.

Your efforts pay off: Rotorua representation bill halted in its tracks

Coffey

Two weeks ago we urged readers of our Taxpayer Update to submit on the Rotorua District Council (Representation Arrangements) Bill that would have abolished the principle of "one person, one vote" in local government.

You responded in massive numbers. Overnight, more than two thousand submissions were made on the Bill, with the vast majority opposing it.

Tāmati Coffey responded by extending the select committee process. Then the Attorney-General David Parker warned that the Bill was inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, and finally Rotorua District Council conceded that the Government needed to press "pause" on the Bill.

The Government now says it will wait for further policy work to be done on the Bill. But with the principal problem of "one person, one vote" and equality of suffrage now acknowledged no amount of tinkering can fix it. Even if the Government changes its mind, we've won in that the Government will now be unable to sneak it through unnoticed and it cannot come into effect in time to apply to this year's local elections.

More importantly, we have demonstrated to the Government that New Zealanders will not sit back and allow politicians to meddle with fundamental principles of our democracy.

Jordan sat down to chat with David Farrar on Taxpayer Talk after the victory  click here to listen.

Megan Woods hands big business millions in "decarbonisation" grants

Southern Paprika grant

Energy Minister Megan Woods has now handed out $68 million worth of corporate welfare payments to major businesses replacing their boilers and heating systems.

The latest announcement saw capsicum grower Southern Paprika get $5 million to install a new biomass boiler. Meat producer ANZCO and textile manufacturer Canterbury Spinners each got more than a million dollars, and DB breweries got $500,000.

Browse the full list of handouts yourself: Round 1, Round 2, Round 3.

These businesses are massive, profitable operations. They already have strong financial incentives to improve energy efficiency, and they certainly don't need taxpayer help.

We can only weep for smaller businesses that already teeter on the edge of profitability, and now find that their competitors are receiving fat taxpayer-funded subsidies.

And here's the shocker: the handouts won’t even reduce New Zealand’s carbon emissions: energy emissions are capped and traded under the Emissions Trading Scheme, meaning any emission reductions from a new boiler only serve to free up carbon credits to be burnt in other parts of the economy! This is the "waterbed effect" which is conveniently ignored by all the politicians who want to be seen to be doing something knowing very well they are wasting money.

A classic taxpayer-funded "non-job"

Lapel pinAt the Taxpayers' Union we like to keep track of some of the dumbest jobs in the Government sector.

Here's a doozy from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet: someone is being paid $132,000–$155,000 to lead a team in charge of handing out awards to recognise people involved in the COVID-19 response. We understand the prize is a lapel pin.

If you know of other public sector "non-jobs" that deserve attention, let us know in a reply to this newsletter.

Finance Minister cuts debt by... re-defining debt

Grant thumb

In a pre-Budget speech, Grant Robertson announced he will change the way the Government measures its net debt, which will make our new debt figure look 20 percentage points lower.

The trick is that the new formula includes assets managed independently from the Government, such as the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.

One side effect of this is that the reported Government debt figure will fluctuate more wildly depending on the performance of the Super Fund's international investments.

Our prediction for years ahead: when the Super Fund performs well, Finance Ministers will claim credit for improved debt; when it performs poorly, they'll blame higher debt on "international conditions".

Taxpayer Talk: Should the Government finally privatise state-owned enterprises?

The Government owns or partly owns 18 large businesses with combined assets of $78 billion. The Treasury has found that many are underperforming.

Jordan and co-founder of TDB Advisory Phil Barry sat down to discuss why these businesses would be more productive and experience higher rates of return if they were privatised – bolstering New Zealand's economic resilience and standard of living. Click here to listen.

You can find all of our Taxpayer Talk episodes on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, or iHeart Radio.

This newsletter is getting long...

A few more items of Government waste to round out this Taxpayer Update:

  • Taxpayers continue to be haunted by the ghost of Auckland's scrapped bike bridge. Waka Kotahi forked out an estimated $600,000 to lease prime waterfront office space for the project just three weeks before it was cancelled.

  • Remember the public sector's COVID-19 "pay freeze"? Newshub reveals that more than 2500 Government workers earning over $100,000 a year got pay rises that were only meant to be granted in "exceptional circumstances". 

  • In a new column, Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt has complained that in 2019 the Taxpayers' Union obtained his ratepayer-funded expenses with "no exclusions for sensitive expenditure or for my privacy." We still think highlighting these expenses was the right thing to do – such as exposing that ratepayers were paying for custom "I met the Mayor" wristbands. Click here to find out how Tim Shadbolt spent ratepayers' money.

As always, we are indebted to the thousands of Kiwis who donate and make this work possible.

Donate

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Media coverage:

The Platform  
Graham Adams: poll shows how badly the $55 million media fund has damaged public trust

Newstalk ZB  Bryce Wilkinson: Former Treasury director says the Auditor-General is right to raise concerns around Covid response fund spending

Stuff  Three Waters is still a shameless asset grab

Stuff  
Likelihood that Te Pāti Māori will be 2023 'kingmaker' increasing

NZ Herald  
Mike Hosking: Open and honest government? What a joke

Gisborne Herald  
Way to go for National to form next Government

Kiwiblog  Huge majority believe media independence has been undermined by government funding

Newstalk ZB  
National surges, Labour plummets in new political poll

NZ Herald  'The public are sick of the spin': Luxon says National's surge in polls shows tide is turning against Ardern

Otago Daily Times  National continues rise over Labour in latest poll

Local Matters  Road ad campaign criticised

Homepaddock  
Quotes of the month

Homepaddock  Three Waters worse

NZ Herald  Bruce Cotterill: Looking for the Super in the City

Stuff  
How the office of Invercargill's mayor has vanished into a vacuum

NZ Herald  Bill Ralston: Political propaganda hard to swallow when Kiwis can't afford veges

Stuff  Three Waters reaction: Mayor Phil Goff says Auckland is being penalised, LGNZ welcomes ratepayer certainty

Rotorua Now  Controversial sculpture set for repaint

NZ
 Herald  From security pacts to dancing kiwifruit - was the PM's overseas trip a success?

Stuff  Controversial Rotorua sculpture set for repaint 18 months after installation

Homepaddock  Three Waters worse

RNZ  Politics: Inflation fixes, Luxon's leadership, Ardern's Asia trip

Stuff  The media has trust issues, but that's not necessarily a bad thing

Newstalk ZB Louis Houlbrooke: We need to ensure tourists cover their costs

Newstalk ZB  Nats take lead in latest poll

Newstalk ZB  Jason Walls: She’ll be looking back home at those poll numbers

Newstalk ZB  David Farrar: It’s a very stark trend

The Northland Age  Northland speed review consultation starts next month, May

NZ Herald  National takes lead in latest poll, but could not govern without Te Pāti Māori

Newshub  Nats polling higher than Labour among female voters shows 'women going to vote for best ideas', former Deputy PM Paula Bennett says

Democracy Project  Byrce Edwards: A polarising co-governance decision for Parliament

Stuff  High inflation a lose-lose for the Government, but it won’t be panicking – yet

Newshub  How NZ Govt can bring down cost of living - ACT's David Seymour

NZ Herald  Inflation nation: Matthew Hooton – Government needs to make bold moves to head off cost of living

NBR   Inflation hits a 30-year high

NZ Herald  National leader Chris Luxon’s off-piste moments and who is winning the inflation wars

Stuff  The shaky claims and untested ideology underpinning Three Waters

Inland Revenue has proposed a bonkers new tax on small business

When the Government announced its new 39% income tax bracket, we warned that high earners would simply shift income into companies and trusts.

David Parker eventually cottoned on to this problem and asked Inland Revenue to investigate ways to crack down. Now Inland Revenue has been quietly consulting on a set of proposals that are – frankly – bonkers.

•  Inland Revenue has proposed whacking most small business owners with a tax on retained earnings (i.e. profits reinvested in a company) if they sell their shares. Those earnings have already been taxed at the company tax rate of 28%, but Inland Revenue has suggested an extra tax on upon the sale of the business to make up the difference between 28% and 39%.

•  Next, and even worse, Inland Revenues proposes severely limiting which businesses will be eligible for the 28% company tax rate. A business owner who provides more than 50% of his or her company's services would now be denied access to the 28% company tax rate, even if they have dozens of clients.

To add salt to the wound, big publicly-listed companies will be exempt from these tax hikes. As our tax advisors put it, "Inland Revenue is aiming for the kings but shooting the peasants".

The full details of the proposals are actually even worse than we have space to describe here – they are extremely complex and can result in more tax payable compared with if there was a full capital gains tax. If you're interested you can read our formal submission on the proposals here.

Inland Revenue is not taking further submissions, but we understand that having read our submission and those of other experts, officials are now tearing their hair out over the mess they made of the recommendations.

We're optimistic there will be a backdown. If not, we will ensure these proposals cause a world of political pain for Labour as a disproportionate tax on small business, and another breach of the "no new taxes" promise.

Poll reveals distrust of taxpayer-funded media

Most New Zealanders believe that government funding for private media companies undermines media independence, reveals a new poll commissioned by the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

Click here to sign the petition against government funding for private media.

The scientific poll of 1,000 New Zealanders was carried out by Curia Market Research and found that 59% percent believe the funding undermines media independence, compared to just 21% who believe it doesn't. Twenty percent were unsure.Poll question 1

Crucially, the belief that media funding undermines independence is strong among supporters of all major political parties, including Labour and the Greens.

Poll question 3The poll also asked New Zealanders whether they supported the Public Interest Journalism Fund, which sees $55 million in government funding allocated to media for "public interest" reporting projects. Forty-four percent of New Zealanders oppose the fund, versus just 24% in support. Thirty-two percent were unsure.

Poll question 2Mainstream media outlets have been at pains to deny any suggestion that government funding undermines their independence. But they can no longer deny that the funding has undermined the perception of independence.

It's now clear that the Government's push to directly fund private media outlets is deeply misguided, if not dangerous. Instead of enlightening New Zealanders with high-quality journalism, the funding risks driving audiences towards fringe information sources that may be perceived as more independent.

This polling should also be a wake-up call to the media companies themselves. As tempting as it must be to accept Government handouts, in the long term it may serve to alienate readers who expect journalists to report from a position of independence.

On the flipside, this poll suggests there is a real opportunity for media outlets who differentiate themselves by refusing the funding. We're already seeing smaller outlets such as The NBR, The Platform, and interest.co.nz capitalise on this opportunity by loudly advertising the fact that they are fully privately-funded.

At the Taxpayers' Union, we share concerns that government funding undermines media independence. For example, an explicit goal of the Public Interest Journalism Fund is to promote a 'partnership' interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi. Whether media outlets admit it or not, taking the money is a direct challenge to editorial independence on highly contentious debates such as co-governance.

More broadly, it's impossible to ignore the fact that media bosses have a multi-million-dollar interest in electing a Government that will protect their funding. The risk that this will influence the way issues are reported, or what issues are reported, is obvious.

A simple immediate test for media independence will be whether they are willing to report on this poll.

The Taxpayers' Union is tracking grants paid from the Public Interest Journalism Fund here.

Taxpayer Talk: Disregarding democracy: the Government's attempt to strip away one person one vote

Last month, the Government quietly tried to pass Tamati Coffee's Rotorua District Council Bill. When electing Rotorua Councillors, it would have meant a vote on the general roll would have been worth 39% of a vote on the Māori roll. Due to public pressure and the Attorney General calling it a breach of the Bill of Rights Act, the Government backtracked. Join Jordan and David Farrar, as they discuss how the bill nearly removed one person one vote in Rotorua, and came close to setting a dangerous precedent for New Zealand democracy. 

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Peter Williams joins Taxpayers’ Union board

Peter Williams

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is welcoming Peter Williams as a board member.

Peter has nearly fifty years of experience in the media as a TVNZ news presenter, sports writer, and radio host.

"It's appropriately coincidental that my appointment to the Taxpayers' Union board is announced as New Zealand’s inflation rate hits its highest mark in over 30 years. That number alone reinforces the need for prudent government spending." -Peter Williams

Peter says, “The Taxpayers’ Union is a significant watchdog of how our taxpayer money is spent, or as has been the case too often lately, squandered. Taxpayers’ Union campaigns have a significant strike rate in changing or amending government policy, and I’m looking forward to ensuring there are many more such successes.”

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says, “We’re delighted to welcome Peter onto the Board. As one of New Zealand’s most trusted broadcasters, he is an authoritative champion for our mission of lower taxes, less waste, and more transparency. Peter’s experience in the media is complementary to the economic, public policy, political, and local government expertise around the Board table.”

Peter’s appointment follows those of former CEO of NZIER and current NZSO Chair, Laurence Kubiak, former ACT Party Chief of Staff and current Hutt City Councillor, Chris Milne, and former Finance Minister Hon Ruth Richardson, earlier this year. They are joined by Casey Costello, David Farrar, and Jordan Williams.

Founded by David Farrar and Jordan Williams in 2013, the Taxpayers’ Union enjoys the support of more than 170,000 registered supporters. Its work fighting for the mission of Lower Taxes, Less Waste, and More Transparency is made possible by the 15,000 New Zealander who financially contribute. The Board are volunteers, and are among those who donate to the organisation.

Hōne Heke didn’t just cut flagpoles – he cut taxes

A survey by Today FM has ranked Hōne Heke as the second greatest New Zealander of all time, behind Sir Edmund Hillary.

Heke’s ranking is well-warranted. He iconically cut down the British flag at Kororāreka (Russell) three times, a rebellion that has become a cornerstone of our national history. However few New Zealanders are aware of what specifically motivated the famous warrior.

Hone Heke was an anti-tax campaigner. In 1841 he was angered by the new Government’s introduction of tariffs on tea, sugar, flour, grain, spirits, tobacco, and all other foreign goods. As James Cowan writes in The New Zealand Wars (1922):

And when the storekeeper had passed on the increases to his customers, with no doubt a considerable extra margin of profit for the Maori trade, the warrior [Heke] who came in to renew his supply of whin, or twist tobacco, to purchase a new blanket or a musket, or to lay by a store of lead for moulding into bullets, received the clearest proof that the Treaty which he had signed had not improved his condition of life.

Moreover, Heke was inspired to rebellion by the way America had responded to British-imposed taxes with full-blown revolution:

[US Consul] Mayhew had helped to instil into the minds of Pomare and Heke a dislike to the British flag, consequent on the imposition of Customs duties. From him and other Americans the discontented chief had heard of the successful revolt of the American colonies against England, and the lesson was not forgotten; he burned to do likewise.

Heke went so far as to fly the American flag as a symbol of his anti-tax, anti-colonial crusade – an image that tends to be excluded from modern illustrations of Heke’s protest.

From [former US Consul] Smith he obtained an American ensign, and paddled on to Kororareka; and when the flagstaff fell to a Ngapuhi axe for a second time up went the foreign colour on the carved sternpost of Heke's war-canoe. The warrior crew paraded the harbour, their kai-hauta, or fugleman, yelling a battle-song, Heke at the steering-paddle, the American flag over his head.

Heke’s anti-tax rebellion wasn’t just provocative – it was effective. In exchange for Ngapuhi surrendering a token number of muskets and Heke offering to erect a new flag mast, the Government declared the Bay of Islands a free port, and abolished all customs duties.

The truth of Hōne Heke’s rebellion deserves to be more widely-known. His story was the beginning of a proud lineage of anti-tax protest that is today carried on by the Taxpayers’ Union (even if we prefer to use arguments over axes).

So congratulations to Hōne Heke for rightfully being recognised as one of the greatest New Zealanders. If it were up to us, he might even be ranked number one. How many taxes did Sir Ed cut, after all?

Taxpayer Talk: Should the Government finally privatise State Owned Enterprises?

The Government owns or partly owns 18 large businesses with combined assets of $78 billion. The Treasury has found that many are underperforming. Join Jordan and co-founder of TDB Advisory Phil Barry, as they discuss why these businesses would be more productive and experience higher rates of return if they were privatised – bolstering New Zealand's economic resilience and standard of living. 

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

 

Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll: April 2022

Exclusive to members and supporters, we can reveal the results of the eighth Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll.

The polling period was 7 April - 13 April 2022.

Here are the headline results:

Party

Support

Change from last month

National

37.8%

↑2.5

Labour

36.8%

↑0.6

Greens

9.4%

↓3.0

ACT

8.4%

↓2.8

Māori

3.6%

↑3.5

NZ First

1.7%

↓0.1

Other

2.3%

↓0.7

National takes the lead for the first time since the Taxpayers' Union Curia Polls began. However, much of National's gain appear to have come at ACT's expense. Labour holds steady with a slight bump, the Greens drop and the Māori Party rises. 

Here is how these results would translate to seats in Parliament:

The shifts in party support result in National gaining three seats, ACT losing four, the Māori Party gaining four, the Greens losing four, and no change for the Labour Party. This means the gap between the Centre-Right and the Centre-Left blocs has shrunk from nine seats in January to just one seat in April. Both blocs would not receive enough seats to govern, thus, the Māori Party would be the 'kingmaker.'

(For the purposes of this chart, the Māori Party is not included in the two major blocs.)

Just like the TV polls, our pollsters do not read out options to participants to choose their preferred Prime Minister – we just include those who are named as preferred by more than a few people in the random sample of one thousand voters. Here are the updated preferred Prime Minister ratings, shown over time:

Preferred Prime Minister

April 2022

Change from last month

Jacinda Ardern

36.3%

↓1.5

Christopher Luxon

28.6%

↑2.0

David Seymour

4.8%

↑0.4

Winston Peters

2.6%

↓2.9

Luxon and Seymour are up. Ardern is slightly down, while support for Peters has dropped. 

New Zealanders are now almost evenly split on whether the country is heading in the “right” or “wrong” direction. There are slightly more New Zealanders that believe the country is heading in the wrong direction. 

New Zealanders were also asked to scale between 1 and 5 their favourability towards different politicians. “Very Favourable” (5) plus “Favourable” (4) are netted off against “Very Unfavourable (1) and “Unfavourable” (2) to come to a “Net Favourability” result. Those responses that are neither favourable nor unfavourable are disregarded.

Luxon has a more positive net favourability (+12%) than Ardern (+9%), but fewer people have an opinion on Luxon either way. Ardern’s net favourability continues to drop. Ardern's net favorability has fallen from +33% (October 2021) to +9%(April 2022).

For the full polling report, covering the detailed insights the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition are used to receiving, join our Taxpayer Caucus – our club of most generous financial supporters who make our work possible.


The scientific poll was conducted by Curia Market Research and commissioned by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union. The full polling report is being released exclusively to members of our Taxpayer Caucus. As is well known, but for full disclosure, David Farrar is a member of the Board of the Taxpayers' Union and also a Director of Curia Market Research Ltd.

The Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll was conducted from Wednesday 07 April to Wednesday 13 April 2022. The sample size was 1,000 eligible New Zealand voters who are contactable on a landline or mobile phone selected at random from 20,000 nationwide phone numbers. The results are weighted to reflect the overall voting adult population in terms of gender, age, and area. Based on this sample of 1,000 respondents, the maximum sampling error (for a result of 50%) is +/- 3.1%, at the 95% confidence level. This poll should be formally referred to as the “Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll”.

Taxpayer Update: Mahuta trying to gag councils on Three Waters | Auditor General slams tourism slush fund | Nats now leading Labour in latest poll

Dear Supporter,

Louis is away today, so I'm in the hot seat bringing you this week's Taxpayer Update.

Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll: Nats pull ahead of Labour

First thing's first: we've just released this month's Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll, which you can read about on our website here.

This is the first time this poll has shown Labour behind National, and also the first time Labour/Greens would not have the numbers to govern. Since our first poll in September last year, Labour has gone from 25% ahead of National to 1% behind.

National is up 3% to take the lead. ACT and Greens both dip below 10%, while the Māori Party bounces up to 3.6%. The other small parties did not poll well, with NZ First at 1.7%, New Conservatives 0.3%, and TOP 1.2%.

Under these numbers, the Māori Party would hold the balance of power.

The numbers on preferred Prime Minster, and favorability ratings, are available on our website.

💧 Three Waters: First a bribe, now a gag clause! Sneaky and desperate measure to stop councils from criticising Government 🤫

Nania Mahuta

From the "I can't believe they'd sink so low" file, Nanaia Mahuta and her Three Waters officials at the Department of Internal Affairs have been caught out badly.

Last year, at the Local Government New Zealand conference, the Prime Minister announced a $2.5 billion fund to bribe incentivise councils to jump on board the Government's Three Waters agenda. Last week, applications opened for the first $500 million.

At the time, we called it out as a slush fund. The councils are being offered the money to spend even on projects that have nothing to do with water infrastructure.

But now we learn there's a catch. Buried in the funding agreement is a sneaky clause preventing the councils who take the money to improve their infrastructure from criticising the Government!

Newshub reports:

A part of the deal has been slammed as a gag order. It states that councils who get the cash "must not at any time do anything which could have an adverse effect on the reputation, good standing or goodwill of the Department of Internal Affairs or the Government".

Along with your humble Taxpayers' Union, the vast majority of mayors and councillors are campaigning against Three Waters. To put elected officials in a position where they must choose whether or not to take money to improve services for their local community, or to fight for affordable, transparent, and accountable/democratic management of the water assets built by generations of ratepayers, is disgraceful.

As an unnamed opposition MP put it, "this is only one step away from forcing councillors to praise our glorious leader at each meeting". Indeed.

The Newshub piece goes on:

In a statement, the Department of Internal Affairs told Newshub "no clause in the Funding Agreement... prevents or prohibits any council from publicly expressing its own views".

It adds: "It is a common and prudent clause in public funding documents as a safeguard to protect against the misuse of public funds."

Mahuta is promising this is no gag order.

This is the real concern though. It's all very well for politicians to stretch the truth, but as public servants, DIA officials must conduct their duties in a fair, impartial, responsible, and trustworthy way.

Here are the words of the clause again plain and simple:

[Councils] must not at any time do anything which could have an adverse effect on the reputation, good standing or goodwill of the Department of Internal Affairs or the Government

The claim that this isn't a gag clause is a simple lie. We also find the statement from the DIA's spokesperson that such a clause is "common" and somehow protects against misuse of funds very difficult to believe.

Your humble Taxpayers' Union has filed an information request to unmask the names of the officials who approved the statement and what other government contracts contain this (apparently) "common" provision.

Instead of bribing councillors and mayors not to speak out against Three Waters, we say the Government should listen to them and their communities and Stop Three Waters. To support the Stop Three Waters effort click here.

Stop Three Waters banner

Update on Three Waters legal challenge: Mahuta cover-up or stuff up? 

You may recall a few months ago we announced our support of a High Court challenge to the advice Nanaia Mahuta provided her Cabinet colleagues to justify the Three Waters model. Specifically, she claimed that the Government's own lawyers had advised her that the co-governenace model was "necessary for the Crown to comply with its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi". 

Advice from multiple QCs is that Mahuta's advice cannot be a fair reflection of the law. Water infrastructure assets were not in existence in 1840, and while some iwi may have interests in specific and particular water bodies, that could not reasonably be extended to municipal pumps and pipes paid for by ratepayers across the country.

The Government's approach to the case is fascinating and it is surprising the media aren't turning their attention to what is going on.

Ms Mahuta's lawyers are now trying to suppress Minister Mahuta's Cabinet papers containing the above claims, even though her office authorised the public release of the papers last year!

They are trying to prevent our lawyers, the public, or the High Court, being able to refer to what Ms Mahuta was telling her Cabinet colleagues when they decided to adopt the Three Waters proposals. Just what is Ms Mahuta hiding... 

Screen shot

I recently hosted a Zoom call with the lawyers leading this effort and many of our thousands of supporters who have chipped-in financially to make this legal challenge possible. You can read the summary/watch the discussion here.

The sorry saga of the Strategic Tourism Asset Protection fund 💸

Kelvin Davis

David Farrar has been working through the recent report by the Auditor-General on the $290 million "Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme" which saw the likes of AJ Hackett Bungy NZ receiving $10.5 million over-and-above the COVID wage subsidy support (we are careful to note that Mr Hackett is no longer involved in the company). Some extracts:

The Tourism Recovery Ministers decided to fund all tourism businesses that scored more than 15 out of 30 points in the assessment process. They also decided to fund all eligible Māori tourism businesses, including those that scored less than 15 out of 30 points in the assessment process.

So if your owners have the right ancestors, you got funding from the Government even if you scored 0/30!

However, all decisions to spend public money come with an obligation to ensure that the decision-making is consistent and transparent. We saw limited evidence explaining the reasons for the decisions. Without those records, those who have made the decisions are not able to adequately explain why funding was provided. In my view, this is not acceptable practice, regardless of the circumstances. To ensure that the public can be confident in the integrity of the decisions made, the reasons for this should be clearly explained and well documented.

In other words, the Auditor General is saying that we can have no idea if Ministers just gave out money to their mates, as there was no documentation of their reasons.

This, combined with the decisions made that diverged from officials’ advice and the limited documentation to explain the divergence, makes it hard to determine whether the funding was applied fairly in accordance with the published criteria and the extent to which it represents value for money.

So Ministers overrode recommendations of neutral officials, without explaining why.

The Tourism Recovery Ministers agreed to fund Whale Watch Kaikōura. We have not seen any evidence to identify what criteria the Tourism Recovery Ministers used when making this decision. We also did not see any advice from Ministry officials. On 10 June 2020, the Minister announced that Whale Watch Kaikōura had been provided $1.5 million grant funding.

So Whale Watch Kaikōura got $1.5 million of taxpayer money from Ministers on the basis of no criteria and no advice.

This really is banana republic stuff and demonstrates why fighting for Lower Taxes, Less Waste, and More Transparency couldn't be more relevant.

Donate

Thank you for your support.

Jordan

Jordan_signature.jpg
Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

 

Water Users' group legal update

This message is much longer than usual, because we think many will be interested in the detail of the Three Waters litigation thousands of our supporters are involved in funding. It could prove very awkward for the Government, and, as yet, the media appear almost determined not to report on it.

The message is going to all of those who have chipped-in to the Three Waters litigation or otherwise financially supported our campaign efforts to stop Three Waters.

A few weeks ago, you will have received an invitation for a Zoom call where I sat down with the lawyers outlining the significance of this court challenge and providing an update. If you didn't make that, you are welcome to watch a replay here. I detail some of what was covered in the email below.

If you did participate and would like to see the revised Statement of Claim (as was discussed on the interview) it is now filed with the Court and can be found here.

This litigation goes to the heart of New Zealand’s unwritten constitution.

As you'll recall, this case is all about calling the Government's bluff on its claims that co-governance of Three Waters is required by the Treaty of Waitangi. That's what Ms Mahuta told the Cabinet – she said that was the advice from Crown Law and officials.

We don't believe her. That's why the Taxpayers' Union has invested $200,000 into this court case: we need to bring these radical interpretations of the Treaty into line with what the courts have really said about Treaty principles (not what campaigners in the Government and the media claim the courts have said).

The case might show a Minister lying to benefit her political base. It might instead show that she has faithfully reported legal advice, but uncover government lawyers who have lost connection with the Rule of Law values they’re sworn to uphold. Or it might show that the Minister and officials were just faithfully applying theories never debated in Parliament but have been repeated in the Wellington beltway and used to override Rule of Law principles.

Did Nanaia Mahuta bungle transparency? Or lie about what Crown Law told her? Or is a Cabinet Paper cover-up just 'business as usual'?

The original court application included copies of Minister Mahuta’s relevant Cabinet Papers. She proactively released them online six months earlier and the Taxpayers' Union (among many others) have used them to report on the Government's intentions and reasoning.

But in December the papers were taken offline. Crown Law wrote to the lawyers working on this case asking them to redact parts of the Cabinet Paper that they now wanted to hide from the public.

Of course, the lawyers acting for Water Users' Group refused the Crown law demand. The whole case is on the Minister’s claims about the law. Her papers put up Treaty-based interests of Maori as the reason for a bizarre anti-democratic corporate structure plus foundational recognition of Māori customs and superstitions in law, to drive water infrastructure spending and investment decisions.

The effect of the Treaty as constitutional

We have been told that the Treaty is part of our constitution. Constitutional provisions are fundamental. They become the rules of the game, with a sacred status, beyond the reach of normal democratic challenge and debate. You can argue about interpretation, but no law should be made that is inconsistent with a constitution.

So whether the Minister’s assertions about the Treaty are true or false is the heart of the case. Was Ms Mahuta wrong to claim the Treaty obliges people to accept “co-governance”? Does the Treaty entitle her political power-base to what she called “iwi/Maori interests” in that infrastructure? 

If she is merely applying the constitutional law, then it is irrelevant whether people worry about expropriating ratepayer-funded infrastructure to become a source of patronage for a tribal elite ending local democratic control of ratepayer-funded water infrastructure. If she is right and the Treaty obliges us to vest power in people immune from voter dismissal, it is inappropriate to question or challenge her proposals.

Treaty/constitutional status would make it unacceptable even to voice fears that statutory blessing for superstitions about water will become opportunities for corrupt sale of ‘cultural consents’. As local Councillors and Mayors have told us, once something is said to be Treaty-required, it becomes racist even to ask whether it will give to those eligible to inherit toll-gate positions the power to extract rentals from their legally inferior neighbours. That makes it almost impossible to flag concerns about what would be, in effect, rentals charged on property ratepayers already own and have paid for.

So whether the Minister’s assertions about the Treaty are true or false is the vital question. Yet Crown Law demanded that the Water Users' Group take key evidence out of the court application.

Crown Law’s constitutional status

Crown Law reports to the Attorney General, who is a Government Minister, but also has a separate and superior duty as the First Law Officer of the nation. The Attorney General is sometimes referred to as the ‘legal conscience’ of the Cabinet – bound to ensure that Cabinet respects the Rule of Law. Crown Law is managed by the Solicitor General, the Second Law officer of the nation. The Solicitor General and his office also have special duties to uphold the law. Unlike ordinary lawyers they cannot run a case ‘no holds barred’ to ensure their client wins. Crown Law is required to ensure that its conduct of cases upholds the law. They are constitutionally responsible for the quality of legal advice on which Ministers act.

So if Crown Law do hold the views attributed to them by Minister Mahuta, the people of New Zealand should know that. The Court hearing our case should know exactly what Crown Law were advising. Because it should be the same advice to all their government clients. Crown Law are not supposed to be like ordinary lawyers, who must put their clients’ interests ahead of all other interests (other than some limited duties to the court). All New Zealanders depend on a Crown Law responsibility to help ensure that our executive government acts under law and does not become “a law unto itself”.

The Court in our case needs to know how Crown Law sees Treaty obligations so that it can correct misinterpretations.

The Minister is now trying to hide her earlier reasoning from the public

Water User Groups' refusal to withdraw that key information for the court is not the end of the story.

You may recall that last year Ms Mahuta's main justification for Three Waters was the Treaty. She told me that during my interview with her back in November.

The claim that she had supporting Crown Law advice has now been redacted from the Cabinet Papers, so you won’t find it in the papers online.

Even the NZ Herald appears to have picked up on the Ministers' change of tune. Its Senior Political Reporter wrote last week:

The Government has lacked candour when it comes to explaining its broader ambitions for co-governance. Ministers tend to focus on why non-Māori have nothing to fear, rather than why a co-governance model is necessary.

[…] The fact the Government, and Mahuta in particular, often don't give the real answer to the co-governance question, that it is to honour the Crown's commitments under the Treaty, suggests they are not confident they could win that argument. Politicians well know it is unwise to pick a fight you are not confident of winning.

Crown Law told Water Users' Group this advice was originally included in the released Cabinet Papers "by mistake". The redacted paper now has this:


The reason now given for this redaction is this -

Why was the Crown Law opinion information in the earlier published papers?

The Minister put the reference to the legal advice/justification in her advice to Cabinet and authorised its release. We think that was because without claiming Crown Law backup the Minister’s claims about Treaty interests would have been dismissed as self-serving and preposterous. At the least, they would have been open to challenge in normal democratic debate. But Nanaia Mahuta would know that with Crown Law apparently standing behind her claims, the recommendations would likely silence critics who fear being accused of racism. She invoked the reputation of Crown Law for expertise and relative impartiality to squelch potential questions. She would know she needed ‘authority’ behind her to be believed.

By the time Water Users' Group filed the claim Ms Mahuta had achieved most of her objectives with those claims in the Cabinet Papers. She had approval to proceed with her scheme, and she has been successful in gagging debate in scores of local authorities across New Zealand.

The Water Users’ Group founded by our ratepayer subsidiary groups in Auckland and Tauranga, among others with an interest in water decided in the end that it was just too important. We could not allow ourselves to be cowed into letting it pass. Someone has to stand up to what Ms Mahuta appears to have done.

Is the Crown Law opinion privileged?

It is usual practice for the Crown to withhold its legal advice. Crown Law adopts the position that it should resist disclosure as a matter of principle, lest it becomes routine for them to be obliged to disclose the government’s legal hand. We understand that position. 

But in this case their advice was deliberately used as a way to confer apparent authority on what would otherwise have been implausible claims. Whether or not Crown Law’s views were misrepresented, deliberately or unintentionally, we say all New Zealanders have a vital constitutional interest in knowing what they actually think the current legal position is. Does Crown Law think that Treaty rights have morphed to become a general pan Maori (race)  privilege, affecting control and use of and revenue from the property of ratepayers held by local authorities, instead of being rights of specific iwi and hapu against the Crown in relation to specific assets that existed in 1840. Does the Treaty stipulate for “partnership” political structures to supplant democracy that treats all as equal under the law?

The rules on privilege provide that it is waived (i.e. no longer applies) to information a party has released. And usually, when a party refers to legal advice in circumstances where they intend to give arguments clout, they risk being obliged to disclose the advice. We cannot think of a case more appropriate for those principles to apply. The lawyers asked Crown Law for their opinion on Ms Mahuta's waiving of privilege but they didn't budge.

Now an application has been filed to ask the High Court to order the Government to front up with the advice Minister Mahuta was referring to in her claim that Three Waters co-governance is necessary to comply with the Treaty and hand it over.

There is a chance that Crown Law might agree to let just the Water Users' Group’s lawyers see the advice, and possibly the Court, but continue to oppose letting it become public.  We have been advised that Water Users' Group and their lawyers will strongly oppose anything that is not transparent.

There is of course a possibility that the opinion doesn’t say what the Minister said it does. Whatever it says, the proper interpretation of the Treaty, and knowing what our most constitutionally important law office is telling the Government about it, is something any New Zealander should be able to see.

Support the fight for transparency and accountability on Three Waters

Thank you to the thousands who have chipped in to get the court case and the campaign this far but it is clear the Government is not backing down on Three Waters without a fight.

To continue to demand transparency from Nanaia Mahuta and the Jacinda Ardern Government,
click here to donate.

Donate

Thank you for your support and making this effort possible,

Jordan

Jordan_signature.jpg
Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

 

Revealed: Waka Kotahi spends millions promoting Government policy

Waka Kotahi (NZ Transport Agency) has spent $4,737,200 on the first two television advertisements promoting the Government's Road to Zero strategy, reveals the Taxpayers' Union.

The spending is separate from the $2.4 million recently spent on the infamous 'Safe Limits' television ad.

In February, the Government officially launched its 'Road to Zero' public awareness campaign promoting its target of zero deaths and serious injuries on New Zealand's roads by 2050. Waka Kotahi has been allocated $14.7 million in new funding for the campaign but has told the Union it plans to spend as much as $197 million on Road to Zero promotions and educational activities.

The first Road to Zero ad shows a holidaying family stopped at a toll booth by a woman in a wig, who looks at the family's youngest child and says the toll will be "just the little one today." Horror music is played before we are told, "It's time we stopped paying the road toll. We have a vision to reach zero deaths by 2050."

The second ad shows a family crashing into a road barrier. One by one, mechanics, road workers and police officers emerge from the car explaining how they all helped to stop the crash from being worse. The ad cuts to "It takes everyone to get to no one."

Neither ad actually encourages drivers to change their behaviour – instead, Waka Kotahi is using its massive advertising budget to promote a Government initiative.

Released under the Official information Act, an update from officials to the Waka Kotahi board confirms our suspicions that the campaign is about influencing public opinion to support Government policies. Officials write:

To create the social licence for the interventions required for Road to Zero to be successful, we require public awareness, understanding and ultimately acceptance of the Road to Zero strategy and the philosophy and approach that underpin it.

The campaign's explicit aim to warm up the public for policy changes clearly breaches section 5(b) of the Government's own advertising guidelines: material should be free from partisan promotion of government policy and political argument.

These ads cynically exploit fear without providing viewers any useful information on specific policy changes or consultation processes being advanced by the Government.

The Department of Internal Affairs recently pulled the plug on its biased $4 million Three Waters advertising campaign after a warning from the Public Service Commissioner. Waka Kotahi needs to do the same with its manipulative Road to Zero ads.

Informing the public about policy changes and promoting road safety messages is sometimes necessary. But taxpayer-funded adverts intended to soften the public up for lower speed limits are not acceptable. Debates around ideal speed limits and acceptable trade-offs of risk on our roads have valid points on both sides – the Government shouldn't be using taxpayer money to tip the scale.

The Taxpayers' Union has written to the Public Service Commissioner asking for a judgment on Waka Kotahi's ads before the the spending gets even further out of control.

Taxpayer Talk: Fair Pay Agreements: will they cripple New Zealand's labour market?

The Government's Fair Pay Agreements Bill passed its first vote in Parliament last week. The legislation will initiate the largest shake up for employment relations in decades. Join Jordan and Business NZ CEO Kirk Hope as they discuss why Fair Pay Agreements will mean more barriers to employment, less jobs, higher labour costs and no productivity gains. 

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

 

Revealed: Island Bay cycleway talkfests cost ratepayers $1 million

An official information response shows the Wellington City Council has spent more than a million dollars on the Island Bay cycleway since its completion in 2016.

In 2016, the Wellington City Council installed a 1.7km cycle-way along The Parade in Island Bay. A lackluster consultation process saw the preferences of local residents shunted aside by a loud minority of lycra activists and the resulting cycleway failed to provide safety for motorists or cyclists.

Despite its completion, an additional $1,093,759 has been spent on the cycleway in recent years apparently on consultation and planning. 

As residents will attest, no improvements have been made to the cycleway. The million-dollar spend since the cycleway's installation has only produced paperwork and hui.

Actual shovels in ground will cost far more. Last November, the Council promised to spend $2 million to $14 million more addressing safety concerns arising from the cycleway's poor design. Changes include painting the bike lane green and slightly widening the lanes with concrete 'buffers' between motorists and cyclists. The "improvements" mean motorists will lose 60-80 car parks on The Parade. The changes have been opposed by 66% of those who engaged with the brief three-week consultation, with 57% strongly opposed.

Meanwhile, Cycling Action Network, the lobby group that pushed for the installation of the cycleway, has been given $23,420 by the council since 2015. This is salt in the wound for residents who already suspected that the cycle lobby was given special consideration during the cycleway consultation process.

Table

On average around 400 trips are taken on the cycleway per weekday. That's just 200 commuters, or 2.9% of the suburb's population. Based on the spending so far, someone who's regularly commuted using the cycleway since its installation has enjoyed a $13,000 subsidy from ratepayers. Forking out millions more is madness.

NZTA plans to whack motorists, towies, and taxis with higher fees

NZTA's proposed changes to motor vehicle licensing and registration fees will whack productive New Zealanders with higher costs, warns the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

NZTA is pitching its fee changes as a kind of tax switch, reducing the cost of certain applications and increasing the cost of others. But the overall effect of the changes is a tax grab that makes a mockery of the 'no new taxes' promise – NZTA is expected to collect an additional $79 million in annual revenue as a result of its fee changes, plus another $35 million taken from the Land Transport Fund.

Losers from the proposals include:

•  Everyone renewing their vehicle registration (administration fees attached to charges increase by between 61% and 350%).

•  Anyone paying road user charges (administration fees attached to charges increase by between 67% and 182%)

•  Disabled vehicle users ($19 increase in certification cost for vehicle wheelchair modifications)

•  New Taxi and Uber drivers (181% increase in 1-year P endorsement charges)

•  New driving instructors and testing officers (161% increase in new 1-year I and O endorsement charges)

•  New tow truck drivers and vehicle transporters (161% increase in new 1-year V endorsement charges)

•  New forklift and roller drivers (39% increase in endorsement charges)

•  Restricted license drivers working night shifts or transporting children (249% increase in exemption charges)

Winners include:

•  Convicted drink drivers (85% decrease in Alcohol Interlock Licence cost)

•  Collectors of exotic vehicles (80% reduction in registration exemption cost for left-hand drive vehicles)

•  Drivers who fail their license tests (removal of re-sit fees)

•  NZTA / Waka Kotahi (a 40% increase in revenue to be spent on regulatory enforcement)

The only real winner here is the bureaucracy at NZTA, which plans to employ an additional 265 full-time equivalent staff  a 55.6% increase on 2018 numbers. The consultation document also points out that increased costs to businesses as a result of these changes are likely to flow on to households through increased prices for goods and services.

The increase in licensing costs for new towies, taxi drivers, and forklift operators will have disturbing flow-on effects. Licensing costs act as a barrier for low-income New Zealanders considering upskilling, and the higher fees will exacerbate existing skills shortages, driving up costs that are ultimately passed on to households and consumers.

Some of the changes are absurd: NZTA plans to increase the price of sitting a restricted license by 21% but remove the fee to re-sit if you fail. This is effectively a tax on those who put in the time to practice and pass on their first attempt, to subsidise those who fail one or more times. It will encourage learner drivers to use restricted tests as de facto taxpayer-funded driving lessons. Private driving instructors should be very worried.

These changes come at a time when New Zealanders are already squeezed by record fuel prices, newly introduced ute taxes that subsidise wealthy Tesla drivers, and eye-watering wasteful spending on pet projects paid for by the National Land Transport Fund and the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax.

$15 billion for a tram line in Auckland, $50 million planning a bridge that won't be built, and $197 million for the Road to Zero publicity campaign are all examples of spending that could be trimmed back or eliminated if NZTA really needs more money for regulatory costs. Moreover, NZTA should respond to rising costs by streamlining its regulatory processes to ensure less, not more, bureaucracy is needed.

New Zealanders can submit on the fee changes by emailing [email protected].

Taxpayer Talk: Three Waters and the ETS with Simon Court

 

The Government is determined to implement its controversial Three Waters reform and introduce a plethora of policies aimed at tackling climate change. Join Jordan and ACT MP Simon Court as they discuss why Three Waters will not eventuate in better water infrastructure, and why the Government's climate policies will only cost taxpayers without reducing total emissions.

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

 

Taxpayer Update: Co-governance sham | Advertising bonanza | More bizarre grants

Dear Supporter,

Before I dive into the rest of the newsletter: the ute tax comes into effect today, meaning anyone buying (for example) a Toyota Hilux will have to pay an extra $5,000 to subsidise someone buying a Tesla or Prius.

If there's a change of Government, we could see the tax repealed – but only if we keep this fight on the agenda.

Bumper stickers

Click here to get a bumper sticker and show your opposition to the ute tax.

Co-governance "consultation" looks a lot like a sham

Ardern Mahuta

After a year of dodging questions on He Puapua, the Prime Minister has now confirmed that her Government will begin consultation on the wider implementation of co-governance in New Zealand.

But it's hard to see the consultation as anything but a sham while the Government presses ahead with its co-governed Three Waters scheme.

As our Executive Director Jordan Williams put it:

One of the key flaws in the proposed Three Waters model is the total lack of safeguards against rent seeking by tangata whenua. Indeed, it appears that the scheme is being set up to allow expensive water royalties and other financial ‘support’ to iwi groups – something the Minister would not deny when I asked her about this on our Taxpayer Talk podcast.

Co-governance is a recipe for rent seeking and new taxes, and decouples those imposing the costs from democratic accountability.

If the Prime Minister wants a genuine discussion on co-governance, then she shouldn't let the consultation be a sham. Cabinet needs to hit the brakes on Three Waters until New Zealanders have had their say.

Our petition to stop Three Waters has now received 88,000 signatures.

The advertising agency that's making millions off taxpayers

Clemenger campaigns

1 News reports that the Government has spent $35 million in the last year alone on COVID-19 advertising.

We understand the need to communicate complex information about alert levels, vaccine eligibility, and isolation rules, but the quantity and quality of advertisements deserves scrutiny.

Clemenger BBDO has been a major beneficiary of this Government, winning most major ad contracts and spewing out multi-million dollar, cinematic campaigns. Browse their portfolio for yourself.

It's not just COVID ads. Clemenger's 'Safer Limits' ad for Waka Kotahi cost $2.4 million. And that's just the production; another $195 million is budgeted for the wider 'Road to Zero' campaign.

EECA's 'Gen Less' ads cost taxpayers $8 million, largely spent with Clemenger. The company also won contracts with the Human Rights Commission, Oranga Tamariki, MPI, the Teaching Council, Health Promotion Agency, Fire and Emergency, and more.

Not every ad needs to be big budget. Anyone remember the Auckland Glass ads? "0800, 804, 804". Cheap as chips, and memorable. There are countless agile new producers that can pump out ads on a low budget. The Government needs to review its procurement arrangements.

The bizarre COVID grants keep on coming

Grant image

We've previously commented on the Ministry for Culture and Heritage's $60 million COVID "Innovation Fund", and it's time for an update.

The fund has now granted 105 projects a total of $15.9 million, and many of the spending decisions are truly bizarre:

  • $700,000 on a "digital storytelling experience" about the Manawatū River

  • $321,740 to tell the story of the Grey River using virtual reality

  • $20,000 on a business plan for Tongan mat-weaving

  • $250,000 on an online children's game about an albatross

  • $900,000 on an arts strategy for Christchurch

  • $20,000 on a children's book that requires the reader to install an app

  • $248,460 on traditional Māori painting

You can find a longer list of examples on our website here.

Common themes in the funded initiatives include virtual reality, storytelling, digital installations beside rivers, and bespoke IT projects.

Needless to say, none of these projects have any relevance to COVID-19, despite the money coming from Grant Robertson's rapidly-dwindling "pandemic fund". The spending decisions are almost funny until you remember that every dollar could have been spent bolstering our health system, or returned to a struggling taxpayer.

Incredibly, there is still another $44 million to be spent from the fund, and it is clear to see that the Ministry has run out of worthwhile projects to bankroll. It's only a matter of time before taxpayers are literally funding underwater basket weaving.

High inflation leads to $637 million debt write-off for uni graduates

We're blowing the whistle on a debt write-off for university graduates that's costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

While it is well-known that student loan balances do not accrue interest, it is often forgotten that balances are not even adjusted for inflation. This means student loan balances shrink in real terms every year in line with the inflation rate – effectively a taxpayer-funded debt write-off.

The total value of unpaid student debt sits at around $10.8 billion, listed as an asset in the Government books. But the real value of this debt is rapidly being eroded by high inflation – with an inflation rate of 5.9%, the Government has effectively written off $637 million in student debt in just 12 months. That's almost as much as the Government was planning to spend on the Waitemata Harbour "SkyPath" bike bridge.

The incentive problem is obvious: savvy students will repay their loans as slowly as possible, maximising costs to taxpayers in terms of both the inflation write-off and the interest write-off.

This is a regressive wealth transfer from working New Zealanders to the privileged – people with university degrees earn significantly more than those without. Even under Australia’s interest-free student loan scheme, recognised as one of the world’s most generous, loan balances are still indexed for inflation.

Spanish taxpayers have done us a $99 million favour

Thank you

This week we're thanking the taxpayers of Barcelona and Catalonia for taking the $99 million America’s Cup defence off Kiwi taxpayers’ hands.

Funding for a millionaires’ boat race was never a good use of taxpayers’ money when we are facing a generational debt monster and painful inflation.

The success of the Spanish bid means $99 million is freed up for the Government and Auckland Council to pay down debt or to be returned to taxpayers and ratepayers. And we won't have to endure another $900,000 Rod Stewart singalong:

Rod and Clarke

Revealed: DIA's furniture blowout

Furniture graphic

We've exposed how the Department of Internal Affairs spent $2 million on furniture during a period in which much of their staff were working from home.

Some staff members were even given adjustable footrests to install in their home offices!

Click here to read the details.

The polling that explains the Govt’s fuel tax cut

A month ago, the Finance Minister was blaming fuel costs on international conditions and warning that fuel tax relief would impact road funding. But then the Government changed tack, and rustled up money from the COVID slush fund to cover the revenue loss.

Perhaps the Government's internal polling showed something like this:

Fuel tax poll

That's a scientific Curia poll we commissioned just before the Government announced the temporary reduction in petrol excise tax.

In fact, 80% of Labour voters supported tax relief. In the most deprived areas of New Zealand, support for tax relief was 88%. Click here to see the in-depth data.

The lesson from the fuel tax cut is that regardless of our Government’s ideological bent, it can be forced to listen to people-power, strong campaigns, and public opinion.

The problem the Government faced was that New Zealanders had already made the mental link between high fuel costs and high government taxes. This didn’t happen out of the blue: the Taxpayers’ Union worked hard to ensure that New Zealanders knew around half of their petrol bill was made up of taxes and levies.

Newshub clipClick here to see Newshub's coverage of our 'Fuel Tax Honesty Day' event.

The Government's preferred candidate for UK High Commissioner is under investigation for corruption

Goff

According to the NZ Herald, Cabinet is set to sign off on appointing outgoing Auckland Mayor Phil Goff as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

But there's a problem. Has everyone forgotten that Goff is currently being investigated for electoral curruption over an alleged failure to declare election donations apparently linked to the CCP?

It beggars belief that Cabinet would even consider the London gig while the stench of Chinese electoral fraud is still hanging over Goff’s head.

We contacted the Minister of Foreign Affair's office and asked whether anyone has ever been appointed as an ambassador or high commissioner while being investigated for a criminal offence. They couldn't find a single instance.

New Zealand currently has a good reputation within the international diplomatic community. That reputation is vital to achieving high-quality trade deals and security arrangements. Let’s not put it at risk.

Taxpayer Talk: RNZ/TVNZ merger + Wellington's allergy to economists

The Government has confirmed plans to merge RNZ and TVNZ into a single publicly-owned media monolith. I sat down remotely with National Party Broadcasting spokesperson Melissa Lee to find out exactly what problem the Government thinks it's solving, and how this move will impact New Zealanders' trust in the independence of the media. Listen here.

The Treasury recently advertised for a senior economic analyst with "no economics background required". Professor Robert MacCulloch says this is just the tip of the iceberg and in fact reflects a wider agenda in the public service to turn away from orthodox economic rigor. I sat down with Rob to discuss the disturbing consequences for New Zealand's economic stability and quality of life. Listen here.

You can find all of our Taxpayer Talk episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or iHeart Radio.

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

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Media coverage:

The Platform Graham Adams: The no-go areas that are killing mainstream media

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The Daily Blog Dr Bryce Edwards’ NZ Politics Daily Political Roundup: The time is right for permanent free public transport

Homepaddock Wasting $s on bureaucratic back patting

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The Spinoff Auckland outbreak peaks – but hospitalisation and death rate lags behind

Stuff New poll has Labour ahead of National, but it's a tight race

NZ Herald Labour just ahead in latest poll, after crash in support

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The Daily Blog 7.30pm Monday LIVE – The Working Group Weekly Political Podcast with Sean Plunket, Jordan Williams, & Damien Grant

Stuff If this history curriculum is shaping our future, the outlook is bleak

Homepaddock Wellbeing $s not well spent

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NZ Herald As Covid drops out of conversation, migration is back as the next political flashpoint

ACT Kiwi families under siege

The Working Group The Working Group Weekly Political Podcast with Simon Bridges, Graeme Edgeler, & Damien Grant

High inflation leads to $637 million debt write-off for uni graduates

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is raising the alarm over a $637 million debt write-off for university graduates, driven by inflation and funded by taxpayers.

While it is well-known that student loan balances do not accrue interest, it is often forgotten that balances are not even adjusted for inflation. This means student loan balances shrink in real terms every year in line with the inflation rate – effectively a taxpayer-funded debt write-off.

The total value of outstanding student debt sits at around $10.8 billion*, listed as an asset in the Government books. But the real value of this debt has been eroded by high inflation – at a rate of 5.9%, the Government has effectively written off $637 million in student debt in the space of one year. That's almost as much as the Government was planning to spend on the Waitemata Harbour bike bridge.

A lawyer who graduated in 2017 and has an $80,000 student loan has had at least $9,000 in today’s money paid off by the taxpayer. The longer the graduate takes to repay their loan, the larger the taxpayer-funded debt write-off.

The incentive problem is obvious: savvy students will repay their loans as slowly as possible, maximising costs to taxpayers in terms of both the inflation write-off and the interest write-off.

This is a regressive wealth transfer from working New Zealanders to the privileged – people with university degrees earn significantly more than those without. Even under Australia’s interest-free student loan scheme, recognised as one of the world’s most generous, loan balances are still indexed for inflation.

The Government has recently dismissed income tax relief for workers as a handout for the wealthy. That’s rich when Grant Robertson is spending millions to pay down the loan balances of lawyers, doctors, consultants, and bankers.

We’re calling on the Government to urgently begin indexing student loan balances for inflation.

---
*Source: HYEFU, page 120

Revealed: NZTA spends $15,000 per second promoting lower speed limits

Ad screenshot

Waka Kotahi (NZTA) spent $2.4 million on the first advertisement in its campaign promoting lower speed limits, reveals the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

The ad, which can be viewed here, features a wig-wearing, clipboard-wielding NZTA official explaining to a pair of children that speed limits are currently too fast.

Nine hundred thousand dollars was spent producing the one-minute video. That works out at $15,000 per second  about the same cost as Steven Spielberg's 'West Side Story'.

The remainder of the $2.4 million budget was mostly spent on advertising space, ensuring New Zealanders are tortured by the ad's repetition.

NZTA costs

The costs were provided to the Taxpayers' Union under the Official Information Act. 

Like the Government's infamous Three Waters ads, NZTA's "Safe Limits" ad appears to be more about promoting a Government policy – lower speed limits – than communicating useful information to the public.

Waka Kotahi has disabled comments on the YouTube version of the ad, but on Facebook the video has been ridiculed. Representative comments from viewers include:

•  It looks like they're "dumbing down" their information. Ridiculous ad. 

•  Once again instead of improving the roads this governments solution [is] lower the speed and spend the money on marketing.

•  The ad is a great metaphor - when the hi vis dude can't hear what the kids are saying, it's just like when Waka Kotahi asks for public consultation on speed limit reductions and road safety, and completely ignores what the public feedback is e.g. Napier-Taupo Road.

•  Waka Kotaki should be ashamed of itself, running TV ads to gain support for reducing speed limits while the massive cost of the campaign should be going into fixing roads.

•  Stop wasting tax payer money on ads about nothing. Just change the sign and everyone will know.

Motorists pay tax and road user charges with the expectation that roads will be made safer. Wide scale reductions in speed limits will be seen by many New Zealanders as an abdication of NZTA's responsibility to improve road quality. When the Government then goes and funnels millions into condescending campaigns to congratulate itself for slowing New Zealanders down, you can see why people are switching off their TV sets.

The worst of it is that NZTA has budgeted a total of $197 million for its "Road to Zero" education campaign through to 2024. This money could have been spent on median barriers, but the Government has instead decided to spend the money annoying you with dumb ads.

COVID response sees $700k spent on a "digital storytelling experience"

Grant image

The Government must pull the plug on the Ministry for Culture and Heritage's $60 million COVID "Innovation Fund" as it continues to grant taxpayer funding to bizarre projects, says the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

So far, 105 projects have received $15.9 million from the fund. Since the Taxpayers' Union's last update on the fund, new questionable grants include:

•  $700,000 on a "digital storytelling experience" about the Manawatū River

•  $321,740 to tell the story of the Grey River using virtual reality

•  $20,000 on a business plan for Tongan mat-weaving

•  $250,000 on an online children's game about an albatross

•  $900,000 on an arts strategy for Christchurch

•  $20,000 on a children's book that requires the reader to install an app

•  $248,460 on traditional Māori painting

Common themes in the funded initiatives include virtual reality, storytelling, digital installations beside rivers, and bespoke IT projects.

Needless to say, none of these projects have any relevance to COVID-19, despite the money coming from Grant Robertson's rapidly-dwindling pandemic fund. The spending decisions are almost funny until you remember that every dollar spent on "digital storytelling" is a dollar that could have been spent bolstering our health system, or returned to a struggling taxpayer.

The fund's basic "seed funding" grants are all set at $20,000, with no apparent regard for whether the project justifies the full sum. Regardless, the sheer quantity and variety of projects funded means there is little realistic possibility for follow-up analysis to ensure each project delivers value for taxpayers.

Incredibly, there is still another $44 million to be spent from the fund, and it already seems the Ministry has run out of worthwhile projects to bankroll. It's only a matter of time before taxpayers are literally funding underwater basket weaving.

Below is a longer list of project descriptions from successful grant applicants.

Steamcore
To scope and test a new interactive social gaming experience meant to democratize content creation and e-sports, increasing commercial opportunities, sector sustainability and improving access and participation
Awarded: $20,000

Toi Ōtautahi
Co-funding for the initial stages of Toi Ōtautahi, the Christchurch arts strategy. Work includes mentoring, commissioning, professional development, and creative practice platforms for artists. The project will support artists and improve access to the arts for people of Waitaha Canterbury.
Awarded: $900,000

Atawhai Interactive
To develop an accessible online game, Toroa, that gives tamariki and rangatahi an experience to fly as Toroa on its journey from the Pacific Ocean back to its home on Taiaroa head. It will explore the themes of whakapapa as the Toroa soars over the ocean, deified as Takaroa, on the winds of Tāwhirimatea.
Awarded: $250,000

Good Company Arts
To create a series of immersive virtual reality journeys that celebrate the sound and form of Taonga Pūoro [traditional instruments], thereby connecting a wider audience to the artform and to the whenua.
Awarded: $20,000

Te Rūnaka o Ōtākou
Scoping the use of a web platform to leverage pūrākau [myths and legends], and traditional and contemporary technologies to connect with the Ōtākou diaspora.
Awarded: $20,000

AKH ('Api-ko-haukinima)
To research a business plan to understand what is needed to produce authentic Tongan mats and make them more accessible for Tongan people, and to teach this craft and pass on the knowledge to those who wish to learn it.
Awarded: $20,000

Dr Rory Clifford
To develop a business plan for virtual reality recreations of current Māori wāhi tapu [sacred places] with an initial focus on Kāi Tahu marae and their historic sites of interest.
Awarded: $20,000

Greymouth Heritage Trust
To tell the story of the Grey River using virtual reality, simulative, and immersive technologies. The project will bring to life both Māori and European settlement and use of the river.
Awarded: $321,740

Makaira Waugh - Rōreka
To contribute to the creation of a te reo Māori children’s book which uses an app to embellish the story with music and claymation videos, and allows the reader to recreate waiata using instrumental loops.
Awarded: $20,000

Toi o Taranaki Ki Te Tonga
An inter-generational and multi career stage approach to encourage, empower and enable Māori artists who whakapapa to Taranaki or live in the rohe, to wānanga, create, collaborate, exhibit and sell their work and to provide improved community access to mahi toi Māori.
Awarded: $283,500

Maata Wharehoka
To further develop a project focused on transmitting, revitalising and providing accessible ways of learning tikanga Māori practices surrounding deathing, death and after death.
Awarded: $20,000

Dinnie Moeahu
To undertake research and engagement to support the development of Te Āhua o Te Tangata, a cultural competency framework for local government.
Awarded: $20,000

Ngamanawa Incorporation
To create a digital repository and digital rights management framework through development of open-source software to ensure that cultural knowledge and artefacts can be hapū governed, retained and protected for future generations.
Awarded: $371,108

Rehua Innovations
To build local capability by repurposing two under-utilised waka ama [outrigger canoes] into waka tere [racing canoes] and increasing traditional sailing capabilities through wānanga
Awarded: $250,000

Kauae Raro Research Collective
To commission and promote new works by Māori creatives using customary Māori paint making knowledge.
Awarded: $248,460

Wawata Creative Limited
To develop the sitemap and prototype ‘look and feel’ of an app that captures and stores key stories, kōrero, imagery, waiata, whakapapa, and knowledge from marae
$20,000

Pounga Wai
To produce Pounga Wai | A Digital River - an interactive, real-time, large-scale digital art installation of the Whanganui River, embedded in Māori kaupapa.
Awarded: $124,631

Whanganui Connection
To upgrade and enhance the immersive experience of the Durie Hill Elevator and Tunnel, providing access to stories about public transport, the way we build our cities and housing, engineering and built heritage. 
Awarded: $199,300

Māoriland Charitable Trust
To deliver Purita, a capability system to enable identification and development of Māori potential through the creation of content, but also a platform for this content to be distributed and seen around the world. Purita will also platform an extensive library of global indigenous content.
Awarded: $1,015,300

Central Development Agency (CEDA)
To deliver a digital storytelling experience of the Manawatū Awa [river], with interactive cultural and historical maps and a virtual guide.
Awarded: $700,000

Maungarongo Marae
To hold wānanga [classes] to brainstorm the design and content for a system for embedding mātauranga [Māori knowledge] in ngā toi [the arts] to safeguard it and provide access to it in a managed and safe way that aligns with the kaupapa of Maungarongo Marae.
Awarded: $20,000

Atuatanga
To develop 'Atuatanga', an interactive virtual reality gaming experience that will use te Reo Māori and mātauranga Māori to engage players through challenges as they navigate through an ancient world restoring the taiao for future generations.
Awarded: $585,000

Narrative Muse
To support the development of Narrative Muse, a digital platform to help Aotearoa audiences access books, movies and television content that reflects intersectionality and gender diversity.
Awarded: $500,000

Zealanesia
To scope the development and prototyping of a digital storytelling platform using the vaka as medium for navigating and exploring Tokelauan heritage. This will enable and improve Tokelauan and Pasifika access and participation in art, culture and heritage.
Awarded: $20,000

TPW - Māori Pokemon
To develop creative assets for an augmented reality app called Pūrākau. The app embeds Te Ao Māori content into the environment around us using mixed reality technology. The project is delivered via smart phone devices to enable accessibility to a wide audience.
Awarded: $328,405

Taki Rua Productions
The development and delivery of two immersive live productions of large-scale contemporary Māori performing arts pieces. By presenting mātauranga Māori within contemporary performances the project will increase access and participation to both mātauranga and contemporary performance art.
Awarded: $1,323,000

QWB Lab
To design a suite of tools that helps arts and culture organisations to measure, understand, increase and articulate their wellbeing impact in order to unlock the value of culture and their assets. The development of these tools is aimed at increasing the capacity to generate wellbeing for communities, helping improve access and participation.
Awarded: $150,000

Public Art Heritage Aotearoa NZ
To develop a website of Aotearoa’s remaining twentieth century public art heritage, which will enable New Zealanders to access and build awareness of our public art heritage. Funding will also support the development of a national public art forum to develop best-practice guidance and resources for those involved in public art.
Awarded: $300,000

NZ Festival
To develop a new values-driven ticketing platform, empowering audiences to choose their own ticket price, thereby increasing access and participation in the cultural sector.
Awarded: $200,000

Metia Interactive
To develop Guardian Maia, an online game for rangatahi that imagines a Māori future and uses culturally inclusive creative technology to explore mātauranga Māori traditions and new cultural concepts.
Awarded $290,000

Aotearoa Live Music Recovery Project
To support small to medium sized live music venues with artist and audience development that increases diversity. The project will increase access and participation in live music.
Awarded: $2,110,000

DOTDOT
To develop a platform to enable artists, arts venues, arts organisations and cultural institutions to create their own hybrid and virtual events, allowing them to reach new audiences and drive new revenue streams for their work.
Awarded: $206,965

Joel Baxendale and Karin McCracken - In World
To develop a flexible and dynamic creative tool that will enable multiple sectors to apply app-technology in an interactive context, thereby creating new opportunities for the arts sector and enabling access and participation.
Awarded: $227,605

Taxpayer Talk: Does Wellington hate economists?

The Treasury recently advertised for a senior economic analyst with "no economics background required". Professor Robert MacCulloch says this is just the tip of the iceberg and in fact reflects a wider agenda in the public service to turn away from orthodox economic rigor. Rob sits down with Louis to discuss the disturbing consequences for New Zealand's economic stability and quality of life.

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

Ratepayers foot the bill for $76,000 in shoes for parking wardens

As if parking wardens weren't already costing ratepayers enough in tickets, they're also putting the boot in with surprisingly large footwear costs.

Wellington City Council has spent $75,906.35 on shoes for its parking wardens in the last three years, reveals the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

An information response from Wellington City Council shows that the Council purchased 264 pairs of shoes from 2019 and 2021, at an average cost of $287 a pair.

The Council currently employs 57 parking wardens. Each warden is provided with two pairs of shoes (summer and winter), and the shoes are audited and replaced as often as every year.

A Council recruitment video even touts the two free pairs of shoes as one of the many benefits enjoyed by parking wardens. The Council's uniform framework confirms that wardens get to keep their shoes after leaving the role, along with their ratepayer-funded hats, beanies, thermals, and fingerless gloves.

ShoesWellington parking wardens photographed wearing their winter (left) and summer (right) shoes.

Councils should regularly ask themselves whether their bulk purchases and procurement practices represent good value for money. Councils placing large orders, with long-standing relationships with suppliers, should be able to leverage off this to receive discounts.

Alternatively, the Council could simply follow typical practice in the private sector and offer each warden an allowance of, say, $200 a year to source their own shoes, cutting expenses in half. As it stands, the wardens are handed expensive shoes with no regard for their personal preference. There's even a moral hazard: wardens will happily wear out their ratepayer-funded shoes with personal use.

At the Taxpayers’ Union, we acknowledge that parking wardens need decent shoes, but we urge the Council to put the shoe on the other foot and recognise how ratepayers, hammered with rising living costs, make prudent choices to limit the cost of their own footwear.

The Taxpayers' Union investigated the Council's shoe expenditure after an irate ratepayer sent a tipoff. If you know of a case of government extravagance, waste or misspending, email [email protected].

Taxpayer Talk: What is the media mega-merge meant to solve?

The Government has confirmed plans to merge RNZ and TVNZ into a single publicly-owned media monolith. Louis sits down remotely with National Party Broadcasting spokesperson Melissa Lee to find out exactly what problem the Government thinks it's solving, and how this move will impact New Zealanders' trust in the independence of the media. 
Subscribe to Taxpayer Talk podcast via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

Revealed: How DIA spent $2 million on furniture

The Taxpayers' Union can reveal how the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) spent $2,047,388 on furniture in just 18 months.  

Last month, National MP Melissa Lee grilled the DIA for an apparent furniture blowout in 2020/21, but now we learn that she wasn't given a full accounting of the Department's shopping spree. 

An official information response obtained by the Taxpayers' Union shows that the DIA spent $1,935,674 million on furniture for its offices in the 18 months to the end of 2021. The major expenses included workstations (desks), chairs, and 'collaboration furniture' for shared spaces.

Additionally, $111,714 was spent on furniture for use in employees' homes. Two hundred and forty-eight employees received office chairs to use at home, at an average cost of $431 each. Some staff were even given adjustable foot rests, and one received a $115 floor mat.

Furniture1 Furniture2

The spending figures exclude installation costs and IT equipment.

Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, "The spending works out at $1,048 for every permanent employee. Are we expected to believe that every desk, chair, locker and beanbag all went kaput at once? Remember, this was a period in which a large portion of DIA's staff were working from home."

"It appears that DIA has pressed ahead with a department-wide furniture revamp instead of simply replacing items on an as-needed basis. This is egregious during a cost of living crisis when taxpayers are tightening their belts and making sacrifices."

"The Department even forked out for 3,526 workstations despite only employing 1,954 permanent staff. This kind of spending raises the question of whether DIA is in fact over-funded. If the Government is serious about reining in debt, it should take a close look at the budgets of DIA and other major public service entities."

More detailed descriptions of a selection of DIA furniture purchases can be found in a response to Select Committee questions by Melissa Lee (page 23). The breakdown reveals a strong proclivity for standing desks.

ENDS

Revealed: The polling that explains the Govt’s fuel tax cut

A Curia poll commissioned by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union found that 78% of New Zealanders supported a reduction in petrol tax in the days leading up to (and the day after) the Government’s reduction in petrol excise.

Eighty percent of Labour voters supported tax relief, and 88% of respondents in the most deprived areas. Click here to view the data.

The polling took place from 2–7 March and 14–15 March, with a gap in polling due to COVID-19. The Government’s announcement to cut fuel excise was made on 14 March. 

The Government’s decision to cut petrol taxes was a victory for people power. Regardless of our Government’s ideological tendencies, it can be made to listen when public opinion is against it.

Earlier in the month, the Finance Minister was blaming fuel costs on international conditions and warning that fuel tax relief would impact road funding. But then the Government correctly calculated the public mood, changed tack, and rustled up money from the COVID slush fund to cover the revenue loss.

The problem the Government faced was that New Zealanders had already made the mental link between high fuel costs and high government taxes. This didn’t happen out of the blue: the Taxpayers’ Union worked hard to ensure that New Zealanders knew around half of their petrol bill was made up of taxes and levies.

Our petition to cut fuel tax was promoted to hundreds of thousands of Kiwis on social media and gained 16,000 signatures. Our fuel tax refund event in Takapuna exposed high taxes with media coverage from Newshub, 1 News, and Radio NZ. And Taxpayers' Union supporters plastered stickers on fuel pumps – a habit that the Taxpayers’ Union does not endorse but does find funny.

We look forward to a similar Government turnaround on Three Waters as we raise awareness of the scheme’s bureaucratic, unaccountable governance model.

Taxpayer Update: Labour slides in latest poll | NZTA spends big on 'Road to Zero' propaganda

Dear Supporter,

Seldom do we send two Taxpayer Updates in the same week, but we wanted to ensure our supporters see our latest private political poll result before it is leaked to the media and reported publicly.

Today we've also blown the whistle on the cost of the propaganda campaign NZTA have been spending up on for the so-called "Road to Zero" initiative (see below).

Latest poll: Gap between centre-left and centre-right blocs continues to close

The latest Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll is now available for members and supporters here. The monthly poll is scientific, using a random sample of voting age New Zealanders, and is independently carried out by the experts at Curia Market Research.

The takeaway: Labour is polling at its lowest ever in this term of government, and the overall gap between the centre-right and centre-left continues to close.

PV over time

Revealed: This ad cost you $2.4 million

Ad screenshot

The Taxpayers' Union can reveal that Waka Kotahi (NZTA) spent $2.4 million on the first advertisement in its campaign promoting lower speed limits.

The ad, which can be viewed here, features a wig-wearing, clipboard-wielding NZTA official explaining to a pair of children that speed limits are currently too fast.

Nine hundred thousand dollars was spent producing the one-minute video. That works out at $15,000 per second – about the same cost as Steven Spielberg's 'West Side Story'.

The remainder of the $2.4 million budget was mostly spent on advertising space, ensuring New Zealanders are tortured by the ad's repetition.

NZTA costs

Like the Government's infamous Three Waters ads, NZTA's "Safe Limits" ad appears to be more about promoting a Government policy – lower speed limits – than communicating useful information to the public.

Waka Kotahi has disabled comments on the YouTube version of the ad, but on Facebook the video has been ridiculed. Representative comments from viewers include:

  • It looks like they're "dumbing down" their information. Ridiculous ad. 

  • Once again instead of improving the roads this government's solution [is] lower the speed and spend the money on marketing.

  • The ad is a great metaphor - when the hi vis dude can't hear what the kids are saying, it's just like when Waka Kotahi asks for public consultation on speed limit reductions and road safety, and completely ignores what the public feedback is e.g. Napier-Taupo Road.

  • Waka Kotaki should be ashamed of itself, running TV ads to gain support for reducing speed limits while the massive cost of the campaign should be going into fixing roads.

  • Stop wasting tax payer money on ads about nothing. Just change the sign and everyone will know.

Motorists pay tax and road user charges with the expectation that roads will be made safer. Wide-scale reductions in speed limits will be seen by many New Zealanders as an abdication of NZTA's responsibility to improve road quality. When the Government then goes and funnels millions into condescending campaigns to congratulate itself for slowing New Zealanders down, you can see why people are switching off their TV sets.

The worst of it is that NZTA has budgeted a total of $197 million for its Road to Zero "education campaign" through to 2024. This money could have been spent on road safety improvements such as median barriers, but the Government has instead decided to spend the money annoying us all with dumb ads.

We say NZTA should hit the brakes on this condescending spending, and get back to the basics of fixing our roads.

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

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Taxpayer Update: Fuel tax victory | Mahuta is cracking | MIQ madness

Dear Supporter,

⛽️💸 Our campaign for fuel tax relief pays off

Victory

The Prime Minister has read the room and responded to spiking petrol costs with a $0.25/litre reduction in fuel excise tax, lasting for at least three months.

Pulling the excise lever is exactly what we have called for – and while a 25 cent tax cut is modest, it actually goes further than what the National Party has proposed.

Here's yesterday vs today at BP in Brooklyn, Wellington:

BP image

This move is not a silver bullet for the cost of living crisis, but it does acknowledge the responsibility the Government has to limit its own contribution to household costs.

The announcement shows that the Government responds to people power. Our petition to cut fuel tax received 16,000 signatures. Our fuel tax refund event in Takapuna exposed high taxes with media coverage from Newshub, 1 News, and Radio NZ.

And Taxpayers' Union supporters have plastered stickers on fuel pumps and even their own vehicles:

Sticker on filler

Sticker on pump

(We cannot encourage putting stickers on fuel pumps. But it is funny.)

Of course, the fuel tax cut will limit funding available in the National Land Transport Fund for transport projects. Grant Robertson says he will divert money from his COVID slush fund to make up the revenue loss, but for longer-term tax relief he will need to stop raiding fuel tax revenue for cycleways, urban beautification, and other projects that don’t benefit the motorists paying the bills.

What about the other taxes on fuel?

Seymour petrol

Our fuel tax campaign has focused on the excise tax because the Government directly sets the excise tax rate. But excise isn't the only tax on petrol.

Emissions Trading Scheme levies now make up 18 cents on every litre – and the cost is set to increase as the Government releases fewer carbon credits to the market.

The Government uses revenue from ETS levies for its "climate emergency" slush fund, paying for pet projects such as cycleways and urban beautification. (Regular readers of our newsletters will understand that these projects do not actually cut emissions, because emissions are already capped and traded under the ETS.)

The thing is, the ETS was never meant to be a money-maker for the Government. It is simply meant to incentivise companies and households to cut emissions in cost-effective ways.

ACT has now announced a policy to return all ETS levies to taxpayers as an annual "carbon dividend", working out at $749 for a household of four – a policy we've been calling for. A carbon dividend would preserve the incentive effects of the ETS while removing the net cost to taxpayers.

Is Nanaia Mahuta cracking under pressure?

Mahuta headline

Nanaia Mahuta's latest attempt to pacify critics of Three Waters has failed. The 47 recommendations from her "Working Group" will only serve to add complexity and cost to the scheme.

Now commentators from Stuff, the NZ Herald, and TVNZ are openly asking whether she should still be fronting Three Waters. As Bryce Edwards writes in the Herald:

the Government may wish to have her out of the portfolio before the local government candidates begin their campaigns, which will surely utilise opposition to Mahuta and Three Waters, setting up an early warning of what Labour might be facing in 2023.

For more evidence that the Government and Nanaia Mahuta have been spooked by our efforts to stop Three Waters, look at this interview from the weekend.

Nanaia Mahuta isn't known for admitting she's wrong, so it's telling that she now admits she botched the communications campaign that saw $3.5 million spent on condescending TV ads.

But she's still standing by the Three Waters scheme as a whole, including the co-governance arrangements that will dilute accountability and open the way to water royalties (charges for the right to use water).

Thank you to the thousands of New Zealanders who have now chipped into our court action fund and general Three Waters campaign fund.

The real reason Mahuta cannot be trusted

Democracy cancelled

At the Taxpayers' Union, we oppose Three Waters because it is a bad policy – it takes assets away from local control and puts them in the hands of massive co-governed water-entities, separated from ratepayers by four layers of bureaucracy.

However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that there is another reason why Three Waters is so unpopular: New Zealanders simply don't trust Nanaia Mahuta to protect democratic values.

Last week, we saw exactly why Mahuta isn't trusted. As Minister of Local Government, she announced she's cancelling next year's elections in Tauranga, with Wellington-appointed commissioners continuing to run the Council until 2024.

At the same time that Nanaia Mahuta is meant to be refining the governance, representation, and accountability features of the Three Waters scheme, she’s hijacked governance, abolished representation, and extinguished accountability at a significant city council.

Mahuta’s decision in 2020 to dissolve the council in Tauranga resulted in a Wellington-appointed, co-governed commission pushing through a 17 percent rates hike. Why should we expect her unelected, co-governed water entities to deliver anything better for ratepayers?

Our friends at the Tauranga Ratepayers' Alliance are running a petition to restore elections: click here to sign the petition.

Sixty-four DJs jumped border queue last year

We can reveal that 316 foreign entertainers, including 64 DJs, were fast-tracked through MIQ in 2021.

Taxpayers have spent $1.2 billion on MIQ – $660 for every household in the country. And while the regime is winding down for Kiwis, the "lottery of human misery" continues for international visitors.

As reported by the Herald, we received an official information response showing how many entertainers were given border exemptions under the "other critical worker" criteria last year:

OIA

This reinforces the view that the Government's criteria for border exemptions was and is a complete shambles.

Techno performers like DJ Dimension and Dom Dolla hogged rooms in MIQ facilities while Kiwis were barred from seeing their families. Even essential workers were unable to enter the country, including hundreds of nurses. One Kiwi nurse was denied an MIQ spot eight times, and eventually resorted to sailing to New Zealand from Australia.

Dom Dolla

Melbourne DJ Dom Dolla squats in front of a helicopter on the Auckland waterfront while overseas Kiwis were barred from seeing sick relatives.

The justification that these entertainers brought a "significant wider benefit to the national or regional economy" just doesn't stack up. Last year we suggested that a more productive (and taxpayer-friendly) approach to MIQ slots would be to release a limited number of slots to foreigners that would be allocated to the highest bidder. This would naturally prioritise high-value visitors and also provide a revenue stream to recoup the massive costs of MIQ.

Luxon's tax bracket reset is underwhelming

In his State of the Nation speech, National Party leader Christopher Luxon unveiled this proposal to adjust income tax brackets for the last four years of inflation:

Luxon's tax brackets

This small adjustment to tax brackets is more of a 'tax reset' than a genuine tax cut. And even as a tax reset, it's a weak one.

We would suggest a more substantial reset: update tax brackets to make up for inflation for the full decade since the brackets were originally set, not just the last four years.

The political merit of Christopher Luxon's proposal is that it is so modest that even a Labour Government has little excuse to reject it. This policy would barely scratch the sides of the Government's $6 billion spending allowance.

Will National present a stronger tax policy before the election?

I sat down remotely with National Party Finance spokesman Simon Bridges for a discussion on bracket creep, Labour's new taxes, and whether we can expect more substantial income tax relief from National before next year's election. Click here to listen.

(Note: the interview was recorded before the Government's announcement of fuel tax cuts.)

You can find all of our Taxpayer Talk episodes on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, or iHeart Radio.

Sport NZ spends $4.7 million conducting surveys

Junk mail

After investigating a tip-off, we have discovered that Sport NZ has spent $4.7 million conducting surveys in the last four years, interrogating New Zealanders on what kind of physical activity they do, how often, and for how long.

The spending figures were provided to the Taxpayers' Union under the Official Information Act:

Table

This mammoth ongoing data-mining exercise proves that when you give an obscure agency generous taxpayer funding, they'll find a way to spend it.

Even if we accept that Sport NZ has to survey 20,000 people every year, the cost of $50 per participant is eyebrow-raising. At the Taxpayers' Union we manage to run surveys far more cheaply, even when we commission scientific market research companies like Curia.

Obsessively tracking New Zealanders' participation in yoga, gardening, and tramping may be a fun statistical exercise, but it hardly seems like a priority during a cost of living crisis. We're left wondering if Sport NZ is simply overfunded.

This newsletter is getting long...

Two last cases of wasteful spending before I sign off this Taxpayer Update:

Newshub reports that Kainga Ora has spent $24 million on renovating its own offices in the last four years. How can the housing agency claim to be in touch with low-income New Zealanders when it's spending like a mega-corporate??

The Herald reports that Michael Wood's tram to Māngere could cost $29 billion, according to Treasury officials – up from previous estimates of $14.6 billion and $24 billion. $29 billion is $15,000 for every Kiwi household, and well above a million dollars per metre of track.

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

Stuff  Things are bad enough to make me care who wins the next election

Homepaddock  One big mistake

Businessdesk  On The Money: Tesla co-founder down under, NZX, Victoria Harris, Ian Taylor

Businessdesk  Polltracker: Labour and Nats now neck and neck

NZ Herald  MIQ 'irrational': Hundreds of entertainers, dozens of DJs granted exceptions to get into NZ

NZ Herald  Political poll: National jumps past Labour in 1News-Kantar poll - Jacinda Ardern dips, Chris Luxon up in preferred prime minister race

Stuff  Wellington's empty and sad - where are the ideas to revive it?

NZ Herald  Nats hit the lead in latest polling

Democracy Project  Bryce Edwards: Political Roundup – Can Three Waters be salvaged, or will Nanaia Mahuta have to go?

Stuff  Taxpayers' Union society wrongly listed as 'dissolved' after alleged hack

NZ Herald  National Party leader Christopher Luxon draws tax, cost-of-living 'crisis' as battle lines

Stuff  Christopher Luxon to use big speech to announce National would unwind Labour tax hikes

Stuff  CEO's $30k leadership course takes up lion's share of New Plymouth District Council top tier training budget

Homepaddock  Good use of our money?

Kiwiblog  Even the PSA supports indexing tax brackets

Stuff  As the Reserve Bank stokes interest rates, vodka may be the answer

Newsroom  Dirty water and divisive politics: Three Waters reforms taken to court

NZ Adviser  Reserve Bank lifts official cash rate back to pre-pandemic state

NZ Herald  Thomas Coughlan: National attracting younger voters, will Luxon reap election reward?

Taxpayer Talk: Does National's tax policy go far enough?

National's tax policy has been criticised as 'costly' and too generous for high earners – but the Taxpayers' Union questions whether it goes far enough. Louis sits down with National Party Finance spokesman Simon Bridges to explore how he would change tax brackets to counter inflation, and whether we can expect a more comprehensive policy from National before next year's election.

Apologies for the subpar audio quality due to Simon's COVID isolation.

 

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

Revealed: 316 DJs and entertainers jumped border queue last year

Three hundred and sixteen foreign entertainers, including 64 DJs, were fast-tracked through MIQ in 2021, reveals the New Zealand Taxpayers Union.

Taxpayers have spent $1.2 billion on MIQ – $660 for every household in the country. But we were badly let down by the Government's criteria that put favoured industries ahead of Kiwis and essential workers.

An official information response shows that MBIE gave border exemptions to 316 entertainers under the ‘other critical worker' criteria:

OIA

This reinforces the widely-held view that the Government's criteria for border exemptions was and is a complete shambles. How can anyone defend dishing out exemptions to dubstep and hip hop DJs while slamming the door shut on nurses that we desperately need?

Techno performers like DJ Dimension and Dom Dolla hogged rooms in MIQ facilities while Kiwis were barred from seeing their families. Even essential workers were unable to enter the country, including hundreds of nurses. One Kiwi nurse was denied an MIQ spot eight times, and eventually resorted to sailing to New Zealand from Australia.

Dom DollaMelbourne DJ Dom Dolla squats in front of a helicopter on the Auckland waterfront while overseas Kiwis were barred from seeing sick relatives. Source: Instagram

The justification that these entertainers brought a 'significant wider benefit to the national or regional economy' just doesn't stack up. Last year we suggested that a far more economically productive (and taxpayer-friendly) approach to MIQ slots would be to release a limited number of slots to foreigners that would be allocated to the highest bidder. This would naturally prioritise high-value visitors and also provide a revenue stream to recoup the massive costs of MIQ.

MIQ has wound down for Kiwis, but the Government's cruel and irrational zero-sum game remains in place for international visitors. We need to get real: COVID is now here to stay in New Zealand. MIQ no longer serves a justifiable purpose.

New Three Waters recommendations are an unholy mess

When the Government announced last year it would delay the Three Waters legislation, they appointed an “independent” Working Group to provide recommendations on ways to make the legislation more palatable for local councils. At the time, we called it out as anything but independent. The Working Group itself was 50/50 co-governed, and of the Mayors appointed to represent the interests of local government it was stacked in favour of the very few who were supporting the Government’s proposals.

Today the Working Group has released its recommendations.

Under the recommendations, councils would still not have anything close to proportionate representation on the four “Regional Representation Groups” that appoint the selection panel that appoints the board members for the new entities. For example, Auckland Council would have just four of 14 seats for the northern group, despite having 90 percent of the region’s population and contributing the lion's share of the assets.

As we predicted, the Working Group has backed Nanaia Mahuta’s co-governance model that will see half the seats for each region held by iwi/hapū members, giving iwi an effective veto right over every major decision.

Here are some of the key recommendations:

⚠️ Fresh off the back of the infamous $4 million “Better Water” television ad campaign, the Working Group wants another new public communications campaign to explain “need for change” to New Zealanders.

⚠️ Councils would now hold shares in the new water entities. This is clearly an attempt to ward off accusations that Three Waters is an asset grab. But it’s yet another deceit: regardless of their shareholdings, councils (and therefore ratepayers) will still be stripped of all the crucial rights of control that define ownership. Councils won’t be allowed to receive a return from the water entities, yet that is specifically allowed for Mana Whenua groups. In short, the “ownership” of shares will be meaningless.

⚠️ Further, the Working Group has suggested adding yet another layer of bureaucracy to the scheme, in the form of new “sub-regional” groups representing smaller councils and iwi. This would mean five layers of bureaucracy in total separate ratepayers from water services: councillors, the co-governed sub-regional representative group, the co-governed Regional Representative Group, the Selection Panel, and the water entity board.

⚠️ The Working Group also wants to establish a new Water Services Ombudsman, with a “tikanga-based dispute resolution process”. And they have demanded a new policy consultation process between the Crown and its Treaty partners, separate from public consultation.

The full set of 47 recommendations from the Working Group can be found at the bottom this article.

Together, these ideas intensify the absurd complexity of the scheme. The whole thing stinks of “jobs for the boys” that will ultimately cost ratepayers.

Nanaia Mahuta and her Cabinet colleagues will now “consider” the recommendations before unveiling the legislation that will be put before Parliament. From our perspective, there is nothing to consider: Three Waters cannot be salvaged.

Thank you for your support,

Jordan

Jordan_signature.jpg
Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

 

Sport NZ spends $4.7 million conducting surveys

The Taxpayers' Union is challenging Sport NZ's $4.7 million dollar spend on surveys since 2018.

In the space of four years, Sport NZ has spent $4.7 million conducting monthly 'Active NZ' surveys interrogating New Zealanders on what kind of physical activity they do, how often, and for how long. The spending figures were provided to the Taxpayers' Union under the Official Information Act.

Table

The surveys' annual sample size includes about 20,000 New Zealanders from the electoral roll and an additional 5,000 children.

The surveys appear to be growing more expensive each year, with 2021's surveys costing taxpayers $1.25 million, including $12,000 on voucher giveaways to incentivise participants. 

Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, "This mammoth ongoing data-mining exercise proves that when you give an obscure agency generous taxpayer funding, they'll find a way to spend it."

"Running a survey with a sample size of 20,000 could occasionally be justified. But when it costs over a million dollars, we have to question why it's being done every year." 

"Even if we accept that Sport NZ has to survey 20,000 people every year, the cost of $50 per participant is eyebrow-raising. At the Taxpayers' Union we manage to run surveys far more cheaply, even when we commission scientific market research companies like Curia."

"Obsessively tracking New Zealanders' participation in yoga, gardening, and tramping may be a fun statistical exercise, but it hardly seems like a priority during a cost of living crisis. We're left wondering if Sport NZ is simply overfunded." 

Data reports from the surveys can be found here.

According to Sport NZ's 2020/21 financial report, the agency received $299 million in funding for the financial year. The agency has 241 employees, of whom 132 are paid salaries greater than $100,000.

Exclusive polling analysis with David Farrar

 

The Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll conducted in February shows National surging. Is the writing on the wall for Labour next election? or should National not get their hopes up just yet? Levi is joined by pollster and media commentator David Farrar for analysis of the results. 

 

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

 

Taxpayer Talk: Behind the court challenge against Three Waters

 

 

The Government has justified its Three Waters scheme based on an interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi. But does the logic stand up to scrutiny? Jordan sits down with Stephen Franks, a lawyer working on the High Court case against Nanaia Mahuta's water regime.

 

 

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

 

Taxpayer Update: Fuel tax refunds | Three Waters slowdown | Ponzi schemes

Dear Supporter,

Refunding Aucklanders for their fuel tax ⛽️💸

Last week we headed to a petrol station in Takapuna with a mission: expose high fuel taxes by refunding motorists the tax on their bill. In Auckland, tax now accounts for 52% of the price at the pump.

To prevent a stampede, we announced the location publicly just an hour beforehand of the half hour event.

Word got around and a queue quickly formed down the street, with Newshub, 1News, and even Radio NZ turning up to see what the fuss was about. 

Newshub clipClick here to see Newshub's coverage.

1News
Click here to see 1News's coverage.

The Taxpayers' Union wouldn't usually give handouts, but in this case it was a small price to pay to get fuel taxes into the six o'clock news.

Half what you pay at the pump is tax 💸

As I pointed out to Chris Lynch on Magic Talk this morning, looming war in Ukraine is likely to lead to disruption and sanctions that will drive fuel prices even higher.

Jacinda Ardern might not be able to control Vladimir Putin, but she can shield taxpayers from the cost of conflict by pulling back the petrol tax lever.

>> Sign the petition to cut fuel taxes <<

The petition now has more than 11,000 signatures.

Please don't do this 🙈

Someone bought this sticker from the Taxpayers' Union store and put it on a petrol pump:

Sticker

Putting stickers on petrol pumps is naughty behaviour that we cannot possibly endorse.

If Taxpayers' Union supporters started pasting hundreds of these stickers on fuel pumps up and down the country we would be so upset that we would ask you to send us photos so we can expose this bad behaviour on social media.

Click here to order your sticker.

Starting to taste victory? Three Waters legislation delayedThree Waters signs

Late last year it was widely reported that the Government had delayed its Three Waters legislation until at least March, after facing overwhelming public opposition.

A new update from the Department of Internal Affairs confirms that the delay is even longer: the Government will now introduce the legislation "mid-year".

This is fantastic news for the campaign to Stop Three Waters. Firstly, it shows just how spooked the Government is by our efforts. They're on the back foot and are working desperately to massage the reforms into something more palatable to New Zealanders.

Secondly, the delay means that the legislation is likely to face public consultation in the same period as local body elections. We'll be working with council candidates to expose the nasty details of Nanaia Mahuta's asset grab in town halls and on election billboards across the country.

We can win this!

We know another why the Government has had to delay Three Waters. It relates to a court challenge that was filed last year but that we'll be announcing tomorrow... Keep an eye on your email.

🎤 Our members grill Christopher Luxon

Luxon event

On Thursday, we hosted an event for Taxpayers' Union supporters to meet National Party Leader Christopher Luxon, questioning him on any topic, free from the prying eyes of the media.

The BBQ was exclusive to Auckland-based members and financial supporters of the Taxpayers' Union. With COVID rules limited attendance to 100, but in future we hope to host much larger face-to-face events. If you're not already a member, join the Taxpayers' Union to get onto the invite list.

(Thank you to everyone who came along and gave such positive and helpful feedback to me, Jordan, Sara, Levi, Annabel, and the team. It was great to meet so many of you and put faces to names!)

You know things have got bad for the Government when...

It's not often that we're on the same page as the Public Service Association – the main public sector union which tends to campaign for the Labour Party.

PSA tweet

Tax bracket creep has now got so bad that even this left-wing union is now running our talking points: that minimum wage workers are now at risk of falling into the 30 percent income tax bracket.

There is a growing consensus that it's time to address bracket creep, but Grant Robertson says he has no plans to change the brackets. The obvious reason is tax creep has benefited him by stealthily increasing his income tax take, allowing him to make massive spending commitments of dubious quality. We need to keep the pressure on.

Are taxpayers set to bailout Ponzi schemes?

Charles Ponzi

The Reserve Bank is currently putting together legislation that would see deposits with banks insured by taxpayers.

However, the scheme would extend to high-risk finance companies. Where similar schemes have been put in place overseas, they have resulted in taxpayers being forced to bail out dodgy failed investments and even collapsed Ponzi schemes.

Our Research Fellow Jim Rose (a long-time economist) has produced a submission on the proposed Deposit Takers Act. You can find the executive summary and full document here.

Taxpayer Talk: What does the new TOP Leader stand for?

Raf Manji

The Opportunities Party (or simply "TOP") has a new Leader – Raf Manji. I sat down with Raf for a long-form podcast interview to ask why he's so keen for a universal basic income, how he thinks a land tax will pay for it, and whether TOP is a "left-wing" or "right-wing" party.

Click here to listen, or find all of our Taxpayer Talk episodes on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, or iHeart Radio.

Thanks for your support, and all the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

NBR  Once teddy bears, now protests: Cracks of division

NBR  
Can’t buy me love

Stuff  
Decision made on TVNZ, RNZ merger by the Cabinet, sources suggest

NZ Herald  National's Christopher Luxon says NZ 'society divided', Jacinda Ardern 'missing in action'

Stuff
  Parliament protest: The podium of truth has shifted and may never return

NBR  Wellington protests, vaccine mandates, and MIQ late bills

RNZ  The Week in Politics: The protesters and the politicians

NZ Herald  One last chance left to deliver

Newshub  New Zealand Taxpayers' Union gives about 50 Aucklanders their petrol tax back in pointed exercise directed at Government

RNZ  Lobby group pays drivers' fuel tax at North Shore petrol station

TVNZ  Taxpayers' Union stunt sees motorists handed back petrol bill tax

Kiwiblog  Taxpayers’ Union staff are literally handing out free cash in Takapuna

Kiwiblog  Taxpayers’ Union Curia February 2022 poll

Magic Talk  Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll

NZ Herald  'Pouring petrol on inflation fire': Bay of Plenty business leaders opposed to minimum wage hike

NZ Herald  National closes gap, as minor parties lose ground

The Spinoff  Parliament protest continues as omicron numbers top 2,500

Newstalk ZB  Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll

Newstalk ZB  Heather du Plessis-Allan: More of us think we're headed in the wrong direction

The Daily Blog  New Poll: Support for Luxon hardens – Left plus vs Right plus plus plus in 2023 showdown

RNZ  Labour holds strong in latest political poll, while National creeps up and minor parties suffer

The Country  The Country Full Show: Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Stuff  New poll: National surge up closer to Labour; Greens and ACT down

NZ Herald  TPU/Curia political poll: National closes gap to Labour, with minor parties losing ground

Submission: Reject deposit insurance for finance companies

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union has submitted on the proposed Deposit Takers Act, warning against the proposed insurance scheme that will see Ponzi schemes bailed out by taxpayers.

Click here to read the full submission.

Executive summary:

This submission contends that implementing deposit insurance for finance companies would be a
short-sighted policy and must be considered a policy option distinct from deposit insurance only for
banks.

Finance companies operate within a different set of moral hazard concerns than banks do, which
deposit insurance schemes interact with to drive the sort of risk-seeking behaviour that makes the
guarantee more likely to be activated.

Economic stability is, however, not protected by deposit insurance for finance companies, in the same
way it may be for banks.

In New Zealand, finance companies now make an even smaller proportion of capital markets than they
did prior to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). The deposit guarantee scheme put in place for finance
companies then was of dubious value, even with their larger share of the market in 2008.

The Reserve Bank Governor would be placed in an unenviable position as regulator for finance
company deposit insurance, as that portion of the market is regularly plagued by scandal and Serious
Fraud Office investigations.

While there is valid debate as to the correct policy balance for insuring deposits in banks, the case is
settled that finance companies should not be included in a scheme such as the one proposed. It is
recommended that finance companies be removed from the Draft Bill.

Taxpayer Update: Luxon gets competitive | Cut fuel tax | 30% tax on low wages

Dear Supporter,

Our latest poll shows National rise under Luxon

The latest monthly scientific Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll is now available for members and supporters here.

Party vote

The headline result: National is returning to a competitive position under the leadership of Christopher Luxon. While much of National's gains appear to have come at ACT's expense, overall the centre-right parties are closing the gap with Labour and the Greens.

It's time to cut fuel tax ⛽️ >> Sign the petition ✍️

About half the price of petrol is made up of Government taxes.

Fuel tax graph

The Prime Minister can blame rising living costs on ‘global conditions’ all she likes, but the cost of fuel is one thing she can control.

Fuel costs filter through to the price of every single household good – and half the price of petrol is made up of government taxes and levies.

We're calling on the Government to rein in the cost of living by urgently cutting the excise tax on petrol.

>> Sign the petition at www.fueltax.nz <<

Taxes on a litre of petrol include:

  • 70.024 cents in excise

  • 6 cents in ACC levy

  • 0.66 cents in Local Authorities Tax

  • 0.6 cents in Engine Fuels Monitoring Levy

  • 18.2 cents in ETS levy

  • 0.076 cents in other levies

And in Auckland:

  • 10 cents in Regional Fuel Tax

And charged on top of all taxes, plus the before-tax price:

  • 15% in GST

This means the total tax on a $2.77 litre of petrol is $1.43 in Auckland and $1.31 in the rest of the country – about 52% and 48% of the average price, respectively.

Fuel tax image

Minimum wage and paying 30% in marginal tax 😱

High income taxes used to only affect high earners. But thanks to inflation, even minimum wage workers are now threatened with punishingly high tax rates

After the Government's decision to hike the minimum wage by 6%, someone working 44 hours a week on the minimum wage will now pay tax in the 30% bracket.

In fact, in real terms workers on the minimum wage may be worse off than they were last year, because inflation wipes away 98% of the value of their pay hike. The higher average tax rate wipes away the rest (and then some). 

While for now they'll only have a small portion of their income in the 30% tax bracket, the real killer is how the high tax rate destroys the incentive to do better. Minimum wage workers will now have a third of the reward for upskilling, working overtime, or achieving a promotion nixed by the taxman.

Bracket creep has been stealthily taking more and more from workers unchecked since tax brackets were set in 2011. If brackets had been adjusted for inflation since then, the 30% tax bracket wouldn't kick in until $56,822.

The ironic part is that while the minimum wage hike was meant to counter inflation, it will in fact feed the beast. Higher costs on employers will filter down to higher prices for consumers – which in turn means more inflation. The only winner from this dangerous spiral is Grant Robertson, who gets even more tax revenue...

Speaking of Government revenues, here's a little known fact for you: a Kiwi on the average income is now paying $2,138 more tax per year since the current Labour Government came to office. That’s after adjusting for inflation – and doesn't account for the unfunded spending/borrowing money printing.

"Man of great integrity" – PM's comments on Goff unbelievable given SFO probe 🤮

Ardern and Goff

This week Jacinda Ardern spoke to the media about Phil Goff's decision not to re-stand as Auckland Mayor, saying: “I can personally attest to the fact Phil Goff is a man of great integrity.”

She's welcome to her personal view, but she seems to have forgotten that Phil Goff is currently the subject of an ongoing probe by the Serious Fraud Office over his 2017 election expenses.

As Jordan put it to media:

It's difficult to believe the Prime Minister would go out on a limb for Goff like this unless she was trying to prod on the investigation.

Of course the Government is in a difficult position. It would be difficult for the Government to appoint Mr Goff to Washington, or any diplomatic post for that matter, while he is still subject to the corruption investigation.

The Taxpayers’ Union reached out to the SFO who confirmed that their investigation is ongoing. Once upon a time, that was the media's job!

Bizarre spending at the Department of Internal Affairs 🛋

DIA building

The Department of Internal Affairs spent $1.36 million  on furniture in a year where few of its staff were even in the office!

That astonishing figure was revealed by National MP Melissa Lee, who grilled the DIA last week in a Select Committee meeting.

$1.36 million is $700 for every staff member. Are we expected to believe that every chair, desk, futon, and beanbag in the department spontaneously combusted at once?

Meanwhile, Melissa Lee also revealed that the DIA's new departmental agency, the Ministry of Ethnic Communities, granted a charitable foundation $60,000 for business training among ethnic communities – which saw $40,000 of the amount spent on a single guest speaker. 

What sort of guest speaker costs that much? Did they pipe in Oprah? It's a terrible start for a new agency that was of questionable value to begin with.

Independent report slams taxpayer funding for media 📰

After the Government unveiled its infamous $55 million "Public Interest Journalism" slush fund, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage commissioned an independent report into competition and diversity in the media sector.

This month, the completed report was quietly uploaded to the Ministry's website. Its findings are remarkable.

Here are some of the money quotes from Sapere Research Group, who produced the report:

…given the current state of plurality and the risks associated with public funding of journalism content, we do not see a strong case for any ongoing public funding of commercial news content.

…several stakeholders expressed concern that funding decisions had crossed into editorial decision-making, with New Zealand On Air effectively holding a ‘beauty contest’ to choose which proposed stories/investigations merited support.

Others observed that due to the relatively limited pool of journalists in New Zealand, the PIJF was creating a ‘giant game of musical chairs’ and was leading to salary inflation rather than building new capacity.

Some stakeholders also expressed reservations that public funding of media firms may make those firms beholden to the government of the day and public officials might be reluctant to fund proposals that will be critical of government policies – which would undermine a key plurality objective of the media being able to hold public institutions and elected officials accountable.

Any large-scale permanent funding at a national level risks reducing the commercial opportunities available to firms to create content, risks propping up inefficient business models, and may unwittingly tilt the prospects of success/failure for businesses.

(We have to give credit to BusinessDesk, the first media outlet to cover this report – despite having received Government funding themselves!)

What's wrong with this job ad? 👀

The New Zealand Treasury has the specific responsibility of providing sound economic advice to the Government. It was once the bastion of intellectual rigour in Wellington. 

They're currently hiring for a new senior economic analyst:

Treasury ad

You read that correctly: "an economics background is not essential".

For a senior analyst. Of economic strategy. At the agency responsible for official advice to the Government on policy.

Heavens weep.

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

Homepaddock  Late, lax and lying?

Newstalk ZB  The Huddle: The anti-mandate protest and immigration reset

Stuff 
 Finance Minister Grant Robertson is acting as the Pied Piper

Democracy Project  Graham Adams: Three Waters: A sorry tale of government deception and media inertia

NZ Herald  Latest political poll: Large drop for Act sees bump in support for Labour, National and Green Party

The Spinoff  
Polls set stage for a box-office year in New Zealand politics

NewstalkZB  Heather du Plessis-Allan: People love Luxon because he's not Ardern

Meeting the new TOP Leader

 

Raf_Manji

 

The Opportunities Party (or simply TOP) has a new Leader - Raf Manji. Louis sits down with Raf to learn why he's so keen for a universal basic income, how he thinks a land tax will pay for it, and whether TOP is a "left-wing" or "right-wing" party.

Raf's music recommendation is "Cash (Cash Money)" by Prince Charles & The City Beat Band.

 

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

Petition launched: Ease living costs by cutting fuel tax

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has launched a petition to urgently reduce the excise tax paid on petrol at www.fueltax.nz.

Click here to sign the petition.

Jacinda Ardern says she can’t control rising living costs – but that’s not quite true.

Petrol is a household and business staple. Petrol costs filter through to the price of every single household good – and half the price of petrol is made up of government taxes and levies.

The Prime Minister can blame inflation on ‘global conditions’ all she likes, but the cost of petrol is one thing she actually can control. Reductions in excise tax could reduce the cost of petrol by up to 80 cents a litre, or 92 cents in Auckland.

The Government has benefited from rising petrol prices, with more GST flowing back to Grant Robertson. We say it’s time to give households a break.

Notes:

The tax on petrol includes:

  • 70.024 cents in excise
  • 6 cents in ACC levy
  • 0.66 cents in Local Authorities Tax
  • 0.6 cents in Engine Fuels Monitoring Levy
  • 18.2 cents in ETS levy
  • 0.076 cents in other levies

And in Auckland:

  • 10 cents in Regional Fuel Tax

And charged on top of all taxes, plus the before-tax price:

  • 15% in GST

This means the total tax on a $2.77 litre of petrol is $1.43 in Auckland and $1.31 in the rest of the country – about 52% and 48% of the average price, respectively.

Taxpayer Update: $104,000 to watch TV | Wanted posters | Bombing a city

Dear Supporter,

How to get paid a $104,000 salary while sitting on the couch 📺💰

Feet up

Sick of working hard? Want to take a six-month holiday on close to full pay, courtesy of the taxpayer? Good news: Grant Robertson has a policy for you.

Under the 'unemployment insurance' scheme announced this week, someone who's laid off from work will get 80% of their prior salary for six months.

You might be thinking, "surely the payments are capped?" They are, but the cap only kicks in for people who were previously paid $130,911 or more.

That means if you are working as a middle manager in say, the Government's Social Wellbeing Agency, you can collect the equivalent of a $104,000 salary for six months.

Of course, this policy is great for people who choose to spend as much time between jobs as possible. But economically, it's destructive: it wipes out the incentive to re-enter the workforce, and adds another tax on workers and employers.

The Government could have introduced unemployment insurance in a smart way, without destroying incentives for workers to be productive. It's been done overseas.

Next week we're publishing a research paper with an alternative to the Government's policy. Stay tuned.

Why we covered Wellington with 'Wanted' signs 🚓

Last week, public servants arrived in central Wellington to find the streets plastered with these posters:

Bloomfield poster

Confession: we put the posters up.

Like thousands of other businesses, we have been denied access to rapid antigen tests (RATs) after the Government decided to seize private orders.

We ordered RATs back in December, taking prudent steps to ensure our office could remain open for as long as possible. But because the Government failed to take those prudent steps itself, it is now thieving off employers who tried to do the right thing and prepare.

Incredibly, the Director-General of Health has claimed that instead of stealing or even "commandeering" tests, his department has simply "consolidated stock". This is pure Government spin that should be beneath the Director-General, who is paid a $500,000 salary to communicate facts to the public in an unbiased way.

We refuse to let Dr Bloomfield's spin go unchallenged.

What happened to neutrality in the public sector? ⚖️

"Political neutrality is the cornerstone of New Zealand’s Public Service," says Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes.

If only that were always true. We recently saw the Government's $3 million Three Waters propaganda campaign – the TV ads were only stopped after we called for intervention from the Commission.

And now the NZ Transport Agency has an ad campaign about lowering speed limits, which is geared more towards defending a Government policy than simply communicating changes to the public.

In fact, one NZTA ad running on Facebook promotes Campbell Barry, a controversial Labour-aligned Mayor standing in this year's local elections:

Barry ad

NZTA even appear to be targeting the ads at voters in his region!

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission is paying for ads fronted by a Labour-aligned mayoral candidate in Auckland, Efeso Collins:

Human Rights Commission ad

Government agencies should never stray into promoting active politicians. And yet here we have two promoting Labour-aligned local politicians in a council election year.

If this behaviour from the public sector becomes normalised, our democracy is threatened. We've written to the Public Service Commission to request an intervention. Watch this space.

The best way to destroy a city... short of bombing it 💣

Rent control

Associate Housing Minister Poto Williams says she is considering rent control as a response to the housing crisis.

Swedish economist Assar Lindbeck once called rent control ‘the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city—except for bombing’.

It's true that the rental market is in a dire spot. Our younger staff members are experiencing it firsthand, struggling to find flats in Wellington during the peak rental season.

One member of our team has been crashing on friends' couches and has now relocated to Auckland to stay with family. Another has seven days left on his lease and is now making 'jokes' about moving into our office.

It's not that they can't afford the asking price – the problem is that the rental shortage sees them competing with dozens of others at crowded flat viewings, turning housing into a lottery.

Rent control will make shortages even worse, by increasing demand for artificially-cheap rentals while at the same time driving landlords to withdraw properties from the market. This means more people living out of cars, on couches, and on the streets.

Rent controls would also see landlords resort to cost-cutting measures – neglecting basic maintenance and making rental properties less safe.

What we need is simple: more houses. (We're still waiting for David Parker to reform the Resource Management Act.)

Gangs benefit from Government's lending crackdown 🤑

Mobcash

The Government's attempt to crack down on "high-risk" loans is backfiring spectacularly, with countless news stories of Kiwis being rejected by banks terrified of falling afoul of the new rules.

But it gets worse. As the NZ Herald reports:

Low income New Zealanders are being rejected for loans as small as $50 because of strict new lending rules, despite having never missed payments.

They are instead turning to more dubious sources, including loan sharks and even gang-related lenders - exactly the type of practices which the Government's changes were meant to stamp out.

It's almost funny – until you imagine the consequences for someone who falls behind on payments to the Mongrel Mob.

Of course, this isn't the only government policy fueling gang activity. There was the $2.8 million funding for gang-run "rehab". And of course the massive taxes on tobacco, which allow gangs to profit from flogging off tax-free smokes, either smuggled or stolen in violent robberies.

Auckland's tram set to cost $1 million per metre! 📏

Light rail

Michael Wood says his tram to Māngere will cost $14.6 billion. That's $8,000 for every household from Kaitaia to the Bluff, and about 20 times more than the scrapped "Skypath" bike bridge.

But it gets worse. The officials who drafted the business case for the tram have warned in the fine print that the Government should prepare for budget blowouts that would bring the total bill to $24 billion.

The tram route from Wynyard Quarter to Māngere is about 24km long. That works out as $1 million *per metre*!

For comparison, the cost of Sydney's light rail worked out at around $250,000 per metre – and that was quite a scandal across the ditch.

One point that deserves more attention is the effect of all this spending on inflation. When the Government spends billions bidding up the costs of labour and materials, that flows through to higher living costs for Kiwi households.

Welcoming two new board members 👨‍💼

The Taxpayers' Union is governed by a board of volunteers. In my last newsletter I welcomed former National Party Finance Minister Hon Ruth Richardson.

Now we can confirm that Cr Chris Milne and Laurence Kubiak have come on board to offer their time, energies, and expertise to our mission of Lower Taxes, Less Waste, More Transparency.

Chris is a councillor at Hutt City Council, a trustee and former chair of the Nikau Foundation (Wellington's community foundation), a trustee of the Nga Manu Nature Reserve, and a business director. He is a former ACT Party Parliamentary Chief of Staff under Richard Prebble.

Chris

The Taxpayers' Union offers a constant reminder to both local and central government that they cannot spend money that they have not first taxed from productive workers and businesses, so the quality of their spending really matters for a prosperous New Zealand.
-Cr Chris Milne

Laurence is a former CEO of the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, current Chair of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Trustees Executors Ltd, and Director of Northpower.

Laurie

I am delighted to be joining the Board of the Taxpayers Union. Government spending needs to create value for the New Zealand taxpayer, and robust, independent scrutiny is of vital importance in any healthy democracy. The work of the Union will never be more important than in the years ahead.
-Laurence Kubiak

You can find out about our full team here.

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

Newsroom  Robertson looks back to the future with income insurance scheme

Homepaddock  Worst time for new tax

Stuff  National attacks unemployment insurance proposal as 'job tax,' Greens say it creates 'two-tier' welfare system

Kiwiblog  Do you want to be hated by 50,000 public servants?

RNZ  Mills & Thomas on recent polls

RNZ  Covid-19: Labour drops, National rises in new poll

Homepaddock  Inflation is theft

NZ Herald  Political poll: National's Chris Luxon big winner, Jacinda Ardern's Labour slide - 1 News-Kantar poll

Stuff  New poll: National take support from ACT, Labour still ahead

Newstalk ZB  Christopher Luxon: National leader on poll bump, Labour and PM down

Interest.co.nz  When the tribe is imperilled, all eyes turn to the chief

The Daily Blog  New Poll: Labour up

Former NZIER CEO joins Taxpayers’ Union Board

Laurie

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is welcoming Laurence Kubiak as a board member.
 
Laurence has an extensive background in business and governance. He is a former CEO of the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, current Chair of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Trustees Executors Ltd, and Director of Northpower.
 
Laurence says, “I am delighted to be joining the Board of the Taxpayers Union. Government spending needs to create value for the New Zealand taxpayer, and robust, independent scrutiny is of vital importance in any healthy democracy. The work of the Union will never be more important than in the years ahead.”
 
Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says, “Laurie’s deep experience and connections within both the private and Government sectors will be enormously valuable as we scale up our campaigns for lower taxes, less waste, and more transparency. His previous role with NZIER, regarded as one of New Zealand’s best economic consultancies, demonstrates his commitment to sensible public policy – a commitment we share at the Taxpayers’ Union.”
 
The announcement of Laurence as a board member follows the appointments of former National Party Minster of Finance Hon Ruth Richardson and former ACT Chief of Staff Cr Chris Milne. All Taxpayers’ Union board members are volunteers.

City councillor joins Taxpayers’ Union board

Chris

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is welcoming Chris Milne onto its board.

Chris Milne is a councillor at Hutt City Council, a trustee and former chair of the Nikau Foundation (Wellington's community foundation), a trustee of the Nga Manu Nature Reserve, and a part owner and director of the boutique small goods manufacturer Martinez Ltd.  He is a former ACT Party Parliamentary Chief of Staff.

Chris says, “I've had an interest in good public policy all my life and in local government, I've developed and implemented financial strategies to hold rates increases to inflation.  The Taxpayers' Union's focus on waste, efficiency and transparency occupies an important public niche and the organisation offers a constant reminder to both local and central government that they cannot spend money that they have not first taxed from productive workers and businesses, so the quality of their spending really matters for a prosperous New Zealand.”

Chris is known in Lower Hutt as a real battler for ratepayers, holding power to account as the council increases costs on residents. We’re lucky to have Chris volunteer his time and energy to now fight for ratepayers and taxpayers from Kaitaia to the Bluff.

Unemployment insurance — new tax grab?

 

This year the Government is set to announce more details about its proposed unemployment insurance scheme. Join Jordan and Dr Dennis Wesselbaum as they discuss why the scheme will result in more unemployment, higher taxes and ironically — lower societal wellbeing.

 

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

 

 

 

Taxpayer Update: New poll | Bach tax | Hon Ruth Richardson | Media pay-off

Dear Supporter,

Welcome to the first Taxpayer Update of 2022!

First off, we have just published the results of this month's Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll. This is the first scientific political poll published by anyone this year.

Party vote trend

It appears that the summer break has lifted New Zealanders' moods, with more respondents saying the country is heading in the right direction. But interestingly, this has not translated to a bump in the Government's overall share of support.

And National has pulled well ahead of Labour on the measure of which party is seen as best at "the economy". Our pollster, David Farrar, says that this is critical in terms of National's ability to grow its vote.

Click here to browse the poll results.

A sight to behold

Over the summer, Taxpayers' Union supporters have covered the country with massive "Stop Three Waters" banners, ensuring that holidaying politicians and public servants are kept aware of public opposition to Nanaia Mahuta's asset grab.

There are now more than 200 of these on major highways up and down the country!

Sign collage

We still have a few of these banners available on our shop. Click here to get yours.

Alternatively, you can order one of our smaller coreflute yard signs here and here.

Watch this space...

If you have signed our petition to stop Three Waters, you will soon receive an important update on a plan to stop the Three Waters scheme in court by challenging the Government’s misrepresentation of its Treaty obligations in order to justify the asset grab. 

For the facts on Three Waters, take a quick look at the Stop Three Waters website here.

The taxman wants to know who's staying at your bach

David Parker

Back in 2020, the Government pushed tax changes for family trusts through Parliament under urgency. The rushed legislation meant there wasn't time for proper scrutiny, and now that Inland Revenue is beginning to enforce the rules, we're seeing some serious devil in the detail for bach owners.

In a paywalled NZ Herald article, Hamish Rutherford explains:

Where the holiday home is owned through a trust but has some income - such as family members paying enough for accommodation to cover the upkeep - any beneficiary who stays for free or even pays less than the market rate has to have their name, date of birth and IRD number recorded and provided to the IRD.

The rules also require the disclosure of the details of anyone who provides a settlement to the trust, meaning a friend who helped out by painting the bach for free while on holiday would need to have this "gift" recorded to the IRD.

These new rules are intrusive, absurdly bureaucratic, and completely out of sync with New Zealand's culture of easy-going hospitality.

The good news is that Revenue Minister David Parker has admitted the rules are more over-the-top than he intended. He says he may make a retrospective amendment to the law to remove the need for "minor and incidental non-cash distributions".

To be honest, we're not sure how this hare-brained law can be salvaged.

(In another case of unintended tax consequences, parents who help their children get a house deposit have found themselves triggering the Government's 'bright line' test, meaning they're liable for tax on the capital gain. Another nail in the coffin of Grant Robertson's "no new taxes" promise.)

Former Finance Minister joins the Taxpayers' Union Board

Ruth

This week we're pleased to welcome Hon Ruth Richardson as a Board Member of the Taxpayers' Union.

Ruth's direct experience in tackling bloated government from the inside will be a tremendous asset as she assists in guiding and championing our mission of Lower Taxes, Less Waste, More Transparency.

Ruth describes herself as a reformer, lifelong market liberal, activist and feminist. She was Minister of Finance in the fourth National Government, has been Chairman and Director of a range of private and public companies as well as the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, and coaches sovereign states seeking to transform their prospects.

Ruth says:

Governments make spending and regulatory choices, but not in an accountability vacuum. The Taxpayers’ Union gives well researched and often noisy voice on behalf of we who pay and suffer the consequences of ill-designed public policy. As a lifetime activist in these causes being a Director of the Taxpayers’ Union sits well with my DNA.

The quantity and quality of public expenditure again rears its head – it’s time to reapply the discipline of fiscal responsibility.

All our board members offer their invaluable time and insights as volunteers. Further board members will be announced in short order. The new members replace Rex Nichols and Barrie Saunders who recently retired from the board  thank you Rex and Barrie for all the wisdom you've shared with our team.

Revealed: Government's media pay-off for APEC puff pieces

Remember APEC, the online conference hosted last year that somehow cost taxpayers $76 million?

An official information response passed to the Taxpayers' Union reveals the Ministry of Foreign Affairs paid news outlets $93,000 to publish full-page ads and puff pieces about APEC in Stuff and the NZ Herald.

Here are some examples:

Virtual Host

This exemplifies the pointless, wasteful spending rife in New Zealand's diplomatic sector.

You'd think that a conference of global leaders on the scale of APEC is important enough to attract news interest on its own merits. If it isn't, then why is New Zealand participating, let alone spending $76 million hosting it?

The decision to buy positive media coverage doesn't just stink of self-promotion. It risks legitimising the illiberal collusion between media and state practiced by APEC's dodgiest banana republics, undermining New Zealand's moral authority on the world stage. We should be better than this.

Taxpayers still haunted by the ghost of Auckland's bike bridge

After we successfully campaigned to scrap Auckland's planned $785 million bike bridge, Transport Minister Michael Wood has now set aside $150 million for an alternative crossing plan – such as a ferry or shuttle bus.

However, more than $51 million of that will go down the drain to cover the planning costs sunk into the doomed bridge.

Michael Wood has shown he's willing to move heaven and earth to satisfy the demands of the Auckland lycra mafia, so we'll be watching closely to ensure his 'alternative' proposals actually stack up on a value-for-money basis.

Government slashes speed limits instead of fixing roads

You might think you pay road user charges to improve the quality of our roads. But the New Zealand Transport Agency has decided that instead of making our roads safer, it will simply slash speed limits, imposing a massive cumulative time cost on millions of motorists.

The latest example is the Napier-Taupo road. NZTA plans to cut the speed limit on the entire Eskdale to Rangitaiki section from 100km/h to 80km/h. Regular users of the road are fuming, and we've decided to support their cause with a petition for NZTA to scrap its plan and instead improve maintenance.

Napier-Taupo

Of course, lower speed limits also mean more Kiwis are pinged with speeding tickets, sending revenue straight to the Government's Consolidated Fund.

The petition has already hit almost 10,000 signatures. We'll be asking the local Labour MP Stuart Nash to accept this petition and intervene to stop the change. 

Click here to sign the petition to keep Napier-Taupo at 100km/hour

The sad case of Wellington's $570,000 roundabout

Roundabout1

As reported by the Dominion Post, we have revealed that the installation of a small mountable roundabout in Wellington has cost ratepayers $570,000.

In November, Wellington City Council crowed about the completion of works at the Hataitai intersection. The centrepiece is a 'bespoke roundabout' adorned with 'a circular design symbolising the tides and currents of the sea and the coiled-up tails of the taniwha'.

The artwork itself cost $16,500, and delayed the opening of the roundabout by 28 days while the design cured. But now after just a few months, the roundabout is badly scuffed by the buses that drive straight over the top.

Roundabout2

Roundabout3Photos taken by a Taxpayers' Union researcher this week.

The tire marks are more visible than the artwork itself! Meanwhile, bus users have complained about the jarring bump when mounting the roundabout.

The total cost, which includes adjustments to the surrounding pavement and pedestrian crossings, is $570,000 that's 203 years' worth of rates bills for the average Wellington ratepayer.

This is without taking into account the cost of regularly sending in contractors to control traffic and clean up the artwork, as we've seen with the famous 'rainbow crossing' on Cuba Street.

Cuba StThe Cuba St rainbow crossing's latest re-paint cost $17,500.

It's fitting that we were given this information in the same week that Wellington City Council unveiled its new $130,000 waterfront artwork: a giant "Wellington" sign that is intentionally misspelled:

Well_ngton

Imagine paying rates for 45 years and realising you still haven't covered the cost for this monstrosity.

Wellington City Council needs to dial down its urban beautification efforts and focus on the basics: sewage pipes that don't burst, buses that run on time, and rates that don't break the bank.

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

Dominion Post  $570,000 Wellington roundabout already damaged, two months after opening

NBR  Ruth Richardson joins Taxpayers' Union board

Stuff
  We Kiwis are a content lot, but trouble looms over the horizon

NZ Herald  
Jordan Williams responds to Simon Wilson

RNZ  Politics and the pandemic - another year of Covid-19

Stuff  Looking back on the big stories in South Canterbury in 2021 - March

Revealed: Government's media pay-off for APEC puff pieces

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union is condemning the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's decision to pay media outlets $93,578 for 'sponsored content' about APEC 2021.

The spending information was made available in a response provided under the Official Information Act.

COVID-19 came with a silver lining for taxpayers as the Government was forced to cut back on its usual programme of international meet-and-greets. But somehow, New Zealand taxpayers still had to fork out $76 million to host APEC online.

The Government clearly felt the need to justify this extraordinary cost: MFAT paid news outlets $93,000 to publish full-page ads and puff pieces in Stuff and the NZ Herald about the online conference. We say this merely exemplifies the pointless, wasteful spending rife in New Zealand's diplomatic sector.

You'd think that a conference of global leaders on the scale of APEC is important enough to attract news interest on its own merits. If it isn't, then why is New Zealand participating, let alone spending $76 million hosting it?

As host of APEC, New Zealand had a rare opportunity to lead by example, demonstrating values of fiscal prudence and media independence. Instead, we blew $76 million on a glorified Zoom call and paid off the media to make the thing look worthwhile.

The decision to buy positive media coverage doesn't just stink of self-promotion. It risks legitimising the illiberal collusion between media and state practiced by APEC's dodgiest banana republics, undermining New Zealand's moral authority on the world stage. We should be better than this.

Examples of the 'sponsored content' can be viewed below.

  Virtual Host

 

Exposed: Wellington's 'bespoke' roundabout cost $570,000

Roundabout1

The installation of a mountable roundabout in Hataitai has cost Wellington ratepayers $570,000 – and the project's "bespoke artwork" is already badly scuffed, reveals the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

In November, Wellington City Council crowed about the completion of works at the Hataitai intersection. The centrepiece is a 'bespoke roundabout' adorned with 'a circular design symbolising the tides and currents of the sea and the coiled-up tails of the taniwha'.

The artwork itself cost $16,500, and delayed the opening of the roundabout by 28 days while the design cured. But now after just a few months, the roundabout is badly scuffed by the buses that drive straight over the top.

Roundabout2

Roundabout3Photos taken by a Taxpayers' Union researcher this week.

The tire marks are more visible than the artwork itself! Meanwhile, bus users have complained about the jarring bump when mounting the roundabout. You have to wonder why the Council couldn't have just painted a circle.

The total cost, which includes adjustments to the surrounding pavement and pedestrian crossings, is $570,000 that's 203 years' worth of rates bills for the average Wellington ratepayer.

This is without taking into account the cost of regularly sending in contractors to control traffic and clean up the artwork, as we've seen with the famous 'rainbow crossing' on Cuba Street.

Cuba StThe Cuba St rainbow crossing's latest re-paint cost $17,500.

It's fitting that the Taxpayers' Union was given this information on the same date that Wellington City Council unveiled its new $130,000 waterfront artwork: a giant "Wellington" sign that is intentionally misspelled.

Well_ngton

Imagine paying rates for 45 years and realising you still haven't covered the cost for this monstrosity.

Wellington City Council needs to dial down its urban beautification efforts and focus on the basics: sewage pipes that don't burst, buses that run on time, and rates that don't break the bank.

Former Minister of Finance joins Taxpayers’ Union Board

Ruth

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is welcoming Hon Ruth Richardson onto its Board of Directors.

Taxpayers’ Union co-founder Jordan Williams says, “Few New Zealand politicians can claim to have tackled bloated government to the degree that Ruth Richardson has. Her experience and guidance will be of enormous value to the Taxpayers’ Union as a high-spending government challenges our mission of lower taxes, less waste, and more transparency.”

“The quantity and quality of public expenditure again rears its head – it’s time to reapply the discipline of fiscal responsibility.”
-Hon Ruth Richardson

Ruth describes herself as a reformer, lifelong market liberal, activist and feminist. She was Minister of Finance in the fourth National Government, has been Chairman and Director of a range of private and public companies as well as the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, and coaches sovereign states seeking to transform their prospects.

Ruth says, “Governments make spending and regulatory choices, but not in an accountability vacuum. The Taxpayers’ Union gives well researched and often noisy voice on behalf of we who pay and suffer the consequences of ill-designed public policy. As a lifetime activist in these causes being a Director of the Taxpayers’ Union sits well with my DNA.”

Three further new board members will be announced in the coming days. The new board members replace former Wellington City Councillor Rex Nichols and former journalist and lobbyist Barrie Saunders who recently retired from the board.

Jordan says, “Rex and Barrie have made invaluable contributions to the Taxpayers’ Union, championing our efforts and generously sharing their wisdom and institutional knowledge with our young team members. As Chairman, Barrie oversaw a four-year period that saw our number of subscribed supporters grow from 28,000 to more than 160,000. He has set us up very well for the challenges of 2022, 2023, and beyond.”

Taxpayer Update: What we've achieved | Hidden tax | War on geese

Dear Supporter,

Merry Christmas

This will be my last newsletter until the new year. Today the team is reflecting on a challenging but productive 2021.

A small sample of what you made possible this year

  • The Government froze pay for high-earning public servants after months of petitioning and lobbying from our supporters. (They're set to review this decision next year: we'll be ready.)

  • We successfully lobbied the Labour Party's trade union to repay their wage subsidies.

  • Our petition and billboard campaign protesting Auckland's $785 million bike bridge saw the project scrapped.

  • We attracted extraordinary media interest and public outrage over our investigation into DOC's absurd funeral and burial of a dead turtle.

  • We exposed examples of absurd and wasteful "COVID response" spending from Creative NZ, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and the "Public Interest Journalism Fund".

  • We alerted the public to how the Government is using taxpayer money to fund anti-dairy propaganda, dodgy health 'research', and left-wing blog sites.

  • Our Jonesie Awards celebrating the worst exampels of government waste were a great success, racking up tens of thousands of view on Facebook and Youtube.

  • Half the 15,000 submissions made to the Climate Change Commission on its big emissions plan came from Taxpayers' Union supporters.

  • The Taxpayer Talk podcast is now one of New Zealand's most-listened political podcasts. We even got Nanaia Mahuta to front up for an interview on Three Waters.

  • Taxpayers' Union supporters like you chipped into an ad campaign that ensured practically everyone in the country knows how the Government gave $2.75 million to Mongrel Mob affiliates.

  • Our bumper stickers to stop Labour's car tax are now a regular sight up and down the country.

  • And our Stop Three Waters campaign has seen 85,000 New Zealanders and 60 local councils unite against Nanaia Muhata's asset grab, spooking Cabinet to the point where they forced Nanaia Mahuta to delay the introduction of legislation until (at least) March next year.

Another development on Three Waters

On that last point, there's been another development: Nanaia Mahuta is now proposing that every local council will have the opportunity for representation on the new waters entities' "Representative Groups".

Of course, this doesn't fix the fundamental problems with Three Waters – the dodgy cost modelling, the four layers of bureaucracy, the co-governance, and the unfair distribution of costs but it's more evidence that Mahuta is starting to get desperate.

Mahuta knows that her reforms are unpopular and is attempting to polish the proverbial to win over councils. But Parliament is now likely to be debating the reforms at the same time as council election campaigns. We'll be working to ensure candidates up and down the country are vocal on their opposition to Three Waters.

Behind the scenes

In the meantime, watch out for our massive Stop Three Waters banners (and smaller yard signs) popping up on highways up and down the country this summer. You, and thousands like you, made this possible.

Grant Robertson exploits inflation for massive tax grab

Tax take

Last week I attended Treasury's presentation of the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update. The updated Government books include some good news for Grant Robertson that is also very bad news for taxpayers.

Despite the pandemic, Grant Robertson is set to increase his tax take by an extra $7 billion each year for the next five years. You'd think New Zealanders deserve some tax relief, but Robertson thinks that taking more and more is something to be proud of.

A major cause of Grant Robertson's revenue bonanza is inflation, which is now forecast to hit 5.6% next year. Inflation means a larger share of our incomes is pushed into higher tax brackets, even when we're no richer in real terms.

In fact, someone on the average salary ($58,836) is set to pay an extra $955 in income tax next year, assuming they're lucky enough to get an inflation-level pay rise. Of course, their real pre-tax buying power will be no higher, so either way everyone is left poorer.

Tax brackets haven't been adjusted for a decade. National and Labour might have thought taxpayers wouldn't notice slow, inflation-driven tax creep, but with inflation curving up, the elephant in the room is now impossible to ignore.

James Shaw raids ETS revenue to create new slush fund

James Shaw

The major spending announcement from last week's fiscal update was something that is becoming quite familiar: a new slush fund.

James Shaw is taking $4.5 billion in revenue from Emissions Trading Scheme levies to create a new 'climate emergency' fund for initiatives like cycle lanes, electric ferries, and urban beautification. To put that in perspective, $4.5 billion is $2,459 for every Kiwi household!

The point of the ETS is to impose market-driven prices on emissions that incentivise companies and households to cut emissions in cost-effective ways. It was never meant to be a revenue source for politicians.

The Government should simply return revenues from the ETS to taxpayers via a carbon dividend, as was done in Canada.

In fact, because our emissions are capped and traded under the ETS, spending projects from the new climate slush fund won't actually cut New Zealand's emissions. Any emissions reduction from, say, petrol vehicles, will simply free up credits to produce emissions in other parts of the economy. This is called the waterbed effect and it is well understood at Treasury and among ETS experts.

Do you follow us on Facebook?

If you don't "do" social media, I understand. It can be a pretty nasty place. But we're now reaching hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders per week on Facebook. You can help by liking our page and sharing our posts.

You'll also see memes and news items that don't make it into our newsletter, like this:

Facebook post

Kāpiti Coast District Council minimises waste with... salami

Followers of our newsletters may become disillusioned by the unending examples of wasteful government spending, but in the spirit of Christmas, we would like to highlight a positive story.

Geese memorial

In August this year, more than 107 Canadian geese were slain at the hands of Kāpiti Coast District Council.

Local resident Geoff Amos led the campaign to massacre the birds after they deposited more than 400kgs of poop per day into Awatea Lake and the surrounding park. Ratepayers were fed up with the birds' mess and aggressive behaviour.

The Council's campaign of avian annihilation may have been sad news for the geese, but there's a positive twist for ratepayers and waste-haters: the Council has confirmed to the Taxpayers' Union that these beautiful but foul-smelling birds were turned into sausages and salami.

Unfortunately, the meaty bounty was requisitioned for private consumption by individuals present for the shooting, not fed to the poor as advocated by anti-goose petitioner Geoff Amos, or fairly distributed among long-suffering ratepayers as advocated by your humble Taxpayers' Union. But on balance, we have to give praise to Kāpiti Coast District Council and the resourceful contractor for setting a rare example of waste minimisation in in local politics.

As you may have noticed, the Taxpayers' Union takes a special interest in the publicly-funded disposal of dead animals. If you're aware of any such stories at your local council, please let us know at [email protected].

Taxpayer Talk: A long chat with Simon Bridges

If you're looking for something to listen to over the summer break, I recommend Jordan's long-form interview with Simon Bridges, National's new Shadow Finance Minister. It covers policy issues but also delves into topics covered in Simon's recently-published book.

Have a very merry Christmas.

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

Newsroom  Plans for independent policy costing authority stay on ice

Stuff
  Looking back on the big stories in South Canterbury in 2021 - March

NZ Herald  Time for Act to capitalise on ‘Crate Day support’

Stuff  No smoking, but the Government trusts us with cheese?

Stuff  Just like soldiers in WWI, it's time for a truce and a thanks

NZ Herald  If Labour thought 2021 was tough

NBR  Omicron, the economy, housing, those polls

Bowalley Road  Luxon’s Tough Assignment.

Stuff  Sorry Northland, I'm not welcome, so I'm not coming

NZ Herald  Luxon: Got the job - now what?

95bFM  What's Up w/ Dr. Shane Reti: December 15, 2021

95bFM  Political Commentary w/ Dr. Lara Greaves: December 16, 2021

Homepaddock  Taxing times 

Newshub
  David Seymour rates Christopher Luxon 6/10

Newstalk ZB  Chris Luxon wants to focus on building back trust with the New Zealand people

RNZ  Season 2 | Episode 6: 14th December 2021 - Party People

Newstalk ZB  HDPA: The best Christmas present National could've hoped for

RNZ  The Panel with Alexia Russell and Simon Pound (Part 1)

Rural News  Sour taste!

Times Online  Luxon slams Covid decision as National rises in new poll

Stuff  New poll: National up under Christopher Luxon at expense of ACT

TVNZ  Christopher Luxon delivers National poll bump; ACT down

Newshub  Christopher Luxon reacts to new poll showing National flying as ACT falls

Otago Daily Times  First poll with Luxon as National leader shows boost at Act's expense

Kiwiblog  Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll December 2021

The Daily Blog  BREAKING: First Poll since Luxon as Leader – National soar – ACT crash!

Stuff  New poll: National up under Christopher Luxon at expense of ACT

Kāpiti Council praised for massacring geese, making salami

Geese memorialReaders of our regular newsletters may become disillusioned by the unending examples of wasteful government spending. But in the spirit of Christmas, we would like to highlight a positive story.

In August this year, more than 107 Canada geese were slain at the hands of Kāpiti Coast District Council after 1,497 local residents signed a petition to euthanise the birds.

Local resident Geoff Amos led the campaign to massacre the birds after they deposited more than 400kg worth of poop per day into Awatea Lake and the surrounding park. Kāpiti ratepayers were angered by the mess and intimidated by the aggressive behaviour of these unwelcome Canadian migrants.

The Council's campaign of avian annihilation may have been sad news for the geese, but there was a positive twist for ratepayers and waste-haters: the Council has confirmed to the Taxpayers' Union that these beautiful but foul-smelling birds were turned into sausages and salami.

Unfortunately, the meaty bounty was requisitioned for private consumption by individuals present for the shooting, not fed to the poor as advocated by anti-goose petitioner Geoff Amos or fairly distributed among long-suffering ratepayers as advocated by your humble Taxpayers' Union. But on balance, we have to give praise to Kāpiti Coast District Council and the resourceful contractor for setting a rare example of waste minimisation in in local politics. 

As you may have noticed, the Taxpayers' Union takes a special interest in the publicly-funded disposal of dead animals. If you're aware of any similar stories at your local council, please let us know at [email protected].

Simon Bridges on the making of man, his faith and economic views

Has the National Party got its mojo back under its new leadership? And will the Party keep promises made to taxpayers under Judith Collins? With Simon Bridges back in the mix as the shadow Minister of Finance, Jordan interviews Simon about his new role, along with topics traversed in his book: faith, economics, and what it means to be a man. 

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

Taxpayer Update: Today's new poll | Bureaucrat blowout | EECA hypocrisy

Dear Supporter,

Taxpayers’ Union Curia poll: The first post-Luxon leadership poll

The results of December's Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll, exclusive to our members and supporters like you, are available here.

This has been highly anticipated because it is the first scientific poll since Chris Luxon took over as National Party Leader.

It's good news for him. National has risen 6.4 points to 32.6%. But ACT has taken a hit and Labour is holding steady.

Party vote trend

Perhaps more interesting is the public's view of the party leaders: on the key metric of 'net favourability', Chris Luxon is better liked than Jacinda Ardern.

Head over to our website to see the results.

Incredible blowout in public service staff numbers under Labour

While private businesses struggled to survive during lockdown, Government bureaucracies have been booming.

Last week the Public Service Commission issued an annual update of its workforce data, revealing that the number of staff in the core public service has leapt up by 29 percent since Labour was elected in 2017.

Click here for larger image.

The Public Service Commission’s data excludes key workforces such as Defence, Police, and DHBs – so the growth can't be pinned on COVID-19.

The graph above shows how the previous National Government failed to roll back a similar explosion in bureaucracy we saw under Helen Clark. So here is a challenge for National's new leader Chris Luxon: he needs to commit to not just a pause, but a total reversal of public service bloat. That means eliminating taxpayer-funded jobs and even entire departments.

Three Waters: Government hid its plan from local councils

Nanaia Mahuta

At the beginning of this year, Nanaia Mahuta was saying it could be optional for councils to be included in her Three Waters reforms. But in October she announced Three Waters would now be a compulsory "all in" reform, whether councils like it or not.

RNZ has now revealed Mahuta made the "all in" decision back in June, but kept it quiet for four months so that anti-Three Waters councils wouldn't hit the roof during her official feedback period. It's an incredible example of dishonest, manipulative lawmaking.

Three Waters has become a real problem for this Government. Nanaia Mahuta's Cabinet colleagues are spooked by the intensity of public opposition to her plans and last week she announced she's delaying legislation until March next year.

We're fighting Three Waters because it is an undemocratic asset grab that would create four massive new co-governed bureaucracies to manage water assets with little to no input from ratepayers. The new water entities will send New Zealanders new water rates bills, with no guarantee of commensurate rates relief from local councils.

We're keeping our supporters of this campaign updated, so if you'd like to receive Three Waters updates, make sure you sign the petition at www.StopThreeWaters.nz.

Ihumātao update: all hui, no housing

Empty land

It's now been a year since the Government announced its $30 million purchase of illegally-occupied land at Ihumātao.

The decision to purchase the land was justified on the basis that it would result in the provision of housing on the site, with funding coming from the Land for Housing Programme.

However, we can reveal that talks between the Government and Kīngitanga with regards to housing on the land have gone nowhere. In fact, there hasn't even been any agreement over who will form the Steering Committee that is meant to make decisions on the use of the land.

You can read our blog post here, and Newsroom's coverage of our information request here.

Questionable value from feel-good spending

Orange Sky graphicBack in 2018, Phil Twyford announced that the Government was partnering with an Australian charity to deliver laundry services, showering, and "conversations" for the homeless.

It sounded great, until someone pointed our researcher to their annual review, which details the services they actually delivered for the $437,500 in funding. It turns out taxpayers forked out $103 for every load of laundry or shower delivered by Orange Sky in 2019/20.

Obviously, not all of that money was spent on laundry and showers: Orange Sky paid a whopping $159,485 on management fees that year to its Australian parent organisation.

Click here to read more.

Orange Sky weren't too happy about our exposé. Their Brisbane-based Senior Marketing Manager emailed me with a long response, insisting that the "genuine, non-judgemental conversation" they provide is worth the taxpayer spend. When I didn't reply within 24 hours, I got a call from their PR firm! You can find our exchange at the end of our blog post.

Here's an idea: how about we strip down the Australian management fees, the 'conversations', and the marketing/PR spend and pay campgrounds to provide these services? It would be a fraction of the cost.

Smokefree plan is a bonanza for organised crime

Smuggled tobacco

Organised crime groups will be salivating at news of the Government’s new Smokefree 2025 plan. The plan will slash nicotine content in legal cigarettes to “very low” levels and ban all sales to New Zealanders born after 2008 if legislation passes next year.

Already, one in ten cigarettes smoked in New Zealand are sourced from the untaxed black market (smuggled or homegrown). Now the Government wants to deliver that black market a monopoly on full-strength smokes and exclusive access to younger smokers. It’s madness and will see more taxpayer resources diverted to dealing with organised crime.

This plan ignores the evidence of what’s already working: smokers are switching to vaping, a far less harmful alternative. There is no need for nasty, experimental policies that will make smokers miserable and criminals rich.

Is this the most hypocritical and pointless government agency of the lot?

EECA travel costs

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) has been running a serious of big-budget ad campaigns telling New Zealanders to cut carbon emissions by driving and flying less. They've spent $4 million and counting on their "Gen Less" campaign.

EECA's last advert shut down major streets in Wellington as they staged and filmed a fake climate march.

And their most recent ad is one of the most self-righteously condescending taxpayer-funded adverts we've ever seen, telling New Zealanders to join the "right side" of history in the fight against climate change. The ad for some reason features images of Rosa Parks, Black Lives Matter protestors, and gay newly-weds.

So we decided to check the personal expenses of EECA CEO Andrew Caseley: in the last financial year he alone spent more than $8,000 on taxpayer-funded travel, including 31 domestic flights.

Is this what EECA thinks energy efficiency looks like?

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

Stuff  Unvaccinated Māori have a right to privacy  

RNZ  The Week in Politics: Christopher Luxon's first test

NZ Herald  Luxon may have timing right on Covid Response

Newsroom  Ihumātao housing waiting on Kīngitanga appointments

Stuff  Auckland needs a new mayor - and you may know just the person

The Shout  Call to scrap alcohol tax as hospitality reopens

Homepaddock  Rural round-up

Homepaddock  Sneering at success 

Kiwiblog  A great summary

RNZ  The Pre-Panel with Emily Loughan and Louis Houlbrooke

RNZ
  The Panel with Emily Loughan and Louis Houlbrooke (Part 1)

RNZ  The Panel with Emily Loughan and Louis Houlbrooke (Part 2)

Homepaddock  Rural round-up

Stuff  Pillorising academics over their views is mob rule triumphing over reason

Stuff  What the new National leader will have to deal with

Ihumātao update: One year on, we still don't have a Steering Group, let alone housing

This month marks a year since the Government announced its $30 million purchase of land at Ihumātao. The decision to purchase the land was justified on the basis that it would result in the provision of housing on the site, with funding coming from the Land for Housing Programme.

However, the Taxpayers' Union can reveal that talks between the Government and Kīngitanga with regards to the use of the land have gone nowhere. In fact, there hasn't even been any agreement over who will form the Steering Committee that is meant to make decisions on the provision of housing.

The Memorandum of Understanding between the Government and Kīngitanga outlined that a new Steering Committee overseeing the management of Ihumātao should include six members: three iwi representatives supported by Kīngitanga, one on behalf of Kīngitanga, two representing the Crown and one observer from Auckland Council. Only once appointments are made can the Committee determine what happens next. 

In an official information request, the Taxpayers' Union asked for an update on the appointment status of the Steering Committee. Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson's response confirms the Committee remains unappointed, saying "The process for determining the representatives requires a considerable period of facilitation by the Kiingtanga, given the complex relationships and associations between the parties...The Kiingitanga appointment process creates pressure on the relationships between these groups, and it is important the Crown allows the process to take the time it needs to."

In other words, for all Grant Robertson's bluster about his 'unique and innovative' solution at Ihumātao, the Government has still failed to achieve consensus. Any agreement on the number, ownership, or management of homes, is being delayed indefinitely. Actual construction at this point remains a pipe dream.

The Government's intervention at Ihumātao has not facilitated new housing – it has done the opposite. Fletcher Building literally had earthworks machinery at Ihumātao's gates before the Government spent $30 million of taxpayer money to paralyse construction. Willie Jackson has blamed COVID-19 on stopping whānau from meeting to discuss Ihumātao. That's laughable when the Government is currently hosting APEC using video calls, and it raises the question of whether iwi even intend to follow through on their side of the deal and get homes built.

The Government opted not to put any clear timeframe for action in the Memorandum of Understanding, and has since clearly failed to impress any sense of urgency on iwi. In fact, Minister Jackson has not communicated with Kiingitanga on this matter since July."

Taxpayers deserve better. We forked out $30 million with the expectation of housing. Instead, all we've got is hui.

Exclusive: Taxpayers are forking out $103 per laundry service or shower provided by a Government-funded charity

Taxpayers are forking out $103 per laundry service or shower provided by a Government-funded charity, reveals Annabel Fleming.

According to its 2020 annual review, taxpayer-funded charity Orange Sky received $437,500 from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development for the 2020 financial year and in that time provided 4,248 free mobile laundry and shower services for the homeless.

Orange Sky claims that for its 2020 funding it produced $557,000 of "social impact", but by its own admission only a quarter of that impact came from shower and laundry services, the rest of the touted benefits supposedly coming from quality of life gained by 'friends' (the homeless) and by volunteers delivering the services.

In other words, the supposed benefit to taxpayers from our investment is based on completely vague notions of wellbeing that cannot be measured in any objective way.

The big winners here aren't the homeless, but the charity's Australian management. In 2020 Orange Sky paid a whopping $159,485 on management fees to its Australian parent organisation more than the claimed value of its shower and laundry services.

Shower/laundry services:

Orange Sky says that in 2020 it provided 2,378 loads of laundry and 1,870 showers, with a claimed 'social impact' worth $144,000. In other words, Orange Sky claims that each shower or laundry service it provides is worth around $34. Of course, in the real world a shower or laundry service from a public pool or laundromat costs just $5 or so.*

*A washing cycle at Newtown Laundromat, in an area in which Orange Sky operates, costs $4 for a 4kg load. Entry to Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre's facilities at the full adult price costs $6.60.

Benefit of conversations:

Orange Sky says that in 2020 it provided 3,086 hours of conversation to the homeless, with a claimed "quality of life" benefit of $274,000 – or $89 per hour of conversation. Of course, it is difficult to imagine a social service provider paying unqualified workers $89 per hour – but that is how much Orange Sky claims its conversations are worth.

Benefit for volunteers:

Orange Sky claims the benefits are even greater once the benefits to the volunteers are taken into account. Orange Sky says its 112 volunteers in 2020 enjoyed $122,000 in "quality of life" benefits $1,089 per volunteer. It is unclear how the charity calculates the quality of life benefits for their volunteers.

Background:

Orange Sky originated in Queensland, Australia and arrived in New Zealand in May of 2018, with the Government announcing funding that same year.

In its mission statement, Orange Sky markets itself as a provider of practical services for the homeless: 'We want to make sure that everyone has access to free laundry and shower services – but most importantly – the opportunity to connect and feel welcome.'

Funding for Orange Sky was first announced by Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford in 2018.

...

UPDATE: Orange Sky's Brisbane-based senior marketing manager has emailed the Taxpayers' Union with a response to this blog post. You can read their response here, and our reply here.

Call to scrap booze tax as hospitality reopens

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is calling on the Government to support the hospitality sector with a temporary suspension of alcohol excise tax paid by bars and restaurants. A petition has been launched at www.taxpayers.org.nz/happy

Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “The hospitality sector has been hammered by COVID-19 lockdowns and deserves support to bounce back. Now that Auckland bars and restaurants are back in business, the Government should kick off the summer with an immediate commitment to refund or eliminate all alcohol excise paid by hospitality operators for the next few months.”

“Aucklanders have been stuck getting drinks delivered from off-licences for 100 days now. Discounted drinks at bars and restaurants would get New Zealanders out to support the establishments we’ve been cheating on during lockdown. And many of us will stick around to pay for meals and pub snacks.”

“Even for a revenue-hungry government, temporary suspension of excise at on-license venues would be a highly affordable COVID response measure. Even if we eliminate the excise tax for 12 months, the $168 million* in lost revenue would equal just 0.24% of Grant Robertson’s $69 billion COVID response fund.”

“This idea is an economic no-brainer and a political winner. New Zealanders love happy hour. Let’s make it last all summer.”

The elimination of alcohol excise would result in:

• $0.77 off a 500ml handle of 5% beer.
• $2.73 off a 1.8L jug of beer.
• $0.58 off a 187.5ml glass of 13% wine.
• $2.33 off a bottle of wine.**

*Estimate based on $1.2 billion in total annual alcohol excise tax, of which 14% comes from on-licenses.

**Figures are based purely on the elimination of excise tax. If the Government also chose to refund the GST that is charged on the excise, savings would be greater.

Taxpayer Update: Message to Luxon | Three Waters ads canned | Taxpayers get "Milked"

Dear Supporter,

A note on National's new leadership

Luxon and Willis

You will have seen the news that Chris Luxon has been selected as the National Party's new Leader, with Nicola Willis as Deputy.

Here's the reaction from our Executive Director Jordan Williams:

It is to Chris Luxon’s credit that he is one of the few MPs to have taken a pay cut – in his case of over $4,000,000 a year – to enter Parliament, having left the top position at Air NZ. He is a person who is clearly 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.

We are urging Chris Luxon to confirm he will maintain major commitments to taxpayers made by previous National Party leaders – such as indexing income tax brackets for inflation, reining in Superannuation costs, opposing new asset taxes, and repealing Three Waters legislation should it pass under this Government.

Jordan and I interviewed Chris Luxon in two recent episodes of the Taxpayer Talk podcast – on Three Waters and on congestion charging.

Taxpayer Victory: Government's Three Waters ads canned for straying into propaganda

Ad canned

You've probably seen the Government's Three Waters ads. The childish, condescending cartoons have been played to death on TV and cost taxpayers $3.5 million.

What you might not know is that the Government isn't allowed to use taxpayer funds to persuade the public to support a Government policy.

BusinessDesk has revealed that the ads have now been canned early due to concerns from the Public Service Commission that the campaign was ‘straying into advocating government policy rather than explaining policy’.

This is good news and ought to be a major embarrassment for the Government. But it still feels like too little, too late. The ads were allowed to run for months, during a highly sensitive council engagement process. And the Government’s Three Waters propaganda site, backed by taxpayer-funded Google ads, is still online.

BusinessDesk has also reported that officials at the Department of Internal Affairs have withheld the release of details of the campaign’s marketing and communications proposal, after taking 50 working days to respond to an information request.

This raises obvious questions. Is the marketing proposal being kept secret because it reveals in plain language that the campaign was always intended to influence political opinion?

The Ombudsman is currently investigating the Department of Internal Affairs's failure to explain how these ads were signed off. Watch this space.

Ratepayers drive 500km to protest Three Waters

Media scrum

How good is this! Yesterday we joined a group of Thames-Coromandel ratepayers who travelled to Wellington to hand over signatures from local residents and ratepayers calling for proper local consultation on Three Waters.

Cheers to Scott Simpson, MP for Coromandel, who accepted the petition and attracted a scrum of media desperate for his comments on the National Party's leadership contest.

Our nationwide petition is still active at www.ThreeWatersPetition.nz. Once Nanaia Mahuta formally unveils the legislation (possibly next week), we'll be making a renewed push to get the petition to 100,000+ signatures.

Taxpayers Milked by anti-dairy documentary

Milked poster

You may have seen the marketing for a new anti-dairy documentary, "Milked".

We've discovered the film is taxpayer-funded: it received a $48,550 "finishing grant" from the Film Commission.

The film argues that the dairy industry causes climate change, pollutes water, destroys land, abuses cows, and victimises dairy farmers. It's explicitly political, with constant shots of the Beehive in the trailer, and features contributions from Greenpeace, SAFE, and the Green Party. And it appears to be part of a wider anti-dairy campaign – the promoters have erected billboards attacking the dairy sector.

Milked billboard

As we've said with the Government's Three Waters ads, taxpayers should never be forced to fund political propaganda. We accept that sometimes it can be difficult to define what makes a documentary "political", but Milked is a clear-cut case of activism intended to shift public opinion on a major issue of policy and economics.

Click here to read more – including the Film Commission's pathetic response to our questions.

New Zealand's worst landlord: the Government

State housing

The past week has seen an avalanche of reports of Kāinga Ora tenants terrorising their neighbours. Kāinga Ora is the Government's social housing agency.

Despite the abuse suffered by neighbours, Kāinga Ora has not evicted a single tenant since 2018. This is part of the Government's official policy of "sustaining tenancies".

Here's just one experience from someone living next door to a Kāinga Ora property, as told to the NZ Herald:

In a terrifying 2019 incident, the man says his house was "smashed up" at 3am by a meth-crazed man linked to the Kāinga Ora property who tried to break into their home.

The homeowner chased the intruder down the road with an umbrella to protect his petrified partner and later discovered a discarded knife.

The couple then spent thousands of dollars building a fortress-like 2.5m metal perimeter fence and installing security cameras for their protection. The fence has since been repeatedly vandalised by the tenants - who have Mongrel Mob links - costing thousands of dollars in repairs.

The man suspects the Kāinga Ora property is operating as a "tinny house". He has witnessed savage beatings on the road, and has footage of the neighbours abusing him, firing an airgun at his home, hurling large river stones on to his roof and smashing a car windscreen with a brick.

This lowlife behaviour completely disrespects the efforts of taxpayers who make social housing possible. We're even forking out thousands for compensation payments to victimised neighbours.

The Government's refusal to evict problem tenants sends the message that social housing comes with a free pass to act like animals.

State housing should be set up to handle difficult tenants, but that doesn’t mean we should throw all standards out the window. Thousands of more deserving New Zealanders are currently living in cars or garages and would gratefully take the place of violent tenants.

Wellington City Council spends $11,000 on translation of spatial plan

Translation

Here's an odd case of council waste: Wellington City Council spent $11,482 producing a te reo translation of the summary of its new spatial plan – a city planning document.

Just 50 te reo copies were printed. That's a translation cost of $220 per printed copy.

This is a council that cries poverty at every opportunity and just hiked rates by 13.5%. It’s a terrible look that they still can’t resist tokenistic gestures like translating reports into Māori versions that no-one will ever read.

New episodes of Taxpayer Talk 

If you enjoy these email updates but want to see more in-depth analysis, I recommend our podcast, Taxpayer Talk. Below is a selection of recent episodes.

How do Kiwis view China? What do they think of the Queen? Will an ACT-National Government lead to radical policy from the right? David Farrar joins Taxpayers' Union researchers Max and Levi to analyse a recent mega-poll of 5000 New Zealanders. Listen here.

IRD

Inland Revenue recently sent 400 letters out to New Zealand's wealthiest individuals in an attempt to figure out how much tax they pay on their economic income. Could this be the lead up to a wealth tax grab? Jordan joins tax expert Mike Shaw for answers. Listen here.

Prior to being selected as National's new Deputy Leader, Nicola Willis broke the story of Kāinga Ora promoting an activist while planning to cover up their knowledge that the activist was about to stand for Labour. Listen here.

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

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

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Media coverage:

Homepaddock  Rural round-up

Homepaddock 
The right of reply Stuff won't publish 

Stuff  Points of Order: Covid vaccine targets become milestones

NZ Herald  Thomas Coughlan: What is Labour without Covid?

NZ Herald  Bill Ralston: The pandemic has distracted us from politics

Newshub  Climate activists plan to disrupt Groundswell protest, organizer suggests they watch Country Calendar instead

The Press  Is Ardern abdicating the leadership?

NZ Herald  Covid 19 Delta outbreak: 31 unvaccinated Oranga Tamariki staff on paid special leave

Manawatu Standard  Mayor rejects 'politiking' criticism

NZ Herald  Claire Trevett: Simon Bridges' road back to National leadership hits pothole

Indian News Link  Labour suffers at opinion polls but National is too weak to capitalise

NZ Herald  Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Big call bosses must make before demanding jabs

Newstalk ZB  Heather du Plessis Allan: the popular or polarizing Prime Minister?

Gisborne Herald  Political headwinds for Labour, Ardern

NZ Herald  This week critical for Ardern after her rating slumps

Stuff  Manawatū mayor rejects campaign against Three Waters is anti-Labour

Indian Weekender  Week in Politics: Will 1 December be Auckland's 'Freedom Day'?

Q+A  Q+A with Judith Collins

Stuff  New Covid-19 bill is a case of government overreach

Stuff  Three Waters opposition sees some of the worst political impulses leak out

NBR  Red light for Auckland, protest confusion, and a virtual Apec

Stuff  Before or after Christmas? The question Nation MPs are starting to ask about Judith Collins' leadership

RNZ  Week in Politics: Will 1 December be Auckland's 'Freedom Day'?

ACT  Newsletter: The Week in Action - ACT Party

NZ Herald  Polls highlight PM's need to get Aucklanders out of town

The Spinoff  Live updates, November 11: Six new cases of Covid-19 confirmed in Stratford, Taranaki

The Daily Blog  2 new polls highlight the problem of National & ACT

Stuff  Meta apologises for blocking links to Groundswell's website

ACT  The gap is closing and we can win in 2023

The Guardian  Jacinda Ardern's popularity plunges as New Zealand reckons with a new era of endemic Covid

Stuff  New poll shows Labour dipping below 40 per cent, National up slightly

Kiwiblog  Labour down in two polls

NZ Herald  Covid crash: Labour support slumps in two new polls

Newstalk ZB  The Huddle: School's back, Ardern visit and AstraZeneca

Taxpayers Milked to the tune of $48K for anti-dairy propaganda

Milked posterThe New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is challenging the New Zealand Film Commission’s funding criteria after it gave anti-dairy documentary Milked a $48,550 “finishing grant”.

The film, currently screening in New Zealand cinemas, argues that the dairy industry causes climate change, pollutes water, destroys land, abuses cows, and victimises dairy farmers. The film is explicitly political, with constant shots of the Beehive in the trailer, and features contributions from Greenpeace, SAFE, and the Green Party. The film appears to be part of a wider anti-dairy campaign – the promoters have erected billboards attacking the dairy sector.

The 40,000 New Zealanders employed in the dairy industry are unlikely to be happy to learn they are funding a film that attacks the source of their livelihoods. And that’s to say nothing of the rest of us, who all benefit from dairy’s enormous contribution to New Zealand’s economy.

We wish the filmmakers well in their attempts to win hearts and minds, but that doesn’t mean they should receive government money for their propaganda. Just imagine the outcry from certain groups if the Taxpayers’ Union received government money to produce a film on the evils of socialism.

BillboardThe filmmakers have been far from upfront about the government support they’ve received. The film’s marketing makes no mention of the financial contribution of the Film Commission. The only public record of the payment is deep in the Film Commission’s funding database.

The Film Commission has form for funding political propaganda. Back in 2016, they gave more than $900,000 in funding to Capital in the 21st Century, a documentary based on the book by left-wing economist Thomas Picketty. And last year, it was reported that the makers of a film about Jacinda Ardern intended to apply for funding, before the film was put on hold.

There is nothing in the Film Commission’s funding criteria to prevent political propaganda from receiving taxpayer funding. In fact, it’s worse than that – the Commission appears wilfully ignorant about the political implications of its work. We asked if the Film Commission is funding political content, and they told us no. That’s laughable.

Taxpayers should not be forced to fund political propaganda. We accept that sometimes it can be difficult to define what makes a film political, but Milked is a clear-cut case of activism with a primary purpose of shifting public opinion on a major issue of policy and economics.

The Film Commission had agreed to speak to the Taxpayers’ Union in a podcast interview about its funding practices, but then claimed its representatives were unavailable once they saw our questions. They instead provided written answers, which are pasted below.

Does the Film Commission accept that it is funding political content? i.e. documentaries that explicitly seek to shift the public’s view on issues of policy/economics.

No. The New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) supports a variety of projects with a diverse range of themes and content, through its development and production funds. There are criteria which must be met by all projects seeking funding from the NZFC, which includes market interest and the ability to attract a theatrical audience.

Are political messages a factor in decisions to fund (or not fund) films? What about the presence of active politicians within films?

No. The NZFC is an autonomous Crown entity, which funds and promotes New Zealand filmmaking. The NZFC’s funding framework is neutral and only requires films to meet the criteria of the specific fund. Section 17 of the NZFC Act states that the Minister may not give direction to the Commission in relation to cultural matters. The types of films and filmmakers that the NZFC can support is determined by Section 18 of the NZFC Act.

Does the Film Commission accept that Milked is an explicitly political film?

We have no opinion on the documentary in question which met the criteria for the funding it received.

Is the NZFC aware that Milked appears to be part of a broader anti-dairy campaign? Note the billboards being put up by the film’s producers. If the billboards promoting the film instead said, “Party Vote Green”, would this be a cause for concern for the FCTC? I.e. a taxpayer-funded film being used as a tool in a partisan campaign.

Our involvement with the documentary in question was purely in regard to the criteria of the Feature Film Finishing Grant, which the production met.

In the case of films applying for the Feature Film Finishing Grant, the NZFC examines the content’s diversity and inclusion factors. Does this include political diversity?

There are clear guidelines and criteria that productions have to meet when applying for the Feature Film Finishing Grant. The documentary in question met these criteria.

What about more commercial films such as those funded under the NZSPG? Is it ‘open slather’ in terms of the content that is funded, political or otherwise?

Productions that meet the criteria, both New Zealand and International, are eligible to submit an application for the New Zealand Screen Production Grant, which is assessed by the NZSPG Panel.  Once the NZFC receives an application, it is checked to ensure that it is complete and includes all relevant documents.

The complete application may be sent to an independent consultant contracted by the NZFC or assessed internally at the NZFC. The independent consultant’s role is to assess the application against the requirements of the criteria. If necessary, the applicant will be contacted to provide further information about the application,

The NZFC will prepare a report, based on the independent consultant’s report, for the NZSPG Panel to consider. It is NZSPG Panel’s role to assess whether the application satisfies the criteria.

Filmmakers are themselves an interest group with values and political leanings distinct from the general population. Their beliefs are presumably reflected in the product they create, and that you fund on behalf of taxpayers. If it turns out that films applying for funding are disproportionately informed by (say) left-wing values, is this a problem? How does, or how could, the NZFC deal with this?

The NZFC supports a diverse range of New Zealand and international stories to be told and seen by audiences everywhere. Market attachment, either by an invitation to screen at an international film festival, local distribution or a sales agent indicates audience interest And of course, the criteria of the particular fund must be met.

Has any work been done to retrospectively to evaluate the political content of films/documentaries funded by the Film Commission? Do you think a wide spectrum of political ideas are represented in films the NZFC funds? Milked aside, can you name any other examples of political content funded by the NZFC?

The films the NZFC funds must meet the funding criteria and show the ability to reach a theatrical audience in New Zealand. We aim to represent all New Zealand’s diverse voices, stories, and communities.

We conduct ongoing research about audiences and the industry.  This, and our regular publications, including Annual Reports, Statements of Intent and Statements of Performance Expectations can be found in the Resource Library.

We are strongly committed to increasing diversity in the film industry. We have developed new initiatives that support filmmakers from all backgrounds and encourage them to express their unique voices through original storytelling.

Women remain under-represented in our screen industry, so we have introduced programmes, including bespoke production funding initiatives, to assist women to build sustainable careers.

If the Taxpayers’ Union produced a film with a strong political message and wanted the same grant Milked got, how would we go about that? What are our chances?

Like any production, the Taxpayers’ Union would have to submit an application which meet the Feature Film Finishing Grant criteria.  

 

David Farrar on Lord Ashcroft's Mega-Poll

How do Kiwis view China? What do they think of the Queen? Will an ACT-National Government lead to radical policy from the right? Pollster David Farrar joins Taxpayers' Union researchers Max and Levi for a discussion about all this and more from a recent mega-poll of 5000 New Zealanders.

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

Is Inland Revenue Hunting for a New Wealth Tax?

Inland Revenue recently sent 400 letters out to New Zealand's wealthiest individuals in an attempt to figure out how much tax they pay on their economic income. Could this be part of a lead up to a wealth tax grab? Join Jordan and tax expert Mike Shaw for answers.  

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

The Three Waters op-ed Stuff doesn't want you to read

The following op-ed was written by Taxpayers' Union Executive Director Jordan Williams in response to a piece published by Stuff and the Sunday-Star Times. Stuff refused to publish this, even when the Taxpayers' Union offered to pay for it as a half-page ad.

Op-edIrresponsible to label Three Waters critics racist

In her drive to ram through the Three Waters reform package, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has been aided by commentators eager to write off opposition to reform as scare-mongering or even racist. There is perhaps no better example than Andrea Vance’s recent column.

Vance dismisses councils who have protested the theft of assets. She argues it’s not theft because – as the Government says – water assets will still ‘belong’ to local communities, just with some loss of control.

What does Vance think ownership means? Here’s how Gary Judd QC puts it: “Legal scholars argue about what is meant by ownership, but it is certain that if one has no rights in relation to a thing — e.g., no right to use it, to enjoy it, to gain a return from it, to dispose of it, to destroy it, to control it or to control its use — one does not own the thing.”

It's like a car thief writing to say how much they’re enjoying ‘your’ set of wheels. Nice of them to say it’s yours, but that doesn’t fill the hole in your garage.

Vance’s relaxed attitude toward theft is not, however, what prompted me to write this column.

Vance makes a serious accusation: certain groups are exploiting fear by playing the race card. She even names the groups – Hobson’s Pledge, the Opposition parties (presumably National and ACT), and your humble Taxpayers’ Union are singled out as encouraging a ‘nasty undercurrent of racism’.

This demands a response.

It is true that these groups have highlighted or protested the co-governance model which will see iwi join with councils on a 50-50 basis to appoint the representative groups that form the ‘community voice’ under the new regime.

It is also unfortunately true that any debate over co-governance will spur a bitter minority of New Zealanders to voice anti-Māori rhetoric. (Credit to the interns who have to moderate such comments on the Taxpayers’ Union Facebook page.)

But it is not true that merely raising the issue of co-governance equates to race-baiting. Co-governance is an important aspect of the Three Waters proposal, and its implications require scrutiny.

Iwi will bring distinct values and interests to the water board table. What are the financial implications – which will be borne by all ratepayers – of iwi using their 50 percent input to advance these interests? What protections will there be from what economists call ‘rent seeking’?

To what extent will iwi have control over water pricing and investment under a model that confers iwi half the votes, while the other half are given to councils that are themselves introducing co-governance through Māori wards?

And doesn’t the requirement for a 75 percent vote on any major decisions result in an effective iwi veto right? It certainly looks that way to us, but Mahuta was at pains to deny it during an interview on the Taxpayers’ Union podcast.

There are major problems here that require attention in the media and Parliament. And none of the problems here have to do with the fact that iwi representatives are Māori. The problems lie in an elevated level of control exercised by a chosen set of interest groups above any other unelected entities.

In fact, conflating issues of iwi governance with issues of race only makes it easier for those best-connected iwi that are given seats at the table to claim that they represent all Māori, while less-connected Māori communities are shut out.

Co-governance is far from the only problem with the Three Waters reforms. Iwi representation is just one aspect of four levels of bureaucracy that will separate all ratepayers – including Māori – from the valuable water assets we’ve all paid for. But co-governance does seem to be the issue that sticks in the noses of liberal commentators weighing up which side of a policy debate is the side of virtue.

Whenever the Taxpayers’ Union mentions the words ‘co-governance’, we expect an instinctive lashing out from advocacy groups on the political left. But political journalists have greater power – the ability to set the boundaries of mainstream debate – and therefore greater responsibility to avoid accusations like that of racism, which serve to shut down substantive concerns over major reform from reasonable people who fear being branded bigots.

Stuff has insisted that its decision to accept funding from the Government’s Public Interest Journalism Fund does not make it beholden to the Government. That’s great to hear. But anyone who cares to check can read the Government’s five stated goals for the fund. The third goal: ‘Actively promote the principles of Partnership, Participation and Active Protection under Te Tiriti o Waitangi’.

Vance’s column will have done little to mend perceptions that, at least when it comes to Three Waters, the media is influenced by Government funds.

Revealed: Wellington City Council spends $11,000 on Māori translation of spatial plan

Document

Wellington City Council spent $11,482 plus GST producing a te reo translation of the summary of its new spatial plan, reveals the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

Just 50 te reo copies were printed – resulting in a translation cost of $220 per printed copy.

Māori translations of planning documents are exactly the kind of low-priority council spending that should be on the chopping block during a pandemic.

This is a council that cries poverty at every opportunity and just hiked rates by 13.5%. The council needs to demonstrate that it’s making sacrifices commensurate with what it’s demanding from Wellington ratepayers. It’s a terrible look that they still can’t resist tokenistic gestures like translating reports in te reo versions that no-one will ever read.

The information was provided after the Union filed an official information response written in te reo. The response was also provided in te reo, however in this case the Council used an internet translation service.

Nicola Willis on Kainga Ora Corruption

National's housing spokesperson Nicola Willis has broken a story about corruption and collusion within our national housing agency. Sadly, this isn't the first time Nicola has broken such a story about Kainga Ora but it is certainly the most shocking. Join Jordan for the full sordid story.  

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

Taxpayer Update: Our latest poll | Buzzing the Beehive | Inflation menace

Dear Supporter,

Taxpayers’ Union Curia poll: Labour down six points

The results of November's Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll, exclusive to our members and supporters like you, are available here.

Labour are down six points to 39%. The National Party up four to 26%. And that's not the only bad news for the Government with both Jacinda Ardern's popularity as Preferred Prime Minister sinking (but she is still well ahead) and – for the first time in more than a decade – more Kiwis saying the country is heading in the wrong direction than the right one.

Party support graph

Head over to our website to see the results.

Three Waters: We take to the skies in Wellington, and grill the Minister

Plane and banner

Ministers and bureaucrats got a fright when they looked up yesterday. We organised for a Taxpayers' Union supporter to fly a "Stop Three Waters" banner across the city and over the Beehive.

Banner over Beehive

This came the day after Nanaia Mahuta fronted up to us for a podcast interview, fielding a volley of questions submitted by Taxpayers' Union supporters.

Click here to listen to the full interview.

Here's the key takeaway from the interview:

We asked Mahuta very clearly whether Three Waters would result in the introduction of water royalties (i.e. payments to iwi for the right to use water). Mahuta ducked, dived, and ran up our limited interview time with standard talking points, but ultimately failed to rule out introducing water royalties.

Our petition against Three Waters has now reached 81,000 signatures. We're running ads against Three Waters on TV, radio, Facebook, and Youtube. And we commissioned a poll revealing that 56% of New Zealanders oppose the reforms, versus just 19% in support.

If you've not already, please take a moment to "share" our Say No to Three Waters television ad on Facebook.

The fact Nanaia Mahuta even agreed to the interview demonstrates that the Beehive is feeling the pain from this campaign. They know our Three Waters effort is resonating with New Zealanders, so that's why we're doubling down.

We're planning to put even more pressure on the Prime Minister to overrule Nanaia Mahuta so long as our supporters ensure we have the campaign funds available. If you've not yet chipped in, our crowd-funded campaign hasn't finished. Every dollar donated on this page will be used to fight Three Waters.

The next big economic problem for taxpayers

Inflation is becoming a real problem. Stats NZ has confirmed that prices have lifted 4.9% in the last year. Inflation memeRising inflation is an indictment on the Government’s print, borrow, and spend economic strategy. But it's great for the Government's coffers – inflation pushes our wages up into higher tax brackets even when we’re no better off in real terms.

So far, the Government has refused to adjust tax thresholds to reflect the effect of inflation, even though it happily adjusts Super and benefits annually.

80%

Already, due to inflation, the average worker is paying a marginal tax rate of 30%. Soon that will be 33%.

Here at the Taxpayers' Union, we've uncovered the Reserve Bank's proposed new bank notes which we expect to be in circulation by 2026...

Mock bank note

PM's welfare package punishes the productive

At the Labour Party's big conference over the weekend, Jacinda Ardern announced a boost to Working for Families tax credits.

But in her enthusiasm to make the policy appear more generous, she has intensified the way that welfare traps New Zealanders in poverty.

She is offsetting the cost of higher payments by increasing the abatement rate for the Family Tax Credit from 25% to 27%. (Ten years ago it was just 20%.)

In other words, low-earning New Zealanders who choose to work harder, achieve a promotion, or take on a side-hustle will be whacked by even higher effective marginal tax rates. That reduces incentives to work, and sets the poverty trap.

The abatement rate is effectively a marginal income tax rate. The combination of income taxes and abatement rates on tax credits means some Kiwis are already paying effective marginal tax rates of more than 50%. We should be fixing this problem, but the Prime Minister is making it worse.

Government waste honoured at 2021 Jonesie Awards

Jonesie photo

We hosted the fourth annual Jonesie Waste Awards in the Beehive last week – our Oscars-style awards ceremony celebrating the best of the worst of local and central government waste from the last 12 months. Click here to find out who was nominated and who won.

Jonesie video
To watch our (firmly tongue in cheek) event in full click here.

While the presentation of awards is designed to be ironic, it does serve a very serious purpose: the Jonesies remind those who squander public money that they risk public embarrassment. The awards give those who fleece the taxpayer the credit they so richly deserve.

You can't beat COVID with Māori Pokemon

Once again, we've delved into dodgy arts grants handed out in the guise of the COVID response.

This time it's not Creative NZ, but the parent agency – the Ministry for Culture and Heritage – which is splurging with a new $60 million COVID-19 "Innovation Fund"

Here's a small sample of the taxpayer-funded projects announced so far:

  • $585,000 to develop a te Reo Māori virtual reality game.

  • $20,000 on "a digital storytelling platform using the vaka [canoe] as medium for navigating and exploring Tokelauan heritage"

  • $2,110,000 for live music venues to increase diversity.

  • $290,000 to "an online game for rangatahi [youth] that imagines a Māori future".

  • $500,000 on a tool to give readers book recommendations that reflect intersectionality and gender diversity.

  • $328,405 to develop a Pokemon Go-style augmented reality game based on Te Ao Māori.

  • $1,323,000 on two productions of Māori performing arts.

It is hard to see how a Māori ripoff of Pokemon Go could be considered a COVID-19 response. Especially when our health system is crying out for more nurses and ICU beds.

The arts funding is an absolute lottery. We understand that even many artists are questioning handouts from this fund based on the incredible size of certain grants, and the lack of apparent logic behind the selection of recipients.

You can read more about these grants here.

Kiwis not keen on James Shaw's Glasgow junket

Climate Change Minister James Shaw has now touched down in Glasgow for the United Nations' big climate talkfest.

We commissioned independent Curia public polling on Shaw's decision to attend (along with 14 staff).

Shaw poll 1

Just 30% of New Zealanders support the trip, versus 55% opposing. 15% are ‘unsure’.

We say the Glasgow junket flies in the face of New Zealanders’ sacrifices. Taxpayers currently denied opportunities to travel will foot the bill for the Minister and his staff’s flights, accommodation, and dinners. New Zealanders waiting for spots in MIQ have been shunted aside in favour of Shaw's entourage. And the emissions-heavy travel itinerary is, of course, a glaring case of climate hypocrisy.

You can read the full results (including a breakdown in views by political party) here.

Victory for taxpayers: Labour’s trade unions repay wage subsidies

E Tu

The Taxpayers’ Union has revealed that the Labour Party’s trade unions – First Union and E Tū – have repaid the full $1.6 million they received in wage subsidies, as we called on them to do earlier this year.

E Tū admitted to Stuff that its repayment came after an audit by MSD found it didn’t qualify. First Union has not revealed whether it qualified in the first place.

As beneficiaries of steady revenue from membership dues, it was always questionable how these unions were ever eligible for the subsidy. The fact they could afford to spend money on campaigns to re-elect the Government last year suggests they were hardly strapped for cash.

The weird part is how secretive these unions have been about their decision to repay the subsidy. They could have announced it proudly and encouraged other unions to do the same. Instead, the repayment has only been made public thanks to an eagle-eyed Taxpayers’ Union researcher monitoring MSD records and confirming the repayment using the Official Information Act.

The incredible numbers behind Michael Wood's tram to Māngere

Michael Wood

After ditching his doomed bike bridge, Transport Minister Michael Wood has unveiled a spending project that might be even dumber. His revamped Auckland tram proposal comes with a revamped price tag of $14.6 billion.

That number is almost too high to comprehend, so we've broken the cost down in terms that hopefully even Michael Wood can understand:

  • $608,000,000 per kilometre

  • $608,000 per metre

  • $6,080 per centimetre

  • $608 per millimeter
  • $7,978 for every Kiwi household from Kaitaia to the Bluff

  • More than twice as much as Labour's original 2017 tram-to-airport proposal and five times higher than NZTA's 2016 tram-to-airport proposal

  • Equal to the estimated cost of a second Waitematā Harbour crossing

  • Enough to build four new Transmission Gully motorways

  • Enough to build ten new Dunedin Hospitals

  • Enough to build 21 Waitematā Harbour cycle bridges

  • Enough to conduct another 540 flag referenda

  • Enough to buy every house in Whanganui

Clearly, the cost has ballooned into lunacy before shovels have even touched ground. Every dollar thrown at this gold-plated transport project is a dollar that can't be used to ease financial pressures on Kiwi households dealing with the economic effects of a pandemic.

New episodes of Taxpayer Talk 

In addition to our interview with Nanaia Mahuta, we've released four new episodes of our Taxpayer Talk podcast since my last Taxpayer Update.

Tina Nixon of Masterton District Council famously called the Government "A deceitful, lying pack of bastards" for their proposed Three Waters reforms. Join her and Jordan as they dive into the danger of this asset confiscation by central government. Listen here.

Nanaia Mahuta has announced that the government will mandate to seize Three Waters assets from councils. Jordan is joined by National's spokesperson for Local Government Christopher Luxon to discuss the implications, the flaws and what can be done about the government's plans. Listen here.

What's the secret to ACT's success? Why after years of campaigning are they opposing housing reforms? Who does David Seymour think should win the biggest government spending blowout award? Jordan and David discuss this and more. Listen here.

Jordan is joined by New Zealand Initiative Economist Matt Burgess for a detailed discussion about the Emissions Trading Scheme. They reflect on the government's long standing stance of ignoring the realities of the trading scheme, the inefficiency of climate change vanity projects and what we can do moving forward. Listen here.

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

Magic Talk  Panel discusses the government's summer festival insurance announced today - adequate enough or does it fall short?

Newshub  Judith Collins brushes off speculation her leadership under threat from Simon Bridges

Timaru Herald  Mackenzie District CEO to depart after turning down contract extension

Sunday Star-Times  Losing faith in our central bank

Homepaddock  Jonesie Awards highlight waste

BusinessDesk  On the Money: Peter Beck's midas touch, BTS, James Cameron, and more

Kiwiblog  What you could get instead of Michael’s trams?

Democracy Project  Graham Adams: Jacinda Ardern and the Ghost of David Lange

Stuff
 E tu and First Union repay $1.6 million wage subsidies, Unite says it can’t

Kiwiblog  Propaganda campaign not working

Dominion Post  Audacity of water assets grab boggles the mind

Stuff  This week shows not all political flip-flops are created equal

Kiwiblog  Fund this ad to stop Three Waters

NZ Herald  Mahuta right on water reforms

Newshub  Nanaia Mahuta admits Three Waters ’not a popular set of decisions’, says ‘misinformation’ causing unnecessary fear

The Daily Blog  Global pressure mounts ahead of COP9 conference

The Country  Three Waters: Decisions announced by Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta

Newshub  Government to force Three Waters reforms on councils

Newshub  Jacinda Ardern denies Taxpayer resources used to organise wedding, would cooperate with investigation

NZ Herald  PM defends staffer's role in wedding plans, says they worked hard to follow the rules

Home Paddock  Inflation steals from us all

The Daily Blog  Moving To The Right

Otago Daily Times  Ardern denies allegation parliamentary resources used to help plan wedding 

The Daily Blog  Taxpayers Union Poll - What if pundits are wrong & this is National's death spiral?

NZ Herald  Let's get Kiwis home for Xmas

NZ Herald  Jacinda Ardern pours cold water on wedding allegations, saying staffer helping as a friend

National Business Review  Economic recovery, a climate plan, an excited Act

Stuff  If these poll numbers continue, Nats could have a new leader by Christmas

Newshub  Coronavirus: International media paints grim picture of New Zealand COVID outbreak

Waatea News  Martyn Bomber Bradbury – Political Commentator

NZ Herald  New Taxpayers Union poll had National just six points ahead of Act

Home Paddock  Higher costs for no gain


Taxpayer Talk: Nanaia Mahuta grilled by Taxpayers’ Union on Three Waters

In a long-awaited interview with Nanaia Mahuta, the Local Government Minister fields questions from Taxpayers’ Union supporters on her controversial Three Waters reforms. Listeners will decide for themselves whether her ducking and diving effectively addressed concerns over ratepayer input, iwi veto power, and forecast costs.  

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

>>> Click here to visit our Stop Three Waters campaign site <<<

"A deceitful, lying pack of bastards" Three Waters with Tina Nixon

Cr Tina Nixon has no shortage of harsh words for the proposed Three Waters reforms. Join her and Jordan as they dive into the dangerous implications of this asset confiscation by central government.  

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

>>> Click here to visit our Stop Three Waters campaign site <<<

Government waste honoured at 2021 Jonesie Awards

The fourth annual Jonesie Waste Awards were hosted at the Beehive today, celebrating the best of the worst of local and central government waste from the last 12 months.

The Taxpayers’ Union selected five nominees and a winner from each of the local and central government categories, along with one Lifetime Achievement Award winner.

Taxpayers are likely to view the wasteful spending presented today in the context of the current pandemic. How, for example, can the Government justify spending $17 million on art therapy programmes when our DHBs are crying out for more resources in intensive care?

Similarly, local councils across the country have this year implemented record rate hikes, while failing to make the budgetary sacrifices experienced by households losing income during lockdown.

While the presentation of awards is tongue-in-cheek, it does serve a serious purpose: the Jonesies remind those who squander public money that they risk squandering their public reputation, and potentially, their careers. The awards give those who fleece the taxpayer the credit they so richly deserve.

2021 Local Government Nominations

AUCKLAND COUNCIL: "INNOVATIVE" DOTS AND ROAD BLOCKS
Auckland Council used a multi-million dollar cash injection from Wellington to innovate its streets. $100,000 was spent painting dots and patterns in Takapuna. In Onehunga $41,000 was spent blocking a road with plywood crates, which were promptly vandalised and moved by locals.

HAMILTON CITY COUNCIL: TURNING GOVERNANCE INTO CHILD'S PLAY
While planning an 8.9% rate hike, Hamilton City Council hired a "play advocate" who tasked councillors and staff with making lego ducks. The council also sent staff into school classrooms to collect submissions from children on its iwi partnership strategy.

NELSON CITY COUNCIL: SPENDING $800,000 ON A TOILET BLOCK, TWICE
Nelson City Council's new toilet blocks at Tahunanui and Millers Acre cost $800,000 each. This adds to a proud history of toilet-related overspends in the sunny city.

TAURANGA COMMISSION CHAIR ANNE TOLLEY: FIX-IT FAIL
Anne Tolley is paid $1,800 a day to fix problems at Tauranga City Council. Under her watch the city has seen record rate hikes, council salary bloat, and infrastructure botch-ups.

ROTORUA LAKES MAYOR STEVE CHADWICK: SEVEN DEPUTY CHIEF EXECUTIVES
Rotorua Lakes Mayor Steve Chadwick has overseen an "organisational realignment", giving her chief executive seven deputies, each paid more than $200,000.

2021 Local Government Waste Award Winner: Tauranga Commission Chair Anne Tolley

2021 Central Government Nominations

DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION AND TE PAPA: MISTREATMENT OF A DEAD TURTLE
The Department of Conservation shipped a dead leatherback turtle from Bank's Peninsula to Wellington and stored it in a Te Papa freezer for 21 months, before trucking it back down to Canterbury for a high-powered, fully-catered funeral and a helicopter ride to a hilltop burial site.

RT HON TREVOR MALLARD: DRAGGING TAXPAYERS THROUGH THE MUCK
The Speaker of the House incurred $333,000 in legal fees and settlement costs after falsely accusing a Parliamentary staffer of rape. When facing defamation action, Mallard threatened to plead truth, despite later admitting he knew he was wrong within 24 hours of the accusation.

HON PHIL TWYFORD AND HON MICHAEL WOOD: THE $785 MILLION BIKE BRIDGE
The budget for Twyford's troubled 'Skypath' proposal blew out by 1000% when Michael Wood turned it into a stand-alone cycle bridge. The bridge has now been scrapped, but $51 million and has already been wasted, and spending on engineering reports hasn't stopped.

RT HON JACINDA ARDERN (AND CO): $2.75 MILLION FOR THE MONGREL MOB
The Prime Minister, along with the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Justice, signed off on $2.75 million in funding from the Proceeds of Crime Fund for a Hawke's Bay meth rehab programme run by members of the Mongrel Mob – the key supplier of meth in the region.

TOURISM NZ: $918,000 FOR A ROD STEWART SINGALONG
Tourism NZ spent $918,000 to have Rod Stewart sing his hit "Sailing" for the America's Cup. Sir Rod did not appear in person, or even cross live – the performance was pre-recorded on a barge in London, lip-synched, and prefaced by an interview with Clarke Gayford.

2021 Central Government Waste Award Joint Winners: Department of Conservation and Te Papa

Lifetime Achievement in Waste Award Winner:

Hon Grant Robertson gained his political experience in student politics, even writing a dissertation on the subject, before graduating to roles at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the United Nations.

After stints advising Helen Clark and working for the University of Otago, he was elected as the MP for Wellington Central, the one seat that doesn't seem to care about private sector experience.

In 2017 he was appointed Finance Minister for the Labour Government, and maintained a fairly conservative approach to public finances until the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

He announced a $12 billion COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund and quickly topped it up by another $50 billion. This soon revealed itself to be a Provincial Growth Fund-style slush fund, only at far greater scale.

Examples of spending from the Finance Minister's "COVID response" fund include $12 million for flood protection in the Far North, $26 million for cameras on fishing boats, $50 million for "regional digital connectivity", $52 million for the horse racing industry, $55 million for "public interest" journalism, $87 million on internet modems for school kids (including Mike Hosking's child), $100 million for affordable housing projects, $155 million for "Transformative energy" projects, $200 milion on a new building for the University of Auckland, $210 million for "Climate resilience" projects, $374 million in arts grants (including $17 million for art therapy programmes), $515 million for school lunches, $761 million to support Three Waters reform, and $1.2 billion on "jobs for nature" such as paying people to shoot wallabies.

Only about a quarter of the money was spent on wage subsidies.

Inevitably, the fund ran dry upon the arrival of a second COVID outbreak. Grant Robertson simply announced he would top it up by another $7 billion.

Grant Robertson's "no new taxes" promise was also jettisoned at some point, with new taxes on housing investments and a new 39 percent tax rate for high-earners.

It is only fair that we give Grant Robertson the 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in government waste – for making Shane Jones look like a symbol of lean and efficient government.

Notes to editors:

The Jonesies are named after Hon Shane Jones, the winner of the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in Government Waste. The Jonesies follow the same format as the Canadian “Teddy” Awards, which have been presented annually by the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation since 1999.

The Jonesie Waste Awards are made possible by the members and financial supporters of the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

Taxpayer Talk: Three Waters with Christopher Luxon

Nanaia Mahuta has announced that the government will mandate to seize Three Waters assets from councils. Jordan is joined by National's spokesperson for Local Government Christopher Luxon to discuss the implications, the flaws and what can be done about the government's plans.  

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

It’s no wonder local councils are rebelling against LGNZ

The following is an opinion piece by Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams.

Local Government New Zealand President Stuart Crosby resorted to name calling in a recent opinion piece, calling the thousands of New Zealanders who emailed local councillors about Three Waters “wilfully ill-informed keyboard warriors”.

This is a desperate attempt to find a scapegoat for the crumbling support for the Government’s Three Waters proposals, which LGNZ are supporting.

New Zealanders’ opposition to the Three Waters proposal has spilled over into anger at LGNZ for their support of the reform programme. Ironically LGNZ’s president accuses the reform’s opponents of playing fast and loose with the facts for political gain.

Crosby, in an opinion piece published by stuff, suggests New Zealanders are victims of deception, while refusing to explain exactly what he think that deception is.

Which ‘facts’ does he dispute? That the reform will introduce four layers of bureaucracy between ratepayers and the new water entities? That the Government’s own peer review found the touted financial benefits to be detached from reality? Or that 60 out of 67 councils have signalled either an intention to opt out or major concerns with the reforms?

LGNZ’s president returns to the tired justification trotted out by proponents of the Government scheme that greater efficiencies from economies of scale will translate to more manageable debt and more affordable water costs. The theory goes that the absolute loss of local control over water assets is simply an acceptable for tradeoff for these hypothetical financial benefits.

This theory is undermined by two simple questions. What incentive will unelected water monopolies have to keep costs low? What guarantee is there that councils will provide commensurate rates relief to offset the new water bills charged to ratepayers?

Some councillors are surprised that the president of LGNZ is supporting such fundamental reforms opposed by his member councils.

There is a very simple reason LGNZ is playing puppet for the Government on Three Waters. The organisation signed an agreement with central government which sees it receive taxpayer funding in exchange for a commitment “to build support within the local government sector for the Three Waters Reform Programme”. This sits at odds with Mr Crosby’s claim in his opinion piece that LGNZ “tends to stay on the side-lines” in this debate.

In other words, LGNZ’s support for Government’s Three Waters plan is bought and paid for.

This shady deal was signed without consultation with LGNZ’s member councils. That’s despite the reforms promising a fundamental transfer of control over billions of dollars’ worth of local assets.

It’s no wonder that a growing faction of rebel councils is denouncing LGNZ, with Timaru District Council voting to leave the body, and others set to vote on doing the same.

Blinkered by central government dollars and underestimating the strength of ratepayer pushback, Stuart Crosby has backed his organisation into a corner, pushing an absurd false dichotomy that councils must either support the reforms or perpetually endure crumbling pipes. Hawkes’ Bay councils’ independent proposal for regional amalgamation show us there are other options.

In the end ignoring your constituent members and launching ad-hominem attacks on their ratepayers isn't going to make their concerns disappear. With legislation not having yet reached Parliament, the debate over Three Waters has just begun.

REVEALED: Government’s favoured unions repaid $1.6 million in wage subsidies

The Taxpayers’ Union has today revealed that the Labour Party’s trade unions – First Union and E Tū – have repaid the full $1.6 million they received in wage subsidies. This comes after the Union called on them to do so earlier this year.

We’d like to congratulate these left wing unions on finally doing the right thing by taxpayers. As beneficiaries of steady revenue from membership dues (as opposed to donations), it was always questionable how these trade unions were ever eligible for the subsidy. The fact they could afford to spend money on campaigns to re-elect the Government last year suggests they were hardly strapped for cash.

The weird part is how secretive these unions have been about their decision to repay the subsidy. They could have announced it proudly and encouraged other unions to do the same, like we did. Instead, the repayment has only been made public thanks to an eagle-eyed Taxpayers’ Union researcher monitoring MSD records and confirming the repayment using the Official Information Act.

E Tū admitted to Stuff today that its repayment came after an audit by MSD found it didn’t qualify. First Union has not revealed whether it qualified in the first place.

Of course, the Taxpayers’ Union came forward to repay its wage subsidy, even though, unlike the left wing unions, we qualified to receive it. For us, it was a matter of principle: it’s difficult to claim you’re an independent watchdog when you’re funded by the Government.

Taxpayer Talk: David Seymour

What's the secret to ACT's success? Why after years of campaigning are they opposing housing reforms? Who does David think should win the biggest government spending blowout award? Jordan and David discuss this and more in this weeks episode of Taxpayer Talk. 

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

Poll reveals what New Zealanders think of Three Waters

Main poll

Newly-released data from the Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll reveals opposition to the Government’s Three Waters reform plans outweighs support by three to one.

The poll of 1,000 New Zealanders reveals 56% oppose the reforms, with just 19% in support. 24% are unsure. The full polling report is available here.

Opposition outweighs support among supporters of every significant political party. Labour supporters oppose the policy at a rate of 39%, versus 28% in support and 34% unsure.

Opposition outweighs support across every age group, and is especially strong among older New Zealanders who are more likely to pay rates.

Wellington has the lowest rate of opposition to the reforms, but even there opposition outweighs support, with the largest grouping being unsure. Opposition is highest in small towns and rural areas.

The Government didn’t give councils time to conduct proper consultation with their communities before submitting feedback on the reforms, but many thousands of New Zealanders made their voices heard anyway by emailing their local councillors. Now we have the hard data to back up evidence of widespread opposition.The Government’s $3.5 million ad campaign has failed to shore up support for Three Waters reform.

This poll reveals that opponents of Nanaia Mahuta’s multi-billion dollar asset grab are far more than a vocal minority. Most ratepayers are repelled by the prospect of removing control of water assets from local councils and burying it under four layers of co-governed bureaucracy.

Mahuta’s Three Waters crusade is rapidly turning into albatross around the Government’s neck. We’ve previously seen the Prime Minister acknowledge public opinion by u-turning on the capital gains tax and the Auckland cycle bridge. It’s time for a similar captain’s call over Three Waters.

The poll was taken from Sunday 3 October to Monday 11 October. The Taxpayers’ Union is running a petition against the Three Waters reforms which so far has 63,000 signatures. It can be signed at www.threewaterspetition.nz

Exclusive: New poll reveals opposition to Shaw's Glasgow trip

Shaw poll 1

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union has today released independent Curia public polling on Climate Change Minister James Shaw's upcoming attendance at the Glasgow climate conference. 

The Minister, accompanied by 14 staff, will fly to Glasgow where daily COVID-19 cases currently exceed 400. On his return, Shaw and nine of his staff will occupy 10 MIQ spots. The Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll asked whether New Zealanders believed the Minister and his staff should be attending this conference.

The poll shows just 30% of New Zealanders support the trip, versus 55% opposing. 15% are 'unsure'.

Only Green Party supporters expressed a majority in favour of the trip. Labour supporters were split roughly in opinion; National, ACT and unaffiliated respondents showed strong opposition.

Shaw poll 2

With the current severe domestic and international COVID-19 travel restrictions, the Minister's overseas adventure flies in the face of New Zealanders' sacrifices. Given the evident lack of public support, the trip is an unwanted blow to the taxpayers footing the bill for the Minister and his entourage's flights, accommodation, and dinners.

While one already struggles to see economic justification for the trip, the environmental costs seems even more unbalanced. With an average fly time of 50 hours for a return trip from Auckland to Glasgow, the Minister and his staffers will emit more than 125 tonnes of CO2 travelling to and from the climate conference. As we've said previously, if the Minister had wanted to avoid perceptions of climate hypocrisy and wasteful travel, he should have announced the New Zealand contingent would be calling in via Zoom.

You can't beat COVID with Māori Pokemon

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union is challenging the value of large arts grants handed out under the Ministry for Culture and Heritage's new $60 million COVID-19 "Innovation Fund"

So far, thirty two projects have received $6.2 million from the fund. The questionable taxpayer funded projects include:

•  $585,000 to develop a te Reo Māori virtual reality game.

•  $20,000 on "a digital storytelling platform using the vaka as medium for navigating and exploring Tokelauan heritage"

•  $2,110,000 for live music venues to increase diversity.

•  $290,000 to "an online game for rangatahi that imagines a Māori future".

•  $500,000 on a tool to give readers book recommendations that reflect gender diversity.

•  $328,405 to develop a Pokemon Go-style augmented reality game based on Te Ao Māori.

•  $1,323,000 on two productions of Māori performing arts.

It is hard to see how a Māori ripoff of Pokemon Go could be considered a COVID-19 response. Especially when our health system is currently crying out for more nurses and ICU beds.

We've criticised arts grants in the past, but these particular handouts are even more shocking for their sheer size. $1.3 million for two performance art productions does not represent good value for taxpayer money. In fact, that's more tax than an average worker would pay in their lifetime. It would be far fairer to split this money between all artists as a tax credit or just return it to the taxpayer for that matter.

The most incredible thing is that so far barely a tenth of the total fund has been allocated. If these are the projects first off the rank, that doesn't bode well for the remaining rounds of handouts.

This funding is an absolute lottery. We understand that even many artists are questioning handouts made under this fund based on the incredible size of certain grants, and the lack of apparent logic behind the selection of recipients.

Below is a longer list of project descriptions from successful grant applicants.

Atuatanga
To develop 'Atuatanga', an interactive virtual reality gaming experience that will use te Reo Māori and mātauranga Māori to engage players through challenges as they navigate through an ancient world restoring the taiao for future generations.
Awarded: $585,000

Narrative Muse
To support the development of Narrative Muse, a digital platform to help Aotearoa audiences access books, movies and television content that reflects intersectionality and gender diversity.
Awarded: $500,000

Zealanesia
To scope the development and prototyping of a digital storytelling platform using the vaka as medium for navigating and exploring Tokelauan heritage. This will enable and improve Tokelauan and Pasifika access and participation in art, culture and heritage.
Awarded: $20,000

TPW - Māori Pokemon
To develop creative assets for an augmented reality app called Pūrākau. The app embeds Te Ao Māori content into the environment around us using mixed reality technology. The project is delivered via smart phone devices to enable accessibility to a wide audience.
Awarded: $328,405

Taki Rua Productions
The development and delivery of two immersive live productions of large-scale contemporary Māori performing arts pieces. By presenting mātauranga Māori within contemporary performances the project will increase access and participation to both mātauranga and contemporary performance art.
Awarded: $1,323,000

QWB Lab
To design a suite of tools that helps arts and culture organisations to measure, understand, increase and articulate their wellbeing impact in order to unlock the value of culture and their assets. The development of these tools is aimed at increasing the capacity to generate wellbeing for communities, helping improve access and participation.
Awarded: $150,000

Public Art Heritage Aotearoa NZ
To develop a website of Aotearoa’s remaining twentieth century public art heritage, which will enable New Zealanders to access and build awareness of our public art heritage. Funding will also support the development of a national public art forum to develop best-practice guidance and resources for those involved in public art.
Awarded: $300,000

NZ Festival
To develop a new values-driven ticketing platform, empowering audiences to choose their own ticket price, thereby increasing access and participation in the cultural sector.
Awarded: $200,000

Metia Interactive
To develop Guardian Maia, an online game for rangatahi that imagines a Māori future and uses culturally inclusive creative technology to explore mātauranga Māori traditions and new cultural concepts.
Awarded $290,000

Aotearoa Live Music Recovery Project
To support small to medium sized live music venues with artist and audience development that increases diversity. The project will increase access and participation in live music.
Awarded: $2,110,000

DOTDOT
To develop a platform to enable artists, arts venues, arts organisations and cultural institutions to create their own hybrid and virtual events, allowing them to reach new audiences and drive new revenue streams for their work.
Awarded: $206,965

Joel Baxendale and Karin McCracken - In World
To develop a flexible and dynamic creative tool that will enable multiple sectors to apply app-technology in an interactive context, thereby creating new opportunities for the arts sector and enabling access and participation.
Awarded: $227,605

Taxpayers’ Union asks Jacinda Ardern to clarify role of electorate secretary acting as wedding planner

The Taxpayers’ Union has today written to the MP for Mt Albert asking for more details about her electorate agent’s role in managing the Gisborne wedding venue, given the staffer is based in Auckland and wouldn’t normally travel for her job.

We know of at least two visits to Gisborne by the electorate agent, and it remains unclear whether taxpayers paid for the travel and any accommodation.

MPs enjoy a privileged position. It is important for public confidence that it is made clear no taxpayer money is being used for personal benefit.

This isn’t the first time the Taxpayers’ Union has taken an investigative role in the spending of taxpayer money by MPs. Under the last Government we held to account National Party MP Claudette Hauiti after she used her budget to pay for a personal trip to Australia, and National Party Ministers who used Crown limos to travel to Northland to campaign for the 2015 by-election.

Unfortunately, MPs have a special carve-out from the Official Information Act, meaning that it is up to the Prime Minister to release this information. But given her public commitments to transparency, and her office’s assurance that everything is above board, we look forward to being furnished with the information sought.

The letter is available here.

Wilful Ignorance: disregarding the ETS will hurt us all

Jordan is joined by New Zealand Initiative Economist Matt Burgess for a detailed discussion about the ETS. They reflect on the government's long standing stance of ignoring the realities of the trading scheme, the inefficiency of climate change vanity projects and what we can do moving forward. 

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

Taxpayer Update: Our exclusive new poll | Taxpayer-funded political parties | Bike bridge $$

Dear Supporter,

New Taxpayers’ Union Curia poll released: Labour & Greens down, National & ACT up 📊

Exclusive to members and supporters like you, we commissioned another Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll that shows support for National and ACT is up, while Labour and the Greens are down. ACT is at a record high for our polling company.

Our expert pollster (and Taxpayers’ Union Co-founder) David Farrar has advised numerous Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition. On election night in 2014, John Key described David as “New Zealand’s best pollster”.

David and our Executive Director Jordan Williams have just recorded a podcast where they delve into the numbers, what they mean, and the advice David would be giving Judith Collins and Jacinda Ardern reading this report. You can listen to the Taxpayer Talk episode here (the episode will also appear on Apple Podcasts, and Spotify in the next few hours).

Head over to our website to read the results.

Trend graph

The Government is putting taxpayer funding for political parties onto its agenda 💸

Faafoi

The Government has announced a review of electoral laws that will consider, among other things, taxpayer funding for political parties.

We will be fighting this for four key reasons:

  • Morally wrong: Taxpayers should not be forced to fund political parties that they find reprehensible. We expect our money to be spent on services, not party political propaganda.

  • Corrupted process: Kris Faafoi says he will be reaching out to political parties for ideas on this review. But elected political parties – the very same ones who will vote on this reform – have a vested interest in cementing their place in Parliament and maximising their revenue. Of course politicians on the left and right will jump at the chance of getting taxpayer money, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.

  • Entrenches power: Elected political parties already have a massive advantage over political outsiders thanks to their Parliamentary funding. Giving money to the private wings of these parties will only serve to further disadvantage outside voices during elections.

  • Erodes grassroots democracy: If political parties are given taxpayer money, they will be less dependent on membership dues and cake stall fundraisers, reducing the incentive to act according to their members’ values. That’s a disaster for democracy. Guaranteed taxpayer funding for political parties will result in a less accountable, Wellington-centric political environment.

In short, we can't trust politicians to lead these reforms. Perhaps we need to nominate a taxpayer representiative for the review board. Watch this space...

Why is Sean Hendy’s modelling group getting $6m for advice Treasury is paying $30k for elsewhere? 💰

Hendy and co

The NZ Herald reports that the Prime Minister's department has awarded Shaun Hendy and Siouxie Wiles's modelling group $6 million in contracts to forecast COVID-19.

For perspective, Treasury has commissioned its own pandemic modelling from an independent advisory firm costing a mere $30,000.

Here's what Jordan had to say:

Te Punaha Matatini (TPM) appears to be acting as the ‘single source of truth’ for this Government, and is getting paid like a greedy monopolist. Given the wild inaccuracies of pandemic modelling around the world, our leaders should be getting advice from multiple agencies and experts, not betting the house on friends of the Government.

It stinks of arrogance by the Prime Minister’s Department to refuse to answer questions posed by the NZ Herald about the procurement rules followed in awarding the TPM contract. That raises very real questions about this contract, and quite what it was for.

LGNZ must stop its Three Waters sock puppetry 🎭

Crosby

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) is the ratepayer-funded lobby group meant to represent the interests of local councils.

But they missed the memo on Nanaia Mahuta's Three Waters reform, a multi-billion dollar asset grab that is opposed by the vast majority of local councils.

In fact, LGNZ has literally sold out its position to the Government, signing a "Heads of Agreement" which sees the group getting taxpayer funding in exchange for "build[ing] support within the local government sector for the Three Waters Reform Programme".

Timaru District Council is so frustrated with LGNZ's kowtowing to the Government that they have seceded from the group, and Christchurch City Council is preparing to do the same.

This week LGNZ President Stuart Crosby wrote an opinion piece for Stuff in a labourious attempt to quell dissent from councils. He complains about "wilfully ill-informed keyboard warriors on social media" and makes the extraordinary claim that "we have tended to stay on the sidelines of public debate about Three Waters reforms".

He fails to disclose the fact that LGNZ is explicitly paid to advance the reform agenda! Nor did Stuff's editors note this obvious conflict of interest.

LGNZ is broken, misleading the public, and totally unaccountable to ratepayers. In fact, due to a legislative mistake, LGNZ is exempt from official information laws despite being a publicly-funded body. We're glad to see local councils waking up to the LGNZ's failures.

More than 55,000 New Zealanders have now signed our petition against Three Waters. If you haven't already, add your name here.

55k have now signed

The Government is still burning money on the cancelled Auckland bike bridge 🚴 🚒

The Problem With Auckland&#39;s $685m Cycle Bridge | Scoop News

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated the Government's decision to scrap its $785 million cycle bridge across the Waitemata Harbour. That move came after 59,000 New Zealanders signed our petition on the issue, backed by our billboard campaign.

But now the NZ Herald reports the Government is still paying a consortium of contractors to complete designs of Auckland’s scrapped cycle bridge.

$51 million has already been thrown at this scrapped project, with shovels never even touching ground.

And now we're still spending, just to get some pretty pictures. This is the kind of waste that only happens when you’re dealing with ‘other people’s money’.

It’s time to end this rort and move on. Tell the engineers and consultants to put down their pencils and find work on projects New Zealanders actually want.

Emissions reduction plan will create costs without reducing emissions 🍂

Yesterday the Government unveiled a new 140-page Emissions Reduction Plan setting forth a raft of new restrictions on our economy and lifestyles. Here are some of the proposals:

  • A 20 percent target reduction on vehicle kilometres travelled by 2035

  • A 25 percent target reduction from freight transport by 2035

  • A target to have 30 percent zero emissions vehicles by 2035

  • Increase public transport subsidies

  • A vehicle scrappage scheme to incentivise low-income New Zealanders to shift to low-emissions transport

  • Investigate how the tax system should be used to push low-emissions transport options

  • Set a maximum CO2 limit for individual light petrol vehicle imports to tackle the highest emitting vehicles

  • Introduce measures to limit imports of high-emitting vehicles rejected by other countries

  • Limit additional highway and road capacity in line with climate change targets

  • Use congestion pricing to discourage driving

  • End the expansion of gas pipeline infrastructure and eliminate "fossil" gas in all buildings as recommended by the Climate Change Commission

  • Investigate a mandatory energy performance certificate for commercial and public buildings

But there's a massive elephant in the room: none of these proposals will actually reduce New Zealand's total emissions, because these emissions are already set by the Emissions Trading Scheme.

In short, when the Government uses regulation to cut emissions from a source already covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme – say, transport – carbon credits are simply freed up making it more affordable to produce emissions in other ways. That is why the UN advises countries against regulatory interventions when cap-and-trade schemes are in place.

Even if the laundry list of new regulations did succeed in reducing total emissions, a Government-knows-best approach inevitably means blunt measures with higher costs than a carbon pricing system. The particular circumstances of some businesses will mean switching to electric heating or electric vehicles, for example, will involve inordinate cost.

Ignoring the ETS and using a hundred different regulations to whack unfashionable sectors is divisive, costly, and cynical politicking.

Our members and supporters made up the largest group of submitters to the Climate Change Commission on the same plan, sending twice as many submissions as the next largest group (Forest and Bird). You can read our submission here.

Our response to the OCR hike 🏦

Last week the Reserve Bank increased the Official Cash Rate for the first time in seven years. Here's what Jordan told the media:

Today’s OCR hike – which will see households squeezed with higher mortgage payments – is a direct result of the Government’s reckless spending over the last 18 months.  Even worse, with COVID’s economic shock now coming, it comes at the very worst time for households.

The Government needs to do all it can to focus on quality, not quantity, of spending. Its programme of money-printing and borrowing for political purposes has pumped up inflation to unacceptable levels and left future generations of taxpayers with a debt monster. Higher interest rates will increase the financial pain caused by that debt.

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

NZ Herald  Three Waters: Minister Nanaia Mahuta defends Māori involvement after councillors criticise 'asset grab'

Democracy Project 
Graham Adams: The debate over the $55 million media fund erupts again

Indian Weekender 
World Health Organisation could learn from NZ's stance on vaping

Stuff 
Elimination has been abandoned - or not. The PM isn't clear

NZ Adviser 
Industry slams government for OCR announcement

Newsroom 
Three Waters: The 7 mayors pushing back against a tide of effluent

The Country 
Councils buckling under Three Waters pressure from 'ill-informed' community, mayor says

Homepaddock 
Interest rates rising

Kiwiblog 
110 additional taxpayer funded journalists

Kiwiblog 
Guest Post: In defence of James Shaw

Stuff 
There's a case for water reform - but not this undemocratic asset grab

Homepaddock 
Pravda Project at work

RNZ 
More time, consultation needed for Three Waters reform - Whakatāne District Council

Stuff 
'It's just a bloody nuisance': Southland Mayor on Three Waters email bombardment

Stuff 
Why we should be concerned that public service neutrality is eroding

Parliament 
Simon Bridges on the COVID-19 Response (Management Measures) Legislation Bill

Newsroom 
Timaru secedes from NZ councils in Three Waters fight against Government

Te Awamutu Courier 
Time up for Three Waters decision

Gisborne Herald 
Polling message to both major parties

RNZ 
Political commentator Ben Thomas on National Party poll drop

The Daily Blog 
TVNZ Poll – The rise of ACT

NZ Herald 
Claire Trevett: Covid lockdown poll slump a warning to PM that patience is wearing thin; and things get worse for Judith Collins

Indian Weekender 
National will struggle to win back lost ground without a convincing Covid plan

NZ Herald 
1 News-Colmar Brunton poll: National, Labour down; Judith Collins crashes to 5% as preferred PM

NZ Herald 
Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Claire Trevett - is Sir John Key's comments a bigger headache for Judith Collins or Jacinda Ardern?

Stuff 
Covid-19: The Prime Minister continuing to use the term 'elimination' is disingenuous

NZ Herald 
Judith Collins doubles down on her future as National Party leader

Hawkes Bay Today 
The Outsider Insider: Awful week for the National Party

Taxpayer Talk: Exclusive polling and analysis with David Farrar

Labour, Greens down and National, ACT up. Those are the headlining figures from the exclusive Taxpayers' Union Curia Market Research monthly poll. A change in COVID-19 strategy has been harsh on the governing coalition with the opposition swooping in to pick up support. Jordan is joined by Curia owner and media commentator David Farrar for analysis of the results. 

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

New survey reveals WHO at odds with Kiwi vapers

Vaping survey

More than two thirds of vapers believe New Zealand’s approach to vaping as a tobacco harm reduction tool is world-leading and should be promoted overseas to save millions of lives, according to a new survey conducted by research house IRI.
 
The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has released this research an anticipation of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Conference (COP9) this November.
 
The IRI survey, conducted in September, asked more than 500 Kiwi vapers what they thought of New Zealand’s use of vaping as a tool to help smokers quit. Over 80 per cent said vaping had helped them to reduce or quit smoking. A further 62 per cent believed New Zealand should speak out against any efforts by the WHO to ban or restrict vaping.
 
Union spokesman and vaper Louis Houlbrooke says, “First, the WHO pressured countries like New Zealand into adopting sky-high tobacco taxes. Now, the same organisation is expressing unfounded hostility to vaping – a tool that in New Zealand has been shown to help smokers quit cigarettes, saving on tax and reducing harms to health.”
 
New Zealand’s own Ministry of Health has endorsed vaping as a quit aide and the Union is calling on the Ministry’s delegates at COP9 to promote this position internationally.
 
Vaping has been proven to be more than twice as effective in helping smokers quit as other methods, such as nicotine patches, gum or lozenges, and New Zealand’s success at using vaping to drive down smoking rates was recently featured in a white paper on international best practices authored by the Property Rights Alliance.
 
“Vaping is a New Zealand success story,” says Mr Houlbrooke. “Smoking rates have plummeted to all-time lows since vaping was legalised, and we’re seeing Jacinda Ardern’s Government embrace vaping to help Kiwis quit. It’s irresponsible of the WHO to peddle vaping misinformation when eight million people globally still die from tobacco-related illnesses annually. That’s almost twice the population of New Zealand, every year.”
 
“Kiwi vapers recognise that New Zealand has a moral imperative to speak up at COP9 and work with other countries who’ve embraced vaping, such as the UK. Millions of lives are at stake.”
 
Notes to editors:
 
The complete polling dataset can be found hereTaxpayers’ Union Campaigns Manager Louis Houlbrooke contributed research to the white paper on international best practices, which can be found here.
 
Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall says the Government has yet to decide whether it will support the formation of an inter-sessional working group to examine evidence on vaping as a harm reduction tool at COP9.
 
The Coalition of Asia Pacific Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA) has a website dedicated to collecting testimonials from former smokers who have used vaping to quit or reduce their tobacco consumption. It includes more than 14,500 testimonials and can be found at www.righttovape.org.

We need to stop Three Waters reform

Dear Supporter,

Three Waters report cover page

Over the last few months, we’ve been swamped with questions from supporters across the country about Nanaia Mahuta’s plan to reform “Three Waters”. She and her Cabinet colleagues want to take billions of dollars’ worth of drinking water, waste water, and storm water assets off the hands of local councils and put them under the control of four new unelected, co-governed entities. Those entities will be able to impose limitless water charges (i.e. tax) without the power of ratepayers to hold them to account.

While it’s unusual for us to defend the competence of local councils, the idea that unaccountable water entities co-governed with iwi are going to result in efficiencies is laughable.

Today we are launching our plan to defeat it by mobilising councils against this undemocratic asset grab. We're asking for two minutes of your time to email your local council to tell them to 'opt-out' of the Government's proposals, before it is too late.

Click here to use our new tool to quickly contact your local councillors and tell them to reject Nanaia Mahuta’s plan.

Here’s why Three Waters reform must be defeated

We’ve produced a briefing paper for New Zealanders to get up to speed with Mahuta’s Three Waters proposal. I’ve summarised the most alarming points below.

✖️ Four layers of bureaucracy will separate the new water entities from accountability to ratepayers.

✖️ The entities will be represented by Entity Boards, each appointed by an Independent Selection Panel, which is appointed by a Regional Representative Group, which is appointed by iwi and local councils (as many as 20 of them) on a co-governance basis.

✖️ Major decisions will require 75% majorities, so in effect, iwi will have veto rights over these decisions. That will hand unelected iwi groups the negotiating power to impose new costs on ratepayers such as water royalties – a payment for ratepayers’ right to use water.

Government spin on Three Waters has been appalling

The Government claims its reforms will reduce costs. But as councils up and down the country have pointed out, the financial modelling is based on error-ridden spreadsheets and unrealistic assumptions. Nor does the model take into account the financial implications of iwi control “co-governance”.

And even if the plan does reduce costs on councils, there is no guarantee savings will be passed on to ratepayers. Do you really trust your council to cut rates just because it’s no longer funding water services? On what we’ve seen, no council is planning on cutting rates for the money they might save!

Incredibly, the Government claims the assets will still be “owned” by local councils. But as Gary Judd QC has explained: As the proposal deprives local authorities of all the rights of ownership, this “ownership” is a fiction. It is “spin” on a grand scale. Listing in the legislation does not confer ownership if it does not confer ownership rights.

It's crunch time: tell your Council to opt out before it is too late

The Government is pressuring 67 local councils to sign away water assets without giving them time to consult with ratepayers. But despite a $2.5 billion funding bribe, most councils are suspicious of the reforms.

In a recent Taxpayer Talk podcast interview, Westland Mayor Bruce Smith stated that 35 mayors may oppose the reforms, including mayors of Auckland, Christchurch, Whangārei, and potentially Wellington. Those mayors have pointed out that the bribe money comes from the revenue produced by the very assets being transferred away from councils. You can listen to that interview here.

Councils have until Friday to formally tell the Government whether they will opt in or out of the scheme. That’s why we’re asking you to have your say and tell your Council now, before it is too late. Tell your local Council to opt-out of these reforms.

Will you take two minutes to tell your local councillors to reject Nanaia Mahuta’s plan?

We’ve made it easy with our online tool – simply enter your details, select your council, and select the points to send to your local councillors. You are free to customise the message – a personal touch goes a long way, but try to keep it polite as the message will be sent to all your local councillors.

--> Click here to email your local councillors <--

By uniting New Zealanders and councils against the reform, we can deny Nanaia Mahuta the ability to claim a mandate for this asset grab.

What else can you do?

Firstly, you can forward this message to friends, family, and neighbours.

Secondly, you can sign and share our petition against Three Waters reform. This petition builds a database of New Zealanders who can be mobilised in the months to come in the likelihood that Parliament begins a legislative process.

Thirdly, you can boost the reach of this campaign by making a contribution to our war chest. There is power in numbers, and we will use your donation to extend the reach of our online ads, driving New Zealanders to our petition and email tool.

Donate

Thank you for your support.

Jordan

Jordan_signature.jpg
Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

 

Taxpayer Update: Gang bill drawn | Toa's torture | Tax-funded media

Dear Supporter,

Bill drawn to end government funding of gangs

When it was revealed that a Mongrel Mob-affiliated group received $2.75 million to run a meth rehab programme, Taxpayers' Union supporters pitched in to publicise the Prime Minister's dodgy decision with nationwide newspaper ads and promotion of a petition signed by 24,000 New Zealanders.

Gangs ad

National MP Simeon Brown was paying attention. He submitted a bill to cancel the funding, and this week it was drawn from the Parliamentary members' ballot. This is fantastic news. The Government parties will now be forced to declare with a clear vote whether they believe gangs should be taxpayer-funded.

Hawke’s Bay meth bust stunning proof of why Mob shouldn’t get public money

The timing of the Bill couldn't be worse for the Government.

On Thursday eight people connected to the Mongrel Mob were arrested for selling meth in Hawke's Bay – the same community served by the rehab programme! It's stunning evidence of what we (and frontline police) have been saying all along: the Mongrel Mob profits from meth addiction, and therefore cannot be trusted to profit from the rehab too.

Harry Tam (the patched member who runs the rehab programme) should be hauled before a Parliamentary select committee to explain his relationship with the eight individuals arrested. Can he honestly say he’s not in cahoots with the gangsters slinging meth on his turf? We doubt it.

Taxpayers' Union briefs MPs on SkyPath disaster

SkyPath graphic

Government Ministers haven't mentioned their planned $685 million cycle bridge for a while – probably because they know it's turned into a political disaster.

59,000 New Zealanders signed our petition against the bridge, and many of our supporters like you chipped in to fund ads like the one above to expose the Government's misplaced spending priorities.

Thanks to the petition efforts, on Thursday MPs on Parliament's Petitions Committee were forced to consider the issue. I was given the opportunity to brief them on the many reasons why this project should be dumped.

Presentation to MPsClick here to watch my presentation.
(Skip forward to the 25:50 mark)

I summarised the problem with this point: shovels aren't even in the ground, and yet the proposal has already seen four massive budget blowouts. Just how much are we willing to waste on this project? $1 billion? $5 billion? When does it stop?

The response from the Green MP on the Committee: "You just don't like cyclists."

There's no winning with some people.

REPORT: How DOC spent $130,000 prolonging the pain of a baby orca

Toa image

After exposing the debacle involving DOC, Te Papa, a chartered helicopter and a funeral for a turtle, we decided it was worth asking for details of DOC's intervention around Toa, the baby orca that died after 12 days in confinement.

A full cost breakdown and stacks of internal correspondence have now been released. I sifted through the material personally and was shocked by what I found.

Click here to read the full report.

In short: DOC received advice from international orca experts that Toa couldn't survive in the wild, and that euthanasia was the most humane option. But the Department ignored the advice specifically citing interest from media, iwi, and politicians. That meant Toa died a slow, painful, and inevitable death.

This is a sad story that reflects badly on DOC.

COVID fund sucked dry, topped up

Grant Robertson

As we warned at the beginning of the Delta outbreak, Grant Robertson has now officially depleted his $50 billion COVID-19 response fund, and has now topped it up with another $7 billion in borrowed money.

On social media and in our communications to journalists we have been aggressively exposing examples of how the Government raided the COVID-19 response fund for political purposes.

The message is getting through. Take a look at this piece from Jason Walls of Newstalk ZB: Not a single cent more for podcasts, poetry and picture books in the name of ‘Covid recovery’

Billions and billions of dollars have been spent on projects that don’t come close to a semblance of sensible spending, let alone meeting the threshold for Covid Recovery.

Take the $18,000 for writing poetry that “explores indigeneity and love in the time of climate change,” for example.
...
Some $26.7 million was spent on cameras on fishing boats, in the name of Covid recovery.

There was also $200m for the construction of a new building at the University of Auckland.

And a whopping $1.22 billion was spent on the jobs for nature scheme – as a little perspective, that’s enough to buy roughly 1000 houses in Auckland.

If these examples seem familiar, it's likely because we were the ones to publicise them. The Opposition parties are now regularly citing our examples of waste, and it's getting under the skin of the governing parties.

In Question Time, Judith Collins asked the Prime Minister what $26,000 on a novel about alpaca breeders has to do with COVID-19. That was an example we highlighted from Creative NZ's $374 million COVID response package.

The Prime Minister waffled on about live arts performances being affected by COVID. I'm not sure what that has to do with an alpaca novel. But the interesting part was when her old friend James Shaw jumped in to take a dig at your humble Taxpayers' Union.

You can watch the exchange in Parliament here, at the 3:00 mark.

Questions in Parliament

The Government knows that the reason it's under pressure for its spending is us. And we are only able to sustain this pressure thanks to New Zealanders like you who support us to make this work possible.

Would you trust a Government-funded journalist?

Child journo

NZ on Air has announced grants for 110 new taxpayer-funded journalists.

For example, The Spinoff gets $427,800 of taxpayer money for two new journalists for two years. Stuff gets an incredible 20 new journalists, costing taxpayers $2.8 million!

At what point does the "Public Interest Journalism" fund begin to undermine the media's independence? Will articles written by these journalists include disclaimer statements?

If you're worried about the independence of our media, I strongly recommend you read this eye-opening piece by Graham Adams.

Mr Adams is a highly experienced journalist, and he released this article free for syndication – but no media outlets were interested in publishing it! I wonder why...

$62 million Dubai pavilion insults taxpayers and stranded expats

New Zealand Pavilion at Expo 2020

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise has unveiled its $62 million pavilion set up for this year's trade expo in Dubai.

The whole thing is a crass extravagance. Tens of thousands of Kiwis are stuck overseas, fighting for limited MIQ spots, while 400 bureaucrats, a few business people, and bands of entertainers get to skip the queue for the sake of a glorified convention.

Reportedly, some MPs plan on attending the expo. If they know what’s good for them, they’ll skip it. No one wants to see photos of Kelvin Davis greasing up Arabian princes. 👀

Spending tens of millions to have bureaucrats brown-nose billionaires sends the completely wrong signal about our business culture. New Zealanders take pride in having a fair go – that means getting ahead with hard work, not by hobnobbing with politicians and regulators.

(National shares the blame here for choosing to join the expo back in 2016.)

If the Government wants to woo international business, it should do so by removing regulatory barriers or winding back our 28 percent corporate tax rate – one of the highest in the developed world.

More waste and special treatment: James Shaw's Scottish odyssey

Shaw in a kilt

In a perfect world, extended disruption to international travel would have taught our politicians how to live without indulgent junkets. But James Shaw appears determined to make up for lost air miles: he's not just jetting to climate talks in Glasgow, he's bringing a contingent of 14 staff with him!

Shaw and eight of the staff will get special MIQ slots on their way home. This is becoming a bit of a theme, isn't it?

The Minister’s plan to burn jet fuel and taxpayer money is offensive on multiple levels. It’s a slap in the face to Kiwis queuing for limited MIQ spaces. It makes a joke of public health guidelines against unnecessary travel. It’s a clear case of climate change hypocrisy. And it’s an insult to taxpayers who have made financial sacrifices during a pandemic.

Taxpayer Talk: How Oranga Tamariki's ideology is harming Kiwi kids

We fund Oranga Tamariki to ensure the best possible outcomes for vulnerable children. But all too often, the agency is putting cultural dogma ahead of kids' needs. That's the theme of a recent column by Taxpayers' Union member Damien Grant published in Stuff in the Sunday Star-Times.

Damien joined our Executive Director Jordan Williams on the Taxpayer Talk podcast to discuss the tragic case of a girl named Moana, Oranga Tamariki's ideology, judicial interference by a Government chief executive, and the concerning silence from legal watchdogs.

🔊 Click here to listen to the episode.

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

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

NZ Herald  While the right revives, National seems focused on internal warfare

NZ Parliament  Oral Questions — Questions to Ministers

NZ Herald  
Louis Houlbrooke: World Health Organisation could learn from NZ's stance on vaping

Homepaddock  
Stop the ‘smorgasbord of abject waste’

Indian Newslink  WHO and global foundations accused of harmful interference

Newsroom  Manufactured outrage over Shaw’s Glasgow trip

Hawke's Bay Today  
The Outsider Insider: Awful week for the National Party

Wanaka App  
Upper Clutha District Council: Pros and cons

RNZ  The Panel with Sue Kedgley and Neil Miller

1 News  Judith Collins 'very secure' in role of National leader despite low polling

Stuff  We’re talking about nothing short of a National Party revolution

NZ Herald  Claire Trevett: A Simon Bridges, Judith Collins, National Party coup - whose terms would it be on?

RNZ  Metal jazz orchestra wins fans after Taxpayers’ Union criticism

Democracy Project  
The double-edged sword of the $55m government journalism fund cuts deep

RNZ  
The Week in Politics: Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate 

CAPHRA  Countries' case studies on vaping shatter WHO’s lies

Sunday Star-Times  What happened to 'Moana' was abuse at the hands of Oranga Tamariki

Gisborne Herald  Is the end nigh for Judith Collins?

NZ Herald  On the tiles: National’s pollster David Farrar on what the party needs to do

Kiwiblog  A curia poll the media have overlooked

Newshub  National shouldn’t overreact - Simon Bridges talks down leadership spill rumours

Newsroom  Collins is the master of her own death spiral

RNZ  Calls for pension extension for those stuck in Australia

NZ Herald  National knows something needs to change

The Spinoff  Judith’s doing a great job - senior national MP backs leader despite crushing poll

NewstalkZB  David Seymour: There is a growing appetite for change in Government

RNZ  Chris Bishop backing Judith Collins after Curia poll, says party needs to do better

Politik  Is Bridges the answer?

Newsroom  ‘Paranoid storm’ and a poll from hell cloud Collins’ leadership

Newshub  National Party slumps to 21.3 pct, ACT just 6 points behind in new NZ Taxpayers’ Union poll

NZ Herald  The National Party’s polling company has the party crashing to within six points of ACT

 

Document dump reveals DOC put politics ahead of Toa the orca’s welfare

The Department of Conservation spent $129,000 and 12 days prolonging the pain of a baby orca for the sake of politics.

That’s the takeaway from today’s massive document dump, which includes an incident management plan that explained: “An intervention approach is not the traditional DOC position that we have taken in the past with marine mammals however the Iwi, public, media and political interests are very high in this case.”

In public, the Department stated over and over that it was solely motivated by Toa's welfare. We now know this to be false.

On 15 July, eight days before Toa's death, DOC internally circulated advice from an international expert:

This calf appears to have about zero chances of survival in the wild. Finding its pod would be an interesting experiment, but do you really want to put the animal through this experiment knowing that the pod left it once already (I don't know the circumstances behind this stranding so I am making a large assumption) and would probably not welcome the animal back into the group for the same reason it left it the first time. Experience with dependent calves would indicate that it is non-releasable. In my opinion, If you can't care for the calf long term and the government is unwilling to move it to a facility that can, you should humanly euthanize it sooner than later.

The next day, text messages suggest that DOC staff were “moving toward euthanasia” – but the order was never given. DOC bosses left Toa to linger on in pain and distress for another six days, despite ongoing concerns from staff over the impact of human interaction on his ability to rejoin the wild.

Toa’s death was a tragedy – for whalekind and for taxpayers. It’s a lesson in the cruelty and waste that can be inflicted by bureaucracies motivated by public perceptions ahead of the core activities we fund them for.

DOC’s implementation plans were clear as to who bears responsibility for this waste and suffering: The decision to proceed with euthanasia sits with the Director Operations, Lower North Island Region (Jack Mace).

As an employee of DOC, Mr Mace’s job was to protect, not prolong the pain, of this precious animal. We’ve asked Mr Mace to front on this issue and answer questions. If he’s unwilling to defend his decision, he should do the honourable thing and resign.

Further notes:

  • A necropsy of Toa was vetoed by local iwi, to the confusion of international experts.
  • The $129,790 cost of Toa’s care included $62,060 in salaries and wages, $17,446 in travel and accommodation, $13,941 in meals and refreshments, and $2,800 in koha to local iwi.
  • For some reason, Hollywood filmmaker James Cameron requested to visit Toa on the day of the orca's death.
  • The Taxpayers’ Union first raised concerns about the cost and welfare implications of Toa’s care on 20 July when the orca was still alive.

Taxpayer Talk: Damien Grant on Oranga Tamariki

Jordan is joined by Damien Grant for a concerning discussion on the implications of the recent 'Moana' case that was the subject of Damien's recent column published in Stuff. They talk about ideology within Oranga Tamariki, judicial interference by a chief executive and the concerning silence from legal watchdogs. 

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

You take the low road, James Shaw takes the high road, and he will be in Scotland a’fore ye!

Shaw in a kiltGreen Party co-leader James Shaw has been under fire for planning to fly to Glasgow for a climate change conference with an unspecified number of support staff. Priding ourselves on fairness towards New Zealand’s elected representatives, the Taxpayers’ Union offered Mr Shaw the opportunity to present his defence. It has not been edited, but all the spelling and grammatical errors have been fixed.

“I am not a hypocrite. I absolutely refute all the allegations made by far-right trolls, members of the media we have not paid for, and the Leader of the Opposition, David Seymour. Let’s go through them one by one.”
 
International air travel during a pandemic:

“I have been a long-standing and shrill critic of air travel but – and this is important – only air travel by people on business, ordinary people, and right-wing politicians. I have never criticised air travel by Green MPs. In fact, under my co-leadership we continue to top the charts in Parliamentary travel expenses. I am proud of our track record, including travelling more than the Prime Minister in 2019, and the fact that Air New Zealand had to invent a Titanium Class Air Points card thanks to us.”
 
An in-person international meeting during a pandemic:

“The United Nations is a humble non-profit. It is unreasonable to expect it to have Zoom.

“My comment ‘there was a perfectly serviceable option that would enable MPs to work from home – Parliament via teleconferencing software Zoom – and politicians should be modelling the health advice to stay home’ was taken completely out of context.

“Sure, Parliament can do it, workplaces can do it, schools can do it, but what is the point of being part of the United Nations if you do not get a few overseas vacations?”

The pesky public health issue

“Here, I stand by all my statements despite some of them being contradictory.

“I was correct to say on a Tuesday that ‘I think it's absolutely irresponsible, I mean it literally risks people's lives by holding an in-person Parliament’ and I boycotted Parliament.

“The next day, having realised we lost our oral question in the House, and no one was paying attention to us in the media, then it was suddenly absolutely safe for Green MPs to fly from Auckland to Wellington and attend Parliament in person. Not that anyone noticed…

“People have pointed out that Wellington has had only a handful of COVID cases this year while Glasgow has over 5,000 new cases a week. Now, I did some research, and it turns out Glasgow City is almost twice as big as Wellington. That is hardly a global hot spot in my mind.”

Taking up spots in Managed Isolation and Quarantine facilities

“I and my unspecified entourage will not be taking up MIQ spots desperately sought by Kiwis looking to return home, receive medical treatment, or attend funerals. Our MIQ spots are in the special wing of suites continuously reserved for bands, sports stars, and United Nations officials.

“I do like that they always leave a chocolate (Fair Trade of course) on my Egyptian cotton pillow.

“This matter is closed. Now, where is my passport?”

New paper highlights how vaping brings New Zealand closer to Smokefree 2025

White paperA new white paper on international best practice towards vaping regulation features a case study on New Zealand, with data showing how increased vaping uptake has correlated with significant progress towards our Smokefree goal.
 
The white paper is published by the Property Rights Alliance, with contributions from the UK, New Zealand, France, and Canada. The New Zealand case study is written by New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union Campaigns Manager Louis Houlbrooke.
 
Mr Houlbrooke says, “Historically, public health commentators have attributed reductions in smoking rates to annual excise tax hikes. But now, despite an end to annual tax hikes, we see progress accelerating. This latest data makes it increasingly difficult to deny that it is alternative products like e-cigarettes – not tax – that will ultimately bring New Zealand to our Smokefree goal. However, the question remains to what extent our progress will be slowed by new regulations currently being implemented to reduce access to vaping products.”

Commenting on the white paper, Centre of Research Excellence Director Dr Marewa Glover says, “Enabling people to switch from smoking to vaping is not only delivering on reducing risk to health, the New Zealand experience is proof that access to vaping can reduce inequity in smoking rates. Despite the FCTC saying countries should ensure that Indigenous peoples also benefit from tobacco control measures, the gap in smoking rates between Māori and  European New Zealanders has never been reduced. The higher rates of daily vaping among Māori compared to European New Zealanders is the first sign that this inequity may be lessened. It is significant also, that daily vaping prevalence increases in line with higher deprivation. The lower the income quintile the higher the smoking prevalence, but also the higher daily vaping occurs.”
 
The white paper has been published ahead of the WHO’s COP9 conference, which will be attended by delegates from across the world as they consider updates to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
 
“We’re urging New Zealand’s delegates to tell our story with pride," says Mr Houlbrooke. "During our long period of essentially unregulated access to vaping products, the sky did not fall – in fact, smokers took the opportunity to switch in droves. This success has been reflected by the Government’s own information campaign on vaping, which highlights vaping as an effective means to quit smoking, with a 95 percent reduction in harm relative to cigarettes.”
 
This morning Mr Houlbrooke joined a live webinar hosted by the Property Rights Alliance along with contributors to the white paper. Click here to watch the recording.


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