Media Enquiries: 04 2820302 (24hr)

Lower Taxes, Less Waste,
More Transparency

Championing Value For Money From Every Tax Dollar

Op-Ed: Politicians give to Māori with one hand, but take with the other

This month’s Waitangi festivities were marked with a string of Government funding announcements, totaling hundreds of millions for development projects intended to make life better for Māori.

Some of these projects will achieve their goals. Others will just line the pockets of the politically-connected. But in every instance, these grand Waitangi gifts and the accompanying media coverage serve a hidden purpose: they distract from existing government policies that actively harm Māori and make such handouts necessary in the first place.

The most appalling case is that of tobacco tax. Adjusted for income, New Zealand has the highest tobacco tax rate in the developed world, causing significant financial damage to smokers – who are predominantly poor, and disproportionately Māori. (At last count, the Māori smoking rate was 33.5% compared to 14.9% for the general adult population.)

Assuming Māori smokers consume tobacco at the same rate as the average smoker, we can calculate that tobacco tax last year took about $519 million from the budgets of Māori smokers and their families.

If that’s too much to comprehend, consider it this way: the Government has been taking more from Māori in tobacco tax than it gives in treaty settlements and targeted social spending.

The average amount spent on Treaty Settlements is $89.6 million per year, and Budget 2018 allowed for $316 million in Māori Development spending. In total, that’s still about $120 million less than Māori pay in tobacco excise.

Even this month’s boost to Māori development spending will be undermined, as tobacco tax revenue is forecast to grow even larger in the coming years. In short, politicians give to Māori with one hand, but take even more with other.

Whatever the intended effects of the tax, the practical result for Māori smokers too addicted to quit is horrid: smaller household budgets, less food on the table, and more miserable lives.

The policy does, of course, convenience the government: by quietly turning Māori smokers into cash cows, both National and Labour have been able to puff up their budgets and loudly announce vote-winning initiatives like those unveiled at Waitangi.

Public health advocates correctly argue that the best way to curb the financial hit from tobacco tax is to help people quit smoking. If the Ministers at Waitangi wanted to mitigate the harms of tobacco tax, they would de-regulate the supply of alternative nicotine products like vapes, heat-not-burn tobacco, and snus.

A new Taxpayers’ Union report examines the increasing body of evidence that some of these products have reduced risks compared to tobacco. Giving nicotine addicts safer ways to meet their habit could be far more effective than trying to get people to quit nicotine altogether.

Unfortunately, the Smoke-free Environments Act makes advertising the reduced risks of these alternative products effectively illegal.

Further, reduced-risk tobacco products face the same rate of excise as cigarettes. A better approach would be to weight excise on tobacco products according to their risk: if (for example) heated tobacco could be extensively proven to cause less harm than cigarettes, it should face less tax.

This would encourage people to switch from smokes to better options, reducing negative health effects and the improving the financial status of struggling families – especially Māori.

Sadly, in Wellington the ‘easy option’ is to simply continue heavy-handed tobacco excise hikes. The Government gets to pat itself on the back for punishing filthy smokers, while plotting the next big Waitangi spend-up.

Jordan Williams is Executive Director of the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union. The Union’s latest report, Ka Tukuna Atu, Ka Tukuna Mai, is available at

Report: Māori punished with world's highest rate of tobacco excise

Report coverWith tobacco excise slamming the country’s most vulnerable communities, the Government needs to urgently deregulate reduced-harm products, says the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union upon the release of its new report, Ka Tukuna Atu, Ka Tukuna Mai.

Key findings:

1) The Government annually takes $120 million more from Māori via tobacco excise than it gives in Treaty Settlements and Māori Development funding.

2) When calculated as a proportion of income, New Zealand charges smokers the most punitive tobacco tax rate in the developed world.

3) There is increasing evidence to suggest that smokeless tobacco products like snus and heat-not-burn are far less harmful than cigarettes, and encourage people to quit smoking. Excise tax rates on these products should be weighted to reflect risks.

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says, “Revenue from tobacco excise tax alone outstrips the combined value of Treaty Settlements and Māori Development funding by $120 million a year. This is the inevitable result of charging the highest rate of tobacco excise in the world, when adjusted for income. In short, the Government gives with one hand and takes far more with the other, undermining decades of effort to improve outcomes for Māori.”

“Reaching the Smokefree 2025 target doesn’t require never-ending taxes on the poorest. If the Government made it easier for smokeless products like vapes to be marketed, current smokers may be more likely to shift over, improving health outcomes and reducing the burden of tobacco excise on themselves and their families.”

“Additionally, our paper focuses on an alternative approach to tobacco excise: excise on tobacco products should be weighted according to health risks, if reduced health risks can be proven in peer-review. As alternative tobacco products become more popular, there is a growing body of evidence showing reduced health risks for heated-tobacco, snus, and e-cigarettes. Using price signals to encourage smokers to adopt a product with reduced health risks could make an enormous improvement to long-run health outcomes – in addition to limiting the burden of excise.”

The report can be read here.

Op-ed: Fake news from Oxfam on inequality

Earlier this week, Oxfam released its latest findings on global wealth inequality, with widespread media coverage (such as the pictured front-page story in the Dominion Post).

The group’s analysis of inequality in New Zealand was glib and unhelpful.

Citing Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Databook 2018, Oxfam claims that inequality is worsening – two wealthy New Zealanders were better off over the last year by over $1 billion, while the bottom 50 percent of New Zealanders were worse off by $1.3 billion.

On the surface that sounds deeply concerning, but it misses the substance of Credit Suisse’s report, which shows the Gini coefficient – a more comprehensive and internationally-recognised measure of wealth inequality – reduced in the last year from 72.3 to 70.8, indicating wealth inequality actually fell, despite Oxfam’s alarmist claims to the contrary.

Unfortunately, there are more fundamental problems with the analysis, beyond Oxfam’s use of ‘alternative facts’.

If you have just completed university and have a large student loan, Oxfam treats your wealth position as worse than an impoverished worker in the developing world, who despite having very few or no assets, may also have no debt or liabilities. Hence the impoverished worker has zero net wealth, while university graduates in New Zealand and the rest of developed world have ‘negative’ net wealth.

This leads to absurd conclusions in Oxfam’s analysis.

Introducing a student loan scheme in a developing country – opening up access to tertiary education – would show up as a worsening of social capital in Oxfam’s eyes. While the programme would improve the net wealth positions of many families in the long run, young people would temporarily take on debt while they receive an education and seek employment.

Wealth inequality is also only considered domestically, rather than internationally. Inequality  between developed countries and developing countries is collapsing, largely due to the expansion of free markets and free trade.

For example, while Oxfam found in 2017 that inequality was worsening in Vietnam, the percentage of the population living below the poverty line fell from 17.2 percent to 9.8 percent between 2012 and 2016. In the decade between 2007 and 2017, average monthly income grew from 2349.7 VND to 6357.4 VND – close to a tripling in take-home pay.

In other words, while there are more wealthy Vietnamese today than there were ten years ago, the gap in the standard of living between those who live in New Zealand and Australia, and those who live in Vietnam, China, and many other countries quickly ascending from deprivation, is falling.

The developing world understands why their lives are improving as well, even if Oxfam doesn’t.

Evidence from Pew Research’s 2015 Global Attitudes survey suggests 89 percent of Vietnamese believe the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement is good for their country, with only 2 percent believing the opposite. Sadly, Oxfam organised a petition against the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the same year – bowing to populism, instead of acknowledging the genuine transformative effects of free trade and economic growth on the lives of the most internationally vulnerable.

A final question: how can Oxfam continue to credibly claim tax-free charitable status, when so much of their work is strictly political?

Campaigning for wealth taxes, and other left-wing policies to ‘solve’ wealth inequality is not and should not be treated as charitable – particularly when the Oxfam’s research skews the facts to suit this agenda.

If the likes of the Sensible Sentencing Trust and Family First (or, for that matter, the Taxpayers’ Union) miss out on the tax benefits of charitable status, then Oxfam should too.

Joe Ascroft is an economist at the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

New Report: Five Rules for a Fair Capital Gains Tax

Report cover

While taxpayers wait for the release of the Tax Working Group’s Final Report, the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has released a new report which provides a framework – Five Rules – for assessing a possible capital gains tax, expected to be proposed by Working Group.

The exact detail of the capital gains tax will be crucial for determining whether the tax is fair or not, and whether the Taxpayers’ Union will accept the reform – or fight it with everything we’ve got.

To be fair, a new capital gains tax must abide by the following:

  1. No Valuation Day: Any capital gains tax regime should exclude a valuation day approach in favour of grandfathering assets into the system upon sale, as was the case in Australia when it introduced a capital gains tax.
  2. Indexation for Inflation: Any capital gains tax regime must discount for inflation, so taxpayers are taxed only on their real capital gains, rather than nominal gains.
  3. Revenue Neutrality: Given the Government's surpluses, any revenue from a capital gains tax must be used to fund tax cuts in other areas so that the total tax burden does not increase overall.
  4. Roll-Over Relief: Tax should be paid only on sale – not death. Further, there should be roll-over relief when capital raised from a sale is then immediately invested in the same asset class.
  5. Discounted Rate: Any capital gains tax should apply at a discounted rate, instead of at the full personal income tax rate, to avoid New Zealand having one of the highest capital gains tax rates in the world.

If the Government puts forward a reasonable proposal, focused on fairness and steady reform, the Taxpayers’ Union is ready accept a tax shift. In contrast, if the Working Group process was just an excuse for aggressive tax hikes, we’ll fight it to the end.

Even if the Working Group's proposals fail the five common sense tests, taxpayers will still have opportunities to make their voice heard, either to the Government now, or during Parliament's Select Committee process. We will be working to make sure the new tax legislation follows our Five Rules for a Fair Capital Gains Tax.

PETITION: Make Toyota pay back the $391,000

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has launched a petition calling on Toyota New Zealand to pay back the $391,000 grant secretly given by Palmerston North City Council, for which the Council and Toyota refuse to explain.
This kind of corporate welfare is wasteful and unnecessary. With profits of 22 billion USD, Toyota should not be getting free handouts from Palmerston North ratepayers.
The Council and Toyota refuse to explain why or how this decision was made. That says it all. If the grant was above board, why was it kept secret?
We encourage Palmerston North ratepayers, Toyota customers, and concerned New Zealanders to sign the petition.

--> Click here to sign the petition. <--
Toyota needs to apologise and explain that its opportunistic grab of public funds was just a blip in an otherwise solid record of serving New Zealanders. The first step is to pay the money back.

The Local Government Minister isn’t doing her job

Hon Nanaia MahutaThe New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that Minister for Local Government Nanaia Mahuta has not met with a ratepayer association since her appointment in 2017. Not even one.
Given the challenge every ratepayer in the country is feeling about costs being out of control at most town halls, many will be shocked to learn the Minister hasn’t bothered to speak to a single resident or ratepayer groups. Not even one.
Just who is she serving?  The fat cat Mayors and well paid bureaucrats, or those who fund the whole thing? The Minister’s diary suggest the former.
We were first tipped off on this as the Minister’s office would not even respond to correspondence sent from our sister group, the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance.  The Alliance is New Zealand’s largest ratepayer group – some 20,000 subscribed members.  It speaks volumes that this Minister can’t be bothered to meet.  She can’t possibly speak for ratepayers, in fact it seems she couldn’t care less.

The relevant Official Information Act response can be viewed here:

$769,955 of international jet-setting at Ministry for the Environment

While taxpayers are being told to stump up for fuel taxes, off-set their carbon emissions, and watch on as oil and gas jobs face the axe in Taranaki, Ministry for the Environment officials are enjoying luxurious trips abroad, exposes the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

The Union can reveal that since July 2017, the Ministry for the Environment spent $769,955 on international flights, at an average cost per person per trip of $6,637.

The Ministry for the Environment has a section on its website where it explains to New Zealanders what they can do to help combat climate change, including flying less, working remotely, and using video-conferencing. The Ministry claims that flying less is ‘one of the most effective climate change actions you can take’.

But clearly Environment officials are not practicing what they preach. Despite the age of Skype and video conferencing, Environment Ministry officials are opting for first class flights on the taxpayer. Do as I say and not as I do.

The environmental hypocrisy isn’t the only issue. Why did it cost $14,112 to fly a single Ministry Director to Thailand? Was business class not sufficient?

Sending policy analysts on first class trips to international conferences is an insane use of money for a Ministry who tells Kiwis not to fly.

The Ministry also instructs taxpayers to pay to offset their carbon emissions when travelling, but when we asked the Ministry whether the costs of flights included carbon off-set charges, they said no.

A list of transactions for International Flights by Ministry for the Environment Officials between 1 July 2017 and 10 December 2018 can be viewed here.

EXPOSED: Palmerston North deal with Toyota costs ratepayers $391,000

The Taxpayers' Union is exposing that the Palmerston North City Council has given an economic grant to Toyota – one of the world’s largest car manufactures - for a local warehouse expansion, costing local ratepayers $391,000.

It’s great to see a business investing in Palmerston North, but they should do so out of their own pocket, not using ratepayers’ hard-earned money.

Toyota is the world’s second largest car manufacturer with posted profits of more than 22 billion US dollars.  Why on earth does the Council think it a good use of local ratepayer money to fund corporate welfare to this giant?

The corporate gift sets a dangerous precedent. Other large companies will eye up Palmerston North City Council for their own subsidies and special favours. In American and Canadian cities we see multi-million-dollar taxpayer-funded corporate welfare campaigns.  Ratepayers will be poorer if we see that here.

If the Council wants to create jobs in Palmerston North, it should look to cut rates and run a more efficient operation. Charging local ratepayers more just to send corporate welfare gifts to multinationals, is economic sabotage. Even if it does create a couple of jobs, it robs poor Peter, to pay rich Paul and is immoral.

This story came about due to a confidential 'tip-off' from one of our supporters. The subsequent official information request is below.

V-Day: An Impossible Test of Logistics

Early next year, the Tax Working Group will deliver its final report to Cabinet. That report will contain a series of recommendations for reform of our tax system, including any details on a proposed capital gains tax. Once Cabinet receives the report, it will have to decide which recommendations to implement and campaign on heading into the 2020 election.

One important detail for the Working Group (and Cabinet) to consider is how to initially value assets for the purpose of taxing any capital gains. Since the capital gains tax is not intended to apply retrospectively, any asset potentially subject to the tax will require an official value as of 31 March 2021 – valuation day or ‘V-day’, the day before the tax is expected to be implemented.

Valuing those assets is an enormous – and expensive – task.

Every single rental property, commercial property, and business will need to be valued. There simply may not be enough qualified local valuers to assess the hundreds of thousands of properties pulled into the tax system overnight.

While valuation is simple for publicly listed companies (the implied value is derived from the share price) valuing private companies is more difficult.

Some businesses – think real estate agencies, restaurants, and tech start-ups – are notoriously difficult to value. Much of their value is derived from the particular mix of skills of their employees.

For example, a restaurant owned by Gordon Ramsey might be worth far less in the hands of a bad chef. But how accurately can a valuer make this distinction?

This ambiguity creates real problems: if the business is over-valued on V-day then the Government receives less tax revenue than it should, but if it’s under-valued then the owner is forced to pay more tax than they should when the restaurant is sold. 

Using objective financial data like revenue or profit can also be complicated. While Xero has never run a profit or delivered a dividend to its shareholders, according to the stock market the company is worth $5 billion. How can we accurately value a company like Rocket Lab, which neither runs profits nor is publicly listed? 

Valuation is an art, not a science – and it can’t be rushed.

Like art, valuation will be expensive.

OliverShaw – a specialist tax advisory firm – conservatively estimates the cost of V-Day to taxpayers as $1.3 billion, although they claim the cost could run to $2-3 billion. Total tax revenue in the first year is only expected to equal $270 million.

Putting the cost aside, even completing valuation will be straining. Attempting to value hundreds of thousands of properties and businesses after the detail of the capital gains tax has been finalised, but before it kicks in, would be a logistical nightmare.

A better approach would be for the Government to ‘grandfather’ the valuation process, meaning capital gains tax reference prices are determined by the first sale of the asset after the tax is introduced. This would mean that only assets that have already been sold at least once after 1 April 2021 would be subject to the tax.

No V-day would be required and asset owners could be confident that capital gains tax would only be applied based on the price they paid, not the subjective valuation of an over-worked, over-stressed valuer.

REVEALED: Taxpayer dosh paid to Ministerial spouse’s firm – with no open tender

Peter Nunns and Julie-Anne GenterThe New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that in the last year the Government has paid $356,466.61 to the consultancy firm of Peter Nunns – the partner of Associate Transport Julie Anne-Genter – without a single open tender process.

The firm in question is MRCagney – for which Mr Nunns is principal economist.

A significant proportion of the 19 engagements – namely around light rail – falls directly within the Associate Transport Minister’s own portfolio allocations.

Under the previous Government, MR Cagney was paid an average of $50,346.66 per year, compared to $356,466.61 under the current Government.

This marked increase in spending on a particular consultancy since Ms Genter became the Minister raises obvious questions. If she had a sense of accountability to taxpayers, the Minister would have recognised the name of her spouse’s firm, identified the clear conflict of interest, and demanded that at least one of the 19 tender processes were opened to other firms. From what we have been provided to date, there is no evidence of this happening.

Even if the Minister has stepped aside from the decision-making, how can we have confidence that taxpayers are getting value for money, and that the firm is the most qualified if no-one is bothering with a competitive process?

One thing is clear: Julie-Anne Genter’s Government has been very good to MRCagney. The previous Government engaged MRCagney just six times in four years, compared to the current Government’s 19 engagements inside of 12 months.

The Union obtained this information under the Official Information Act, having been tipped off to the spending by a concerned public servant. The information can be viewed below.

Join Us

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


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

Tip Line

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