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Taxpayer Talk: Climate Change Commission delivers the big kahuna – wholesale economic transformation uncoupled to climate change mitigation

The Climate Change Commission’s final advice to the Government was released today. Our Executive Director Jordan Williams speaks again to Matt Burgess from the NZ Initiative to discuss the implications. 

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

Taxpayer Update: Tinder studies | SkyPath 2.0 | Fake climate protest

Radical climate plan set to be unveiled

Carr and Shaw

This afternoon the Climate Change Commission releases its final recommendations for the Government. Based on recent statements from the Commission Chair, they are pushing ahead with a plan to radically up-end New Zealand's economy with costly regulations.

The draft plan seeks to:

•  Ban imports of light petrol and diesel vehicles from 2032.

•  Cull dairy, sheep and beef numbers by 15% by 2030.

•  Reshape cities so that we walk 25% more, cycle 95% more, and take public transport 120% more by 2030.

•  Subsidise electric vehicles further.

•  Ban new coal boilers.

•  Ban all coal generation, regardless of security of supply.

•  Ban new natural gas connections.

•  Ban gas BBQs.

•  Require new and replacement heating systems to be electric or bioenergy, not gas.

There are far better ways to reduce our emissions. In fact, according to the Commission’s own analysis we are already on track to meet the 'net zero' carbon goal using the Emissions Trading Scheme!

Last week Jordan sent out this message to our supporters who submitted on the draft plan. If you're unfamiliar with the Commission's agenda, I highly recommend you read it.

In short, the Commission is:

•  undermining our excellent Emissions Trading Scheme (cap and trade) by trying to centrally plan emissions (at huge cost);

•  using its powers to achieve lofty objectives totally unrelated to the climate; and

•  rejecting Parliament’s ‘net emissions’ approach in favour of ‘gross emissions’ no matter the cost.

Our team will be working through the detail as soon as it is released.

$300,000 to study Tinder... and that's just the beginning

Grant image

Last week we exposed examples of the bizarre cost of Marsden Grants awarded to academic research of dubious value.

259 grants were awarded in the last two years, accounting for $158 million of taxpayer money.

The Marsden Fund was established to fund "excellent fundamental research". But you might question whether these projects are "excellent" spending:

•  $300,000 to prove it is “benevolently sexist” to believe that “men ought to protect and cherish women”.

•  $842,000 to find out why there aren't many Asian people on New Zealand television or in cinema.

•  $300,000 to examine how New Zealanders are using dating apps.

•  $870,000 to find out whether multiculturalism harms indigenous people.

•  $300,000 to examine the relationship between housing and security in Papua New Guinea.

•  $870,000 to “re-imagine anti-racism theory in the health sector”.

•  $842,000 to study ethnic women politicians in New Zealand.

•  $300,000 to find out how religion affects inequality in Fiji.

Our researcher has compiled the full abstracts of these examples and more here.

At the Taxpayers' Union, we take the view taxpayer money should be spent on New Zealand's highest areas of need. How can the Government possibly tell taxpayers that we need to spend $300,000 studying Tinder when we're facing problems like a housing crisis and a pandemic?

Interestingly, even hard-headed research proposals have been pitched in ideological terms for example, an investigation of human impacts on Antarctic ecology was pitched as examining 'how vulnerable Antarctica's coasts are to colonization'. Funding applicants clearly understand that themes of intersectional politics are likely to win them taxpayer money.

SkyPath 2.0 puts wealthy cyclists ahead of the needy

SkyPath meme

Last week the Government announced a massive handout for the lycra lobby: their very own $685 million dedicated cycle bridge.

It's the latest iteration of the ever-mutating 'SkyPath' project. The new bridge will cost $370 for every household in the country, from Kaitaia to the Bluff, and the benefits will be concentrated on a tiny group of disproportionately wealthy Aucklanders.

It’s astounding that a Labour Government is championing such a regressive, elitist project.

In fact, the Government might lose traditional supporters over this issue. On Sunday I joined Josie Pagani on Radio NZ's Weekend Panel to discuss the bridge. Josie is a former Labour candidate, and even she said it's possibly the worst decision she's seen from this government yet!

Petition image

Our petition to withdraw taxpayer funding of SkyPath, originally launched last year, saw an explosion of support over the weekend. If you haven't already, click here to sign the petition. Help us get the petition to 20,000 by clicking here to share it on Facebook.

Revealed: EECA spent $500,000 staging a fake climate march

In another exclusive from your humble Taxpayers' Union, we have revealed the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) spent $500,000 of taxpayer money staging a fake climate march, complete with major streets closed in Wellington.

This was part of EECA's $3 million "Gen Less" ad campaign calling on New Zealanders to commit to living a "less is more" lifestyle.

The Gen Less campaign centres around two ads.

•  The first ad, produced in 2019, presents quotes from historical figures including Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, Martin Luther King Jr, and Anne Frank, edited to sound like calls for climate action.

• The second ad, produced in 2020, features a bearded, pierced narrator walking through a crowd of chanting protestors. Smoke bombs are set off in the background. The narrator urges viewers to buy less, fly less, and drive less. Important Wellington streets were closed for the fake protest, including Featherston St and Hunter St.

Each ad cost around $500,000 to produce, with the remainder of the $3 million spent to buy air time, radio time, digital advertising, and a series of congratulatory Stuff articles.

The sheer cost is incredible. EECA's old ads may have been annoying, but at least they looked cheap!

The absurdity of shutting down streets and hiring fake climate protestors is amplified by the fact the ad was produced shortly after a series of ‘School Strike 4 Climate’ marches, from which plenty of footage was already available. Instead, EECA disrupted traffic and blew out its own emissions by transporting dozens of actors to Wellington for a fake protest.

As for the ethics of EECA's choice to exploit the legacy of Anne Frank and purchase positive news coverage for its campaign, you can judge for yourself.

Government’s favourite advertising conglomerate benefits from COVID-19 but keeps wage subsidy

Taika Waititi ad

EECA's $3 million ad campaign was delivered by the Government's pet advertising agency, Clemenger BBDO. 

Clemenger also received the massive taxpayer-funded contract for the "Unite Against COVID-19" ad campaign, and makes ads for NZTA, KiwiRail, Oranga Tamariki, and the Human Rights Commission (remember the "Give Nothing to Racism" campaign?).

The value of Clemenger BBDO's taxpayer-funded contracts alone have totalled more than $5 million since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Now the NZ Herald reports that the parent company, Clemenger Group, accepted a $2.5 million wage subsidy during COVID-19, and has refused to pay it back despite making a healthy profit during the pandemic. In other words, they're double dipping from the taxpayer purse.

Other companies who weathered COVID-19 better than they expected are now repaying the wage subsidy voluntarily – and they never enjoyed the security of cushy government contracts.

It’s a shame that the company so keen on lecturing us in its pious ad campaigns doesn’t back up its words with moral integrity.

Money-printing agency wastes money on a rebrand

The Reserve Bank has spent $100,000 on a rebrand inspired by the legend of Tāne Māhuta.

Here's their old logo:

RBNZ old logo

And here's their new one:

RBNZ logo

The Bank has even released a painfully-worded explanation of its new logo's meaning:

Our adoption of this legend is honoured through the logo’s growing lines which represent the various parts of Tāne Mahuta, (the financial system), working together as one.

  • Nga Pūtake (roots) is the governing legislation

  • Te Tariwai (vascular), the payment and settlement systems

  • Te Toto (sap) speaks to the flow of money

  • Te Pekenga (branches and leaves), the system’s regulated entities.

The very top lines, representing the canopy, embody kaitiakitanga (guardianship) of the financial ecosystem. Its upward momentum, exemplifies our people all pulling together with the shared purpose of enabling the economic wellbeing and prosperity of all New Zealanders.

The white triangle formed at the bottom of the logo represents our three values – wānanga (integrity), tauira (innovation) and taura (inclusion) – creating a solid foundation to build our ecosystem on.

I guess when you have the power to print money, it's easy to think you can waste it on babble like this.

Seriously though: it's pointless for any Government agency to spend six figures on a rebrand. The Reserve Bank doesn't compete for customers like a private company, so it doesn't need a flashy new logo to distinguish itself from competitors.

Did a Government Minister just compare us to a gang? 🤔

Finally in this edition, we were taken by surprise last week when Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson stood up in Parliament and explained why he's been meeting with gangs and mentioned us!

JacksonClick here to watch the clip.

Here's the relevant quote:

We, sadly, see the silly ACT Party jumping on the bandwagon again because they found out that I had spoken with gang members at the end of last year...

It's important we discuss things. As the Māori development Minister, I retain that right to talk with whoever I like. Just like the ACT Party meets with the Taxpayers' Union and people who avoid paying tax, I'll meet with any Māori who needs help.

In terms of gangs, I don't see gangs; I see whānau, I see communities, I see tamariki, I see mokopuna.

Thanks for the shout-out, Willie. You're welcome to meet with us any time. Taxpayers are whānau too.

All the best,

Louis circle

Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union


Media coverage:

RNZ The Weekend Panel with Josie Pagani and Louis Houlbrooke

Contractor Magazine SkyPath morphs into expensive standalone bridge

Northland Age  
Consider the plight of the smoker

The Press  Christchurch council insists it has implemented ex-mayor's cost-saving measures

Sky Path climate claim doesn't stack up

We were surprised to hear the Minister of Transport use climate change to try and justify his announcement to scrap other transport projects in favour of a new bike bridge over Auckland harbour. Our consulting environmental economist did this back of the envelope calculations to check whether the Minister's claims about being good for climate change stack up.

The new Auckland crossing costs $685M. That is a daily cost of $112,500 (at a 6% cost of capital). The Minister justifies the bridge based partly on emissions.

Assume 10,000 one-way crossings/day and an average commute profile between Takapuna and Sky City = 8.7km.

Depending on whether each bridge user would otherwise have done their commute by bus or car, the bridge will avoid 8-14 tonnes of emissions per day.

So that is $7,800-$14,700/tonne abated.

To be competitive with the ETS (currently at $37 per tonne) would require 1.3-4.0 million crossings per day.

If bridge users would otherwise use the ferry, which may be the most likely alternative, then the bridge avoids just 0.5 tonnes of emissions per day at a cost of $237,000 per tonne.

$237,000 per tonne abated, vs buying an emissions credit via the ETS cap and trade market price of $37.

Head over to our Facebook page and tell us what you think.

The Climate Change Commission is out of control

Dear Supporter,

This message is a bit longer than usual, but it's important.

It's about the recommendations of the Climate Change Commission. I'd like to update you on where things are at. It's not good.

Thanks thousands of Taxpayers' Union supporters like you, it is likely a majority of public submissions opposed the Commissioners' radical plans to up-end our economy and reshape our lifestyles. But it appears they've not listened.

It's not yet in the media, but the Taxpayers' Union understands that at noon on Wednesday, the finalised recommendations will be publicly released.

To date, the Prime Minister and Climate Change Minister have said the Government will implement whatever the Climate Change Commission recommends. We have to make them see sense. We have to step up our effort and I am putting the call out to ensure we have a campaign fund to mount this battle.

Countless economists and analysts have tried to explain to the Commissioners that their plans aren't just costly – they won't even work to reduce emissions. When the Government uses regulations to push down emissions in parts of the economy covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme ('cap and trade'), it just frees up credits for people to increase emissions in other parts of the economy – this is the “waterbed effect”.

But the Commission Chair, Rod Carr, looks to have stuck his fingers in his ears and said "I'm not listening".

A scary insight into Rod Carr's thinking

In a blog just published on the Climate Change Commission's website, the Commission Chair doubles down on his decision to abandon a 'least cost' approach in favour of heavy-handed regulation. It leaves no doubt the Climate Change Commission intend to use climate regulation to advance radical social and economic agendas.

Rod Carr writes:

While cost matters, it is only one of the things we need to care about – and it is not the only factor that drives our choices. We need to care holistically about the approach Aotearoa will take to transition to a low emissions future.

We care about risk and uncertainty. About the next generation. About how land and resources are used. And we care about our personal relationships, and relationships between our communities.

"Care holistically" in this case means taking a simple goal reducing emissions and turning it into an excuse to pursue new ideological goals.

These new goals are incredibly vague and subjective. How on earth does an unelected bureaucrat plan to put a value on "personal relationships" and "relationships between our communities"? How is it possible to hold the Government to account according to these priorities?

You can’t put a price on these things.

Actually, you can put a price on risk and uncertainty. Private firms price in risks of their decisions every day. Insurance companies even specialise in this.

Pursuing the cheapest path fails to consider impacts on individuals, communities, workers, businesses, families, and the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Wrong. It is precisely for the sake of these communities that the Commission should minimise the cost of its climate plan. When the economy is derailed, all of us suffer.

Remember, the whole idea of the Commission was to take the politics out of climate change. It seems Rod Carr is determined to undermine it.

We know that the least cost option often creates poor outcomes.

Economic costs are themselves a poor outcome. If the Commissioner wants to damage the economy beyond what is necessary to achieve his zero-carbon goal, he needs to clearly explain why. We're still waiting for that clear explanation.

At the moment, with policy settings in Aotearoa, the cheapest option would be for us to continue planting our land with pine trees.

There's an even cheaper option: use ETS levies to fund tree planting overseas. Carbon emissions are a global problem, so it doesn't matter whether a forest is planted in Eketahuna or Ethiopia. The only reason New Zealand won't do that is because the Climate Change Commission is ruling it out!

Our advice focuses on removing emissions at source, rather than trying to plant our way out of the problem.

Why? It's the net change in emissions that should be relevant here, but the Commissioner's plan focuses on gross emissions, ruling out affordable and innovative methods of sequestering carbon. This has turned the Commission's approach into zealotry, not expert advice.

During our consultation, some questioned why the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) alone won’t meet our emissions reduction goals

Submitters weren't just "questioning" this – they were pointing out that the Commissioner's own data reveals the ETS has already put us on track to reach net zero emissions.

Emissions pricing won’t provide support to people hit hardest by the direct or indirect impacts of climate change–

Wrong. Emissions pricing supports these people by sparing them from the economic destruction advocated by the Commission!

–and it won’t ensure transformation across all sectors.

What's wrong with that? Why is the Commission worshipping at the altar of economic "transformation"?

Our draft advice...looks at how we can enable a transition that is fair and equitable, rather than simply focusing on the cheapest cost.

The safest way to ensure an 'equitable' transition is to minimise costs. That way, if politicians in the future decide a certain group has been hard done by, we'll at least have some wealth left over to address those issues.

If we take responsibility for our emissions now...we can provide ourselves, our children and our children’s children with better opportunities to manage our future world.

Our children won't have better opportunities if they inherit a crippled economy.

One more thing...

Last month, one of our staffers bumped into Dr Carr in the [checks notes] Air NZ Wellington Koru Lounge. We couldn't help but ask his office for comment:


Of course, some would say it is hypocritical for Dr Carr to be telling others not to fly while he himself is a Gold standard frequent flier.

This meme had a lot of comment over on our Facebook page.

Carr graphic

Remember that Dr Carr is not actually adding any harm to the climate domestic air travel is covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme. What that means is that every extra flight will see reduced emissions elsewhere.

And it is there that the hypocrisy lies. He wants the rest of us to fly less (and take a gross emissions approach), but when it comes to his own habits, that's apparently too inconvenient.

So if the media won't hold Rod Carr to account, we will.Donate

Thank you for your support,


Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

PS. we'll be working through the detail as soon as the final advice is out and will update you on what, if anything, has changed from the draft. If Rod Carr won't listen, we'd best make sure Jacinda Ardern does! To date the Government has said that they will be implementing whatever Dr Carr recommends. We have to stop them. Chip in to the campaign here.

$300,000 to study Tinder? Marsden Grants deserve greater scrutiny

Grant image

The Taxpayers Union is questioning the cost of Marsden Grants awarded to academic research of dubious value.

259 grants were awarded in the last two years, accounting for $158 million of public money. The full list of Marsden Grants awarded in 2019 and 2020 can be found here and here.

The Marsden Fund was established in 1994 to fund "excellent fundamental research".

It's hard to see how some recently-funded projects are either ‘excellent’ or ‘fundamental’. We're exposing examples of the grants so that taxpayers can judge for themselves.

•  $300,000 to prove it is “benevolently sexist” to believe that “men ought to protect and cherish women”.

•  $842,000 to find out why there aren't many Asian people on New Zealand television or in cinema.

•  $300,000 to examine how New Zealanders are using dating apps.

•  $870,000 to find out whether multiculturalism harms indigenous people.

•  $300,000 to examine the relationship between housing and security in Papua New Guinea.

•  $870,000 to “re-imagine anti-racism theory in the health sector”.

•  $842,000 to study ethnic women politicians in New Zealand.

•  $300,000 to find out how religion affects inequality in Fiji.

Full abstracts of these examples and more can be found at the bottom of this piece.

Recommendations for funding are made by a council of 11 researchers hand-picked by the Minister for Research, Science and Innovation – Megan Woods.

Some Marsden Grants go toward tangible scientific research that will conceivably provide a return for New Zealand taxpayers. But the funding council seems to give equal priority to vague, navel-gazing treatises that will only ever be read by a handful of academics.

At the Taxpayers' Union, we take a simple view: taxpayer money should be spent on New Zealand's highest areas of need. How can Megan Woods possibly tell taxpayers that we need to spend $300,000 studying Tinder when we're facing problems like a housing crisis and a pandemic?

The Marsden Grant seems to deal in default funding figures, such as $300,000 or $842,000, which suggests there isn't much, if any, scrutiny of whether these projects actually need the full sum. Many of the projects involve international collaborations, meaning funds can easily be eaten up by overseas junkets.

We're asking Megan Woods whether she's actually read what grants her funding panel has approved, and if she seriously thinks that all these projects are worth the many millions they're costing taxpayers.

Interestingly, even hard-headed research proposals have been pitched in ideological terms for example, an investigation of human impacts on Antarctic ecology was pitched as examining 'how vulnerable Antarctica's coasts are to colonization'. Funding applicants clearly understand that themes of intersectional politics are likely to win them taxpayer money.

Many Kiwis will support the principle of funding blue-skies academic research. But we're urging taxpayers and the media to take a closer look at where the money actually goes.

A selection of abstracts from questionable grants proposals can be found below.


Religious and Moral Fictionalism
When we are confronted with what appear to be competing theological or moral paradigms, must we always take sides? Many longstanding philosophical arguments about religion and ethics presuppose a choice among only three attitudes that people can take: belief, disbelief, or indecision. (In the context of religion, for example, we have words for each: one is either a theist, an atheist, or an agnostic.) But this traditional philosophical view misses something important: the possibility that our judgements about morality and religion need not express genuine beliefs, but nevertheless can amount to a kind of “acceptance” that commits us in significant practical ways to moral or religious frameworks. This view is called “fictionalism.” This project, first, articulates precisely what this additional possibility amounts to; second, it explores how fictionalism can be employed to help one engage respectfully with others who adopt an alternative religious or moral framework; and, third, it examines the relationship between morality and religion through a fictionalist lens. We will also show how fictionalism can help people to engage in meaningful cross-cultural moral and religious discussions. As a case study, we will consider the belief systems of indigenous groups, which fictionalism is well-suited to illuminate.

Awarded: $660,000

How do relationship needs promote sexist idealization and aggression?
The idea that “men ought to protect and cherish women” may seem romantic. But this belief is not protective. It is what psychologists term a benevolently sexist belief. Men who hold benevolently sexist beliefs are more likely to blame women who are the victims of violence. Where do these beliefs come from, and why are they counterintuitively linked with justification of aggression?

These questions are typically investigated by examining societal-level beliefs and inequalities, which overlooks the personal needs and contextual factors underlying sexism. I predict that heightened needs for a romantic relationship are one source of men’s benevolently sexist beliefs. However, these beliefs foster entitled feelings that women ought to reciprocate men’s romantic interest, fuelling aggression when men face rejection.
I test my predictions by studying how people’s gender beliefs change as they naturally initiate and dissolve dating relationships. I combine a two-year longitudinal study with lab-based experiments, providing real-life and causal evidence of the motives and consequences of men’s benevolently sexist beliefs.
Findings from these studies will help researchers to understand why sexist beliefs and dating violence exist in egalitarian countries like New Zealand and will pave the way for future intervention research on dating aggression.
Awarded: $300,000

Ngā Taonga o Wharawhara: The World of Māori Body Adornment
What makes a chief push a live bird through his earlobe and enjoy the spectacle of it dying? What makes someone wear a long feather through his septum? And why is the hei tiki so significant that they retain their ceremonial, political and economic roles over four centuries? Body adornment is a critical visual marker that can send out specific messages as well as reinforce social, economic and political status. Ngā Taonga o Wharawhara will offer the first comprehensive study of these adornments, and will address a gap in Māori art historical research to investigate the nature of adornments (types, materials), the practices of making, and the people involved (makers, wearers and kaitiaki/caretakers). By using Kaupapa Māori and art historical methodologies, this project will offer research models to address recent imperatives in Art History to understand it as a global discipline, and be made accessible through articles and a major book.
Awarded: $523,000

Asian New Zealanders on Screen: visibility past and present
This project examines why Asian New Zealanders, despite being a significant proportion of the national population, remain virtually absent from New Zealand screen culture. Few of their stories have been seen or heard in film, on television, or online and disproportionately few work in the culture industries. Those who do, struggle to find institutional funding and distribution for projects that reflect their identities and experiences. This lack of visibility is typically explained in terms of market forces (Asian New Zealand audiences are commercially unviable) and individual creative choice (their stories are immaterial to or unrepresentative of ‘New Zealanders’). Instead, we argue that racial marginalisation is a consequence of institutional and industrial ideologies and screen production practices. Our project will construct the first history of Asian New Zealand screen production (1980-2019) and trace several contemporary case histories (2020). These data enable us to analyse whether recent developments in Asian New Zealand screen production genuinely alter cultural politics and power or if they reiterate hegemonic tendencies to manage diversity. We study the dynamic relationship between national policy, social and economic production practices, ‘diversity’ initiatives, and everyday screen production cultures to interrogate how certain narratives are perpetuated and others are silenced.

Awarded: $842,000

#MeToo; A Cultural Shift?: Young New Zealanders' Exposure and Responses to Sexual Harassment Media
Can #MeToo lend momentum to a cultural shift around sexual harassment? #MeToo and related pervasive media discussions of gender and sexual harassment provide us with a key moment to explore what sense young people make of such content, which is often shared on social media. How do they understand it, what do they feel about it, and how do they respond to it in their everyday lives? Learning about boys is particularly important because lack of understanding and knowledge about gender equality directly relates to support for violence against women. A small literature exists about, mostly, white, middle class young feminists’ use of social media to resist sexual harassment, but research with boys/young men and minority groups is absent. We use multimodal qualitative methods to investigate with diverse groups of youth the sexual harassment media stories they see in their social media accounts, and how these affect them. We explore the meanings young people make of these texts and ways these meanings form and flow through their friendship and peer networks and wider contexts (e.g. schools, families, communities). Our work will contribute to identifying strategies for diverse groups of young people to challenge and shift inequitable gender and sexuality norms.
Awarded: $842,000

Double jeopardy or double advantage? Ethnic women in New Zealand politics
Although ethnic minority women are increasingly visible actors within mainstream politics in western democracies, there is little scholarship focusing on their experiences. This dearth is especially evident in the context of Aotearoa/New Zealand. Like elsewhere in the Anglo-European world, ethnic women in New Zealand are integral to politics – e.g., as MPs, councillors, party members, and political candidates – yet, they are overlooked in academic research. This research seeks, at one level, to understand the experiences of ethnic women as politicians within NZ’s political systems. Conceptually, however, their lived realities are a window to examining intersectionality and governance in NZ’s bicultural and multi-ethnic democracy. Drawing on a five-fold analytical framework, the study focuses on the politics of: (a) Representation (b) Symbolism (c) Governance (d) Identity, and (e) Discrimination. The study collates and uses ‘thick biographies’ of 20-25 ethnic women politicians for an array of qualitative and quantitative cross-cutting analyses. Uniquely ‘about and by’ ethnic women, this study is timely, contributing to emergent international scholarship on gender/ethnic minority politics while also providing insights for practical consideration for current and prospective ethnic women politicians in NZ.
Awarded: $842,000

It looks grim: The future of Māori academics in New Zealand universities
The future looks grim for Māori academics and for the New Zealand universities hoping to recruit them. Māori academics are 'underrepresented' in New Zealand universities, making up only 6% of the university academic workforce despite being 14.9% of the New Zealand general population. Although often well meaning, New Zealand universities have at times worked to ‘exclude’ Māori academic intellectualism from the mainstream; at other times they have worked to ‘exploit’ Māori academics for their cultural knowledges to further advance university agendas. While these observations give reason to be concerned for the future of Māori academics and New Zealand universities, a look to New Zealand’s historical past reveals it even more so, suggesting an orchestrated series of institutional effects which warns the grim future won’t be so easy to avoid. This study draws on an institutional framework utilising self-correcting induction, conversational and archival inquiry, and narrative analysis to examine the political power relations between the New Zealand university sector and Māori academics between the 1990s and 2021. Our ultimate purpose is to subvert this deep-seated grim looking future for Māori academics and New Zealand universities, as well as open up new conversations about indigenous exclusion and exploitation in other postcolonial contexts.

Awarded: $300,000

Growing old in an adopted land: Redefining 'ageing well' in the context of migration
Growing old involves complex developmental and social changes for all individuals. However, navigating the ageing process can be especially challenging for migrants because of their dual cultural and transnational contexts that often present contradictory expectations. In the Western, individualistic world, health and independence are the yardsticks by which successful ageing is measured. Collectivistic societies value harmonious relationships, and indigenous communities further emphasise multi-generational reciprocity. For migrants, however, ageing well may be more than maintaining health, remaining independent, having strong family ties, or community involvement; it lies in the ability to negotiate expectations of multiple cultures effectively throughout the lifespan. Complicating this further, cultural diversity in ageing is underpinned by the opportunities and freedom people have to access resources and make choices as they grow older. Migrants’ capabilities to age well are hindered by social and institutional factors that create systematically different access to resources over the lifespan. By integrating scholarship on life-course inequalities and cultural gerontology, my research draws on narrative interviews, survey, and life history data to explore what ageing well means for migrants and how it is achieved over the life-course. This will produce a culturally sensitive and ethical framework with a life-course focus for understanding multicultural ageing.

Awarded: $300,000

Listening to the Voices of our Harbours: Kāwhia, Manukau and Whangarei
This project investigates kaitiakitanga over Aotearoa’s harbours, emphasising the work of Māori activists at multiple levels, from the shores and waters of their harbours to the steps of Parliament. The word ‘kaitiaki’ has entered our legal system, but in practice it is often used as a convenient Māori shorthand for ‘stakeholder,’ without recognition that the term is deeply embedded in the culture from which it comes. The voices of kaitiaki are seldom heard beyond their local communities. Our research is a collaboration with flaxroots Māori, using Kaupapa and Tikanga methods, and provides a platform for their understandings and experiences of kaitiakitanga to be widely known.
Māori activists mobilised the word kaitiakitanga in the 1980s, particularly in the Manukau Harbour claim led by Dame Nganeko Minhinnick. Our project also explores how kaitiakitanga has evolved since then, in the context of increasing neoliberalisation in environmental management.
Harbours are historically significant and environmentally threatened sites of kaitiakitanga. Our project centres on the varied Kāwhia, Manukau and Whangarei Harbours, building from our existing relationships with these communities. Ultimately our project aims to develop new ways of envisaging harbours, promoting mātauranga Māori as instrumental in the past, present, and future wellbeing of our harbours.
Awarded: $660,000

Languaculture within Te Ao Māori: Learning from infants, whānau and communities
Effective communication is key to one’s lifetime participation as a literate local and global citizen. However, within many colonised societies, the interrelationships and subtleties of language, culture and identity generated from Indigenous epistemologies have been eroded, belittled and overlooked by an education system that has favoured Eurocentric models. Associated education policies, grounded in racial hierarchies, continue to promote assimilation into the worldview of the coloniser, which features at all levels of education systems. In New Zealand, this situation has continued to detrimentally influence how Māori have viewed their own language, culture and identity across successive generations, and how it is viewed by others.
The proposed research seeks to understand the implications of intergenerational loss while unlocking important interrelationships between language and culture (‘languaculture’) for infants, their whānau (families) and communities across a range of Indigenous/Māori sociocultural settings. Learning from Māori epistemologies about conception, birth and infancy will help us to understand the experiences of babies learning to speak into their world. This research supports more effective social interactions, literacy development and improved hauora (wellbeing) across diverse communities by better understanding the socialisation of tamariki/mokopuna (children/grandchildren) within whānau, and their sense of belonging, emerging identities and language acquisition.
Awarded: $841,000

Housing and Everyday Security in Papua New Guinea
This project explores how landowners and settlers in urban Papua New Guinea (PNG) can work together to create safer homes. Towns in PNG are considered dangerous places. A shortage of safe and affordable housing contributes to this perception. In response to housing shortages, customary landowners may informally lease plots to outsiders, leading to inter- and intra-community tensions. In the context of often-troubled relationships between customary landowners and migrant settlers, my research asks: What does security mean for people in PNG’s growing towns? How do residents understand the risks and opportunities associated with a changing housing landscape? How do both tenants and landowners try to create safe homes? How are these practices transforming ideas about risk, well-being, and agency? Using ethnographic methods in two towns and bringing together theoretical frameworks from housing studies, the anthropology of security, and medical anthropology, this research will generate new insights on the cultural consequences of a rapidly changing housing landscape. As urbanisation accelerates in the Pacific, it is important to understand how customary owners and tenants frame their mutual responsibilities beyond the cash nexus.
Awarded: $300,000

Sleep loss in children: perchance to eat?
The literature strongly suggests sleep loss in children promotes unhealthy eating, but 'how' this occurs is largely unknown. We propose a randomised, crossover experimental design (home setting) to determine how sleep loss influences energy intake. Specifically, we will manipulate individual sleep patterns of 110 children aged 8-12 years so each child receives one week of sleep restriction (1h less time in bed than usual) and sleep extension (1h longer), with one week washout in between (resume normal sleep) whilst undertaking repeated assessments of outcomes of interest: eating in the absence of hunger within an ad libitum feeding experiment (primary outcome) at the end of each experimental week; eating behaviours (appetite regulation, eating for reasons other than hunger); type, quantity and timing (24 hour recalls); context of eating including hidden eating (using novel wearable cameras) and desire for treat foods (computerized task). We will also determine if sleep loss changes energy balance through promoting more sedentary behaviour and less physical activity (7 day actigraphy/motion sensor). Collectively, this data will advance our understanding of the pathways by which sleep loss may change eating behaviours and appetite in children, leading to a cascade of effects on food choices, energy intake and weight gain.
Awarded: $852,000

Exploration of Pāsifika funds of knowledge in mathematics
Equity in schooling can only be achieved when educators develop understandings of the identities of diverse learners and their ‘funds of knowledge’. New Zealand’s population includes the largest group of Pāsifika people in the Western world. Our Pāsifika communities are woven from many threads of diverse ethnicities, nationalities, languages, and cultures. However, while schools are culturally and ethnically diverse, the cultural knowledge of many Pāsifika learners is excluded from the classroom. This project will explore the culturally embedded ways of knowing and successful mathematical experiences of Pāsifika learners outside of school, in their everyday settings in the home and community. The aim of this 3-year study is to describe Pāsifika mathematical funds of knowledge by actively involving participants (aged 7 to 15 years old) and their families in documenting their out of school experiences with mathematics through photography and video recording and then describing this during interviews. The project will raise awareness of the strengths of Pāsifika learners and address current equity issues in education.
Awarded: $300,000

Te whai wawewawe ā Māuitikitiki-ā-Taranga: Revitalisation of Māori string figure knowledge and practice
Māori string figures are known as “whai”, from “te whai wawewawe ā Māuitikitiki-ā-Taranga” - to follow in the deft footsteps of the mythical hero Māui. Whai are a unique method used by many indigenous and Pacific Islands cultures to store, record and transmit cultural knowledge. Whai requires patience, focus, discipline, mental agility and dexterity. It develops memory, involving extraordinary imagination to create numerous patterns from a simple looped string. There are over 500 whai patterns yet most current practitioners would struggle to produce 20, let alone know the individual chants, prayers and associated narratives embedded within whai.
Today, whai is a culturally important art and knowledge system close to extinction. It was documented in 1927 that whai knowledge and practice was suffering significant loss. Since then, there has been no extensive examination of whai, let alone widespread use of it. Employing a kaupapa Māori approach, our all Māori research team will examine the knowledge system and practice of whai, develop best practice intergenerational transfer of whai knowledge and appropriate storage of whai knowledge for Aotearoa and the Pacific. Our work will be vital in revitalising this unique, complex mnemonic system that documents and transmits Māori knowledge and practice.
Awarded: $842,000

The Longitudinal Study of Cohesion and Conflict: Testing Hypotheses of Social and Religious Change in Fiji
Religion is ubiquitous, yet the fundamental question of how religion affects people remains unclear. Some see religion as social glue; others view it as a mechanism for social control. Existing datasets cannot settle these enduring debates. We will collect longitudinal ethnographic and cooperative network data from individuals living in Fijian villages and squatter settlements undergoing intense social change, creating the Pacific’s first longitudinal ethnographic study of religion and society. By simultaneously measuring individual and community units over time, these social conditions will function as “natural experiments,” affording an understanding of the dynamic interplay between religious institutions, cooperation and inequality. Published datasets, data analysis scripts, and data visualisations will furnish an enduring and fully open scholarly resource; five peer-reviewed articles in high impact journals, four conference presentations, a workshop, and a new methodological textbook will advance a pioneering quantitative approach to the ethnographic study of cultures among the next generation of social researchers. Dissemination of findings will involve local communities in applied policy recommendations.
Awarded: $300,000



Shifting intimacies: Navigating the 'game' of mobile dating
In this digitally-mediated world, initiating sexual or romantic intimacy now frequently occurs on mobile dating apps. This requires people to navigate new technologies and enables them to explore different possibilities for intimacy. The opportunities that mobile dating holds for creating intimacy, and how people take these up, is particularly relevant in light of the global pandemic of COVID-19, when human connection and contact is intertwined with worries about viral contamination, risk, and future uncertainty. This timely research will offer up-to-the-minute insight and understanding into how people from various backgrounds are finding ways of creating and experiencing intimacy, through mobile dating, in the context of an unfolding pandemic. This research will involve people who vary in age, ethnicity, sexuality, and other backgrounds across Aotearoa New Zealand – a country that has successfully emerged from immediate crisis. Using novel, interactive and in-depth methods, we will explore meanings, activities, and stories attached to using dating technologies while living through this pandemic. Findings will contribute empirical evidence and extend theoretical understandings of how people engage with digital technologies and navigate intimacy, risk, and emotion across different living conditions in a COVID-19 world.
Awarded: $300,000

Our game by our rules: Bringing an Indigenous perspective to the Sport-for-Development (SFD) field
Despite 20 years of dedicated Sport-for-Development (SFD) theorising, research and practice, Indigenous worldviews remain silenced and positioned at the margins. This is deeply concerning as Indigenous people are frequently the target of deficit-focused SFD initiatives, while at the same time being excluded in decision making. In transforming the field of SFD, our project will probe, deconstruct and contest current SFD discourse in order to develop a co-constructed, Indigenous-centred, gendered, re-theorised understanding of SFD. Using Kaupapa Māori Methodology and the Fijian Vanua Framework, case studies will be conducted in Aotearoa and Fiji to shine light on SFD initiatives which are informed by Indigenous viewpoints, and align with Indigenous aspirations. Along with observations and in-depth interviews with groups involved in rugby, Iron Māori and outrigger canoeing, we will engage in hui and talanoa and collect thick, deep, narratives. An international survey will provide us with rich quantitative data, while the cases will build a nuanced understanding of different contexts of SFD Indigeneity for the purpose of theorising upwards. We will make an original contribution to Indigenous and feminist scholarship, SFD and sport management knowledge, by creating a space for new conversations, and thus new opportunities for innovating SFD concepts, methods and applications.
Awarded: $870,000

Re-imagining anti-racism theory in the health sector
Racism and dishonouring of te Tiriti o Waitangi are significant contributors to Māori health inequities in Aotearoa New Zealand. While there is growing acknowledgement of this situation and some improvement in individual practice within various disciplines, few initiatives have attempted to engage with racism in the health sector at an institutional level. We propose to develop a transformational theory and practice of anti-racism that is relevant to all levels of the health sector. The current study draws on existing research by the team around cultural safety, health inequities and mapping racism that identifies the need for a cohesive approach to addressing racism in the health sector. The study is underpinned by Māori health aspirations, and focuses on the nexus of Māori and Tauiwi knowledges. Our novel methodological approach is based on kaupapa Māori theory, Western change theories, Critical te Tiriti Analysis and informed by Te Ara Tika ethical principles. The study comprises four iterative stages over three years which will generate, refine, test, and disseminate a theory of anti-racism in collaboration with health sector partners. Governance will be provided by a Kaitiaki Rōpū complemented by an expert Advisory Rōpū to construct an equitable relational space for the project.
Awarded: $870,000

Psychology of Pacific Peoples or Pacific Psychologies? How Pacific psychologists are changing the discipline
This project will identify how Pacific psychology academics, post-graduate students, and practitioners adapt psychology to meet the needs of Pacific communities in Aotearoa. Understanding how Pacific psychologists re-centre their discipline on Pacific epistemologies and challenge Euro-American dominance in psychology can provide innovative and ground-breaking advancements across research, teaching, and practice. By drawing connections on what Pacific psychologists do and what universities teach, it may be possible to establish a broad platform of “Pacific Psychologies” as a paradigm within Indigenous Psychology. Furthermore, this project will illuminate how Pacific research and researchers are bringing in Pacific knowledge and practices across other all of psychology (such as developmental, social, educational) highlighting innovative ways in which Pacific research can enrich and enhance the psychological education and training of Pacific and non-Pacific psychologists alike.
Awarded: $300,000

Is Multiculturalism Helpful or Harmful to Indigenous Peoples?
Is multiculturalism helpful or harmful to indigenous peoples? Does it offer opportunities or lead to marginalisation? Close the gaps in social, economic and health disparities or threaten indigenous rights and resources? Although research shows that multiculturalism benefits many immigrant and ethnic minorities, little is known about its impact on indigenous communities either in Aotearoa or overseas. We adopt an innovative approach in collaboration with Māori and Native American tribes to address these controversial questions. The project: 1) explores indigenous understandings of multiculturalism, including its perils and promises; 2) combines this indigenous knowledge with current psychological theorizing to examine the impact of multiculturalism on physical, social, psychological and spiritual dimensions of well-being; and 3) investigates the extent to which socio-political and historical context affects the relationship between multiculturalism and well-being in these indigenous communities.
Awarded: $870,000

Retracing the Storylines of Pacific Women Voyagers and Navigators
Retracing the Storylines of Pacific Women Voyagers and Navigators aims to re-narrate Pacific ‘her-stories’ to articulate the complex roles that women have played in voyaging, migration, movement, identity, places and displacements, diasporas and connections to imagine a future for Pacific Islands women, peoples and islands that forges new possibilities for Pacific women leaders and activists. This project re-navigates moʻokūʻauhau, whakapapa, genealogies and storylines of Pacific women voyagers and visionaries, past and present, to investigate what this body of knowledge reveals about mana wahine, feminine epistemologies, ontologies, women in leadership, gender and Pacific women’s power. The research aim is to restore the legacies of legendary Pacific Island women voyagers and navigators by retracing the voyaging storylines of Pacific women with a commitment to researching the connections between Hina/Hine/Ine/Sima/Sina and Nimʻanoa throughout Oceania. The research will explore her centrality to leadership, continuity, and her role as a voyager and navigator. Despite a long-term career interest in sites across Oceania, the research will be limited to three geographical locations in Aotearoa-New Zealand, Tahiti, and Hawaiʻi gathering, examining and analyzing the Indigenous archive and conducting interviews with Pacific Island women.

Awarded: $300,000

Wellbeing through Nature-based Urban Design: Co-designing Climate Adaptations in Oceania
The pressures of climate change and urbanisation in Aotearoa and the Pacific islands are detrimental to ecosystems and human wellbeing, particularly of vulnerable communities. This must be urgently addressed. This research co-designs, with communities, urban design strategies that are centred in Indigenous ecological knowledge and nature-based solutions (NbS) as a means to adapt to climate change impacts. It generates five case studies: two in Aotearoa, and one each in Kiribati, Vanuatu, and Samoa, in order to determine how to effectively forefront Indigenous knowledges and solutions that work with nature in urban design, so that both human and ecological wellbeing are simultaneously increased as a response to the impacts of climate change. The methodology draws out the specificities of each context, and then breaks new ground by working alongside mana whenua (people of that place) to centre their knowledge, thus developing a unique place-centred Oceanic urban NbS climate change adaptation strategy. The overall aim is to develop nature-based urban design solutions, rooted in Indigenous knowledges that support climate change adaptation and individual and community wellbeing in different contexts across Oceania.

Awarded: $870,000

Nursery Crimes: Does the popularity and pricing of alien plant species traded in New Zealand ornamental horticulture markets determine the risk of introducing environmental weeds?
Ornamental horticulture is the primary source of environmental weeds worldwide, and particularly in New Zealand. Yet, predicting why only some species escape from cultivation to become environmental weeds is a major challenge.  Our research will, for the first time, integrate economic variables, human behaviour and biological attributes to forecast future biological invasions by non-native ornamental plants. We will test the novel hypothesis that the likelihood that a non-native ornamental plant species will become invasive can largely be explained by the factors that affect demand for garden plants: gardener preferences for particular biological attributes and plant prices.  Using an extensive collection of historical nursery catalogues, we will assess how the risk of plant invasions is shaped by the price, permanence, prevalence and popularity of non-native plants relative to their biological attributes.  Our results will have a major impact on how the risks of plant invasions are assessed and we will generate new risk assessment tools that also integrate the social dimension of biological invasions. A clearer understanding of the behavioural and economic drivers of ornamental plant invasions will underpin development of broader and more successful methods to manage potentially invasive plant species than current approaches based on sales and import bans.

Awarded: $798,000

Taxpayer Update: Socialist MPs | Notes to Nanaia | Debt clock ticking

Why didn't these MPs boast they were socialists before the election?

McAnulty quote

Thursday night's Budget Debate took a weird turn. Multiple Labour MPs (and one Green MP) took off their centre-left masks and professed allegiance to socialism.

The following quotes are taken direct from Parliament’s “Hansard” transcript:

Kieran McAnulty: “Yes, I am a socialist and I'm proud of it. Yeah—there you go. [Applause] Thank you very much. Bring it on, and I'm very proud to say to the good people of the Wairarapa that they elected a proud socialist as their MP.”

Angie Warren-Clark: “Oh, what a pleasure it is to speak after my colleague, my comrade, Kieran McAnulty.”

Duncan Webb: “Well, there's so many of us great socialists on this side of the House.”

Deborah Russell: “I stand here as a very proud member of the great socialist democratic Labour Party.”

Anna Lorck: “I'm a socialist!”

Ricardo Menendez-March: “The Green Party will continue working hard to offer our support to Labour to enact genuine bold socialist policy.”

If these MPs are such proud socialists, why didn't they tell New Zealanders during the election campaign?

Could it be that they knew taxpayers would object to a political system that holds contempt for individual rights of property and liberty?

It’s easy to write these things off as a joke, but socialism is the leading man-made cause of death and misery across the world. The Prime Minister should ask these MPs to publicly retract their outbursts. At the very least, they should meet with New Zealanders who escaped socialist regimes in China, Venezuela, Cambodia, and the Soviet Union.

Until then, they deserve our mirth. We've pulled together clips from Parliament TV that capture the ideological fever surrounding Red Robbo’s benefit-boosting budget:

Propaganda videoClick here to watch the video.
Click here to share it on Facebook.

How Grant Robertson's Budget pulls New Zealand to the Left

Budget image

A Government Budget can either grow the economic pie, or divide it.

Grant Robertson's Budget unveiled last week was very much a dividing-the-pie budget. Instead of improving incentives for New Zealanders to be productive, he did the opposite, announcing bigger rewards for anyone who goes on the benefit.

Our Executive Director Jordan Williams and consulting economist Joe Ascroft both attended the Budget lock up. I sat down with them immediately afterwards for an in-depth discussion of the economics and politics of Budget 2021. Click here to listen.

I also joined The Panel on Radio New Zealand to explain why the Taxpayers' Union calls Budget 2021 a "major shift in the economic dial to the Left'. Click here to listen.

Some Budget spending that escaped media attention

Budget 2021 divvies out $5 million for public servants and iwi to explain to New Zealanders what Matariki is:


Next up, the Budget spends $44 million on getting bureaucrats to teach businesses how to use computers:

Digital skills

Finally, $5.5 million is being given to Beehive offices to help them deal with the findings of a review of "harmful behaviour" in the workplace.

Francis review

(Translation: $5.5 million more for extra political advisors spin doctors, using the Francis Review as cover.)

Grant Robertson says his new levy isn't a tax

The headline says it all.

The Government's proposed unemployment insurance scheme (which will pay people who lose their jobs 80 percent of their salaries) will be funded by all workers via a levy – similar to ACC.

We say that if it looks like a tax and quacks like a tax, it's a tax.

Levy meme

Grant Robertson is claiming it isn't a tax because he doesn't want to look like he's breaking his pre-election "no new taxes" promise. But we all know he's already broken this promise with his new taxes on landlords. He can stop playing games now.

An inside view of Nanaia Mahuta's office

Nanaia Mahuta

We received a fascinating tip-off earlier this year from a very reliable source that Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta had requested officials change the way they format their briefing papers. Specifically, she asked officials to use fewer words and more pictures in her Ministerial briefings!

As is our practice, we used an Official Information Act request to confirm it was really true.

First, they extended the four week deadline to six "due to the necessity for consultation". Then, they provided only a partial response: one of the three relevant pieces of correspondence was withheld on the basis of "confidentiality of advice" and "to protect the free and frank expression of opinions by departments".

So we weren't able to verify the tip-off – but the fact they won’t answer the question says it all.

The Ministry did inform us of this change the Minister requested to the way her letters are written:

MFA style guideClick here to view a larger image.

Focusing on the things that matter!

Maybe we should do a fundraiser for a picture book atlas to present to the Minister.

MSD isn't enforcing parental responsibility rules for beneficiaries

Parents who are on the benefit are required to meet certain obligations to keep getting their payments, including having their children in school or early education, and enrolled with a doctor.

The obligations were put in place in 2013, but it turns out the Ministry of Social Development can’t be bothered enforcing them. In fact, they never have! To date, no parents have had benefits docked for failing to meet these basic obligations.

The Ministry's excuse: enforcing the rules would involve "a burdensome administrative process".

We say that's not good enough. Sure, there should be some room for flexibility, but to ignore legal obligations carte blanche makes them meaningless. The rules were put in place by an elected Government. It's the job of the Ministry to put in place systems that allow those rules to be enforced efficiently.

We'll be watching to see whether the Minister (Carmel Sepuloni) gets her officials to crack down, or scraps these sensible rules.

Secrecy continues at Christchurch City Council as crucial report withheld from ratepayers

Christchurch City Council last year spent $95,000 on a review of Council spending. It turns out the review found millions in Council waste – but the Council refuses to release the report publicly!

This is yet another appalling display of secrecy from Christchurch City Council. Our fight back in 2018 to get the Council to release the cost of a $1.3 million touch screen led us all the way to the steps of the High Court before the information was grudgingly released. The saga led to a damning judgment from the Ombudsman. Now, it appears the Council’s new Chief Executive is continuing the City Council’s culture of secrecy.

The Council argues that releasing the report would raise privacy concerns. Fine then: release it in redacted form, with identifying details of individuals blanked out. The Council might fear the political consequences of releasing a critical report, but that’s not a legitimate reason to withhold public information.

The Debt Clock still running hot ⏰

We've updated the Official New Zealand Debt Clock at with the latest figures from Budget 2021. Turn on the news and you’d think everything is fine, but the numbers don’t lie.

Debt Clock

Grant Robertson's borrowing now totals almost $64,000 for every Kiwi household. All of this will have to be paid off, with interest, by taxpayers in the decades to come. And if interest rates return to the long run average, God help us.

Enjoy the rest of your week,

Louis circle

Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

ps. Unlike most pressure groups in Wellington, we are 100% funded by our members and supporters. But we can’t save the world if we can’t keep the lights on. Click here so we can continue to hold the politicians' feet to the fire and fight for taxpayers.Donate

Media coverage:

RNZ  Budget 2021: Hillside railway workshops coming back to life

$85m Hillside workshop Budget boost: Seymour's comments 'ludicrous'

We don’t need to be nervous about double digit inflation

The Panel with Duane Major and Amy Adams

NZ Herald  
Look to the future, don’t dwell on rewriting the past

NZ Herald  
KiwiRail the big transport winner with money for new locomotives and locally built wagons

Masterton councillors to vote on Maori wards for 2022

Sunday Star-Times  The Fair Pay Working Group will undo Jim Bolger's enduring legacy

Revealed: EECA spent $500,000 staging a fake climate march

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) spent $500,000 staging a fake climate march, complete with major streets closed in Wellington. This was part of EECA's $3 million "Gen Less" ad campaign – "a call to people and businesses to commit to living a 'less is more' lifestyle in their energy use."

The spending information, released to the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union under the Official Information Act, can be viewed here.

The $3 million cost was made of two sub-campaigns, each centred around different versions of two ads.

•  The first ad, produced in 2019, presents quotes from historical figures including Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, Martin Luther King Jr, and Anne Frank, edited to sound like calls for climate action.

• The second ad, produced in 2020, features a bearded, pierced narrator walking through a crowd of chanting protestors. Smoke bombs are set off in the background. The narrator urges viewers to buy less, fly less, and drive less. Important Wellington streets were closed for the fake protest, including Featherston St and Hunter St.

Each ad cost around $500,000 to produce, with the remainder of the $3 million spent to buy air time, radio time, digital advertising, and a series of congratulatory Stuff articles.

The sheer cost is incredible. EECA's old ads may have been annoying, but at least they looked cheap. For perspective, EECA could have simply used the $3 million to supply energy-efficient lightbulbs for hundreds of thousands homes.

The absurdity of shutting down streets and hiring fake climate protestors is amplified by the fact the ad was produced shortly after a series of School Strike 4 Climate marches, from which plenty of footage was already available. Instead, EECA disrupted traffic and blew out its own emissions by transporting dozens of actors to a fake protest.

The message behind the Gen Less campaign is so broad and obvious that it's redundant. People know how to save energy in fact, they've already got an incentive to do so in order to cut their power bill and avoid the cost of carbon credits.

Taxpayers will judge for themselves the ethics of exploiting the legacy of Anne Frank and purchasing positive news coverage for this campaign.

The total reported spending on the Gen Less advertising campaign, as of February, was $2,979,423.42.

Op-ed: Enforce electoral laws – Let’s do this!

Newshub headline

Faced with a steadily growing number of electoral finance investigations by the Serious Fraud Office, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stared kindly into the camera and intoned, “we should be looking at the way our regime works. Clearly, it's not currently, so let's do something about that."

The Taxpayers’ Union could not agree more that we should “do something about that.” However, the “something” is not to change the rules again or argue they are unclear (which they are not). The real “something” is to actually enforce the law. These prosecutions are proof that the regime is finally starting to work.

It is a terrible look for the Prime Minister to suggest that the electoral finance law needs to be changed so soon after her party has been charged. National was charged – the law was fine. New Zealand First was charged – the law was fine. Labour is charged and their ally the Māori Party is under investigation – the law is not working and needs to be changed. That is Banana Republic behaviour.

Of course, all parties are presumed innocent until found guilty of course, and all have pleaded innocence in relation to the charges.

Prime Minister, the problem is not the regime or the system – it is how politicians try to constantly push the boundaries of the system. They do it because it often works, there are rarely any consequences of note, and, if there are, they come long after the election affected by the activity in question. By the time any judgment is made most voters, if they were even aware of it, will have forgotten about the issue.

National and Labour are well established parties with teams constantly working on the minutiae of election finances. There are no excuses. The Māori Party is alleged to have missed deadlines for declarations which seems to be a cut and dried issue. Either they did, or they did not. There is no room for interpretation.

There is no hope of taxpayers ever seeing a cent paid back from New Zealand First – sorry, the completely separate New Zealand First Foundation – now that the organisation is essentially moribund. If Winston Peters wants to come back, he will likely disband New Zealand First (and its debts), then create the First New Zealand Party with Rt Hon Winston Peters as the leader.

Advance New Zealand’s Billy TK can plausibly plead ignorance – there is plenty of evidence of that in his public comments. His co-leader, Jami-Lee Ross, much less so. In fact, what Labour is being charged with (hiding the identity of donors and the size of the donations) is – allegedly – known in Wellington as “the JLR shuffle”.

We do need to do something and that is to support the Serious Fraud Office finally enforcing the existing laws. Parliament has not done it, the Police have shown no interest in doing it, and the Electoral Commission cannot enforce them.

All power to the Serious Fraud Office.

Op-ed: We should be thanking smokers. Instead, we’re making them miserable

Next time you splutter your way through a cloud of second-hand smoke, consider the plight of the poor sod who exhaled it.

The average smoker earns less, has poorer mental health, and will live a shorter life than the rest of us. They face social stigma, restricted employment opportunities, and all the inconveniences and anxieties that come with servicing an addiction.

And holy smokes do they pay for it. Annual tax hikes have driven even the cheapest cigarettes to $30 a pack, 80 percent of which goes straight to the taxman.

All up, smokers pitch in around $2 billion a year in excise and GST to fund schools, roads, puppy dogs for the blind, Parliamentary playgrounds, and so on – far more than what they cost the health system. Instead of giving them dirty looks, we ought to give them medals for services to the taxpayer.

The darker side of the tax is that it makes already-poor families even poorer. When taxes are taken out of a low-earning household’s budget, that means less for the kids’ school lunches, shoes, and extra-curriculars. It’s enough to make a kid want a smoke.

Fortunately, the Government now appears to recognise tobacco taxes have gone far enough. This year was the first in a decade that didn’t see tobacco tax hiked beyond the rate of inflation.

What changed? Maybe it was the Tax Working Group’s warning against higher taxes on the poor. Or the spate of often-violent dairy robberies, driven by the sky-high street value of stolen durries. Perhaps most significant is the growing consensus within public health circles that, having whittled down the smoking rate to 13 percent, we’re now dealing with the most serious addicts for whom price is no object.

However, the Government is stuck with the optimistic goal of Smokefree 2025, set a decade ago by politicians who probably knew they wouldn’t still be in office come crunch time. Officially, achieving Smokefree 2025 means getting the smoking rate below five percent.

It’s with that goal in mind that the Government has unveiled new proposals to replace excise tax hikes. It turns out a rigid adherence to a blunt 10-year-old goal is not a formula for sensible policy.

The most striking suggestion – it would be a world-first – is to force tobacco companies to reduce the nicotine content of cigarettes.

The Government ought to ask why other countries haven’t attempted this. First thing first: nicotine may be addictive, but it’s not what kills people. That would be the tar and other by-products of combustion. Reduced-nicotine cigarettes would be just as harmful as the full-strength stuff, but a smoker would have to huff down more sticks to achieve the same buzz.

That means more tar and more tax. Even if that spurs a few smokers at the margin to quit, is it really a victory for public health if the remaining smokers intensify their smoking habit and its associated health risks?

Then there’s the proposal to restrict where cigarettes are sold. It’s hard to see how this would deter a smoker from buying darts if they’ve already tolerated a decade of tax hikes. It would, of course, be a boon for the supermarkets or pharmacies that secure local monopolies on tobacco sales, while small dairies on the edge of profitability go out of business without visits from smokers who make additional purchases.

Next is a proposal to ban anyone born after a certain date from ever buying smokes, meaning eventually even 40 or 50 year-old smokers will be ID’d each time they buy a pack. The idea is to create a ‘smokefree generation’, but we already have one – 15–17-year-olds have a smoking rate of just three percent and sinking, well below the Smokefree 2025 threshold. For perspective, Māori women have a smoking rate of 32 percent.

Perhaps the downright meanest proposal is to ban filters on cigarettes. While filtered certainly aren’t safe, they’re better than the alternative. At best, banning filters will just make smokers miserable; at worst, it’ll kill them. Welcome to Smokefree Aotearoa!

There’s an overarching failing that applies to all of these proposals: they’ll only affect legal cigarettes.

Already, thanks to sky-high taxes on legal tobacco, one in ten cigarettes smoked in New Zealand are illicit – either home grown, or illegally smuggled from Asia in suitcases and shipping containers. Imagine how this black market will thrive once it’s the only source of filtered, full-strength tobacco.

In fact, the Ministry of Health has even advised that the proposals will increase illicit trade, necessitating (presumably costly) strengthened measures to crack down on the black market.

So should we just give up on the smokefree dream? Not at all, even if the 2025 deadline is unrealistic. Smokers are increasingly working out for themselves that they can transition off the death sticks and on to vaping, which is estimated to be 95 percent safer.

We should celebrate that. All the Government needs to do is ease off its plans to regulate the bajesus out of vaping products. Meanwhile, the rest of us can do our part by casting a little less judgment at the guy blowing blueberry clouds on smoko.

Louis Houlbrooke is the Campaigns Manager of the Taxpayers’ Union and is a vaper

For disclosure, around 10 percent of the Taxpayers’ Union’s total income comes from industry membership, a subset of which is tobacco.

Submissions on the Government’s proposals for Smokefree 2025 can be made here.

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