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

Grant image

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

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

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

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

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

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

•  $900,000 on an arts strategy for Christchurch

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

•  $248,460 on traditional Māori painting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taxpayer Talk: Does Wellington hate economists?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revealed: How DIA spent $2 million on furniture

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

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

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

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

Furniture1 Furniture2

The spending figures exclude installation costs and IT equipment.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Supporter,

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

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

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

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

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

PV over time

Revealed: This ad cost you $2.4 million

Ad screenshot

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

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

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

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

NZTA costs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the best,

Louis circle

Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union


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

Dear Supporter,

⛽️💸 Our campaign for fuel tax relief pays off


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

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

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

BP image

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

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

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

Sticker on filler

Sticker on pump

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

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

What about the other taxes on fuel?

Seymour petrol

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

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

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

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

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

Is Nanaia Mahuta cracking under pressure?

Mahuta headline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The real reason Mahuta cannot be trusted

Democracy cancelled

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sixty-four DJs jumped border queue last year

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

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

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


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

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

Dom Dolla

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

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

Luxon's tax bracket reset is underwhelming

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

Luxon's tax brackets

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

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

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

Will National present a stronger tax policy before the election?

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

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

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

Sport NZ spends $4.7 million conducting surveys

Junk mail

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

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


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

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

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

This newsletter is getting long...

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

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

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

All the best,

Louis circle

Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union


Media coverage:

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

Homepaddock  One big mistake

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

Businessdesk  Polltracker: Labour and Nats now neck and neck

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

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

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

NZ Herald  Nats hit the lead in latest polling

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

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

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

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

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

Homepaddock  Good use of our money?

Kiwiblog  Even the PSA supports indexing tax brackets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Revealed: 316 DJs and entertainers jumped border queue last year

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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