Today at Parliament, the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union hosted the 2019 Jonesie Awards, an Oscars-style ceremony celebrating the best of the worst of government waste.
The Jonesie Awards are our annual celebration and lamentation of the weird and wackiest ways taxpayer money has been wasted in the last 12 months.
The Jonesie Awards are presented with a tongue-in-cheek entertainment Hollywood style ceremony complete with black ties, evening gown, and the Union's lovable mascot 'Porky the Waste-hater' appropriately dressed in a tuxedo.
While we have fun at the Jonesies, there is, of course, a serious underlying message: all of the spending is taxpayer money, time, and sweat. This ceremony is a warning to our malevolent money wasters in Parliament and town halls: rein it in, unless you want a golden porker of your own to mark your disturbing disrespect for taxpayers.
Local Government Nominees
Orakei Local Board: Creative grants – gardening for mansion owners and Tinder for the elderly. Property owners in New Zealand’s wealthiest suburbs of Remuera, Orakei, and Mission Bay are being given ratepayer-funded grants of up to $2,000 to cover the cost of pruning trees on their property. This Local Board has also funded online dating workshops for the elderly.
Palmerston North City Council: Corporate welfare for Toyota New Zealand. Ratepayers in Palmerston North forked out $391,000 to appease the world’s largest car manufacturer after it threatened to move its offices to another city. The decision was made in a closed council session and was only publicised after a Taxpayers’ Union information request.
Wellington City Council: $21,000 for studying bike lights. The lycra lobby is alive and well in Wellington. Wellington City Council spent $21,750 on not one, but two studies into different brands of bicycle lights. Sixty-one types of bike light were reviewed for battery run-time, light output, ease of charging, lighting modes, and water resistance.
Auckland Transport: $1.3 million for a doomed ride-sharing app. Auckland Transport produced an-Uber style app to taxi the wealthy citizens of Devonport to the ferry terminal. For each trip, the user pays $2.50, while ratepayers pay a $41 subsidy. The app was hoped to reduce congestion, but a survey shows it is mainly used by former cyclists, walkers, and bus users.
- Joint nomination: Local councils fighting climate change with air miles. Local councils across the country collectively spent $2.4 million on international flights in 2017/18. Auckland Transport flew business class to a “low emissions vehicle workshop” in Madrid, and Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese visited a “Climatorium” in Copenhagen. Meanwhile, Whangarei ratepayers paid for 11 art museum staff to look at architecture in Vienna. All three councils have declared climate emergencies.
WINNER: Palmerston North City Council's corporate welfare for Toyota New Zealand.
Central Government Nominees
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Local Government Minister forgets about ratepayers. When we heard that ratepayer groups could not get a response from the Local Government Minister, let alone a meeting, we dug deeper. An information request revealed that, despite a paycheque of $296,000 to look after the nation’s ratepayers, Nanaia Mahuta has not met with a single ratepayer association. Meanwhile, she is happy to meet with the council bureaucrats paid with ratepayer money.
Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority: $65,000 for bunker oil energy. A “low emissions vehicle” grant was given to Interislander so it could install electric vehicle chargers on its ferries. The chargers are of course powered the same way as the rest of the boat: with emissions-spewing heavy bunker oil. Other grants totalling $4.5 million were given to companies like The Warehouse, New World, and Vector.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern: Fuel price inquiry hypocrisy. The Prime Minister says that New Zealanders are being “ripped off” at the petrol pump, and we agree. But the Commerce Commission investigation she ordered is not allowed to consider the effect of excise tax. So, while the companies take a sliver in profit, Jacinda Ardern gets to keep the 50 per cent of tax that inflates every petrol bill.
Hon Tracey Martin: for thinking deaf people can’t read. Our Associate Education Minister decided it would be wise to spend $800 of your money on a video of a sign language interpreter. This would make sense for a speech, but it this case, it was to translate one of her written press statements. $800 is our smallest nominated spend, but Jonesie adjudicators were stunned that a Minister evidently thinks deaf people are illiterate too.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson: $133,000 Wellbeing Budget document. The Government’s annual Budget should set the fiscal tone for all taxpayer spending. The official printed document is usually sparse, but the Wellbeing Budget incorporated glossy graphic designs and photography, blowing out costs by more than 50 percent compared to 2017. The model posing on the Budget’s front cover now lives in Australia, seeking better economic opportunities.
WINNER: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's fuel price inquiry hypocrisy.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt took home the most heinous ham: the Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in government wast
His feats are new and old.
Sir Tim was arrested 33 times as a protestor in the 1960s and ‘70s, before running for Mayor of Waitemata City in 1983, where he unexpectedly won. After famously losing his mayoral chains (literally) twice, he was voted out in 1989. He then failed to get elected as MP for West Auckland, as Auckland Mayor (twice), and as MP for Wellington Central, before in 1993 finally finding the one group of voters who would accept him: the forgiving folk of Invercargill.
He famously said, “I don’t care where, as long as I’m Mayor”.
But Sir Tim wanted more. The very next year he unsuccessfully ran for Parliament again, was voted out as Mayor, ran for Parliament once more for the Legalise Cannabis party, and finally was welcomed back to the Invercargill mayoralty in 1998, where he has remained ever since.
Sir Tim is now a household name, and has supplemented his ratepayer-funded mayoral salary with a range of celebrity gigs, and even receives public money through his positions as ambassador for the Southern Institute of Technology and director for Invercargill Airport.
Sir Tim’s career has recent highlights: in 2015, his Council flew four staff members to China to buy Christmas lights, only to bring them home and discover the lights failed to meet New Zealand standards and were scrapped. A replacement set of lights cost ratepayers $250,000.
Sir Tim also has the honour of owning the country’s most expensive mayoral vehicle, a Chrysler 300C.
His Mayoral expenses this term alone include $3,100 maintaining his Chrysler, $19,500 on books (mostly books about himself to give to other people), $2,600 on donations to private charity, $8,000 on conference fees, $1,800 at local liquor stores, and $3,200 on custom made rubber wristbands that say, “I met the Mayor”.
This year, Mayor Tim was finally knighted. And adding to his prestige, today he enters the pantheon of government waste, alongside last year’s inaugural lifetime achievement winner, the Honourable Shane Jones.