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Bribe-O-Meter running red hot (Week 9)

Another week of expensive election promises typifies the penultimate weekly Bribe-O-Meter update. The Green Party and TOP are this week’s big movers, each with over $3 billion in new spending announced in the past seven days. Other m

overs include New Zealand First (a further $1.5 billion) and the National Party ($500 million). The Labour Party are up just $100 million, now with total spending of $22.9 billion over the next three years.

The Green Party has promised to pay the forestry sector an aggregate $630 million per year by 2020, as well as a $990 million universal payment to all working-age New Zealanders, or $250 per person. These two new spending proposals will be funded from a charge on pollution. In addition, the Green Party will establish a Climate Commission at an estimated operating cost of $6 million per year. This brings total Green Party spending over the next parliamentary term to $13.3 billion, which is equivalent to $7,703 per person.

TOP has proposed to hand out $1 billion in unspecified subsidies for fruit and vegetables, to be funded from a 20 percent tax on all junk food. The sum of TOP’s new spending is now $13.7 billion over three years or $7,939 per household.

 
New Zealand First has pledged to increase SuperGold Card entitlements by $800 to $1,000 per person per year. With a growing super-annuitant population, currently about 650,000 people, this policy will cost the Crown more than $500 million per year. New Zealand First spending now totals $27.5 billion over the next three years or $15,967 per household.
 
The National Party has proposed a $74 million per year boost in subsidies for first-home buyers, $180 million in additional funding for elective surgeries over three years, and $57 million toward a specialist mental health facility in Christchurch. National has now promised $8.2 billion, or $4,736 per household, over the next parliamentary term.

Transparency Rating

As part of the Bribe-O-Meter, our economic staff have assessed political party's transparency across policy detail and cost and given each a score out of five (see below). The most transparent party has been National. The least transparent is NZ First, closely followed by the Māori Party. 

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Click here to visit the 2017 election Bribe-O-Meter

Key Findings (As of 9am 12 September):

  • National has promised $8.2 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $4,736 per household.Transparency rating: 5/5
  • Labour has promised $22.9 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $13,287 per household. Transparency rating: 4/5
  • The Green Party has promised $13.3 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $7,703 per household. Transparency rating: 4/5
  • NZ First has promised $27.5 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $15,967 per household. Transparency rating: 0/5
  • ACT has promised $2.4 billion in savings over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $1,407 in savings per household. Transparency rating: 3/5
  • The Māori Party has promised $12.2 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $7,060 per household. Transparency rating: 1/5
  • The Opportunities Party has promised $13.7 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $7,939 per household. Transparency rating: 4/5

Bribe-O-Meter Update: ACT this weeks biggest spender

bribe-o-meter week 8For the first time ever, the ACT Party is the biggest spender in this week's update of the election Bribe-O-Meter. ACT’s big jump is on the back of its education policy, costing $3 billion over the next parliamentary term. This week the Bribe-O-Meter also sees Labour and the Green Party jump by more than $1 billion and National by approximately $0.5 billion.

Getting in on the ACT

ACT has announced a $1 billion per year increase in teacher funding. However, when combined with their other policies such as removing corporate welfare and a cancellation of Budget 2017 welfare increases, ACT’s total package would reduce net government spending by $2.4 billion over the next three years. That’s $1,407 per household.
 
The Labour Party continues to steadily push the fiscal boundaries, with total new spending over the next three years now at $22.8 billion. $22.8 billion is equivalent to $13,237 per household. This week’s new spending came primarily from bringing forward free tertiary education by one year and increasing the student allowance by $50 per week. These two policies will cost taxpayers $2.4 billion over three years. Although it should be remembered that the zero fees policy will be much more expensive once it comes into full effect in 2024.
 
The Green Party has announced a string of environmental policies, with a particular target on farmers. A new nitrogen tax will raise $392 million over three years, accompanied by a $20 million per year increase in funding for sustainable farming and $5 million a year to establish an organic farming certification scheme. However, the Green Party have also promised to cancel all future unappropriated irrigation subsidies so some of this new spending is offset. We have estimated that cancelling these irrigation subsidies will save $280 million in the next three years.
 
Major announcements this week from National included $62m to crack down on meth, $52m to go towards Predator Free New Zealand, and an extension of paid parental leave to 22 weeks at a cost of $205 million over three years. Labour has similarly proposed to increase paid parental - from 26 weeks instead of 22 - costing an estimated $420 million over the next three years.

Transparency Rating

Transparency week 8 As part of the Bribe-O-Meter, our economic staff have assessed political party's transparency across policy detail and cost and given each a score out of five (see below). The most transparent party has been National. The least transparent is NZ First, closely followed by the Māori Party. 

This week we have taken one star off the Green Party because they have failed to release their full alternative budget, as promised. Refer to: http://bit.ly/2eErKvJ 


Click here to visit the 2017 election Bribe-O-Meter

Key Findings (as at 5 September):

  • National has promised $7.6 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $4,422 per household.Transparency rating: 5/5
  • Labour has promised $22.8 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $13,237 per household. Transparency rating: 4/5
  • The Green Party has promised $9.9 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $5,765 per household. Transparency rating: 4/5
  • NZ First has promised $26.0 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $15,062 per household. Transparency rating: 0/5
  • ACT has promised $2.4 billion in savings over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $1,407 in savings per household. Transparency rating: 3/5
  • The Māori Party has promised $12.2 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $7,060 per household. Transparency rating: 1/5
  • The Opportunities Party has promised $10.7 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $6,199 per household. Transparency rating: 4/5

 

Briefing paper: Robin Hood Reversed

Robin_Hood_Reversed_cover.pngFollowing on from Jacinda Ardern's announcement today of Labour's tertiary education policy offering 'free' university study for up to three years, we have released a briefing paper examining whether "zero fees" university really is what the left say it's cracked up to be.

We find that the implementation of a zero fees policy for tertiary education would reach into the pockets of the disadvantaged, to line the wallets of the future’s wealthy.

Contrary to claims that zero tertiary education fees help the poor, we found that similar policies overseas have led to job shortages in crucial areas, and poorer quality courses.

In Scotland, which introduced zero fees in the early 2000's, students from low socio-economic groups were the first to be shut out. This contradicts the political ideology of those who advocate for it, because the policy hampers social mobility, and actually increases barriers to reducing inequality.

The costs of such a policy are borne by low and middle-income earners, to help tomorrow's rich get a free ride."

Key findings: 

  • Taxpayers already cover 84 percent of the cost of obtaining a tertiary degree
  • The average household currently pays $2,456 in tax per year to fund tertiary education
  • Fully implemented, Labour's proposal would increase that cost by $852.57 per year.
  • Low and middle-income earners will pay more to subsidise tomorrow's rich
  • Likely effects of the policy, based on the experience in Scotland with its zero fees policy, include:
    • more job shortages in crucial skills-based areas
    • lower quality tertiary education
    • less access to education for students from disadvantaged or low socioeconomic backgrounds
    • less social mobility and entrenched income inequality. 

Download the PDF report from here. Hard copies are also available for members of the Taxpayers' Union, on request.

Bribe-O-Meter Update: Labour Attempting to Buy the Big Cities

Big spending packages targeted at New Zealand’s major cities account for the majority of the increases in the latest update of the Bribe-O-Meter. Labour has been the most ambitious with expensive new packages targeted at each of the major cities, with other smaller promises from National and the Green Parties.

More Labour Party lollies

In the last week the Labour Party announced new spending packages targeted at the four largest cities. $300 million for a Christchurch Capital Acceleration Fund, $100 million for transport investment in Christchurch, $30 million for the Auckland Skypath, $22 million for a new rail line between Upper Hutt and Trentham and a renewal of the $100m Urban Cycleways Fund.
 
Labour has also committed to building a new Dunedin Hospital. However, unlike National’s proposal, they will not make use of a Public-Private Partnership. Labour claims their Hospital will cost the same as National’s – approximately $1.4 billion over seven years. The Bribe-O-Meter has taken Labour’s costings as being accurate, although this is questionable given the historic efficiency advantages that public-private partnerships have over Government builds.
 
The total cost of these targeted packages is in excess of one billion dollars over the next three years. Labour’s total new spending in the next term is now $20.4 billion, only behind NZ First at $26 billion. Labour’s spending amounts to $11,828 per household compared to $15,062 by NZ First.

Other party promises

Elsewhere, the Green Party has increased their total new spending promises to $9 billion or $5,215 per household. Their major announcements last week were regional transport policies and new environmental spending funded by a plastic bag levy.

The National Party has increased education spending by $290 million over three years and promised $120 million for a new Christchurch sports stadium. Smaller spending includes $500,00 in funding for Winter Olympians and $150,000 to stimulate demand in geothermal energy.

Transparency Rating

As part of the Bribe-O-Meter, the Taxpayers' Union economic staff have assessed political party's transparency across policy detail and cost and given each a score out of five (see below). The most transparent parties have been National and the Greens. The least transparent is NZ First, closely followed by the Maori Party. 

Click here to visit the 2017 election Bribe-O-Meter

Key Findings (as at 28 August):

  • National has promised $7.2 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $4,159 per household. Transparency rating: 5/5
  • Labour has promised $20.4 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $11,828 per household. Transparency rating: 4/5
  • The Green Party has promised $9.0 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $5,215 per household. Transparency rating: 5/5
  • NZ First has promised $26 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $15,062 per household. Transparency rating: 0/5
  • ACT has promised $5.4 billion in taxpayer savings over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $3,103 in savings per household. Transparency rating: 3/5
  • The Maori Party has promised $12.2 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $7,060 per household. Transparency rating: 1/5
  • The Opportunities Party has promised $10.7 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $6,199 per household. Transparency rating: 4/5

Bribe-O-Meter Update (Week 6)

National Party Doubles New Spending Promises In Just Seven Days

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National spends-up large...

The National Party has more than doubled its new election spending in the space of just one week. Since last Monday, the National Party has increased promised spending from $2.5 to $6.8 billion across the next parliamentary term. $6.8 billion is equivalent to $3,920 per household.

The most expensive new policy Bill English has announced is the proposed roads of national significance. The cost works out at approximately one billion each year over the estimated ten-year timeframe. This was accompanied by $290 million in agreed-in-principle treaty settlements; $285 million in cheaper GP visits for children; and $459 million over three years towards the building of a new hospital in Dunedin.

...so does the Maori Party

The Bribe-O-Meter has also been updated to reflect the Maori Party's manifesto, which was only released last week.

Unfortunately, the encompassing policies have about as much fiscal transparency as NZ First. That is they are nearly impossible to cost.

From just the policies we have been able to estimate, the Maori Party's policies would cost $12.2 billion over the next parliamentary term. This is equivalent to $7,060 per household. Maori Party policies are predominantly a list of giveaways and subsidies, neither of which come cheap. For example, the largest component of the manifesto that we have been able to cost is an estimated $4 billion write-off of student loan living cost debt.

Little Difference with Ardern

There has been some criticism in the political commentariat of the Labour Party not being substantively different in policy under Jacinda Ardern – compared to her predecessor Andrew Little. The Bribe-O-Meter appears to validate this view. Since Ms Ardern has taken over, there has been very little new policy aside from water taxes and a commuter rail service between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.

Total Labour Party spending is now at $19.4 billion, which is within $1 billion of Andrew Little’s Labour Party.

United Future removed

Peter Dunne’s resignation has led us to remove United Future from the Bribe-O-Meter as without Dunne there is almost zero possibility of United Future returning to Parliament.

Last week we criticised Mr Dunne for trying to buy himself into Parliament with taxpayer money. Taxpayers will be breathing a sigh of relief now that they won’t have to front up for Mr Dunne’s $4.7 billion of pork barrel politics.

Transparency Rating

As part of the Bribe-O-Meter, the Taxpayers' Union economic staff have assessed political party's transparency across policy detail and cost and given each a score out of five (see below). The most transparent parties have been National and the Greens. The least transparent is NZ First, closely followed by the Maori Party. 

Transparency.png

Click here to visit the 2017 election Bribe-O-Meter

Key Findings (as at 22 August):

  • National has promised $6.8 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $3,920 per household. Transparency rating: 5/5
  • Labour has promised $19.4 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $11,242 per household. Transparency rating: 4/5
  • The Green Party has promised $8.5 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $4,939 per household. Transparency rating: 5/5
  • NZ First has promised $23 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $13,324 per household. Transparency rating: 0/5
  • ACT has promised $5.4 billion in taxpayer savings over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $3,103 in savings per household. Transparency rating: 3/5
  • The Maori Party has promised $12.2 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $7,060 per household. Transparency rating: 1/5
  • The Opportunities Party has promised $10.7 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $6,199 per household. Transparency rating: 4/5

2017 Ratepayers' Report published

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This morning, in partnership with our sister group, the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance, we published the 2017 "Ratepayers' Report" - our local government interactive league tables. The tool allows ratepayers to see how their local council performs on metrics including average rates, staff numbers, liabilities per resident, and even CEO salary.

Ratepayers' Report is the result of months of work by our local government researcher, Garrick Wright-McNaughton.  We did it so that New Zealanders can easily compare their local council's performance and financial position against similar councils

Every dollar spent by a Council was earned by a hard working ratepayer. This tool allows ratepayers to see how that money is being spent.

Click to here to view the 2017 Ratepayers' Report

For most of New Zealand's territorial authorities, debts continue to increase, even on a per person basis. This is a worrying trend we highlighted back in 2014 when we last published the league tables.

From an Auckland persepctive, the data shows why Auckland ratepayers, in particular, have cause for real concern. Council debt is now $22,189 per ratepayer, more than three times the national average of $6,989. Even with low interest rates, $839 of everyone’s rates is now required just to service the Council’s borrowing.

Ratepayers’ Report also reveals that Auckland Council has the second highest ratio of staff per residential ratepayer – one staff member for every 69 residential properties.

This strongly suggests that Auckland Council is overstaffed. Whilst a high staff to ratepayer ratio can offer more face-to-face interaction, it requires significantly more funding. In comparison, Marlborough District Council employs a one to 97 staff to ratepayer ratio – representing a $200 difference in staff costs per residential ratepayer compared to Auckland.

Not only does Auckland Council have a lot of staff, it also pays them generously. Nearly fifteen percent are paid more than $100,000 per year compared to only nine percent in the general workforce.

Ratepayers' Report is available online and free of charge so all ratepayers can judge for themselves the performance of their local town hall.

Ratepayers' Report facilitates straightforward comparison of average residential rates using a formula first used by Napier City Council which allows for an 'apples to apples' comparison of average residential rates and charges. Only one Council, Kaipara District Council, was unable (or unwilling) to provide the Taxpayers' Union with the necessary information.

Data for the report was compiled by the Taxpayers' Union, and was supplied to all councils for them to review prior to publication.

The previous Ratepayers’ Report was published in 2014. All territorial authorities (excluding Chatham Islands Council) are included.

Ratepayers’ Report is free and available to the public at www.ratepayersreport.nz

Note: All references to rates in the above comments, refer to residential rates.

Notable findings:

  • Auckland Council is New Zealand’s second most indebted local authority, with liabilities per residential ratepayer of $22,189. More than three times the national average, only Waitomo District Council has more debt per residential ratepayer ($24,600). 
  • Auckland Council has the second highest ratio of staff to ratepayers of New Zealand’s unitary authorities, with one member of staff for every 69 ratepayers.
  • Auckland Council pays 15% of its staff a salary of over $100,000 per year. Of all of New Zealand’s city councils, metropolitan councils, and unitary authorities, only Palmerston North pays proportionally more of its staff a salary of over $100,000 (18%). 
  • The highest average residential rates in New Zealand are in Western Bay of Plenty ($3,234 per year).
  • The lowest average residential rates in New Zealand is the Mackenzie District ($1,637 per year).

Mr Taxman (still) not picking up the phone

Tens of thousands of New Zealanders still can't get through to the IRD, according to new figures which show only a slight improvement in the numbers of callers being rejected by IRD due to under-staffing. In the space of a month, almost 170,000 callers have not even made the hold tone, making up 31% of callers who called IRD in the space of a month. The data comes after the Taxpayers' Union revealed last month that 55% of callers to IRD were being rejected over a 3-day period.

"These numbers come off the back of the IRD announcing that it will cut its staff force by about 1500 in the coming years," says Researcher Matthew Rhodes. "How are these cuts justified when there is not even enough staff around to pick up the phone?"

"A significant increase on the number of forecasted calls has meant that IRD have had to ‘cap’ 31% of calls coming in. When IRD say they 'cap' calls, what they actually mean is hanging up on customers before they even make it to the hold music."

"Either there is something wrong with the forecasting procedure, or staffing levels are simply not adequate to meet the demand. What’s equally as concerning is 73% of the calls being rejected are enquiries relating to personal tax – the very people who need the most help when it comes to tax time. Paying tax is bad enough but having to wait hours on the phone only to be hung-up on, is a slap in the face by the taxman."

"These figures also show that it's not just at peak tax time that the phones are going unanswered - the problem is rife."

See IRD's OIA response below: 

Bribe-O-Meter update (week 3)

Bribe-O-Meter week 3: All minor parties added, NZ First spending in excess of $22.5b

bribe-o-meter-logo.pngIn this weeks update, all parties currently in Parliament have been added to the Taxpayers’ Union Bribe-O-Meter, which tracks the costs of election policies as they are announced.

To date, NZ First has the most expensive set of policies, totalling $22.5 billion in new spending over the next three years. This is equivalent to $13,024 per household. 

It should be noted that this is a conservative estimate and likely understates the true cost of the NZ First manifesto. A significant amount of NZ First policies are yet to be included because they lack sufficient detail.

ACT are the only party that will reduce Government spending, by eliminating $3.4 billion of corporate welfare and reversing the welfare increases announced in Budget 2017. ACT will save taxpayers $5.35b over the next three years – or $3,103 per household. 

United Future has promised $4.7b in new spending, or $2,737 per household. This comprises an estimated $2.7 billion to build the Ngauranga Gorge Tunnel and $1.9 billion to abolish tertiary tuition fees.

The Maori Party are yet to release their election manifesto so the only policy included to date is IwiRail, which is estimated to cost $1.55b over the next parliamentary term.

There have been few changes to National, Labour and the Green Party from last week. 

NZ First have proposed a set of policies that are largely ambiguous and lack detail. $22.5 billion is by far the most expensive set of policies of any party so far. However, even this understates the true cost of the NZ First manifesto because a significant number of policies lack enough detail to be included.

Notably expensive NZ First policies include: 

  • Write-down of student debt: $4.6b per annum
  • Buy-back of Meridian, Mighty River Power and Genesis: $4.3b
  • Northland rail: $850m
  • Installing 200km of new median barriers: $443m over three years
  • Banning 1080 and undergoing pest control with solely traps: $386m over three years
  • Reintroducing a non-commercial public service television channel: $45m over three years

It is worrying that New Zealand First shows no inclination of explaining to voters how they intend to fund their policies. They promise the world without any indication of how it will be fulfilled.

As it stands, and not accounting for some crossover of policy, a Labour-Green-NZ First coalition would spend $50 billion extra over the next parliamentary term. Considering Core Crown revenue is expected to be $80 billion in 2017, this figure is material.

Next week we intend to release policy costing’s for the Opportunities Party.

Key Findings 

  • National has promised $1.4 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $814 per household.
  • Labour has promised $17.6 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $10,223 per household.
  • The Green party has promised $8.1 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $4,692 per household.
  • NZ First has promised $22.5 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $13,024 per household.
  • ACT has promised $5.4 billion in taxpayer savings over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $3,103 in savings per household.
  • United Future has promised $4.7 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $2,737 per household.
  • The Maori party has promised $1.6 billion in new spending over the next parliamentary term. This equates to $899 per household. Although this only includes one policy (the Maori party manifesto is expected to be released this week). 

You can read detailed breakdowns of each party's policies (and the costs) here:

Click here to view the Bribe-O-Meter

Rotorua Lakes Council accepts Supreme Achievement Award for importing mud from South Korea

The Taxpayers’ Union mascot, "Porky the Waste-hater", visited Rotorua this morning, and awarded the Rotorua Mayor a “Supreme Achievement Award” for imagination and achievement in wasting public money, following the Mayor’s decision to spend $90,000 of public money to import five tonnes of mud from South Korea. The mud is to supplement the local variety at Rotorua’s ‘Mudtopia' festival later in the year.

After some waiting, Ms Chadwick failed to front (apparently she was too busy). Nevertheless, an official accepted the award on her behalf.  

The award recognises the most creative use of taxpayers’ money we have seen yet. The favourite pastime of our mascot Porky is playing in mud, but even he condemns this total waste of money.

Steve Chadwick has created New Zealand’s very own ‘coals to Newcastle’ story.  Even the BBC has covered this ridiculous and frivolous waste.

The whole reason Rotorua Lakes Council received a tourism grant from MBIE was to promote Rotorua and its mud as a destination.  Instead, these geniuses flew to Korea and used the money to buy the foreign variety.

We elect politicians to be guardians of the ratepayer and taxpayer purse.  Unfortunately, that’s clearly not happening here in Rotorua.

What makes this Council’s behaviour particularly galling is the fact that Councillors tried to defend the spending in local media by saying that it’s ‘only taxpayer’ money, since a large amount was funded from an MBIE grant. What a disgraceful attitude to the hard-working taxpayers who earned that money.

 

2017 Election Bribe-O-Meter Launched

The Taxpayers’ Union is repeating its popular election costing tool with the launch of the 2017 General Election Bribe-O-Meter to keep track of the cost of party manifestos in the lead up to polling day.

The Bribe-O-Meter provides transparency on what the promises made by political parties will cost and it holds to account politicians who make up numbers when announcing policies.

The Bribe-O-Meter is the most comprehensive independent policy costing project undertaken in New Zealand and was first launched prior to the 2014 election and was run again for the 2015 Northland by-election. 

The first release of the Bribe-O-Meter shows all current proposals by the National and Labour Party. Minor parties will be added in the next few weeks, as well as updates for any new policies by the two major parties.

To see the most up-to-date version of the Bribe-O-Meter, click here or on the image below. 

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Q&A:

What is the Bribe-O-Meter?

The Bribe-O-Meter is about transparency. We will be updating the figures weekly, allowing potential voters to assess which political parties are offering taxpayers value for money. Costs only include policies that will fall during the next election cycle (Budget 2018 to Budget 2020).

Budget 2017 is used as a baseline. So only policies that deviate from Budget 2017 are included in the Bribe-O-Meter. Items of spending contained in Budget 2017, which a party proposes to cut are subtracted from a party's total figure.

Who provides the figures for the Bribe-O-Meter?

Both internal and external economic advisors produce the Bribe-O-Meter figures. Political and communications personnel at the Taxpayers' Union are not involved in the Bribe-O-Meter reports.

How often will the Bribe-O-Meter be updated?

The Bribe-O-Meter will be updated on a weekly basis.

Are the graphics free to use?

Yes, the media are free to use the graphics, but we ask that they are attributed to the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

What were results of Bribe-O-Meter in 2014?

The results can be found at http://www.taxpayers.org.nz/bribe_o_meter_2014 


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