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REVEALED: Government’s favoured unions repaid $1.6 million in wage subsidies

The Taxpayers’ Union has today revealed that the Labour Party’s trade unions – First Union and E Tū – have repaid the full $1.6 million they received in wage subsidies. This comes after the Union called on them to do so earlier this year.

We’d like to congratulate these left wing unions on finally doing the right thing by taxpayers. As beneficiaries of steady revenue from membership dues (as opposed to donations), it was always questionable how these trade unions were ever eligible for the subsidy. The fact they could afford to spend money on campaigns to re-elect the Government last year suggests they were hardly strapped for cash.

The weird part is how secretive these unions have been about their decision to repay the subsidy. They could have announced it proudly and encouraged other unions to do the same, like we did. Instead, the repayment has only been made public thanks to an eagle-eyed Taxpayers’ Union researcher monitoring MSD records and confirming the repayment using the Official Information Act.

E Tū admitted to Stuff today that its repayment came after an audit by MSD found it didn’t qualify. First Union has not revealed whether it qualified in the first place.

Of course, the Taxpayers’ Union came forward to repay its wage subsidy, even though, unlike the left wing unions, we qualified to receive it. For us, it was a matter of principle: it’s difficult to claim you’re an independent watchdog when you’re funded by the Government.

Taxpayer Talk: David Seymour

What's the secret to ACT's success? Why after years of campaigning are they opposing housing reforms? Who does David think should win the biggest government spending blowout award? Jordan and David discuss this and more in this weeks episode of Taxpayer Talk. 

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

Poll reveals what New Zealanders think of Three Waters

Main poll

Newly-released data from the Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll reveals opposition to the Government’s Three Waters reform plans outweighs support by three to one.

The poll of 1,000 New Zealanders reveals 56% oppose the reforms, with just 19% in support. 24% are unsure. The full polling report is available here.

Opposition outweighs support among supporters of every significant political party. Labour supporters oppose the policy at a rate of 39%, versus 28% in support and 34% unsure.

Opposition outweighs support across every age group, and is especially strong among older New Zealanders who are more likely to pay rates.

Wellington has the lowest rate of opposition to the reforms, but even there opposition outweighs support, with the largest grouping being unsure. Opposition is highest in small towns and rural areas.

The Government didn’t give councils time to conduct proper consultation with their communities before submitting feedback on the reforms, but many thousands of New Zealanders made their voices heard anyway by emailing their local councillors. Now we have the hard data to back up evidence of widespread opposition.The Government’s $3.5 million ad campaign has failed to shore up support for Three Waters reform.

This poll reveals that opponents of Nanaia Mahuta’s multi-billion dollar asset grab are far more than a vocal minority. Most ratepayers are repelled by the prospect of removing control of water assets from local councils and burying it under four layers of co-governed bureaucracy.

Mahuta’s Three Waters crusade is rapidly turning into albatross around the Government’s neck. We’ve previously seen the Prime Minister acknowledge public opinion by u-turning on the capital gains tax and the Auckland cycle bridge. It’s time for a similar captain’s call over Three Waters.

The poll was taken from Sunday 3 October to Monday 11 October. The Taxpayers’ Union is running a petition against the Three Waters reforms which so far has 63,000 signatures. It can be signed at

Exclusive: New poll reveals opposition to Shaw's Glasgow trip

Shaw poll 1

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union has today released independent Curia public polling on Climate Change Minister James Shaw's upcoming attendance at the Glasgow climate conference. 

The Minister, accompanied by 14 staff, will fly to Glasgow where daily COVID-19 cases currently exceed 400. On his return, Shaw and nine of his staff will occupy 10 MIQ spots. The Taxpayers' Union Curia Poll asked whether New Zealanders believed the Minister and his staff should be attending this conference.

The poll shows just 30% of New Zealanders support the trip, versus 55% opposing. 15% are 'unsure'.

Only Green Party supporters expressed a majority in favour of the trip. Labour supporters were split roughly in opinion; National, ACT and unaffiliated respondents showed strong opposition.

Shaw poll 2

With the current severe domestic and international COVID-19 travel restrictions, the Minister's overseas adventure flies in the face of New Zealanders' sacrifices. Given the evident lack of public support, the trip is an unwanted blow to the taxpayers footing the bill for the Minister and his entourage's flights, accommodation, and dinners.

While one already struggles to see economic justification for the trip, the environmental costs seems even more unbalanced. With an average fly time of 50 hours for a return trip from Auckland to Glasgow, the Minister and his staffers will emit more than 125 tonnes of CO2 travelling to and from the climate conference. As we've said previously, if the Minister had wanted to avoid perceptions of climate hypocrisy and wasteful travel, he should have announced the New Zealand contingent would be calling in via Zoom.

You can't beat COVID with Māori Pokemon

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union is challenging the value of large arts grants handed out under the Ministry for Culture and Heritage's new $60 million COVID-19 "Innovation Fund"

So far, thirty two projects have received $6.2 million from the fund. The questionable taxpayer funded projects include:

•  $585,000 to develop a te Reo Māori virtual reality game.

•  $20,000 on "a digital storytelling platform using the vaka as medium for navigating and exploring Tokelauan heritage"

•  $2,110,000 for live music venues to increase diversity.

•  $290,000 to "an online game for rangatahi that imagines a Māori future".

•  $500,000 on a tool to give readers book recommendations that reflect gender diversity.

•  $328,405 to develop a Pokemon Go-style augmented reality game based on Te Ao Māori.

•  $1,323,000 on two productions of Māori performing arts.

It is hard to see how a Māori ripoff of Pokemon Go could be considered a COVID-19 response. Especially when our health system is currently crying out for more nurses and ICU beds.

We've criticised arts grants in the past, but these particular handouts are even more shocking for their sheer size. $1.3 million for two performance art productions does not represent good value for taxpayer money. In fact, that's more tax than an average worker would pay in their lifetime. It would be far fairer to split this money between all artists as a tax credit or just return it to the taxpayer for that matter.

The most incredible thing is that so far barely a tenth of the total fund has been allocated. If these are the projects first off the rank, that doesn't bode well for the remaining rounds of handouts.

This funding is an absolute lottery. We understand that even many artists are questioning handouts made under this fund based on the incredible size of certain grants, and the lack of apparent logic behind the selection of recipients.

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

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

Taxpayers’ Union asks Jacinda Ardern to clarify role of electorate secretary acting as wedding planner

The Taxpayers’ Union has today written to the MP for Mt Albert asking for more details about her electorate agent’s role in managing the Gisborne wedding venue, given the staffer is based in Auckland and wouldn’t normally travel for her job.

We know of at least two visits to Gisborne by the electorate agent, and it remains unclear whether taxpayers paid for the travel and any accommodation.

MPs enjoy a privileged position. It is important for public confidence that it is made clear no taxpayer money is being used for personal benefit.

This isn’t the first time the Taxpayers’ Union has taken an investigative role in the spending of taxpayer money by MPs. Under the last Government we held to account National Party MP Claudette Hauiti after she used her budget to pay for a personal trip to Australia, and National Party Ministers who used Crown limos to travel to Northland to campaign for the 2015 by-election.

Unfortunately, MPs have a special carve-out from the Official Information Act, meaning that it is up to the Prime Minister to release this information. But given her public commitments to transparency, and her office’s assurance that everything is above board, we look forward to being furnished with the information sought.

The letter is available here.

Wilful Ignorance: disregarding the ETS will hurt us all

Jordan is joined by New Zealand Initiative Economist Matt Burgess for a detailed discussion about the ETS. They reflect on the government's long standing stance of ignoring the realities of the trading scheme, the inefficiency of climate change vanity projects and what we can do moving forward. 

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

Taxpayer Update: Our exclusive new poll | Taxpayer-funded political parties | Bike bridge $$

Dear Supporter,

New Taxpayers’ Union Curia poll released: Labour & Greens down, National & ACT up 📊

Exclusive to members and supporters like you, we commissioned another Taxpayers’ Union Curia Poll that shows support for National and ACT is up, while Labour and the Greens are down. ACT is at a record high for our polling company.

Our expert pollster (and Taxpayers’ Union Co-founder) David Farrar has advised numerous Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition. On election night in 2014, John Key described David as “New Zealand’s best pollster”.

David and our Executive Director Jordan Williams have just recorded a podcast where they delve into the numbers, what they mean, and the advice David would be giving Judith Collins and Jacinda Ardern reading this report. You can listen to the Taxpayer Talk episode here (the episode will also appear on Apple Podcasts, and Spotify in the next few hours).

Head over to our website to read the results.

Trend graph

The Government is putting taxpayer funding for political parties onto its agenda 💸


The Government has announced a review of electoral laws that will consider, among other things, taxpayer funding for political parties.

We will be fighting this for four key reasons:

  • Morally wrong: Taxpayers should not be forced to fund political parties that they find reprehensible. We expect our money to be spent on services, not party political propaganda.

  • Corrupted process: Kris Faafoi says he will be reaching out to political parties for ideas on this review. But elected political parties – the very same ones who will vote on this reform – have a vested interest in cementing their place in Parliament and maximising their revenue. Of course politicians on the left and right will jump at the chance of getting taxpayer money, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.

  • Entrenches power: Elected political parties already have a massive advantage over political outsiders thanks to their Parliamentary funding. Giving money to the private wings of these parties will only serve to further disadvantage outside voices during elections.

  • Erodes grassroots democracy: If political parties are given taxpayer money, they will be less dependent on membership dues and cake stall fundraisers, reducing the incentive to act according to their members’ values. That’s a disaster for democracy. Guaranteed taxpayer funding for political parties will result in a less accountable, Wellington-centric political environment.

In short, we can't trust politicians to lead these reforms. Perhaps we need to nominate a taxpayer representiative for the review board. Watch this space...

Why is Sean Hendy’s modelling group getting $6m for advice Treasury is paying $30k for elsewhere? 💰

Hendy and co

The NZ Herald reports that the Prime Minister's department has awarded Shaun Hendy and Siouxie Wiles's modelling group $6 million in contracts to forecast COVID-19.

For perspective, Treasury has commissioned its own pandemic modelling from an independent advisory firm costing a mere $30,000.

Here's what Jordan had to say:

Te Punaha Matatini (TPM) appears to be acting as the ‘single source of truth’ for this Government, and is getting paid like a greedy monopolist. Given the wild inaccuracies of pandemic modelling around the world, our leaders should be getting advice from multiple agencies and experts, not betting the house on friends of the Government.

It stinks of arrogance by the Prime Minister’s Department to refuse to answer questions posed by the NZ Herald about the procurement rules followed in awarding the TPM contract. That raises very real questions about this contract, and quite what it was for.

LGNZ must stop its Three Waters sock puppetry 🎭


Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) is the ratepayer-funded lobby group meant to represent the interests of local councils.

But they missed the memo on Nanaia Mahuta's Three Waters reform, a multi-billion dollar asset grab that is opposed by the vast majority of local councils.

In fact, LGNZ has literally sold out its position to the Government, signing a "Heads of Agreement" which sees the group getting taxpayer funding in exchange for "build[ing] support within the local government sector for the Three Waters Reform Programme".

Timaru District Council is so frustrated with LGNZ's kowtowing to the Government that they have seceded from the group, and Christchurch City Council is preparing to do the same.

This week LGNZ President Stuart Crosby wrote an opinion piece for Stuff in a labourious attempt to quell dissent from councils. He complains about "wilfully ill-informed keyboard warriors on social media" and makes the extraordinary claim that "we have tended to stay on the sidelines of public debate about Three Waters reforms".

He fails to disclose the fact that LGNZ is explicitly paid to advance the reform agenda! Nor did Stuff's editors note this obvious conflict of interest.

LGNZ is broken, misleading the public, and totally unaccountable to ratepayers. In fact, due to a legislative mistake, LGNZ is exempt from official information laws despite being a publicly-funded body. We're glad to see local councils waking up to the LGNZ's failures.

More than 55,000 New Zealanders have now signed our petition against Three Waters. If you haven't already, add your name here.

55k have now signed

The Government is still burning money on the cancelled Auckland bike bridge 🚴 🚒

The Problem With Auckland's $685m Cycle Bridge | Scoop News

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated the Government's decision to scrap its $785 million cycle bridge across the Waitemata Harbour. That move came after 59,000 New Zealanders signed our petition on the issue, backed by our billboard campaign.

But now the NZ Herald reports the Government is still paying a consortium of contractors to complete designs of Auckland’s scrapped cycle bridge.

$51 million has already been thrown at this scrapped project, with shovels never even touching ground.

And now we're still spending, just to get some pretty pictures. This is the kind of waste that only happens when you’re dealing with ‘other people’s money’.

It’s time to end this rort and move on. Tell the engineers and consultants to put down their pencils and find work on projects New Zealanders actually want.

Emissions reduction plan will create costs without reducing emissions 🍂

Yesterday the Government unveiled a new 140-page Emissions Reduction Plan setting forth a raft of new restrictions on our economy and lifestyles. Here are some of the proposals:

  • A 20 percent target reduction on vehicle kilometres travelled by 2035

  • A 25 percent target reduction from freight transport by 2035

  • A target to have 30 percent zero emissions vehicles by 2035

  • Increase public transport subsidies

  • A vehicle scrappage scheme to incentivise low-income New Zealanders to shift to low-emissions transport

  • Investigate how the tax system should be used to push low-emissions transport options

  • Set a maximum CO2 limit for individual light petrol vehicle imports to tackle the highest emitting vehicles

  • Introduce measures to limit imports of high-emitting vehicles rejected by other countries

  • Limit additional highway and road capacity in line with climate change targets

  • Use congestion pricing to discourage driving

  • End the expansion of gas pipeline infrastructure and eliminate "fossil" gas in all buildings as recommended by the Climate Change Commission

  • Investigate a mandatory energy performance certificate for commercial and public buildings

But there's a massive elephant in the room: none of these proposals will actually reduce New Zealand's total emissions, because these emissions are already set by the Emissions Trading Scheme.

In short, when the Government uses regulation to cut emissions from a source already covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme – say, transport – carbon credits are simply freed up making it more affordable to produce emissions in other ways. That is why the UN advises countries against regulatory interventions when cap-and-trade schemes are in place.

Even if the laundry list of new regulations did succeed in reducing total emissions, a Government-knows-best approach inevitably means blunt measures with higher costs than a carbon pricing system. The particular circumstances of some businesses will mean switching to electric heating or electric vehicles, for example, will involve inordinate cost.

Ignoring the ETS and using a hundred different regulations to whack unfashionable sectors is divisive, costly, and cynical politicking.

Our members and supporters made up the largest group of submitters to the Climate Change Commission on the same plan, sending twice as many submissions as the next largest group (Forest and Bird). You can read our submission here.

Our response to the OCR hike 🏦

Last week the Reserve Bank increased the Official Cash Rate for the first time in seven years. Here's what Jordan told the media:

Today’s OCR hike – which will see households squeezed with higher mortgage payments – is a direct result of the Government’s reckless spending over the last 18 months.  Even worse, with COVID’s economic shock now coming, it comes at the very worst time for households.

The Government needs to do all it can to focus on quality, not quantity, of spending. Its programme of money-printing and borrowing for political purposes has pumped up inflation to unacceptable levels and left future generations of taxpayers with a debt monster. Higher interest rates will increase the financial pain caused by that debt.

All the best,

Louis circle

Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union


Media coverage:

NZ Herald  Three Waters: Minister Nanaia Mahuta defends Māori involvement after councillors criticise 'asset grab'

Democracy Project 
Graham Adams: The debate over the $55 million media fund erupts again

Indian Weekender 
World Health Organisation could learn from NZ's stance on vaping

Elimination has been abandoned - or not. The PM isn't clear

NZ Adviser 
Industry slams government for OCR announcement

Three Waters: The 7 mayors pushing back against a tide of effluent

The Country 
Councils buckling under Three Waters pressure from 'ill-informed' community, mayor says

Interest rates rising

110 additional taxpayer funded journalists

Guest Post: In defence of James Shaw

There's a case for water reform - but not this undemocratic asset grab

Pravda Project at work

More time, consultation needed for Three Waters reform - Whakatāne District Council

'It's just a bloody nuisance': Southland Mayor on Three Waters email bombardment

Why we should be concerned that public service neutrality is eroding

Simon Bridges on the COVID-19 Response (Management Measures) Legislation Bill

Timaru secedes from NZ councils in Three Waters fight against Government

Te Awamutu Courier 
Time up for Three Waters decision

Gisborne Herald 
Polling message to both major parties

Political commentator Ben Thomas on National Party poll drop

The Daily Blog 
TVNZ Poll – The rise of ACT

NZ Herald 
Claire Trevett: Covid lockdown poll slump a warning to PM that patience is wearing thin; and things get worse for Judith Collins

Indian Weekender 
National will struggle to win back lost ground without a convincing Covid plan

NZ Herald 
1 News-Colmar Brunton poll: National, Labour down; Judith Collins crashes to 5% as preferred PM

NZ Herald 
Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Claire Trevett - is Sir John Key's comments a bigger headache for Judith Collins or Jacinda Ardern?

Covid-19: The Prime Minister continuing to use the term 'elimination' is disingenuous

NZ Herald 
Judith Collins doubles down on her future as National Party leader

Hawkes Bay Today 
The Outsider Insider: Awful week for the National Party

Taxpayer Talk: Exclusive polling and analysis with David Farrar

Labour, Greens down and National, ACT up. Those are the headlining figures from the exclusive Taxpayers' Union Curia Market Research monthly poll. A change in COVID-19 strategy has been harsh on the governing coalition with the opposition swooping in to pick up support. Jordan is joined by Curia owner and media commentator David Farrar for analysis of the results. 

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

New survey reveals WHO at odds with Kiwi vapers

Vaping survey

More than two thirds of vapers believe New Zealand’s approach to vaping as a tobacco harm reduction tool is world-leading and should be promoted overseas to save millions of lives, according to a new survey conducted by research house IRI.
The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has released this research an anticipation of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Conference (COP9) this November.
The IRI survey, conducted in September, asked more than 500 Kiwi vapers what they thought of New Zealand’s use of vaping as a tool to help smokers quit. Over 80 per cent said vaping had helped them to reduce or quit smoking. A further 62 per cent believed New Zealand should speak out against any efforts by the WHO to ban or restrict vaping.
Union spokesman and vaper Louis Houlbrooke says, “First, the WHO pressured countries like New Zealand into adopting sky-high tobacco taxes. Now, the same organisation is expressing unfounded hostility to vaping – a tool that in New Zealand has been shown to help smokers quit cigarettes, saving on tax and reducing harms to health.”
New Zealand’s own Ministry of Health has endorsed vaping as a quit aide and the Union is calling on the Ministry’s delegates at COP9 to promote this position internationally.
Vaping has been proven to be more than twice as effective in helping smokers quit as other methods, such as nicotine patches, gum or lozenges, and New Zealand’s success at using vaping to drive down smoking rates was recently featured in a white paper on international best practices authored by the Property Rights Alliance.
“Vaping is a New Zealand success story,” says Mr Houlbrooke. “Smoking rates have plummeted to all-time lows since vaping was legalised, and we’re seeing Jacinda Ardern’s Government embrace vaping to help Kiwis quit. It’s irresponsible of the WHO to peddle vaping misinformation when eight million people globally still die from tobacco-related illnesses annually. That’s almost twice the population of New Zealand, every year.”
“Kiwi vapers recognise that New Zealand has a moral imperative to speak up at COP9 and work with other countries who’ve embraced vaping, such as the UK. Millions of lives are at stake.”
Notes to editors:
The complete polling dataset can be found hereTaxpayers’ Union Campaigns Manager Louis Houlbrooke contributed research to the white paper on international best practices, which can be found here.
Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall says the Government has yet to decide whether it will support the formation of an inter-sessional working group to examine evidence on vaping as a harm reduction tool at COP9.
The Coalition of Asia Pacific Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA) has a website dedicated to collecting testimonials from former smokers who have used vaping to quit or reduce their tobacco consumption. It includes more than 14,500 testimonials and can be found at

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