Lower Taxes, Less Waste,
More Accountability

Championing Value For Money From Every Tax Dollar

Taxpayer Talk: Simon Court On Three Waters

What could be the downside to centralising our water infrastructure and allocating 50% ownership to Iwi? Today on Taxpayer Talk Jordan is joined by ACT MP Simon Court for a discussion about the consequences of the 'Three Waters' proposal and what ACT would do differently.

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

Dr Oliver Hartwich on the consequences of lockdown and civil liberties

Jordan Williams is joined by the New Zealand Initiative director Oliver Hartwich for this episode of Taxpayer Talk. They discuss the impact lockdown is having on New Zealand, the similarities and lessons to be drawn from history and what the likely effects will be on our country's future.

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

Taxpayer Update: Where your money went | Clean car propaganda | Higher ETS levies

Dear Supporter,

Exposed: how the Government exploited COVID-19 to spend more of your money

Since my last newsletter, the Taxpayers’ Union has continued to expose how the Government has frittered away the $62 billion COVID-19 response fund.

The COVID response fund was 20 times larger than Shane Jones’s infamous Provincial Growth fund, and yet even before the current lock down, Grant Robertson had whittled it down from $62 billion to a measly $5 billion.

COVID meme

So, what happened to the money?

Grant Robertson is trying to tell New Zealanders that the money went toward essential business support like the wage subsidy. In reality, wage subsidies made up less than a quarter of the spending.

Below are some examples of how the money was actually spent. Judge for yourself whether this spending really has anything to do with COVID-19.

  • Flood protection in the Far North: $12,500,000

  • Cameras on fishing boats: $26,600,000

  • "Regional digital connectivity": $50,000,000

  • Horse racing: $52,500,000

  • "Public Interest" Journalism: $55,000,000

  • Internet modems for students: $87,000,000 (even Mike Hosking’s kid got one)

  • Affordable housing projects: $100,000,000

  • "Transformative energy" projects: $155,000,000

  • Various large-scale construction projects: $180,000,000

  • Construction of one building at the University of Auckland: $200,000,000

  • "Climate resilience" projects: $210,000,000

  • Arts grants: $374,000,000 (e.g. $17 million for art therapy clinics)

  • School lunches: $515,800,000 (yes, half a billion dollars)

  • "Jobs for Nature": $1,219,000,000 (e.g. the infamous wallaby-culling job creation scheme, which cost $200,000 per low-paying job created)

In short, the Government abused New Zealanders’ trust, exploiting a pandemic to establish New Zealand’s largest-ever political slush fund.

Following our work exposing this abuse of the COVID fund,it's good to see the Opposition parties now picking up our examples and pushing them hard in the media.

With a new lockdown imposing massive costs on businesses, households, and taxpayers, there is a real risk that the money will run out. Grant Robertson now claims that he can claw back some of the funding that was allocated but not spent – that’s almost an admission that he misused the fund.

But he’s also talking down the problem of the dwindling fund, saying that New Zealand’s overall economic position is better than expected. That’s code for: don’t worry, I'll just keep borrowing.

Revealed: Government spends $183,000 advertising 'Clean Car Discount'

You might have noticed recently full-page ads like this in the newspaper:

Clean car ad

Notice how the ad is all about the discount on EVs, and completely ignores the other side of the policy: new fees on petrol vehicles.

This ad was funded by taxpayers. In fact, as we revealed to Radio New Zealand's Morning Report, the New Zealand Transport Agency has spent a total of $183,751 advertising its “Clean Car Discount”.

What a pointless exercise in self-promotion. The amount of media attention this feebate scheme has received since it was announced has surpassed anything NZTA might hope to achieve through paid advertising.

Regardless, retailers of low-emissions vehicles already have an incentive to promote the discount themselves. If the widely-publicised discount is failing to attract people to electric vehicles, that suggests a problem with the policy itself.

The most egregious part of this campaign is the $34,000 allocated for 'content partnerships' with Stuff and NZME. In other words, NZTA is buying positive media coverage. You can view the taxpayer-funded fake news story here.

This raises serious questions about the independence of the media. How can a media outlet effectively scrutinise a policy when at the same time they're paid to promote it?

This campaign isn’t just wasteful – it’s misleading. The ads say the discount will help you 'do your bit to help get New Zealand to carbon neutral'. A simple understanding of New Zealand's Emissions Trading Scheme shows that choosing an EV over a petrol vehicle just frees up emissions to be produced elsewhere under the cap. Buying an electric vehicle might reduce the emissions for your household – but claiming it cuts New Zealand's overall emissions is greenwashing. NZTA should do better.

Higher fuel levies are coming: so why introduce a ute tax?

James Shaw

With the headlines dominated by COVID-19, an important story escaped attention: motorists are set to pay more in ETS levies at the pump. That’s because the Government is lifting the price cap on carbon credits.

ETS levies are nothing new. But this latest move raises an obvious question: if the Government can reduce transport emissions with the ETS, why is it bothering with the new ute tax?

The ute tax is paid in addition to the ETS levies you pay at the pump, making it a double tax.

At least ETS levies are fair – the cost to the taxpayer is proportionate to the amount of emissions produced. In contrast, the planned ute tax unfairly whacks a minority of New Zealanders with disproportionate costs. It's less about reducing emissions and more about bullying ute drivers into lifestyle change – costs and practicality be damned.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw needs to explain to his colleagues that, because we have an ETS, we can scrap the ute tax, along with the other costly and pointless regulatory interventions proposed by the Climate Change Commission.

Fire service wastes money, then runs out of fire trucks

Ladder trucks

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) has a major problem: its fire trucks are breaking down, and it doesn’t have any plans to replace them.

FENZ does not have a funding shortage. In fact, its latest annual report reveals that it collected $13 million more in revenue from the fire services levy than it had forecast for the financial year.

The problem here is a failure to focus spending on the things that matter. A research paper we released last year found that the merger of urban and rural fire services led to massive cost blowouts in back-office bureaucracy.

The department’s culture of wasteful spending appears to have been solidified by the merger. We revealed the rebranding alone for that merger came with a $6.2 million price tag.

Graphic

Meanwhile, new fire stations, even in small communities, have been gold-plated with extra bays, kitchen facilities, and training rooms. Lake Okareka's station cost $1.9 million, Wanaka's $4 million. FENZ's newest fire station in Athol, a community of 87 people, cost $1.6 million – an incredible $46,000 per resident. Admittedly in that case, FENZ was able to swindle most of the station's cost out of the Government's COVID response fund, not that they needed the extra money.

FENZ does not have to justify wasteful spending to Cabinet, as it collects revenue through the fire insurance levy, bypassing the Budget bid process. We’re urging the Government to switch to a more accountable funding model as part of the current review into FENZ's funding.

A very strange new government job

A now-deleted job ad reveals that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is hiring someone specifically to track "disinformation".

DisinformationClick here to view a larger version of this image.

This sounds Orwellian, to say the least. Who gets to decide what counts as disinformation?

DPMC of course reports to the Prime Minister's office.

Taxpayer Talk: 'Aoteanomics' – the latest public sector fad

Leading public sector bosses are increasingly dismissing the importance of productivity, preferring to focus on broader concepts of "wellbeing". Some have called this new way of thinking "Aoteanomics".

In our latest episode of our Taxpayer Talk podcast series, I was joined by Professor Robert MacCulloch of Auckland University to find out what exactly Aoteanomics is, and why such a radical shift in public sector thinking has escaped public debate.

Click here to listen to the podcast.

Alternative, find and subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

A final message from the Taxpayers' Union propaganda communications department

UniteClick here to share this on Facebook.

We hope you and your family are doing OK in the current lockdown. Fingers crossed for a great weekend at home.

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

RNZ  $180k Clean Car Discount ads a waste of money - Taxpayers' Union

Stuff  Timaru District Council says staff turnover below national rate

RNZ  The Weekend Panel with Lavina Good and Louis Houlbrooke

Newshub  Grant Robertson says strong economy means there's enough money to get us through another lockdown

NZ Initiative  Get it done

Revealed: Government spends $183,000 advertising 'Clean Car Discount'

Clean car ad
The New Zealand Transport Agency (Waka Kotahi) has spent $183,751 advertising its Clean Car Discount, reveals the 
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

An official information response shows the advertising campaign was developed by Clemenger BBDO and ran for most of July including print, radio, posters, flyers, Google ads, and "content partnerships".

What a pointless exercise in self-promotion. The amount of media attention this feebate scheme has received since it was announced has surpassed anything NZTA might hope to achieve through paid advertising.

Regardless, retailers of low-emissions vehicles already have an incentive to promote the discount themselves. If the widely-publicised discount is failing to attract people to electric vehicles, that suggests a problem with the policy itself.

The most egregious part of this campaign is the $34,000 allocated for 'content partnerships' with Stuff and NZME. In other words, NZTA is buying positive media coverage. This raises serious questions about the independence of the media. How can a media outlet effectively scrutinise a policy when at the same time they're paid to promote it?

Examples of the advertisements can be viewed here and here (bottom right). The online ‘content partnership’ can be viewed here.

The ads weren't just wasteful but misleading, saying that the scheme would help you 'do your bit to help get New Zealand to carbon neutral'. Anyone with a basic understanding of climate policy knows that in New Zealand carbon emissions are capped and traded, so choosing an EV over a petrol vehicle just frees up emissions to be produced elsewhere under the cap.

Taxpayer Update: What on earth happened to the COVID-19 response fund?

Dear Supporter,

None of us can know what the coming weeks will bring, but like the first time around, the Taxpayers' Union team is working from home laser-focused on demanding more efficient spending in Wellington.

Lockdowns – and their inevitable economic consequences – make every dollar of taxpayer money even more precious. 

Grant Robertson is again dipping into his $50 billion COVID-19 response fund to keep businesses afloat with wage subsidies. But there's a big problem: most of the fund has already been allocated to projects announced last year. Remember horse tracks for COVID? "Jobs for Nature" – which cost $200,000 per low-paying job created?

We hate to say "told you so", but all that dipping into the rainy-day-fund now looks very silly. Today's newsletter has some more examples.

Remember: this is all borrowed money, set to be repaid by future generations of taxpayers with interest.

Government spends $17 million fighting COVID with art therapy

Art image

I wish we were joking. Minister Carmel Sepuloni is spending $17 million on "creative spaces" for "marginalised" New Zealanders to "build up their confidence and self-esteem" and gain "a sense of fulfilment".

You can browse the full list of grants here.

The money comes from Creative NZ's $374 million ‘Arts and Culture COVID Recovery Programme’, part of the overall COVID response fund.

We've previously highlighted dodgy COVID-19 arts grants, but at least they had a vague link to the pandemic (i.e. projects that could be progressed during lockdown). Now, Creative NZ is just grifting us.

Sorry to say it, but art therapy is not an established inoculant for COVID-19. Nor does art therapy work as an economic response to the pandemic when there are so many more vital projects in health and infrastructure.

If the Government really wants to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at art projects, so be it – but at least drop the pretense that this has anything to do with COVID-19.

Taxpayers fund a nasty diatribe accusing National MP of racism

Newsroom poem

Here's another howler from Creative NZ.

You might remember how they're funding a series of poorly-written political poems for Newsroom. The latest taxpayer-funded effort from Victor Billot characterises National MP Simeon Brown as a far-right colonialist lamenting “natives refusing to die off”.

It's a nasty, slanderous diatribe. And like the grants above, this poem is technically part of the Government's COVID-19 response!

We say Creative NZ shouldn't be funding any political material. But the arts agency has grown out of control, frenzied on an injection of taxpayer funding post-COVID. They’ve hijacked a crisis in order to commission reactionary woke propaganda.

Revealed: Health Research Council throwing millions at woke nonsense

HRC grant image

Health Minister Andrew Little is crowing about the latest round of taxpayer-funded research grants handed out by the Health Research Council.

He probably wasn't expecting anyone to look at the grants too closely but your humble Taxpayers' Union did.

Here are some highlights:

  • $1.2 million examining the lived experiences of intersectional ethnic minority youth

  • $5 million on iwi-led research explaining how partnership models can improve the health system

  • $1.1 million using the lunar calendar to help Māori connect with their environment

  • $387,000 providing gay teenagers with “decolonising and mātauranga Māori-informed bodies of knowledge”

  • $258,000 to “decolonise the western construct of pharmacist services”

  • $150,000 to design a virtual reality video game about foetal alcohol syndrome

This spending is an insult to New Zealand's COVID-19 response. In fact, only a tiny fraction of the projects have anything to do with the pandemic or vaccinations.

Frankly, it's disgraceful that research in the hard medical sciences is forced to compete for the same pool of funding as vague and uber-PC academic papers about decolonisation, intersectionality, and traditional Māori knowledge.

Click here to find a list of 2021's dodgiest health research grants.

(Trigger warning: the official project summaries contain serious academic gobbledygook).

Amazon ditches New Zealand: taxpayers got played

Jeff Bezos

Remember how the Government offered $162 million to Amazon so they'd film their Lord of the Rings TV series here?

That decision was justified on the basis that Amazon could bring another four TV seasons and even a spinoff series to New Zealand. But now, after just one season in New Zealand, Amazon is shifting production to the UK.

The Government has now learned firsthand why Jeff Bezos is the richest man on Earth. Amazon successfully played the New Zealand and UK governments off each other to secure one massive handout after another.

As we’ve warned time and time again, the only way to win the film subsidy game is to not play. Both National and Labour-led Governments have naively been drawn into taxpayer-funded bidding wars to woo film productions. The truth is that we cannot outbid richer countries forever.

We're sending a wreath to our friends at the UK TaxPayers’ Alliance in commiserations for the massive sum that Britain's taxpayers will be forking out to appease Amazon.

It's Tim to say goodbye

Sir Tim Shadbolt is New Zealand’s longest serving Mayor, certainly one of the best known, and definitely one of the most beloved, both in his home of Invercargill and around the country.

But a recent video of an extraordinary council meeting reveals the sad truth: Sir Tim is no longer capable of doing his job.

Meeting video

Repeatedly, faced with basic procedural motions, councillors are forced to explain: “Your Worship, we have already voted on that”.

This is not a one-off bad day. Six months ago, the Thomson Report, commissioned after the Department of Internal Affairs raised concerns about troubles at the Invercargill City Council described "obvious concerns including short term memory deficits, confusion, and the need to be closely managed ... increasing incidents of embarrassment during meetings which a, generally, compassionate Council has done their best to hide from the general public."

In the past we've given Sir Tim stick for his odd spending habits, but this is sadder and more serious. His ratepayers deserve capable representation. We like Sir Tim, and it's not easy to say this, but you only need watch the video above to appreciate that he needs to stand down.

Meanwhile in Christchurch...

Chch bridge

Here's a great example from Christchurch of how art, engineering, and other people’s money are a dangerous mix.

In 2017, Crown agency Otakaro spent $90,000 on a competition to design a pedestrian bridge, only to scrap all the submissions due concerns over maintenance costs.

Then, facing backlash from local artists, they engaged Ngāi Tahu to design flax-inspired ‘decorative elements’ for the bridge. Now, before the bridge has even opened, the decorative balustrades are *rusting* and require remedial work. The agency’s excuse: it rained last month!

This should have been a small project. But it’s now cost taxpayers $3.1 million, and we still don’t have an opening date for the bridge. What a shambles.

MPs, Councillors appear on our podcast

Our Researcher, Max, continues to crank out episodes of Taxpayer Talk. Here are some our recent guests:

Make sure you don't miss fresh episodes by subscribing to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

Kiwiblog  
Guest Post: It’s Tim to say goodbye

Newshub  
Lord of the Rings TV show: Minister under fire for not securing second season pledge

Offsetting Behaviour  Afternoon roundup

Rotorua Daily Post  Rotorua Lakes Council owed $4.6 million in unpaid rates for past financial year

Sunday Star-Times  The scourge of the celebrity CEO

Rural News
  How Much?

 

Op-ed: Minister's righteous frustration at enormous spending for mediocre results

Andrew Little

The following is an opinion piece by Taxpayers' Union analyst Neil Miller. It is free for publication.

Andrew Little is frustrated at the health system – again, that’s hardly news these days – but this time he has a very good point. Facing an incredibly hostile crowd of GPs at their conference, the Minister of Health said he was struggling to get his head around the fact the government pumped billions of extra dollars into the health system, and “the same pressures that were evident three years ago are evident now”.

How do you spend billions of taxpayer dollars on health and not see any practical outcomes for New Zealanders? It is a question that Little should be asking of his predecessors Dr David Clark and Chris Hipkins, and, frankly, of himself.

Labour has controlled the health portfolio for four years, controlled the budget for four years. This is not a problem inherited from the fabled “nine long years of neglect” under National. In fact, Labour just stole one of National’s central health policies – measuring results – after having abolished it immediately upon becoming Government. 

The answer to Little’s conundrum is unfortunately simple. Labour Health Ministers have been almost exclusively focused on money. That money provides slogans, billboards, election adverts, infographics, talking points for interviews, and nice-looking graphs for the media. What successive Health Ministers should have been asking was: “What improvements are actual patients seeing from all this expenditure?” That bit fell off the radar.

The attitude of “make a policy announcement, give lots of money, then presume everything else goes well” is not good enough for such a large and important portfolio. For every taxpayer dollar taken, 20 cents goes to Health. It is not pocket change and Ministers need to follow up on results.

The Government’s announcement of 12 health indicators is a step in the right direction, even if they are largely restoring measurements that they previously dumped. Let us hope this reflects a shift in focus to outputs and outcomes, not raw spending.

Unfortunately, in this modern media environment, perhaps the enduring quote from the announcement was Minister Little telling reporters that he's "not here to be licked up and down". The Taxpayers’ Union office is deeply divided on what this actually meant. His office has been contacted for official clarification.

Health Research Council throwing millions at woke nonsense

HRC grant image

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is challenging the value of the latest round of research grants funded by the Health Research Council.

Comparing to last year’s grants, we’ve noticed a big shift towards ‘wellbeing’-centred research that is often, frankly, woke nonsense. Research in the hard medical sciences is forced to compete for the same pool of funding as vague and uber-PC academic papers about decolonisation, intersectionality, and traditional Māori knowledge.

Examples of grants approved in 2021 include:

•  $1.2 million examining the lived experiences of intersectional ethnic minority youth

•  $5 million on iwi-led research explaining how partnership models can improve the health system

•  $1.1 million using the lunar calendar to help Māori connect with their environment

•  $387,000 providing gay teenagers with “decolonising and mātauranga Māori-informed bodies of knowledge”

•  $258,000 to “decolonise the western construct of pharmacist services”

•  $150,000 to design a virtual reality video game about foetal alcohol syndrome

This spending is an insult to New Zealanders stuck in surgery wait lists or seeking access to life-saving drugs. Deep down, Andrew Little must know this is an embarrassing use of taxpayer funds. It’s telling that he opened his statement about the grants by praising the research on cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, conspicuously skipping over the millions handed out to projects that would be received with derision by New Zealanders navigating our bureaucratic health system.

Inevitably, the vested interests profiting from this funding will accuse us of unfairly targeting ‘diversity’ focused grants. But it’s simply the case that intersectionality and ‘mātauranga Māori’ dominates the list of projects. If we ignored the woke grants, there wouldn’t be many left!

The most incredible part of this spending is that’s it’s happening during a global pandemic. You’d think the Health Research Council would be focused on that, but of the 173 grants awarded this year, only seven mention COVID-19.

The Health Research Council gives out around $126 million in funding per year. Below is a list of questionable grants from this year.

Intersectional ethnic minority youth: harnessing creativity for health gains
Approved budget: $1,199,984
our study engages with Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American and African youth to explore how their varying social identities, including gender diversity, sexuality, migration, and interactions with health, education and social sectors, intersect with their lived experiences of being from non-dominant ethnic groups.

Kia puawai ake ngā uri whakatupu: flourishing future generations
Approved budget: $4,999,949.60
This collaborative programme of research, hosted by an iwi-owned research centre, comprises an integrated suite of Māori-led studies that seek to contribute to the achievement of equitable health outcomes. The programme will explore the positive change that can occur when Māori have the opportunity to drive solutions and work in authentic partnership models.

Te Maramataka - restoring 'health' by reconnecting with Te Taiao
Approved budget: $1,125,097.05
The maramataka [lunar calendar] is a system our tūpuna used to connect environmental tohu to certain activities – some days were better for intense work, while others were considered ideal for rest and ‘giving back’. … This study aims to … co-design a maramataka-based ‘intervention’ that will support Māori to connect with te taiao [the environment] in uniquely Māori ways

Kia taiohi te tū
Approved budget: $386,985.00
Little is known about the needs and experiences of taiohi [teenagers] growing up in te reo Māori-speaking whānau and with regard to intimate relationships, gender and sexualities. … This kaupapa Māori research is a mana whānau project which aims to build whānau-centred bodies of knowledge that incorporate the successes and challenges whānau are experiencing in using mātauranga Māori [Māori knowledge] to support taiohi on their journeys. … providing access to decolonising and mātauranga Māori-informed bodies of knowledge.

He tono whakapiki ora: Whānau and pharmacists’ knowledge exchange
Approved budget: $258,471.00
Informed by a kaupapa Māori paradigm, the research will examine the intersect between pharmacists and mātauranga Māori [Māori knowledge] in a contemporary context to attempt to decolonise the western construct of pharmacist services.

Walk a mile in their shoes - Developing a virtual reality experience of FASD
Approved budget: $150,000.00
We propose to 1) use novel data collection methods to capture everyday lived experiences of FASD [Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder] individuals, and 2) using the data gathered, develop and test if the VR game can raise awareness and foster positive attitudes toward individuals with FASD.

Exploring the role of Tongan faith leaders in influencing wellbeing
Approved budget: $84,033.00
The proposed doctoral study will investigate the role of faith leaders in influencing the wellbeing of Tongan people living in Aotearoa.

Te Kura Mai i Tawhiti - kaupapa Māori early years provision and health outcomes
Approved budget: $1,199,860.64
Our proposed research is led by Māori and draws on mātauranga Māori and Western science. … Findings will help address the need for proven interventions for tamariki Māori that strengthen culturally relevant positive behaviours and can be rolled out nationally.

Aho Tapairu: Developing a mana wahine wellbeing toolkit
Approved budget: $394,035
I am a kaupapa Māori mana wahine researcher committed to projects motivated by decolonial and transformatory agendas. My background is in revitalising customary Māori knowledge as healing interventions for Māori women and their whānau today. … I am also committed to overturning derogatory colonial redefinitions of Māori femininity that leads to poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes for Māori women and girls. … I will also create a framework for Māori women to recover their own tikanga and ceremony as healing interventions.

Pacific Islands Families: Thriving Pacific Young Adults
Approved budget: $1,199,365.95
The Pacific Islands Families: Thriving Pacific Young Adults (PIF: TPYA) study seeks to explore how cultural identity, family functioning, and employment impact the mental wellbeing of a cohort of 850 Pacific young adults (aged 22 years).

A kaupapa Māori analysis of Māori cannabis and methamphetamine use
Approved budget: $554,400
I have a deep commitment to improving Māori health outcomes through kaupapa Māori health research. This is reflected in my career development to date, with 15 years' experience in Māori and indigenous health research, including the completion of a PhD in public health exploring the potential of rongoā Māori [traditional healing]. The proposed postdoctoral fellowship includes a kaupapa Māori analysis of the multiple dimensions of Māori cannabis and methamphetamine use.

Kia taiohi te tū
Approved budget: $386,985.00
Little is known about the needs and experiences of taiohi [teenagers] growing up in te reo Māori-speaking whānau and with regard to intimate relationships, gender and sexualities. … This kaupapa Māori research is a mana whānau project which aims to build whānau-centred bodies of knowledge that incorporate the successes and challenges whānau are experiencing in using mātauranga Māori [Māori knowledge] to support taiohi on their journeys. … providing access to decolonising and mātauranga Māori-informed bodies of knowledge.

Collaboration for child wellbeing
Approved budget: $890,709.00
This grant supports collaboration for child wellbeing. … With the Manaiakalani Kahui ako, we will adapt and test a play-based intervention to improve self-regulation so it is culturally-grounded, engaging, and developmentally scaffolded.

Experiences of children and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic
Approved budget: $242,645.00
This project aims to explore the experiences of children, young people and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK with a health equity lens.

A smart toothpaste for the twenty-first century
Approved budget: $150,000.00
A novel bioactive smart toothpaste will be prepared using bioceramics and a natural anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent will provide an inexpensive clinical-grade formulation to mitigate oral infections and ensure implant longevity while also offering the traditional benefits of plaque removal and whiter teeth. The affordable and easily accessible smart toothpaste will significantly improve the oral health of all communities in New Zealand and across the world.

ENDS

Simeon Brown on Gangs

Max is joined by Simeon Brown to address exactly why the donation of 2.75 million to the gang-run Kahukura program was a poor decision by this government, and to rebut some of the points that have been brought up in support of it.

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

Taxpayer Update: SkyPath u-turn? | Bureaucracy booming | Dodgy media funding

Dear Supporter,

The Government's feeling the pressure on its cycle bridge

SkyPath petition

The proposed $685 million cycle bridge has perhaps been the Government’s worst political misfire. 

In June we commissioned a Curia poll which showed that 63 percent of New Zealanders oppose the cycle bridge. Now, a new Newshub poll corroborates our findings, showing its even more unpopular! Eighty-one percent of New Zealanders are now opposed.

And it seems the Finance Minister is feeling the heat: he's now just describing SkyPath 2.0 as the "current" proposal, and is talking up the changes of building an alternative tunnel crossing.

This progress is the result of people power. Our petition against the bridge has been signed by an incredible 58,000 New Zealanders, and our online ads and billboards have been seen by millions of New Zealanders.

With one last push, let's put the final nail in the coffin and force the Government to bin this wasteful project. Click here to chip in to the campaign fund to stop SkyPath and keep the heat on the Beehive.

Revealed: Andrew Little's "former gang member" claim was wrong

Little and Tam

Remember how Andrew Little defended giving a $2.75 million contract to a Mongrel Mob-affiliated organisation by claiming its leader was just a "former" gang member?

We can now confirm what many of you suspected: Hard2Reach director Harry Tam is in fact a patched lifetime member of the Mongrel Mob Notorious chapter. Our research team have uncovered a new interview with a small Māori media outlet where Mr Tam couldn't be clearer.

Andrew Little now has some explaining to do. Was he misled by Mr Tam, or officials, or was he being economical with the truth? Either way Kiwis deserve a retraction, an apology, and a review of the funding.

We're keeping the heat on the Government's gang funding

In case you missed it, here's a photo of the ad we ran on page two of Wednesday's NZ Herald:

Herald ad 1Click here to view a larger picture of the ad.

The ad was rejected by two separate billboard companies, so we were relieved to get it over the line with the NZ Herald. Thanks to everyone who chipped in to make it possible!

Bureaucracy is booming

The Public Service Commission collects a wealth of statistics on the public sector, including the total headcount of public service employees.

It turns out growth in taxpayer-funded staff has boomed under this Government:

Staffing graphClick here to view a large version of this image.
Click here to share it on Facebook.

And that's based on figures from 2020. The Public Service Commission will update its figures in December, and based on recent reports from Radio NZ, we're expecting another big jump for 2021.

We asked the Public Service Commissioner for his thoughts. In an email to us, he said he's comfortable with such rapid growth, pointing to "an increase in investment to implement government priorities", and challenges like COVID-19 and two Royal Commissions of Inquiry.

But that doesn't explain why staff growth has been so consistent *across* the public sector.

For example, Stats NZ grew its staff numbers by 41% in just two years. Even the Beehive has become crowded with political advisors. A battalion of 332 staff now serve the Government's 20 Cabinet members:

DPMC

To us, that suggests a culture change towards bureaucratic growth, starting at the very top of the New Zealand Government.

NZ on Air throwing taxpayer money at dubious "journalism"

NZ on Air grantTaxpayers are paying for Stuff journalists to learn how to be more woke.

Media outlets have enjoyed a bonanza of taxpayer funding under this Government – especially with the introduction of NZ on Air's new "public interest journalism" fund.

But as you'll see, many of the funded programmes are at best strange, and at worst, stray into political propaganda.

Judge for yourself:

  • Recipient: Stuff
    Amount: $301,000
    Project: A "cultural competency course" for Stuff journalists "to fundamentally shift representation in NZ media"

  • Recipient: Stuff
    Amount: $143,000
    Project: A documentary on the production of an opera about the “unruly British tourists”

  • Recipient: Stuff
    Amount: $97,000
    Project: A podcast series named “Crying At Work” that shows “what the real-life consequences are for the women who find themselves in the brutal news cycle”

  • Recipient: Stuff
    Amount: $120,000
    Project: Four podcast episodes about “the anarchic radical feminists who put their feet on the accelerator of social change”

  • Recipient: Stuff
    Amount: $591,000
    Project: “an animated fact-checking project designed to protect public health”

  • Recipient: Newsroom
    Amount: $51,000
    Project: “Training to upskill Newsroom’s two recently employed graduate journalists”

  • Recipient: Radio Bay Of Plenty
    Amount: $97,000
    Project: “report on the $200m worth of Provincial Growth Fund projects in the Eastern Bay of Plenty”

We've also looked into the funding of one particular media outlet: our "friends" at The Spinoff, an online lifestyle magazine for left-wing millennials.

The Spinoff has had its funding spike in the last year, and is now engaged in a hiring spree.

Spinoff graph

Click here to see the full list of NZ on Air grants received by The Spinoff.

All of this raises the question: can a government-dependent media outlet truly be considered ‘independent’?

Report reveals how the RMA drives up grocery prices

Groceries

Plenty of media attention has been paid to the Commerce Commission’s draft report on New Zealand’s grocery market. But most commentators seem to have missed the most interesting part of the report.

The report absolutely skewers the Resource Management Act for the way it restricts access to suitable retail sites, drives up site prices, and helps existing shops lock out competition. All of this results in higher grocery costs for households.

If there’s one sentence in the entire report that epitomises the destructive power of regulation, it’s this: We note that the major grocery retailers have historically opposed each other’s resource consent applications under the RMA.

Madness! We should have scrapped this regulatory tax long ago.

A message for ute owners

Dear legitimate and illegitimate ute owners,

First, the Government came after your wallets with the virtue signaling but carbon-useless ute tax. Now, taxpayer-funded academics are coming after your ute’s name too.

You probably do not know Kirsty Wild and Alistair Woodward at the University of Auckland, but you do pay their salaries.

Their research into utes apparently revealed that themes of dominance and violence are strong: vehicles have names like “Raptor” and “Gladiator”.

If they had their way, you'd presumably be working your farm in your Ford Kindness, driving to the construction site in your Toyota Unicorn, or taking the kids to school in your Nissan Neve.

Stand up for your ute by signing the petition at www.UteTax.co.nz.

A cause that deserves your support: Have your say on proposed "hate speech" laws

We seldom back causes outside our wheelhouse of Lower Taxes, Less Waste, More Transparency, but we're making an exception for the Government's proposed hate speech law changes, and the threat they present to the Taxpayer's Union's ability to do our job. 

In 2018, several Taxpayers' Union staff were involved in forming the Free Speech Coalition, which has now transformed into a registered trade union fighting for free speech in workplaces across New Zealand. It operates independently, but we keep abreast of their work.

The Free Speech Union is leading the charge against the Government's hate speech law changes which could criminalise our criticism of wasteful spending and exorbitant taxation.

In fact one of the potential categories of 'hate speech' is insulting on the basis of political belief. That is chilling.

Already, the Taxpayers' Union is regularly accused by the Twitter mob of "divisive" and even "hateful" speech when we take controversial positions on sensitive spending. Under the proposed law change, insult and offence will be given the upper hand and could jeopardise our ability to hold government to account. 

Would you be willing to have your say on the Government's hate speech reforms? Our friends at the Free Speech Union have created a tool to make filing a submission a two minute job.

Submissions close end of tomorrow so please act now before it's too late.

Consultation closes at 5pm tomorrow. Click here to make a brief submission.

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

Farmers Weekly  
Opinion divided on climate change advice

Homepaddock  But the $billion bridge

Stuff  Air NZ wanted Climate Commission to go faster, dairy and meat groups said slow down

Bay of Plenty Times  Green light for 15pc rates rise as Tauranga City approves controversial Long-term Plan

SunLive  Commissioner reacts to ratepayer protests

Kiwiblog  Govt may backtrack on billion dollar bike bridge

Kiwiblog  $6.1 million to The Spinoff from Taxpayers

RNZ  The ethics and costs of saving wild animals

 

Reserve Bank spends almost $400,000 on Tāne Mahuta art

The Reserve Bank spent $373,739 on artwork in its lobby promoting its new 'Tāne Mahuta' narrative, reveals an official information response released to the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

The centerpiece of the artwork is a massive swamp kauri sculpture of Tāne Mahuta, the Māori god of the forest.

Sculpture

The artwork also includes (in the Bank's words):

•  three pou (pillars) representing Te Ngahere (the Forest Tāne)
•  mosaic floor tiles running the length of the lobby representing Ngā Pūtake (the roots of Tāne Mahuta), and
•  a resdesigned reception desk area representing a waka hourua (a double-hulled canoe)

The Bank justifies the spending by saying, "As the lobby had not been refurbished in more than 13 years, we took the opportunity to redesign it to reflect our strategic direction and incorporate out Tāne Mahuta narrative as its framework. This enabled the Reserve Bank to further communicate its commitment to our Te Ao Māori strategy and visually reinforce this narrative to our staff and visitors to the building."

Clearly, the Reserve Bank has let its money-printing powers go to its head.

We entrust the Reserve Bank to maintain the stability and security of our money supply. This requires hard-headed, rational leadership. But under the leadership of Adrian Orr, the Bank has become distracted with its own fluffy, feel-good marketing and internal "narrative". This is bureaucratic navel-gazing at its most absurd.

This was part of a wider refurbishment of the lobby, the total cost of which was $1.2 million, reports the Herald.

Revealed: $2.75m funding for Mongrel Mob was signed off by PM

Image

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that the fund that gave a $2.75 million drug rehab contract to Mongrel Mob leaders is managed by just three Ministers, meaning the grant was signed off by the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, and Minister of Justice.

The Ministry of Justice’s website confirms that for Proceeds of Crime Fund proposals:

If an agency is successful in getting its proposal shortlisted, it will be invited to submit a more detailed funding proposal for the [evaluation] Panel to consider.

The Panel will then provide recommendations to the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and Minister of Justice, who determine which proposals should be approved and funded.

At first, this sounded like the kind of lapse of judgment typically made by unelected, out-of-touch bureaucrats. But now we learn that this funding was approved by our highest elected officials. There is no running from your own decision.

Jacinda Ardern needs to front up and explain exactly how this disgraceful spending made it past her desk. We can only hope it was some kind of horrible mistake – in which case she needs to apologise, pick up the phone, and cut off the funding.

The Union today launched a petition to end all taxpayer-funded contracts given to gangs and gang-run organisations at www.taxpayers.org.nz/gangs.

Taxpayer Update: Your money given to the Mongrel Mob | Even more tax on ute owners | Debt Monster is coming

Dear Supporter,

Louis took a much-deserved break this week, but the Government's attacks on taxpayers have continued. Thankfully the whole team is back on Monday!

Wondering where the Mongrel Mob gets its money? You!

Defence Force

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt made an appalling decision to give a taxpayer-funded koha to the Mongrel Mob when he spoke at one of their events earlier this year. When details came out on Monday, we told the media:

“The only koha Paul Hunt should be paying in relation to the Mongrel Mob is to Victim Support and Women’s Refuge.”

“The Commissioner's initial display of poor judgment, when he legitimised the ‘conference’ of this criminal organisation, was bad enough. To actually gift the gang taxpayer money is disgraceful.”

It's taken until today for Mr Hunt to front media. He's now saying "protocol" required him to make the koha.

Here's our message to Mr Hunt: the 'protocol' is you make a koha from your own pocket, not taxpayers...

Our friendly mascot, Porky the Waste Hater, is standing by too. He might just make an appearance at Mr Hunt's next speaking event to demand a koha back for taxpayers...

So much for 'revenue neutral' – Car Tax revealed as a money grab 💸🚗

PCC graphic

The sheer scale and cost of Labour’s ‘clean car rebate’ Car Tax has been revealed with official advice to Ministers suggesting that some 100,000 car owners are likely to be affected next year alone.

In addition, the Government is projected to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars more from the Car Tax than it will pay back in rebates. There are simply not enough electric vehicles available – now and in the foreseeable future – to make this a revenue-neutral policy as Ministers have claimed.

Of course, the elephant in the room is that this policy does nothing for the environment because transport is already covered by our Emissions Trading Scheme. That means any emissions saved by the move to electric cars are simply made available for cheaper emissions elsewhere under the ETS 'cap and trade' framework. As we've said all along: what is really promoting this is the boost to the Government coffers.

And now Ministers want IRD to chase farm and tradie utes! 🛻

Ute tax crack down

Documents released under the Official Information Act show Revenue Minister David Parker is talking to IRD officials about cracking down on how utes are taxed due to what they say is a “proliferation” of double-cab utes.

This is yet another tax grab on kiwi farmers and tradies.

The reason the FBT is so complex is that it’s hard to distinguish between professional and personal use when it comes to work on the farm – something the 9 to 5 governmental bureaucracy doesn’t seem to understand. Even IRD acknowledges that chasing down those who are abusing the exemption is futile because of the little funding it would bring in.

The message couldn’t be clearer: if you own a double-cab ute, this Government is coming for your wallet. Be damned that these measures hit hardest those who are the working backbone of our economy.

If you've not already {{recipient.first_name_or_friend}}, stand up for the humble Kiwi ute, and add your name to the petition at www.UteTax.co.nz 👈

Speaking of the Ute Tax - our bumper stickers for 'legitimate ute owners' are flying out the door.

Legitimate Ute owner bumper sticker
>> Click here to get yours <<

Tax these bumper sticker>> Click here to get yours <<

IRD wonky tax calculator a shambles 🖥️

Masterton CCTV

The IRD had a red face this week when a public-spirited accountant in Nelson blew the whistle on a flaw in an IRD online calculator that has lead people with overseas shares to pay too much tax. The calculator was pulled offline on Monday – just 48 hours before personal income tax returns were due. The calculator relates to tax calculations for Kiwis having invested in foreign shares to work out their taxable profits under IR Fair Dividend Rate (FIF) tax regime.

The one thing IRD is supposed to know about is tax. If the system is so complex that IRD's boffins and IT people can't get it right, what hope is there for Joe-taxpayer?

To add salt to the wound, it's just come out that IRD had in fact been told about the fault 15 months earlier!

Let's put the shoe on the other foot: if IRD had a faulty calculator that saw too little tax being paid, Wellington will have moved heaven and earth to fix it.

Your humble Taxpayers' Union has been lobbying the IRD to confirm that any taxpayers with late or amended returns caused by the error will not face overdue fees or interest. Thankfully, IRD saw sense and agreed to this (but please get in touch if they try to do otherwise).

Science funding should focus on performance, not ancestry 🔬

Ardern

New Zealand's focus on improving the research quality (and therefore international rankings) of our universities is under threat after the Government quietly changed the rules so that the $315-million-a-year Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) will now pay Māori researchers 2.5 times the rate of non-Māori, while Pasifika academics will be paid two times the non-Pasifika rate.

Politicising science research on racial grounds is not the pathway to improving our international standings. The PBRF, in the Government’s own words, was established "to encourage and reward excellent research based on performance". It was never meant to be dependent on the ancestry of academics.

Treasury warns government debt is on 'unsustainable trajectory' 💣

This week the Government’s main economic adviser, Treasury, published a draft report warning the Government that its debt is on an “unsustainable trajectory” thanks to an ageing population driving up superannuation and health costs.

Treasury is right to blow the whistle on the impact of Government debt on New Zealanders’ living standards, but it's not just the long term challenges that are a concern. Right now New Zealand has close to full employment but the Government is running a Budget deficit of nearly 5% of GDP. That means that debt has already clocked up more than $66,000 for every Kiwi household.

Debt Clock

The Government is mortgaging our kids' futures when it is not needed. Poor quality spending like the ridiculous Auckland harbour bike bridge isn't free or without consequence.

Track the Debt Monster in real-time at www.DebtClock.nz – how much does your household owe thanks to the Government?

MPs in Depth Podcast: ACT MP Karen Chhour 🎙️

MPs in depth podcast

This week our Researcher Max sat down with newbie ACT Party MP Karen Chhour to discuss the switch to working in Parliament, why the Government isn't walking its talk in regards to child poverty reduction, and the role of ACT in opposition.

Click here to listen to the episode online or subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

Have a great weekend,

Jordan

Jordan_signature.jpg
Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

 

Donate


Media coverage:

Whanganui Chronicle  Are They Paid Enough? What our councillors earn and why some say it should be more

NZ Local Government Magazine  Water reform savings ‘laughable’

RNZ  The Panel, with Taxpayers' Union Analysis Neil Miller

Stuff South Cantabrians to join 'A Howl of a Protest' against Government regulations

Homepaddock  Really is a tax grab

Northland Age  Taxpayers’ Union says that trickle up theory works

Northland Age  Water plan a ‘recipe for gold plating’

Newstalk ZB  The Huddle with Taxpayers' Union Analysis Neil Miller

Kiwiblog  Clarke Gayford – “genius”, “top bloke”, “first man” – or just engaged to the Prime Minister?

Petition launched to end all taxpayer funding for gangs

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has launched a petition calling for the cancellation of all taxpayer funding for gangs, at www.taxpayers.org.nz/gangs. 

This is in response to the revelation that the Ministry of Health is paying the Mongrel Mob $2.75 million to run a drug rehab programme.

Last week, New Zealanders rightly condemned the Human Rights Commissioner for giving a $200 koha to the Mongrel Mob. But now we learn our Ministry of Health is giving them almost $3 million.

The thugs making millions by selling drugs have been given millions more to run the rehab programmes. It’s a sickening cycle of profiteering at the expense of our communities’ health, safety, and taxpayer funds.

Putting aside the ghastliness of giving taxpayer money to the mob, it’s also a conflict of interest. How can we pay an organisation to rehabilitate drug users when its business model depends on ongoing addiction? Gangs have a vested interest in addiction and should therefore be kept well away from the rehab business.

A few months ago, we never thought such a cosy relationship between government and organised crime was possible. But it appears these back door financing arrangements are widespread. We’re calling on all Government agencies to front up about what contracts they hold with gangs and gang-run organisations, and to cut these contracts off before the Taxpayers’ Union exposes them.

 

MP in Depth: Karen Chhour

In this episode of our "MPs in Depth" series, our Researcher Max Salmon interviews newbie ACT Party MP Karen Chhour to discuss the switch to working in parliament, why the Government isn't walking its talk in regards to child poverty reduction, and the role of ACT in opposition. 

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

Taxpayer Update: Māori procurement | Missing $1.9b | Rest in Peace

As you'll see at the bottom of this post, the team have been busy responding to media enquiries about our 2021 edition of Ratepayers' Report – our council league tables. Meanwhile, our campaigns against the planned car tax and the $685 million bike bridge are still going strong.

But there are plenty of other issues facing taxpayers (and no shortage of work to do!):

Government entities are now asking contractors to prove they're Māori

Defence Force

Midge Holdings is a small business owner in Christchurch. She's contracted by the Defence Force to provide them with special makeup effects and fake blood for their training.

However, she's now received a letter from the Defence Force asking her to prove her business is 'Māori owned'. It's not, and that could mean she loses the contract under new procurement rules coming into effect.

Here's what we told the media:

The Taxpayers’ Union were the first to raise the alarm over 'indigenous procurement' policies back in 2019, when we found the idea buried deep in a Cabinet paper. Now that the policy has been rammed through without consultation, we're seeing the ugly results.

We should welcome government entities reviewing contracts to maximise value, but that's not what's happening here. A government entity is threatening a specialist contractor's livelihood on the basis of her race. It's almost unbelievable that this could happen in 2021 in a developed country.

Chopping off best-placed contractors for the sake of political correctness will result in second-best contractors providing less value for the taxpayer.

New Zealanders shouldn't be forced to lie about their family background, or to pay genealogists and consultants to verify their Māori credentials, in order to offer services to the Government. The key consideration – in fact, the only consideration – in Government procurement should be value for the taxpayer.

Mental health: Where did the $1.9 billion go?

Ardern

Remember the "Wellbeing Budget"? In 2019, Jacinda Ardern made a huge splash in international media with her $1.9 billion investment announcement in mental health.

Popular left-wing American news site Vox said the Budget showed how Ardern's Government "emphasizes citizen happiness over capitalist gain."

But they also quoted your humble Taxpayers' Union: in the same article, I warned that the Government could just be throwing money into a black hole.

Two years later, it's fair to say the results are in: the $1.9 billion announcement bought us just five new mental health beds. If that's not a case of money disappearing into the abyss, I don't know what is.

Meanwhile, mental health advocate Mike King has returned his order of merit medal, saying that in hindsight, the $1.9 billion actually made life worse for people by providing a sense of false hope.

The Health Minister's response? He says he's "frustrated".

Taxpayers' Union Analyst Neil Miller has penned a ferocious op-ed in response:

Sorry Andrew Little, that is simply not good enough.

You are not an impartial observer, a mid-level official, a health journalist, or a political commentator. You are the Minister of Health, you are the boss, and you should have been all over this issue months ago.

Too often we are seeing Ministers of the Crown responding to a lack of results in their portfolio by saying they are “disappointed”, “frustrated”, “annoyed”, or that their “expectations have not been met”.

Ministers seem to assume that issuing a press release means the policy, after being developed by a Working Group and/or Expert Advisory Board, will be implemented on the frontlines.

You can read the full op-ed here (it was originally published in the Northern Age).

Caught on camera: Masterton Council boss loses the plot

Masterton CCTV

We'd love to say local government brings out the best and brightest... but this story out of Masterton makes you wonder what planet some of these people come from.

The District Council's Chief Executive (Kath Ross, salary: $247,000) has been caught on camera ripping down posters that advertised a ratepayer group’s protest against her own Council.

Unfortunately for her, the posters were on private property, in a carpark managed by someone supporting the protest!

There is absolutely no excuse for this behaviour. It undermines the dignity of her position and will only serve to entrench the suspicions of ratepayers who think she’s trying to shut down public criticism.

(The protest, which was organised to oppose a new $30 million council building, was by all accounts a great success.)

Revealed: ‘Living Wage’ trickles up to higher paid staff

PCC graphic

When Porirua City Council announced it was adopting a "Living Wage" policy, it sold the idea to ratepayers as a way to help workers on the bottom rung, just enough for them ‘to live a life of dignity’.

But we have now revealed that for every council worker who was bumped up to the Living Wage, another three higher-paid workers also received a pay hike in the name of 'relativity adjustments'.

In other words, the Council exploited public sympathy for high-vis workers to give a handout to back-office staff. And they did it during a pandemic when ratepayers and businesses were cutting back.

This should serve as a warning to all Councils: the intention to help low-paid workers is noble, but other staff are likely to demand commensurate pay hikes.

Claims that three waters reform will save money are laughable

Nanaia MahutaThe Taxpayers’ Union is slamming Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta's proposal to remove local democratic control over water assets and says that regional cross subsidisation is a recipe for gold plating and higher costs.

The claim this will save ratepayer money is laughable. It will see Auckland water users funding new water treatment plants in the far north, and force gold plated solutions onto tiny communities. Even worse, these proposals remove the ability of ratepayers to hold the water bodies to account. They’re going to be able to impose huge costs, without being accountable, even indirectly, to the communities who will pick up the bills.

We don’t often say Phil Goff is right, but on this, he is bang on with his warnings that this will cost ratepayers and uncouples Watercare from democratic accountability.

The proposed matrix of committee and iwi governance is a bugger’s muddle, and the claim councils will still "own" the assets is at best misleading. 'Ownership' will be true in name only. Elected councillors won’t be able to do a thing – i.e. sack directors or govern the water assets local communities have paid for.

Rest in Peace 😢

Funeral

Finally this week, we’re encouraging our supporters to their respects to the passing of Labour’s “No New Taxes” promised by sharing this memorial on Facebook.

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

PS. I'm away next week on annual leave so that means our Grassroots Coordinator Grace will be monitoring the replies to this email for me. Thank you to everyone who sends kind messages of support even if we can't always reply promptly, we read and appreciate them all!


Media coverage:

Kapiti News  
Kapiti Coast District Council plan endorses average 7.79% rates hike for 2021-2022

Kapiti Independent News  Kapiti rates to soar by 8%

Radio NZ  Sue Bradford and Jordan Williams

Bay of plenty Times  Is working for families tax credit really working?

Tasman Leader  Tasman ratepayers face hefty bills

1 News  NZTA to update benefit to cost ratio of AKL cycle bridge

Bay of Plenty Times  
Working for Families: Taxpayers' Union says $2.8 billion scheme should be cut back in favour of tax cuts

NZ Herald  Auckland harbour bridgeNational Party labels bridge a vanity project

Kiwiblog  Some so-called science grants


Stuff  Tasman residential ratepayers face fourth highest bills in New Zealand

Homepaddock  Central control freakery

SunLive  Councillors set Whakatane’s Long-Term Plan

Radio NZ  Whakatāne’s rates set to rise

Stuff  Taranaki councils ranked according to rates bills in report

NewstalkZB  Taxpayers' Union: Government 'misjudged' public opinion on Auckland cycleway bridge

Bay of Plenty Times  Jo Raphael: is Working for Families payments helping our children?

Stuff  Nelson business community welcomes fall in commercial rate differential

South Taranaki Star  Taranaki councils at lower end of rates

Radio NZ  'Unsustainable' rates raises - West Coast councils blame govt

Op-ed: Be the Minister, not just a frustrated onlooker

Andrew LittleThe following is an op-ed by New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union Analyst Neil Miller. It is free for publication.
 
The headlines read “Health Minister 'extraordinarily frustrated' as just five new acute mental health beds added after $1.9b investment”.
 
Sorry Andrew Little, that is simply not good enough.
 
You are not an impartial observer, a mid-level official, a health journalist, or a political commentator. You are the Minister of Health, you are the boss, and you should have been all over this issue months ago.

Instead, it apparently took Written Parliamentary Questions from the opposition and queries from Newshub for you to find out that there have been only five actual beds added since the flagship near $2b mental health announcement in the “Well-Being Budget” of 2019. The building part of that one announcement alone was $285m.

Too often we are seeing Ministers of the Crown responding to a lack of results in their portfolio by saying they are “disappointed”, “frustrated”, “annoyed”, or that their “expectations have not been met”. The fundamental problem is that the Government is great at making announcements and good at throwing lots of taxpayer money at issues.
 
Ministers seem to assume that issuing a press release means the policy, after being developed by a Working Group and/or Expert Advisory Board, will be implemented on the frontlines.
 
Being a good Minister is more than just the title and the (non-electric) limousine. It is about being on top of the details in your portfolio and following through. National’s Tony Ryall was the best Health Minister in modern history, despite having no background in the health sector or health policy. Most observers expected him to be Police Minister – I did, and I worked for him!
 
Once given the traditionally tricky and thankless task of Health Minister, Mr Ryall focussed on information. His officials were told he wanted data, he wanted trends, he set targets, he demanded measurements, and he published them regularly, good or bad. A bureaucrat’s nightmare sure, but patients loved it.
 
When District Health Boards were set measurable targets for Emergency Department waiting times, they dropped significantly. When Labour, at the behest of the unions, abolished the targets and reporting, ED waiting times predictably ballooned back out.
 
Minister Ryall would not have taken two years to find out from the media that a new acute mental bed was only arriving every five months. He would have known, and officials would have been made aware that he knew and was not satisfied.
 
Instead, Health Minister Andrew Little swung into action and… announced yet another review. Taxpayers should be deeply concerned that the issues this review will examine include “what the holdup is”, “where that money has gone” and to find out exactly “how decisions have been made.” That is not a sign of a Minister on top of his portfolio.
 
So, a simple tip for Minister Little: Re-instate the health performance dashboards (adding mental health), set targets, monitor the results, and hold health providers accountable.
 
Health Minister – heal thyself.
 
Neil Miller is a writer, commentator, and New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union Analyst.

Revealed: Porirua City Council’s ‘Living Wage’ hike trickles up to higher paid staff

PCC graphic

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that Porirua City Council’s introduction of a ‘Living Wage’ policy resulted in 52 percent of Council staff receiving wage hikes.

In July 2020, while 39 staff were moved up to the living wage rate, a further 176 received ‘relativity adjustments’ in pay as a result of the Living Wage policy – including staff already paid as much as $30.53 per hour.

For every council worker who was bumped up to the Living Wage, another three workers paid more also received a pay hike.

The announcement of the Living Wage policy was sold to Porirua ratepayers as helping out workers on the bottom rung, just enough for them ‘to live a life of dignity’. Now we learn that more than half of the Council’s staff got a pay hike as a result. That is an under-handed, self-serving way of increasing Council pay.

Of course, this occurred in the immediate wake of New Zealand’s COVID-19 lockdown, when ratepayers and businesses were cutting back to ensure financial survival. The pandemic should have led the Council to reconsider its Living Wage policy – instead, it was expanded. Ratepayers will see the clear link behind this kind of indulgent spending and the Council’s planned eight percent rate hike.

The Council is now planning to demand that any and all private contractors working for the Council also pay their workers a Living Wage. The cost of this move will likely blow out as the Living Wage effect trickles up to higher-paid contractor employees.

This should serve as a warning to all Councils considering a Living Wage policy. The intention to help low-paid workers may sound noble, but other staff are likely to demand commensurate pay hikes. That cost needs to be taken into account and communicated transparently before any decision is made.

The information was obtained via an official information request and passed on to the Union by a concerned ratepayer.

New poll shows 63% of Kiwis oppose Auckland's cycle bridge

Poll graphic

Polling commissioned by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union shows that nearly two-thirds of Kiwis ‘oppose’ or ‘strongly oppose’ the Government’s planned $685 million cycle and pedestrian bridge for Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour. Meanwhile, just 18 percent ‘support’ or ‘strongly support’ it.

The full data set can be viewed here. The polling was conducted by Curia Market Research, with a sample size of 992 respondents.

Excel graph

Opposition to the bridge outweighs support by more than three to one. And it’s not just soft opposition – a majority of respondents stated they are strongly opposed.

Opposition to the bridge is firm across a broad spectrum of the population: women and men, every age group, Aucklanders and non-Aucklanders. In fact, the only demographic that seems to support the bridge is Green Party voters, and even that’s only by a slim margin.

This scientific polling explains the enormous response to our petition against the bridge, which has so far been signed by 57,000 New Zealanders. Clearly, the Government has massively misjudged the public appetite for such a brazenly wasteful project that will disproportionately serve a small group of privileged Aucklanders.

We’re calling on the Government to admit they’ve got this one wrong, and divert the $685 million to projects that benefit the many, not the few. It’s easier to back down now than further down the track when millions have been sunk into engineering reports and consultation documents.

Taxpayer Update: Our campaigns ramp up | You fund propaganda | A taxpayer victory

Stormclouds forming over SkyPath 2.0? 🚴🌧️

Our petition to withdraw taxpayer funding for the proposed $685 million cycle and pedestrian bridge has now reached 56,000 signatures. That's incredible, and it shows the depth of public opposition to such a brazenly wasteful vanity project.

Our "Stop SkyPath" billboards are currently hammering the message in Auckland and thanks to a few hundred supporters chipping in we've got some more going up next week.

Skypath billboard 1Click for big image Skypath billboard 2Click for big image

The fundraising effort has also allowed us to commission a professional pollster to get a measure of public opinion. We're releasing the data over the weekend, but I can already tell you it does not look good for the bridge.

Thanks again to all of you who have chipped in to make this effort possible. We've got more billboard sites lined up in other parts of the country, so watch this space.

Here's how the numbers (don't) stack up 🧮

Meanwhile, the Government was today forced to reveal that the benefit-cost-ratio for this project is 0.40.6 to one. That means that for every taxpayer dollar spent, the Transport Ministry expects to see just 40 to 60c of value created.

As ACT's David Seymour put it, Michael Woods is basically throwing your money away.

Woods throwing money

And even that figure seems wildly optimistic. It doesn't take into account likely cost blowouts. And the Ministry's calculations are based on 2,700 cyclists taking the trip across the bridge every day.

Assuming the cost of capital for the $685 million bridge is six percent, that equals a cost of $41.1 million per year, or $113,000 per day. Divided by 2,700 cyclists, that works out as a $41 subsidy for every individual trip!

In other words, a cyclist who uses the bridge to get to the city each day gets a taxpayer-funded handout of $15,000 per year!

Labour's car tax breaks a promise and whacks working New Zealanders 🚗💸

Grant Robertson's "no new taxes" promise is well and truly out the window.

First, it was new taxes on landlords, then it was a levy on wages to fund unemployment insurance, and now there's a new tax on petrol vehicles:

Car tax amounts

The car tax unfairly hits tradies, farmers, and large families, in favour of wealthy urban elites 🥂 buying Teslas who will get a fat taxpayer-funded subsidy. Robin Hood would be turning in his grave.

–> Click here to add your name to the petition against Labour's car tax <–

Twenty thousand have signed so far.

Sticker photoWe've also received over a thousand orders for our "Stop Labour's Car Tax" bumper stickers. Click here to order a sticker.

After you enter your address, you'll be taken to a donation page. You're not obliged to donate, but if you'd like to, $2.50 covers the cost of the sticker and postage. Anything extra will be used to extend the reach of the Car Tax campaign.

Fact check: The car tax won't even "drive down emissions" 😡

The car tax does zip for saving overall emissions due to transport already being in the Emissions Trading Scheme.

Transport Minister Michael Woods claims that up to 9.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions will be ‘prevented’ by 2050. But land transport is already covered by our cap-and-trade emissions scheme. That means that every emission ‘saved’ frees up credits to make emissions cheaper elsewhere. It’s called the ‘waterbed effect’ and is precisely why the UN recommends against the sort of direct political intervention the Government is pursuing.

Michael Woods either doesn’t understand the ETS or is lying about environmental benefits of this scheme.

A tax on petrol vehicles simply makes motorists (who already pay ETS levies on fuel) pay even more. It's a double tax.

Taxpayers are set to pay for Hollywood propaganda 🎥

Taika Waititi ad

Taxpayers could fork out millions in subsidies for a new film about Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s response to the Christchurch mosque shootings.

It's been reported that the production team intends to apply for a Screen Production Grant from the New Zealand Film Commission.

If Jacinda Ardern gets the Hollywood treatment while she’s still an active politician, that looks suspiciously like propaganda. Taxpayers should not be forced to fund it.

We say the Film Commission needs to update its processes to ensure that party-political films aren’t eligible for funding.

In fact, if the film is screening during the 2023 election period, it may cross the line into election advertising. Remember the infamous ‘Aroha’ posters? Our friend Eric Crampton at the NZ Initiative think tank has a good article on these issues here.

There are other good reasons for the Government to distance itself from this film. Families affected by the shootings have understandably denounced the film as exploitative. Taxpayers shouldn’t be made complicit in a production that profits from a community’s grief.

In case you missed it: 2021 Ratepayers’ Report now available 🧾✨

Rates graph

This week we published the 2021 edition of our popular local government league tables: Ratepayers' Report.

Ratepayers' Report gathers over two thousand data points to allow you to compare your local council with others on key metrics such as rates, liabilities, and staff salaries.

—> Click here to see how your local council compares <—

The major point of interest in the Ratepayers’ Report has always been our leaders' table for average residential rates, which uses a standardised formula to include all residential rates, local taxes, and levies.

Highest average residential rates:

1. Carterton District Council: $3,639
2. Auckland Council: $3,599
3. Whakatāne District Council: $3,314
4. Tasman District Council: $3,228
5. Manawatū District Council: $3,176

Lowest average residential rates:

1. Buller District Council: $1,815
2. Ōtorohanga District Council: $1,855
3. Mackenzie District Council: $1,893
4. Southland District Council: $1,976
5. Waimate District Council: $2,075

Good news: taxpayers save $99 million ⛵🥳

SkyPath meme

Team New Zealand has rejected the Government’s taxpayer-funded $99 million offer to host the America’s Cup in New Zealand.

This is sad news for America’s Cup fans, but good news for taxpayers and Auckland ratepayers. It means we've saved $99 million. That money can now go to more deserving causes: Pharmac, Police, nurses, roads, reining in debt, or even tax relief that puts food on the tables of hard-working New Zealanders.

Explained: the Climate Change Commission's costly agenda 🚩

carr_shaw.jpg

In today’s Herald, Matthew Hooton does fantastic job of explaining how the Climate Change Commission has overstepped its mandate to promote a “far left utopia” – an approach that would actually be less effective at reducing emissions than our existing Emissions Trading Scheme.

The article is paywalled, but here are the key lines:

It has become clear that the commission is not primarily or even mainly concerned with New Zealand reducing global emissions.

By far the biggest contribution New Zealand can make to reducing climate change is funding projects in developing economies to reduce their emissions and prevent clear-felling of rainforests. Such projects cost less than $20 to remove the equivalent of one tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2e tonne) from the atmosphere.

But despite the commission believing climate change is a global crisis, it doesn't want New Zealand to do this. Instead, it wants New Zealand to achieve net zero when measured almost entirely by activity within our borders. Even then, it says we could achieve net zero for around $50 per CO2e tonne … But the commission doesn't want to do that either.

Instead, Carr explicitly rejects New Zealand achieving the biggest possible reduction in CO2e emissions for the least cost. He says he wants to use climate change to radically transform every aspect of how we live our lives.

This includes how we work and make money, but Carr and his commission's ambitions are much bigger, including what amounts to constitutional change. This is the commission pursuing a wider agenda at the expense of its first statutory purpose, to mitigate climate change.

Taxpayer victory: MSD commits to scrutinising eligibility of wage subsidy recipients 🙌

Taxpayer Victory

The Ministry of Social Development has confirmed that wage subsidy recipients will face renewed scrutiny and potential prosecution if they are found to have been ineligible.

This is exactly what we called for in the wake of the Auditor-General’s damning criticism of ‘verbal audits’ for wage subsidy recipients. Taxpayers deserve to know that the $14 billion was actually paid to businesses who met the criteria.

We’d like to see the Prime Minister back this action with a clear message from the Beehive: "If you took money for which you weren’t eligible, expect to be found out. Cough up now or face serious penalties."

With $722 million already repaid, there is a good chance we’ll see hundreds of millions more flood back, so long as the Government demonstrates it's taking enforcement seriously.

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate


Media coverage:

Stuff  Taupō mayor who had kidney transplant takes medical leave

Homepaddock  Taxing poor to help rich

TVNZ  Divorced from people doing daily life - National’s Christopher Luxon slams Govt’s billion dollar bridge

Bowalley Road  Hoping for Divine Intervention 

Newshub  They Are Us producer responds to 'too soon' backlash over Christchurch terror attack film

TVNZ  Cycling opponents plan to block Auckland cycle route in bridge counter-protest

Hansard  Tabling the petition to stop SkyPath 2.0

Homepaddock  There’s a better recipe

TVNZ  Taxpayers’ Union calls on Govt to can cycle bridge over Auckland Harbour

2021 Ratepayers’ Report released, methodology explained

RPR banner

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union has today published the 2021 edition of Ratepayers' Report – online local government league tables – at www.ratepayersreport.nz

With these league tables, New Zealanders can easily compare their local council’s performance and financial position for 2019/20 against others.

Setting out more than two thousand data points, the Ratepayers' Report provides transparency for ratepayers, and rates figures are presented on a per-household basis to ensure fair comparisons between councils. The league tables rank councils on metrics including average residential rates, staffing costs, and council liabilities among others.

Taxpayers’ Union Campaign Manager Louis Houlbrooke says, “Our annual Ratepayers' Report helps ratepayers answer the question: could you be getting a better deal from your local council? The league tables reveal huge disparities between councils in terms of how much they take in rates, how much they owe, and how much they spend on salaries. Local council staff should pay close attention to the rankings and ask themselves how they might emulate their better-performing neighbours.”

Notable Findings:

Rates are still on the rise. The average council increased its rates by $111, with the average residential rate nationwide now $2,572.

  • Rates: Carterton District Council once again ranks highest for average residential rates at $3,639, just ahead of Auckland Council at $3,599. The lowest average residential rates in New Zealand is Buller District Council ($1,815).

  • Liabilities: Christchurch City Council continues to have the highest liabilities (debt) per household compared to any other council ($30,096). Auckland Council follows in second place, with liabilities per household of $29,611. Central Otago District Council has the country's lowest liabilities per household – $527.

  • Staffing efficiency: Waitomo District Council (including its CCOs) has the highest number of staff on a per-household basis  a staff member for every 20 households. In contrast, Thames-Coromandel District Council serves 122 households for each of its staff members.

  • Salaries: Auckland Council and its CCOs pays 3,161 staff salaries greater than $100,000  an increase of 330 people from 2020. Meanwhile, Otorohanga and Rangitikei District Councils each pay just five staff salaries greater than $100,000.

  • Fiscal safeguards: Only four councils meet the full criteria for prudent Audit and Risk Committees: Dunedin, Kawerau, Marlborough and Porirua.

This year's Ratepayers' Report has been published earlier in the year than previous editions: the data is up to date as of the most recent council fiscal year – the 12 months to 30 June 2020. That means it reflects the first three months of COVID-19's arrival in New Zealand.

Editors' notes:

Data for the report was compiled by the Taxpayers' Union and was supplied to all councils for review (and any necessary correction) prior to publication.

Ratepayers' Report facilitates straightforward comparison of average residential rates via a formula first used by Napier City Council which allows for an 'apples to apples' comparison of average residential rates and charges, based on each council’s definition of a residential rating unit. Only Waikato District Council was unwilling to provide the Taxpayers' Union with either residential or non-residential rates figures.

For non-rates figures (i.e. liabilities, personnel costs) we have assessed council data against the number of households counted by Stats NZ’s latest census. We have used Stats NZ household data because councils have different definitions of what constitutes a residential ratepayer or ‘rating unit’.

Q & A

What is the purpose of Ratepayers’ Report?

Ratepayers' Report provides accountability and transparency to New Zealand ratepayers by allowing them to compare their local territorial authority with others around the country.

Where was the data sourced?

The Taxpayers' Union compiled the data in Ratepayers' Report after reviewing each council's annual report for the year ending June 30, 2020.

Other figures were obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, and cover the 2019/20 financial year.

The data was sent to each individual authority for their review and error checking prior to public launch.

Population and household data is from Stats NZ.

Where did the group finance figures come from?

They are taken from each Council's annual report. They are council figures, plus all those of subsidiary council-controlled organisations.

Which councils are assessed in Ratepayers' Report?

Of New Zealand's 67 territorial authorities, 66 are examined in Ratepayers' Report. That includes all city, district, and unitary councils, with the exclusion of the Chatham Islands Council (due to concerns surrounding that Council's workload pressure and unique position).

What about regional councils?

While we anticipate including regional councils in future editions of the Report, gathering data for these councils has proved more difficult. Our previous research suggests that regional councils charge anywhere from $42 to $553 per residential ratepayer on top of the bill charged by territorial authorities.

Is this the first Ratepayers' Report?

No. Ratepayers' Report was first published in 2014 jointly by the Taxpayers' Union and Fairfax Media (now Stuff). The Taxpayers’ Union have since published updated versions in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. This is the sixth edition.

How are the councils grouped?

Unitary authorities – the five territorial authorities which also carry out the functions of a regional authority are grouped.
Metropolitan – the five large councils with a population of over 120,000.
City – five smaller metropolitan councils with populations between 40,000 and 120,000.
Provincial – the largest group, 27 non-metropolitan councils with population over 20,000.
Rural – the remaining 23 councils.

How was the average rates calculated?

Calculating an 'apples to apples' figure for residential rates is difficult because councils use various mixes of rates, levies, and user charges. Our approach is based on work by Napier City Council to find an average residential rate. The methodology councils were asked to use to calculate the figures disclosed in Ratepayers' Report is available here.

While we think this approach is useful and fair, the average residential and non-residential rate figure should be a guide only.

Unitary authorities (Auckland Council, Nelson City Council, Gisborne, Tasman, and Marlborough District Councils) perform the functions of a regional council and therefore can be expected to have higher rates than other territorial authorities.

Were councils consulted in the process?

Yes. Every council was sent a draft version of their respective data to review. 

Can the results of the 2021 report be compared to the 2020 edition?

Yes. All non-rates figures (i.e. liabilities, staff) were assessed using council data from Stats NZ’s 2018 census figures. We have done this because councils have different definitions of what constitutes a residential ratepayer or ‘rating unit’.

The methodology means that the per-household figures can be compared with the 2019 and 2020 report, but not with the 2018 report which used a per-ratepayer figure (aside from the average rates metric which has remained consistent).

What are the potential limitations of Ratepayers’ Report?

Queenstown-Lakes, Taupo, and Thames-Coromandel District Councils have previously objected to the use of Stats NZ’s household figures, as these tend to exclude properties left empty, i.e. baches. As a result, per-household figures for these districts may be somewhat inflated. This does not affect the rates figures, which are based on rating units.

Empty or undeveloped sections are counted as rating units. This means the average residential rates figure for a territory with a high proportion of undeveloped sections, such as Wairoa District Council, may appear relatively low while the actual level of rates levied on an average Wairoa homeowner is likely to be higher.

Op-ed: Sir Tim – What would you say you actually do here?

The following is an op-ed written by New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union Analyst Neil Miller. It is free for publication.

Sir Timothy Richard Shadbolt has had a very long, often illustrious, always colourful career in local government. He famously ‘did not care where as long as he was Mayor’, which took him from losing in Waitemata to winning in Invercargill where he has held the Mayoral chains since 1998. Shadbolt is the longest serving Mayor in New Zealand, but it is time for him to go.

He is known for his roguish grin, the famous concrete mixer (“Karl Marx”) he towed behind the Mayoral car, and being arrested for uttering the word “bullshit”, one of his 33 arrests for political protests and later inspiration for the title of his autobiography “Bullshit and Jellybeans” (1971).

In the last year, Mayor Tim is suddenly not so funny anymore.

An independent review of Invercargill City Council concluded he is not fit for the role. Shadbolt needs help chairing meetings and “is struggling to fulfil significant aspects of his role”.

The Mayor can no longer drive the Mayoral car after his license was revoked. He has refused to explain why to ratepayers.

This begs the question – if you have to be driven to council meetings where councillors and staff have to help you chair the meeting, “Sir Tim, what would you say you actually do here?”

Faced with the review which all but calls for his resignation, Shadbolt belligerently doubled down. He promised to run for another three to four terms (by which time he would be 86 years old), or to, in his words, “semi-retire” to the Southland Regional Council (Environment Southland).

The first course of action shows a stunning lack of self-awareness about his growing limitations and arrogance about his popularity, the second shows complete disdain for an important layer of local government. Being a regional councillor is a job, not a retirement junket for lifetime politicians.

Sir Tim should test his mandate with ratepayers right now without stretching this embarrassing decline to the next election. He should resign and stand for re-election. When he loses, and he would, he should retire gracefully.

He has got his gong, and rightly so. Shadbolt is a remarkable New Zealander to whom we will always owe a debt. Like all political careers, there needs to be a final curtain call. We’re sorry Sir Tim, but that time for you is now.

The most open and transparent Government should not take a year to supply official information

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pledged: “This government will foster a more open and democratic society. It will strengthen transparency around official information.”

The fact that it took Radio New Zealand a year to get a response to an Official Information Act request about a heated bureaucratic turf war between the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) over COVID-19 border exemptions makes a mockery of that promise.

Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Neil Miller said:

“A year is far too long to wait for a simple official information request given the Act has a timeframe of 20 working days to respond and a presumption to release unless there is good reason not to.”

“Too often, we see Government agencies attempt to stonewall legitimate requests in the hope that the people requesting the information will simply give up over time.”

“We submit more official information requests than any non-media organisation and constantly run up against obfuscation, unjustified delays, demands for money, and at times, straight up lies. We have the Ombudsman on speed dial.”

“Our message to the Prime Minister is simple. Live up to your promise and answer the questions, openly and transparently.”

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

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

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

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

Radical climate plan set to be unveiled

Carr and Shaw

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

The draft plan seeks to:

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

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

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

•  Subsidise electric vehicles further.

•  Ban new coal boilers.

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

•  Ban new natural gas connections.

•  Ban gas BBQs.

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

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

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

In short, the Commission is:

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

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

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

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

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

Grant image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SkyPath 2.0 puts wealthy cyclists ahead of the needy

SkyPath meme

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

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

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

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

Petition image

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

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

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

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

The Gen Less campaign centres around two ads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taika Waititi ad

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money-printing agency wastes money on a rebrand

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

Here's their old logo:

RBNZ old logo

And here's their new one:

RBNZ logo

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

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

  • Nga Pūtake (roots) is the governing legislation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JacksonClick here to watch the clip.

Here's the relevant quote:

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

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

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

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

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

RNZ The Weekend Panel with Josie Pagani and Louis Houlbrooke

Contractor Magazine SkyPath morphs into expensive standalone bridge

Northland Age  
Consider the plight of the smoker

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

Sky Path climate claim doesn't stack up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Climate Change Commission is out of control

Dear Supporter,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A scary insight into Rod Carr's thinking

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

Rod Carr writes:

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

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

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

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

You can’t put a price on these things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One more thing...

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

Quote

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

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

Carr graphic

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

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

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

Thank you for your support,

Jordan

Jordan_signature.jpg
Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

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

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

Grant image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019:

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

Awarded: $660,000

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

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

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

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

Awarded: $842,000

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

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

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

Awarded: $300,000

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

Awarded: $300,000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

2020:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awarded: $300,000

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

Awarded: $870,000

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

Awarded: $798,000

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

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

McAnulty quote

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Lorck: “I'm a socialist!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget image

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

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

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

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

Some Budget spending that escaped media attention

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

Matariki

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

Digital skills

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

Francis review

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

Grant Robertson says his new levy isn't a tax

The headline says it all.

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

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

Levy meme

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

An inside view of Nanaia Mahuta's office

Nanaia Mahuta

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

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

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

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

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

MFA style guideClick here to view a larger image.

Focusing on the things that matter!

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

MSD isn't enforcing parental responsibility rules for beneficiaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Debt Clock still running hot ⏰

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

Debt Clock

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

Enjoy the rest of your week,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

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

Media coverage:

RNZ  Budget 2021: Hillside railway workshops coming back to life

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

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

RNZ  
The Panel with Duane Major and Amy Adams

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

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

RNZ  
Masterton councillors to vote on Maori wards for 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newshub headline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All power to the Serious Fraud Office.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget 2021 is a major shift of the economic dial to the left

Banner

We’re just out of the Budget 2021 lock up, where your humble taxpayer advocates and analysts have spent the morning working through the Budget papers.

I’m afraid to tell you that from a taxpayer perspective there are no redeeming features of this Budget. It represents a major shift of the economic dial to the left by rejigging the tax and transfer system strongly towards those not in employment.

And there’s yet another broken promise. As predicted by the Taxpayers’ Union, Grant Robertson’s ‘no new taxes’ promise is out the window. He’s foreshadowed a new Unemployment Insurance Tax – to operate like ACC, where unemployed will get 80% (that’s not a typo) of their income if they lose their job.

The Government’s spin is that this is the ‘Recovery Budget’ but the sole economic plan is to hike benefits. There is no reference to productivity in the material we’ve seen, and the only help for business is an expansion of an initiative for MBIE bureaucrats to teach businesspeople how to sell things on the internet.

Labour is out of control

Despite significant improvement in the economic and fiscal outlook, Grant Robertson has decided we are now in a permanent emergency.

  • Benefit increases pushed through last year as part of our “Covid Response” have been entrenched and expanded – even while unemployment is forecast to fall. The cost of this amounts to $3.3 billion or $1822.22 per household.

  • The “Covid Recovery Fund” has been raided for all and sundry poor-quality spending. Here’s a small(ish) example: $527 million is being used to expand the rollout of so-called “free school lunches”. Strangely, this measure is not only linked to COVID, it is also justified in the Budget documents as a “job creation” measure for 2000 roles. For those following along, that’s a cost of $263,500 per job (far more than the jobs lost due to the tax taken in the first place!).

  • With the economy running stronger than expected, taxpayers should be picking up less of the tab – but government spending is forecast to run nearly $14 billion ($7,722.22 per household) higher between 2022 and 2025 than forecast in December.

It’s one thing to prop up the economy when we’re all locked inside, but now we’re (mostly) back to normal, isn’t it time to turn off the tap?

Return to 1980s-style social welfare will reduce long term living standards

The benefit hikes announced today will reduce the incentive for Kiwis to work, and result in more intergenerational unemployment poverty.

Economic analysis in the United States over recent weeks suggests that if you increase unemployment benefits too high (as Biden has done) people simply won’t show up to work – one reason why experts have said employment growth there has been so disappointing. With large benefit increases on the way, we risk making the same mistake: why turn up to work, when staying home pays so well?

Unlike President Biden’s relief, our Government is locking in these measures permanently and with their new policy to link benefits to wage growth, the problem doesn’t go away even in a hot economy.

Labour rightly applauded Bill English’s targeted social investment approach – to get people off welfare and into work. Labour’s abandonment of that approach will see higher intergenerational welfare dependency.

Making trains at home

In the 1980s we learned the hard way that making everything at home is an expensive way to live. Forty years later, the Government has decided to rekindle the spirit of Muldoon and begin making KiwiRail’s equipment in Dunedin rather than buying it in from overseas. The total increase in funding for KiwiRail will cost taxpayers $722.22 per household.

Grant Robertson's new unemployment tax

And if that wasn’t enough, we can reveal the Government is doing a deal with the unions to introduce an expensive new unemployment insurance programme. The scheme will cover 80 percent of incomes for those who become unemployed. That sounds generous – and it is – if the scheme follows similar European models, it will mean a new tax.

Health sector sucks up billions more

Health takes the lion’s share of new spending – with more than $4.6 billion allocated to the sector alone through 2025. More than two-thirds of that amount is just allocated to support budget-busting DHBs. But the Government should read our reports on health productivity – unless the sector focuses on becoming more efficient and catching up with other OECD counterparts, our health system will continue to be an unpredictable liability.

Joe Ascroft, our consulting economist who joined us in the lock up, is equally unimpressed:

The Economist’s View

This time last year, the country was staring down economic armageddon. Coronavirus had all-but closed the economy and near-term forecasts for unemployment, debt, and economic growth were extremely dire.

A year on and the economic environment is better than all but the most optimistic of forecasts. Yet, even as unemployment sits at 4.7% (forecast to fall further) and economic growth is again firmly positive (expected to peak at 4.4% in 2023) debt is still expected to climb considerably reaching a peak of $184.2 billion in 2024 (46.9% of GDP or $102,333.33 per household).

While that is considerably better than even Treasury’s forecasts in December (debt was then expected to peak at $194.2 billion – or $5,555 more per household than today), the Government has taken advantage of the rosier economic forecasts to spend even more over the forecast period than had been forecast just six months ago. Between 2022 and 2025, government spending is now expected to cumulatively come in $13.9 billion ($7,722.22 per household) higher than in December.

Normally you might expect forecast government spending to come in lower with the economy tracking better (lower unemployment should mean less social spending), but clearly the Government has chosen to take advantage of the moment and press on with some of the more expensive items on their policy wish list.

The Big Picture

It’s now been a decade since New Zealanders last received a tax cut (legislated in Budget 2010, taking effect in 2011) – but main benefits have been increased four times (three times under Labour and once under National). Instead, a new tax is in the pipeline to fund the Government’s planned unemployment insurance scheme.

At some point, something has to give. With the global economy opening up and opportunities to work overseas expanding, many taxpayers will be thinking seriously about moving overseas to earn more and pay less tax. That could be the start of a nasty downward spiral - as high-earning taxpayers move overseas, the burden of Government spending grows with higher taxes or debt required to fund the gap.

Obviously the circuit breaker is stronger growth and higher incomes – but there was no sign of any focus on that problem in today’s budget.

More to come

We’ve spent the last hour talking to journalists who have also just got a hold of the documents. I’m joining Magic Talk at 6:30 tonight, and we’ll keep you in the loop as we continue to work through the detail.

With the new economic figures, our official Government debt clock will also be updated in the next few hours. Keep an eye on www.debtclock.nz – it’s slowed, but only a little…

Thank you for your support.

Our comments to media

Jordan

Jordan_signature.jpg
Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

 

Taxpayer Update: KiwiSaver interference | Boozy dinners | Wailing unions

Government sticks its nose into your KiwiSaver portfolioDavid Clark

Our old friend David Clark is back in the news. Today he rolled up to work 🚴 and announced the Government will force default KiwiSaver providers to boycott fossil fuel investments.

I told the media why this is a terrible idea:

The last thing KiwiSaver members need is for politicians to micromanage our funds. KiwiSaver providers are meant to make independent investment decisions in order to maximise returns. Politicising these decisions will ultimately result in lower rates of return.

Once the Government starts sticking its nose in, where does it stop? Will KiwiSaver providers be barred from investing in, say, meat production? Alcohol? GMOs?

The Government already manages carbon emissions at the macro level – take the Emissions Trading Scheme – which has a flow-on effect on KiwiSaver investment decisions. Diktats on the micro level are unneeded.

This move won’t even affect total carbon emissions. Any move to cut emissions below the cap set by the Emissions Trading Scheme creates a ‘waterbed effect’ which frees up credits to produce emissions elsewhere.

Would you spend $24 on two bottles of water?

We used the Official Information Act to obtain the original receipts from the Film Commission's boozy dinners with Amazon film executives.

We highlight this kind of spending not because it's outrageous, but because public servants are likely to be more sensible with the "company card" if they know there's a chance we'll publish the receipts.

Receipt 1 Receipt 2

Click here and here to view the receipts in high resolution.

These dinners were of course part of a junket set up to facilitate a deal that saw Amazon handed hundreds of millions in taxpayer subsidies for its new Lord of the Rings TV show.

Back-office bureaucrats are exploiting sympathy for frontline workers

Salaries

The Government's proposal to rein in public sector salaries has had a furious reaction from the public sector unions.

They're loudly condemning the idea of wage austerity for heroic frontline nurses, police, and teachers. But that's not what's on the table.

Nurses, police, and teachers are locked into to a step-based pay system. This means they’ll keep climbing up the salary ladder regardless of any salary restrictions announced by politicians. They’re effectively protected from a freeze unless they’re already on the highest possible rung.

The Public Service Association and the Council of Trade Unions know this perfectly well. But that hasn’t stopped them from exploiting public sympathy for frontline workers to shield the wider public service from salary restraint.

The Public Service Commission’s website holds a wealth of statistics on public sector pay rates, which looks beyond the front line and reveals inflated back-office salaries.

Wage growth

  • The average salary in the public sector is $84,500, compared to $69,000 in the private sector.

  • Last year wage growth in the public sector was 3 percent, compared to just 1.7 percent in the private sector.

  • 15,000 public sector workers are paid salaries higher than $100,000. Few of these will be teachers, nurses, or police.

  • The highest-paying Government department is – wait for it – the Social Wellbeing Agency. That agency’s staff enjoy an average salary of $151,700.

  • Next highest-paying are the Public Service Commission, the Ministry of Defence (not the frontline Defence Force), and the Pike River Recovery Agency, all paying average salaries above $130,000.

Department salariesClick here to view the graph in a separate window.

Clearly, there is room for salary restraint here. You might even say these figures are obscene. The Taxpayers’ Union certainly would.

While a total freeze might be a blunt measure, the basic thrust of the move fairly reflects the sacrifices made by taxpaying businesses and employees in the private sector, who enjoyed a far lower level of income security through the fallout of COVID-19.

It’s also a sensible start to reining in the Government’s debt monster. The New Zealand Government Debt Clock is about to tick over $70,000 for every household in New Zealand – a terrifying figure no matter how many times Grant Robertson says “it’s not as bad as we thought it would be”.

Of course, the Government has now walked back its announcement to the point where it can no longer be called a freeze. The suffering souls at the Social Wellbeing Agency may still yet see salary adjustments in line with the cost of living. Lucky them!

But there is still much to be settled as the Government enters into protracted negotiations with the public sector unions.

Taxpayers should urge the Government to hold strong in the face of the wailing administrative elite. Throw a bone to the bona fide frontline workers who tend to our sick, educate our kids, and protect our communities, but don’t allow their virtue to be hijacked by well-paid Wellington back-office bureaucrats.

It’s time for random comprehensive audits of wage subsidy recipients

This week the Auditor General slammed the Government’s weak 'audits' of recipients of the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy. The audits consisted of a few questions over the phone, without requiring documentation to actually prove that recipients were eligible.

We say the time has come for full audits, substantiated with hard evidence.

The Ministry doesn’t need to shake down every wage subsidy recipient – it just needs to start making examples of wrongful recipients by pursuing tip-offs and conducting random audits. In fact, the Minister could stand up tomorrow and announce an amnesty period for wrongful recipients to return the money before penalties kick in.

$703 million has already been voluntarily returned, which suggests that, with a stronger nudge, hundreds of millions more could come surging back to the taxpayer.

We’ve asked unions like E Tū and First Union how they were eligible for the wage subsidy, considering their revenue comes from regular union dues. We hit a brick wall. It’s time for the Ministry to start asking these questions, and to demand proof of the answers.

"It is unbelievable": Heather Du Plessis Allan on the taxpayer-funded turtle funeral

Last week we exposed the incredible tale of how DOC and Te Papa trucked, shipped, and helicoptered a dead turtle up and down the country just to throw it a highly-catered funeral.

On her prime-time Newstalk ZB Drive show, Heather du Plessis Allan talked through the details:

HDPA clipClick here to listen to the clip.

Even the left-wing Daily Blog picked up on the story

When we can’t feed kids lunch and breakfast at school and can’t lift benefits but can spend $12000 on a turtle funeral, it’s difficult not to feel angry. . . this fiasco is so ridiculous it’s mockable and the power of mockery can destroy any earnest progress in a millisecond.

In case you missed our full investigation, you can read it here.

Simon Bridges joins Taxpayer Talk

You might have heard the news that former National Party leader Simon Bridges is releasing a book.

In a total coincidence, he also joined our Taxpayer Talk podcast to discuss his perspective as a former Party leader, growing intellectual intolerance, and the scourge of tax bracket creep. Click here to listen.

And as part of our 'MPs in Depth' series, I sat down with new Labour MP Tangi Utikere. Tangi was the Deputy Mayor of Palmerston North before jumping ship to Parliament when Iain Lees-Galloway decided not to stand again. Click here to listen.

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

Donate

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Media coverage:

The Weekend Sun  
Deep freeze for turtles and servants

Star News  Cost of Crusaders partnership with ChristchurchNZ still unknown

Newstalk ZB  Heather du Plessis Allan on the flying turtle

The Daily Blog  The danger of the $12000 flying turtle funeral

RNZ  Bryce Edwards: The public sector worker backlash against Labour

Auckland’s light rail issues can be easily, quickly, and cheaply solved

The New Zealand Herald has rightly argued that the Labour Government's Auckland light rail plan is facing huge hurdles to get back on track. It notes that the cost of light rail has soared from $2.3b to up to $15b.

 

Since being elected on a promise of light rail, Labour has already spent $35m of taxpayer money producing absolutely no results. In response, the Government changed the Minister in charge, and has gone back to the drawing board. It has set up an establishment unit to decide the mode, route, and cost estimates for an indicative business case for Cabinet within six months. In other words, everything. They are literally starting again from scratch. That is $35m that taxpayers will never get back.

 

There is little faith outside of Cabinet that the Light Rail v2.0 will go any better. Priding itself on being a caring organisation, the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has stepped in with a bold plan.

 

We commit to delivering exactly the same outcomes on Auckland Light Rail for the price of a sausage roll.

 

Here are the key points of the plan developed by our sausage roll loving analyst Neil Miller:

  • We will deliver 0.00mm of light rail track, easily matching the last three years record.
  • Construction costs will be eliminated because there will be no construction.
  • Valuable resources will be freed up to actually fix Queen Street.
    Consultation, which produced more problems than it solved last time, will not be necessary.
  • Equally, consultants will not be required. PWC partners may have to downgrade their new yachts.
  • There will be no legal expenses because: No Taxpayer Money = No Lawyers.
    Vast numbers of New Zealand Transport Agency staff will be freed up to work on projects which build transport things.

 

Our economist has costed this plan at between $1.70 (Big Ben Sausage Roll) and $6.60 (I Love Pies Sausage Roll).Transport Minister Michael Wood, you are most welcome.

Op-ed: Back-office bureaucrats are exploiting sympathy for frontline workers

Louis HoulbrookeThe Government’s bombshell announcement that it will rein in public sector salaries has been applauded by unionists – specifically, the Taxpayers’ Union.
 
Union co-founder, blogger, and cheeky fellow David Farrar proclaimed Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins honorary members of the Taxpayers’ Union for their fiscal restraint during a pandemic. It is hard to think of any accolade that would annoy those Ministers more.
 
Meanwhile, public sector unions reacted with fury, loudly condemning the idea of wage austerity for heroic frontline nurses, police, and teachers.
 
But this nasty prospect is a false one. Nurses, police, and teachers are locked into to a step-based pay system. This means they’ll keep climbing up the salary ladder regardless of any salary restrictions announced by politicians. They’re effectively protected from a freeze unless they’re already on the highest possible rung.
 
The Public Service Association and the Council of Trade Unions know this perfectly well. But that hasn’t stopped them from exploiting public sympathy for frontline workers to shield the wider public service from a pay freeze.
 
The Public Service Commission’s website holds a wealth of statistics on public sector pay rates, which looks beyond the front line and reveals inflated back-office salaries.

•  The average salary in the public sector is $84,500, compared to $69,000 in the private sector.

•  Last year wage growth in the public sector was 3 percent, compared to just 1.7 percent in the private sector.

•  15,000 public sector workers are paid salaries higher than $100,000. Few of these will be teachers, nurses, or police.

•  The highest-paying Government department is – wait for it – the Social Wellbeing Agency. That agency’s staff enjoy an average salary of $151,700.

•  Next highest-paying are the Public Service Commission, the Ministry of Defence (not the frontline Defence Force), and the Pike River Recovery agency, all paying average salaries above $130,000.

Department salaries

Click here to view the graph in high resolution.

Clearly, there is room for salary restraint here. You might even say these figures are obscene. The Taxpayers’ Union certainly would.

While a total freeze might be a blunt measure, the basic thrust of the move fairly reflects the sacrifices made by taxpaying businesses and employees in the private sector, who enjoyed a far lower level of income security through the fallout of COVID-19.

It’s also a sensible start to reining in the Government’s debt monster, soon set to reach $100,000 for every household in New Zealand – a terrifying figure no matter how many times Grant Robertson says “it’s not as bad as we thought it would be”.

Of course, the Government has now walked back its announcement to the point where it can no longer be called a freeze. The suffering souls at the Social Wellbeing Agency may still yet see salary adjustments in line with the cost of living.

But there is still much to be settled as the Government enters into protracted negotiation with the public sector unions.

Taxpayers should urge the Government to hold strong in the face of the wailing administrative elite. Throw a bone to the bona fide frontline workers who tend to our sick, educate our kids, and protect our communities, but don’t allow their virtue to be hijacked by back-office bureaucrats.

Louis Houlbrooke is the Campaigns Manager of the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union.

Petition Launched: Public sector pay freeze should extend to local councils

The Taxpayers’ Union has launched a petition to extend the recently announced public sector pay freeze to local councils.

Click here to sign the petition.

The Government’s public sector pay freeze was a prudent measure that reflects the sacrifices made by businesses and employees in the wake of COVID-19. However, the freeze should go one step further. The case for pay restraint at councils is even stronger than for central government. Local councils aren't just experiencing growth in debt, they're also pushing for massive rate hikes across the country. 

All councils should adopt the Government’s pay freeze for highly-paid staff. We’re asking the Minister of Local Government to signal that this is her expectation, and that if councils don’t restrain pay, she can introduce legislation to force them.

At minimum, councils should freeze their total spend on payroll. That way any increases in pay will need to be from attrition or efficiencies in other roles.

MPs in Depth: Tangi Utikere


Entering parliament as an MP was not how Tangi Utikere imagined 2020 would end at the beginning of that year. However circumstance conspired and Utikere is now the MP for Palmerston North and a member of the Labour Party. In this episode of MPs in Depth, Tangi and Louis discuss politics, running for office, and of course, Tax.

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

There and back again: taxpayers shell out for epic turtle journey

Turtle image

Taxpayers shelled out thousands of dollars transporting a dead turtle from Banks Peninsula to Wellington, storing it in a freezer for 21 months, then sending it back down to where it washed up for a high-powered and fully-catered powhiri, complete with a helicopter ride and a handmade coffin constructed by public servants. No scientific research was performed at any stage.

Based on responses to several Official Information Act requests, plus earlier media reports, the Taxpayers' Union can set out the timeline:

  • In March 2019, a dead leatherback turtle is found on the shore in Banks Peninsula. He is never named though he is known at the Taxpayers' Union as Michelangelo.
  • DOC advises Te Papa that the local Banks Peninsula marae, Koukourārata, has provided approval for Te Papa to receive the turtle.
  • A DOC ranger uses a tractor to transfer the turtle to the back of his ute, then commissions a truck belonging to a pet food company to keep the turtle chilled. The ranger warns that transporting the turtle to Wellington will be a "logistical nightmare". The ranger's wage costs are $200.
  • The turtle is collected by Te Papa from the Department of Conservation office in Christchurch and driven up to Wellington in Te Papa’s Toyota Hilux, at a reported cost of $475.75.
  • The turtle arrives at Te Papa's Tory Street facility, where staff plan to perform a necropsy, check its gut for plastic, gather biological information for "the global turtle research community", and ultimately skeletonise the corpse.
  • In an apparent change of heart from the local iwi, Ngāi Tahu representative Matui Payne tells media of "a sense of grief and sadness that we didn't have the opportunity to grieve for our kaitiaki, for our tipuna." Te Papa cites "issues relating to consultation and support" and enters into discussion with Koukourārata "regarding the return and repatriation of the honu [turtle]."
  • The late turtle spends 21 months in Te Papa's freezer.
  • No scientific research is conducted. Te Papa explains, "To enable scientific research to be undertaken, the turtle would have had to be skeletonised (i.e. processes undertaken to reduce the turtle remains to a skeleton). In conjunction with tikanga, it is usually important that all parts of the taonga or specimen (in this case, the turtle) should be buried, if possible. . .In terms of science objectives, Te Papa has not conducted any research on the turtle during its time at Te Papa so has not gained any research insights."
  • At some point, Te Papa staff build a "te honu crate" or turtle coffin, with materials costing $580.85.
  • On 11 December 2020, Te Papa staff are joined by a contingent from Koukourārata for a karakia (prayer) in Wellington.
  • DOC transports the turtle from Wellington back to Bank Peninsula in a refrigerated truck. The three-day journey includes reported costs of $940 in mileage, $448 for the Cook Strait ferry crossing, and $500 in wage costs. A Koukourārata representative accompanies the turtle during this journey.
  • Eight Te Papa staff, including members of the Board and the senior leadership team, fly to Canterbury for the deceased turtle's powhiri.
    • Domestic travel, car rental and accommodation: $4,327.77
    • Powhiri and kai for 40 people: $880.00
  • At the powhiri, the eight Te Papa staff are joined by seven DOC staff.
    • Four of the DOC staff are paid by the hour, for a total cost of $600.
    • DOC pays a $200 koha to Koukourārata.
    • DOC spends $130 on mileage.
  • The turtle arrives at its powhiri, is removed from its coffin, placed on an altar to thaw while speeches are given, and eventually strapped to a crate and flown via helicopter to its burial site: a hilltop on a nearby island. DOC pays $1600 for the helicopter service. Video and photographs from the day capture these events.
  • Two DOC staff conduct an archeological survey of the burial site, and three staff dig the hole. Reported wage costs for these activities are $900.

Union spokesperson Louis Houlbrooke says, "The total cost to taxpayers for Michelangelo's eventful afterlife is difficult to quantify, but we would place it in the tens of thousands. Te Papa and DOC's total reported expenses were $11,742.31, but that excludes the time cost for high-level salaried staff."

"Te Papa was prepared to obtain this turtle for research on a rare species. That is valid. Koukourārata, who had expressed no interest when the turtle first washed up, suddenly wanted it back and intact. The result was a truly bizarre odyssey that saw a dead turtle travel by land, sea, and air, before ultimately being buried by public servants on a hilltop."

"After thousands of dollars and 21 months of fuss, the turtle ends up right back where it started, providing no scientific insights. In fact, Te Papa told us over the phone that they couldn't even verify whether the turtle was male or female. What a waste. Such a majestic creature deserved far better than to wait 21 months in a freezer while bureaucrats negotiated a protracted repatriation mission that would make the Ministry of Foreign Affairs blush."

"We have to give some credit to Te Papa and DOC for their thorough answers to our questions. We get the sense they're proud of the enormous time, attention, and staff hours they've devoted to Michelangelo's odyssey. Unfortunately, they've tarnished the turtle's legacy with this epic saga of government waste."

Documents:

Te Papa information response 1

Te Papa information response 2

DOC information response

Turtle1Primary school children in Banks Peninsula observe the turtle. One appears to be holding her nose. (Source: Stuff)

Turtle3Te Papa receives the plastic-wrapped turtle.

CoffinAn image of the turtle coffin, built by Te Papa staff (Source: Te Papa)

Turtle4
The turtle is placed on an altar upon its return to Bank Peninsula (Source: Facebook)

Turtle5
Mourners from Koukourārata and Te Papa eulogise the turtle while a helicopter approaches.

Turtle6
The turtle is flown to its hilltop burial site.

Turtle7
The turtle is buried high above its preferred habitat.

Taxpayers’ Union refutes Davidson’s “rejection” of being quiet on emergency housing

After claiming that “some of our emergency housing is inhumane”, Associate Housing Minister Marama Davidson “rejected” criticism that as a responsible minister she had been “quiet” on the issue since the election. She said: “I've certainly been nothing but loud."

Taxpayers' Union spokesman Neil Miller says, “She may have been loud in the privacy of her office or amongst the faithful at Green Party meetings, but not at the Cabinet table where decisions are actually made. Figures obtained by the Taxpayers’ Union from the Cabinet Office show that since the election Minister Davidson has presented no Cabinet Papers or Cabinet Committee Papers on the issue of emergency housing.”

“In fact, she has presented no papers at all. In comparison, her colleague James Shaw, also a Minister outside of Cabinet, delivered seven papers on his portfolio of Climate Change. Damien O’Connor was in charge of one paper about Land Information, while Jan Tinetti put forward three for Internal Affairs. The bar has not been set very high.”

“To reject something simply means you do not accept it. To refute something means you have to provide evidence proving it false. All the evidence here says that while Minister Davidson may talk loud in limited circles, actual Ministerial action where it could make a difference is non-existent. When she is paid over $250,000 of taxpayers’ money, that is the epitome of quiet.”

Taxpayer Update: Mahuta reviews local govt | MBIE embraces Greenpeace | Court rorts

Dear Supporter,

Nanaia Mahuta has appointed a crew of foxes to guard the local government hen house

Mahuta

Nanaia Mahuta's wide-ranging review of the local government sector should be laser-focused on increasing value for money for ratepayers.

But having looked closely at the review panel, we're predicting it will do the opposite.

Firstly, the panelists are basically has-been local government insiders and professional bureaucrats. These appointees are the last people you'd expect to rein in the local government gravy train.

The terms of reference and the panel make up are disturbing. Instead of a focus on better infrastructure, more transparency, or accountability, it appears the Minister wants to move to a co-governance model with less democracy

In fact, the panel is tasked to "reimagine the role and function of local government". That’s code for "growing the beast", when what ratepayers need is a return to core services and abolishing the powers that allow local councils to duplicate central government activities like public health campaigns, climate action, and corporate welfare.

Greenpeace campaigner, school striker appointed to an MBIE working group

Amanda Larsson Isla Day

The just-announced Battery Project Technical Reference Group is meant to provide “technical expertise and sector knowledge relating to the quantitative analysis MBIE is undertaking, including modelling” for its hydro battery project.

But the Ministry has made two very odd appointments to this group:

  • Amanda Larsson currently works as one of Greenpeace’s key staff. It’s hard to see MBIE appointing a Taxpayers’ Union campaigner for its reference groups – in fact, it would rightly cause controversy – but appointing a Greenpeace campaigner is no different in principle. Her contribution will inevitably be to advance an ideological agenda.

  • Isla Day is 20 years old and helped to start School Strike 4 Climate. Her expertise is in organising protests, nothing to do with energy or environmental science. She does, however, appear to be carving out a cosy career filling seats in taxpayer-funded working groups – she’s also a member of a Wellington City Council reference group. We can't blame her for jumping at well-paid opportunities, but you have to question the judgement of those who appointed her.

It’s one thing to have a political Minister making hare-brained and politicised appointments, but this group was appointed by public servants. How did no-one within MBIE raise red flags over such blatantly political appointments? Is public service neutrality is being eroded?

Members of the reference group are paid $560 per meeting. 

Quotas for government contracts will cost taxpayers dearly

Scales image

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson has introduced a five percent quota for government contracts awarded to businesses that present themselves as Māori or Pasifika-owned.

You may recall we were first to sound the alarm back in 2019 when found this idea buried deep in a Ministerial briefing. 

But some say the new quota doesn't go far enough. First it was the Productivity Commission (under the leadership of Labour's pet economist Ganesh Nana), and now the company that verifies the "Māori-owned" businesses wants the Government to combine the quota with a spending target for these companies (well they would say that, wouldn't they!).

This is what political analysts call "mission creep". Instead of focusing solely on delivering value for taxpayers, procurement policy is now being hijacked to hit politically-determined targets.

That means less competitive tenders, leading to either higher costs for taxpayers, lower quality services, or both. It’s also incredibly unfair for those businesses – many of which employ Māori – that will miss out on contracts purely because their owners don't tick the right diversity boxes.

Court rort #1: cultural reports

Taxpayers forked out $3.3 million for the cost of “cultural reports” for offenders in 2020. That’s five times as much as the year prior.

These reports argue how each offender should receive a reduced sentence due to “personal, family, whānau, community and cultural background”.

And it appears a cottage industry has emerged: anyone familiar with the courts system can charge up to $6,600 to write one, copy-pasting the standard lines they know will work to convince judges to cut sentences.

Court rort #2: interpreters

Taxpayers paid private contractors more than $13 million in just five years for interpretation services for people facing the courts.

In many cases the Ministry of Justice is paying these interpreters more than $125 per hour.

As the Herald reports:

Examples include $1700 paid to a te reo interpreter for a one-day hearing in Kaikohe; $2628 to a Māori translator at a two-day hearing in Wellington; and a $3197 bill for two sign-language interpreters for just 3.5 hours' work in January. The ministry said the cost included return flights.

Ihumātao deal found to be unlawful: here's who needs to resign

Illegal deal

Last week we learned that the Government didn’t just capitulate to illegal Ihumātao occupiers – it joined them in their illegality!

The Auditor-General released a damning judgement that the $30 million taxpayer-funded bailout should have been approved by a vote in Parliament.

Remember, the Government doesn’t have the excuse of ignorance here. Treasury had sternly warned the Government against using KiwiBuild money in this way.

There should be serious consequences. All eyes should now be on Attorney-General David Parker. It's literally his job to ensure the Government follows the law. We say if he endorsed this illegal deal across the Cabinet Table, then he's unfit for his position.

Will Grant Robertson bail out New Zealand's own Bernie Madoff?

Grant Robertson

The Finance Minister has confirmed a new insurance scheme for collapsing banks and finance companies, funded by via levies on banks.

There are a number of reasons for alarm here:

  • Guaranteeing an effective bailout for banks will see those banks take greater risks with their lending. That’s exactly the kind of moral hazard that led to America’s sub-prime mortgages and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. The Reserve Bank argued this very point, recommending the guarantee be capped at $50,000 per depositor, per institution. But Grant Robertson went for double that amount, $100,000.

  • The cost of the new levies on banks will naturally be passed on to deposit-holders. As if term deposit rates weren’t already low enough!

  • The inclusion of finance companies in the scheme is likely to see deposit-holders pay for bailouts of fraudulent finance companies. In fact we wrote to the Finance Minister in October warning him that the Serious Fraud Office prosecutes on average about one Ponzi scheme a year, and under the Government's proposals, those Ponzi schemes would become eligible for deposit insurance.

We asked Treasury officials if they gave the Minister any advice on this last problem. To our astonishment, they haven't.

Hamilton City Council shouldn’t throw $10 million into a pond

Lagoon

A private developer wants Hamilton ratepayers to pitch in $10 million to an inland lagoon resort.

That is completely unjustified, considering the Council is already proposing a nine percent rate hike.

If the lagoon proposal makes good business sense, then it shouldn’t need a ratepayer subsidy. There’s a risk the lagoon fails to pull in punters and becomes a stagnant pond. That risk should be borne by the developer, not Hamilton ratepayers.

It’s a concern in and of itself that the developer had the cheek to ask the Council for ten million bucks. Hamilton City Councillors need to eradicate any perception that they’ll hand over ratepayer money to every passing monorail salesman.

Taxpayer Talk: is this ACT MP a "nutter"?

Another two episodes of our Taxpayer Talk podcast have gone live.

Nicole McKee

Stuart Nash recently called ACT MP Nicole McKee a "nutter" for her views on firearms. I chat with her to help Taxpayer Talk listeners decide for themselves. Listen here.

Oliver Hartwich

The New Zealand Initiative's Oliver Hartwich and our own Jordan Williams discuss National's policy to pay councils for consenting houses. Listen here.

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

Satire: Government creates one new job

The Government has today appointed a “Minister for Announcements.”

This announcement was announced at an announcement hosted by the Acting Minister for the Announcement of the Minister for Announcements, Chris Hipkins, while he was IDed on his way into the Upper Hutt Cossie Club.

Hipkins said: “For too long, Ministers have had to make individual announcements about their own announcements. National’s nine years of neglect almost certainly caused this crisis. It is time to centralise announcements to improve efficiency. Centralising always works.”

Hipkins introduced journalists to the new Minister of Announcements, Georgie Dansey, a first term list MP.

Jill Pettis

Ms Dansey is an MP you think about so infrequently that you probably don’t realise that photo is not of Georgie Dansey – that is Jill Pettis, a Labour MP who left Parliament in 2008.

This is the first-term list MP, the now Hon Georgie Dansey.

Georgie Dansey

Except that she isn’t an MP – because while this time it is actually Ms Dansey pictured and she was a Labour candidate last year, she was ranked 84th, last on the list. She once told The Spinoff that she would have been an MP if only 5.5 million New Zealanders voted Labour.

The actual Minister of Announcements will be Megan Woods on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and Chris Hipkins for Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Ramadan. However, for any really good news, announcements will be made by Jacinda Ardern and the country’s first man, Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

When asked about the actual results of all the announcements over previous years, Hipkins snapped back: “Don’t change the subject. This has nothing to do with outcomes.”

Gallery journalists described the Minister’s aggressive response as “like being savaged by a vegan lemur.”

Editor's note: This last section of the newsletter was provided by Taxpayers' Union Analyst (and occasional in-house comedian) Neil Miller.

We can't save the world, if we can't keep the lights on

As you can see, the range and craziness of what is going on in Wellington (and many town halls) is out of control. Our team has never been busier calling out the madness and fighting for taxpayers across a huge range of files.  But we can't save the world if we can't keep the lights on. Our work relies on the financial support of our supporters like you. Click here to make a secure donation.

Donate

Have a great week,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Media coverage:

NZ Herald  
Inflation could be making a comeback

NZ Herald  
Beehive Diaries: The bubble, coughing fits and health reform typos

The Weekend Sun  
Join The Tauranga Ratepayers’ Alliance

Newstalk ZB  
The Huddle: Is it fair for employers to punish staff stuck in trans-Tasman bubble limbo?

How much is your council planning to hike rates?

This dashboard is subject to ongoing updates. Please contact [email protected] if you have more up to date information.

Council

Proposed 21/22 rates increase

Actual 21/22 rates increase

Ashburton District Council 6.28% 6.3%
Auckland Council 5.0% 5.0%
Bay of Plenty Regional Council 5.8% 5.8%
Buller District Council 6.5% 6.7%
Carterton District Council 5.65% 5.65%
Central Hawke's Bay District Council 7.8% 8.7%
Central Otago District Council 6.7% 6.7%
Christchurch City Council 5.0% 4.65%
Clutha District Council 3.53% 3.93%
Dunedin City Council 9.8% 9.8%
Environment Canterbury Regional Council 24.5% 18.8%
Environment Southland 20.0% 20.0%
Far North District Council 5.5% 6.7%
Gisborne District Council 5.3% 5.9%
Gore District Council 8.22%  
Greater Wellington Regional Council 12.64% 12.95%
Grey District Council 9.99% 9.99%
Hamilton City Council 8.9% 8.9%
Hastings District Council 6.8% 6.8%
Hauraki District Council 4.23% 4.5%
Hawke's Bay Regional Council 19.5% 19.5%
Horizons Regional Council 8.0% 8.4%
Horowhenua District Council 6.7% 7.8%
Hurunui District Council 8.49% 8.49%
Hutt City Council 5.9% 5.9%
Invercargill City Council 5.0% 5.0%
Kaikoura District Council 5.2% 5.9%
Kaipara District Council 3.37% 5.1%
Kapiti Coast District Council 7.8% 7.79%
Kawerau District Council 5.1%  
Mackenzie District Council    
Manawatu District Council 5.1% 5.75%
Marlborough District Council 5.73% 5.1%
Masterton District Council 5.5% 5.5%
Matamata-Piako District Council 11.85% 11.73%
Napier City Council 8.0% 8.0%
Nelson City Council 5.7% 5.7%
New Plymouth District Council 12.0% 12.0%
Northland Regional Council 19.8% 17.6%
Opotiki District Council 6.48% 6.33%
Otago Regional Council 73.2%  
Otorohanga District Council 7.93% 8.08%
Palmerston North City Council 6.9% 8.2%
Porirua City Council 8.04% 7.65%
Queenstown-Lakes District Council 4.56% 5.45%
Rangitikei District Council 6.95% 7.07%
Rotorua Lakes Council 9.2% 9.2%
Ruapehu District Council 4.92% 4.92%
Selwyn District Council 4.9% 4.9%
South Taranaki District Council 4.73% 4.73%
South Waikato District Council 7.7% 7.6%
South Wairarapa District Council 17.65% 29%
Southland District Council 10.15% 9.38%
Stratford District Council 4.25% 4.63%
Taranaki Regional Council 9.9% 9.9%
Tararua District Council 9.82% 9.44%
Tasman District Council 4.54% 4.4%
Taupo District Council 6.5% 8.7%
Tauranga City Council 17.0%  
Thames-Coromandel District Council 7.1% 8.8%
Timaru District Council 10.5% 11.5%
Upper Hutt City Council 4.8% 4.91%
Waikato District Council 9.0% 6.5%
Waikato Regional Council 7.3% 7.7%
Waimakariri District Council 3.95% 4.3%
Waimate District Council 9.9%  
Waipa District Council 4.1% 4.6%
Wairoa District Council 10.0%  
Waitaki District Council 8.95%  
Waitomo District Council -0.53% -0.54%
Wellington City Council 13.53% 13.5%
West Coast Regional Council    
Western Bay of Plenty District Council 12.0% 11.5%
Westland District Council 13.0% 13.0%
Whakatane District Council 6.84%  
Whanganui District Council 5.7%  
Whangarei District Council 6.5% 7.0%

 

Taxpayer Talk: What's really stopping houses from getting built?

Louis sits down with Kathryn Marshall of Williams Corporation, a residential property developer, to find out whether an extended bright line test and the removal of interest deductibility will lead to more affordable housing. Kathryn makes the case that the real solution is in tackling consenting processes at local councils.

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

Taxpayer Talk: Climate Change Commission head Dr Rod Carr, with NZ Initiative's Matt Burgess


Jordan Williams gets 30 minutes with the Climate Change Commission's Chair, Dr Roderick Carr at their offices.  He is joined by Matt Burgess, the Senior Economist at the New Zealand Initiative think tank to put to Dr Carr many of the criticisms of the report.

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

Taxpayer Talk: Ian Harrison on the Climate Change Commission

Jordan is joined by Ian Harrison, Principal at Tailrisk Economics for a discussion on the Climate Change Commission, the benefits of an ETS and why the commission is wrong about Electric Vehicles.

Read Ian's submission here: http://www.tailrisk.co.nz/documents/ClimateChangeCommission-13march.pdf

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

 



EXCLUSIVE: Hamilton City Council harvested submissions from school children

Hamilton City Council staff members have been visiting classrooms and harvesting submissions from children on the Council’s Māori partnership strategy, the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union can reveal.

We have been contacted by a Hamilton ratepayer who was perplexed to discover the name of his 13-year-old daughter among the publicly-listed submitters for the Council’s ‘Pillars of Wellbeing’ strategy.

It turned out that the student and her classmates at Rototuna Junior High School were visited by a Council staff member who spoke to them about the proposed strategy for engaging with iwi, and then prompted the children to fill out forms which were subsequently processed as formal submissions.

The Council has confirmed these school visits to media previously, but until now it wasn’t clear that the Council’s goal is to harvest submissions from school children.

In fact, this propaganda campaign had a marked effect on total submissions. A Council meeting agenda reveals that 20% of submissions on the strategy came from children below the age of 16, and a further 7% from 16-19 year-olds. The vast majority of submissions supported all aspects of the Council’s strategy.

Graph

This is a local council rigging its own consultation process in the most cynical, abhorrent way imaginable.

Council officers visiting schools to get form submissions is, frankly, creepy. Children will happily fill out a form without a second thought if it means they can get out for lunch. It’s also a gross violation of parental rights. Parents were not asked for their consent, or given any opportunity to request the presentation of an alternative viewpoint to the one being pushed by the Council onto impressionable students. This was an explicit and direct campaign to bring politics into the classroom, that discredits not just the Council’s consultation methods, but its ethics.

Tomorrow, Hamilton City Council’s Hearings and Engagement Committee will be meeting to discuss the results of the consultation process. The Taxpayers’ Union will be watching closely to see which councillors condemn the consultation methods.

We need to stop the Climate Commission’s radical plan

Dear Supporter,

I’m writing with some urgency. At the end of next week, submissions close for the draft recommendations of the Climate Change Commission – recommendations that the Government has signalled it will simply adopt.

I'm not going to sugar coat this. The media haven't been doing their job and instead of critically reviewing what is the most radical reforms to our economy since the Douglas-Lange era, they're blindly cheering it along.

Here's the how the Climate Change Commission Chair Dr Rod Carr has put it:

The transformation that New Zealand will confront in the decade ahead… is going to be on a scale that will rival the transformation from our controlled and regulated economy in the 1970s through to the early 1990s. It will be on a scale of the demilitarisation after the second world war. It will be on a scale equal to getting ourselves out of the great depression of the late 1920s. And I would guess it might rival the sum of all those parts…

The Commissioner plans to up-end our economy with central planning, forcing costly regulations on New Zealanders in an attempt to change the way we live and the entire shape of the economy.

Here’s just a taste of what the Commission’s plan involves:

•  Ban imports of light petrol and diesel vehicles from 2032.
•  Cull dairy, sheep and beef numbers by 15% by 2030.
•  Reshape cities so that we walk 25% more, cycle 95% more, and take public transport 120% more by 2030.
•  Subsidise electric vehicles further.
•  Ban new coal boilers.
•  Ban all coal generation, regardless of security of supply.
•  Ban new natural gas connections.
•  Ban gas BBQs.
•  Require new and replacement heating systems to be electric or bioenergy, not gas.

These measures may seem unrealistic – but with the Government having publicly committed to implement whatever the Commission recommends, we need to blow the whistle now before it is too late.

And here's the thing: according to the Commission’s own analysis, this plan isn’t even necessary. New Zealand is already on track to meet its “net zero carbon” target using existing tools i.e. the existing Emissions Trading Scheme.

The waterbed effect

In fact, the proposed regulations will do nothing to reduce our overall emissions. This is because of the way the ETS works: emissions are already capped and paid for. This means that when the Government goes beyond the ETS and uses regulations to push down emissions in parts of the economy covered by cap and trade, it just frees up credits for people to increase emissions in other parts of the economy – it’s what climate economists call the “waterbed effect”.

Here's just one example: recently James Shaw announced the Ministry of Education will spend $50 million to replace or convert 90 coal boilers in schools. According to the government this will reduce emissions by 33,000 tonnes – that is reducing emissions at $1,515 per tonne. By comparison, the ETS can remove one tonne of emissions for $39, a nearly 40-fold performance gap!

And because coal is already in the ETS, the waterbed effect means replacing the school boilers will see emissions raise somewhere else. There is absolutely no gain for the climate.

If you listen to one thing this weekend, make sure it's this podcast

Oliver HartwichYesterday I sat down with New Zealand Initiative Executive Director Oliver Hartwich. A trigger warning: what you will hear will make you angry.

Dr Hartwich explains the dangerous folly of the Climate Change Commission’s plan – and how they’ve refused to show their working on how much it will cost New Zealand families. Click here to listen to the podcast.

Taxpayer Talk

We've got to raise the alarm, and we don't have long to do it

We’ve come to this issue late because it’s taken time to wrap our heads around the Commissioner’s 800 pages of draft recommendations. But we’ve now prepared a submission that, quite frankly, I think destroys the Commission’s arguments. If you’ve got some time over the weekend, I strongly encourage you to read our draft submission here.

Regardless, we need your help now to ensure the consultation process isn’t swamped by special interest groups like Greenpeace and Generation Zero, who never saw an expensive eco-regulation or tax they didn’t like.

>> Click here to use our template submission tool <<

It only takes 30 seconds.

Thank you for your support,

Jordan

Jordan_signature.jpg
Jordan Williams
Executive Director
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

 

No more elections for you – Mike’s Minute of Madness

Mike Hosking

In just one minute this morning, Broadcaster of National Importance Mike Hosking made a fundamental error in his comments urging local councils to “merge, merge, and merge some more”.

He completely dismissed the entire concept of local democracy. You know, that thing where you get to vote for the people who will be representing you on council and spending your rates. He says: “Democracy is a wonderful thing… but like most things you can have too much, and that’s our plight.” He hopes the unelected commissioners at Tauranga City Council, who immediately proposed a 12 percent rates hike, “show that expertise actually beats democracy.”

Slow down tiger. You may have the highest rated radio show in New Zealand but abolishing elections in favour of Government appointed officials changes the entire nature of our council system. This would take both the “local” and the “democracy” out of “local democracy”, and our country would be the poorer for it.

Are there underperforming councillors or representatives who are out of their depth? Absolutely, but we ratepayers can vote them out at the next election, or more quickly if the Government adopts the Taxpayers’ Union’s well-researched policy of local body recall elections. As it stands, the hard-working families of Tauranga have no say in how long Commissioner Anne Tolley will be in charge nor the ability to pass judgement on her sweeping (and expensive) changes.

Sure, there may be “hobbyists”, “do-gooders” and even the odd weirdo in our Council chambers, but they are our hobbyists, do-gooders and weirdos. We do not want the Minister of Local Government or even the host of Newstalk ZB appointing our councils because they think they can judge “expertise” over representation.

The Union’s focus is on holding elected councillors to account for their actions and helping them do better, not replacing them with Government stooges and bureaucrats. "Expertise actually beats democracy" should send chills down the spine of every New Zealander.

Mike, we hope you take a minute to read this and reflect on the true value of democracy.

Megan Woods: House of Cards

Woods

The following is a diary note from Dr Megan Woods. (satire)

My big housing announcement did not go nearly as well as expected.

People are missing the big picture which is about community, inclusivity, well-being, and kindness.

Instead, they are overly fixated on the numbers. Specifically, the number 12 – because that is the exact number of homes we have gotten people into within just three years of my flagship housing policy.

You know it is a bad sign when Phil Twyford is mocking you in caucus. I caught him outside my electorate office building a billboard with that terrible “The Count” cartoon on it. In the ten minutes I watched, Phil managed to nail his jacket to the framing, and then the semi-erect billboard fell on him. It took me ten minutes to get through to emergency services because I was laughing so hard.

This was poetic justice as Phil is responsible for my PR issue.

When I took over his “Kiwibuild Triumph” (as he and only he called it), I foolishly asked for his advice. I had already decided to pretend his flagship policy never happened and not mention it ever again. However, I was bit hazier on the details of my own flagship policy which was going to replace Kiwibuild (if it existed, which it didn’t) and solve the housing crisis (which existed when we were in opposition but ended the instant Jacinda was sworn in).

Dr Woods: Phil honey, I was thinking the target should be a nice round number. For three years and all the money Grant Robertson has given me, 100,000 seems reasonable.

Phil: Oh no Megan poppet. Housing is so much more complicated than just building a house.

Dr Woods: You have certainly demonstrated that in recent years Phil bunny. How about 10,000?

Phil: I fear you are being overly optimistic Meggy Weggy. I was thinking 10.

So, this week we actually exceeded our own secret internal target by 20%, and yet we get zero credit for it! This policy was approved at the very highest level. Working on it late one night in the Beehive, Helen Clark emerged from the shadows in my office and cast her firm but caring eye over my document.

Dr Woods: I need your advice o great and wise one. I was thinking of applying a policy principle that government and councils should get out of the way and make it easier for people to get their own homes.

Rt Hon Helen Clark: Wrong youngling. That sounds like something National would promise and then fail to deliver. You need something that sounds like what Labour would say, and then fail to deliver.

My policy proposal spontaneously caught fire under her kindly stare. Fortunately, Heather Simpson had prepared a completely different housing policy and it was implemented the next morning. Democracy in action is a marvelous thing.

Satire: My heroic journey back to New Zealand

Ricardo

The following is a leaked diary entry written by Ricardo Menendez March MP.  [Satire]

Gracefully returning from Mexico, the third most deadly hotspot for COVID-19, suddenly I am confronted by a border guard demanding all this paperwork about quarantine, isolation, and contact tracing that apparently I, a busy Member of Parliament, should have filled in “months ago”. “Months ago?” – who can understand such bureaucratic jargon?

Responding to the frontline staff, I point out the obvious absurdity in his argument. “Next”, I quip, “you will be saying that Kiwis should not travel to Mexico at all.” He produces a piece of paper from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade saying exactly that. However, I spot that it is almost a year old. I cannot be expected to keep up with these historical edicts about the country of my birth and long intended travel destination. I am a list MP.

This will not stand. I fix the guard with my most smoldering Central American gaze and confidently ask: “Do you know who I am?”

Turns out he has absolutely no idea who I am, and no one in the growing and increasingly restless line behind me can help him. Someone quipped that I might be “Cliff Curtis’ less famous brother” which was the best of a bad bunch.

I decide to go over the guard’s head and ask my old comrade Chris Hipkins for an emergency MIQ slot. Problem solved, so I return to Koru Club for a free-range soy latte with a twist of GMO-free lemon.

Well, it seems that Minister Hipkins (as he insists I call him) either does not know who I am, does not care who I am, or does not consider backbench Green list MPs to be a service “time-critical for the purpose of delivering specialist health services required to prevent serious illness, injury or death; or the maintenance of essential health infrastructure.”

Undeterred, I lodge another application for an emergency exemption on the grounds that my “urgent travel is required for national security, national interest or law enforcement reasons.” It is also declined, but I do not think the Minister had to address the letter “To who it may concern”.

Over a leisurely dandelion and bog myrtle muffin in the lounge, I realise this situation could actually look bad from a PR perspective. Even the tamest of journalists will occasionally latch onto stories about Green MPs who preach carbon neutrality constantly topping the frequent flyer mile chart, or members of the most principled party in Parliament repeatedly trying to use their status to jump the queue on the grounds of non-existent health expertise or for reasons of national security.

I call in our communications “big gun” – though the Greens' musterer insists he/she/they are referred to as “the sizable inclusive conversationalist”.

It is Clint. He may have a surname, but everyone calls him “Hey Clint” for some reason. Probably a cultural title… Hola Ricardo has quite a ring to it. Will write to the Speaker and see what he/she/they think of my plan.

“Hey Clint” has come up with a great strategy for when the opposition and media find out what I have done. I should say that I never wanted either of the emergency exemptions I applied for. You know, both those applications that used up time and resources from officials, the head of MBIE, party leader James Shaw, and Minister Hipkins. I am sure they relished a bit of excitement during these quiet days of summer.

He – and I now have written permission to call Clint he – suggested I mention family illnesses and my long-term partner as often as possible, but not mention I go to Mexico at this time every year.

On reflection, this might actually be good for my career. I have never had so much coverage. I should go on holiday more often.

REVEALED: Farewell bash for Winston Peters cost taxpayers $12,000

The Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that former Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters was thrown an $11,733 farewell party by the new Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta and her Ministry. 

The bill covered catering, event furniture hire, and technical costs. Guests included the Prime Minister, other Ministers, diplomats, and their spouses. The Taxpayers’ Union understands that, despite Parliamentary protocol requiring invitations to all Parliamentary Parties for events held at Parliament, no opposition MPs were invited - not even one.

Nanaia Mahuta needs explain why she thought it was a good idea to spend $12,000 of our money on party for a politician who has already enjoyed a lifetime of largesse.

We can think of no other instance where an MP that has failed to be re-elected has had a party thrown for him by his successor. When we asked MFAT how much the department spent, they tried to ease the blow by saying that they had only covered 50 percent of the bill. It wasn’t until after further prodding that they revealed the rest of the spending came from their new Minister!

Considering venue hire was free, that's a hell of a lot of good food and top shelf grog.

Many taxpayers could think of far better uses of $12,000 than a party thrown for a politician, by politicians.

Taxpayers' Union submission on Māori wards bill

Below is the Taxpayers' Union's submission on the Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill. You can also read it in a new window here.

Jordan Williams also presented to the Māori Affairs select committee, and took questions from MPs. Video is available below.

Taxpayers' Union calls on all unions to pay back wage subsidy

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is repaying the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy and is calling on other unions and political groups to do the same. A petition has been launched at www.taxpayers.org.nz/payitback.
 
When the Government last year made the unprecedented decision to lock down New Zealand’s economy, the Taxpayers’ Union publicly supported the Government’s moves to assist businesses in retaining employees.
 
However, the wage subsidy’s broad eligibility criteria and New Zealand’s surprising short-term economic bounceback has left many entities in a position to repay their taxpayer-funded subsidy.”
 
In December, the Taxpayers’ Union made the decision to repay its own wage subsidy payment, with monthly instalments over a period no longer than 24 months.
 
Unlike other unions we are almost totally funded by donations. That saw our revenue particularly hard-hit by the lockdowns. But we are in a better position now, and we are confident that over the coming months, we’ll be able to pay it back and return to our default position of not being government funded.
 
We’re challenging other all other unions to do the same. No union should profit, especially when financed by taxpayers, from a pandemic.
 
The Government’s trade union partners such as First Union and E Tū received hundreds of thousands in taxpayer money, despite having steady revenue streams from member dues. In fact, these unions were left with enough funds to run campaigns during the election to help re-elect the Government.
 
A handful of local councils also received the wage subsidy, despite having the ability to extract revenue from ratepayers at will. Even worse, instead of cutting back, councils actually grew their staff numbers in 2020. We’re calling on Tauranga District Council, Waikato District Council, and Northland Regional Council to repay the subsidy that all other local councils survived without.

The Taxpayers' Union's wage subsidy payment was audited by the Ministry of Social Development, which found that the Union qualified for the payment.

Diplomacy 101: A helpful and not at all patronising guide for our Australian friends

Image

A masterclass by Hon Damien O’Connor, Minister of Trade

The enhanced free trade agreement with China has passed and I was ready to bask in the media adulation. This was quite the feather in my West Coast fishing hat given I had only been Minister of Trade for less than four months – most of that over the summer break.

I must confess to being later surprised and disappointed at the lack of media adulation, even from The Spinoff. Apparently, this deal had been worked on for years and was bound to happen. One of my young staffers (or possibly a new Labour MP, it’s hard to tell these days) suggested that “even Phil Twyford could have gotten this agreement through.”

Back home we would have thrown the troublemaker down a mine, back in the days we had mines on the West Coast. Today, he’d probably hit some camera drone stuck in a rockfall and I would get sued. I miss the old days.

Putting that slight setback behind, it was time to establish my legacy beyond just trade. I plan to be a player on the world stage. The starting point was obvious: Our closest neighbour and major trading partner, Australia. They are always open to constructive criticism from Kiwis.

International relations with China seemed like a safe place to start my global punditry. Neither Australia nor China are at all touchy about third parties commenting on their geo-political affairs.

After reading a copy of The Economist which had been sitting in my lobby for nearly four months, I decided against lecturing the Aussies. Under that brash exterior, they are sensitive and surprisingly fragile souls. So instead, I went with the educative approach.

My key messages were:

◾ Do what New Zealand does, because we are better than Australia.

◾ Be respectful to China like New Zealand is. Australia, by inference, is not.

◾ Develop a mature relationship with China like New Zealand has. Australia, by inference, has not. I am not saying the Sino-Ocker relationship is immature, just that it is not mature.

◾ My counterparts in Canberra should choose their words carefully because words matter in diplomacy. I think that I have graphically demonstrated that principle here.

My comments got a lot of media coverage which is obviously a good thing when most people do not know that you have been an MP for 26 years and a Minister of the Crown for nine years.

Once I actually read the media coverage, it was not as positive as I expected. In fact, it was not positive at all. I wanted headlines like “Magnanimous Minister helps struggling Trans-Tasman sibling”. Instead, I get “A trade minister goes on record going way off script.” That’s not very kind. Ingrates.

The media has overlooked my credentials in cross-border trade. I have brokered deals between Greymouth and New Plymouth, which counts as international commerce where I come from.

I heard that the Australian Trade Minister – you know, whatshisname – respects my view. Quite right, and I think this reflects my standing in the international pecking order. However, that same pesky staffer, who I would have fired if Andrew Little had not abolished all the laws allowing you to fire people, pointed out that “respects my view” in Australian Parliamentary slang is short for “bring it outside mate, if you think you are hard enough.”

Australian politics are odd. Still, at least Grant Robertson respects my view here. He told me himself at Cabinet the other day.

Bottom line: I antagonised both our major trading partners in one interview for no discernable reason.

Key thing is: Got my name in the paper!

Taxpayer Update: Climate tax | Corruption index | Vaccines

Dear Supporter,

Fuel tax hikes are back on the table (and that's just the beginning!)

Climate Change Commission logoOn Sunday the Climate Change Commission released its long-awaited draft advice for cutting New Zealand's emissions.

It's a long (800 page) list of demands. It basically goes through every emissions sector to pick and choose who will be allowed to emit what over the coming years.

The media have focused on the proposed ban on importing petrol and diesel vehicles by 2032. But the Commission's suggestion that fuel prices need to increase by 30 cents has received less attention.

Prior to the election, Jacinda Ardern made a promise that her Government would not increase fuel tax any further. She must now confirm to New Zealanders whether her promise still stands.

Fuel tax is nasty enough as it is. It disproportionately hits the poor, who generally own older, less efficient vehicles, and for whom electric vehicles aren’t realistic. It’s not good enough for the Beehive to expect shift workers in outer suburbs to ‘get the bus’ or cycle while the rich can go electric.

Cost of "1% of GDP" is nonsense on stilts

The Commission’s economic forecasts are ridiculously optimistic. Their report claims the costs of its emissions plans represent just one percent of GDP.

That figure contrasts with work done by the NZ Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) two years ago. As we pointed out to Stuff, the NZIER boffins concluded that this sort of pathway would cost 16.8 percent of GDP. That's a big difference!

Central planning approach is counter productive

The significance of this document and the six-week consultation process cannot be overstated. It plans wholesale changes to the New Zealand economy through central planning. That didn’t work well for economies, and it wont work for emissions.

New Zealand already has a successful Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). We say, rather than have bureaucrats dictate every sector’s transformation and emissions cap, the budget should simply determine the overall cap and allow the ETS to do its job. That would see those sectors that can more easily adjust follow market incentives.

The key question is this: should politicians be planning who can emit what and when, or should they be setting the overall cap and let New Zealanders figure out where emissions can be most efficiently cut through the ETS?

Auckland tram: Government didn't bother with a cost-benefit analysis

Light rail

For the most expensive infrastructure project in New Zealand’s history the Government has failed to even conduct a standard cost-benefit analysis to find out whether the project was actually worthwhile, Stuff reports.
 
A cost-benefit analysis should be the first step, but instead the Government rushed ahead and spent $5 million on reports to work out who should build the thing.
 
The Government’s plan to choose the contractor first and do the cost benefit analysis later stinks of railroading a pet project through Cabinet regardless of the value for taxpayers. It's a recipe for 'Think Big' style waste.

Silliness from the Reserve Bank

The Reserve Bank, which is currently printing $100 billion in the name of economic stimulus, is looking for a new "Diversity, Inclusion & Wellbeing" advisor.

RBNZ hire

You'd think the Bank could hire someone to sort out more pressing problems: the impact of its monetary policy on the housing crisis, for example. Or the holes in its cybersecurity systems.

Stop pretending the marae spend-up is about jobs

Marae

The Infrastructure Minister has claimed that a $9 million spend on a marae facility in Southland will create 41 jobs.
 
He is wrong. This spending will destroy jobs.

Because the money is borrowed, future taxpayers from Kerikeri to the Bluff will pay for it plus interest. Those taxpayers will then have less to spend on businesses that provide goods and services that people actually want. When those businesses lose revenue, they’ll be less able to employ New Zealanders.

Further, that tax will create a disincentive for New Zealanders to work and be productive. Economists call this effect 'deadweight loss'. We released a briefing paper on the topic last year which reveals that the deadweight loss effect of the government's total $96 million spend on marae renovations will destroy around 205 jobs.

Of course, this spend-up isn't really about creating jobs: it’s classic pork-barrel politics dressed up as a COVID-19 response.

Why can't iwi pay?

The Reserve Bank this week announced that between 2013 and 2018 the 'Māori economy' grew almost twice as fast as GDP.

In practice, the Bank is measuring the growth of iwi-owned businesses.

Why are these businesses doing so much better than others? Here's one good reason: they pay a lower corporate tax rate of 17.5%, compared to 28% for non-iwi-owned companies.

No-one should begrudge businesses for doing well. But wouldn't it be great if all businesses benefited from a lower tax rate?

In the meantime, perhaps iwi could use a drop of their booming wealth to cover the cost of their marae do-ups?

More transparency needed for government contracts and payments

New Zealand has once again ranked best in the world in Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index. But let's not break out the bubbly.

The corruption perception index measures just that: perception. In fact, a low perception of corruption could be taken as a warning sign of complacency.

We need to be particularly alert to the government’s tendering processes. As a small country where it sometimes feels like everyone knows everyone, New Zealand is especially vulnerable to cosy deals between the government and its preferred contractors.

Taxpayers deserve competitive and fair tender processes, but the trend is in the opposite direction, with the government and local councils limiting access to tenders with "Māori procurement" targets and "local procurement" policies. This should ring alarm bells.

And then there are slush funds like the Provincial Growth Fund – over the weekend it was revealed that one of the Fund's West Coast bosses has now been appointed CEO of a local tourism company that received $18 million from that fund. Read Jordan's comments to media here.

'Front of the queue' for a COVID-19 vaccine?

In November, Chris Hipkins claimed New Zealand would be 'at the front of the queue' for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Instead, while 32 out of 37 OECD countries have already begun mass vaccinations, we're not on track to begin until April at the earliest.

Timeline

We're being left in the dust by other countries. The media should be tracking these figures:

Vaccines

Taxpayers are already facing a massive blowout in public debt due to last year's lockdown. We cannot afford another.

With our managed isolation facilities continuing to present a major risk, the government should be moving heaven and earth to at the very least get our border workers vaccinated ASAP.

Thank you for your support.

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

 

Media coverage:

Stuff  
Judith Collins suspects economic cost of climate action would be higher than commission estimates

Waatea News  
Lobby group smell pork in marae funding

Cactus Kate  The Reserve Bank's Bold Answer To The Housing Crisis - Diversity!

Stuff  Scramble in Trevor Mallard case when judge won't rubberstamp suppression

Rotorua Daily Post  
Hemo sculpture Te Ahi Tupua completed with official blessing

Point of Order  The political payoff is plain but is it smart to borrow $219,512 per job (mostly temporary) to spruce up the Murihiku Marae?

 

Taxpayer Update: Creative NZ sends $$ overseas | Payout for overstayer | RNZ propaganda

Dear Supporter,

Creative NZ sending your money overseas

Creative NZ map

This morning we revealed that in just 12 months Creative NZ paid out grants worth $631,266 to recipients in Germany, the UK, Sweden, Finland, Australia, Poland, South Korea, Fiji, the Netherlands, the Cook Islands, and the United States.

And of the 25 grants, 15 came from a COVID-19 response fund!

Examples include:

  • Ngahiraka Mason, who resides in the USA, was given $24,000 towards “a reflective, comparative and critical piece of writing”.

  • Brian Falkner in Australia was given $13,334 towards “writing a new novel set in an all too possible near future”.

  • Susie Elliot, who is Fijian and resides in Fiji, was given $11,790.99 towards “wage, materials, production costs, travel and accommodation to create and develop a new body of illustrations and video works”.

  • Luke Thompson, based in the United Kingdom, was awarded $42,000 towards “intensive research and development”.

Creative NZ released this information to us via an official information request which admits that Creative NZ does not require grant recipients to be New Zealand citizens. In fact, recipients included foreign arthouses such as London’s Royal Academy of Arts, which was paid $75,000 to exhibit paintings by New Zealand artist Rita Angus.

It’s galling that while Kiwi families were grappling with the economic effects of the worst pandemic in living memory, Creative NZ sent hundreds of thousands of dollars overseas to high-flying arts luvvies and international art houses.

At least when Creative NZ gave someone $50,000 to make an ‘indigenised hypno-soundscape’, that money was spent in New Zealand. But the cash Creative NZ sends overseas is a total loss for the local economy. We don’t even get back the GST!

Anti-taxpayer propaganda published by RNZ – and (surprise, surprise) they refuse to publish a balancing viewpoint

RNZ article

RNZ, which is funded by taxpayer money, recently published an article written by Victoria University lecturer who argues that the government's money does not belong to taxpayers and the media should stop calling it 'taxpayer money'.

The author even singles out the Taxpayers' Union and accuses us of "breaching the social contract!'

We approached RNZ with a response, but apparently they're not interested in publishing both sides. Regardless, you can read my response here.

An excerpt:

Regardless of whether the government’s money is taxed, borrowed, or freshly-minted, every dollar spent on theatre for the homeless or slides on the lawn of Parliament is a dollar that could have instead been spent by the taxpayers and ratepayers who keep this country afloat, on things they actually need and desire. The phrase ‘taxpayer money’ is shorthand for this inescapable trade-off.

Minister must explain ACC payout for illegal overstayer

Carmel Sepuloni

The Herald reports that ACC sent a taxpayer-funded payout to China for the death of an illegal worker at an Auckland building site.

While New Zealanders will have immense sympathy for the victim’s family, many will also be appalled that an overstayer seemingly has the same rights as New Zealanders who pay tax and levies into the ACC system.

To make things worse, ACC is refusing to confirm how or why it became policy to make payouts for illegal overstayers.

We say the ACC Minister, Carmel Sepuloni, must explain how this became the policy, and if she agrees with it.

Monument to waste is also a health and safety risk!

Remember we said over summer that there'd be even more costs associated with Rotorua's $743,000 bungled Hemo Gorge Statute Monument to Government Waste? Well it turns out the whole thing is at risk of collapse and now a safety fence has been erected by the Rotorua Lakes Council!

Safety fence

When contractors tried to install the monument last September, the pieces literally didn’t fit together. Contractors had to cut out pieces so the inner parts could fit. That cutting revealed the tubing structure has not been built to specifications, with an engineering report saying engineers ‘cannot prove whether the defects observed are isolated or systematic throughout the inner and/or outer [monument] tubes’.

The report concludes that the monument "exceeds design loads by 620 per cent”.

As Jordan told Stuff: This Rotorua ‘monument to government waste’ is truly living up to its name. It’s time the engineers at NZTA stepped in and took over this bungled Council vanity project.

Vaccines should be targeted by need, not race

Facing a serious risk of ongoing lockdowns, we literally cannot afford to derail the COVID-19 vaccination rollout with race-based politics.

But that's what's happening, with Māori reportedly being prioritised for the vaccine.

Vaccination against a pandemic is core government service – taxpayers fund the vaccination programme to build resilience for the wider community, not one particular demographic.

We must not elevate race above the many more relevant factors that determine vulnerability to COVID-19, such as age, pre-existing conditions, and physical exposure to other people. Likewise, if we want to target groups with historically low vaccination rates, we should be precise with our targeting, looking at factors like income level and geographic isolation.

Singling out the entire Māori cohort – 17 percent of the population – as a target group will mean our limited vaccination resources are targeted away from non-Māori individuals with greater need. That’s not just unfair, it’s potentially disastrous for our COVID-19 response.

Dodgy, dodgy stuff happening at Queenstown-Lakes District Council

Boult and Theelen

An extraordinary investigation by Crux has uncovered serious apparent conflicts of interest at Queenstown-Lakes District Council.

In one example, consultants with personal connections to Mayor Jim Boult – including his children's nanny – were paid $150 an hour for 135 days to review one of three council bylaws. And they got the contract without an open tender process.

Our team is looking into the detail of this story, and we've also written to the Auditor-General to investigate.

A tale of two rainbow crossings

Welly rainbow

When Wellington City Council installed a rainbow crossing (pictured above) in 2018, it cost ratepayers $26,844.

Now, New Plymouth has unveiled its own rainbow crossing (below), so we asked how much was spent.

NP rainbow

It turns out New Plymouth District Council got the job done for just $6,954 – a quarter of the price!

Perhaps proximity to the Beehive increases the cost of public works? 🤔

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Donate

Media coverage:

Crux Mayor asks CEO Theelen to investigate himself as ZQN7 scandal grows

Stuff Claim and counter claim as $740,000 sculpture stoush rumbles on

RNZ Government money not equal to 'taxpayer money'

Crux You be the judge: Is QLDC telling the truth over how it spends our money?

Stuff Sculpture stoush heats up with claims of 'red herring' reports and 'DIY disaster'

NZ Herald Mayors spending thousands of dollars on food, wine and flowers

Northland Age Money for nothing

Homepaddock Anatomy of a Prison Disorder Incident

Point of Order Privacy Commissioner posts his peeve about the power of private companies (on Twitter) after social media giants gag Trump

 

Revealed: Creative NZ sent $631,000 overseas in just 12 months

Map graphic

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that in just 12 months Creative NZ paid out grants worth $631,266 to recipients in Germany, the UK, Sweden, Finland, Australia, Poland, South Korea, Fiji, the Netherlands, the Cook Islands, and the United States.

Of the 25 grants, nine were from the agency’s general Arts Grant fund, while a further 15 came from the Arts Continuity Grant, which was established in response to COVID-19. One grant was from the Arts Pasifika Awards fund.

Examples include:

• Ngahiraka Mason, who resides in the USA, was given $24,000 towards “a reflective, comparative and critical piece of writing”.
• Brian Falkner in Australia was given $13,334 towards “writing a new novel set in an all too possible near future”.
• Susie Elliot, who is Fijian and resides in Fiji, was given $11,790.99 towards “wage, materials, production costs, travel and accommodation to create and develop a new body of illustrations and video works”.
• Luke Thompson, based in the United Kingdom, was awarded $42,000 towards “intensive research and development”.

The Union discovered this spending in an official information request. In its response, Creative NZ confirmed it does not require grant recipients to be New Zealand citizens. In fact, recipients included completely foreign entities such as the United Kingdom’s Royal Academy of Arts, which was paid $75,000 to exhibit paintings by New Zealand artist Rita Angus.

It’s galling that while Kiwi families were grappling with the economic effects of the worst pandemic in living memory, Creative NZ sent hundreds of thousands of dollars overseas to high-flying arts luvvies and international art houses.

At least when Creative NZ gave someone $50,000 to make an ‘indigenised hypno-soundscape’, that money was being spent in New Zealand. But the cash Creative NZ sends overseas is a total loss for the local economy. We don’t even get back the GST.

This kind of profligate spending undermines the Government’s economic response to COVID-19 and insults local taxpayers who are being told to buckle up for a massive spike in Government debt.

Many taxpayers will look at this spending and conclude that Creative NZ must be grossly overfunded. If Grant Robertson is at all interested in cutting wasteful spending in this year’s Budget, he knows where to look.

Response letter (from Creative NZ)
List of grants (covers the 12 months to 27 October 2020)

Op-ed: Why we won’t stop calling it ‘taxpayer money’

The following is an op-ed written by Taxpayers' Union Campaigns Manager Louis Houlbrooke. It is free for publication with attribution.

Louis imageJonathan Barrett, a taxation lecturer at Victoria University, wants New Zealanders and the media to stop talking about “taxpayer money”.

He makes the bland observation that when the government takes our money, that money legally becomes government property, and therefore the government can spend it however it likes. That’s all correct in a semantic kind of way, but pointless for policy debate – legality does not equal morality, and might does not make right.

There’s a reason Jacinda Ardern isn’t praised as the country’s greatest businessperson, despite the enormous wealth she controls. That wealth is produced by the rest of us, and taken from us under the threat of jail time.

So when we talk about “taxpayer money”, we do so as a reminder of who created that wealth, and of the government’s moral obligation to use its extraordinary tax-and-spend power responsibly.

Of course, tax isn’t the only way the government pads out its budget. For New Zealand’s COVID-19 response, the Finance Minister borrowed $50 billion on international markets. But this spending is still funded by taxpayers: specifically, future taxpayers, who will pay for it with interest.

The government can also just print its funds – think “quantitative easing”. That’s what the Reserve Bank is doing right now to the tune of $100 billion. The effect is still essentially that of a tax: money-printing erodes the value of the currency already held by taxpayers.

Regardless of whether the government’s money is taxed, borrowed, or freshly-minted, every dollar spent on theatre for the homeless or slides on the lawn of Parliament is a dollar that could have instead been spent by the taxpayers and ratepayers who keep this country afloat, on things they actually need and desire. The phrase ‘taxpayer money’ is shorthand for this inescapable trade-off.

When our representatives forget this, all New Zealanders have the right to doggedly challenge them on their abuse of our earnings.

It is not enough to simply cast a vote every three years and then suck it up, as Mr Barrett seems to believe. New Zealand’s democratic process is ongoing, and often informal. Politicians understand that when they’re caught squandering New Zealanders’ hard-earned wages they risk embarrassing headlines, social media backlash, or at least an earful at the farmers’ market.

Individual taxpayers, the media, and civil society groups like the Taxpayers’ Union are all vital participants in this dance of open democracy. When taxpayers organise into groups and highlight – for example – how the government gave $1 million from its COVID-19 response fund to a dance troupe, we are not “breaching the social contract”. Rather, we are providing information that will stick in taxpayers’ minds and hopefully still be there come ballot day. And we do this in competition with countless other groups, from Greenpeace to the Automobile Association, all with different visions of how (and how much) money should taxed and spent.

Left-wing academics like Mr Barrett are welcome to participate in this contest of ideas. But he should do so with some humility: unlike most of us, his salary is paid with taxpayer money.

Louis Houlbrooke is Campaigns Manager at the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

SATIRE: Kelvin Davis: Anatomy of a prison disorder incident

Graphic

2020 was one heck of a year – excuse my strong language – and I definitely need this six-to-eight-week taxpayer funded holiday to recharge my batteries.

Happily out fly fishing, which is clearly listed as one of my key strengths on my Ministerial CV, before being interrupted by a call from a random press secretary about some prison riot. I inform her that I am the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and would be Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand if hadn't given that up totally voluntarily, and this is clearly a matter for the mere Minister of Corrections.

She rather tersely informs me that I am the mere Minister of Corrections, that she is my press secretary, and she has been so for three years. Well, that was awkward. I think the tension scared all the fish away. So, might as well do one of my patented strategy sessions when dealing with a crisis.

First, some research. It turns out Waikeria Prison is a real prison and there is a riot going on right now. For me, there were three tell-tale clues of riotness – prisoners are supposed to be in the cells, guards should be in charge and the only ones with weapons, and the top half of the prison should definitely not be on fire.

I build myself a desk fort, to keep to the haters out, while I think. The Ministerial cushions I have ‘borrowed’ from my Ministerial residence are excellent for this task. Part of the COVID-19 tourism recovery fund was used to embroider my name, face, and signature, on every piece of my office furniture. I will sleep well tonight.

The next day at the lodge, after a leisurely brunch of paua fritters, cantaloupe salad, and pineapple Raro, I pull out my best Winnie the Pooh notebook and a fresh pack of coloured pencils. This is going to be my best plan ever, though admittedly H1 and H2 had drafted a pretty comprehensive crisis response template for me after several ‘communication issues’ in the first term.

  1. Do nothing. I cannot stress this enough.
  2. Say nothing.
  3. Wait to see if someone else does something. If it works, take credit for it.
  4. If it does not work, accuse people of politicising the event.
  5. Have your staff avoid media calls as best as possible. If they absolutely have to talk to the vultures, they should refer only to “protestors” in a “prison disorder incident”.
  6. If at all possible, somehow blame the previous National Government and particularly former Corrections Minister Judith Collins.
  7. Wait for the disorder to end, emerge, and take credit. Six days should be enough.
  8. Reveal that you were receiving hourly updates on the incident, but do not explain why you never mentioned this before the riot ended.
  9. Do not, under any circumstances, get drawn on whether you actually read those briefings, far less what you did about them.
  10. Resume fly fishing. Trout for dinner. Job well done.

Grant Robertson comes down to my office, carried on a sedan chair by four aides, with a fifth sprinkling rose petals in his path. This is rarely a good sign.

He proclaims that my portfolio might have to pay for rebuilding the prison that got burnt down. That seems unfair. I had absolutely nothing to do with it. The disorder was about housing standards so, like every second policy in this Government, it is Megan Woods’s responsibility. She should have to pay.

Defending myself, I argue to Grant that if Waikeria Prison had been properly upgraded then there would not have been these issues of standards. Grant agrees, but then ruins the moment by pointing out that one of my first and only moves as Minister of Corrections was to cancel National’s planned upgrade of Waikeria. This is a setback.

Oh well, at least I am still Labour Deputy Leader and Minister of Corrections. It seems literally nothing can change that.

Taxpayer Update: Signposting waste in Rotorua | More Creative NZ madness

Dear Supporter,

Happy New Year! I hope you've enjoyed some sunny days.

Our office was shut down for the holiday period, but we still managed to cause some mischief in Rotorua and expose even more waste from Creative NZ...

"Monument to waste ahead" in Rotorua

Remember Rotorua's $743,000 Hemo Gorge sculpture that ran three years late and still isn't finished? We thought it was such a good example of government and council waste that we hired an electronic billboard so the summer traffic knew what it was:

Sign image

And in case the thousands of passing holidaymakers didn't get the message, some of our local supporters erected more signs at the site of the sculpture:

Other signs

Remember, the installation of the sculpture ran three years late and $200,000 over budget, and the final bill is likely to be higher than $1 million once installation and lighting costs are counted.

What's worse, the final product looks nothing like the grand concept drawings — in fact, ratepayers and taxpayers can only see half of the sculpture because it's been erected below road level.

Unfortunately, it's not just Rotorua ratepayers footing the bill: the sculpture was co-funded by NZTA, meaning we all paid for it!

Our signage received coverage in The Waikato Times, the Rotorua Daily Post, and on Magic Talk.

Waikato Times

NZTA even complained to local media that the signs could distract drivers. Our response: it was NZTA that installed a behemoth sculpture in the centre of a busy roundabout. You couldn’t get more of a distraction than that! After the faux outrage and threats to remove the sign, they've since backed down.

Rotorua Daily Post

Rotorua Daily Post

The Mayor responds: it's OK as the overrun is just NZTA money!

Following Jordan’s interview on Magic Talk, Rotorua Mayor (and former Labour MP) Steve Chadwick was forced to respond. She said the cost overrun was a “storm in a teacup” as the reason the monument went over-budget was because it was so complex and groundbreaking! She also said that our group was wrong to complain because the Council’s contribution was fixed — most of the overrun was covered NZTA (i.e. taxpayers!).

Listen to the interviews (and the resulting talkback) here.

Finally, a big thank you to Reynold Macpherson (a local councillor, Taxpayers' Union member, and representative of Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers) who protected the electronic message board from tampering by irate supporters of the sculpture Council!

"Radical fat positivity" funded by taxpayers

Last year we exposed Creative NZ's bizarre arts grants, including $50,000 for "indigenised hypno-soundscapes".

But wait, there's more. Last month Creative NZ released the year's fourth round of Arts Grants. Taxpayers forked out $50,800 for events about "radical fat positivity", $57,000 for "a play about the COVID-19 pandemic", and $39,930 for "a new app-driven immersive theatrical experience".

Fat positivity

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Creative NZ has been handing out far larger grants under its new Adaptation Fund, which has handed out $6.78 million, supposedly in response to COVID-19.

The single largest grant was a massive $1 million for the Fa'a Black Grace dance troupe, to deliver "an immersive dance experience in a non contact world."

That's more than the average Kiwi's tax bill for an entire lifetime.

[One more point: some of Creative NZ's defenders have claimed this is Lotteries money, not taxpayer money. They're wrong. While Lotteries has historically been the key funder of Creative NZ, Jacinda Ardern gave the agency a massive top-up in funding last year, so most of its money now comes directly from the Government. Regardless, Lotteries is still a public body and ought to spend its money more wisely.]

1,247 public servants paid more than $200,000

On Boxing Day it was reported that the cost of salaries in the public sector has increased by 13 percent in just one year.

Funneling ever more taxpayer money into the state sector is not sustainable, necessary, or fair. It's outrageous that government agencies are padding their own salaries while families and businesses cut costs in the wake of a pandemic.

Public sector staff are paid significantly more than private sector workers, and the pay gap is increasing. It's not enough for a few state sector bosses to take temporary pay cuts: pay cuts need to go wider and deeper.

Taxpayer Talk: What do our new MPs stand for?

MPs

One third of the new Parliament is made up of new MPs, and you deserve to know who they are and what they stand for.

That's why we're releasing new episodes of the Taxpayer Talk podcast, in which Neil interviews the new politicians.

Get to know ACT MP James McDowall here, or listen to our interview with fellow ACT MP Damien Smith here. National MP Simon Watts is next up.

You can find all of our podcast episodes here (or look us up on Spotify, iTunes, or wherever you find good podcasts).

All the best,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

 

 

Message board erected in Rotorua highlighting monumental waste

New Zealanders approaching the Hemo Gorge roundabout from the south will from today be greeted by an electronic message board warning motorists of the 12-metre 3D-printed monument to Government waste at the Te Hemo Gorge roundabout, where State Highway 5 meets State Highway 30.
 
The sign reads MONUMENTAL WASTE AHEAD / COST: $743,000 / AND COUNTING, and is an initiative of the New Zealand Taxpayers' Union, installed by volunteers from the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers (RDRR).
 
Union spokesman Jordan Williams says, "This monument to waste was installed three years behind schedule and $240,000 over budget. But we understand the final bill will be even higher, once the costs of the botched installation are counted."
 
"The final product looks nothing like the grand concept drawings - in fact, ratepayers and taxpayers can barely see the sculpture because it's been erected below road level!"
 
"Sometimes the best antidote to government waste is sunlight. We're glad to expose to holiday period travelers how Rotorua District Lakes Council and the New Zealand Transport Authority have squandered public money while so many households struggle to make ends meet, and roads need basic maintenance."
 
“The monument looks a bit like flames going up into the air.  It takes little imagination to see it’s taxpayer and ratepayer money going up in smoke.”
 
RDRR spokesman and local councillor Reynold Macpherson says, "The Council can't seriously expect ratepayers to tolerate year after year of rate hikes when we've now literally got a monument showing how that money is wasted. This ill-advised public art project risks putting our town on the map for all the wrong reasons."

Video of the sign in action can be viewed here, and an image of the site is here.
 
The Hemo Gorge sculpture was nominated in the local government category of the 2020 Jonesie Waste Awards.

Petition launched for Trevor Mallard to pay back taxpayers for his defamation settlement and legal costs

--> Click here to sign the petition <--

A written Parliamentary question has confirmed the Taxpayers’ Union’s understanding that the Speaker paid a six-figure settlement to a staffer he accused of rape.

Taxpayers should not have to cover the bill for Trevor Mallard’s careless accusations. It’s not like making defamatory allegations is part of his job description.

Trevor Mallard must commit to paying back the taxpayer money handed over to the accused staffer and the Labour Party’s law firm.

The Union has launched a petition calling for the repayment at www.taxpayers.org.nz/trevor.

The Speaker is paid a taxpayer-funded salary of $296,000, so we’re sure he can work out a payment plan with Parliamentary Services.

As a gesture of goodwill, if Trevor Mallard repays the money the Taxpayers’ Union will stop hassling him for spending $572,000 on a slide outside Parliament.

Highest and lowest council rates in New Zealand revealed -Ratepayers’ Report

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union’s 2020 Ratepayers’ Report reveals the highest and lowest average council rates in the country. The league tables are available at www.ratepayersreport.nz.

Rates graph

Taxpayers’ Union spokesperson Louis Houlbrooke says: “The key attraction of Ratepayers’ Report has always been the league table for average residential rates, which uses a standardised formula to include all residential rates, local taxes, and levies.”

“This year’s table has a new champion of high rates, knocking Auckland Council and Kaipara District Council off the top. Carterton District Council has moved up the rankings from third last year to take out the title of the highest-rating council in 2020, charging $3,472 on average for residential rates.”

“However, our largest city continues to loom large in second place, with Auckland Council charging an average rates bill of $3,469 – only just below Carterton, and well ahead of Christchurch ($2,588).”

“On the other end of the table, Central Otago District Council is now officially the lowest-rating council. Central Otago charges less than half what Carterton does.”

“The average residential rate nationwide is $2,445 – an increase of $84 from the previous year. Councils are extracting even more rates, taxes and levies from the average ratepayer, but the range of different rates levels in the league table demonstrates that high rates need not be an inevitability. High-rating councils should take notes on how others are able to run tighter ships.”

Highest average residential rates:

  1. Carterton District Council: $3,472
  2. Auckland Council: $3,469
  3. Tasman District Council: $3,186
  4. Western Bay of Plenty District Council: $3,168
  5. South Wairarapa District Council: $3,151

Lowest average residential rates:

  1. Central Otago District Council: $1,444
  2. Grey District Council: $1,739
  3. Mackenzie District Council: $1,884
  4. Southland District Council: $1,914
  5. Otorohanga District Council: $1,919

More about the Report is available here, and specific methodology for calculating average rates is here.

2020 Ratepayers’ Report released, methodology explained

Banner

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union, in partnership with the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance, has today published the 2020 edition of Ratepayers' Report  – online local government league tables – at www.ratepayersreport.nz

With these league tables, New Zealanders can easily compare their local council’s performance and financial position for 2018/19 against others.

Setting out more than two thousand data points, the Ratepayers' Report provides transparency for ratepayers, and rates figures are presented on a per-household basis to ensure fair comparisons between councils. The league tables rank councils on metrics including average residential rates, staffing costs, and council liabilities among others.

Taxpayers’ Union Campaign Manager Louis Houlbrooke says, “Every dollar spent by a local council was earned by a hard-working ratepayer. Ratepayers' Report allows ratepayers to understand if they could be getting a better deal. The league tables reveal huge disparities between councils in terms of how much they take in rates, how much they owe in liabilities, and how much they spend on salaries. The league tables suggest there is major scope for councils to find efficiencies to reduce the burden on ratepayers.”

Notable Findings:

  • Carterton District Council now ranks highest for average residential rates at $3,472, just pipping Auckland Council at $3,469.
  • The lowest average residential rates in New Zealand are levied by the Central Otago District Council at $1,444.
  • Christchurch City Council continues to have the highest liabilities per household compared to any other council ($27,510) – up from last year. Auckland Council follows in second place, with liabilities per household of $25,372 – another significant increase from last year.
  • The average liabilities per household of all councils is $6,144.
  • There are were 2,831 staff paid salaries greater than $100,000 at Auckland Council and its CCOs.
  • The least efficient council in terms of staffing is Waitomo District Council, with a staff member for every 20 households. The most efficient is Thames-Coromandel District Council, with a staff member for every 128 households.
  • Only four Councils meet the full criteria for prudent Audit and Risk Committees. Western Bay of Plenty District Council failed to have a separate Audit and Risk Committee while Grey District Council didn’t have one at all, which is considered basic financial prudence.

All figures are based on the 2018/19 financial year, and therefore do not reflect changes in council positions caused by COVID-19 and the ensuing 2020 budgets.

Editors' notes:

Data for the report was compiled by the Taxpayers' Union and was supplied to all councils for review (and any necessary correction) prior to publication.

Ratepayers' Report facilitates straightforward comparison of average residential rates via a formula first used by Napier City Council which allows for an 'apples to apples' comparison of average residential rates and charges, based on each council’s definition of a residential rating unit. Only Kaipara District Council was unwilling to provide the Taxpayers' Union with the necessary rates information, while Wellington City Council did not respond to our request.

This formula was also used to ascertain non-residential average rates for the first time. A number of councils were unable or unwilling to provide us with this information.

For non-rates figures (i.e. liabilities, personnel costs) we have this year assessed council data using Stats NZ’s 2018 census, with some councils opting to replace this with a more recent figure. We have done this because councils have different definitions of what constitutes a residential ratepayer or ‘rating unit’.

Q & A

What is the purpose of Ratepayers’ Report?

Ratepayers' Report provides accountability and transparency to New Zealand ratepayers by allowing them to compare their local territorial authority with others around the country.

Where was the data sourced?

The Taxpayers' Union compiled the data in Ratepayers' Report after reviewing each council's annual report for the year ending June 30, 2019.

Other figures were mostly obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, and cover the 2018/19 financial year.

The data has been sent to each individual authority for their review and error checking prior to public launch.

Population and household data is from Stats NZ.

Where did the group finance figures come from?

They are taken from each Council's annual report. They are council figures, plus all those of subsidiary council-controlled organisations.

Which councils are assessed in Ratepayers' Report?

Of New Zealand's 67 territorial authorities, 66 are examined in Ratepayers' Report. That includes all city, district, and unitary councils, with the exclusion of the Chatham Islands Council (due to concerns surrounding that Council's workload pressure and unique position).

What about regional councils?

While we anticipate including regional councils in future editions of the Report, the data we have on their average residential rates bills is at this stage incomplete. Our research suggests that regional councils charge anywhere from $42 to $553 per residential ratepayer on top of the bill charged by territorial authorities. Gaps in the data and different definitions for residential ratepayers dictate that these figures should be considered as supporting evidence, rather than determinative.

Is this the first Ratepayers' Report?

No. Ratepayers' Report was first published in 2014 jointly by the Taxpayers' Union and Fairfax Media (now Stuff). The Taxpayers’ Union have since published updated versions in 2017, 2018 and 2019. This is the fifth edition.

How are the councils grouped?

Unitary authorities – the 5 territorial authorities which also carry out the functions of a regional authority are grouped.
Metropolitan – the 5 large councils with a population of over 120,000.
City – 6 smaller metropolitan councils with populations between 40,000 and 120,000.
Provincial – the largest group, 27 non-metropolitan councils with population over 20,000.
Rural – the remaining 23 councils.

How was the average rates calculated?

Calculating an 'apples to apples' figure for residential rates is difficult because councils use various mixes of rates, levies, and user charges. Our approach is based on work by Napier City Council to find an average residential rate. The methodology councils were asked to use to calculate the figures disclosed in Ratepayers' Report is available here.

The report also included average non-residential rates for the first time this year using the same methodology.

While we think this approach is useful and fair, the average residential and non-residential rate figure should be a guide only.

Unitary authorities (Auckland Council, Nelson City Council, Gisborne, Tasman, and Marlborough District Councils) perform the functions of a regional council and therefore can be expected to have higher rates than other territorial authorities.

Were councils consulted in the process?

Yes. Every council was sent a draft version of their respective data to review. 

Can the results of the 2020 report be compared to the 2019 edition?

All non-rates figures (i.e. liabilities, staff) were assessed using council data from Stats NZ’s 2018 census figures, with some councils opting to replace this with a more up to date figure. We have done this because councils have different definitions of what constitutes a residential ratepayer or ‘rating unit’.

The methodology means that the per-household figures can be compared with the 2019 report, but not with the 2018 report which used a per-ratepayer figure (aside from the average rates metric which has remained consistent).

What are the potential limitations of Ratepayers’ Report?

Queenstown-Lakes, Taupo, and Thames-Coromandel District Councils have previously objected to the use of Stats NZ’s household figures, as these tend to exclude properties left empty, i.e. baches. As a result, per-household figures for these districts may be somewhat inflated. This does not affect the rates figures, which are based on rating units.

Empty or undeveloped sections are counted as rating units. This means the average residential rates figure for a territory with a high proportion of undeveloped sections, such as Wairoa District Council, may appear relatively low while the actual level of rates levied on an average Wairoa homeowner is likely to be higher.

Taxpayer Update: Return of the CGT | Uni's mansion rort | Bad poetry

Dear Supporter,

It's a longer Taxpayer Update this week – but there is just so much silliness in Wellington that we're swamped.

Ruled-out taxes back on the agenda

Jacinda Ardern has previously ruled out both a capital gains tax and an asset tax. In fact, both she and the Finance Minister promised that other than a new income tax bracket, there would be no further tax changes this term.

But just weeks after the election, it looks like those promises could unravel.

Faced with increasing pressure over rising house prices, the Finance Minister appears to be “un-ruling out” new taxes on housing.

Egged on by Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr, Robertson is asking Treasury for advice on an extension of the “bright-line” test.

Our new TV ad:

VideoClick here to share the ad on Facebook.

Extending the bright line test is effectively imposing a nasty capital gains tax – at a rate of up to 39% – for property owners who sell within ten years.

Click here to tell Grant Robertson to stick to his word.

Taxing houses will not make them more affordable. What this tax would do is hammer people who need to cash out of property for personal reasons. It would reduce liquidity in the market, and could even incentivise politicians to drive up house prices further in order to reap tax revenue from the capital gain.

The Government also appears to have “un-ruled out” increasing the tax rate for trusts to 39%, to match the new top income tax bracket.

Both of these tax proposals would be harmful. But here’s the biggest worry: if the Government decides it’s okay to break its tax promises, it won’t stop at these. A Green Party-style asset tax or even a Michael Cullen-style capital gains tax could be back on the agenda. That's why we've set up a tool for New Zealanders to tell Grant Robertson to keep his promises. Sent him your message at www.StickToYourWord.nz.

Auckland University’s $5 million mansion rort

Mansion

A year ago, the University of Auckland purchased a $5 million Parnell mansion for its new Vice-Chancellor, Dawn Freshwater.

The Auditor-General opened an investigation and on Wednesday released his report. He could hardly be more scathing: he says that the University failed to show a justifiable business purpose, failed to demonstrate objectivity, failed to display adequate transparency, failed to show the expenditure was moderate and conservative, and failed to follow its own policy on sensitive expenditure.

By charging the Dawn Freshwater half the market rent, the University effectively topped up her $755,000 salary in a way that wouldn’t be transparent to observers.

The victims here are fee-paying students and taxpayers, who expected their hard-earned money to be spent on education, not luxury housing for a public sector bigwig.

It’s not enough for the University to just sell the mansion. We’re calling on Dawn Freshwater to backpay the University for the real value of her discounted rent. If she can’t show this basic respect to taxpayers and students, she is unfit for the top job.

Consultants are getting rich off the Ihumātao stand-off

PM / Ihumatao

Last year the Prime Minister made a big show of announcing her intervention at Ihumātao, but in reality she’s fobbed off the nuts and bolts of negotiations to highly-paid consultants.

The Government has paid consultants more than $150,000 to provide advice regarding the dispute, with some paid $325 an hour, according to the Herald.

The problem is that all parties involved at Ihumātao – the occupiers, Fletcher Building, and the consultants – know that the Government has deep pockets and that the Prime Minister isn’t willing to walk away from the negotiating table. This means they can be aggressive with their demands.

If the Government is willing to pay Ihumātao consultants $325 per hour, taxpayers can expect the Government to fork out a horrendous sum for any eventual settlement of the dispute. And with Auckland land values rapidly increasing, the likely bill only gets worse as the standoff drags on.

The Prime Minister needs to do right by taxpayers and call off the negotiations, reasserting Fletcher Building’s property rights. That way, if the occupiers want the land, they’ll need to convince Tainui to buy it.

Green Party MPs once again the highest spenders on air travel

Yesterday saw the release of MP expenses for July-September.

It turns out Green Party MPs are burning taxpayer money and fossil fuels at a faster rate than any other party as they jet up and down the country:

Air travel graph

These spending figures arrive in the same week the government declared a climate emergency at the Greens’ behest. The hypocrisy is enough to make you weep.

Children’s Commissioner is a pointless taxpayer-funded lobbyist

Andrew Becroft

Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft has used his latest “Child Poverty Monitor” report to call for costly policies that aren’t even targeted at children. He wants the Government to spend more on benefits and accommodation supplements, and is even pushing for the internationally discredited policy of rent control.

Taxpayer-friendly proposals to address child poverty, such as GST relief or RMA reform, never seem to feature in the Commissioner’s proposals.

On Wednesday, we called it for what it is: the Commissioner is a taxpayer-funded left-wing lobbyist. He offers no ideas that aren’t already being pushed by countless left-wing groups who at least get their points across without taxpayer funding.

The Commissioner is funded by taxpayers to the tune of $3.2 million a year. $2.7 million of that is spent on salaries, including $272,000 for the Commissioner himself. He could do far more for children by winding up his office and just giving that money to the kids!

You've got to be kidding...

Remember Trevor Mallard's $572,000 Parliamentary playground? It's been open for barely a year and it's already closed for maintenance!

Playground

Ministers need to explain surprise new priorities

Priority graphic

Just six weeks after the election, Labour Ministers are unveiling surprise new 'top priorities' that were completely absent from the party's election manifesto.

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta stated of that one her top priorities is abolishing the ability of ratepayers to initiate a public referendum if a Maori ward is going to be established in their area. This policy is not referred to in Labour's manifesto. Ironically, the manifesto does commit to having ‘major decisions about local democracy involve full participation of the local population from the outset.’ The Minister seems intent on shutting out full participation on certain major decisions about local democracy. She has no mandate for this.

Labour's success in the election gives the party a clear mandate, but only for the policies it campaigned on. The public has not endorsed abolishing referenda, nor switching to bilingual road signs, which the Minister of Transport has also named as a priority.

If other Labour Ministers are harbouring unannounced priorities, they should release them now in a transparent manifesto update, rather than revealing them on an ad-hoc basis throughout the next three years.

Creative NZ fights COVID-19 with poems attacking National, ACT

Newsroom screenshot

In the lead-up to the 2020 general election, Newsroom was awarded $21,150 “towards commissioning weekly NZ book reviews, short stories and poems” as part of Creative NZ’s "Arts Continuity" COVID-19 response fund.

Newsroom used taxpayer money to commission a series of poems targeted at political party leaders, penned by writer Victor Billot – a former trade union official and former co-leader of the socialist Alliance party.

On Judith Collins, Mr Billot writes:

“But when the Queen first speaks, Lady Judith just cackles.
F-bombs and eye rolls, head high verbal tackles
When Her Kindness speaks again, JC says look at me!
And spins her head round in circles, demonically”

An attempted satire of David Seymour reads:

“But now fascism is casting a shadow over our fair land.
Queen Cindy’s one party state is close at hand
To despots I proclaim; I have no time for your treaty!
On principle I REFUSE to holiday on Matariki”

Meanwhile, a poem addressed to Jacinda Ardern merely encourages her to push harder for her political agenda:

“The kind of kindness we need to see
now must go beyond reassuring speech.
It must extend both breadth and reach.
That’s what we need J.A. to deliver
Those houses she mentioned, those fresh blue rivers.”

Here’s what we told the media:

Mr Billot is entitled to write childish screeds about politicians he doesn’t like, and Newsroom is welcome to publish them – but taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for it.

This is yet another example of Creative NZ using its funding to support political propaganda. The agency, which claims to support the arts for the benefit of all New Zealanders, recently also gave money to The Spinoff to agitate for entrenched Maori electoral wards.

The Newsroom poems are especially egregious in that they were published in the lead-up to an election. At the very least, Creative NZ needs to review its grants approval process to ensure it is funding a range of political perspectives, or simply not funding political material at all.

Amusingly, after we criticised this spending, the poet himself published a tirade calling us “a front for far right political interests who are opposed to taxes in principle”. Our in-house poet Neil Miller decided to respond in poetry form:

There once was a poet called Billot
Evil Taxpayers’ Union put his funding on a skillet
He responded to this fiscally conservative swinge
With an extended far left wing whinge

Criticisms of his time at the public trough
Were met with a challenge and a mighty scoff
He then unleashed interminable verses of rage
“Taxpayers should fund my hobby in my dotage”

Calling David Seymour a fascist marching the street
That might make a nice low-grade tweet
But taxpayers should not have to pay for your socialist rants
The Union took a poll – your poems are pants

We ridiculed your poems just by publishing them
That got more readers than the usual arty scrum
Your poems are so bad they would almost be funny
If they weren’t being paid for by our hard-earned money.

Neil Miller
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union Poet Laureate (27 November 2020-)

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

 

 

Leaked: MP Election Diaries

Diary

Your stupendous yet humble New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has obtained copies of Members of Parliament’s election diaries. We requested them under the Official Information Act from new MPs, who apparently do not know that the OIA does not apply to them. Stuart Smith answered because he was desperate to talk to someone… even us apparently.

Hon David Seymour was not asked for his diaries but sent them to us irregardless. We got two emails, a signed bound hard copy of his diary, 14 autographed copies of his book “Own your Future: A David Seymour Story”, 4 signed glossy photographs, and a pallet of bumper stickers promoting his new website www.thesecretdiariesofdavidseymouraged37andahalf.com.

Anna Lorck, Labour List MP

9:41
Arrive at first caucus meeting early. Only a few people here – they also look new and nervous.

9:42
We exchange socially distanced nods.

10:10
A polite gentleman called Matt Doocey informs me that this is the National Party Caucus Room.

10:11
On the walk of shame down the wrong corridor, I overhear a staff member saying they had to use Google Images to figure out who I actually was.

10:30
Arrive at Labour Caucus Room. Told curtly I am late and that I should put the coffee and muffins on the corner table.

Maureen Pugh, National List MP (correct at time of writing)

Election Day:
I’m in!

Election Night:
I’m out (again…)

Specials:
I’m in (again)!

Note to self:
Send cards to Matt King and Denise Lee who have lost their seats. Do not use any smiley emojis. Organise party. Bound to have some invites, banners, and plastic cups from the last two elections (never used).

Chris Luxon, National MP for Botany

7:01
First act as a new MP is to lodge an indignant complaint to the Electoral Commission that I was not directly elected to Prime Minister. Sir John Key definitely implied it was inevitable.

8:01
Quick reply from Electoral Commission saying that being elected to Prime Minister is constitutionally and historically impossible, particularly from Opposition.

8:05
Archive my “What I will achieve in the first 100 days as your Prime Minister” document. What a shame. I had just finished colouring it in.

8:10
Begin revising my three-year plan starting with “write a stern letter to Sir John”, “get a much bigger office”, and “find out what my portfolios are… better not be Statistics.”

Chloe Swarbrick, Green MP for Auckland Central

Election Night  

9:00pm
I’m running to boost the Green vote.

10:00pm
I’m running to boost the Green vote.

Next Day             

1:00am
Oh my god (if she exists which she doesn’t), I’m an electorate MP! Just as I always planned.

9:00am
I have 1,274 emails and 47 phone messages from locals wanting me to do stuff for them – for nothing! Seriously, this must be why Green MPs never want to win an electorate.

12:15pm
Marama Davidson (who is not an electorate MP I should note) sends me a GIF of a laughing cat next to her Ministerial warrant. I have the electorate seat, but she has the seat in the Ministerial limousine (which is not electric I should note).

David Seymour, Act MP for Epsom, Act Party Leader     

Election Night

7:00pm
Mwhahahahahaha!

8:00pm
Mwhahahahahaha!

8:30pm
Fly my pretties! Victory is mine! All your base are belong to us!

8:35pm
Try to look sober on TV.

8:35:30pm
Fail.

8:36pm
Act vote goes up.

10:15pm
Strut a little.

10:17pm
Sit down for a while.

Next day

7:00am
Try to get up. Ouch.

10:00am
Get up – slowly.

10:05am
Wonder who are all these strange people sleeping in my opulent red velvet lounge room? Turns out they are my caucus.

10:10am
Try to learn their names before they wake up. Fortunately, most of them are deep sleepers and had driver’s licences with all the relevant information. Make notes.

10:30am
Ring the Parliamentary Library and request a book about managing a team. Obviously, I have never needed one before. I am in luck – Todd Muller had just returned one.

Stuart Smith, National MP for Kaikoura

9:45am
Head to Caucus in a tremendously good mood.

9:46am
Mood dented by Parliamentary Security saying that tours were not allowed in this area. This is my third term as an MP. They apologise.

9:48am
Stopped by different Parliamentary Security while heading to the bathroom. Point to the Guide to Parliament 2020-2023 poster which clearly has my photo on it. Glad I carry it around.

9:50am
Bathroom.

10:00am
Caucus meeting. On balance, I should have let security escort me from the Parliamentary precinct.

Taxpayer Update: More money printing | Ping pong for COVID | Poor form from Stats NZ

Dear Supporter,

We need tax relief, not desperate money printing

Adrian Orr

The Reserve Bank Governor’s announcement of a new $28 billion 'Funding for Lending' money printing programme is a desperate measure. Clearly, monetary policy tools have become ineffective at fueling economic recovery.

In fact, Adrian Orr’s loose monetary policy may do more harm than good as New Zealanders pump all this extra cash into an already-unaffordable housing market.

It is becoming increasingly clear that it’s fiscal policy – especially the wage subsidy – that has propped up New Zealand's economy in the wake of COVID-19. But the wage subsidy has now run its course and we need new options.

The Green Party and special interest groups are clamoring for higher benefits, but that was sensibly ruled out by the Prime Minister on Monday. Other groups are calling for 'helicopter money'. We say, instead, look to tax relief as a way of bolstering real incomes and encouraging productivity.

A temporary reduction in GST would encourage New Zealanders to bring forward future spending, bolstering business revenues, employment, and economic growth. It's been done before, successfully. In the United Kingdom, a temporary cut to VAT saw households bring consumption spending forward, mimicking the traditional role of looser monetary policy (i.e. lower interest rates). A cut to GST certainly beats printing money and stoking the housing market!

New Zealanders would actually have to spend their money on goods and services (not houses!) to reap the benefits of a GST cut.

Grant Robertson fights COVID-19 with table tennis

Ping pong

First it was horse racetracks. Then it was arts grants for "indigenised hypno-soundscapes". Now the Government’s taxpayer-funded pandemic response includes table tennis, badminton, downhill luge, and Sea Scouts.

Grant Robertson is doling out $15 million to over 2,000 sporting organisations as part of his "Community Resilience Fund".

The funding was recently increased "due to the demand for the fund in the initial three weeks". Well, of course. There will always be demand for "free" money!

To the extent that these organisations contribute to the economy, they'll have been eligible for the wage subsidy. Why is the sports sector getting extra special treatment?

CCDHB appointment process creates conflict of interest

Spending at our DHBs needs far more scrutiny especially when it comes to conflicts of interest and "jobs for the boys".

As RNZ reports, we're raising the alarm about such a case at Wellington's Capital & Coast DHB, as it selects a new Director of Pacific Health.

The DHB’s selection panel includes Tino Pereira, who chairs the Central Pacific Collective – a group that last year received a $1.35m contract from the previous Director of Pacific Health.

In other words, this man will have a say on hiring the person who will be responsible for evaluating his service delivery and potentially renewing his million-dollar contract.

Our full letter to the DHB outlining the concerns can be read here.

Stats NZ wades into the American election

The day before the US election, our Government's statistics agency produced this graphic for social media:

Stats NZ post

The post reads: "We thought we would squeeze in some data before the result. NZ imported 4.8 million kgs of fresh oranges from the USA in the year ended September 2020."

The image is clearly meant to be a p*sstake of Donald Trump.

As Newshub reports, we challenged Stats NZ for using the election of a close diplomatic ally as social media fodder:

If a government department wants to use humour on social media that’s fine, but they should steer clear of the culture wars and pandering to what they think is politically fashionable.

Stats NZ defended the post in the Newshub piece, but has since deleted it. Perhaps the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had a stern word with them!

A letter from Snoopy

Snoopy

Have a great weekend,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

PS. The election may be over, but the Debt Monster still stalks our politicians. This week he welcomed newly-sworn-in Ministers to Parliament as the official Government debt clock ticked over one hundred thousand million dollars.

 

Revealed: Taxpayers cover animal welfare fines for Landcorp farmers

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is today calling on Landcorp to stop reimbursing farmers fined for animal welfare offences.

The Taxpayers’ Union requested correspondence pertaining to staff reimbursements of fines paid by Landcorp over the last three years. Landcorp provided information revealing the following:

• A $500 reimbursement for an animal welfare fine for transporting a cow that birthed a calf en route to slaughter on a moving truck.

• A $500 reimbursement for an animal welfare fine for transporting an angus bull which was tender on its forelimbs and sore in all four feet.

• Two $500 reimbursements for animal welfare fines for transporting a calf for slaughter which had contracted tendons in both forelimbs.

Taxpayers’ Union spokesperson Louis Houlbrooke says “A fine is imposed as punishment for breaking the law and should be duly paid by the infringing individual rather than law-abiding taxpayers. We wouldn’t expect a government entity – or a private company – to reimburse its staff for speeding tickets.”

“Paying the fines of farmers who are deemed to have broken the Animal Welfare Act disincentivises them to care for their animals properly. As our state farming entity, Landcorp should be setting the gold standard for the treatment and care of animals. Landcorp’s website asserts a commitment to ‘leading industry standards with exceptional animal care’ but it is hard to see how bailing out farmers for animal welfare offences supports that.”  

“In one instance we discovered, a farm manager sought a waiver of fees after a cow gave birth to a calf on a moving truck en route to slaughter because there was ‘no intent’ for that outcome and only ‘one animal that was sent’ had this experience.”

“In another, a lame calf with contracted tendons was sent to the works unable to walk properly. Landcorp paid the fine because it considered the farm manager had delegated responsibility to a team who lacked the necessary education to know that sending lame animals for slaughter was not permissible. How is that not negligence?”

“We understand that on farms mistakes happen and animals sometimes suffer for it. But we fine farmers for mistakes and negligence so that they have a stinging financial reminder of their duty of care. Letting Landcorp farmers off scot-free isn’t fair on private sector farmers who work hard to maintain standards of care, and it’s certainly not fair on the animals.”

The Taxpayers’ Union enquired whether Landcorp had a general policy of reimbursing farmers when fined for animal welfare offences, and was told Landcorp assessed each fine on a ‘case by case basis’. Landcorp purportedly take account of whether there is ‘individual wrongdoing’ and ‘acceptable mitigating reasons’ in deciding whether a farmer should be reimbursed. However, Landcorp was unable to provide any correspondence surrounding fines for which it considered reimbursement but ultimately did not pay.

Source documents:

Taxpayers' Union correspondence with Landcorp 

Internal Landcorp emails and infringement notices 

 

Election 2020: Whisky, Tango, Foxtrot

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is reacting with surprise and horror after being accidentally sent the results of tomorrow’s election.

Acting Labour Party General Secretary Rob Salmond inadvertently included your humble Taxpayers’ Union on their union mailing list this year. Traditionally, unions receive advance notice of the election results they have spent so much time and money on.

Election analyst and failed pundit Neil Miller said: “Obviously we were, to use a technical term, completely and utterly gobsmacked by the new Labour and Advance NZ government.”

He is currently reviewing the 2-page coalition agreement – which appears to be mainly 90s clip art – and the 471-page secret annex which has all the good stuff in it.

Campaigns Manager and Frankie Boyle lookalike Louis Houlbrooke added: “Obviously Jacinda Ardern will remain Prime Minister until her job at the United Nations opens up. Kelvin Davis becomes Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister only. His sole official role is limited to ‘looking good in the background during media standups.’”

Ms Ardern revealed Advance NZ was not seriously considered for the deputy role saying: ‘Billy is too crazy even for me, and Jami-Lee is just too… eww.” She then frantically washed her hands for ten minutes after just saying his name.

There are other changes to the Ministerial lineup.

Megan Woods picks up Davis’ Tourism portfolio. It is in mint condition because it has hardly been used. She also gains another minor portfolio in Social Development. She is demoted to number 8 in the Cabinet to, in Ardern’s words, “enable her to focus on her portfolios”. Such kindness.

Chris Hipkins gains Youth Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Veterans Affairs and Ethnic Affairs. He has been shifted to number 16 because, in Ardern’s words, “Christopher John is just a little ambitious for my liking."

Phil Twyford sheds the few remaining portfolios he had in order to become new Minister of Administrative State Services (ASS). Union analysis indicates this is basically Minister of Internal Affairs with particular responsibility for cleaning the Prime Minister’s pictures of (Saint) Michael Joseph Savage on a daily basis.

Twyford has also been promoted to number 3 in Cabinet. Ms Ardern said: “Phil would have been higher but he cannot beat Kelvin’s legendary work ethic, and he’s not bloody having my job."

The unexpectedly large Advance NZ caucus is still in the ‘getting to know you’ stage. Union spies (ok, it was Porky the Waste-hater in sunglasses and a trenchcoat, and worryingly nothing else) report the most common question in caucus is “who the heck are you?” There was also a moment of embarrassment when an errant Parliamentary Security guard was briefly appointed Under-Secretary for Revenue.

Jami-Lee Ross’s bid to become the first Minister for Sundry Affairs was met with universal hilarity.

Billy te Kahika declined all Ministerial posts, not that he was actually offered any. He justified his position saying: “Being a Minister of the Crown would mean ‘they’ would know where I was at all times.”

Sean Plunket astutely asked: “Who exactly are ‘they’? And why would they be interested in a second-rate Antipodean fruit loop?” Billy shot back: “Oh you know who ‘they’ are Sean - if that is your real name. You are one of ‘them’. You all are!” He then put on his favourite tin foil hat, pulled out his 5G cellphone, and made a collect call to the World Zionist Banking Conspiracy.

Asked how the Taxpayers’ Union would deal with such an unusual Government, Executive Director and serial litigant Jordan Williams in his usual chair at Rosie's Cafe in Parnell sobbed into his Double Ristretto Venti Half-Soy Nonfat Decaf Organic Chocolate Brownie Iced Vanilla Double-Shot Gingerbread Frappuccino Extra Hot With Foam Whipped Cream Upside Down Double Blended coffee.

“How the hell did this happen?” he lamented.

Op-ed: AAP needs to fact check itself

Neil MillerThe following is an op-ed by Taxpayers' Union Analyst Neil Miller.

During modern election campaigns there is an increasing emphasis on “fact checking” political statements across the spectrum. Companies have sprung up all over the world to judge the accuracy (or otherwise) of what politicians say on the campaign trail. AAP Fact Checker is the most prominent and prolific organisation of this nature in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is aware of growing international concern that fact checkers are moving well beyond data into politics, even to the point of partisanship in some cases. We decided to analyse the last ten fact checks by AAP Fact Check to find the answers to three questions:

  1. Who did they choose to fact check?
  2. Were the criteria for judgement applied consistently and fairly?
  3. Was there any instances of partisanship or spin?

If you only looked at the numbers, you could be forgiven for thinking that Judith Collins was Prime Minister and National was the largest party in Parliament. Judith Collins was fact checked five times compared to Jacinda Ardern’s two. The other three articles all focused on National MPs (Paul Goldsmith, Jonathan Young, and Simeon Brown). No other Government MPs were fact checked.

That means that 80% of fact checks were on National MPs, and Collins received more than twice as many checks as Ardern. To an independent organisation such as the Taxpayers’ Union, that does not seem balanced.

We move now to the case that really caught our eye. Simeon Brown’s statement on renewable electricity being judged “misleading”, even though all the figures the quoted were correct to the decimal point. We may be naïve idealists, but figures which are true are facts in our book.
Not so, it seems, at AAP Fact Check. They found an academic who opined that the good results under National and poor results under Labour had “largely been independent of government policy.” That is not a fact – that is a matter for political debate around causality and the influence of Government.

However, having introduced this new causality test, we expected it to be applied rigorously. The fact check of Jacinda Ardern’s comment regarding child poverty made no reference to the Government’s power to influence the figures. The test was not applied.

Next, the Prime Minister got credit for getting the numbers “roughly right”, while Brown was called misleading for getting them exactly right, and Collins was criticised for getting state house waiting list numbers “close to the mark with both figures she quoted, but not 100 per cent accurate.” She rounded the figures up. Politicians do that. A lot. There seems to be very different standards applied here as well.

At times, the Fact Check reads more like a political press release. For example, Ardern’s office was allowed to explain what the Prime Minister actually “meant” in her child poverty comments. A luxury that was not extended to others on the list.

The Prime Minister was also fact checked on her claim that Police numbers went down when Judith Collins was Minister of Police. Despite reporting that “NZ Police data shows actual police numbers rose between 2008 and 2016, during which time Ms Collins served two distinct periods as police minister,” the AAP went out of their way to find a wrinkle.

Triumphantly they wrote “when police numbers are described as an officer to resident ratio, they show an improvement during Ms Collins’ first period as police minister (from 1/519 in 2008 to 1/507 in 2011). However, during Ms Collins’ second run as police minister, population growth in NZ largely outstripped the growth in police numbers (1/514 in 2015 to 1/526 in 2016). This is also true when you compare police to resident ratios for 2008 to the same data for 2016.”

As a result, they concluded the Prime Minister’s statement “does contain a significant element or elements of truth.” This is despite the inconvenient fact that Jacinda Ardern‘s statement which was being checked made absolutely no reference to officer to resident ratios. It talked about Police numbers which, again perhaps naively, we assumed to mean the actual number of Police which, factually speaking, went up under The Crusher.

This example is closer to political spin than fact checking. It adds in a new element never mentioned in the original quote and certainly not what the average person would think of when they heard Police numbers.

When they stick to their core job of checking facts (the company name should be a giveaway), they can do a very valuable job. AAP Fact Check looked into David Seymour’s claim that Labour took “$6 billion surplus to a billion-dollar deficit in only two years before Covid happened." They found it was “mostly true”.

Working from Treasury papers, the surplus was $5.5b (not $6b) and the deficit was $0.9b (not $1b). AAP Fact Check concluded: “While there are minor inaccuracies in the numbers he quoted, Seymour's comments were broadly in line with budget figures reported by New Zealand Treasury.”

Now that is how you fact check properly. Just the facts. Shame it was only one out of ten checks.

The AAP Fact Checker should no longer be taken as fact in this campaign.

Op-ed: Asset tax will hit far more than six percent of New Zealanders

IslayThe following is an op-ed by Islay Aitchison, Research Officer at the Taxpayers' Union and spokesperson for the Campaign for Affordable Home Ownership.

While Labour has tried to rule out the Green Party's “wealth tax” policy, James Shaw has described those efforts as “not credible” — so at least according to the Green Party, an asset tax is on the table this election. The Greens have claimed that only the wealthiest six percent of New Zealanders would be hit by the tax, but is that accurate?
 
Any individual with net assets exceeding $1 million would be hit by the tax. While that sounds like a lot of money, many New Zealanders will exceed that in their lifetimes. According to REINZ, the median house price in Auckland was $950,000 in August — in other words, an individual with even modest retirement savings and a mortgage-free home in Auckland should expect to be paying the wealth tax by the time they retire.
 
At minimum, census data suggests approximately 45 percent of Aucklanders — that's 15 percent of the country's population — own their own home. Once mortgage-free, most of those households would find themselves liable for the tax. Many homeowners and entrepreneurs outside of Auckland would be affected by the tax as well.
 
Official statistics indicate far more than six percent of New Zealanders would be affected. Analysis of Stats NZ net wealth data by Eric Crampton of the New Zealand Initiative suggests 20 percent of 66–69 year-olds have net wealth exceeding $1 million. Our own analysis of Household Economic Survey data indicates 21.6% of households had net wealth exceeding $1 million as of 2018.
 
While the Green Party's threshold is higher for couples, it would fall again for a retiree once his or her partner passes away. Many would find themselves burdened by the tax even if they had previously fallen below the threshold while their partners were alive.
 
Even the $1 million threshold is something of a false promise. Due the effect of inflation, the thresholds would effectively become lower over time, pulling New Zealanders who are less wealthy into the scope of the tax.
 
Most importantly, a wealth tax wouldn't just tax our homes and retirement savings — it would punish the economy just as we are recovering from COVID-19. We all rely on strong levels of investment and economic growth to provide good jobs and wages. A tax on assets would punish productive investment and keep Kiwi workers in low-wage jobs, with very little hope of a better standard of living.
 
The Green Party's claim that only a small number of New Zealanders would be affected by their plan to tax wealth is unfair and inaccurate. Many households would be affected by the tax once they pay off their mortgage and retire or after their partner passes away. Many more households would be affected by the lower rates of investment and comparatively lower incomes it would cause.

Revealed: Nearly three quarters of Kiwis oppose an asset tax

Poll graph

Polling released today by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union reveals that 72 percent of New Zealanders oppose an asset tax or “wealth tax”.

Exclusive polling by Curia Market Research commissioned by the Taxpayers’ Union asked respondents, “Do you think there should be a tax that people pay on assets such as houses, cars and KiwiSaver accounts, additional to the existing income tax?

Seventy-two percent said no, 13 percent were unsure, and just 16 percent supported the tax.

Enthusiasm for the tax was particularly low in rural areas, with just 10 percent in support. And even in the most deprived areas a clear majority of respondents opposed the tax.

Islay Aitchison, spokesperson for the Campaign for Affordable Home Ownership, says, “A tax on assets, as advocated by the Green Party, appears to be even less popular than the failed capital gains tax.”

“New Zealanders’ wariness of a wealth tax is well-placed. Such a tax will discourage local investment, sending wealth offshore and making future generations poorer.”

“The polling was on the principle of a tax on assets, not the specific proposed tax by the Green Party. We think opposition would be even higher if voters were aware of the fishhooks in the Green Party’s specific policy. For example, some New Zealanders would find themselves whacked by the tax following the death of their partner, when the tax-free threshold is lowered from $2 million in assets to $1 million. The tax will even apply to a bach or nest egg held by a family trust.”

“Disturbingly, under MMP we could still see this unpopular and unfair tax forced into legislation by the Green Party. They’ve called the tax a ‘top priority’, and current polling suggests they’ll hold the balance of power, meaning they’re in a position to make demands from the Prime Minister.”

The polling covered a sample of 1080 respondents, with a 3.0% margin of error and was conducted between 22 September and 24 September.

Public Service Commissioner intervenes over Oranga Tamariki video

The New Zealand Taxpayers' Union is welcoming intervention from the Public Services Commissioner over a video produced by Oranga Tamariki which appeared to endorse Hon Tracey Martin.

In a response to a complaint from the Union, Commissioner Peter Hughes explained, "In this situation, in my view the content of the video could be interpreted as political endorsement of the Minister and government policies and that is not appropriate."

"I have discussed this matter with the Chief Executive of Oranga Tamariki, Mrs Gráinne Moss. She is clear about the need to uphold neutrality in her agency and regrets that the video created the potential for that to be called into question on this occasion. The video has also been taken down."

Union spokesman Jordan Williams says, "We fund Oranga Tamariki to deliver important services for children, not to produce propaganda for its current political master. Public Sector neutrality is especially important this close to an election, so we welcome the Commissioner's intervention and suggest that other agencies take it as a warning."

Election campaign launched: Tax Relief Now!

Today the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union launches its nationwide election campaign for Tax Relief Now.

Between now and Election Day we will be making the case for tax relief as the main plank of the economic recovery. We see a basic choice this election: Government-led stimulus spending or a recovery that’s led by consumers and businesses.

Government spending is often wasteful, unfair, and puts politicians and bureaucrats in charge of the recovery. Just look at Creative New Zealand responding to COVID-19 with grants for indigenised hypno-soundscapes, or how tourism grants have propped up a handful of lucky businesses while others languish without support.

In contrast, tax relief will reward productive work, it will help all businesses, it will grow the economy and put taxpayers in the box-seat of the recovery.

Crucially, tax relief now will put a rocket under economic growth – making the huge debts we have accumulated far more manageable.

Yesterday a full-page advertisement appeared in the Herald on Sunday highlighting recent examples of wasteful government spending. Further advertisements will appear in print and online.

The campaign website at www.taxrelief.nz includes a Taxpayer Scorecard, which evaluates political parties based on their commitments to deliver tax relief. This will feature in future advertisements.

Op-ed: Why did James Shaw wreck his career for a tiny Green School?

Neil MillerThe following is an op-ed by Taxpayers' Union Analyst Neil Miller.

James Shaw did not just defy a core Green Party policy since 1997 to personally advocate for special funding to a tiny private school… he did it twice.

To their credit, the Government resisted the Green Minister’s persistent and determined attempts to get $13 million for the Green School in Taranaki.

He did, reluctantly, apologise for trying to extort $11.7 million for the provisionally registered school by threatening to block every other shovel ready project until his demand was met.

He did not reveal that the Green School had already been turned down by the Provincial Growth Fund for $1 million a year earlier.

It must be embarrassing to have Shane Jones say that the school’s business case did not add up given the dubious value of projects his slush fund has poured money into. Jones said “James got his nose out of joint and fought for it to be restored through the shovel-ready money.”

When you cannot meet the high moral and fiscal standards of Shane Jones, then you are in serious trouble.

The Taxpayers’ Union suspects that what did not add up was that the Green School is in Taranaki, not Northland. If it were in Shane Jones’ electorate, Jones’ famous nephews would probably be off the couch and already be building the principal a gold-plated office up a mighty Kauri tree.

The Greens consider themselves a principled political party – just ask them. Actually, you do not have to ask. Like a vegan at a barbeque, they will tell you whether you want to hear it or not.

When a political party holds itself to be so much more moral than everyone else, they need to be held to account for the co-Leader’s active defiance of cornerstone Green Party principles and repeated attempts at disinformation when that defiance was revealed.

We still do not even know why he did it. Why was this 50-student school in the regions so important to James Shaw that he would put his political career and possibly his party’s future in Parliament in jeopardy?

We contacted James Shaw’s ministerial office for an explanation. They referred us to Shaw’s initial press release as Associate Minister of Finance, and stressed that this was a shovel-ready job creation project, not an education project.

Still, of all the shovel-ready projects, why did he select a private school and then go so hard in personally lobbying for it given the Greens’ long-established policy? The question remains and it appears unlikely he will answer it clearly.

James Shaw’s colleagues who still believe in Green Party policy should sack him as co-leader before the election.

Jacinda Ardern's arts agency now in damage control

Dear Supporter,

Creative NZ goes into damage control

Grant image

We've spent the last week on social media releasing examples of bizarre art projects given taxpayer money by Creative NZ as part of a $16 million COVID-19 response (I've linked to my favourites at the bottom this email).

Talkback hosts Mike Hosking (clip here) and Sean Plunket (clip here) seized on the issue, and their callers are spitting tacks.

Last night, the agency finally cracked under pressure. But instead of defending the bizarre grants, it attacked us for what it called a "low blow"!

Here's their full public statement:

Creative New Zealand is proud to tautoko dedicated, hard-working artists, bolstering a sector knocked to its knees by the impact of COVID-19.

We work to encourage, promote, support and advocate for the arts for the benefit of all New Zealanders — from Bluff to Cape Reinga and beyond, through projects of all shapes and sizes, communities and cultures, glitter and all.

We’re really shocked and disappointed at recent low blow targeting of artists we’ve funded – we stand by them and our decisions. We don’t condone attacks on the arts whānau, or anyone for that matter. To the arts community and supporters: We’re with you, and we value your mahi.

They just don't get it. We're not targeting artists  we're targeting the out-of-touch bureaucrats who waste taxpayer money on weird pet projects.

Creative NZ's attempt to defend themselves is going badly. Take a look at the comments slamming the agency on their own Facebook post.

I joined Magic Talk again today to discuss the drama and this time, the CEO of Creative NZ fronted up to make his case.

In the interview, the CEO admits that artists don't even need to live in New Zealand in order to be eligible for taxpayer funds. Indeed, a number of the grants we looked into were for artists based overseas.

The CEO also admits he doesn't know what an 'indigenised hypno-soundscape' is – despite spending $50,000 on one.

Listen to the second half of this clip to hear the trainwreck interview.

We're proud of our efforts to shed light on how taxpayer-funded agencies spend our hard-earned money. With the Debt Monster forecast to grow to $150,000 per Kiwi household in 2034, our job is more important than ever.

Thank you for your support.

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Facebook links to share Creative NZ grants:

To research and write the first draft of a novel about male affection in hypermasculine spaces.
AWARDED: $13,000

Towards the composition, recording and production of music inspired by the psychogeography of the West Coast.
AWARDED: $34,900

To support the personnel costs and post-production editing for an art documentary based on Papua New Guinea tattoo practice and revival.
AWARDED: $27,500

Towards one phase of illustrating a biography of Leonardo da Vinci.
AWARDED: $21,080

Towards writing a children's picture book (text only) about sustainable community activist Helen Dew.
AWARDED: $3,200

To create and develop an online publication, arts learning resources and musical content based on children's drag theatre show, The Glitter Garden.
AWARDED: $18,000

To create a new series of collaborative quilts with my mother, textile artist Cynthia Johnson.
AWARDED: $17,850

Towards the composition and instrumental arrangement of 10 songs for children, from ideas given by children.
AWARDED: $24,600

Towards a live event watch party and livechat with fans online.
AWARDED: $24,153

Towards writing poetry that explores indigeneity and love in the time of climate change.
AWARDED: $17,798

Towards writing a novel about the collapse of democracy in an association of alpaca breeders.
AWARDED: $26,000

Towards a dance concept video showcasing the impact Coronavirus has had on the New Zealand Chinese community.
AWARDED: $24,500

Towards the development of a first draft of a play that explores the menstrual cycle.
AWARDED: $16,766

To record and livestream a performance from Fat Freddy's Drop.
AWARDED: $44,007

Towards an Indigenised Hypno-soundscape to take you to the imagined worlds of our Kōrero Pūrākau.
AWARDED: $49,999

Towards development of a movement technique that guides and empowers the participants in becoming specialists in their own body.
AWARDED: $4,530

Towards 3 x hour-long live-streamed electronic music performances with live visual animations, from a kitchen in Paekakariki.
AWARDED: $47,703

Towards composing and recording ten original compositions inspired by emotions felt during the Covid-19 lockdown.
AWARDED: $8,885

Creative NZ fights COVID-19 with “Indigenised Hypno-Soundscapes”

Grant example

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is questioning the value of the Arts Continuity Grant, a COVID-19 response fund which has so far paid out $16 million in grants to a variety of questionable short-term arts projects.

Since March, Creative NZ has offered grants of up to $50,000 for ‘a short-term arts project, or the stage of a project, that can be delivered within a changed and evolving environment as a result of COVID-19.’

Many of the descriptions of these projects are, frankly, incomprehensible. It’s hard to see how bureaucrats in Creative NZ can make an objective judgment on which projects are worthy of funding, and which aren’t.

The resulting handouts speak for themselves. Creative NZ is fighting COVID-19 by spending taxpayer money on plays about menstrual cycles, Māori ‘healing theatre’, and ‘Indigenised Hypno-soundscapes’. That’s madness and it reflects terribly on the Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage – who happens to be Jacinda Ardern.

These grants are massively unfair to taxpayers, with the benefits skewed toward politically-connected Wellington weirdos. Handouts for fringe interest groups mean less money is available for tax relief that would reward productive work.

637 projects have received taxpayer funding under the Arts Continuity Grant, including the following:

Eamonn Marra
To research and write the first draft of a novel about male affection in hypermasculine spaces.
AWARDED: $13,000

Fireplace Arts & Media
Towards the composition, recording and production of music inspired by the psychogeography of the West Coast.
AWARDED: $34,900

Julia Gray
To support the personnel costs and post-production editing for an art documentary based on Papua New Guinea tattoo practice and revival.
AWARDED: $27,500

Donovan Bixley
Towards one phase of illustrating a biography of Leonardo da Vinci.
AWARDED: $21,080

Alison Foster, Catherine Cooper
Towards writing a children's picture book (text only) about sustainable community activist Helen Dew.
AWARDED: $3,200

Glitter Garden
To create and develop an online publication, arts learning resources and musical content based on children's drag theatre show, The Glitter Garden.
AWARDED: $18,000

Jess Johnson
To create a new series of collaborative quilts with my mother, textile artist Cynthia Johnson.
AWARDED: $17,850

Kate Newby
Towards intensive artistic research and development.
AWARDED: $49,368

Kath Bee
Towards the composition and instrumental arrangement of 10 songs for children, from ideas given by children.
AWARDED: $24,600

Tamara Neilson-Tetzlaf
Towards a live event watch party and livechat with fans online.
AWARDED: $24,153

Tayi Tibble
Towards writing poetry that explores indigeneity and love in the time of climate change.
AWARDED: $17,798

Duncan Sarkies
Towards writing a novel about the collapse of democracy in an association of alpaca breeders.
AWARDED: $26,000

Kimberley Young
Towards a dance concept video showcasing the impact Coronavirus has had on the New Zealand Chinese community.
AWARDED: $24,500

Rosemarie Kirkup
Towards the development of a first draft of a play that explores the menstrual cycle.
AWARDED: $16,766

Nicole Duckworth
To record and livestream a performance from Fat Freddy's Drop.
AWARDED: $44,007

Khali Philip-Barbara, Te Kahureremoa Taumata
Towards an Indigenised Hypno-soundscape to take you to the imagined worlds of our Kōrero Pūrākau.
AWARDED: $49,999

Connor Masseurs
Towards development of a movement technique that guides and empowers the participants in becoming specialists in their own body.
AWARDED: $4,530

Iain Gordon
Towards 3 x hour-long live-streamed electronic music performances with live visual animations, from a kitchen in Paekakariki.
AWARDED: $47,703

Mad Ave
Towards a wananga for Maori healing theatre practitioners.
AWARDED: $50,000

New Zealand Comedy Trust
To examine what changes need to be made to better support a more diverse and sustainable comedy industry in Aotearoa.
AWARDED: $49,780

Benedict Fernandez
Towards composing and recording ten original compositions inspired by emotions felt during the Covid-19 lockdown.
AWARDED: $8,885

Imogen Taylor
Towards development of a new body of work exploring modernism, feminism & queerness, with specific reference to the Otago region.
AWARDED: $30,089

Claire O'Loughlin
Towards revision and editing of a sailing memoir.
AWARDED: $7,200

Jared Kane
Towards a Māori, queer, young adult novel adaptation of Hamlet based on my innovative unproduced screenplay ‘Hamarete’.
AWARDED: $21,000

Indigenous Design and Innovation Aotearoa
Towards designing new Māori typefaces for print and digital.
AWARDED: $22,110

Peter Daubé
Towards the writing, arranging and preproduction of music that forms a song-cycle from the suburban labyrinth.
AWARDED: $21,800

Update: Taxpayers' Union Campaigns Manager Louis Houlbrooke joined Sean Plunket on Magic Talk to discuss these grants. You can listen to the clip here.

Taxpayer Talk: Kelvin Clout on dysfunctional Council culture and recall elections

In this episode of Taxpayer Talk, Taxpayers' Union Research Officer Islay Aitchison interviews Tauranga City Councillor Kelvin Clout on dysfunctional Council culture and recall elections. They discuss the COVID-19 Government assistance Tauranga Council is hoping to receive for future infrastructure projects.

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

Op-ed: An ode to Phil Twyford’s epic record of failure

Twyford

The following is an op-ed from Taxpayers' Union Campaigns Manager Louis Houlbrooke.

Phil Twyford says he will build light rail in Auckland if Labour wins the next election.
 
Of course, he promised exactly the same thing at the last election and, after spending two and a half years in discussions and $5 million of taxpayers’ money commissioning reports, nothing has been decided, far less built.
 
A Minister reaches a low point when he goes for re-election solemnly vowing to implement an old flagship policy ‘for real’ this time around. It was promised previously, it was not delivered. But perhaps it’s for the best: Twyford’s record of expensive policy failures suggests a tram down Dominion Road would terminate in hell.
 
When elected in 2017, Phil Twyford promised to build 100,000 KiwiBuild homes in 10 years, with an initial investment of $2 billion. More than two years into that period, KiwiBuild has delivered just 548 houses. At the current rate, Twyford’s promise will be fulfilled in a mere 436 years. He’s been stripped of his KiwiBuild responsibilities and the new Minister in charge, Megan Woods, avoids even uttering the policy’s name.
 
He also promised to build SkyPath – a cycleway across Auckland’s Harbour Bridge – for $67 million. The budget has already blown out to $360 million, with work not yet begun.
 
Then there was his 2017 promise to make “virtually all” of the Government’s 15,000 vehicles electric by 2025. So far, he’s achieved it for less than one percent.
 
Not content with a track record that makes David Clark look like Mr Fix-it, Phil Twyford appears determined to one-up himself. In the last month, he has unleashed a new tranche of disappointment and waste.
 
Twyford said he was a “huge advocate” for a rapid rail, a 60-minute service between Hamilton and Central Auckland, even though it was not a 2020 election pledge. That last part was surprising, considering he had commissioned a business case for his beloved project.

The business case put the cost of rapid rail “between several billion and more than $10 billion.”
The Taxpayers’ Union economist’s reaction was to start sobbing into his well-loved copy of Adam Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations’. “What kind of business case is that?” he lamented. “It’s going to be between two billion and more than ten. How do you even start to do a proper cost-benefit analysis when you have no real idea of the cost?”
 
We told our economist to do his job and find the midpoint of several billion and infinity. His head exploded and the Union is currently looking for a new economist.
 
Then there are the ongoing blowouts and delays in the Transmission Gully highway project. But according to Phil Twyford, Phil Twyford is not to blame. Apparently, 2020’s pandemic caused the problems of 2019 and 2018. Bad news, Dr Bloomfield: the virus is time-travelling.
 
Twyford had nine long years in opposition to develop policy, and now three longer years in government to implement it. He has failed at every major hurdle so far and shows no sign of reforming.
 
So, how has the Prime Minister responded to Twyford’s epic series of failures? She’s promoted him. Now at number four on Labour’s list, Twyford trails behind political powerhouse Kelvin Davis, but is ahead of Chris Hipkins, who runs a third of the Government, and Megan Woods – who seems to run the rest.
 
The Honourable Phil Twyford’s record this year won him the award for lifetime achievement in government waste. The previous year’s recipient, Sir Tim Shadbolt, troughed away for 35 years to receive that honour. Twyford got there in three. He’s that good at being bad.

Growing out of it: Five policies to encourage growth and conquer debt

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has released a new paper outlining a suite of proposals to lift economic growth and therefore reduce debt as a proportion of GDP.

On current forecasts, government debt is set to reach $150,000 per New Zealand household. There are two ways to slay this debt monster: cut spending, or grow the economy. While we need to do both, our latest paper hones in on the second approach.

Growing out of it: Five policies to encourage growth and conquer debt makes five recommendations, all funded from the $14 billion set aside in the Government’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund:

• Cut GST from 15% to 10% for the next 12 months
• Permanently cut the $70,000-threshold rate from 33% to 30%
• Permanently cut the $48,000-threshold from 30% to 27%
• 15-month hiring trial periods from October 2020 to end of 2021
• Increase the $100 million overseas investment threshold to $500 million

Targeted tax relief will spur economic activity when we need it most. We propose a temporary GST cut which will incentivise New Zealanders to bring forward planned spending, and we also suggest cuts to marginal income tax rates that will reward productive work.

Traditional tax relief, however, should only be one part of a growth package. Growth can also be encouraged through relief from regulatory taxes. Specifically, we propose temporary but significant relaxation in rules that make employers less willing to hire staff, and foreign businesses less likely to invest in New Zealand.

Decade of deficits revealed as Treasury opens the books

Dear Supporter,

I’m writing to you from the media and analyst “lock-up” where Treasury just presented its Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Update.

The Update, which the Public Finance Act requires of Treasury just prior to every election, lays bare the Government’s books and include the latest projections on debt, spending, and the economy. This is the first proper update we’ve had from Treasury since the Budget way back in May.

In short, Treasury is projecting at least 15 years of deficits, unemployment to remain elevated for some time, and our economic recovery to be slower than previously expected.

Mood in the room

Understandably, the room was sombre. Journalists targeted the Minister of Finance Grant Robertson with questions on accelerating house prices and inequality, while analysts in the room noted the substantial increase in projected debt over the next decade.

On debt, the Minister was defensive. He tried to argue that he was unwilling to introduce austerity-style cuts to New Zealand, but didn't present a plan for New Zealand to get out of our looming 15 year debt spiral. More explanation will be needed from Labour if they want to remain credible on the economy.

Deficits 

With economic growth expected to be weaker in the next four years than previously forecast, Treasury is now projecting deficits right out until the end of their projection range in 2033/34. This is a change from its forecasts at the May Budget – when Treasury had expected we would return to surplus by 2027/28.

The result for taxpayers: net crown debt is expected to be $269.3 billion – or $149,600 per household – in 2033/34. That’s up from the $132,700 per household forecast at the Budget in May.

Weaker long-term economic recovery

The latest forecasts indicate unemployment is expected to remain persistently high. While unemployment is not expected to spike as aggressively as Treasury forecast in May, peak unemployment (of 7.8%) is now not expected to arrive until March 2022 – so the economic pain for some households may continue to intensify for the next 18 months. Previously unemployment had been expected to be down at 6% by March 2022.  

But worst fears for 2020 avoided 

At the Budget in May, the economy had been expected to contract by 24% (on an annualised basis) in the second quarter of this year, but Treasury now expects the contraction to be smaller at 16%. We will find whether that’s accurate tomorrow when Stats NZ release the official numbers. Treasury are attributing this smaller contraction to the Government’s wide-spread (and expensive) wage subsidy scheme and a faster than expected bounce-back from national lockdown.  

In the near term that is having an impact on deficits, which are generally not as high as Budget forecasts in May. These better-than-expected near-term forecasts are reflected in the labour market – the fear of unemployment reaching 9.8% in the third quarter of this year hasn’t borne out.

Conclusion

With so much deficit spending, the Taxpayers’ Union's message of fiscal prudence and ensuring quality government spending is more important than ever. Today's numbers provide alarming context to the questionable lolly-scramble announcements being made on the election campaign trail.

You can read Louis’ comments to media here: “Decade of deficits” are a national crisis

Thank you for your support,


Joe Ascroft
Economist
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

 

Taxpayer Update: Politicians kill jobs | MP's office rort | Goodie bags

New paper reveals how 'job creation' projects destroy jobs

Too often, our politicians fall into the trap of thinking they can create jobs by piling on more and more government taxpayer spending. But if that were true, high-spending countries like Greece and Spain wouldn't be facing a decades-long employment crisis.

The Taxpayers' Union's latest briefing paper reveals how Government spending – including projects intended to create jobs – destroys productivity and employment.

We draw on work from Treasury and New Zealand economists estimating the 'deadweight loss' of our tax system  this is the way taxation motivates people to work less, and spend and invest less, leading to economic distortions. Applying it to some recently announced pet projects is sobering:

Jobs cost image

Because government spending projects are funded via taxation, we can use what economists call the "deadweight loss" to see how many jobs are killed by handouts such as James Shaw's $11.7 million grant to a "Green School".

Click here to read the paper.

While it's true that economic stimulus is needed in the era of COVID-19, this needn't come in the form of giant cheques. Leaving this money in the economy via lower tax rates will allow money to circulate in a way that creates jobs passively, without costly perverse incentives.

Taxpayers rorted by Labour MP's electorate office deal

Ginny  + Monster

The cozy deal between list MP Ginny Anderson (pictured above with the Debt Monster), the Labour Party, and the NZ Professional Firefighters Union is a rort on taxpayers.

As Stuff explains, Labour gets cheap rent on office space off a local union, sublets the rooms to Andersen, and then bills parliament (i.e. taxpayers) at a markup, pocketing the difference.

Taxpayer funding for offices is meant to cover the costs of being an MP and servicing constituents. Here, Ginny Anderson has abused that trust to line the pockets of her political party.

This sort of union backhander is what we’d expect to see in the corrupt unions of Australia. Here in New Zealand, we expect such favours to be disclosed as donations, so why weren't they?

With the discounted rent not being disclosed as a political donation, we've referred the matter to the Electoral Commission. We're also writing to every other MP to ensure they're not funneling their office funding to political mates or their business interests.

"Green School" handout shows dangerous trend of horse-trading over funds

James Shaw

It's been revealed that James Shaw put billions of dollars in infrastructure funding on the line in order to negotiate his $11.7 million handout for a private "Green School".

This is a perfect example of a worrying trend in the way the Government makes funding decisions. Here's what Jordan had to say:

The spectacle of politicians horse-trading individual funding decisions is something we expect to see in smoke-filled rooms of yesteryear, not a modern day New Zealand with a reputation of being corruption-free.

The Provincial Growth Fund, and now the COVID ‘shovel ready’ fund, are normalising a process of decision making that rewards companies which are politically connected. It is a dangerous path.

Steven Joyce reintroduced the sort of corporate welfare largess not seen in New Zealand since the Muldoon Government. But instead of fixing the problem, the current Government has doubled down and we have now returned to politicians making funding decisions for individual projects and pet causes.

Enough is enough. Now we are seeing the warts and all flaws in the process, New Zealand should return to a transparent process of the politician’s job being limited to setting criteria and objectives, and leaving it to officials to make the individual grant decisions.

State Services Commissioner responds to our complaint regarding the Ardern-Bloomfield ad

Bloomfield ad

Remember the Labour Party's ad featuring Dr Ashley Bloomfield and other public servants? We complained to the State Services Commissioner that it was an improper use of taxpayer-funded staff.

Now, the Commissioner has responded:

It would not be appropriate for a public servant to agree to feature in party political electoral material in their official capacity where this implies endorsement by the public servant of the political party. To do so would compromise their political neutrality and by implication that of the Public Service as a whole.
...
Placing footage of Ministers and public servants doing their official work on a political party branded platform could create confusion about the motivations and political neutrality of the public servants concerned. ... In this instance, and having regard to all the circumstances, my judgement is that on balance there is potential for questions to be raised regarding the participation of the public servants in the video

The Commissioner isn't taking further action (the video has already been removed) but at least he's has sent the message to bureaucrats that it is totally inappropriate for public servants to feature in a party political advert. Taxpayers pay public servants to do their jobs, not to aid their political masters in re-election campaigns.

The Commissioner also said, “I understand that none of the public servants involved were aware that the footage would be used in the way that it was.”

Based on this, it appears there has been a clear breach of the Cabinet Manual, which states ‘Ministers must uphold the political neutrality of the public service and not ask officials to act in any way which would conflict with their obligation of neutrality.’ But enforcement of the integrity of the Manual is ultimately up to the Prime Minister. Some would say that’s a case of the fox guarding the henhouse!

Revealed: Taxpayer-funded ‘wellbeing’ goodie bags during lockdown

Goodie bags

Our research team recently revealed that the NZ Super Fund spent over $15,000 on “COVID-19 well-being parcels” from designer supermarket Farro Fresh for its highly-paid staff over lockdown.

According to NZSF, the parcels included ‘sundry goods’ such as coffee and hot cross buns.

Forty-five of the Super Fund's staff are paid more than $300,000. Pretty much everyone else is paid more than $100,000.  As I told the Herald, these people do not need care packages paid for by taxpayers who are going without during COVID-19 lockdown.

The Taxpayers’ Union requested the credit card statements of the NZSF from the 1st of March 2020 – 31 May 2020 under the Official Information Act. In addition to the goodie bags, other interesting payments included:

  • Inspired Accountants team building trip for corporate strategy team for $1359.90 paid for during Level 3 lockdown.

  • A canoe hire for $794.00.

  • Hand sanitiser for $568.80.

  • Renewal of a practicing certificate with the NZ Psychologists Board for $550.85.

  • A 10-year anniversary gift for a staff member for $515.

  • Lunch at White & Wongs for $156 the day it was announced New Zealand would enter Level 4 lockdown.

  • “Motivation morning tea” before working from home for the investments team, for $107.61.

Have a great week,

Louis circle


Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers' Union

Complaint laid with Broadcasting Standards Authority re Labour Party TV ad

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has laid a complaint with the Broadcasting Standards Authority regarding the Labour Party’s first television advertisement for the 2020 election campaign.

In the advertisement, Jacinda Ardern misleadingly claims that her Party will “make apprenticeships free”. In reality, these apprenticeships are not free – they are paid for by taxpayers.

Spreading the myth that there is such a thing as a free lunch – or a free apprenticeship – is wrong. That’s why we’re holding the politicians to account.


Join Us

Joining the Taxpayers' Union costs only $25 and entitles you to attend our annual conference, AGM and other events.

Donate

With your support we can make the Taxpayers' Union a strong voice exposing waste and standing up for Kiwi taxpayers.

Tip Line

Often the best information comes from those inside the public service or local government. We guarantee your anonymity and your privacy.