Taxpayer Update: NZTE's Yoga classes + kids games 🧘🎲| More Uni Waste 🚧 🏗️ | The Tax on Your Summer Road Trip 🔥⛽
We hope you've had a relaxing summer break. Unfortunately, Government waste doesn't pause for summer and while Callum is still in Scotland visiting family, the rest of the Taxpayers' Union team have kept up the effort to find and expose government waste while standing up for taxpayers.
This week's taxpayer update covers the 'best of the worst' of waste we uncovered since Christmas... Happy New Year!
NZTE's spending your money on yoga, singing contests, scavenger hunts and even "paper, scissors, rock tournaments" 🧘✂️👀
We start with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE). Thanks to a confidential tip-off to your humble Taxpayers' Union, we've obtained official documents showing that rather than getting serious work done, NZTE have used 'Regional Team Meetings' as an excuse to holiday blow out the budget on luxury accommodation, extravagant food and (frankly) what can only be described as children's activities.
Judge for yourself the activities paid for by taxpayers at just seven meetings costing taxpayers $809,450 over the past two years. Here are some of the agenda items:
Reading the information response, we thought someone was playing a joke. Rock, paper, scissors tournaments, silent discos and scavenger hunts? You couldn’t make this stuff up.
How this kind of expenditure was allowed to go on across multiple years is simply unfathomable. We say it is time for NZTE to grow up, front up and stop acting like children.
Universities Pouring Even More Money into Wasteful Projects Despite Financial Woes 🚧 🏗️
New Zealand's universities are in financial dire straits with low enrolments and shockingly high deficits. Yet despite a need to rein in spending – we've discovered that university leaders continue to blow budgets on vanity projects instead of focusing on core education.
A prime example is Victoria University of Wellington, which, despite announcing a financial crisis last year leading to staff layoffs and course cancellations, continues to spend heavily on a ‘Living Pa’ project. This sustainability-focused building has seen costs escalate from $35 million to an estimated $60 million.
Wellington's The Post (Stuff.co.nz) covered our exposé that yet another $8 million was approved in December.
For a university that is constantly crying out for more taxpayer funding, they sure have a lot of extra money to blow on vanity projects such as this. Ironically, the cost blowout of the ‘Living Pa’ project is almost the same as the University's deficit that led to the job losses!
In response to us labelling the building a 'vanity project', The Post/Stuff went to the University for comment. Incredibly, Professor Rawinia Higgins, deputy vice-chancellor Māori, said that despite the ballooning costs she was appreciative that it is effectively too late to cancel!
“The financial sustainability project has put a lot of pressure on everybody. We are fortunate the pā was already in flight,” [...]
"When complete, the living pā will be a place for the “big conversations”, Higgins said.
There is a need for a 'big conversation', but we're not sure Prof Higgins thinks it should be about cost control!
Designed to be a sustainable living building, the three-storey pā is being built with minimal use of concrete and steel.
It will have a glazed facade, engineered timber cladding, solar array on the roof, and a closed loop water system. It must generate all its own energy, have its own water systems, be entirely carbon neutral and have used non-toxic materials.
Once completed it will be home to Te Kawa a Māui (School of Māori Studies), Māori student services, while also housing collaborative working, teaching, and marae engagement spaces to advance teaching and research models that draw on mātauranga Māori and emerging science and technology.[...]
Higgins (Tūhoe) saw how the building served as a “bridge” of understanding to who Tūhoe were as a people.
“To me that’s what learning should be about ... finding a bridge or commonplace that brings people together.”
Higgins said they had been “very deliberate” about the pā’s design so as not to detract from the wharenui which would be the “jewel of the crown in the whole complex”.
[...] Positioned in the heart of the campus, the pā will become a “beacon for Māori students”, with the wharenui no longer hidden behind “what used to be some very old colonial looking buildings”.
[...] With the building shape more evident, Higgins hoped it would provide a sense of hope about the university’s future.
But it isn’t just Victoria University... Otago claims that asking about the cost of a $110k sculpture is "culturally insensitive" 🤯
This week, we were in the Otago Daily Times calling out Otago University for spending $110k on a sculpture despite their own financial woes.
What’s worse is that the University refused to share how it spent the money until the Chief Ombudsman got involved to force their hand. They claimed that the request for the cost of the sculpture was “of a vexatious nature and culturally insensitive.”
We say it’s high time our tertiary institutions get back to delivering on their core purpose, and putting pretentious pet projects to one side. Nothing is more important to the future of our country than the provision of education. It is critical that our Universities focus (and focus their limited budget on) education and research.
Taxpayers Forking Out to Provide Foreign Aid to Countries with Space and Nuclear Programmes! 🚀 💥
In case you missed it over summer, Newstalk ZB covered our exposé that Kiwi taxpayers are spending millions on foreign aid to countries wealthy enough to have their own space and nuclear programmes!
For example, in the same year that India landed a spacecraft on the moon, they received $1,178,000 from Kiwi taxpayers, Indonesia has been granted a whopping $25,068,402.67 and Pakistan has been given $3,500,000.
On Newstalk ZB, our investigations coordinator Oliver argued that if a foreign government has enough money to invest in ambitious space programmes, it should not expect to be receiving funding from taxpayers that is earmarked for helping the world’s poorest. We say that New Zealand's limited foreign aid budget should be directed to those who need it most and, in particular, our Pacific Island neighbours.
Half the Cost of Your Summer Road Trip Went Straight to the Government Coffers!
If you managed to get away for a road trip over the summer break, unfortunately it was unlikely that you were able to escape the grip of big government with almost half of the pump price of petrol being taxes.
That's right, we revealed that 48% of the cost every time you fill up the car is tax that goes straight to the government – in Auckland it's more than 50% thanks to Labour's regional fuel tax!
Wellingtonians wanting to escape the city and head to Taupō for a few days will be forced to stump up $86 in fuel taxes for the journey. One of our young staffers decided to head to the Rhythm and Vines New Years festival in Gisborne and got stung with $120 in fuel taxes!
For many, the summer holiday period is the one time of the year that they are able to get off work and enjoy time with friends and families. After the costs of a more expensive Christmas this year (thanks to Grant Robertson and Adrian Orr), on top of exorbitant fuel taxes, the prospect of a summer getaway is unfortunately becoming less and less viable for many families.
Now many people would be happy paying fuel taxes, if the money was actually spent on fixing and maintaining the roads, but anyone driving anywhere this summer can't have got very far without hitting sections of road riddled with potholes. Instead, the government continues to blow fuel excise revenue on projects completely unrelated to driving such as coastal shipping, cycle tracks and public transport pet projects.
Share Secrets, Expose Extravagance: Are You Aware of Wasteful Spending?
Many of our waste stories come tip-offs from supporters like you, or from within the bureaucracy itself.
If you're aware of examples of government departments or local councils engaging in extravagant, inappropriate or wasteful spending that you think we should investigate, please send us a confidential tip-off with what you know. You can do so on our tip-line by clicking here.
Other News in Brief ⏰
- We called on the government to get rid of road-related excise taxes from marine fuel for recreational boaties. Currently, boaties pay all the same fuel taxes as motorists despite boats not being operated on the road. We suggested a similar claims process to that used by commercial fishing operators.
- We revealed that police officers filled up their cars with the wrong fuel 19 times in the past year, costing taxpayers almost $8000 to fix the damage. This is despite spending thousands of dollars over the past few years fitting the vehicles with attachments that are meant to prevent exactly this from happening!
- ACC's lavish and patronising 'Have a Hmmm' campaign was revealed by us to have cost $2.4 million over just 7 months. We are asking questions to see whether this actually lead to a measurable reduction in injuries or if it was a costly and ineffective exercise.
- The Ministry of Health was taken to court over incorrectly threatening a business after they misinterpreted their own regulations. We revealed that this legal action cost taxpayers $250,000, something that could have been easily avoided if the Ministry had accepted the businesses offer to meet and resolve the issue.
- We dug into the police's $320,000 podcast and it turns out only 15,400 people downloaded it – that's $21 per download! We even invited them on our podcast, Taxpayer Talk, last year to promote being a cop, but they passed. Similarly, we also revealed the police have no clue how many folks used their $634,000 recruitment app.
One More Summer Read? 📕
We've absolutely loved getting feedback over summer from people reading The Mission: The Taxpayers' Union at 10. We even had a few text messages from Cabinet Ministers telling us they're reading the book (apparently it is a better read than the mountain of gloomy Ministerial briefing papers!).
Thanks for your support and all the best for the year ahead,
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