Taxpayer Update: Grant's World Cup holiday 🥂🛫 | Media Independence 🤑⚖️ | Agency Rebrands 💸 | MP Pay 🧐
Surprise! 💥 Grant Robertson's bombshells for the incoming government 💣 👀
It's out with the old in with the new at Parliament this week. The new ministers are madly hiring new staffers for their Beehive offices, and the 'BIMs' (briefings to incoming ministers) are being worked through.
Our spies tell us that Nicola Willis's claims that not only is the fiscal cupboard bare, but that there are all sorts of fiscal boobytraps and unfunded liabilities across the portfolios are (sadly) correct.
This situation is precisely what Ruth Richardson's Fiscal Responsibility Act was intended to prevent. Ruth inherited the Treasury following the 1990-election and thought she was inheriting a surplus. It soon became clear that thanks to undisclosed troubles at the then-government-owned Bank of New Zealand (that required an enormous bailout), the claims of the outgoing government that the books were in good shape were, in fact, a total nonsense. It took very tough decisions (and what became known as the 'mother of all budgets') to sort the fiscal situation out.
Once we get our hands on the BIMs, and the Half Year Fiscal and Economic Update is out (just before Christmas), we'll know more. But given the situation, we already know that Treasury has failed in its job to ensure no post-election surprises. Here is our statement to media reacting to Nicola Willis's comments:
“We need to cut through political claims and point scoring and get to the bottom one way or another. It is becoming clear that Treasury has dropped the ball and we urgently need an updated assessment of the objective state of the books over and above HYFEU, due by the end of the year.
“A government inquiry, or at minimum, a select committee inquiry with the ability to call under oath the former Minister of Finance, and Treasury officials is called for. If the books are in the state Nicola Willis claims, clearly there has been a major failing within our public finance institutions. As well as getting to the truth, Wellington need to learn the lessons, if we are not to return to the 1980-style politicisation of public accounts.”
Call us fiscal nerds if you want to – but the public (and the opposition) are entitled to know the true state of the government books when they go into the voting booth. It seems that has not happened this year, and we need to ensure it's not repeated again.
Grant Robertson’s Rugby World Cup jaunt cost how much? Competition Winner Revealed
Speaking of Grant Robertson's fiscal blackholes, the former Minister of Finance took one last ride on the taxpayer-funded gravy plane. We have a winner of our competition asking how much Mr Robertson's last minute junket to the Rugby World Cup in France cost the taxpayer.
Congratulations to John Todd whose guess of $39,600 was just $5 off the actual cost of $39,605. John's tickets to the next ABs home game, complements of the Taxpayers' Union, are on their way. 🏉🎉
And unlike Grant Robertson's tickets, business class flights and luxury accommodation, John's tickets won't set taxpayers back a cent.
With the amount of money squandered on Robertson's last hurrah, the former Sports Minister could have funded a set of rugby balls for every high school in the country. Would that not be a better investment in the future of New Zealand rugby than sending a politician to France to jinx(?!) watch a final?
There is a solution to Public Interest Journalism brouhaha: Tell the media to Pay It Back 💰
Winston Peters has been dragged through the media all week for daring to criticize journalists. Mr Peters argued that the Public Interest Journalism Fund undermined the media’s independence, and on this one, its hard to argue that Winston was far off the mark.
The left-wing activists on NZ on Air’s board were given free rein to set the Ts and Cs to receive a slice of the PIJF slush fund, and boy did they go to town. The PIJF made no pretence to be impartial and has fundamentally damaged public trust in the fourth estate.
On that basis alone, we say that media agencies should do the decent thing and pay the money back.
Reasonable minds will differ on whether the PIJF actually swayed editorial decisions. But that isn't really the point. We know for a fact that New Zealanders' confidence and trust in, and the perceived neutrality of, the media is through the floor. And that's why this issue is so important.
The media hounded companies that took the wage subsidy but recovered. Why aren't they practising what they preach? 🙉
We can speak to this issue as it is close to home. Despite all of our intentions never to take government money, when push came to shove in March 2020, our board determined that the ethical obligations to staff trumped our ideological preferences and desire to avoid bad publicity.
So Jordan and David had to swallow what we knew would be bad headlines and we took the wage subsidy. We could not say to staff (some of whom do not share our politics) that they had lost their jobs because their employer didn't want to take the support on offer.
But here's the thing: as soon as we bounced back and income recovered, we paid the money back.
The PIJF was introduced to keep journalists in jobs during the pandemic – and we are sure some media companies were initially reluctant to take it. But we say now that the pandemic is over and most are back in the black, it is time they did the right thing and regained their independence by paying back the money.
Agency rebrands are expensive – our offer to government departments 🏢🎁
The new government is promising to make all government departments undergo a rebrand to ensure that the English name is put ahead of the te reo name.
While reasonable minds will differ on the merits of the policy, we were interested to see that our pollster (and Taxpayers' Union co-founder) recently published results of a poll of 1,000 New Zealanders asking whether they know the English name of various government agencies in Te Reo. Here are the results for six agencies:
1. Manatū Hauora, Ministry of Health: 8.1%
2. Te Manatū Waka, Ministry of Transport: 7.7%
3. Te Putea Matua, Reserve Bank of New Zealand: 5.7%
4. Te Pou Hauora Tūmatanui, Public Health Agency: 4.6%
5. Waka Kotahi, NZ Transport Agency: 50.1%
6. Te Aka Whai Ora, Maori Health Authority: 11.1%
This reinforces to me how insulting it it to the public for media or the agencies to only use the Te Reo names. Taxpayers should not have to google an agency to know what it is.
These results are not at all an argument against government agencies having a Te Reo name. I personally think it is a good thing for agencies to have names in both English and Te Reo.
But again what it shows is that if the agency, or media, only refer to themselves using their Te Reo name, then most New Zealanders do not know what agency is being referred to, and hence they are deliberately making it harder for citizens and residents to access their services or make sense of the story.
A good example is this recent press release from the Reserve Bank:
Today Te Tai Ōhanga, Te Tūāpapa Kura Kāinga and Te Pūtea Matua are publishing a joint paper that provides an assessment of the key drivers of rents in New Zealand.
By deliberately excluding the names in English, they are producing a media release that almost no recipient will know what they are referring to.
It’s an obsession that is elitist and patronising. It shouldn’t actually need a coalition agreement to instruct government agencies to not deliberately be unhelpful to the public.
It might sound silly to suggest a name change could cost six figures, but here is just a sample of some of the recent rebrands that we've uncovered:
So, in the interests of saving taxpayers money, we have offered to redesign all government logos for free with common brand guidelines. This low-cost option would include the government Coat of Arms alongside the name of the organisation in standard font as is the approach of most government agencies in the UK and Australia.
Not only would this save money but it also helps to create a clear identity for publicly-funded organizations so that taxpayers can clearly identify which are part of the government rather than the smorgasbord of confusion we currently have.
MPs' Pay Review: Taxpayers' Union standing up for you 🥊🧐
A couple of weeks ago, we updated you on the Remuneration Authority's latest review of MPs' pay. Given the cost-of-living crisis facing many Kiwis, we don't think now is the time for a pay hike for politicians.
Our resident economist, Ray Deacon, and policy wonk (not his actual title), James Ross, met with the Remuneration Authority last week and put the case that now is not the time for the government to be borrowing to pay MPs more.
The system is stacked so that the Remuneration Authority cannot even consider Joe Public’s views on MPs’ pay, only what they deem 'authoritative sources'. Well that wasn’t going to stop us, so we made sure they had authoritative sources coming out of their ears telling them what the public have been saying for years.
The process will be going on for around five months, but our chaps were the first through the door to fight your corner.
Taxpayer Talk: MPs In Depth – Todd Stephenson 🗣🎙️
This week marks the return of our MPs in Depth podcast series where we get to know Parliament's new MPs. In this episode, Taxpayers' Union Investigations Co-ordinator, Oliver Bryan, sits down with newly elected ACT Party MP, Todd Stephenson.
Todd grew up in the South Island and obtained a law degree from the University of Otago. Prior to becoming an MP, Todd worked in the pharmaceutical industry in Australia before moving back to New Zealand to stand for Parliament.
Oli finds out what drives Todd, his aspirations as an MP and his interests outside of politics.
That's it for this week.
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RNZ Taxpayers' Union offer to redesign Government department logos for free
Waatea News Jordan Williams / Taxpayers Union
RNZ Taxpayers' Union offer to redesign Government department logos for free
Newstalk ZB Afternoon Edition: 01 December 2023 – Steve Maharey (02:33)
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