A new Parliamentary palace? You’re dreaming, Trevor

Trevor on slide

The Speaker’s attempt to pitch a new $250 million Parliamentary palace as a humble “wooden office block” doesn’t pass the sniff test.

As I told Stuff, you can’t trust politicians with property projects. Their instinct will always be to turn a new building into a gold-plated legacy project.

You just know the planning stage will turn into a performative, naval-gazing, drawn-out consultation process. Some special interest group will demand it’s built from native pine with swamp kauri detailing. The wool industry will demand merino carpets, and the vegans will protest. There will be sermons on post-colonial architecture. And eventually some boffin will remember we’re facing a timber shortage.

You pay this man a $340,000 salary

One of our highest-paid public sector bosses is using his platform to urge the abuse of our neighbours.

Over the weekend, Privacy Commissioner John Edwards took to Twitter to suggest New Zealanders should mock Australians for the actions of the Christchurch mosque shooter:

John Edwards tweet

Tens of thousands of Australians live and pay tax in New Zealand. They deserve confidence that the Commissioner has their best interests at heart, but instead he’s making flippant digs, undermining the dignity and impartiality of his position.

Mr Edwards has form for jumping into issues that don’t concern him. Instead of talking about issues like the privacy posed by COVID-19 tracing programmes, facial recognition technology, and the Civil Aviation Authority’s new airport ‘nudie scanners’, he’s picking fights on Twitter.

Hamilton City Councillor is unhappy that we’re asking hard questions

Dave Macpherson

Hamilton City Councillor Dave Macpherson has run to RNZ with some dubious figures estimating the staff costs involved in answering Taxpayers’ Union information requests.

Tellingly, he didn’t release figures for costs of information requests for any other groups. Just us.

It’s a sad attempt to pursue ‘utu’ on the Taxpayers’ Union: we recently revealed how the Council has been harvesting submissions from school children for its iwi partnership strategy. We also poked fun at Councillors and staff for building 51 lego ducks on ratepayer time.

Jordan joined Cr Macpherson and Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB to hash the issue out. I highly recommend you take a listen.

Cr Macpherson argues that the Taxpayers’ Union should simply ask for information by just calling up the Council. But whenever we do that, we’re told to put the request in writing – including with the very question he said we should have ‘picked up the phone’ for!

A final comment from Jordan:

Councils of course have an incentive to inflate their reported costs for responding to information requests they don’t like answering. But if it’s true that answering a few questions has cost Hamilton City Council tens of thousands of dollars, that’s an even bigger scandal: they’re spending absurd amounts on spindoctors to sanitise their information releases.

Amazon has taxpayers over a barrel

Jeff Bezos

Last week it was revealed that taxpayers are pitching in $162 million for Amazon, one of the world’s richest companies, to film a season of its Lord of the Rings television series.

This handout is emblematic of a clunky, ad hoc approach to attracting international business. We should be attracting business on the basis of our economic merits: that would involve lower taxes, flexible employment laws, and minimal red tape, not just for one company or sector, but for all.

The Minister responsible, Stuart Nash, argues subsidies are part and parcel of the international film industry. That’s politician-speak for “we’re fighting a bidding war with taxpayer money”. Amazon uses its near-endless lobbying resources to play different governments off one another.

According to the Minister’s rosey predictions, Season One will employ 2,100 people directly and indirectly (whatever that means), for the $162.5 million in subsidies. That’s the taxpayer tipping in $77,380 per job – per year.

What happens when Amazon threatens to send the production of future television seasons overseas? The Government will have to choose between facing humiliation, or forking out an even bigger subsidy.

Is your local council telling the truth about its planned rates hike?

Campbell Barry

Hutt City Council Mayor Campbell Barry (pictured) is telling local ratepayers that he plans to hike rates by “just” 5.9 percent. But ratepayers who delve into the fine print of the consultation material have noticed this excludes the effect of a new targeted rate for rubbish and recycling.

Once you manually calculate the impact of that cost, the real rates hike ends up being well over 10 percent.

While the subterfuge at Hutt City Council is particularly bad, we’re seeing other councils using similar tricks. Wellington City Council wants to pay for a new sludge plant via a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle’ – paid for out of a new $70 to $100 annual levy that has not been added to the Council’s advertised rates hike.

We’ve been keeping track of every local council’s planned rate hikes on our Rates Dashboard. We might now have to add a ‘new taxes’ column to keep the councils honest.

Unelected commissioners shouldn’t be making constitutional changes

Commissioners

Unelected commissioners at Tauranga City Council have unanimously decided to establish a Māori ward

We say the commissioners are overstepping their role. Here’s what Jordan told the media:

The unelected commissioners have an obligation to run the Council in a caretaker mode before elected governance can be re-established. The vote to establish Māori wards does the exact opposite. It’s effectively making a binding constitutional change without any kind of democratic mandate.

To call this a ‘vote’ is ridiculous. It’s a decision by four people who report to Nanaia Mahuta.

We’re working with a group of highly-motivated Tauranga locals to establish a Tauranga Ratepayers’ Alliance. The goal: ensure the Commissioners are held accountable to Tauranga ratepayers, not just Nanaia Mahuta.

If you’re based in Tauranga, let us know by replying to this email and I’ll make sure you’re contacted about the launch.

Do our new MPs believe in anything?

Another two episodes of our Taxpayer Talk podcast have gone live. Both are part of our MPs in Depth series, providing insight into the background and beliefs of new MPs.

National’s Penny Simmonds shares insights from her former career leading the Southern Institute of Technology, and her entry to politics. Listen for one particular anecdote about Sir Tim Shadbolt.ACT’s Simon Court is a self-described ‘radical environmentalist’ has worked on cleaning up Agent Orange, and has a fascinating story about how he was deported from Fiji.

You can subscribe to Taxpayer Talk via Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsiHeart Radio and wherever good podcasts are sold.

Have a great week,

Louis circle
Louis Houlbrooke
Campaigns Manager
New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union