Curate’s egg package

March 18, 2020

The key parts of the Covid-19 coronavirus economic package are:

Extra spending of $12.1 billion for businesses, beneficiaries, pensioners and the health system.
• $8.7 billion in support for businesses and jobs.
• $2.8 billion for incomes support.
• $500 million for health.
• Wage subsidy for employers up to 12 weeks and up to $150,000 if they have suffered a 30 per cent decline in revenue compared to last year, $585 a week for full-timers, $350 a week for part-timers, available to all employers and self-employed.
• Leave and self-isolation support for eight weeks people with Covid-19, caring for people with it or people in self-isolation up to eight weeks at same rates as wage subsidy but not for those who can work from home.
• Self-isolation payments not available to people who leave NZ after March 16 and return.
• Permanent increase of $25 a week in main social welfare benefits after increases from indexation on April 1, likely to affect 350,000 low income families.
• One-off doubling of winter energy payment to $1400 for couples and $900 for singles, likely to affect 850,000 people.
• Families with children not receiving a main benefit but are in work will no longer have to satisfy the work test of 20 hours a week for sole parents or 30 hours for couples, likely to benefit about 19,000 low-income families.
• $50 million extra for GP and primary care and $20 million for videoconferencing consultations.
• $32 million for extra intensive care capacity and equipment in hospitals.
• $40 million for public health units mainly for contact tracing.
• $100 million set aside to support work deployment.
• Provisional tax threshold will lift from April 1 from $2500 to $5000 allowing an estimated 95,000 business to defer tax payments and possible waiving of interest on late payments.
• Reinstatement of depreciation deductions for commercial and industrial buildings at an estimated cost of $2.1 billion to 2024.

This is, like the curate’s egg, good in parts:

The boost in health funding, assistance for business and payment for leave for self-isolation and sickness are welcome.

However, the wage subsidies only apply to businesses with 20 or fewer staff. Businesses with more than that are still vulnerable. Jobs, and those businesses themselves are at risk.

The risks are greater because the government mandated increase to the minimum wage is till going ahead.

And what’s what’s the rationale for permanent increases in benefit payments?

There is a case for a temporary increase but if a permanent increase has nothing to do with covid-19 and should have been left for the Budget.

As Jordan Williams from the Taxpayers’ Unions says:

. . .“However, it’s disingenuous for the Government to use this crisis as an excuse to make a permanent increases in benefit rates, which are automatically ratcheted up for wages and inflation. This looks like ideological opportunism at a time when no one knows whether higher benefits will be affordable in years to come.”

“We’re open to increasing benefits for duration of the pandemic, but it’s not an excuse for locking it in. For context, the cost of the benefit hike is around $2.3 billion – almost five times as much as the boost to the health system. Every extra dollar means less for the productive sector and frontline health services.”

What would do more good – more than $2 billion for health or the increase in benefits?

Three more cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed.

So far none of the cases has been fatal and none has required prolonged hospital care.

But that may not last and equipping the health system should be the priority.

The $500m is welcome but it may only be the start of what is needed.

 

 

 


Taxpayer funded competing with taxpayers

March 5, 2020

Taxpayer-funded RNZ is running an advertising campaign which doesn’t tell the whole truth:

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union is slamming Radio New Zealand’s use of taxpayer money for misleading advertising suggesting New Zealanders do not have to pay for its content, unlike other media organisations.

Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Jordan Williams says, “The idea that we don’t pay for RNZ is ridiculous. Unlike other media organisations, all New Zealanders are forced to pay for RNZ.”

“Private platforms also present a much more diverse range of views and perspectives.”

“In addition to being dishonest, RNZ’s advertising is an underarm bowl to those private media organisations, many of which are kneecapped by the state subsides for RNZ and TVNZ.”

Example of RNZ online advertising:

 

We’re all paying for that premium content through our taxes whether or not we listen to it.

Galling as these advertisements are to taxpayers, they’re worse still for those with which the state broadcaster competes:

 Stuff recently campaigned on the value of journalism.

Billboards, bus backs, paid social posts – it was everywhere. RNZ drove its message so hard it even featured in a digital display in Stuff’s own lobby. Trolling maybe?

The message was right, but only in part. RNZ doesn’t run ads. RNZ doesn’t have paid subscriptions for its content.

This, though, is only because it doesn’t need to.

You already pay for its content through your taxes, so its journalism doesn’t need to be either ad-funded, like ours is, or supplemented through a paid content model like, say, the NZ Herald.

It’s simple:

    • Commercial media make money through ads and subscriptions, which they then use to pay for public interest journalism.
    • Public media are Government-funded to pay for public interest journalism.

But, like newsrooms the world over, the advertising and subscription revenues commercial media once thrived on no longer sustain the number of journalists we once could. As audiences have shifted from newspapers to websites, so have advertising dollars. But the slice of the pie left for news organisations is tiny after the giant global platforms like Google and Facebook take their share.

In short, funding journalism, especially in regional New Zealand, has become increasingly hard. The pursuit of a new, sustainable business model to support journalism is something that is common across competitors; one galvanising connection that brings us all together. . .

Plurality of journalistic voices is deemed in the public interest. RNZ is chartered to serve that public interest. It is its purpose to serve an audience, not to compete for audiences; audiences which in one way or another are needed to fund the great journalism created by many organisations and many companies across New Zealand each and every day.

Journalism and mainstream media are under threat from digital platforms and social media.

Struggling businesses don’t need the taxpayer-funded outlet which competes with them.

The unfair competition from the state-owned Landcorp has been a bone of contention for farmers but at least it hasn’t run a campaign putting down private sector competitors the way RNZ is. That it’s doing it with what isn’t the whole truth makes it worse.


Cash spray BAU

December 2, 2019

What does it say about a party when a keynote speech on infrastructure offers nothing more than funding for school maintenance?

Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson have cancelled billions of dollars of infrastructure projects whilst dressing up business as usual school maintenance grants as infrastructure investment, National’s Economic Development spokesperson Todd McClay says.

“Kiwis deserve the roads, transport and education infrastructure that National was delivering, not spin from a weak and wasteful government that’s failing to deliver on its promises.

“Today’s education announcement is less than it’s wasted on 300 plus government working groups and committees.   

“This Labour-led Government’s poor economic policies have slowed New Zealand down and on its watch, New Zealand’s infrastructure plans are in disarray.

“Labour inherited a strong economy with GDP growth around four per cent. Latest ANZ and ASB forecasts predict a drop to two per cent at a cost of $1.7 billion in lost revenue each year.

“At the same time this Government has wasted billions on failing policies and isn’t delivering on the things that matter to hardworking Kiwi families.

“Our economy is slowing because of Labour’s failure to deliver. A complete stall in infrastructure spend and $400 million of business as usual school repairs and maintenance just won’t cut it.”

Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Jordan Williams describes the announcement as  a lazy attempt to buy votes, rather than better educations:

“This announcement appears more targeted at parents’ votes, than fixing run down schools, and you only need look at which schools get what to figure that out.”

“What a lazy and pathetic policy. A brand new school gets the same dollop of cash as a school with buildings from the 1950s.  No school gets more than $400,000, but none less than $50,000. Ultimately that approach means those schools which desperately need redevelopment get less.”

“Instead of asking officials which schools need what, the Labour Party has cooked up an ‘every school gets cash’ policy for the PM’s big speech. This is the sort of stuff you’d expect from an unorganised opposition, not a Party in Government.”

It is because Labour was disorganised in opposition it delivers this sort of stuff in government.

“If this is indicative of Labour’s big spending plans, spraying taxpayer cash, instead of micro targeting so taxpayer money goes to where it is most needed, hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars are going to go down the drain.”

If a government that inherited a very healthy economy has to borrow to fund maintenance it has its spending priorities wrong.

Borrowing for infrastructure investment when interest rates are so low isn’t wrong per se, but if the government is borrowing to spend on infrastructure it ought to be investing in new projects not on-going maintenance.

Maintenance is business as usual (BAU), it’s shouldn’t be the recipient of a cash spray, but then spraying cash is BAU for this government.


Open and transparent?

September 30, 2019

When Jacinda Ardern declared hers would be an open and transparent government this probably wasn’t what she was meaning:

Controversial Cabinet Minister Shane Jones told a forestry awards ceremony they needed to vote for him or miss out on the billions he’s handing out for provincial growth, it has been alleged.

One person present labelled Jones’ comments as an inducement to “bribery” and another thought the minister – responsible for forestry and the $3 billion provincial growth fund – was “buying votes”.

But Jones says New Zealand can expect him to remind it over the next 12 months that votes for New Zealand First are needed to ensure it continues to fulfil promises in its coalition agreement with Labour.

“When you get a retail politician like myself – a son of the north – you’ve never going to take the politics out of the politicians.” . .

There’s politics and there’s politicking and then there’s blatant vote-for-us-or-else which looks very close to bribery.

Another person who paid close attention to Jones’ speech said he was angry and shocked at the political approach.

“Some of the things he said I didn’t particularly like. [It was] he had this big pot of gold so make sure you keep voting for me. There were direct comments along those lines.”

A third person who objected to Jones’ comment said it detracted from the intent of the evening, which was to celebrate excellence in forestry.

“It should never have been a political rally, which is what he made it. He was saying ‘if you don’t vote for me, you won’t get any share of the billion dollars’. He said you’ve only got a few months of me here, so you’d better vote.

“It’s just bribery. I thought that was pretty disgusting.”

Another person present said: “It wasn’t a political forum. He didn’t do himself any good. He just made a complete idiot of himself.”

Those interviewed did not want to be named, citing the influence of Jones’ Provincial Growth Fund and concerns speaking openly could have a personal and financial impact. 

Whether it was meant as a threat or not, these people have not only interpreted what Jones said as vote-for-us-or-else, they’re scared about the consequences of speaking out.

What he said is bad enough. That he said it so openly is worse. It shows that he thinks he’s immune from any censor by both his leader and the Prime Minister that ought to follow this behavior but won’t.

Reacting to the Herald piece, Taxpayers’ Union Spokesman Jordan Williams said:

“This is truely banana republic stuff.  A Minister telling an industry sector that they need to pony up with support, or else lose taxpayer funded lavish.”

”It is shocking, and belongs in Namibia, not New Zealand.”

“Even for Shane Jones this is breathtakingly shameless.  This not only sours the reputation of the current Government, it sours the reputation of our whole political establishment.  It is pork barrel politics in its true meaning.”

“Taxpayers are relying on the Prime Minister to prevent Shane Jones dragging us down the transparency indexes.  Now is the time for her to show whether she demands western democracy standards of her Ministers, or whether her junior coalition partner wields the true power and can do what they like with public funds.”

Sadly the junior coalition partner does wield the true power and its members not only can and do do what they like with public funds, at least one is open that they’re vote-buying with them.


Are electric vehicles as green as they’re painted?

July 10, 2019

Stuff asks which are the cleanest and dirtiest car brands in New Zealand?

. . .Actually, the car brand currently on sale in NZ with the lowest emissions of all is Tesla, which boasts an unbeatable CO2 output (or non-output?) of 0.0. Obviously that’s because they are fully electric, which means the only connection with CO2 these cars might have, would be from what emerges from any gas or coal-fired power stations that generate the electricity in the first place.

But, as so often in the climate change argument, this doesn’t give the whole picture. It counts only the emissions from running the car, what about the emissions in making it, in particular the battery?

A friend has recently returned from Africa where he saw a continual procession of fuel tankers making the journey from the coast to supply mines in the Congo so that cobalt and lithium can be exported to allow people in rich countries to buy electric cars to save the world.

If you take into account the emissions from the many thousands of kilometres those tankers travel and everything else involved in their manufacture and disposal when judging the CO2 output of electric and hybrid cars, would they still be as green as they’re painted?

I don’t know the answer to that question and it raises another: how can we know what is green and what is greenwash if only the emissions from running vehicles are quantified and not those from their manufacture to their eventual end?

The answer to those two questions is even more important now the government is proposing a ‘feebate’ scheme on the sale of new vehicles.

The Government’s proposal for a sweeping fuel-efficient vehicle policy is being criticised because it doesn’t apply to the majority of cars being sold.

It would only apply to newly-imported used and brand new light vehicles from 2021 onwards, and would only hit those vehicles when they are sold for the first time – taking in about only a quarter of vehicle sales.

School Strike 4 Climate NZ criticised the proposal and said all vehicle sales should be affected by fuel efficiency standards.

The “feebate” scheme wouldn’t cost the taxpayer anything, instead using money gained by putting a fee on imported high-emissions cars in order to make imported hybrids, electric cars, and other efficient vehicles cheaper with a subsidy. . .

It wouldn’t cost the taxpayer anything but who would it help and who would it hurt?

The proposed penalty on ‘gas guzzling’ vehicles is a painful, regressive tax, says the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says, “Let’s be very clear: this is a tax on Otara vehicles to subsidise Teslas in Remuera.”

“Only a few, largely high-income, motorists will benefit from this subsidy, while many more low income motorists will have to choose between a nasty penalty or delaying the purchase of a new car. And as this tax leads driver to hold on to their existing vehicles for longer, we’ll miss out on improvements to safety and environmental standards.”

Older cars are less efficient and also not as safe as newer vehicles, but what’s the environmental impact from holding on to them longer?

Would spreading the emissions from making them over a longer period compensate for the emissions from driving them?

What about utes and trucks that are used for business and transporting goods and for which there are no hybrid or electric alternatives.?

“Successive Governments have already whacked motorists hard with hikes to petrol tax. Now Julie-Anne Genter is mixing it up with scheme to ‘take from the poor, give to the rich’.”

“Just because something is shrouded in environmental branding doesn’t make it any less nasty to the poor.”

Electric and hybrid cars cost less to run than petrol or diesel ones and newer vehicles are more efficient than older ones so  people who can’t afford newer, more expensive vehicles will be paying a bigger proportion of the fuel tax.

London has emission charges and diesel vehicles, including taxis, have to use AdBlue  to their fuel. When we were there recently we noticed the air was much cleaner than it had been several years earlier.

Clean air is to be encouraged but until the total lifetime emissions, not just from driving vehicles, but from their conception to their ultimate end, are quantified, we won’t know if the policy will make a positive difference or not to global CO2 emissions or not.

The emissions picture is a very complex one to which the ‘feebate’ policy, like so many other climate change ones, provides a simple answer but we don’t have enough information to know if it’s the right one.

The push towards electric vehicles raises two other questions: does our electricity generation and transmission have the capacity for a significant increase in electric vehicles?; and what will replace fuel taxes when the uptake of hybrid and electric vehicles reduces them to the point a replacement is required?


Tax Freedom Day at last

June 1, 2019

We’re nearly half way through the year and have only just got to Tax Freedom Day:

A media release from the Taxpayers’ Union says:

From today until the end of the year you are finally working for yourself, and not the taxman, says the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.
 
‘Tax Freedom Day’ marks the day on which New Zealanders have collectively worked enough to pay off the cost of government for the year.
 
Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “For the average New Zealander, getting to work on Monday represents the first day they’re working for themselves.”
 
“This year’s total government expenses have been forecast to suck up 41.5 percent of the economy. That means, if a taxpayer wanted pay off their share of government expenses as soon as possible this year, they would have to work sacrifice all their wages from January the 1st, until today, June 1st.
 
“Today is worth celebrating, but it’s a shame we had to wait so long to pay off the politicians’ expense card. Unfortunately, government spending increasing faster than economic growth means the continuation of the trend of a later Tax Freedom Day.”
 
“Some other groups chose to observe Tax Freedom Day earlier this year. But our chosen date – based on OECD figures – takes into account local government and spending paid for with debt, meaning it reflects the full burden of government on taxpayers.”

And on the eve of Tax Freedom Day, the government pushed through an increase to fuel taxes under urgency:

The Taxpayers’ Union is slamming the passage of legislation hiking the price of petrol at the pump to see that more than 50 percent of the price paid will soon be tax. Union spokesperson, Jordan Williams says:

“Clearly ‘wellbeing’ is just marketing fluff.  Petrol taxes are highly regressive – they hit the poor, those in regional New Zealand, and those who live on outer suburbs the hardest. It’s one of the cruelest forms of tax.”

“Rushing these new petrol taxes through Parliament under urgency is disgraceful. They are a total breach of the Prime Minister’s ‘no new tax’ election promise.  And Labour know it.”

“Pain at the pump underscores the fact that big-ticket Budget announcements come at a real cost, regardless of the fuzzy wellbeing language the politicians use to promote them.”

Petrol was more than $2.45 a litre when we passed through Omarama earlier this week. Tax is already too big a contributor to that.

Taking more money from everyone and adding to the cost of everything will not contribute to wellbeing.


How to lose donors

January 23, 2019

Oxfam claims inequality is increasing in New Zealand  but it’s wrong

While Oxfam claims inequality is increasing and uses its latest report to push a political campaign, the official data shows the complete opposite, says the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

Taxpayers‘ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says, “Oxfam bases their conclusions from the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2018. That report shows wealth inequality in New Zealand measured by the Gini coefficient falling from 72.3 to 70.8. Instead of using a comprehensive statistic like the Gini coefficient, Oxfam abandon any of their residual credibility and instead choose to cherry-pick two wealthy New Zealanders and highlight their improved financial position. It is a dishonest political manipulation of public debate.”

“As is clear from this campaign, Oxfam is little more than a left-wing political campaign group. In the same way that Family First and the Sensible Sentencing Trust are not allowed charitable status, it is time the same rules were applied to Oxfam and it was deregistered as a charity.”

Charities which get political risk losing donors.

A few years ago my daughter gave me a midwife for Christmas. It was an Oxfam programme that paid for midwives in a developing country.

The charity got my email and began asking for funds. I liked the idea of practical help and donated.

Then I saw a media release similar to this one that I knew was based on misinformation and stopped my donations.

Political advocacy plays an important role but charities which get into it risk confusing people about their priorities and losing support for their charitable work.


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