Mannkal Economic Education Foundation

Mannkal Student Internship Blog

NZ Taxpayers Union

Sally Hatter | Week 5

Sally Hatter, 21 February 2017

This week at the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union (NZTU) has predominantly been filled with drafting a Private Members Bill. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, the NZTU puts significant resources into sending out information requests under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987.

This Act supports transparency within the various government departments and local councils of New Zealand. The legislation is key to keeping the aforementioned organisations accountable for their spending of taxpayer and ratepayer funds.

Unfortunately the Taxpayers’ Union has come up against a loophole in the legislation that makes an exception for the New Zealand Local Government Association, the overarching organisation of the local New Zealand councils. To be compliant with the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987, an organisation must classify as a ‘council controlled organisation’ pursuant to the Local Government Act 2002.

This loophole exempts the New Zealand Local Government Association from being classified as a council-controlled organisation. The result is that it is not possible to make official information requests to this overarching body. The inability to seek information from the Local Government Association is a difficulty the Taxpayers’ Union has come against a multitude of times.

Consequently, I have been directed to draft options to amend the Local Government Act 2002 so that it is possible to make information requests to the New Zealand Local Government Association. If suitable, the Private Member’s Bill may be presented to parliament later in the year.

I spent the weekend just gone with my housemates in Wellington; it was nice to relax and recuperate for the busy week ahead. We spent Friday and Saturday nights attending their extended friend’s house parties, and on Saturday we made the most of the weather, spending the afternoon at Lyall Bay. We finished off a fun weekend with a Sunday dinner at the flat, complete with steak from the farm in Taranaki we visited last weekend.

Sally

Weekends at Lyall Bay

View from our house

A Balmy Evening

Sally Hatter – Weekend Away | Week 4

Sally Hatter, 13 February 2017

Tuesday this week was the first day of parliament for 2017. That afternoon I took some time off work to go and watch question time. This question time was particularly interesting because it was the first question time with Bill English, the new Prime Minister, after long-standing PM, John Key resigned as leader of the National Party in December last year.

English spoke about many of the problems facing New Zealand. Unsurprisingly, I could draw many similarities with issues facing Australia.

A key issue facing New Zealand is housing affordability. More specifically, the housing market in Auckland is out of reach for young families wishing to own their own home. Auckland’s housing market has had flow on effects to Wellington, pushing up housing prices here.

English’s main rhetoric, however, was explaining how the National Party Coalition Government has worked hard to reduce regulation and keep the economy growing strong. A strong economy has led to and will continue to, create more jobs and an increased participation rate for New Zealand.

Similar to Australia, English was met by a constant rebuttal by Labour, Labour argued that it is the Government’s responsibility to go out and build houses and create jobs. Whereas the National Party’s message is that it should be the Governments role to ensure New Zealand has the legal framework to facilitate free and open trade and encourage an entrepreneurial spirit.

English advocates this is what will lead to a strong economy and in turn, allow individuals to take their future prosperity into their own hands.

Last weekend in Wellington was another long weekend! I was able to take the Friday off to make the weekend a four-day weekend. My flatmates and I went on a road-trip up the coast of the North Island. We set off Thursday evening after work and arrived at one of my friend’s parents dairy farm in Taranaki.

The hospitality of the people here never ceases to amaze me. After arriving late Thursday night, we awoke to a spread of homemade bacon from farm pigs and eggs. We then made our way up to the holiday town of Tauranga. In Tauranga, we attended a concert and spent the next day out snorkelling on another friend’s boat.

On Sunday we made our way down to the beautiful inland lake town of Taupo. Lake Taupo marks the remnants of a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago; the eruption was reportedly heard in China. In Taupo, we ‘freedom camped’ by the lake and jet skied on the water, before lighting a campfire at the water’s edge during the evening.

The weekend was a great experience and one I’ll never forget.

Sally

Day 1 of Question Time

Boating in Tauranga

Huka Falls, Taupo

Taranaki Dairy Farm, Mount Taranaki

Sally Hatter | Week 3

Sally Hatter, 6 February 2017

This week at the Taxpayers’ Union has been filled with yet more media buzz surrounding government waste. One of the key roles of the Taxpayers’ Union is to reveal misuse of Taxpayer, or ratepayer, funds by government and local council. These are predominately uncovered through the use of Official Information Requests under either the Official Information Act (“OIA”) or the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (“LGOIMA”).

Although not discovered by a Taxpayers’ Union OIA, we were astounded to learn of the following story. The Ministry of Justice spent $23,000 of taxpayer funds on a video of its senior leadership team lip-syncing to a Justin Timberlake song. Radio New Zealand uncovered that the Ministry had employed a professional video production company to produce the video whilst on a leadership conference.

The Official Information Act allows for certain information to be withheld for reasons of privacy. Under the relevant privacy clause, the radio station was not able to obtain a copy of the video. This week we have been exploring any avenues to get our hands on a copy of the video for a media release. Despite our perseverance, the Ministry is insistent on not releasing the video and putting a lid on what they may now realise, was an obscene waste of taxpayer funds.

My work this week continues with sending out new OIA’s and LGOIMA’s to various local counsels and Government departments. As the responses arrive back I am an intrigued to see what other embarrassing wastes of ratepayer money I can discover.

On the weekend my boss took me and three other friends of his to a station in the Wairarapa region, located closest to the town of White Rock. Although the station is not viable due to its mountainous terrain, it made for fantastic hiking, or ‘tramping’ as they call it here. From the highest point on the station, you are able to see the waves breaking on the coast 25KM away. I really enjoyed the weekend away, amongst the fresh air and warmer climate. It was great to get a chance to experience what a station in New Zealand is like, not surprisingly, the station was quite different to any stations I have visited in Australia.

I am looking forward to making the most of the coming long weekend by driving up the coast to Taupo and Tauranga with my housemates.

Sally

Wairarapa Station

Tramping at the Station


Sally Hatter – Legal Matters | Week 2

Sally Hatter, 30 January 2017

My main task at the Taxpayers’ Union this week has been to draft both a Company Constitution and a Trust Deed. These documents will be used to establish a limited liability entity. Today, the Executive Director of the Taxpayers’ Union, Jordan Williams, and I attended a meeting with a solicitor.

We were seeking advice on how to establish the entity; as part of this I received valuable feedback on my draft Constitution and Trust Deed documents. This process has provided me with an opportunity to utilise a variety of skills I have acquired so far in my legal degree. I found the process of drafting the documents, editing and eventually putting them into practice very rewarding.

This is because completing a task from start to finish is not something that can occur at university. Often a student may have an assignment that mimics a real workplace task, that work, however, is never put into practice for real business purposes.

This week I have also been compiling data to compare the total wealth of organisations supporting either the left or right side of politics. A similar research project, applicable to Australia, was undertaken by Andrew Bragg at the Menzies Research Centre. Bragg found the estimated amount spent by organisations with an “anti-business” agenda outweighed the estimated amount spent by organisations with a “pro-enterprise” agenda. I am intrigued to learn whether a similar situation exists in New Zealand.

My first weekend in Wellington fell on Wellington Anniversary Day, as a result the office had Monday off. I was lucky enough to be invited by a work colleague to the Wellington Cup. The Cup was located at the Trentham racecourse, approximately 30 minutes’ drive along the coast from the CBD.

The racecourse in Wellington is in a basin circled by densely vegetated mountain ridges. The Monday of the long weekend brought with it a buzz of excitement around Wellington’s coastal areas, the excitement was attributable to reports of a big surf day. Thursday was, of course, Australia day which we marked in office by playing the Triple J Hottest 100 countdown throughout the afternoon.

I am looking forward to this coming weekend away in the Wairarapa region, where some of New Zealand’s best wineries are located.

Sally

Karaka Bays

Top of Mount Vic

Sally Hatter – New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union | Week 1

Sally Hatter, 23 January 2017

I arrived late Monday night in Wellington, New Zealand. The following morning, I awoke to the view of a sunny hillside littered with picturesque white cottages. I was further delighted on the walk to the office to learn of the proximity of the city centre to the quiet leafy suburb where I am staying.

That morning the office was a buzz with excitement; this excitement had been created by growing media interest about a certain mayoral expense. The Taxpayers’ Union had received a tip-off that a past Wellington City Mayor had requested a tattoo as a leaving gift. The story continued to grow throughout the day, as it was revealed the tattoo requested was one of a hand drawn lizard. Later in the day, the past Mayor released a statement explaining she was particular fond of lizards, in particular, Geckos.

On my first day, I was thrown into the deep end. The Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director, Jordan Williams, another member of staff and myself took to the streets. Our mission was to create a short video highlighting public disgust for the 7.7 million the New Zealand Government had donated to the Clinton Foundation between 2014 and 2016. Jordan approached members of the public by first rattling a tin labeled ‘donate to the Clinton Foundation’. He then asked if they would like to donate? Upon refusal, Jordan asked them how they felt about the taxpayer having already given 7.7 million to the foundation. The video will be used to persuade New Zealanders to sign a petition calling on Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully to veto the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s decision to donate a further 5.5 million this year.

Amid investigation of the Clinton Foundation, the Australian government has pulled their support and ceased further donations.

This week Wellington has thrown some interesting ‘summer’ weather at me. Gusts of up to 160 km/h on the walk home from work on Wednesday provided an insight as to why Wellington is known as ‘The Windy City’.

I am starting to get the impression that a large amount of people here are engaged with the political system. This means there is never a shortage of excitement inside the Taxpayers’ Union office. I look forward to the next big tip-off we receive and the media buzz that may bring!

Sally

I 'Heart' Low Taxes

The Walk to the Office

Day One at the Taxpayers’ Union

Ryan Soares – New Zealand Taxpayers Union – Week 6

Ryan Soares, 17 August 2016

It would be unimaginable to travel across the Tasman and not visit the South Island for an adrenaline filled adventure! So after finishing my internship at the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, instead of jumping on a plane back to Perth, I took the Inter-island Ferry down to Picton to start exploring the South Island.

I began by heading down to Christchurch, a somewhat surreal experience as the city is still recovering from the devastation of the 2011 earthquake. With tens of thousands of people along with key businesses leaving the city following the destruction, rebuilding the city has been a slow process with key infrastructure, road networks and buildings still in disrepair or condemned. Christchurch has been given a unique opportunity to rebuild and redesign their city, though the question as to who should bare the cost still remains.

Following Christchurch I made my way to Franz Josef, a small town built on tourists visiting one of New Zealand’s largest glaciers. Despite some heavy downpour, at the end of the hike the skies cleared and the view was breathtaking. Kayaking on Lake Mapourika was equally as beautiful as you paddle through a picture perfect lake in total silence until you reach echo bay, where a click of your fingers will be carried through the bay.

“Age quod Agis”

A Latin quote my year seven teacher said to me everyday, indirectly translating to “Do what you do well, and live life to the fullest”

In order to do that, I felt I had to dive out of plane at 4500m, bungee jump from New Zealand’s highest bungee platform, a mere 134m, bungee jump backwards of the worlds first commercial bungee bridge, take a helicopter up a mountain only to raft back down, and fall off a 160m suspended swing…upside-down!

My adventures of the South Island were summed up perfectly with a scenic flight across the glaciers, lakes, mountains and everything in between which New Zealand has to offer.

I have learnt a great deal over the past 6 weeks, both professionally and personally. New Zealand is a beautiful country where I have done some amazing activities, worked with the incredible people and made life long friendships. I am glad I had the opportunity to come here, and I cannot thank Ron, Paul and the Mannkal team enough.

Ryan Soares – New Zealand Taxpayers Union – Week 5

Ryan Soares, 3 August 2016

Although my time working at the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union has come an end, I can definitively say that I will be back to this beautiful country.

Additionally, everything that Jordan Williams and Ben Craven have taught me, from investigating local and federal government spending to effectively advocating and impacting political policies, will most definitely return home with me.

This week the Taxpayers’ Union had one of their biggest Council policy wins ever, with Auckland Council taking into consideration all the recommendations from the Taxpayers’ Union on the Taniwha Tax. Jordan mentioned the Taxpayers’ Union worked in a quick response manner. I am glad I had the chance to see what he meant, with media releases and social media responses happening almost immediately after the fact.

Having worked on half a dozen ongoing projects, this week I made sure that I left a clean and organised trail of my research, so that the office can easily pick up the projects again. With only a few remaining Councils to supply data for our Ratepayer’ Report, I got to work helping pitch the report to New Zealand’s biggest news publishers. Thankfully New Zealand is both a relatively small place, and Jordan is very well connected with the media. The report is expected to be published in September.

Throughout the week I got to see New Zealand Council spin-doctors produce their best work, with Auckland Council’s communication team justifying spending hundreds of thousands on Facebook advertising, and Wellington City Council saying that their higher rates are still lower than Auckland’s, therefore it must be ok!

This week I also uncovered some interesting transactions between Councils and a number of stationary stores owned by Councillors. It is a shame that OIA requests take close to 20 days, as it is a story I would have loved to have written.

As to be expected, on Friday night we celebrated with a few researchers from the New Zealand Initiative. It was great to meet some of the Initiative team and that the two organisations get along so well.

I made the most out of my last weekend in Wellington, going for an early morning Sunday run up to the beautiful Botanic Gardens and attending an extremely interesting tour at the Wellington Museum. The theme was Poison and Power, delving into some of history’s most interesting, sad and creative uses of poison in a struggle for power.

On Monday I will be heading down to the South Island for a week filled with bungee jumping, skydiving and helicopter rides!

I honestly can not thank Ron, Paul and everyone at Mannkal enough for this amazing opportunity to come to New Zealand. The team at the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union were an amazing group of people to work with and I will be sure to miss them.

I look forward to sharing my experience with everyone back in Perth.

Ryan Soares – New Zealand Taxpayers Union – Week 4

Ryan Soares, 25 July 2016

It is interesting how after only one month in a new city you start to feel right at home. My week at the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union started off by meeting the leader of the ACT party and MP David Seymour. David hosted a small group of politically minded young students and professionals in his office for an evening of drinks and networking. It was great to meet young Wellingtonians and to gain their perspective on the current political climates in New Zealand and Australia. It appears everyone here thinks of Australia’s politicians like an immature sibling. You can begin to understand their thinking as New Zealand has had only two prime ministers since 1999.

After our story about New Zealand’s foreign aid recipients aired on Sunday night television, we received a lot of positive commentary from the public, however Parliament were not as impressed. Matthew’s story regarding the longest serving Councillors also gained momentum as a number of newspapers and radio stations covered the story.

As I continued to work on my Ratepayers’ Report the deadline for a number of Council responses to our OIA’s were drawing closer. Throughout the week I had to call each Council to follow up on their progress. Despite sounding simple, this was by no means an easy task as not all Councils have full time staff or rosters, meaning many were unsure on the progress, lost the initial request or asked us to call back the next day. Despite these minor delays, the Report is nearing completion and should be published in the coming months.

Over the weekend, Wellington had some wild weather with reports of wind gusts over 100km/h! I can also report that I, along with the seagulls were thrown around by the wind. It was a sad moment to see a piano left to defend for itself again the wind and rain on the harbour. The following morning I found the piano in an awfully tuned state. Just around the corner the Te Papa Museum put on workshops (apparently meant for children) and a concert by Strike, a New Zealand percussion ensemble.

I am looking forward to my final week at the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, though it will be sad to leave such a lively and exciting organisation.

Ryan Soares – New Zealand Taxpayers Union – Week 3

Ryan Soares, 18 July 2016

Week 3 at the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union was full of excitement, laughter and media attention! The media frenzy started when Matthew Rhodes, a local intern, had one of his stories published by the countries largest online news source, Stuff. As the excitement and buzz swept the office, we also learnt that One News wanted to shoot a Sunday segment for a story I worked on! With the story already gaining social media attention in its first 2 hours (30 shares and 200 likes), we are preparing for more media outlets to pick up the story.

Shortly after the shooting of our Sunday news story at Parliament, I had the privilege of attending a very small and private lunch at the Wellington Club. It is not very often you are able to have a casual discussion with the newly appointed Queen’s Councillor and worlds third most published legal scholar, Professor John Prebble, alongside other remarkable individuals, such as Dr Graham Scott, who currently sits on the Board of New Zealand’s Productivity Commission. As certain cities in Australia face significant housing issues, similarly New Zealand is finding that Auckland and Wellington have very quickly entered into the same space. It was interesting to hear from a group of individuals with vast amounts of experience as to how they would approach these issues. (Hint: It involves the government taking a step…leap back)

With only one fifth of Perth’s population, Wellington is the cultural hub for New Zealand, where there is something different to see and do each day. Using highly discounted student priced tickets, just this weekend I had the chance to see the Wellington Orchestra, The Calvino Trio and RNZAF Jazz Orchestra perform at three separate events. Coincidentally I managed to find someone from Perth who also plays the trombone! I also managed to squeeze in a quick visit and tour of the Governor-General’s House. The property was certainly spectacular, with views and gardens fit for the Queen. I will be sure to send an official information request as to how much taxpayers’ pay to keep such a nice residence in pristine condition first thing Monday morning.

Ryan Soares – New Zealand Taxpayers Union – Week 2

Ryan Soares, 11 July 2016

This week saw the Taxpayers’ Union office run on a skeleton team consisting of myself and one other colleague. With over 100 passionate emails being sent to Auckland Councillors by our members on Monday, addressing the inefficient management of the councils responsibilities, it is evidently clear that the work we are doing is making a meaningful impact.

Over the course of the week I continued to compile data from all 67 councils annual reports and official information requests, by no means an easy task. Once all the data has been inputted, our aim is produce a report which clearly illustrates and compares how each of the councils are performing and spending ratepayers’ money. As the local council elections draw closer, it is crucial that our report can be published over the coming weeks.

Earlier in the year, the Taxpayers’ Union uncovered that over half a million dollars is spent unnecessarily by Government Departments on TV subscriptions. As such, in addition to working on my report I also had a chance to delve into more investigative work. This proved to be interesting as we uncovered how much each council spends on Facebook advertising, the Government Departments wasting taxpayers’ money by not using negotiated All-of-Government procurement contracts for office supplies, and even looking into the credit card statements for the NZ Trade and Enterprise Department’s London office. (I am determined to understand how over $5000 is spent on 150 different Amazon transactions!)

Over the weekend I had the chance to tour The Beehive, the official name for New Zealand’s Parliament building. Evidently, from certain angles it does in fact resemble a beehive. It was interesting to find the Old Senate Chambers and learn that in 1950, New Zealand politicians voted to abolish the Senate as it was found to no longer serve a useful purpose. The politicians who proposed and enacted the bill were rightly named the ‘suicide squad.’

Finally,  I visited Gallipoli: The Scale of our War exhibition at Te Papa. The exhibitions provided an immerse experience and in-depth look into the stories and experiences of our ANZAC troops. With a lot of work still to be done, I am looking forward to next week and the release of some of our work.