David Fisher has profiled the Taxpayers’ Union at NZ Herald – The Big Read: So what’s this Taxpayers’ Union, which purports to represent us all?
The Taxpayers’ Union is seen as a right wing activist group, but having a Government spending watchdog has the potential to benefit all taxpayers, not matter what their political leaning might be.
Political scientist Dr Bryce Edwards:
“I think it’s a valuable entity for New Zealand politics and society. I think they are a legitimate part of the political scene.”
But, he adds, the group’s actual purpose is not one reflected by the wider society it purports to represent. “I think it’s disingenuous in the way it represents itself. It has the appearance of standing for wider society when it represents the far right of politics. It’s some sort of proxy for those with a neoliberal agenda.”
I disagree. Identifying and limiting wasteful spending benefits everyone.
It’s two years since the launch of the Taxpayers’ Union, which was the realisation of “an ambition that burned hot and hard in the minds of Jordan Williams and David Farrar”, as chairman John Bishop (father of National MP Chris Bishop) said at the recent annual meeting.
Isn’t calling it a “union” a bit cheeky? “Yeah,” says Bishop snr. “David Farrar said he liked it because it annoyed the left. Union is not a term which is owned by the trade union movement.”
Annoying the left seems an odd ambition for a group like this.
The Taxpayers’ Union is about reducing “waste”, says Farrar. He claims there are “a thousand spending groups” calling for more taxpayer money, citing Amnesty International, the Nurses Organisation and the Post Primary Teachers’ Association as examples.
There needed to be a group that would push back, he says.
Farrar and Williams are co-founders and directors. Williams is the executve director.
Williams doesn’t actually know how many OIA requests the organisation has sent, although says “whatever it is, it’s not enough”.
“The fact that we have exposed so many rorts, wastes of money and cost overruns more than justifies any costs to officialdom. The more information requests we put in, the more likely they are to think that a wasteful spend could be exposed.”
The OIA responses received are used to generate press releases – almost one every two working days. Farrar recently published a spread-sheet of releases showing the Taxpayers’ Union sent 285 press releases in the two years since it launched. By Farrar’s count, 78 per cent were about the Government and of those 82 per cent were “negative”.
The press releases carry Williams’ name at the bottom and an invitation to call the Taxpayers’ Union’s 24-hour media line.
Williams is almost always at the end of the phone, able and bright with well-practised soundbites. Fairfax and NZME publications have carried about 600 articles mentioning the group since it launched.
Both Farrar and Williams are politically controversial, both being closely linked to Cameron Slater in Nicky Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics’.
Farrar does all National’s polling, something said to be a major tool of John Key. He also runs Kiwiblog.
Farrar: “It’s fair to say we want to change where the so-called centre is. There’s been all these voices calling out for more spending. My hope is by having a strong voice calling out wasteful spending … that provides a better environment. You will then get spending restraints and tax cuts.”
Why is calling out wasteful spending going to shift the political centre? I have no idea.
Born in Hawke’s Bay, Williams was raised by his mum and subject to early political influence. There was contact with high fliers such as Dr Don Brash, and those who shun the limelight such as the curious Simon Lusk – credited with successful campaigns by a handful of National Party MPs.
Williams went from NZ Lotteries as an “assistant accountant” to Franks & Ogilvie, the law firm at which former Act MP Stephen Franks is a partner.
Williams, Slater, Lusk suggests a political agenda won’t be far away,
Williams is also caught up in the defamation serves and counter serves involving himself, Cameron Slater and Colin Craig over, ironically, Craigs own booklet version of ‘Dirty Politics’.
But while politics is interwoven with the Taxpayers’ Union it should be able to do a useful for service for all of us as long as it targets wasteful spending in a non-partisan way.