Taxpayers’ Union – advocates or activists?

The Taxpayers’ Union has been a controversial player in New Zealand politics, given those who are involved (from the right of politics).

Their self-description on Twitter:

We’re the voice for Kiwi taxpayers in the corridors of power. With  and our 36k members, we fight for Lower Taxes, Less Waste, More Transparency.

But the causes they promote or oppose suggests that their focus is rather narrower than “the voice for Kiwi taxpayers”.

Their reaction to this article suggests a certain sensitivity to criticism – Newsroom: Tobacco ties undermine Taxpayers’ Union

“Here at the Taxpayers’ Union, we are no defenders of ‘Big Tobacco’ or its lobbyists.”

Jordan Williams’ words, in the foreword to a 2016 report on the impact of tobacco taxes, have a certain irony in light of his organisation’s financial ties to British American Tobacco.

In many ways, news of the tobacco giant’s “corporate membership” of the Taxpayers’ Union (for an undisclosed annual fee) should come as little surprise.

Since its inception in 2013, Williams’ organisation has consistently opposed measures designed to regulate or reduce the use of tobacco, such as the plain packaging law and the annual increases to excise tax.

Add in its ‘Clear the Air’ campaign for lighter regulation of vaping and other e-cigarette products – a sector in which cigarette companies themselves now have a large stake – and the alignment of beliefs seems clear.

Does that mean that Williams and company are mere stooges for hire, on offer to the highest corporate bidder?

Not necessarily (although the group’s most vociferous critics would surely beg to differ).

Egregious lack of transparency

British American Tobacco may pay its dues to the Taxpayers’ Union not to ensure it would take the party line against tobacco controls, but because it already shared those views as a philosophically “free market” organisation.

And the group’s argument about the regressive impact of tobacco taxes – that they impact the poor disproportionately – is one which carries some weight.

There would be value to some voters in an organisation which lived up to the Taxpayers’ Union motto of “lower taxes, less waste, more transparency”.

However, it’s in the area of transparency where the organisation most egregiously fails.

None of the numerous press releases and reports on tobacco put out by the Taxpayers’ Union make even a passing reference to the group’s funding from a cigarette manufacturer.

A Taxpayers’ Union spokesman pooh-poohed the suggestion of disclosing conflicts of interest, claiming doing so would “distort people’s perceptions of our work” given its many donors.

That’s an argument that doesn’t hold water, given the high standards to which the organisation is willing to hold politicians (take its criticism of Associate Transport Minister Julie-Anne Genter for the awarding of transport contracts to her partner, despite her lack of involvement in the decision-making process).

The organisation’s spokesman suggested taxpayer-funded entities had to be held to “a special standard” – but surely a group seeking to enhance government transparency should be purer than pure.

They should practice what they preach on transparency.

Also apparent is their interest in issues that seem to be straying somewhat from the interests of “Kiwi taxpayers”.

A few days ago:

This sort of general anti-government stance is common from the Taxpayers’ Union.  They look more like activists with vested interests in certain political outcomes rather than general advocates for reducing Government costs. This probably doesn’t surprise any Kiwi taxpayers.

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38 Comments

  1. lurcher1948

     /  29th January 2019

    Taxpayers Union will keep going as long as the BIG TOBBACA donations keep coming in,

    Reply
    • lurcher1948

       /  29th January 2019

      Sherrif pass the post,ITS THE TRUTH why am i moderated for saying the truth,,,check their donation list its discrimanation

      Reply
  2. Duker

     /  29th January 2019

    As well they are aligned to various well known Wellington commercial property investors, indeed one allows them to ‘couch surf’ in temporary office when available in office buildings.
    And guess what , Tapayers Union railed against the Wellington Port companys office development on harbour land- apparently port companies acting commercially was only a figure of speech

    Reply
  3. Gerrit

     /  29th January 2019

    So are they any worse than the a trade union?

    Reply
  4. Blazer

     /  29th January 2019

    advocates,activists or arseholes…

    self serving ,selective,serial….sock tuckers.

    Reply
    • Gerrit

       /  29th January 2019

      Who, the trade unions?

      Reply
      • Blazer

         /  29th January 2019

        is a Federation or Association the same as a ‘union’ to all intents and purposes?

        Reply
        • Duker

           /  29th January 2019

          They operate under other names as well
          Ratepayers Alliance
          Free Speech Coalition

          Somehow I think ‘Collective’ isnt under consideration.

          But like the Save the Children Fund they will rush to any local ’emergency’ for fund raising purposes
          What ever happened to them exposing the movie industry government funding? .
          Peter Jackson and the wider Weta group gets about the same money as Radio NZ per year

          Reply
  5. David

     /  29th January 2019

    Why is it the taxpayers union is wrong to take money from a legitimate and legal business but its fine for British American workers to belong to a union that openly funds and supports the Labour Government.
    Tobacco taxes are incredibly regressive and are causing genuine hardship and our smoking rates are pretty much the same as in the US where smokes are a quarter of the price. As a reformed smoker I find these massive tax increases each year as punative, especially to Maori.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  29th January 2019

      you seem to be saying that the Labour Party is not legitimate or legal….therefore it is a big FAIL….go stand in the..corner.

      Reply
      • David

         /  29th January 2019

        Nope, saying that the tobacco industry should be allowed to fund whomever they like as can the union representing tobacco workers and if those unions have legitimate concerns they should be heard with an open mind as should the taxpayers union.
        I donate to the taxpayers union and did it when they were kicking National around, I pay a shed load of tax and its handy having someone around to keep the buggars honest, if the peddlers of poison donate too that is a good thing.

        Reply
        • Duker

           /  29th January 2019

          Why are property flippers like you so concerned about your taxes, yet are prepared to send dosh to lobby group so they can ‘waste it’

          Reply
          • David

             /  29th January 2019

            I paid enough taxes to fund one and a half cabinet ministers last year, I like to keep a close eye on all my expenses or pay someone else too..its my civic duty.

            Reply
            • Blazer

               /  29th January 2019

              you paid for Dr Jiang…don’t worry he raised more than his Parliamentary salary for the Nats….a party of principles….😁

            • Duker

               /  29th January 2019

              heard of Cabinet Club ?
              You now can fund opposition Mps too

        • Duker

           /  29th January 2019

          “if those unions have legitimate concerns they should be heard ”

          Guess who objected to the EPMU registering as an election third party in 2008 election
          Farrar – one of the founder of Taxpayers Union
          https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10524259

          Reply
      • Duker

         /  29th January 2019

        Tobacco TAXES incredibly harmful…
        Looney comment of the year and its still only January

        I hear that Banking is harmful as well , as they carry lots of cash on the premises and some people are addicted to stealing..other peoples money, often by violent means.

        Reply
        • David

           /  29th January 2019

          42% of Maori single mothers smoke and 70% of Maori kids are born out of wedlock, 5% of Pakeha,s smoke.
          Its not an easy habit to quit and I think the excise tax rises should have stopped 3 years ago and a better targeted regime put in place, a race based one if you like.

          Reply
          • Gezza

             /  29th January 2019

            Yes, I think now the annual price rises have by now stopped those for whom price was a major disincentive and all they are doing is hitting the remaining smokers who are so nicotine-dependent they simply can’t stop smoking – or they already would have.

            Reply
            • Duker

               /  29th January 2019

              Its a two pronged strategy -making it too expensive to start and support to stop for those addicted.

            • Gezza

               /  29th January 2019

              Yes, but it always has been Dukers. And I’ve availed myself of that assistance. But for some, it hasn’t worked. Hard core smokers are hard core addicts and will carry on. I was in hospital for 3 days a few years ago and in the next bed to me was an old dude, a pacific islander, who was in there for vascular surgery, pleading – along with his son – for him to be allowed to go downstairs and outside for a cigarette, he was in such distress without them – with the surgeon (curtains closed) called in to tell him his surgery was tomorrow, and that, if he continued to smoke, he would refuse to operate; because he could do so.

              Some people are THAT addicted – I had a very strong addiction to the damn stuff, I could never stay stopped. It could take years for these folk to stop, if ever, And THEY are the ones who are left. Smoking price increases now are just making them poorer.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  29th January 2019

              I used to be a smoker; I stopped when one night I smelled my flat (how could I not have noticed ?) and my clothes (UGHHHHH)

              I did it cold turkey and one day at a time; I could do without a fag for 24 hours.The days became weeks, months, years….

              You can do almost anything for 24 hours; it’s a manageable.time. I read about a man who stopped one cigarette at a time because he knew that he couldn’t stop all at once. He stopped having one first thing, then stopped the one on the way to work and so on….the habit ones are really hard to stop, like the one with coffee in the morning.

              The price increase does seem to be turning people off.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  29th January 2019

            There are plenty of organisations and products to help people to stop, nobody can not know about them. Then there’s the vape….

            Reply
            • Kitty Catkin

               /  29th January 2019

              If anyone wants to stop, I can recommend the 24 hours method; it worked for me.

  6. High Flying Duck

     /  29th January 2019

    I don’t think anyone could argue the Taxpayer’s Union is anything other than a barrel pushing agenda driven organisation which *happens* to have interests in alignment with its largest funders.
    The cries of “we bash National as well” are hollow, given how far to the left National moved in the last 15 – 20 years.
    It’s a shame they delve into the murky waters of paid for lobbying as there is room for a legitimate group to question the increasingly wanton largesse that is Government spending.

    Reply
    • PartisanZ

       /  29th January 2019

      Good comment HFD … but how does a “legitimate group” survive without transgressing some kind of ‘funding ethics’ and being labelled a lobby group?

      Such NGOs already exist, and are inevitably called ‘Left-Wing Activists’ by the Righties …

      Reply
      • High Flying Duck

         /  29th January 2019

        You’re spot on Parti – it is very difficult to separate funding from core activities, especially given the funders will generally be of a like mind, but might want to push things in a slightly off track direction on occasion.
        As PG posts, transparency is a big part of it, although even there, as soon as funding is confirmed from certain sources anything the group has to say is tarnished and disregarded irrelevant of its merits.
        And if the group operates on next to no funding, it is obviously “left wing activists”…

        Reply
  7. PartisanZ

     /  29th January 2019

    Seriously, if the New Zealand Initiative can’t shed its old ‘Business Roundtable’ origins – no matter the calibre of staff – what chance do The Taxpayer’s Union have?

    Reply
  8. Duker

     /  29th January 2019

    Heres a story about some lobbying groups are very good at masking their activities

    DairyNZ launched a campaign late last year called The vision is clear.

    The lobby group described it as a “movement… to encourage and inspire every New Zealander to think about their personal impact on our country’s water quality.”

    It is partly the product of an agreement with Auckland-based NZME., publishers of the NZ Herald and owner of several radio stations, which hosts content produced by DairyNZ on its platforms.

    The campaign shares superficial similarities to Swim Fresh. The Hits radio station is running a competition called Clear Favourite, inviting listeners to submit pictures of their favourite swimming spot for the chance to win a $10,000 holiday.
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/110103636/the-public-relations-war-over-freshwater-has-restarted
    Why go through the TU , when you can get your PR company to pay a media company to run your lobbying disguised as a competition.

    The TU has been ‘disrupted’ as they say and you can bypass the middleman Jordan Williams , but of course some like Tobacco companies wont be able to do such deals with the media directly

    Reply
  9. Gezza

     /  29th January 2019

    After all those embarrassing court cases with his mum there to provide emotional support I’m afraid I just can’t take anything that whiny sooky Jordan Williams says seriously.

    Reply
  10. Rather than try to tarnish the entire Taxpayers Union with one brush, and by its association with one commercial entity assume the most venal motivation behind all their efforts, wouldn’t it be better to discuss their initiatives one by one, pro and con, on individual merit?

    I don’t think they pretend that they aren’t in favor of smaller government…that’s obviously a path to lower taxes. If that puts them centre-right by traditional measures…so what? If you’d like to see less waste and lower levies I don’t think you can find a more professional spokes-group anywhere in New Zealand.

    Reply
    • Duker

       /  29th January 2019

      Oh look at that …a sock puppet supporting the the Tax onion on their first post

      Reply
      • David

         /  29th January 2019

        Calm down Duker, its just unnecessary to just abuse people here because you have different thoughts on a subject. The comment seems reasoned and wasnt provocative.

        Reply
        • Kitty Catkin

           /  29th January 2019

          The Taxpayers’ Union are setting up straw men.

          Who’s fighting for higher taxes, less transparency and more waste ?

          Reply
  11. Tipene

     /  29th January 2019

    If sunlight is indeed the best disinfectant, does it really matter who unscrewing the bottle-cap and drawing back the blinds?

    I’m no fan of Jordan Williams – but the dude IS active, which is a heck of a lot more useful than the slothful indolence of the “bitching and whining” brigade.

    How in the world Williams is managing his personal insolvency amongst all this is beyond me.

    Reply

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