Activist group Action Station have commissioned and used a poll as a part of their campaign on tax and foreign trust issues – good on them for pushing for better tax and trust laws, but their polling and publicising are slanted.
The Herald reported on a UMR poll conducted for Action Station:
Panama Papers: Majority of Kiwis ‘concerned’ about New Zealand’s new reputation
Pressure over the Panama Papers on the Government is rising after a poll showed a majority of New Zealanders were concerned about the country’s new reputation as a tax haven.
A poll by UMR Research, conducted for activist group ActionStation, showed 57 per cent of respondents were “concerned” about New Zealand being a tax haven and the misuse of our foreign trust regime for tax evasion purposes. Just 23 per cent said they were “not concerned” about the issue.
ActionStation spokeswoman Marianne Elliot said the results of the poll spoke for themselves.
“A majority of New Zealanders are concerned that sloppy trust laws, left open by the current and former governments, have allowed the world’s rich to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Most New Zealanders are not satisfied with the Government’s current response,” Elliot said.
But the poll didn’t determine that a majority of New Zealanders thought that. Elliot has embellished the poll results with her own phrases.
Has Matt Nippert misquoted Elliot? No, he appears to have cut and pasted her words from an Action Station press release Poll shows Govt seen to be handling tax haven issue “poorly” apart from removing the first part:
ActionStation spokesperson Marianne Elliott says: “The polling shows that like ActionStation members, a majority of New Zealanders are concerned that sloppy trust laws, left open by the current and former governments, have allowed the world’s rich to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Most New Zealanders are not satisfied with the Government’s current response.”
Nippert also reported:
The UMR poll, of 750 people between April 14 and 18 and with a margin of error of 3.6 per cent, also asked respondents how they thought the Government had handled the fallout from the Panama Papers and whether they thought the review of foreign trusts by former PWC chairman John Shewan, was an adequate response.
Again that looks to be picked out of the press release. But there was a PDF attached that shows what was actually asked in the poll.
Using a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 means very concerned and 5 means not concerned at all, how concerned are you about New Zealand being a tax haven with foreign trusts being used by people overseas for tax evasion purposes?
- Concerned (1+2) 57%
- Neutral (3+ Unsure) 20%
- Not concerned (4+5) 23%
Elliot portrayed this as 57% versus 23% – excluding 20% stated in the poll as ‘neutral/unsure’. Being neutral could mean unconcerned.
But worse is the loading of the question. It refers to New Zealand ‘being a tax haven with foreign trusts being used by people overseas for tax evasion purposes’ but this is a disputed accusation and unproven.
The second question:
Now, using a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 means very well and 5 means very poorly, how do you think the New Zealand government is dealing with the problem of New Zealand being a tax haven with foreign trusts being used by people overseas for tax evasion purposes?
- Handling well (1+2) 21%
- Neutral (3+ Unsure) 33%
- Handling poorly (4+5) 46%
This is an even more loaded question stating that there is a problem of New Zealand being a tax haven and is used for tax evasion purposes.
The third question:
As you may be aware the government has appointed John Shewan, former chair of PricewaterhouseCoopers, to review New Zealand’s foreign trusts laws. Do you think that this is an adequate response to the foreign trusts issue or do you think a full public independent enquiry is needed?
- An adequate response 31%
- A full public independent inquiry is needed 52%
- Neither/unsure 17%
As well as this question implying that John Shewan’s inquiry may not be be full or independent it (Action Station) chooses to describe Shewan as “former chair of PricewaterhouseCoopers”.
They chose not to describe Shewan as:
- one of the “leading tax practitioners” at PWC over 28 years,
- nor that after that he was “an adjunct professor of accountancy at Victoria University” since then,
- nor that he “has been appointed by Labour and National-led governments to official bodies looking into tax”,
- nor that he served an appointment to the Tax education Office for 9 years,
- nor that he was part of the Tax Working Group that advised the Government in 2009,
- nor that he is “an established commentator on tax and policy matters,
- nor that he has been involved also in a number of high-profile tax cases”.
Source Radio NZ: Who is John Shewan?
Action Station asked the questions they wanted to, got the results that they wanted, Elliot embellished the results with her own phrases, and Nippert seems to have simply quoted her press release.
Before having this poll done Action Station had already decided their stance – see New Zealand is a Tax Haven. Prime Minister, this needs to change.
All this media attention has created an opportunity for change by exposing New Zealand’s role in endorsing international tax dodging. We need to move quickly to seize this opportunity and call for real change, making sure the message that our trust laws need to be reformed is at the centre of the debate.
So sign the petition now calling for our government to close the loopholes that allow the world’s rich to escape paying their fair share in tax by using foreign trusts in New Zealand. We do not want New Zealand to be a tax haven for the world’s wealthiest 1%.
This is how Action Station describes themselves:
ActionStation is here to help defend our common goals; a fair society, a healthy environment and accountable politics through effective online issues-based campaigning.
They should be held accountable too, in this case for using questionable poll practices and then misrepresenting the results as a part of their campaign.
I’m all for questioning whether our tax and trust laws and practices are good enough. I look forward to the result of Shewan’s inquiry.
But I think a fair society needs fair campaigning on issues, and fair use of polling in campaigning.