Taxpayers’ Union response to Spinoff apology

Jordan Williams has responded to the Spinoff apology and has demanded answers. There are suggestions of a thick plot here.

Retraction and apology received from the Spinoff

The full retraction and apology by the Spinoff, relating to allegations that were totally false and defamatory, contained in an article by Simon Wilson, and published on the Spinoff website morning, is welcome.

The Spinoff has accepted that the Taxpayers’ Union (including its affiliate the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance) and the three people named in the original article had no role in the distribution of feathers. The Spinoff has apologised for making the allegation and rewritten the article.

We want to know how the Spinoff got this so wrong, and why they didn’t even bother to approach us for comment before publishing.  Both organisations operate 24-hour phone lines for media comment. We couldn’t be more available.

The Spinoff is funded by Auckland Council through its “Heart of the City” lobby group.  We want to be satisfied that the Spinoff was not acting pursuant to the Council’s interest in distracting attention from the finalisation of the Council’s budget.

This suggests there could be a thick plot here.

It’s fair to ask how the incorrect accusation came about.

Taxpayers’ Union denies white feathers

Jordan Williams has emphatically denied the Taxpayers’ Union having anything to do with emailing white feathers or sticking them on councillors doors.

It’s not the sort of story someone is likely to dream up, so there’s some explaining to be done – in the first instance by The Spinoff who made the claim on a story.

The Spinoff has been threatened with defamation action.

Taxpayers’ Union: SPINOFF ARTICLE ON “WHITE FEATHERS” TOTALLY WRONG

The Taxpayers’ Union, its founders Jordan Williams and David Farrar, the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance, and its spokesperson Jo Holmes, totally reject the allegation made on the Spinoff website today that they have sent ‘white feathers’ (either physically or electronically) to Auckland Councillors or have acted in any unethical way in relation to the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance “Ratepayer Protection Pledge” signed by approximately a dozen Auckland Councillors, prior to last year’s elections.

The Spinoff’s publisher and the article’s author have been sent a letter putting them on notice of the defamatory allegation, and unless an apology and full retraction is received prior to 5pm today, advice in relation to filing defamation proceedings will be sought.

Fair enough asking for a retraction and apology, but that’s very heavy handed.

So it’s up to The Spinoff to substantiate or retract.

UPDATE:

UPDATE 2:

The Spinoff has added at the top of their story:

NB: An earlier version of this story attributed the distribution of white feathers to The Taxpayers’ Union, a charge the organisation has since vigourously denied. The Spinoff has since been told that the feathers were in fact distributed anonymously, and accepts that The Taxpayers’ Union had no role in the distribution of the feathers. The story has now been updated to reflect this. The Spinoff apologises to the Taxpayers’ Union, Jordan Williams, David Farrar and Jo Holmes for the error.

And they have updated their story:

First, how nasty can council politics get? Right now, it’s this nasty: councillors who didn’t vote for public consultation on the rates rises have been sent a white feather – as a mark of their “cowardice”.

The Spinoff understands white feathers were anonymously emailed to nine councillors in the form of a certificate, though at least two are said to have received a real feather at their homes.

The strategy comes straight from the playbook of the Tea Party in the US: they don’t bother much with left-leaning politicians, except to abuse them, but prefer to target the centre-right. And it’s predominantly centre-right aligned councillors who are alleged to have received these feathers.

There must be some reason why Simon Wilson at The Spinoff linked the Taxpayers’ Union to the feathers, either in error or he was incorrectly informed. I think an explanation is in order here.

Taxpayers’ Union deliver white feathers – claim

This is looking a bit ugly from the Taxpayers’ Union.

The Spinoff: Threats, legal threats and cowardice: Auckland Council’s budget battle gets nasty

First, how nasty can council politics get? Right now, it’s this nasty: councillors who didn’t accept that the next rates rise should be limited to 2 percent have been sent a white feather – as a mark of their “cowardice”.

The white feathers were emailed to nine councillors in the form of a certificate, by [Deleted – the original post has been edited with an apology for incorrectly linking the taxpayers’ Union to the sending of the white feathers. See Taxpayers’ Union denies white feathers – PG]

The strategy comes straight from the playbook of the Tea Party in the US: they don’t bother much with left-leaning politicians, except to abuse them, but prefer to target the centre-right.

And there are claims it has gone further than emailing.

If true that’s getting quite ugly.

Disagreement and criticism is an important part of politics, but gutless attacks on people’s homes is crossing a dirty line in my opinion.

Even emailing white feathers is borderline at best.

[Update – The Spinoff has accepted they got it wrong about the Taxpayers’ Union being involved and have apologised. This leaves unanswered about who sent the feather emails, who stuck feathers on councillors doors, and why Simon Wilson thought that the Taxpayers’ Union was involved. Was it a false assumption, being given false information or was it a setup?]

Labour mis-using taxpayer money?

First a word of caution. This apparent bust comes from the Taxpayers’ Union, who say they are funded and run independently but those involved in running it have close links to National.

They have put out a media release today claiming that Labour appear to be running the campaign for Labour mayoral candidate in Wellington out of their Parliamentary offices. Non-parliamentary activities and electioneering are forbidden uses of parliamentary funded resources.

The Taxpayer’s Union say they have been leaked this email:

LabourStafferMayoraltyEmail

That suggests that “we” from the Labour’s Party Whips office have produced a campaign video for “our Labour candidate for the Wellington Mayoralty”. It is a least a bad look, and it may breach Parliaments rules.

Labour were warned about misuse of Parliamentary resources earlier this year. The Taxpayers’ Union was also involved there. From Speaker’s Warning To Labour Over Parliamentary Funds:

Some weeks ago Labour sent an email in the name of Paul Chalmers, the Project Manager at Labour House, to Labour’s Auckland supporters detailing how Andrew Little had opened a Auckland office that will be “the centre of the Labour and progressive movement in Auckland and the place to co-ordinate the local government and General Election campaigns.”

The email also called on “like-minded partners” to share office space and other facility resources.

It appears that Andrew Little and his MPs are pooling together taxpayer resources to open a campaign office in central Auckland for the Party and Phil Goff’s campaign for the Auckland mayoralty. Use of taxpayer resources in this way is clearly against the rules.

The Speaker has confirmed that the Parliamentary Service will be monitoring Mr Little’s spending and has written to him setting out the rules for taxpayer funded out-of-Parliament offices.

The letter from the Speaker to Labour begins:

Speaker2Labour1

And concludes:

Speaker2Labour2

That is a very clear warning to Andrew Little. Labour should be well aware of these rules anyway.

MPs campaigning for local body office while paid for by taxpayers is suspect, although it has both potential benefits and disadvantages.

Not surprisingly David Farrar has also posted on this, fairly carefully, at Kiwiblog: Lester’s campaign being run from Parliament?  Farrar is heavily involved with the Taxpayers’ Union.

But regardless of the source this does look quite dodgy from Labour, especially after already being warned by the Speaker.

Given there past actions I presume the Taxpayers’ Union will advise the Speaker about this, but don’t expect significant repercussions – that’s why parties keep flouting Parliamentary rules, because they think they can keep getting away with it.

But this is not just flouting Parliamentary rules. It is flouting democracy, giving some candidates an unfair advantage over others.

Now I don’t know if this refers to the same Lester campaign video:

Wellington mayoral candidates get creative and cringeworthy with online campaign videos

Wellington’s mayoral candidates have taken to social media, releasing online campaign videos to sell their message to voters.

Labour candidate and current deputy mayor Justin Lester takes an active approach attending various community events and has citizens endorse him. Robinson says Justin ticks nearly every box with his video.

“He shows that he is embedded in communities, in a variety of communities and people trust him and people endorse him. While people are talking about him he’s actively engaged in a whole variety of environments.

“You can’t fault this video I would have to say in my 17 years of campaign video watching this is the best campaign video any NZ candidate has ever produced.”

Claire Robinson believes anybody running in an election should follow the lead of Wellington’s candidates and campaigns will continue to evolve with technology.

I don’t know what Robinson would think if Parliamentary resources were used to make the video.

No tax cuts “the right move”

Bill English praised by the Greens? Yep, when he signalled there would be no tax cuts after all this year, and neither next year, election year.

Less surprisingly English was criticised by David Seymour and the Taxpayers’ Union.

ODT (from NZH): Takes on tax adding topsy-turvy twist to Budget 2016

Mr English effectively called off tax cuts for this year and next year.

Instead, he would pay off debt.

The Greens were quick to report Mr English had “made the right move”.

There is some sense in paying off more of the huge amount of debt accumulated over the past decade.

On the face of it, it looked like a broken promise.

National wafted the scent of tax cuts during the 2014 election campaign.

The reasons Mr English gave for changing tack were fiscal.

He traded in tax cuts for debt, for infrastructure spending and for boosts in health and education to help pay for surging population growth.

The stronger reason for scrapping the tax cuts are political.

Tax cuts can be popular, but there was hardly a clamour for them. In 2008, that appetite may have been there.

There was an appetite for tax cuts in 2008 after Michael Cullen had allowed taxes to gradually increase through bracket creep while the Clark government dished out billions of dollars to some people through interest free student loans and Working For Families handouts.

There is less pressure on tax cuts now in part because everyone who has a mortgage or a bank loan is enjoying record low interest rates.

Green finance spokesperson Julie Anne Genter: Taking tax cuts off the table the right move

Taking more tax cuts off the table was the right move for Bill English to make in his pre-Budget speech today, the Green Party said.

“It’s good that the Government has realised that tax cuts aren’t the kind of medicine our economy needs right now,” Green Party finance spokesperson Julie Anne Genter said.

“National’s tax cut bribes have historically benefitted people on high incomes, and come at the expense of fixing problems like child poverty and the housing crisis.

Not everyone is happy. The Taxpayers’ Union said National’s low tax policy was “a sham”.

David Seymour: No tax cuts, no spine

ACT Leader David Seymour is disappointed in the Government’s refusal to cut taxes this or next budget.

“Abolishing corporate welfare would have given the Government an opportunity to cut taxes”, says Mr Seymour.

“Under this Government, corporate welfare has risen to $1.344 billion a year – a cost of $752 per New Zealand household.

“These handouts have included payments for sheep given to a Saudi businessman and a boat-building company owned by the world’s seventh-richest man.

It depends on what is dished out in the budget later this month as to whether voters in general will accept that reducing debt – plus a bit of extra spending – is more important than reducing tax rates.

It could also be that English and John Key are wary of the possible political reaction to tax cuts when tax is a very topical issue. “Tax cuts for the rich” (it’s difficult to cut taxes without including higher earners) is a slogan that is already being aired extensively.

Oh, and what is the Labour reaction? I can’t find anything on their website but I managed to find a tweet:

Bill English flip-flops today on tax cuts worthy of Olympic gym selection, but I’d put money on them being waved about in election campaign.

Nothing about whether Robertson thinks it’s good or not, no analysis, no alternative, just a diss for now and a diss for the future.

Taxpayers’ Union tobacco tax campaign

The Taxpayers’ Union has been strongly criticising the increase in tobacco excise tax that came into effect today.

It looks a little odd to me. Why are they campaigning on an excise tax scheduled in 2012?

Why haven’t they filed a Financial Statement in since 2014?

TOBACCO TAX HIKE: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY

Over the last 12 months we’ve had a number of members who smoke ask us to examine the issue of tobacco taxes.  So to coincide with today’s 10% hike in tobacco excise we’ve released a report examining the issue.

Smokers have become the political punching bag over the decade with the current Government hiking excise taxes nearly every year under the guise of health concerns and to pressure low income New Zealanders to give up the habit.

Our members who smoke often feel as though they are treated as cash cows.

“Our members who smoke often feel as though they are treated as cash cows” is a curious statement.

Our research shows that their concerns are justified, with government tobacco excise income around three times the estimated cost of smoking to our health system.

The report details the effect of tobacco excise increases, the failure of the Government to legalise the sale of healthier alternatives which would minimise harm, and the misuse of taxpayers’ money given to not-for-profits which lobby the government.

The timing of this is also curious. These increases have been set in place for some time – this is the last of four annual increases. From May 2012:

Tobacco excise rise part of wider programme

Tobacco excise taxes will increase by 10 per cent a year on 1 January in each of the next four years as part of a wider government programme to prevent young people from taking up smoking and encourage existing smokers to quit, Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia says.

This will be in addition to the annual inflation-indexed increases in tobacco excise, and follows a 40 per cent increase in excise since April 2010.

Budget 2012 also provides $20 million over the next four years for a new innovation fund, Pathway to Smoke-Free 2025, for programmes to discourage smoking uptake and help more New Zealanders give up.

The excise increases will increase the price of an average pack of 20 cigarettes to more than $20 by 2016.

The Taxpayers’ Union:

Politicians claim higher tobacco taxes are necessary to promote better health, but the Government has prevented the sale of new generation smoking alternatives such as e-cigarettes which are 95% less harmful and are the most popular smoking cessation tool used in England.

Rather than anti-tax this campaign seems more pro products.

While politicians cry crocodile tears about the harms of smoking, they are refusing to allow the sale of healthier alternatives. It appears the only reason is to protect the revenue stream from the taxes on traditional cigarettes.

That’s a very odd claim, based on nothing of substance that I can see. In fact statistics that the ‘revenue stream’ isn’t protected, the smoking rate is decreasing:

  • The current smoking rate (adults who smoke at least monthly) has fallen from 20% in 2006/07 to 17% in 2014/15.
  • The most substantial reduction in current smoking rates is for youth (those aged 15–17 years), for whom the rate has more than halved from 16% in 2006/07 to 6% in 2014/15.

Less younger people smoking means less people becoming addicted. And less people dying of smoking related illnesses.

There was an odd exchange on Twitter two days ago.

‘Stock up on cigarettes before New Year’ – only a waste of space organisation would put out a PR with such a bloody ridiculous statement.

Are you seriously suggesting that we shouldn’t remind smokers that taxes are going up on new year’s day?

No, I’m seriously suggesting you shouldn’t encourage people to stock up on cigarettes. Think about it.

The poor are the least likely to respond to tax hikes. ie. families, go without.


Fine, you could have said all of that and not bothered with the stock up comments – that was unnecessary nonsense.


Might as well just say ‘hey taxpayers, go kill yourselves’.

I can’t find the original that initiated this.

Is there really a strong enough call from smokers who are members of the Taxpayers’ Union to justify doing a report on excise taxes that were scheduled in 2012?

Who are the members of the Taxpayers’ Union?

The Executive Director and PR pusher is Jordan Williams – I wonder if he is a smoker. They also list a Campaigns Coordinator (Ben Craven) and a Research Fellow (Jim Rose).

I presume it costs a significant amount to run.

We are New Zealanders who have formed a union to stand up for hardworking New Zealand taxpayers. We represent the common interests of all taxpayers. We want to become New Zealand’s largest union.

No, they don’t represent the common interests of all taxpayers. I can’t see any claim about how many members they have, nor how many smoking members who feel like cash cows.

We are not a political party, and we don’t represent big business or special interests. When we launched all of our donations were from individuals. Joining the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union only takes a few minutes and costs $5.

“When we launched all of our donations were from individuals” is meaningless. When they launched (after they launched) they sought members and donations.

But they also say in their Q & A:

WHO’S FUNDING THE NEW ZEALAND TAXPAYERS’ UNION?

The Taxpayers’ Union is independent and funded by individual members and supporters who are New Zealand taxpayers.  The vast majority of funding has been from private individuals.

We are of course happy to accept donations from businesses, organisations and members of the public who support our objectives and activities.

Forgive me for being a bit suspicious of what appears to look a lot like a lobbying campaign for tobacco related products.

As an incorporated society, the Taxpayers’ Union must file annual accounts with the Registrar of Incorporated Societies. 

That means we will be more transparent about our income and spending than most political parties.

They have filed annual accounts once, in September 2014.

TaxpayersUnionDocuments

This shows that as at 31 December 2013 they had received ‘Donations and annual subscriptions’ of $66,329.095 (the Financial Statement shows the amount exactly like that). They also show the median donation as $25 and an average donation of $520.

Their income transparency seems to be lagging. I’ve checked a number of other registered associations and unions and they have filed annual accounts this year.

The Taxpayers’ Union tobacco campaign looks quite odd to me. I think there should be more transparency, more specifics and less general waffle that sounds like product lobbying.

UPDATE: As kiwidave pointed out the safety of e-cigarettes has been questioned.

Taxpayers Union: “the Government has prevented the sale of new generation smoking alternatives such as e-cigarettes which are 95% less harmful”:

NZ Herald today: E-cigarettes safety questioned

Using e-cigarettes is no safer than smoking tobacco with nicotine, scientists warned after finding the vapour damages DNA and could cause cancer.

Researchers at the University of California created an extract from the “smoke” of e-cigarettes and used it to treat human cells in a laboratory.

The exposed cells developed DNA damage and died far sooner than untreated ones.

Nicotine-free e-cigarettes caused 50 per cent more DNA strand breaks; for those with nicotine, the damage rose three-fold in eight weeks.

Dr Jessica Wang-Rodriguez, professor of pathology at the university in San Diego, said: “Our study strongly suggests that electronic cigarettes are not as safe as their marketing makes them appear. E-cigarettes on the whole have something to do with increased cell death. Based on the evidence to date I believe they are no better than smoking.”

 

 

The Taxpayers’ Union

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.”

I agree.

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.

Fisher:

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.

TaxpayersUnion

Kelsey wins OIA battle in court against Government

In her fight against the Trans Pacific Partnership Jane Kelsey has battled Minister of Trade Tim Groser for the release of information under the Official Information Act. When Groser used a blanket refusal Kelsey and others took it to court, and the High Court has just ruled that Groser treated her applications improperly.

The full court ruling is here (PDF).

Summary of judgement:

[1] The applicants have sought judicial review of a decision of the Minister of Trade (the Minister) in which he refused to release to Professor Kelsey official information contained in eight categories of documents she requested under the Official Information Act 1982 (the Act). The information requested by Professor Kelsey concerns material associated with negotiations that have led to a multi-lateral free trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP Agreement).

[2] When the Minister refused Professor Kelsey’s request, neither he nor his officials assessed each piece of information requested against the criteria in the Act for withholding official information. Instead, the Minister adopted a “blanket approach” to the request based upon his knowledge of the categories of documents requested by Professor Kelsey. I have concluded this approach did not comply with the Act.

[3] The applicants have applied for a series of declarations concerning the lawfulness of the Minister’s approach and the meaning of specific provisions of the Act.

[4] Rather than issue specific declarations I have quashed the Minister’s decision in relation to six of the categories of documents requested by Professor Kelsey. I explain in this judgment the aspects of Professor Kelsey’s request which have to be reconsidered. When the Minister reconsiders his decision he will be required to do so in a way that is consistent with his obligations under the Act, which I explain in this judgment.

This is a significant win for Kelsey and co over OIAs. There seems to be growing Government arrogance over and misuse of Official Information requests, and this is a prime example.

Some have tried to make more of this than a good victory over the OIA. For example:

Hey righties: Tell us more about how Jane Kelsey is a fake academic who doesn’t actually know a damn thing about trade agreements or the law

While this shows that Kelsey knows how to use the law to win battles, , and justifiably in this case, this does nothing to support her anti-trade and anti-TPPA stance.

What do righties think?

Matthew Hooton mixing it up with the Standardistas:

On this issue, congratulations Jane Kelsey. With it comes to OIA compliance, each government since Muldoon’s (which passed the Act) has been worse than the one before, and the slide risks continuing until the Act becomes a total irrelevance.

This is a good shot across the government’s bow that it has to comply with the law, and hopefully it will be part of encouraging a behaviour change.

Sadly, I doubt it though, and I think the OIA needs to be fully reviewed, reformed and modernised, including adding penalties for breaking it. This may also be a start for a push towards that.

I have been a big user of the OIA for many years and it would take months to get ministers in the last government to comply with the law. Now it is many more months, rolling in some cases into years. It seems each government tries to outdo the one before in terms of abusing this particular Act.

The Taxpayers’ Union put out this media release:

TAXPAYERS’ UNION TIP CAP TO JANE KELSEY

The Taxpayers’ Union is welcoming the decision of Justice Collins allowing the judicial review of the Minister of Trade’s decision not to allow access to information requested by Jane Kelsey and others relating to the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiation. 

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director, Jordan Williams, says:

“This is a significant victory for freedom of information and an embarrassment for the Office of the Ombudsman which has been shown up as lacking. Every day, groups from the Taxpayers’ Union to Greenpeace along with public lawyers and political journalists are hampered by a freedom of information system which is being gamed by the government.”

“For years the Ombudsman’s office has complained that the problems are due to a lack of funding. In reality, the number of appeals relating to the Official Information Act has snowballed because government agencies and politicians know that the Ombudsman is a toothless tiger.”

“Even when cases arise of officials completely gaming the system, the Ombudsman’s office won’t publicly condemn them for their actions.”

“Agencies are able to delay the Ombudsman’s investigations without consequence. As a public lawyer I once acted for a whistle-blower client who lost his job in the public sector while waiting more than two years for the Ombudsman to made a decision that never eventuated.”

“While Jane Kelsey and the Taxpayers’ Union are probably on opposite ends of most political spectrum, we absolutely commend her efforts in taking this judicial review and the victory for freedom of information and transparency. Ironically, while the High Court has been able to produce a decision the Ombudsman is still yet to determine the rest of Ms Kelsey’s original complaint.”

This is an important issue related to democracy, the legal obligations of Government and transparency.

It is good to see that it isn’t a partisan issue and Kelsey hasn’t just been attacked by political opponents, she has rightly and leftly been applauded for an important win that affects all of us.

Kelsey’s views on the TPPA and international trade are an entirely different matter.

Beehive salaries versus total costs

A narrow and misleading article on ‘rising salaries’ in ministerial offices plus a kneejerk reaction from a supposed Government spending watchdog, Taxpayers’ Union, who was contradicted by one of their founders.

Sunday Star Times have an article on increasing staff salaries in Ministerial offices in the Beehive – More than a third of officials in the Beehive now take home six figure salaries.

Staff working in the Beehive have pocketed healthy pay increases since National took office, with more than a third now earning six figure salaries.

Official figures show that the average salary of Ministerial Services staff working in the offices of Ministers hit $93,298, an increase if more than 5 per cent over 2014.

They chart the increases:

BeehiveSalaries

That looks like rampant increases.

Since coming to Government, National has pledged restraint in the public sector.

However a public sector representative questioned whether the same message was being felt by those doing the bidding of National ministers.

Same message – unrestrained increases.

Jordan Williams, executive director of the Taxpayers’ Union said most of the staff in the Beehive were “of a secretarial support” nature.

“It seems extraordinary to us that [they] are remunerating so well, and that the salaries are so top heavy,” Williams said.

“With more than one third of the Beehive support staff earning more than $100,000 it appears being a spin doctor or political advisor is a surefire way to the big bucks without being responsible for the decisions.”

A right wing spending watchdog is also critical.

But David Farrar, who is closely involved with the Taxpayers’ Union, points out at Kiwiblog in Ministerial staff costs:

What I’m interested in, as a taxpayer, is how much more, if any, we are paying for the running of ministerial office. This would have been useful, even vital, information for the story. And it took around 15 minutes to find out from Treasury documents.

The 2015 budget allocated $25.842 million for ministerial support services. In 2008/09 the cost of ministerial support services was $30.375 million. So in fact spending on ministerial offices has dropped 14.9% in seven years. That is what I call restraint.

Also the cost of VIP transport has stayed constant – in fact down 0.1% from 2008/09.

And ministerial travel has gone up just 3.1% over seven years. Well under inflation.

So actually overall, pretty good spending restraint.

So while salaries have risen overall costs of ministerial offices has gone down.

This looks like poor reporting by SST, and the Taxpayers’ Union look likke they have jumped into a kneejerk reaction without considering what should be vital information when comparing cost trends of running Ministerial offices.

Mathers story seems odd

Just about everything about the story about the Mojo Mathers seems odd – see Taxpayer Union versus Mojo Mathers (the story has developed since then).

Summary

There was an article in the Herald on Sunday by Patrice Dougan about deaf Green MP Mojo Mathers that asked more questions than it answered.

Mathers is a very unlikely and unwise target for a petty political attack regarding MP travel when many questions could be asked about use and possible misuse of travel.

Jordan Williams of the Taxpayers’ Union poorly answered questions put to him by the HoS but he denies initiating the issue and he went into damage control quickly.

David Farrar, also involved with the Taxpayers’ Union, had no apparent involvement until making a late comment on Facebook, and posted nothing on Kiwiblog.

Through the day a number of Greens, including co-leader Russel Norman and communications director Andrew Campbell, kept trying to link John Key and National to the attack on Mathers.

Blogger Danyl Maclachlan (who’s partner works in the Green communication team) posts twice making serious accusations about funding of the Taxpayers’ Union and links with the TU and National and reacts aggressively when confronted.

There was no apparent involvement of Labour with no post and from what I can see no mention of this at all on The Standard (very unusual for something like this). Grant Robertson jumped on the bandwagon late yesterday.

The first question asked by the Herald remains unanswered – who asked it in the first place?

The Article

It started with an article in the Herald on Sunday this morning. It was odd. It was by Patrice Dougan – not a name commonly seen associated with political stories. It began:

Questions are being asked about a taxpayer-funded trip for deaf MP Mojo Mathers to be interviewed on a small provincial radio station.

It then detailed Mathers’ trip to Masterton, and quoted her explanation. It then said she “did not know the cost of the trip” but then provided a detailed cost estimate.

It then closed with:

The Taxpayers Union questioned whether it was value for money.

“It’s amazing that she has so little to do with her time to actually travel to a community radio that probably has as many listeners as you can count on your hand,” director Jordan Williams said.

“The only silver lining is that the time spent travelling to go on the station in the middle of nowhere is less time spent dreaming up new ways to spend tax payers money.”

Much criticism of Williams and the Taxpayers’ Union ensued. But Williams later claimed that he didn’t initiate the story or ask any questions, the Herald cam to him and asked him for comment.

Back to the opening sentence – “Questions are being asked about…” – who asked questions? That wasn’t answered, but it was implied that it had been the Taxpayers Union.

Green indignation

Social media was buzzing with Green indignation and criticism through the day. Much of it was the usual sort of quick reactions common when something controversial and potentially damaging politically.

But there were some unusual Green reactions as well.

@RusselNorman
The National Party’s ally doesn’t want Mojo speaking at a rural disability event. Seriously?

John Hart@farmgeek 
If you had any doubt the @TaxpayersUnion is a right-wing attack organ…

@RusselNorman
Whaleoil, Kiwiblog, Taxpayers Union, John Key. The four legs of the National Party attack dog.

Except Whale Oil and Kiwiblog do not appear to have been involved in this story. Slater reacted late in the morning – he is likely to break stories he is involved with. And Farrar was away on a walk for most of the day and still hasn’t posted on Kiwiblog about it (he covered it on his Facebook page late this afternoon).

@louise_bee
@RusselNorman
Interesting that they’re going after the Greens so much. They must consider you a bigger threat than Labour.

It’s common to see Greens talking up their importance like this when a scandal breaks, there was a lot of it during the Turei jacket episode.

@Andr3wCampbell 

Really glad @mojomathers gets out to rural communities to talk to people with disabilities. National’s attack petty.

@nzheraldnznews are people with disabilities in rural communities questioning the trip? Or just a @NZNationalParty aligned operative?

in actual news @JordNZ, here is a real story on tax payer spending @NZGreens uncovered whole you were chasing $500.

I think Andrew Geddis sums up the National Party attack on @mojomathers pretty well here http://pundit.co.nz/content/lets-all-pick-on-the-deaf-girl …

Andrew is “Aotearoa New Zealand Green Party Communications Director”.

Repeatedly linking National to the story and to the Taxpayers’ Union.

Support act

Danyl Mclauclan used to be an accomplished satirist at his Dim-Post blog, but he has evolved into a usually occasional political commentator/activist. Unusually he posted twice today, both on this topic.

Another question for the Taxpayer Union

Here’s my question for the Taxpayer’s Union and the journalists who run their copy. How much of the revenue of the various companies, consultancies and law firms run by the founders and directors of this ‘union’ is taxpayer funded? Given the individuals involved – eg Jordan Williams, David Farrar – I’d be shocked if the taxpayers were paying less than a million dollars a year to the people involved in this organisation who run around planting attack stories against opposition parties.

And:

Slightly more thoughts on the Taxpayers’ Union

Here’s how I’m guessing this works. The (taxpayer funded) opposition researchers in the National Party find a smear story they like. They pitch it to an editor at the Herald and – because they can’t provide comment themselves for obvious reasons, such as John Key’s taxpayer funded golf game – they say, ‘Call Jordan Williams at the Taxpayers’ Union and he’ll give you comment.’

So, that’s sort-of how political media works.

That sounds odd too, as if he is trying pin something on an opponent. Danyls insists he isn’t a Green but has been open about the fact that his partner works in the Green communications team.

I suggested to him on Twitter that “As much chance that #NZGreens could be playing this game as easily as @NZNationalParty are? Party and surrogates could be spinning?”

He usually ignores me but this time responded:

When is the last time you saw me quoted in a media story, vegetable?

And to a tweet from someone else:

Where did you get the idea that I was a member of the Green Party or shared their values? Fuck off lick-spittles.

That’s uncharacteristic and could suggest some sensitivity.

Labour’s involvement

What’s most notable about Labour’s involvement was the absence of any. The Standard didn’t post on it and remarkably there seems to be absolutely no comment on the most talked about political issue of the day.

Grant Robertson joined the issue very late, 8.36 pm last night, with a single tweet.

@grantrobertson1
Lets be clear Jordan Williams and his so called Taxpayers Union are simply a right wing political front. They should be reported as such.

Labour to have been right out of this loop

National’s involvement

Tau Henare tweeted early in support of Mathers…

@tauhenare
@mojomathers
Dear Mojo, tell these self serving pricks to go find something else to do. You are doing your job. #Endofstory

…and reacted to accusations later:

@Andr3wCampbell So which Nat MP supports the outrageous attack on a fellow MP?

@iamjordanking @JudithCollinsMP Ok bro so there are NO #NatMPs involved as far as we know. Just tell the truth FGS

@Andr3wCampbell And where’s the answer to my question. What MPs belong to #TPU? Answer the blinking question!

This is the face of the @NZGreens Coms Director. 1 He said #NatMPs were involved in the #TPU Debacle. Nope 2. dear #TPU, thanks for nothing.

The @NZGreens Coms Director. 1 He said #NatMPs were involved in the #TPU Debacle. Nope,Liar pic.twitter.com/W7eFU7SNcI

@iamjordanking @JudithCollinsMP Shutup you backed the greens Coms director, he said it, you tried to support him! U got caught, you deny it

@iamjordanking @JudithCollinsMP and BTW don’t woah me. Your supposition isn’t the point. There are no MPs and it’s not Nat party apparatus.

@iamjordanking @JudithCollinsMP I have no raw nerves, your mates lied and you over cooked it. Our MPs wld be outrAged at #TPU stupidity.

Judith Collins was only briefly drawn into it.

@JudithCollinsMP

@tauhenare: @Andr3wCampbell So which Nat MP supports the outrageous attack on a fellow MP?”Tau, you can’t expect the Left to tell the truth

Where does this leave it?

I’ve seen many attempted political hit jobs in media and online and this looks quite different to normal. There’s no sign David Farrar was involved and Jordan Williams did not appear to be pushing the story, to the contrary, he tried to retreat from it. He said it was “a hard lesson learned.”

It looks like a job done by people who are not practiced in the dark arts of politics.

While it’s possible it was opportunist reaction to the story Green leadership and their communications team were actively pushing a wider story, trying to taint the Taxpayers’ Union and also trying to smear National and Act.

But this currently left where it started in the Herald article – “Questions are being asked about …” – what questions? And who asked them?

We know who kept asking questions through the day, but we can’t be sure who put the question to the Herald in the first place.

The Herald is based in Auckland. It reported on a minor trip to Masterton by a Christchurch MP with a low profile. And it’s primary question seems to have deliberately implied something mischievous without answering the question.

There is something very odd about this story.