The Trough Monitor: where did the politicians spend our money this week?

The Trough Monitor at Point of Order keeps an eye on how taxpayers’ money is being invested, spent, given away or squandered by the Ardern Government.

Ministers typically get a warm glow from announcing spending decisions, grants or the establishment of new troughs within the authority of their portfolios – and from providing photo opportunities to promote themselves.

Troughers aren’t the only recipients, it’s fair to say.  But separating prudent spending – the sort which all taxpayers expect from a good government – from the more questionable sort can be very much a matter of opinion. We’ll leave it to readers to decide.

One new trough has been opened for the rural sector – the $40m a year Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures fund.

Other spending is portended, such as the legislation to establish a Criminal Case Review Commission and a report which recommends Māori be given more influence in biodiversity matters.

But the biggie this week is the portent of costs up to $2bn to raise the standards of wastewater treatment plants that discharge into rivers and lakes across the country.

This post was updated on 29 October to include an item we didn’t spot earlier, related to the planning and building of a new new Multi-Use Arena in Christchurch.

Here’s what we spotted on the Beehive website …

23 OCTOBER 2018

Top primary sector employers shortlisted

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announced the finalists in the first Primary Industries Good Employer Awards.

The awards were announced in June by former Associate Agriculture Minister Meka Whaitiri, who said they recognised outstanding primary industry employers and those that provide services to the primary industries. They are sponsored by the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Agricultural and Marketing Research Development Trust.

The winners will be announced at Parliament in Wellington on 27 November. The finalists are named in the press statement here.

23 OCTOBER 2018

Working together to make Southland carbon neutral

A statement in the names of Environment Minister James Shaw and Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage announced a $190,000 grant from the Government’s Community Environment Fund for a Carbon Neutral Advantage project intended to help facilitate Southland’s transition to a carbon-neutral region.

Over the next three years Venture Southland aims to measure, assess, and take steps to reduce the region’s emissions. The project will establish a regional carbon-neutral framework, create a local carbon measurement tool, identify and set carbon reduction targets, and conduct a feasibility study for a regional carbon financial tool.

Funding from the Government’s Community Environment Fund is traditionally given to projects that strengthen environmental partnerships, raise environmental awareness and encourage participation in environmental initiatives in the community.  The fund has provided $10m to more than 90 projects since 2010.

More information about this trough can be found here and there’s more information about the Carbon Neutral Advantage project here.

24 OCTOBER 2018

$770,000 to maintain the quality of Great Rides

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis announced a further $770,000 is being invested in the regions for the upkeep of 11 Great Rides of Nga Haerenga, the New Zealand Cycle Trail.  The investment comes from the ninth round of the Maintaining the Quality of Great Rides Fund, which aims to ensure New Zealand’s premier rides are maintained to their current world class standard.

The trails to receive funding are:

  • Motu Trails Charitable Trust: Motu Trail – $28,573
  • Queenstown Trails Trust: Queenstown Trails – $23,247
  • Hauraki Rail Trail Charitable Trust: Hauraki Rail Trail – $67,490
  • Mokihinui-Lyell Backcountry Trust: Old Ghost Road – $22,637
  • Bike Taupo Inc: Great Lake Trail – $26,575
  • WREDA: Remutaka Cycle Trail – $56,000
  • Alps to Ocean Joint Committee: A2O Cycle Trail – $28,045
  • Southland District Council: Around the Mountains Cycle Trail – $116,050
  • Otago Central Rail Trail Charitable Trust: Otago Central Rail Trail – $41,700
  • Nelson City Council: Dun Mountain Trail – $145,488
  • Westland District Council: West Coast Wilderness Trail – $213,563

24 OCTOBER 2018

Minister welcomes Activity Centres report

Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin welcomed a report showing activity centres are continuing to successfully keep at-risk students in education.  This isn’t an announcement of new funding – rather, it aims to assure us Government funding is being well spent.

The Education Review Office’s report into activity centres concluded they were achieving ‘positive outcomes’ for their students. It rated ten of the 14 centres as ‘mostly positive’ or ‘highly effective’.

Martin said this showed significant improvement from the previous evaluation, and reinforceed the view that early intervention with students with specialist support and services really gets results

Only one centre, Te Kura o Waipuna, received the lowest rating and is now closed.

Activity centres are funded by the Ministry of Education but managed by individual schools.

There are centres at Herne Bay, Otahuhu, Papakura, Rotorua, Gisborne, Hastings, Napier, Spotswood, Palmerston North, Porirua, Hutt Valley, Wellington, Dunedin and Invercargill.

More information can be found here and a link to the report is here.

24 OCTOBER 2018

Counting the costs of safe, clean water

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta portended big spending when she released a report which builds a picture of looming potential costs as the Government seeks to ensure safe drinking water and better environmental performance of the country’s wastewater infrastructure.

The GHD-Boffa Miskell report – Cost estimates for upgrading wastewater treatment plants to meet objectives of the NPS Freshwater – is part of the Three Waters Review.  It suggests raising the standards of wastewater treatment plants that discharge into rivers and lakes across the country could cost up to $2 billion.

This does not include the costs of upgrading infrastructure for discharging to beaches and coastal environments, nor the unknown but potentially even higher costs of preventing wastewater pollution on beaches and in urban environments through stormwater overflows.

We already know that the cost of infrastructure upgrades to meet drinking water standards is in the region of $500m,” Mahuta said.

Putting this together with considerations such as increasing tourism numbers and protecting our clean green image, the infrastructure requirements associated with population growth, changing consumer expectations, climate change and the need to build in resilience against natural disasters “suggests a significant funding challenge ahead for councils and communities.’’

Cost estimates for upgrading wastewater treatment plants to meet objectives of the NPS Freshwater, and a context statement for the report can be read here

24 OCTOBER 2018

2018 Arts Pasifika Awards celebrate wealth of talent

The Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage and Pacific Peoples, Carmel Sepuloni, congratulated winners at the annual Creative New Zealand Arts Pasifika Awards, held at Parliament.

The awards acknowledge established and emerging artists across a range of disciplines including art, music, writing, dance and drama, in the Pasifika community.

Award winners are named here.  The press statement made no mention of public costs.

25 OCTOBER 2018

Ballot opens for the first Waikato KiwiBuild homes

Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford announced the ballot will open next week for the first KiwiBuild homes to be built in the Waikato.

The first 10 KiwiBuild homes to be balloted at the Lakeside development in Te Kauwhata are two-bedroom modern standalone homes, all fully landscaped with off-street parking and a home appliance package. They are priced at $480,000 each, well under the KiwiBuild price caps.

Initial works are already under way and construction of these 10 KiwiBuild homes will be completed by Christmas next year.   The ballot for them opens on Monday.

Twyford said there will be 175 KiwiBuild homes in this development, and complements wider central and local government investment in infrastructure in and around Te Kauwhata.

In July he confirmed $38m of 10-year interest-free loans to Waikato District Council to support major infrastructure projects around Te Kauwhata to enable the building of more houses.

25 OCTOBER 2018

Tackling invasive wilding pines

Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor gave an update on spending on the elimination of wilding conifers, the country’s number one weed, but more work is needed [spending, too, obviously] he told the New Zealand Wilding Conifer Group annual conference at Omarama.

The National Wilding Conifer Control Programme has now treated half a million hectares of land and searched a further million hectares for outliers, with 40,000 hectares of dense and moderate infestation removed. This means control work has been completed on more than a oquarter of affected land.

Priority areas will be targeted across another 150,000 hectares in Canterbury, Otago, Southland, Marlborough and the Central North Island.

The Government has spent $12.4m on wilding conifer control, with $5.8m from other parties. By 2030 the programme aims to have contained or eradicated all wilding conifers.

The programme is led by the Ministry for Primary Industries and is supported by the Department of Conservation, Land Information New Zealand, NZ Defence Force, NZ Transport Agency, local government, forestry and farming industries, iwi groups, landowners, researchers and community organisations.

You can learn more here.

25 OCTOBER 2018

Public views sought on whitebait

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage is inviting everyone with an interest in whitebait [that’s most of us, surely]  to share their views on whitebait management in an online survey and/or at drop-in sessions around the country.  Drop-in sessions throughout the country, too, will help the Department of Conservation to gather views from a wide range of people and answer their questions about whitebait.

A Whitebait Working Group has been formed involving people with expertise in fisheries and species management, ecology, habitat restoration, commercial and recreational fishing, and mātauranga Māori to help develop an issues and options document.

DOC will include public feedback from the online survey and drop-in sessions, along with the views of the Whitebait Working Group and iwi, in a report outlining the issues and options for the future of whitebait management.

Visit DOC’s website for the whitebait survey and FAQs here.

The costs of this exercise were not mentioned.

25 OCTOBER 2018

Indigenous Biodiversity report released

Associate Environment Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced a new report recommending improvements to biodiversity management will build on communities’ good work to protect our biodiversity.

The Report of the Biodiversity Collaborative Group outlines a draft National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity and provides complementary recommendations, to help halt the decline in biodiversity.

The report hints at greater funding – or iwi demands for more funding – by recommending greater recognition of Te Ao Māori in decision making and making provision for Hutia to Rito, a concept “that recognises the broader connections between the health of indigenous biodiversity, the environment and people”.

A copy of the Biodiversity Collaborative Group’s report can be found here.

25 OCTOBER 2018

Criminal Case Review Commission Bill passes first reading

Justice Minister Andrew Little’s Bill establishing a Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) passed its First Reading in Parliament.

The CCRC – obviously to be publicly funded – will be an independent body which reviews convictions and sentences where there is a suspected miscarriage of justice. It can refer cases back to the appeal courts but it does not determine guilt or innocence. The CCRC will replace the referral power currently exercised by the Governor-General under section 406 of the Crimes Act 1961.

The Bill is now with the Justice Select Committee where members of the public can make submissions.

A copy of the Bill is available here.

26 OCTOBER 2018

Food and fibre fund open for agribusiness

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announced the value of New Zealand’s food and fibre sectors is set to grow as a primary sector investment fund opens for business.

Proposals for the $40m a year Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures fund must demonstrate they will deliver benefits beyond the applicants to wider New Zealand, such as creating new high-value jobs in rural communities.

O’Connor said this trough “provides a single gateway for farmers, growers and organisations to seek investment in projects that help our economic engine move from volume to value”.

Go here to get a taste of what’s available. 

26 OCTOBER 2018

A new, safe cycleway for West Aucklanders

Transport Minister Phil Twyford opened the new cycleway in New Lynn, a $2.2m project that provides an off-road cycleway on Seabrook Avenue and (he said) improves four local intersections between Willerton Avenue and the New Lynn train station and town centre. It includes new bike parking racks, upgraded street lighting and new signage.

The NZ Transport Agency is investing $390m in walking and cycling over the next three years through the National Land Transport Programme, a $96m increase on the previous three years.

Twyford said $260m of the funding is going to cycling and walking facilities in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch “where it can have the greatest impact on congestion by improving connections and making active travel safer”.

26 OCTOBER 2018

Wellington’s Newtown community celebrates new $8.9m teaching block

Education Minister Chris Hipkins joined Newtown School staff, students and community as they celebrated the formal opening of a teaching block.

The earthquake-prone main teaching block at the Wellington school was demolished in 2012. The new building provides 14 new, flexible teaching spaces.

A cost of $8.9m cost was mentioned in the press statement headline but not in the text.

26 OCTOBER 2018

Community workshops begin on Canterbury Arena – $220 million Crown funding earmarked

Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Megan Woods announced the start of a series of community workshops with local sporting codes, businesses and the entertainment sector to co-design the city’s new Multi-Use Arena – the first of the workshops was held on Friday – after the Government earmarked $220 million of funding for the arena project.

The Government has put $300m on the table to speed up the city’s recovery, $220 of it earmarked at the city council’s request for the new arena.

A full investment case will be developed to ensure the project is well designed and stacks up financially. The workshops will ensure the business case is strong. Early construction work will begin in 2021, if all goes well.

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