The trough monitor: where did the politicians spend our money this week?

Point of Order is keeping an eye on how taxpayers’ money is being invested, spent or given away 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.

On the other hand, not all spending is announced in press statements.

Newshub this week revealed a blow-out in the cost of developing the Māori-Crown Relations portfolio blew out by more than $50,000.

We learned that Māori-Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis attended 33 ‘engagement hui’ across the country between March and June 2018 at a cost of $282,591 – $51,380 more than originally budgeted.

The hui were designed to get the views of New Zealanders on how the Māori-Crown relationship should be strengthened. Demand for more meetings meant eight extra hui were added.

Official documents obtained by Newshub showed the cost covers koha, venues, equipment, catering, travel and accommodation, hui facilitators as well as communications and advertising.

The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union said the budget blowout shows the danger of taxpayer-funded ‘hui’ and koha payments.

“Calling a meeting a ‘hui’ shouldn’t be an excuse for lavish catering and bureaucratic extravagance. Besides, the fact Kelvin Davis had to hold 33 meetings to figure out what his new job involves suggests the Māori-Crown Relations portfolio probably isn’t needed in the first place.

“Especially concerning is that a significant proportion of the blowout comes from ‘koha’ payments. The Government should never be paying anyone ‘koha’. These payments, at best, obscure real costs and skirt tax requirements. At worst, they’re taxpayer-funded bribery of special interest groups.

Act leader David Seymour rightly observed that the Government first set up the new Maori-Crown Relations portfolio, and then it set about trying to determine what it should do.

“Usually when you set up a Government department you already understand why it’s needed. You don’t set up a Government department asking everyone why,” he said.

“Government can do useful things and it is necessary to consult. But they’ve got this one ass about front and they don’t know what the purpose of the organisation is when they established it. Now they’re trying to find out retrospectively.”

The past week has been notable, too, for a flurry of government spending in the Pacific.

Here’s the spending – or potential spending – the Beehive did disclose in the past week:

18 NOVEMBER 2018

New Zealand announces further support to Pacific Horticultural and Market Access Plus programme

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters announced NZ will contribute $13.5m over four years to support the Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA) Plus programme, a new joint New Zealand–Australian initiative.

PHAMA Plus will target select export products of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and other Pacific Island countries such as Niue and Cook Islands, and help producers, processors and exporters improve their productivity, quality of production, and capacity to meet export market biosecurity requirements. Agricultural, forestry, fishery and handicraft products will be initially targeted for support under the scheme.

PHAMA Plus complements other Pacific agriculture initiatives supported by MFAT, including a dairy programme in Fiji, a cocoa programme in Samoa, a vanilla programme in Tonga and a fresh produce programme in PNG.

18 NOVEMBER 2018

New Zealand joins partnership to expand access to electricity in Papua New Guinea

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – at APEC in Papua New Guinea – announced NZ will contribute towards Papua New Guinea’s National Electrification Roll-Out Plan to connect 70% of households to electricity by 2030.

The funding will be allocated from NZ’s Overseas Development Assistance budget.

This commitment comes in addition to a $24.7m contribution to the Rural On-Grid Extension Project and $10.25m to the Town Electrification Investment Programme.

The cost of connecting 70% of people by 2030 is estimated to cost US$1.7 billion.

18 NOVEMBER 2018

New Zealand assists with Papua New Guinea vaccinations programme

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters announced NZ is committing up to NZ$10m towards improving vaccination outcomes in Papua New Guinea.

He made the announcement during the official opening of the St John Ambulance Operations Centre in Boroko, which was built with the support of NZ Government funding.

19 NOVEMBER 2018

New plan for high quality early learning

Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced a 10-year plan “to restore the Government’s commitment to quality in early learning”.

The draft plan – following the Government’s preference for te reo rather than English when naming its programmes – is called He taonga te tamait and sets the direction for early learning for the next 10 years.  It is open for consultation until 15 March 2019.

Key proposals include:

  • moving towards a 100% qualified teacher workforce in early childhood education centres
  • improving adult:child ratios for babies and toddlers
  • increasing the consistency and levels of teacher salaries and conditions across the sector
  • a more planned approach to establishing new services, greater support and increased monitoring.

The draft Strategic Plan for Early Learning is here and the Cabinet paper is here.

19 NOVEMBER 2018

Government confirms $20m investment in new health centre for Westport

 Health Minister David Clark today confirmed $20m in Crown funding and the site for the new Buller Health Centre in Westport.

During a visit to Westport with West Coast Tasman MP Damien O’Connor, Clark said the latest concept design for the new facility had been accepted, allowing detailed design work to proceed.

The project budget is set at $20m, to be funded by the Crown, and continues a series of significant Coalition Government investments in hospital infrastructures.

19 NOVEMBER 2018

Chile and NZ arrangement to protect seabirds

Under a cooperative arrangement signed today by Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters (on behalf of Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage and Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash) and the Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs, Roberto Ampuero, NZ and Chile will help protect vulnerable seabirds, including the critically endangered Antipodean albatross.

The signing establishes a cooperative partnership between the Department of Conservation and the Ministry for Primary Industries in New Zealand, and Chile’s Undersecretariat of Fisheries and Aquaculture, and Ministry of Environment.

Nash said the arrangement will enable better exchange of information between the two fishing nations and support greater innovation that will help reduce the albatross bycatch.

20 NOVEMBER 2018

Update on the first seven months of the Fees Free policy

Education Minister Chris Hipkins – issuing an update on the Coalition Government’s first-year Fees Free policy – said 41,700 students and trainees are receiving fees-free tertiary education.

The bulk of the increase is in the Institutes of Technology and Polytechnic (ITP) and Industry Training Organisation sector.

The Ministry of Education forecasts that by the end of the calendar year 50,200 people will benefit from fees-free support – 45,600 provider-based students and 4,600 industry trainees.

January to September statistics show 31,600 fewer students borrowed to pay tertiary fees and the amount students had to borrow for fees was down $193m on the same time last year.

Ministerial briefings and other relevant documentation can be found here and here.

20 NOVEMBER 2018

Surge funding for kauri dieback and myrtle rust research

Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods today announced a funding increase of $13.75m over three years for research to combat the spread of kauri dieback and myrtle rust.

Research funding for myrtle rust will total $5m over three years; research for kauri dieback will receive $8.75m.  This is on top of previous research funding of $6.9m for myrtle rust and $4.7m for kauri dieback allocated in 2018/19.

The Biological Heritage National Science Challenge will receive the funding to undertake the research.

20 NOVEMBER 2018

Wellbeing and Water – a necessary conversation with Local Government

The Government announced plans to initiate a strategic conversation with Local Government about community well-being and proposals to overhaul the regulation of water.

Led by Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta, the multi-agency Three Waters Review has been investigating the state and performance of NZ’s drinking water, wastewater and storm water systems.

The Cabinet paper Local governance for community well-being can be found at: www.dia.govt.nz/Central-Local-Government-Partnership  and the Cabinet paper Future state of the three waters system: regulation and service delivery can be found at: www.dia.govt.nz/three-waters-review.

The need for more money was mentioned but not specified in the press release, which said the three waters system “faces critical funding and capability challenges”.

With pressures such as aging infrastructure, population changes, increased tourism numbers and the need to build in resilience against climate change and natural events, “the situation will get much worse if we do not address it”.

Mahuta said she and her Health and Environment colleagues expect to take detailed proposals to Cabinet in June 2019.

Continued public ownership of water assets “is our bottom line”.

20 NOVEMBER 2018

Changes to drinking water standards will help keep New Zealanders healthy

Health Minister David Clark announced he is making changes to Drinking Water Standards which help keep citizens safe from waterborne illness.

One change, to take effect on 1 March 2019, requires water suppliers to routinely monitor the total amount of coliform bacteria in water. Another he is considering will require initial E.Coli tests to determine both the presence of these bacteria and how prevalent they are, thus eliminating the need for a second test.

The groundwork for changes can be found in a Cabinet paper Future state of the three waters system: regulation and service delivery, jointly released by the Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta and the Minister of Health, which details proposals for a system wide-reform of regulation of drinking water along with a new risk management regime for sources of drinking-water.

20 NOVEMBER 2018

First New Plymouth KiwiBuild homes

Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford announced today the first KiwiBuild homes in New Plymouth are expected to be completed in mid-2019.

There will be 68 “modest starter homes” built in Marfell, two-thirds of them three-bedroom homes and the remainder four-bedroom. All will be built to a Homestar 6 rating with construction starting early next year.

Many of the KiwiBuild homes built at this development will be under $400,000, and all will have a maximum price of $450,000, meaning the mortgage repayments for houses in this price range will be same as the average rent for a three-bedroom home in New Plymouth.

20 NOVEMBER 2018

$29 million for safety improvements to SH3

Transport Minister Phil Twyford announced urgent safety improvements will be done on SH3 from Waitara to Bell Block to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries.

The $29m project will start in February.

The Government is investing $4.3bn in safety improvements nationwide over the next three years under the National Land Transport Programme.

21 NOVEMBER 2018

More 111 callers to get help faster

Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Minister Kris Faafoi announced enhancements to the Emergency Caller Location Information service, introduced in May 2017, will improve this potentially life-saving technology.

In its first year, ECLI was used to help verify locations of nearly 400,000 emergency calls. When the enhancements are complete in mid-2020, that number is expected to jump to 780,000.

The ECLI service is overseen by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment and run in partnership with emergency services (New Zealand Police, Fire and Emergency New Zealand, St John and Wellington Free Ambulance), Datacom, Comtech Telecommunications Corp, and mobile network operators (2degrees, Spark and Vodafone).

For more information visit www.mbie.govt.nz/ecli.

21 NOVEMBER 2018

Fixing Middlemore Hospital a priority

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said an $80m investment will fix long-standing problems with buildings and infrastructure  – leaky buildings, rot and mould in the walls and earthquake prone facilities – at Middlemore Hospital and the Manukau SuperClinic.

In the Govt’s first Budget $750m of new funding was set aside for hospital capital works. With today’s $80m investment, well over $600m will have been allocated.

Update on capital investments from Budget 2018:

  • $275m for Auckland DHB to address significant infrastructure challenges at Auckland City Hospital and Greenlane Clinical Centre
  • An estimated $200m plus for a new elective surgery unit at North Shore Hospital (Waitemata DHB is preparing a business case)
  • $80m for four projects at Counties Manukau DHB (business cases to be developed).
  • $45.6m for the new Wellington Children’s Hospital
  • $24m for new endoscopy and cardiac care capacity at Northland DHB’s Whangarei Hospital
  • $20 million for new Buller Hospital Integrated Family Unit
  • $8 million for Individualised Service Units at Capital and Coast DHB for our most high needs intellectual disability and mental health patients
  • $7.1m for the Phase 2 redevelopment at Bay of Islands Hospital

22 NOVEMBER 2018

Progress on Sea Change Proposals

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage and Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash announced a Ministerial Advisory Committee will be established to play a key role in implementing the Sea Change Plan, which includes proposals for improving the health of the Hauraki Gulf.

The plan – described as “an aspirational document” – includes 181 proposals developed over four years by a Stakeholder Working Group.  Proposals to improve the health of the Gulf include marine protection, fisheries, habitat restoration, and opportunities for regional economic development.

The Department of Conservation and Fisheries New Zealand will now begin talking to tangata whenua affected by the proposals, councils and other Hauraki Gulf stakeholders about establishing the Ministerial Advisory Committee.

The Ministers will appoint the members of the Ministerial Advisory Committee once this consultation has been completed.

22 NOVEMBER 2018

New approach for Māori women to quit smoking

Associate Minister of Health Jenny Salesa welcomes a new report released today highlighting innovative ways of working with young Māori women to successfully quit smoking.

The report evaluates four prototype initiatives.  It will guide how stop-smoking services are delivered and help in achieving greater equity in the health system, a key health priority for the Government.

22 NOVEMBER 2018

Fresh thinking evident in new mental health unit

Health Minister David Clark officially opened phase one of the new adult mental health inpatient facility situated in the grounds of Middlemore Hospital today, the Tiaho Mai Mental Health Unit.

The new 38-bed facility increases capacity for acute inpatient mental health treatment in Counties Manukau.

Stage Two is expected to begin in early 2019. On completion, Tiaho Mai [which Point of Order thinks means “believe in yourself“} will be able to accommodate 76 patients.

23 NOVEMBER 2018

Copyright issues to be addressed

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi today released an issues paper marking the first stage of public consultation on changes to the Copyright Act 1994, saying all Kiwis should consider taking part.

The last significant review of the Act was completed more than a decade ago.  Since then digital technology has created new opportunities to disseminate and access works.

The Government is also looking at how it should coordinate the Copyright Act review with the protection of mātauranga Māori and taonga works in response to the recommendations of the Waitangi Tribunal’s report Ko Aotearoa Tēnei: A Report into Claims Concerning New Zealand Law and Policy Affecting Māori Culture and Identity (the Wai 262 report).

Further information on the review and how to make a submission is available at www.mbie.govt.nz/copyright-review.  Submissions close on Friday 5 April 2019.

23 NOVEMBER 2018

Drilling under way on Canterbury Arena site

 Greater Christchurch Regeneration Minister Megan Woods said drilling is now under way at the Canterbury Arena site as part of early work to fast-track the project.

Geotechnical investigations began this week to determine the condition of the land as part of the Investment Case being prepared for the Arena. Eighty-one separate tests will be undertaken to give detailed information across the entire site.

The Christchurch City Council has confirmed a $253m commitment to a new arena. The Government has earmarked a $220m contribution from the $300m Christchurch Regeneration Acceleration Facility – this funding will be confirmed following completion of the Investment Case in mid-2019. It is in addition to the $87m the Crown has spent on the land for the arena site.

23 NOVEMBER 2018

Te Korowai o Wainuiārua sign agreement in principle

Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Andrew Little announced Te Korowai o Wainuiārua and the Crown have signed an agreement in principle that marks an important step in the settlement of the historical Treaty claims of Uenuku, Tamakana, and Tamahaki.

The agreement in principle outlines a broad settlement package, including provisional Crown acknowledgments of its Treaty breaches, financial and commercial redress of $21.7m and the return of sites of cultural significance to Te Korowai o Wainuiārua.

A copy of the agreement in principle is available at:

https://www.govt.nz/treaty-settlement-documents/central-whanganui/

23 NOVEMBER 2018

Have your say on a United Kingdom-New Zealand trade deal

Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker announced the Government is calling for public submissions on a post-Brexit free trade agreement with the United Kingdom.

ISubmissions can be made in writing to UKFTA@mfat.govt.nz.  For more information on the UK-NZ FTA visit www.mfat.govt.nz/ukfta.

23 NOVEMBER 2018

Review into NZTA regulatory performance

Transport Minister Phil Twyford has today requested that the Ministry of Transport, as the New Zealand Transport Agency’s (NZTA) monitor, review NZTA’s performance of their regulatory functions.

The review comes on the back of concerns that have emerged around NZTA’s regulatory function and a backlog of compliance cases that have not been properly managed.

The review is due to be completed by the end of March 2019.

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