A report released today by the Local Government Business Forum highlights the need for local authorities to be transparent about what they spend ratepayers’ money on, National’s Local Government spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.
“This report is particularly timely with the Local Government (Community Well-being) Amendment Bill currently before Parliament which reverses National’s local government reforms that applied fiscal discipline to councils.
“By re-inserting the social, economic, environmental, and cultural well-beings of communities into the Act, there will inevitably be rates rises as councils feel validated in untargeted spending – it essentially gives councils licence to do what they like.
“The Local Government Business Forum report is rightly calling for councils to provide simple information that shows ratepayers what they are paying for and how much.
“Homeowners, particularly those on lower incomes, deserve to know if their rates are being prioritised on pet projects, like murals of pop stars, over important roading and footpath infrastructure.
“Greater transparency will help ensure that councils make worthwhile spending decisions, and provide ratepayers with the information they need to challenge or question their council on its spending programme.
“At a time when Government policies are driving up the cost of living, New Zealanders understand more than ever that efficient public services and resilient infrastructure needs to be balanced with local councils’ strong financial management.”
As councils around New Zealand consider next year’s spending plans, families are bracing themselves to be socked with rising rates at a time when the cost of living is starting to increase, National’s Local Government spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.
“Homeowners nationwide are concerned at the plans of councils to increase rates without any reassurance that they are delivering value for money or improving local economic growth.
“Excessively high rates bills hurt ratepayers and their families.
“Christchurch City Council, for example, is meeting today to consider plans to increase rates by 17 per cent over the next few years. Such a large increase during a period of very low inflation is unjustified.
“This 17 per cent rate increase could be in addition to higher petrol prices thanks to the Government’s new regional fuel tax of 11.5 cents per litre that the council is also saying it wants to impose on ratepayers – one of 14 councils saying it wants the new tax.
“While Christchurch faces additional expenditure due to the ongoing earthquake recovery it has options other than major rates increases and it needs to seriously consider those and the impacts of any new costs on ratepayers.
“Local councils, like central government, need to show restraint before imposing additional costs and taxes on hard working New Zealanders.
“People are already hurting from the rising cost of living. Families will be over $100 per week worse off under this Government’s policies pushing up the price of petrol, rent, and groceries - combined with their stubborn refusal to provide tax relief.
“Communities understand that efficient public services and resilient infrastructure needs to be balanced by councils’ strong financial management and care for ratepayers’ back pockets.”
Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis is proposing a significant new cost on visitors coming to New Zealand to meet Labour’s election year promise to local government, yet he is woefully short on detail and doesn’t think his tax will make any difference, National’s Local Government Spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.
Councils around New Zealand deserve better from Mr Davis and he needs to start answering questions with detail.
“When questioned in Parliament about whether he agrees with a recent report from Deloitte, saying that international visitors already make a proportionate tax contribution, he responded acknowledging that a visitor levy will contribute less than 0.8 per cent to the cost required to provide tourism infrastructure and said that ‘the international visitor levy isn't going to make any difference.’
“This is ridiculous and confirms that we have a Government who implements policy without proper analysis.
“If the Minister doesn’t think it will make any difference why is he increasing visitor costs with no benefit to them?
“Councils and communities all around New Zealand are counting on this Government to make good on their election promise to provide revenue to fund tourism infrastructure. It is interesting to see the Minister is now discrediting his own policy.
“The Minister is so vague on the costs of implementing the levy, he needs to explain why his Government is bothering with it”.
Small businesses continue to be treated with contempt by the Ardern-Peters Government with the Revenue Minister today exposing the lack of representation of small business owners on the Tax Working Group, National’s Revenue Spokesperson Paul Goldsmith and Small Business Spokesperson Jacqui Dean say.
“Apparently small business owners who are worried that their views won’t be heard at the table of the Government’s Tax Working Group need worry no longer,” Mr Goldsmith says.
“When asked by a member of his own party what input small business had had to the Tax Working Group, Revenue Minister Stuart Nash thought for a moment before telling the Select Committee that one of the members of the group has a wife who owns a pharmacy.
“It would be funny if it wasn’t true or about such a serious matter.
“Mr Nash’s comments are another example of the contempt with which small businesses continue to be held by this Government – the same Government that is adding labour costs at every turn and piling on uncertainty with its plethora of committees and working groups.
“I’m sure all members of the Tax Working Group will do their best for all New Zealanders, including a broad business perspective from Kirk Hope of Business NZ, as Mr Nash noted.
“But the Tax Working Group is simply the cover this Government is using to introduce its capital gains tax.”
Ms Dean says any such tax would be levied on businesses as well as properties.
“So a small business owner can spend their lives building up a business, perhaps have it grow into a medium-sized business, and when they eventually go to sell it, they’ll have to pay a capital gains tax on the value they have worked hard to create.
“It looks as though they’ll have to rely on some home truths being delivered by one of the Tax Working Group’s member’s spouses.”
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta should show some leadership on funding for councils rather than establishing yet another review to gather dust, National’s Local Government Spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.
“Ms Mahuta needs to get on with her job instead of asking the Productivity Commission to do it for her.
“All this while the public has already been waiting for decisions on local government funding, a flagship policy for this Government, for almost eight months.
“But now the Commission, which is still to receive its terms of reference, could take another year to make any recommendations.
“This is starting to look like a case of déjà vu. The last inquiry into rates that occurred under her watch between 2007 and 2008 resulted in 96 recommendations, but Ms Mahuta didn’t bother to do anything about any of them.
“Councils and their ratepayers are under pressure to provide essential services for their communities, like three waters, roading and housing, along with managing tourism growth.
“They need answers now - they don’t need a minister who seems happy to ride on the coattails of consultants and hide behind reviews which go nowhere and achieve even less.”
Extending the expiry dates on gift cards to three years is the aim of a new Member’s Bill launched by Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean.
“My Fair Trading (Gift Card Expiry) Amendment Bill would see the minimum expiry date of gifts cards extended to three years, so that everyone has a fair chance to use their cards.
“The Bill seeks to prohibit the selling of gift cards with expiry dates of less than three years after the initial sale date, giving the recipient a more reasonable period in which to redeem the card’s full value.
“Many Kiwis use gift cards as a convenient option, but the gift can turn sour if the card is not presented by its expiry date. One in five recipients lose out when they don’t redeem the full value before the card expires and research has found shoppers could be losing $10 million a year on cards that expire before they could be redeemed.
“We’ve all had those instances where the gift card has been misplaced and later found to be expired, or where children treasure their gift cards and spend months deciding how best to spend their present, only to find they’ve left it too late.
“While this might be a windfall for the retailer, it’s frustrating and disappointing for those who’ve received the gift cards.
“Other countries have regulations preventing retailers imposing unfair expiry dates. In Canada expiry dates are banned and in the US a five year expiry date in required, while many New Zealand retailers are still using a six or 12 month expiry.
“My Member’s Bill provides a practical and easy way to ensure that more money stays in the pockets of hardworking New Zealanders.”
Councils around the country have been left on a road to nowhere while the Government delays providing important details on national land transport funding for the next three years, National’s Local Government spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.
“Local authorities are currently in the process of finalising their ten-year plans, but with key roading expenditure details in the Government’s National Land Transport Programme still a couple of months away, councils are working in the dark.
“This is a major slip-up from central government and shows just how little regard they have for councils in the regions, with their main focus being on Auckland and its roading issues.
“Central government should be working in partnership with local government to safeguard economic growth and development in the regions, and yet we can see where the loyalties lie for the Ardern-Peters leadership.
“Roading expenditure is one of the core functions of local authorities. They need certainty from Government now in order to set their rates and make vital decisions on future roading projects, they do not deserve to be left in the dark.
“It is unacceptable to take roading funding from the regions in favour of Auckland, while the Government leaves 78 local authorities to make significant decisions without the information they vitally need.”
It is time for the Government to stop setting up working groups and take some actual decisions to improve the behaviour of freedom campers, National Party Tourism Spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.
“Labour have been casting around for ideas on Freedom Camping for far too long,” Ms Dean says. “There are some ready-made steps that can be taken and they should get on and take them.”
National today released a new Private Members’ Bill from East Coast MP Anne Tolley which will put into law the freedom camping policy announced by the Party at the last election.
“This Bill contains serious practical steps which have already been road-tested with councils and agencies around the country,” Ms Tolley says.
“It will prohibit Freedom Camping more than 200 metres from public toilet facilities, provide more organisations with the right to restrict freedom camping, and provide for instant fines that have been issued to be collected by rental car companies.
“Passing this bill through parliament would have an immediate positive impact on the behaviour of freedom campers. It will also give local authorities, NZTA and LINZ an easier way to collect instant fines.”
Ms Dean says freedom camping is an important part of New Zealand’s tourism industry but it must be managed well.
“The onus is on the Government to take decisions here, but like in many other areas, they are showing their inexperience,” Ms Dean says. “It seems their answer to everything is to set up another working group.
“National is happy to help. We’ve done this work already and we know it will curb some of the worst behaviour of freedom campers.
“Mr Davis should stop just talking about doing something, and pick up this bill immediately as a Government initiative. He should also guarantee that the $100 million Tourism Infrastructure Fund will continue to support local tourism infrastructure and will not be rolled into New Zealand First’s Provincial Growth Fund.
“We don’t hold much hope for him to grapple successfully with the issues. In the meantime we’ll be placing this bill in the next ballot for private members while we wait for them to pick it up.”
The Government needs to move with urgency to address freedom camping issues in communities with high tourist numbers during peak tourism season, National’s Tourism spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.
“National’s $100 million Tourism Infrastructure Fund has helped provide toilets and parking spaces where freedom camping has been an increasing issue, but councils need new powers to better deal with the minority of freedom campers abusing our country.
“Labour’s freedom camping policy is non-existent, so the Tourism and Local Government Ministers must immediately adopt National’s policy of tougher rules for freedom camping.
“This includes restrictions for all non-self-contained vehicles to be within walking distance of a public toilet; allowing councils, the Department of Conservation and Land Information New Zealand to issue instant fines for those who break the rules; and allowing rental companies as the owners of infringing vehicles to collect fines.
“The Government should also start development on a smartphone app to show tourists where exactly they can and cannot camp to ensure freedom campers are aware of their rights and responsibilities.
“So far we haven’t seen any commitment from this Government to make strong policy decisions on freedom camping and support communities like Lake Hayes and Queenstown where freedom camping is an issue.
“I would now expect this to be a priority for the Tourism Minister following his recent inaugural visit to Central Otago. It’s certainly time he started doing his job properly.”
The Government needs to move quickly and provide certainty on future funding for the Tourism Infrastructure Fund, National Party Tourism Spokesperson Jacqui Dean says.
“At the height of the tourist season, the Government is not prioritising decisions on the infrastructure funding the industry needs,” Ms Dean says.
“They have made no decisions on the future of the Tourism Infrastructure Fund, or whether Councils will have access to the multi-billion dollar Provincial Growth Fund for investing in tourism infrastructure.”
Ms Dean says the previous Government’s fund is already proving its worth.
“Recent announcements from the fund include car parking and walkway enhancements to Lake Tekapo’s Church of the Good Shepherd, safer access to Omanawa Falls near Tauranga, car parking around Gisborne tourist attractions and assistance for Great Rides of Nga Haeranga, the New Zealand Cycle Trail.
“These sorts of investments in partnership with local councils help us sustain the growth in New Zealand’s biggest export earner. Yet Minister Davis admits he hasn’t yet met Local Government New Zealand to discuss the future of tourism infrastructure.
“Tourism is one of the biggest industries across regional New Zealand. Its growing 8 per cent year on year. It’s a logical candidate for money from the Provincial Growth Fund.
“But there is no need to re-invent the wheel. The previous Government’s tourism infrastructure model is working well. It just needs more of the available funding to keep doing the job.
“The Minister should act now to provide certainty to the industry and to local Government.”