Shane Jones needs to explain what conflicts were declared before the Government gave $6 million to a trust led by a former NZ First MP, and why his slush fund is leading to private gain, National’s Regional Economic Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“There has been a total lack of transparency about how Provincial Growth Fund projects are chosen, how that funding is spent and who is benefitting.
“But the Ngati Hine Forestry Trust has done what Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones has refused to do and revealed some of that detail – and the results are concerning.
“The Trust’s latest newsletter confirms there is personal financial gain, that the terms are exceedingly generous, and that there are serious conflicts of interest.
“According to the newsletter, the Trust has received $6 million to fund the planting of pine trees and ‘the financial returns to the beneficial owners to be received from this Forestry Right upon harvest will be substantial’.
“The Trust also states that while the details of the deal are confidential, ‘beneficial owners can be assured that from the Trustees’ perspective this is an exceptionally good deal for beneficial owners and is far superior to previous arrangements’.
“And finally, one of the trustees who successfully lobbied Mr Jones for the funding is former NZ First MP Pita Paraone who was eleventh on the party’s list in last year’s election.
“This is incredibly concerning. One of the principles of the fund is there should be no private gain resulting from its investments when in this case there clearly is. It also raises questions about the value taxpayers are getting when the terms are so generous and there are serious concerns around what, if any, of the real conflicts of interest were declared.
“This highlights why all the information surrounding the decision-making process of the Fund, including the business cases and disclosures, need to be made public.
“It now appears that who you know is more important than having a proper business case. If any Minister in the previous Government had made deals in this way then heads would have rolled.
“Just because there seems to be a lower standard expected of Ministers in this Government is not an acceptable excuse for deals like this and Mr Jones needs to provide answers.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Please find a link to the Ngati Hine Forestry Trust newsletter here.
Analysis of Budget documents reveals that Shane Jones’ much vaunted billion dollar Provincial Growth Fund doesn’t have anywhere near $1 billion to spend this year, National’s Regional Economic Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“Mr Jones has been talking up his provincial slush fund of $1 billion a year for the next three years since it was announced. But analysis of Budget documents confirmed by MBIE shows that $332 million, or a third, of this year’s $1 billion will be spent in the 2019/20 year or later.
“Mr Jones is including $245 million for the One Billion Trees programme in this year’s Provincial Growth Fund that, in fact, will be spent over ten years.
“When asked to clarify the amount of money in the fund in the Economic Development Select Committee, Mr Jones said, ‘for the record, there is $1 billion in this fund, and it will be spent over the next year’.
“This is patently untrue. Budget documents show that Grant Robertson has only given him around $550 million to spend in the 2018/2019 financial year, on top of the $123 million already spent in the 2017/18 year.
“It is highly unlikely he’ll spend the $550 million that he does have if he requires quality projects to secure the funding.
“Shane Jones uses the House for his own grandstanding, but what’s worse is he continues to exaggerate and be deliberately tricky and gets away with not being accountable for his slush fund.
“The Minister must come clean on the fact that this billion dollar fund is nothing of the sort.”
Taxpayers and accountants will be surprised to learn that Revenue Minister thinks ‘everything is fine’ with Inland Revenue’s computer systems, National’s Revenue spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“Reports today from the Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand (CAANZ) that Inland Revenue (IRD) appears to be ‘in a state of crisis’ with accountants experiencing delays and issues logging on to the myIR tax system for the past two weeks.
“This is all the more concerning with businesses due to file tax returns by next Saturday.
“The Minister’s casual dismissal of concerns is particularly galling, given the extra pressure his Government has imposed on IRD’s systems by insisting that they also process the Best Start tax credit payments.
“CAANZ have raised the issue with IRD but have yet to receive an explanation as to why the problem is occurring, how widespread the issue is and what steps are being taken to fix it.
“IRD collects $70 billion worth of taxpayers’ dollars each year and we must have reassurance the system is working without glitches that prevent New Zealanders from fulfilling their tax obligations.
“The Minister needs to assure New Zealanders that IRD is not in a state of crisis and is able to cope without causing significant disruption for taxpayers.”
The Government’s arrogant dismissal of real concerns from businesses will only make business confidence fall faster, National’s Economic and Regional Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“Survey after survey is showing business confidence tanking and Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s claim it’s just an issue of perception are wrong. It’s a justified response to a lack of leadership, bad decisions and poor policy and the Government must shoulder the responsibility.
“On Q and A this morning, Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief Executive Michael Barnett said businesses are genuinely concerned.
“Mr Barnett said there was ‘a black hole of decision making’, the Government’s attitude to business was dismissive and if things continue the way they are then economic activity will slow.
“That’s concerning and the Government needs to listen and it needs to act, rather than continuing to disparage and dismiss those who disagree with it.
“The problem is it is refusing to listen and when it’s not outsourcing its leadership to working groups – more than 120 and counting – it’s making bad, ill-thought through decisions like axing oil and gas exploration, restricting foreign investment and raising taxes.
“The fact is the Government is slowing our economy down and New Zealanders will pay the price.
“It needs to start making well thought-through decisions that support our economy to grow and improves the standard of living New Zealanders enjoy. Instead its doing the opposite and New Zealanders are increasingly seeing this Government is not up to it.”
The dysfunction and disunity at the heart of the Government has again been put on display by Shane Jones, National’s Regional Economic Development Minister Paul Goldsmith says.
“It’s clear that New Zealand First is controlling this Government, with Mr Jones continuing to defy the Prime Minister by doubling down on his statements attacking Fonterra’s chairman.
“The Prime Minister has told Mr Jones off before for attacking business leaders. Yet in complete defiance of her, he did it again last week when he attacked Fonterra’s chairman.
“In an attempt to explain this away, the Prime Minister then said that he was speaking in a personal capacity, not as a Minister. Nobody believed that but if it had stopped there, it could have been, as the Prime Minister had hoped, ‘end of story’.
“But then Mr Jones repeated his statements in the House, as a Minister, making the Prime Minister look weak and powerless.
“And he’s done it again today, making it abundantly clear he doesn’t care at all about the Prime Minister’s attempts to discipline him, stating ‘what I said, I own’ and refusing to address the question.
“As the Speaker said today, ‘it is absolutely obvious that if a Member makes a statement in the House in response to a question as a Minister that he is speaking as a Minister’.
“Repeating his statement as a Minister in contradiction of the Prime Minister’s wishes is clear defiance.
“The Prime Minister may be in office, but she’s not in power. The real power lies with New Zealand First, who created this Government and who control this Government.”
Shane Jones’ defiance of the Prime Minister over repeatedly calling for the resignation or sacking of company leaders is a major test of her leadership, National’s Economic Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“New Zealand First is in open defiance of the Prime Minister, with her Deputy suing her own Government and her Regional Economic Development spokesman defying her directive to tone down his destructive comments about New Zealand businesses.
“When Mr Jones called in March for Air New Zealand’s directors to resign the Prime Minister solemnly declared that ‘calling for the sacking of any board member is a step too far and I have told him that’.
“Well it turns out Mr Jones doesn’t care what the Prime Minister has said because he’s done it again, this time targeting Fonterra. It’s a second strike. But instead of a firm response we’ve seen the weasel words that ‘he was expressing a personal view’.
“This comes two days after the Prime Minister tried to claim Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters suing her own government was also a ‘private matter’.
“Well that’s nonsense. These are very public matters which goes to the heart of her Government’s dwindling credibility and the Prime Minister’s weak response underscores the fact she can’t control her own minister and her coalition partner, NZ First.
“Given the incredible lack of discipline and direction from the Government, it’s no wonder business confidence is plummeting.
“That’s worrying because when businesses hold off investing, all New Zealanders miss out on opportunities to get ahead and this Government is only making it worse.
“It’s unacceptable and the Prime Minister should give Mr Jones his final warning.”
The time has come for the Prime Minister to step in and discipline her Regional Economic Development Minister who repeatedly seeks publicity by attacking business leaders, National’s Regional Economic Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said today.
“Business confidence in New Zealand is plummeting and the reasons for that are mounting.
“The Government’s low growth policies like higher taxes and stronger unions are causing businesses to hire fewer people and invest less in growth and it has them concerned about the future of New Zealand and who can blame them?
“Because on top of that you have a loudmouth Regional Economic Development Minister who’s putting his own ego and need for publicity ahead of the interests of New Zealand.
“Shane Jones’ attacks on Fonterra’s leadership are the latest burp from a man who is fast losing any respect he once had.
“He says Fonterra’s leadership is ‘full of their own importance’. That sounds like a more apt description of himself.
“He even added he’s ‘worried about the absolute absence of accountability for the enormous amounts of dough that the current Fonterrra chairman has presided over’.
“This is startling hypocrisy from the same man who defended his own region getting the lion’s share of funding from his billion-dollar Provincial Growth Fund by stating ‘to the winner goes the booty’.
“Well it’s not his booty and it’s clear Shane Jones has no idea what accountability means.
“This Government has decided to spend $3 billion over the next three years on regional economic development, including roundabouts and church restorations. It’s critical the responsible is up to the job and focused on doing his job well.
“At the moment, all he seems good for is attacking business leaders whenever a few days have gone by without some of the media coverage for which he craves.
Shane Jones’ admission this morning that his Provincial Growth Fund is a political tool is backed up by new figures released this morning revealing Northland as the main recipient of taxpayers’ money, National’s Regional Economic Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith says.
“The Provincial Growth Fund should really be renamed the Political Survival Fund after more than half the funding announced so far has gone to one region – one with less than 10 per cent of regional New Zealand’s population.
“MBIE information shows Northland has sought $54.6 million from the fund so far. Applications from all the other regions combined amounted to $240 million.
“Yet Northland projects have received funding up to $61 million – even more than they’ve asked for. While the rest of the regions have had to make do with $42.4 million combined, plus a $7.5 million grant to the Howard League covering the whole country, including Northland.
“Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and New Zealand First haven’t hidden the fact they see their party’s survival linked to winning a Northland seat. Now the Minister has confirmed that the rest of New Zealand are paying for it.
“The Minister’s ridiculous defence for the emphasis on Northland was simply ‘to the victor goes the spoils’. But New Zealanders will see it for what it is – shameless pork-barrelling.
“Prime Minister Ardern and the Labour Party should be ashamed for enabling such a misuse of public funds.
“Northlanders will be scratching their heads, wondering why some groups are getting all this attention, while the single most important investment for their region – the double lane highway from Wellsford to Whangarei has been scrapped in favour of Auckland’s light rail.
“Shanes Jones is being allowed to use public money for a thinly veiled political slush fund - but on the really big issues, such as advancing oil and gas production, there is no question that New Zealand First’s ‘provincial champion’ label is nothing more than wishful thinking.”
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.”
The Government is proving again that it is all talk and little substance in regional New Zealand with its announcements in Northland today, National’s Transport Spokesman Jami-Lee Ross and Regional Development Spokesman Paul Goldsmith say.
“It’s unbelievable after several months that the best they can do for Transport in Northland is announce they are spending money on more business cases for road and rail,” Mr Ross says.
“How about getting on and building something decent like the four-laning of State Highway One between Auckland and Whangarei that they are so lukewarm about.
“Or they could commit to further upgrading the twin coast discovery route.
“A few million dollars from Shane Jones does nothing to make up for the billion dollar four lane highway that Phil Twyford has cancelled.
“Twyford is doing considerable damage by cancelling roading projects across the country, all so he can afford $6 billion worth of trams in Auckland.”
“The Provincial Growth Fund announcements are all worthy projects in themselves but they don’t come anywhere near making up for the anti-growth policies that this Government is pursuing,” Mr Goldsmith says.
“To really make progress in Northland they should be continuing to make investments in roading and be open to foreign investment to drive economic growth and job creation.
“The more appropriate name for it is the provincial compensation fund.
“As the Prime Minister almost said, the policies of the previous Government have already got unemployment in the region nearly halved down to 5.6 per cent.
“I suppose the Ministers are making themselves feel good but they’re doing nothing to actually drive long-term growth in the region.”