David v Jacinda: 'Wasteful spending is everywhere'

Kiwirail has proved costly for taxpayers.

Kiwirail has proved costly for taxpayers.

OPINION: David Seymour runs the ruler over government spending and finds plenty of savings.

It's Budget week and the message from National is the same as the past six years: no tax cuts.  Labour, meanwhile, want tax increases.

So, what better time to look at some government spending and simply ask: "Why?"  Surely, some of this money would be better spent on health, or education – or simply given back to people, so they can invest in businesses, their families, their communities, and themselves.

ACT leader David Seymour sees plenty of ways to save the taxpayer money.

ACT leader David Seymour sees plenty of ways to save the taxpayer money.

First up is the $56 million-a-year Marsden Fund, which bankrolls select 'academic' research.  Some of the science topics look kind of interesting, but what do New Zealand taxpayers really gain from funding research on Cultivating chamber music in Beethoven's Vienna: a study in socio-musicology ($580,000); or anti-trade activist Jane Kelsey's Transcending embedded neoliberalism in international economic regulation ($600,000); or Missing narratives of modern Chinese intellectual history: modernity and writings on art, 1900-1930 ($495,000)?

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Then there is NZ on Air, using around $130 million to subsidise programmes like season two of The X Factor NZ  ($800,000); Mastermind ($685,360); Jono and Ben 2016 ($1,717,042); The Adam and Eve Show ($3,080,400); and Find Me a Maori Bride season 2' ($590,000).

And interrupting these taxpayer-subsidised TV shows are annoyingly repetitive taxpayer-funded advertisements that seem to suggest the obvious, like "change your lightbulbs" (the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority's advertising comes to $8m), and "don't break traffic laws" (NZTA's marketing budget is $16.5m).

Or how about the Major Events Development Fund, costing taxpayers $77.5m since Budget 2009 for causes like The Ultimate Waterman stand-up paddle boarding event ($1.2m) and the New Zealand Golf Open ($1.9m).

Are you a high-flying executive? Well, every year the Prime Minister's Business Scholarships programme sends 12 senior executives and business owners to attend the world's most prestigious business schools. Cost to the taxpayer: more than $500,000 since 2010.

Ever heard about International Business Growth Services, costing taxpayers $533m since Budget 2011?  What does it do?  And why can't businesses pay for it themselves?

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'Science and innovation' is often just code for "politician seeks photo-op with rocket".   Callaghan Innovation ($165m a year) basically gives taxpayer money to businesses (including billionaire-owned overseas firms) without getting shares in return.  If they fail, like Gameloft, the French game designer of My Little Pony recently did, the taxpayer loses out.  If they succeed, the taxpayer doesn't benefit.

All up, the Government actually wastes $1.3 billion a year on "corporate welfare" grants, funds, and subsidies.

This is all small change compared to the cost of Kiwirail – over $13b lost since 2008.  That's over $5000 for every household.  Or enough to cover 480 flag referendums.  Or 16,250 years' worth of X Factor.  It's like they say: "a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking real money."

Then there are the overpaid bureaucrats – the Government employs an army of 2500 policy analysts (salaries averaging $90,000) and over 5000 managers (salaries averaging $124,000) – that's almost $900m.  Why not have fewer top-down planners and more frontline workers with skin in the game?

There are, of course, many, many more examples.

National, Labour, and the Greens say we can't afford tax cuts, making hardworking taxpayers feel guilty asking for them.  The truth is, we can afford tax relief for every worker while maintaining (or even increasing) spending on core services.  We just have to cut the waste and focus on the basics.

Now let's see if Jacinda is willing to defend any of the spending I've named.

 - Sunday Star Times

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