Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The tax simplification panel

The Web Social logo.
For four years I ran my own business, Web Social Ltd, part-time. It was a great real-world experience, especially when it came to dealing with the IRD. So I'm pleased to see that Revenue Minister Todd McClay has announced the establishment of a Taxpayer’s Simplification Panel to give New Zealanders a voice in simplifying, modernising and transforming the way we pay tax.

The Taxpayer’s Simplification Panel will ask customers to submit their views on any aspect of tax compliance to find areas where Inland Revenue can make paying tax easier for taxpayers.

New Zealand has over 450,000 small to medium sized businesses, which account for 97% of all businesses. “It is my view that currently small business owners are required to spend far too much time on tax compliance, which is time better spent on running their businesses

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Budget 2014: $40m for anti-obesity initiative

Add caption
As part of Budget 2014, the government has announced a new health initiative called Healthy Families NZ to tackle obesity. The aim of this initiative is to create a dedicated health promotion workforce in a specific and discrete number of high-risk communities. One of these communities is Lower Hutt.

In each community, a local provider will lead the program. It will recruit a dedicated health promotion workforce who will work with schools, early childhood education centres, workplaces and sport clubs to encourage and support people to make healthy lifestyle choices.

Healthy Families NZ is based on the highly successful Healthy Together Victoria program from Victoria, Australia. As a result of the program, children aged between four and 12 now, on average, weigh one kilogram less, have smaller waistlines, and can run for longer than children in nearby towns.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Shared services: good progress on economic development agency

Wellington region, showing major population centres (in red)
As readers will know I'm in favour of more shared services in the Wellington region as an alternative to amalgamating the regions local authorities. This is already happening with our water supply with Capacity Infrastructure. A number of people on the doorstep have said to me that this is a practical alternative, and one they could see benefits from - even those who are in favour of amalgamation agree shared services are a practical approach to the issue.

Upper Hutt City Council is the first local authority in the region to sign up to the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency (WREDA). WREDA will be governed through a committee comprised of 10 elected members from across the region:
  • Upper Hutt, Lower Hutt, Porirua and Kapiti will get one elected member each;
  • Wairarapa with get one elected member;
  • Wellington City will get four elected members;
  • The chair must not be from the Wellington City Council. 
This gives the Hutt valley a strong voice in the regional economic agency - which is great stuff. Good on the regional chair Fran Wilde, Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and Upper Hutt Mayor Wayne Guppy for working together. I'm sure there's plenty more that can be done.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

SH58: Petone-Grenada link isn't an alternative

The new Petone Interchange
The Hutt News reports that the Petone-Grenada link has attracted over 1,400 submissions. Most are focused on concerns of access for Horokiwi residents and of course improving State Highway 58.

The response from NZTA is interesting, and seems to imply that they're treating Petone-Grenada and SH58 upgrading as an either/or. It's not. As one writer to the Hutt News points out this week in their letter section, the optimistic completion date for the Petone-Grenada link road is (now that the start date has been pushed back to 2015) 2024. Transmission Gully will be completed by 2020. This means the Hutt Valley will miss out on having a proper link to this vital road for four years.

SH58 is a dangerous road. NZTA implicitly accepts this fact by acknowledging that it needs "safety upgrades". These safety upgrades consist of more cheese-cutter barriers and adding roundabouts along the way. The upgrades don't address the subsidence on the road south of Mt Cecil, and won't make the road capable of carrying the extra traffic off Transmission Gully. The smart thing for NZTA to do would be to do a proper upgrade of SH58 now: a grade separated interchange at Manor Park, and straightening of the Mt Cecil section of the road.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Infographic: New Zealand's forestry exports, 1992 v 2012

An incredible infographic from Statistics New Zealand. Food for thought for those who argue New Zealand needs to process more of its forestry exports onshore. We're already processing two-thirds of our product:

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

MEDIA RELEASE: Local Youth wins award as part of Youth Week 2014

Lewis Holden, National candidate for Rimutaka, congratulates Grady Murphy of Upper Hutt who has been awarded the Giving Back award as part of the Youth Week Awards 2014.

“These awards are an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the outstanding contribution and achievements young New Zealanders make in our communities,” Mr Holden said.

There are 24 recipients of a Youth Week Award across the four categories of: the Leadership, Change Maker, Giving Back, and Working for Young People.

“National believes in supporting young Kiwis to develop skills and knowledge in decision-making and leadership.

“By volunteering and leading significant projects in our community, young people are not only making a positive contribution, they are building essential skills and attributes for employment.

“There are many young people making positive contributions in our community here, and across New Zealand. I hope these awards inspire other young Kiwis to embrace the theme of Youth Week 2014 and ‘Be the Change’ they want to see in our society,” Mr Holden said.

Youth Week runs from 17-25 May and is a fantastic opportunity to recognise, support, and celebrate the significant contribution and achievements of youth in our communities.

To read more about the Youth Week 2014 Awards and the recipients:


Monday, 19 May 2014

Budget 2014: the bigger picture

Source: Treasury, Budget 2014
Being a politics geek, over the weekend I read through the Budget 2014 documents. The executive summary tells you most of what you need to know, and comes with handy graphs. I've highlighted two graphs here which to me emphasise the bigger picture of this year's budget.

Government spending shot up in the 2008/09 year while revenues declined as New Zealand's economy was in recession. This is where the Treasury's infamous "decade of deficits" forecast came from. Then came the global financial crisis and the collapse of many finance companies, the Christchurch Earthquakes, Pike River Mine Disaster... spending remained high as a proportion of GDP.

It then declined as a % of GDP from the 2010/11 year onwards. This is significant as it shows you can increase spending while decreasing the size of the government - in 2010 total government spending was at $64 billion, while in Budget 2014 it's sitting at $73.1 billion.

Meanwhile, with ongoing surpluses forecasted, the government's debt is set to decline as a % of GDP. Today it's sitting at 25.8% of GDP, it's due to drop to 20% of GDP by 2020. The overall picture is clear: now that we're back in surplus, we need to be restrained on new spending while paying down debt. The path taken by the government is the right one.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Out on the road

A huge thank you to everyone who helped make this happen. Keep an eye out for our new campaign car in Rimutaka.

Friday, 16 May 2014

SH58: time for an upgrade at Manor Park

Traffic on SH2 in Manor Park. Picture from the NZTA.
A crash yesterday at Manor Park highlights the need, once again, to upgrade the intersection of SH2 with SH58 at Manor Park. Thankfully there were no fatalities.

Consents for the upgrade date back to 2007. A grade separated interchange between SH58 and SH2 in the area, which would remove the traffic lights and the dangerous intersections and slip roads.

In December 2008 the NZTA board approved funding for design of the grade separation, at a cost of $1.89m. The whole project seems to be on ice though, with NZTA's own page on it noting that it has an estimated cost of between $20 - $100million (a massive difference in cost), but not giving any other details.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Budget 2014: $500m invested in Kiwi families

Details of the 2014 Budget are coming through thick and fast. The big news is half a billion being invested in Kiwi families.

Here's the detail:
  • $171.8 million to boost the paid parental leave scheme. Paid leave will be extended by four weeks – starting with a two-week extension from 1 April 2015, and another two weeks from 1 April 2016. The eligibility of paid parental leave will also be expanded to include caregivers other than parents (for example, permanent guardians), and to extend payments to people in less-regular work or who recently changed jobs.
  • $42.3 million to increase the parental tax credit from $150 a week to $220 a week, and increase the entitlement from eight weeks to 10 weeks, from 1 April 2015.
  • $90 million to enable GPs to offer free doctors’ visits and prescriptions for children under the age of 13, starting on 1 July 2015. Over 400,000 more children will benefit by including six- to 12-year-olds.   
  • An additional $155.7 million to help early childhood centres to remain accessible and affordable, meet demand pressures and increase participation towards the Government’s 98% target.
  • $33.2 million in 2014/15 to help vulnerable children, including eight new children’s teams around the country to identify and work with at-risk children and their families, to screen people who work with children, and to support children in care.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Visit to Upper Hutt Budget Advisory Services

Myself and Sue Leader from Upper Hutt Budget Advisory Services.
Photo by the Upper Hutt Leader.
Last week I visited the Upper Hutt Budget Advisory Service to find out what the impact will be of the extra $22 million the government has allocated to the services nationwide. I met with Sue Leader who took us through the services the team provides to the community, and the current challenges for people financially.

One of the first points Sue made was that they see all sorts at the Budget Advisory service - everyone from low income earners to young couples who are doing ok. They aren't necessarily struggling to make ends meet - many are after advice on how to structure their finances should they take up, for example, full-time education or get a mortgage. The extra funding means that Sue will be able to work full-time and provide after-work support for low income earners, who are unable to get out of work to make an appointment.

Secondly, a major problem that the service confronts is the presence of predatory loan sharks and peddlers, who intentionally make their interest rates, penalties and fees obtuse. They target those already in a desperate financial situation. We discussed the Credit Contracts and Financial Services Law Reform Bill, which is currently before parliament. This Bill aims to curtail these sorts of predatory loan sharks and other credit providers who intentionally go out of their way to exploit those on lower incomes. The government is also kicking off a one-year pilot of low-interest loans through more responsible lenders. This should greatly cut the social damage these lenders are doing.

Sue and her team provide an excellent service to the community. One of her final points was that the Budgetary Service can often help people most just before got themselves into financial trouble, for example when someone has been laid-off but faces major liabilities. A great visit to a great service for the people of Rimutaka.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Budget 2014: Tackling tax dodgers

Tackling tax dodgers
The National-led government is tough on tax dodgers. In Budget 2010, $120 million was added to the IRD's budget for going after tax dodgers. In Budget 2012 another $78.4 million was further invested. In Budget 2014, another $132 million will be spent. This spend not only has a demonstrable financial return, it also means that everyone is paying their fair share of tax.

Last year compliance activity for "hidden economy" tax evasion gave a return of $45 million, $5.60 for every dollar spent. For non-compliance through property speculation, $53.8 million worth of discrepancies were found, a return of $8.42 for every dollar invested.

Our opponents claim that we are obsessed with welfare fraud while do nothing about tax dodging. The facts say otherwise. Spending on Welfare Fraud has remained at exactly the same level as it was under the last Government, around $35 million a year, yet the management of debt and outstanding returns by IRD has gone up from $88 million to $125 million in Budget 2013. In 2013 the IRD collected around $4 billion worth of debt and outstanding returns.

Monday, 12 May 2014

"...all in for more state homes"

Social housing mixed with affordable housing in Pinehill Cres.
The Dominion Post reports on an Official Information Act request intended to attack the government, which throws up a very interesting morsel of information:
Poorer parts of the Wellington region - Lower and Upper Hutt, Masterton and Porirua - are all in for more state homes.
We've already seen the first new house opened in Pomare, where the development is focusing on mixing affordable housing and social housing, much like the Pinehill Cresent development (pictured, right). There's also the earthquake risk housing on Ruahina and Rimutaka Streets that has been removed.

This is positive news for social housing. It means newer, drier and warmer homes for low income families who need housing support. The tiny morsel of information above goes to show that this process is on-going.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Budget 2014: heading towards surplus

Bill English with his budget.
The Treasury says that New Zealand is now heading towards getting the government's books into surplus from 2015. This is an incredible turn-around when you compare it to the pre-election economic fiscal and economic update before National was elected in 2008: back then, the deficit was set to continue until at least 2018.

On top of that, since 2008 we've had first a recession, then the global financial crisis resulting in finance company collapses, the Pike River Mine disaster and two devastating earthquakes in Canterbury. That the government's books are now forecasting a surplus has been a mammoth effort on the part of the Minister of Finance, Bill English, and his team.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Labour force participation rate up

The Household Labour Force Survey, published yesterday, shows employment was up 0.9% - that's 22,000 people in the March quarter and up 3.7% in the past year.
While unemployment remained flat at 6 per cent, it was driven by a record labour force participation rate of 69.3%. That compares with 64.7% in Australia. In other words, a greater percentage of Kiwis are out working or looking for work than Aussies.
Female participation rose to 63.7%, a new record high. 
These results show the growing strength of the New Zealand economy under Nationals responsible economic management. New Zealand’s unemployment rate continues to be lower than most OECD countries. The average unemployment rate across the OECD is 7.6%.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

"SH58 worth a look"

My letter from today's Leader
Investing in infrastructure is critical to economic development, growing businesses in the Hutt Valley and jobs. The Upper Hutt Leader has printed my letter on the issue of economic development and the importance of getting State Highway 58 (Hayward's Hill Road) upgraded sooner rather than later.

This is not an argument against the Petone-Grenada Link road, which is also important to the Hutt Valley. It's simply an argument that NZTA needs to upgrade SH58 now, before Transmission Gully is completed.

At the moment, NZTA is doing a basic safety upgrade of the road. This involves putting in more speed restrictions, more "cheese cutter" median strip barriers. While these things will help with the road's shocking safety record, they don't address the problem of increased traffic from 2020 when the Transmission Gully route for SH1 is completed.

The safety upgrades are just less than just tinkering. SH58 needs a proper upgrade, grade separation at Manor Park and straightening around the Mt Cecil area. It's an existing road that can be upgraded now.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Amalgamation: response to Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett

Council boundaries pre-1989 amalgamations.
Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett has responded to my letter to the Hutt News responding to claims that the proposed amalgamation of Wellington's councils is being driven by the government. With respect to Nick, he misses the point. My letter simply pointed out the government's position; that is that the issue is for the people of Wellington to decide democratically in a referendum.

At no point did I claim council amalgamation is a Labour Party plot. I simply pointed out that Nick's own council, Porirua City Council, and Greater Wellington Regional Council, are the applicants for the amalgamation and are driving for the change, and are both headed by Labour Party members. That counters the claim that the super city is a "National Party design."

Nick is right on one point though - there are members of both parties who are in favour of amalgamation and those who, like myself, are opposed to it. That's a good thing and a sign of a healthy democracy. Let's have the debate on amalgamation but remember it's neither the Labour or National parties who decide, but the people of Wellington democratically.

Friday, 2 May 2014

New energy investment

From Z's Energy Investor Day
There's a lot of activity around investment in new, renewable energy sources. Z Energy recently held a "Investor Day" recently with presentations from different company executives, including an announcement that the company will invest $21m in a bio-diesel plant.

This is great news, and another example that there is a transformation in energy that's happening without subsidies or intervention from the state.

What's also interesting to me is the projected decline in retail fuel demand. A number of people have mentioned the closure of two of the petrol stations on Ferguson Drive in Upper Hutt (the BP near St Pats and Challenge!). It appears that long-term the internet, not fuel efficient cars, is the cause of this - this means less trips to shops and more tasks completed at home.