Taxpayers' Union OIAs costing councils thousands

Taxpayers' Union spokesperson Jordan Williams and Hamilton City Councillor, Dave Macpherson....
Taxpayers' Union spokesperson Jordan Williams and Hamilton City Councillor, Dave Macpherson. Photo: RNZ
Official Information Act requests by the Taxpayers' Union are costing councils thousands of dollars a year.

Hamilton City Councillor Dave Macpherson said an Official Information Act request to his own council showed it had 58 requests from the lobby group since the start of 2018, costing an estimated $61,364 in staff time.

The sheer number and complexity of requests had meant extra staff had to be employed, he said.

"When you realise there are nearly 70 councils getting these requests on what are usually inane or irrelevant subjects, I'd say they are costing us all over a million dollars a year," Councillor Macpherson said.

It was hypocritical of the Taxpayers' Union, which frequently criticised councils for wasting public money, to be costing ratepayers so much, he said.

One example he gave of a frivolous request was one made by the Taxpayers' Union for information about Lego used by a "local play advocate" to demonstrate to councillors the benefits of play.

"They make an art-form of spraying Official Information Act information demands to pretty much every council in the country, trawling for information that will bolster their own political viewpoint," he said.

"It is further ironic that this self-appointed group, who provide no public benefit that I'm aware of, sucked on the taxpayers' teat last year when they received over $60,000 in Covid-19 Wage Subsidies," he said.

The Taxpayers' Union announced in February it was paying the subsidy back in instalments.

Spokesperson Jordan Williams said he was calling "bullshit" on the figures presented by Councillor Macpherson and was writing to the council to confirm them.

"This counsellor (sic) literally wasted our money putting together Lego ducks and then cries publicly that we dare to question how much time and money went on (sic) to such a ridiculous exercise," he said.

"We think it speaks volumes that it appears the counsellor (sic) has only requested information in relation to us - and the timing given the extent we have embarrassed this particular council over the last few months," he said.

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"One example he gave of a frivolous request was one made by the Taxpayers' Union for information about Lego used by a "local play advocate" to demonstrate to councillors the benefits of play."

One has to say that the activity itself sounds pretty frivolous too.

Was the advocate/Lego charged for, and if they were charged for, then for how much, and for what specific purpose/benefit that justified this charge? Was it Councillors' play (with Lego) that was supposed to be valuable, and if so, to who?

Perhaps these issues were what the request was about - In which case it seems a fair enough request.

Classic case of shooting the messenger. Stop wasting ratepayer money Mr Macpherson and you'll have nothing to worry about.

Williams is also a member of the coalition for freedom of speech, but filed a defamation case against Colin Craig. Go figure.

Over the past 20 years councils have become secret organisations lacking the transparency so essential to a free and democratic society. The increase in OIA requests falls absolutely at the feet of chief executives who detest having fully informed councillors. The rot in local government has been aided by toothless government agencies having the wool pulled over their eyes by some slick chief executives.

I always begin to worry when politicians, be they local body or parliamentary, start complaining about the cost of Official Information Act requests. My automatic assumption is that they are trying to hide something. Their estimated costs are always inflated, local bodies and Govt Depts have most of the information that is ever requested readily available at the push of a button. If a request is frivolous they have the right to refuse to deal with it. The requester can then go to the Ombudsman to have that refusal reviewed.
Mind you, I have little time for the Taxpayers Union, they claim to be independent and non affiliated but a quick review of their leaders profiles from their website (and other on-line bios) suggests they are a right wing pressure group with affiliations to the National Party. A quick review of their blogs and campaigns shows that they could be taken from either the ACT or National playbooks. Not much room in their philosophy for social programmes for the under-priviliged.

It's a mystery that Ratepayers have no problem with their money being spent to meet OIA requests.

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