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Posts Tagged ‘peter dunne’

The right to know: Peter Dunne

Posted by on October 9th, 2013

Despite his changed status in recent times, the Right to Know series will also profile former Minister Peter Dunne’s time as, Minister of Revenue, Associate Minister of Health, and Associate Minister of Conservation in 2012.

In order to shed light on the lack of transparency from government Ministers, my team and I have been researching the adequacy of Ministers responses to Official Information Act requests. In March, we sent a request to all Ministers asking for the number of OIA requests received between 1 January 2012 and 1 January 2013, the number transferred, extended, responded to within the 20 working day limit, responded to late or not responded to at all.

Peter Dunne responded to my OIA request by providing a figure to each one of my questions, ordered within his respective portfolios. For example to the question, ‘How many of the request were received were responded to within 20 working days?’, the Minister responded ‘Twenty’ in respect to his Revenue portfolio.

While it was useful to see a breakdown of the OIA requests received by each of his portfolios, like a number of other Ministers, such as Simon Bridges, we have to take the Minister’s word that these are the correct figures. This is compared with other Ministers who have provided spread sheets with exact dates that OIA requests were received and responded to.

Peter Dunne’s OIA response track record is relatively good, with the then Minister responding to all OIA requests received in the 20 working day period, excepting from three requests which were granted extensions.

Peter Dunne’s office received a total of 45 OIA requests, 30 were responded to in the 20 working day period, 12 were transferred, and three had the time limit extended.

But while his office may have responded to OIA requests quickly, the figures for the information released are not so positive. Of the 33 requests responded to by Dunne’s office 9 were refused in full, 15 requests were partially refused, and only nine requests were released in full. Unfortunately, this means during his time as Minister, Peter Dunne was not particularly transparent in the releasing of information.Unlike a number of Ministers, Peter Dunne did provide a breakdown of the parties or groups that had requested information. The most requests came from journalists with 14 requests, followed by the Labour Party with four, the Green Party, an undisclosed Party and a blogger with one request each.


Tax pain time

Posted by on March 26th, 2013

Next week thousands upon thousands of New Zealanders will wake up to a cut in their take-home pay because of policy decisions by the National/United Future government.

From 1 April 2013 the minimum KiwiSaver contribution is increasing from 2% to 3%, while the Student Loan compulsory repayment jumps a whopping 20% to 12 cents in every dollar earned over the repayment threshold.

Now Labour stands for a gradual move to universal, employment-based KiwiSaver contributions over time, because that will grow the economy and secure savers in retirement.

But with unemployment today at record levels, and with so many families only just getting by, it’s crucial that changes which hit people in the pocket are well-signalled and well-understood before they take effect.

Complex communications around tax changes need to be relevant. Some Kiwis watch the 6pm news; others will see billboards on the daily commute; and web-savvy students might expect important information to be pushed to them through social media.

Ultimately the obligation for quality communications falls squarely to Revenue Minister and United Future leader Peter Dunne.

But over and over again I’ve heard that many Kiwis have no idea how next week they’ll have less cash-in-hand to feed the kids and pay the mortgage.

That’s not good enough from Mr Dunne. That’s not good enough from the National/United Future Government.

Now too many Kiwi taxpayers find a phone call to the IRD an exercise in frustration.

But you can bet there’ll be lots of calls on pay day next week.

Too often people who phone the IRD contact line get put in a long, long queue (last time I tried I waited 45 minutes).

Even worse, callers are sometimes flatly told by a machine “We’re too busy – call back later” then disconnected. This is just not good enough. It is the taxpayer who is liable if issues are not resolved. Any Government has a duty to facilitate good compliance.

Therefore it’s a bit of a worry that IRD had its staffing slashed by 6% last year.

Who is going to answer all the calls?

And with the external communications so lacklustre, how can we be confident that Peter Dunne has ensured IRD’s own staff know what’s going on?

Fortunately (for the first time in quite a long while) Mr Dunne has pinned his colours to the mast.

I asked Dunne Parliamentary Written Question 1401 (2013), and here’s what the Revenue Minister has assured the public:

Portfolio: Revenue
Minister: Hon Peter Dunne
Question: Is he confident that the Inland Revenue Department is adequately staffed to manage any requests from businesses related to the change in minimum KiwiSaver contributions?

Answer Text: Yes.

Next week we shall see whether Peter Dunne’s word is more credible than his department’s communications.

United Future’s awful week

Posted by on March 19th, 2013

Poor Peter Dunne. He’s having one heck of an awful week.

The sad thing is the United Future leader used to be quite diligent back when his party had a confidence and supply agreement with the 2005-2008 Labour-Progressive Government.

But Labour were diligent to Mr Dunne too. We respected United Future and we were careful to consult with their leadership on revenue matters and keep lines of communication open.

Perhaps, though, in the four years since as John Key’s Revenue Minister, Peter Dunne might have become too comfortable in his cushy leather-seated limo.

Mr Dunne has royally stuffed up with his attempt to ram through uncosted and unfair new taxes on car parks and iPads and cell phones and laptops, and goodness knows what else which hasn’t come to public light yet.

The mobile phone tax is a 1980s idea completely out of touch with New Zealand families in the twenty first century. What about the benefits of flexible work, especially for working mums? What about New Zealand-led companies working across multiple time zones (or the generation of Kiwi parents who have to phone Australia to talk to their kids)? How about encouraging the bright young Kiwis who’ve stayed here to be web warriors and build a high-value knowledge economy!

But let’s set aside for a moment the merits of the new taxes.

(Although, for the record, the car park tax made zero financial sense, would not have grown jobs or the economy or reduced crime, and had nothing whatsoever to do with a plan for better public transport.)

The really shocking back-story to this tax debacle has been the total contempt which Prime Minister John Key has shown for Peter Dunne and the United Future Party.

Twice in two days Mr Key has publicly put the kibosh Mr Dunne’s new taxes by speaking directly to journalists. Each time Mr Dunne has carried on, seemingly oblivious to how he’d just been thrown under the bus by National’s leader.

Today, in the seeming back down on the iPad and cell phone tax, John Key announced “there is virtually no chance of it going ahead” only minutes before he walked into Question Time.

That left Mr Dunne to struggle on under questioning, seemingly oblivious to how his IRD officials were wasting time and taxpayer money finalising another new tax which was already dead as a dodo.

Now Peter Dunne might have grown tired and reckless as Revenue Minister – and I will continue to highlight how on behalf of New Zealanders.

But, ironically, the reality is John Key relies on Peter Dunne to prop up his fraying Government.

That’s precisely why there is a formal confidence and supply agreement between the National and United Future parties.

Crucially the agreement demands confidentiality and collective responsibility. Well, United Future members can see there’s been none of that from the Prime Minister this week.

So, with the new taxes ‘dodo’, United Future’s membership need to ask why they’re being used to prop up the National Government. Because it’s clear that National have nothing but contempt for them and their leader.

Tell us it’s Dunne and dusted now Peter

Posted by on March 13th, 2013

United Future leader and Revenue Minister Peter Dunne’s belated recognition that he holds a casting vote in John Key and Steven Joyce’s shonkey SkyCity convention centre deal is welcome.

The question remains, however, whether Dunne will use his veto to stop the sale of our country’s laws to a casino.

Because he most certainly should.

By Dunne’s own admission the National Government “did play very fast and loose at times” during the rotten tender.

The Deputy Auditor-General was more clear – the deal was “unfair” and managed so the “SkyCity proposal was always going to be the most attractive”.

Last week Dunne (finally) appeared to lay down a challenge to the National Government which he otherwise supports:

There is a time-bomb warning to the government here. Support for the cut through approach will wither if it is seen to be a standard proxy for bending the rules or doing special deals to achieve the desired outcome. While the government is not immediately vulnerable on this issue, the clock has started ticking.

And it is worth remembering the adage, the ends do not justify the means.

Well National has responded to Dunne’s challenge.

I asked Steven Joyce written Parliamentary question [1307 (2013)]:

Does he regret any of his actions as Minister for Economic Development related to the Government’s decision to negotiate with SkyCity Entertainment Group Ltd for an international convention centre; if he does, which actions?

And Joyce has (finally) responded with one word:


This is just about the only time I can recall the Economic Development Minister giving a straight answer to any question. But what an answer it is.

With one word Joyce has confirmed he’s learned nothing from the Deputy Auditor-General’s scathing criticism. He’s thumbed his nose at fair and proper process, at accountability to the people of this country, and at their hard-earned (but fast fading) reputation for having the lowest level of Government corruption in the world. Joyce has effectively confirmed that so long as he’s a Minister he’ll trade New Zealand’s laws if he sniffs a special deal for the big end of town.

So there you have it Peter Dunne. National do think the ends justify the means. The time-bomb has exploded.

And you – and only you – can put a stop to this madness.

The question the whole country wants to know is whether you will. So do it today Mr Dunne.

Dunne struggling to keep up?

Posted by on December 5th, 2012

In February this year, the Prime Minister said tax policy was being held back because the computer systems “can’t actually support radical changes from Government.”   The Prime Minister’s comments over nine months ago indicated the urgent need to outline a credible plan and timeline for the necessary system upgrade. 

Since then, there is no progress to report.  Consultants CapGemini are rumoured to have been paid tens of millions for scoping reports.  Bill English was reported as saying $700 million from asset sales proceeds will be spent ‘rebuilding the country’s tax system’ but has dodged direct questions on the topic since.  Dunne says decisions haven’t been taken yet.

Voluntary compliance for income tax payments is declining. At last count 1 million tax returns hadn’t been processed and $7 Billion in tax was outstanding. Unbelievably, Dunne says 32 separate privacy breaches in a year isn’t evidence of a systematic failure and he is refusing to answer specific questions on the matter.  Call centre staff turnover is high. Morale is low. 

The computer problem desperately needs addressing as I explained in a recent article in the Otago Daily Times.  And it requires a transparent process.  Nothing to report after nine months begs some questions about competence.

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IRD computer crisis

Posted by on October 2nd, 2012

Crazy to think the effective collection of tens of billions of our tax dollars every year is dependent on museum-grade technology.

The Inland Revenue Department has been pleading for a new computer system for years. Its current one (known as FIRST) was built in 1992 when the Internet was still in nappies.  Google didn’t exist and Facebook was more than a decade away.

In February this year, the Prime Minister said tax policy was being held back because the computer systems “can’t actually support radical changes from Government.”  He also said “You don’t want to be in a position where Parliament is held hostage to a lack of technology.”

But New Zealand is being held hostage to this technology. Well placed sources tell me that the Government couldn’t currently implement a capital gains tax – even if it woke up to the need for pro-growth tax reform to support our exporters – and actually wanted to follow the advice of tax experts including Treasury officials, the World Bank, the OECD, and others.

This Government has tinkered with tax-thresholds and it gave tax cuts to the most wealthy in 2010, but it hasn’t made the big structural changes necessary to get our economy on track.  Perhaps it is afraid of getting burnt again after an attempt at building a new system to cope with Student Loan changes was abandoned with $21 million spent last year.  Certainly development plans have gone quiet since.

Despite Key’s statements in February, no credible timeline for the necessary comprehensive replacement system has been ventured by the Government.

Meanwhile the legacy FIRST system creaks on. Unlike in modern IT, changes made in one part of the FIRST system do not flow through to others. Consequently even mild changes are time-consuming to implement.  A limited budget means resources supporting the antiquated system are not available in the same measure to support other core activities. Resources are stretched – and so more and more mistakes are being made.

Yesterday, Peter Dunne responded to my press release concerning the urgent need for upgrade, by defending IRD’s most recent performance lapses as the result of human error and poor forecasting (leaving the personal slights aside). Well and good, but with all due respect – those are precisely the kinds of errors that are made when an organisation is stretched.  And to those could be added around $7 Billion in outstanding debt and a surprisingly high number of unprocessed tax returns.

What is urgently needed is commitment from the Government to a system upgrade, accompanied by project details including a credible timeline for implementation.  Any response prominently featuring the word ‘relaxed’ and speaking of 5-10 years simply won’t cut the mustard.

Updating our IT shouldn’t be that hard. We can learn from others. After all, we’re not the only country in the Western World with a tax system.

English catches up with Budget changes

Posted by on May 31st, 2012

At the start of question time today, I wondered why Bill English didn’t front for questions in Parliament.  I knew his planned trip to speak at the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce was postponed due to airplane issues.  I figured he must be stuck in Wellington with time on his hands.

Perhaps he didn’t want to personally front up and admit he’d got it wrong in a previous interview about the budget. 

So in Parliament today, Revenue Minister Peter Dunne fronted on Mr English’s behalf and admitted the Finance Minister had not understood the Child Tax Credit changes his Government rammed through under budget urgency.  Dunne confessed that Mr English had got it totally wrong in the Post-budget radio  interview on the changes to the child tax credit, labelled ‘the paperboy tax’.

Mr English said in the interview that interest on savings would not be taxed under the new regime – when in fact the opposite is true.

The frightening thing is key government Ministers do not appear to know what was happening in the Budget.

They have already backed down on some of the teacher changes, taking money from contingencies to cover that gaffe. Now they’re admitting they didn’t understand their own tax policy either.

We need pro-growth tax changes in New Zealand. This Government prefers tinkering with a system that is not working, and what is becoming increasingly clear is that they are not even on top of their tinkering.

Don Brash and Peter Dunne- Lest We Forget

Posted by on April 29th, 2011

Its been fascinating to hear Peter Dunne’s strident condemnation of a Don Brash led ACT Party in the last few days.

“Don Brash is a rigid right-wing ideologue – give him influence and a hand on power and watch the New Zealand we know become a harsher, more brutal place,” Mr Dunne said.

I could not agree more. But could this be the same Peter Dunne who in 2005 was part of a slightly odd photo opportunity (pictured above), that “cleared the way” for a coalition between Mr Dunne’s United Future Party and the Dr Brash led National Party. Surely not.

Alas yes. Peter Dunne really is the Groucho Marx of NZ Politics. ” Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them, well, I have others.”

PS If you want to see the coffee date in action, it is in part four of the Hollow Men documentary, which you can find here

Subsidised Private Healthcare

Posted by on June 22nd, 2010

Peter Dunne and Southern Cross Healthcare want the Government to subsidise private health insurance.

Superficially, the argument that incentivising the use of private healthcare (specifically elective surgery) in the hope that it will reduce the burden on the public system and cut waiting lists makes sense.

But, like so many ‘common sense’ policies, a closer look at the details reveals more than a few fishhooks. To me, there are two principal problems with this policy: Workforce capacity and acuity.

The fact is that most surgeons working in the private sector also work in the public sector. There isn’t a bunch of bored private sector surgeons sitting around awaiting a flood of subsidised patients to come through the door. Until that changes, sending more patients to private surgical hospitals will simply draw resources away from public hospitals, exacerbating the situation for those who cannot afford health insurance. That will increase health inequalities, a concern expressed yesterday by health economist Robin Gauld.

Then there is the problem of complicated surgeries. Private hospitals only take the most straightforward cases. That is not meant to be a disparaging comment, it’s just a fact that private hospitals are not set up to deal with additional complications that may arise from other conditions the patient may have – it’s not their core role.

So, many people (particularly older people) with insurance will still need to use the public sector in order to get the additional care required to get them safely through the surgery.

Australia has strong incentives for those earning over $100,000 to take out private health insurance. This was a topic of discussion on the recent Health Select Committee visit to Australia. One of their ministry officials told the committee that many people who take out insurance will still often use public hospitals precisely because of the additional care that is available. His personal view was that the effective relief on the public system is negligible.

There is a role for the private sector in health care. But if there is money to spend in the health system, there are more cost-effective and future-focussed places to put it than private surgical hospitals.

Peter Dunne plays grinch

Posted by on December 20th, 2009

Last week I missed this little announcement from Peter Dunne that the threshold at which student loan borrowers have to start paying back their loan would not be increased. To my knowledge this has never happened before, the threshold is usually adjusted each year so that it stays the same in real terms. National promised at the last election to keep the student loan scheme as it is (keep interest free etc). This amounts to a broken promise, even if it is a very small one.

The amounts we are talking about are not huge, it will probably cost every student loan borrower about $20-$40 a year. But it does set a worrying precedent. Given National’s promise not to touch the loan scheme a statement from Dunne that talks about the “very significant cost of this $9.6 billion asset to the Crown” and noting this change is intended to “lower the overall costs of the scheme to the Crown” is particularly worrying.

ETS shambles… Maori, Dunne under pressure?

Posted by on August 28th, 2009

The ETS select committee is due to report back. I haven’t spoken to members of the committee but putting things together from points of order in the house yesterday:

  1. The select committee deliberated and resolved to report back thursday last week.
  2. As part of their deliberation the committee agreed to wait for 5pm that day for the Maori party’s minority points for the commentary.
  3. The Maori party submitted their comments.
  4. At that point Peter Dunne had an obligation to include the comments and table the report.
  5. Key met with the Maori party leadership. The pressure went on and the Maori party tried to withdraw their comments and change their position.
  6. They have been advised they can’t. Because the deliberation was complete and can’t be reopened.
  7. Dunne hasn’t tabled the report,

It is simply a disgrace. Frankly I thought both Dunne and Sharples had more integrity.