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Pansy Speak: What’s happening to your money?

Pansy Speak - 27 May 2008

What’s happening to your money?

Body language experts and political analysts will be going into overdrive analysing the behaviour of Labour during Dr Cullen’s Budget speech last Thursday. The Labour caucus met an hour before the Budget was revealed, but their dull, downcast faces told another story. Either they did this deliberately to show they truly loath tax cuts or it had dawned on them that the block of cheese tax cuts at $16 a week were too little too late.

I am guessing that the reason for their depression was the second one, which also explains their constant barracking and heckling during John Key’s fiery reply. The National benches were able to clap and respond spontaneously during John’s speech because we knew he believed in what he was saying and we agreed with him. National’s reply knocked out what little wind had been left in Labour’s sails.

In his speech, John spoke about how little had been achieved by the increase in Government spending from $34 billion to $62 billion during Labour’s time in power. Have we seen improvements in hospital waiting lists? No. Are our roads still congested? Yes. Has violent crime dropped? No. It’s no wonder we are losing 44,000 people every year to Australia. These people are already voting with their feet. Are we getting more effective services from the ever increasing bureaucracy?

The Tertiary Education Commission sticks out like a sore thumb as a bloated bureaucracy. It had planned to spend $3 million on consultants last year and ended up spending $10.6 million. This is in an organisation that didn’t exist five years ago. It now employs 341 bureaucrats and costs $72 million a year to run. What’s more, the commission got a funding increase of $22 million in this year’s Budget. This fact wasn’t even mentioned by the Government in its Budget press releases – no doubt because they found it too hard to justify to taxpayers why they were pouring more and more money into that black hole.

It took me a year to convince the TEC to investigate allegations that senior students were being offered cash kickbacks for studying at certain private training establishments. By the time the TEC got going, the total amount of student loans owed by students aged 60 years and over was $85 million. Last year that figure had climbed to $126 million, and I am still receiving complaints about establishments offering alternative kickbacks (including a week long holiday in Rotorua) despite the Serious Fraud Office stepping in to investigate 13 institutes alleged to have run scams.

I am waiting with bated breath to see what will be the latest amount owning at the end of this financial year. What makes the new scam allegations more shocking is the fact that the TEC had said these very scams would be unable to operate after 2007 because of regulation changes. The lack of concern shown by the TEC and Labour is breathtaking. The chance of full repayment of these loans is very slim but still they turn a blind eye to the situation.

This lack of care is not isolated to just one sector. I am trying to get to the bottom of two of the many ACC cases. One involves a man who ACC made pay $250 for a prescription for glasses even though he was certified as having 10% vision by his optometrist. This man lost limbs and his sight in a terrible accident and is unable to function without help. His ex-wife had to step into the breach to look after him, and even then ACC would not give him someone to look after him at night. One night when his ex-wife was away, he was left on his own and needed a glass of water. He managed to roll off his bed and crawl to the bathroom – but was only able to wet his lips with water from the toilet bowl. After winning this long battle for full-time care, he is now seeking to get back the $250 that ACC made him pay for glasses that were of no use to him.

In another case, a self-employed man has been forced to pay an extra 47.5% in levies. His wife has contacted both ACC and the Minister of ACC but has been unable to get a decent response as to why these levies have skyrocketed. I was able to tell her the increase was caused by legislation passed by Labour last year which merged the Employers and Self-Employed accounts, and that due to a difference in reserves, the Self-Employed account had to be topped up by $100 million (National opposed the legislation). Why was it so difficult for ACC to front up?

Then, of course, there has been the recent Immigration New Zealand saga and the investigation into the qualifications of boss Mary Anne Thompson. Given the heavy scrutiny that prospective migrants face over their qualifications, the whole scandal seems bizarre.

Going on their past track record, we shouldn’t be surprised at what’s going on at Immigration NZ. They can’t seem to get the Investor’s category right, with no applicants for their much trumpeted new look policy, which has categories for people wanting to invest $20 million and $10 million. And then there are the millions they wasted on Networkz Online – the job website for prospective migrants that only had two vacancies listed.

It’s clear something needs to be done about the Labour Government’s bloated bureaucracy. Outside of Labour government, no one is worried about National’s commitment to keep the lid on the government sector. Many people have also told me the Budget has left them feeling cold.

National has supported the cynical tax cuts offered by Labour because we feel people have waited far too long for them. Unlike Labour, tax cuts will be a priority for a National Government because we trust New Zealanders to spend their own money wisely.

Pansy Wong


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