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Minister Fails in Defence Chief Censor’s Report

The Society for Promotion of Community Standards Inc.
P.O. Box 13-683 Johnsonville

Minister Fails in Defence Chief Censor’s Report
15 November 2006

The Society has filed serious complaints with the Office of the Auditor-General and the Government Administration Committee over the Financial Statements of the Chief Censor’s Office (OFLC) covering the last two financial years. It has called for a full inquiry into the complaints by the Auditor’s Office and requested that the select committee extend its current review of the finances of the OFLC, to include them (the committee chair, Shane Ardern MP has agreed to include them).

Based on the Minister of Internal Affairs figures, recently released to parliament and claimed to give the true costs involved in the examination, classification and registration of all publications (personnel time and overheads included) by the OFLC; the Society has shown that $1.55 million of taxpayers’ money remains unaccounted for in the OFLC Financial Statements for 2004/05 and $1.49 million unaccounted for in 2005/06.

In a recent letter (8 Nov) the Hon. Rick Barker tried to account for the massive gap ($1.55m) between total OFLC expenditure on “Output 1” ($2,331,590) and actual costs involved ($783.920), for 2004/05; by claiming that the $1.55 million covered “activities” that he claimed were “not related to the classification of specific publications”. He gave as examples of such unrelated activities, “quality control” of the classification process, so-called “pre- and post classification” tasks and “statutory duties” carried out by the Chief Censor, Bill Hastings, and his Deputy Nicola McCully. However, the Society contends that the Chief Censor has a statutory duty to ensure that ALL of the Crown Revenue ($1,371,894) allocated to fulfil Output 1 (defined specifically as “Examination, Classification and Registration of Publications”), is committed ONLY to this end and that the costs of activities such as “quality assurance”, highlighted by the Minister, must be included in the costs calculations for achieving “Ouput 1” (with respect to every individual and/or category of publication dealt with by the OFLC).

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No valid business/financial appraisal of the Classification Office’s performance under Output 1, or valid presentation of financial accounts, can be achieved without including ALL these activities. The Society concludes that either: (1) the Minister has misled parliament by providing erroneous cost estimates involved in classification (well-below true costs), or (2) a large amount of Crown Revenue assigned to Output 1 has been spent for other purposes which would be against the law, or (3) a combination of (1) & (2).

To reiterate, the Society cannot accept that a proper financial/business analysis of costs involved in a core function of the Office, defined as Output 1, can legitimately EXCLUDE the cost of all the matters such a “quality assurance” etc listed by the Minister. It believes that the true cost to the New Zealand taxpayer to run this highly inefficient (<30% efficiency) Classification Unit headed by Hastings and McCully, needs to be publicly exposed. This is why it has referred its concerns to the Auditor-General and a select committee of parliament. It points out that neither Hastings nor McCully have any financial or business training, qualifications or experience and they are fully responsible “for the preparation of” the Financial Statements. Hastings has a legal background. The only job Ms McCully did prior to entering the OFLC was a short term as a junior teacher’s aid.

In 2004/05, on average, the 16 censors could only have spent between 1.4 to 1.7 days per week carrying out activities RELATED TO the examination, classification and registration of publications (i.e. Output 1). Over a 48 week year this equates to 16 staff performing at an efficiency of between 28% and 34%.

The Society has calculated that the efficiency of the Classification Unit (supported by the executive members) for 2005/06 was less than 30%. This is appalling! It is equivalent to each of the 19 staff members being engaged for only 1.66 days per 5 day working week, in carrying out tasks related to achieving Output 1 – the ONLY task they are employed to complete! The education, information gathering and disseminating functions of the OFLC – carried out by the Information Unit – constitute “Output 2”. They are specifically funded by a separate Crown Revenue grant of about $620,000. None of the staff in this unit contribute to Output 1.

New Zealand taxpayers have a right to know how their taxes are being squandered: massively subsidising the proliferation and promotion of hard core pornography for entertainment purposes. According to the Deputy Chief Censor, 80% of the time her 19 Classification Unit staff spend at the Office is spent classifying sexually explicit R18 material in DVD and video format (“Watching The Defectives” Sunday Star Times 13/0806, pp. 5-6). Watching all these publications is very stressful according to Hastings and McCully, whose statutory terms of office have expired. Hastings told Jim Moira in a 24-minute interview on RadioNZ on Monday this week that he and his fellow censors receive “stress relief” every Thursday night at the Office from massueses. He and his staff also have the services of psychologists to help them cope with the toxic material they regularly watch, and they use them regularly. Others distress by taking dancing lessons, attending the gym or enrolling in regular music therapy sessions, all of the above paid for by tax-payers. (RadioNZ 13/11/06).

For further analysis and comment see www.spcs.org.nz

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