National: Govt spending $700ka day on inquiries

The Government is spending $700,000 a day on inquiries, according to figures released by National.

The Opposition claims that 206 reviews and working groups have been called for by the Government at a total cost so far of around $280 million.

National leader Simon Bridges claimed the Coalition had outsourced the job they should have done when in Opposition and had virtually added another tier to Government in jobs for Wellington consultants and retired politicians.

“This is a Government whose parties had three terms – nine years – to develop their own ideas, but they’re now farming the thinking out to others and charging the taxpayers,” Bridges told theĀ Herald on Sunday.

The result of so many inquiries was a sense of uncertainty that had hamstrung the business and social sectors, he claimed.

“It is also a colossal waste of money which quite literally would mean you wouldn’t need a regional fuel tax in Auckland and could fund thousands of cochlear implants.”

Of the spending outlined in documents released by National, only $35 million related to information the party obtained under the Official Information Act. The rest was in a working document it compiled.

In response, the Government said National had its numbers wrong and described it as “a lazy piece of research”.

“National have listed a lot of items as reviews or working groups that aren’t and are actually core government work,” State Services Minister Chris Hipkins said.

Nearly half of the spending was on a Royal Commission into historic abuse in state care and churches, the mental health inquiry and the Pike River Recovery Agency.

“Much of the rest of the spending relates to business as usual expenses that any Government incurs and a lot of it is over three to four years,” Hipkins said.

The Government added last night the number of inquiries, reviews and advisory groups determined by the States Services Commission only totalled 41, saying they were “independent of politics”.

But, National’s documents list 206 reviews, working parties, summits and commissions set up under the Government.

National’s policy was not to re-enter the Pike River mine, but other than that Bridges did not give specific examples that were a waste of money.

“There will be some of them, and maybe some big ones, that aren’t worthwhile,” Bridges said. “When you look at this in total it is over the top, it is creating mass uncertainty for the business and the social sectors and there is also a big waste of money.”

Examples of the negative impact included ports, which he said was holding back on capital investment while a review of ports was held. “The same is true with power [because] we have a power price review, and for landlords and property investors given the tax review next year.

“I’m not saying there should be no reviews, but the number here is the point. It’s out of control.”

There were a dozen reviews of aspects of the education sector, for example.

“If you are at the chalk face, you really have no idea what’s coming at you in the next year or two or three years.”

It was “flabby spending” and the Government was “treading water”.

“The Government has no plans for growing the strong economy it inherited, or for improving the lives of New Zealanders.”

Hipkins said much of the inquiry work was on matters that could not be ignored. “Unlike National, this Government cares about New Zealanders and their cost of living.

“That’s why we lifted the minimum wage, invested record amounts into families through our families’ package, put in place the winter energy payment and are reviewing the price of petrol. We are doing all that while running a surplus and maintaining a strong economy.”

Bridges couldn’t recall the most expensive inquiry undertaken during National’s last term but didn’t consider the $26 million flag referendum promoted by Sir John Key to be extravagant. Just over two million people voted to retain the current flag by 56.6 per cent to 43.2 per cent.

Bridges claimed the Coalition Government was planning referenda on cannabis, euthanasia and electoral reform.

“If it’s a competition about who can spend most, I don’t think National would be coming out on top of that one.”

Top dollar: Major reviews under Coalition Government

Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care: $78 million

Pike River Recovery Agency (a Government department set up by the Coalition): $36 million

Mental Health Inquiry: $6.5 million

Tax working group: $4 million

Water contamination around Ohakea and Woodbourne air bases: $3.8 million

Climate Change Commission: $3.6 million

NCEA review: $3.5 million.

EQC inquiry: $3.3 million.

Inquiry into local government funding and financing: $2.2 million

Operation Burnham (NZDF activities in Tirgiran Valley, Afghanistan): $2 million

Welfare expert advisory group: $1.5 million

Electricity sector review: $1.5 million

* Estimated cost for some is over several years