Parting Shot: What’s behind government announcements


To expose the Watergate scandal, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein followed the money.

It’s a simple thing but a powerful reminder for us journos.

Just look at the Panama Papers.

Following the money has forced the resignation of Iceland’s Prime Minister and put pressure on world leaders such as Britain’s David Cameron and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

But it doesn’t take Deep Throat or tax havens to learn this lesson.

Let’s look at government announcements in the last week.

A $25 million package for New Zealand’s cycle trails, of which $13m is earmarked to link Otago’s trails, including Queenstown.

The creation of a $12m fund to deal with freedom campers.

And a $4.2m government cash injection for tourism projects, including $500,000 for an AJ Hackett Bungy adventure ride called the Nevis Thriller.

The first thing to note is that, in dollar terms, cycle trails are more important than helping councils with freedom campers.

What else has the government spent $12m on lately?

A controversial sheep farm in Saudi Arabia to appease a billionaire upset at New Zealand’s live sheep export ban.

Roughly half a flag referendum.

The upcoming investigation of three regional state highway projects.

In summary, it’s not a great deal of money and it won’t solve a lot.

All summer there were stories about the problems associated with camping in carparks and lakeside spots, particularly in the South Island.

Van-loads of freeloaders were squatting on empty sections in central Queenstown, until they fled after large signs threatening large fines were erected.

In March, Tourism Industry Aotearoa called for an infrastructure fund and the government has now coughed up a small amount so it will go away.

Job done? Well, no.

Presumably every council in the country can apply and there are some with smaller rating bases than Queenstown which, in my opinion, need more help.

The West Coast is a prime example.

In an optimistic scenario let’s say Queenstown gets $1m. That then has to be spread across many areas between the Wakatipu and across the hill in Wanaka.

With high building costs in the current construction boom, and with consents and red-tape, I reckon we’d be lucky to pay for three blocks of land with coin-operated toilets, showers and kitchen facilities.

A veritable band aid on what is becoming a bleeding wound.

The second thing we’ve learned is good news (cycle tourism Mecca!!) trumps a bad news clean-up (freedom campers poo in bushes).

Thirdly and lastly, what the government announcements tell us is that profitable tourism giants like AJ Hackett are eligible for taxpayer handouts.

The justification is that the taxpayers’ $500,000 has encouraged “industry funding” of $1.5m, and the “estimated potential economic benefits to New Zealand” are up to $40m.

Well, blow me down.

What is half a mill to Queenstown Bungy Limited?

Surely, making money in these boom times must be easier for the tourism pioneer than pushing people off a bungy platform.

And many of the “economic benefits” of new tourism rides will inevitably fall into the pockets of its wealthy owners, such as Henry van Asch and Sir John Davies.

I applaud Queenstown Bungy’s innovation, the way it has expanded and changed over the years.

But I reckon it’s taking advantage of the system when it would have spent the money anyway.

The ACT Party calls such government handouts “corporate welfare”, which I think is an ideal description.

Meanwhile, people in Queenstown are paying $200 for a single bed in a shared room. Or paying through the nose for poorly-insulated mouldy flats.

Workers are moving to Cromwell or just leaving town altogether. Businesses are struggling - even more than usual - to attract and retain staff.

I’ve got a solution.

The government coughs up $12m (its default figure), and Queenstown’s council throws in the $32.5m earmarked for the mothballed convention centre, to build worker accommodation on public land close to town.

To celebrate the building’s opening, a tourism company loads $500,000 of taxpayer cash onto an innovative catapult, and launches the banknotes into the air.

Then we could really follow the money.