The Spinoff author, Toby Manhire, doesn’t believe in transparency or accountability

Toby Manhire, an author at a small, publicly-funded, Auckland-based millennial website specialising in television listicles, ‘pop-culture’, and fake news has attacked the Taxpayers’ Union for daring to utilise the Official Information Act to find out what sort of sneaky and furtive expenditure councils have been up to.

Concerned about the results of an official information request showing an estimated $40,000 being spent dealing with one NZ organisation’s official information demands, the Spinoff seeks comment from public spending grassroots watchdog the Taxpayers’ Union.

Not all heroes wear capes, but if there is any justice in this benighted world Jordan Williams has one in a drawer, and swoops it on from time to time in the offices of the Taxpayers’ Union, the self-described “grassroots activist group” that lobbies fearlessly and ceaselessly in the cause of efficiency in public spending.


While the Spinoff is not in the same league as the tenacious grassroots activist group that has nothing against drag queens, we, too, are officially opposed to the waste of public money. And for this reason we were concerned to learn, via information obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (the local cousin of the OIA; we’re abbreviating both as OIA for neatness), that the Auckland Council has expended an estimated $39,100 over the course of a year dealing with official information requests from one organisation alone. That organisation – let me check the paperwork here – is the Taxpayers’ Union. Ratepayers, we think, deserve to know.

In response to our request, lodged last year, the Auckland Council told the Spinoff that, in the year to 30 June 2017, “64 requests [were] received by the New Zealand Taxpayers Union (including requests logged under individuals requesting on behalf of the organisation). This represents approximately 5.4% of all requests and, based on … the estimate of the cost to council of $611 per request … equates to an estimated cost of $39,100. Please note these figures do not include any requests received by Auckland Council that have been transferred to Auckland Transport or Watercare.”

What is Toby Manhire trying to achieve here? Silencing the Taxpayers’ Union? Stoping them from finding out information as is their legal right to using legal tools such as the OIA?

Or is he suggesting that the taxpayers’ Union embark on information and fact finding activities not unlike those used by his left-wing mates like Nicky Hager?

It is a bizarre rant against an organisation that has tens of thousands of members and is using legal means to discover information. Precisely what the Acts (Official Information Act and Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act) intended.

Why is it ok for other people to use the OIA but not the Taxpayers Union?

The Taxpayers Union responded:

Today an article was published about the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union in The Spinoff, a small, publicly-funded, Auckland-based millennial website specialising in television listicles, ‘pop-culture’, and fake news.

Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Jordan Williams says, “The Spinoff reveals that one in 20 information requests to Auckland Council come from the Taxpayers’ Union (including our sister group the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance).”

“We’d expect nothing less. The Taxpayers’ Union represents 31,000 members and supporters, with the Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance enjoying the support of 16,000 members. When the Official Information Act is one of the only available mechanisms to hold Government agencies to account, we’re certainly going to use it.”

The Spinoff focuses on the alleged cost incurred to taxpayers from these information requests. The administrative cost of releasing information is incomparable to the tens of millions in government waste the Taxpayers’ Union reveals every year.”

“For example, just last week we exposed Callaghan Innovation’s $300,000 spend on entertainment in 2015/16. The Spinoff takes issue with our focus on Callaghan, possibly because they receive funding from Callaghan Innovation themselves.”

“In fact, The Spinoff also receives funding from Creative New Zealand, Heart of the City, Otago University, and NZ on Air. It’s no wonder they don’t like transparency around the use of public money.”

I can foresee quite a few new OIAs from The Taxpayers’ Union regarding the funding arrangements for The Spinoff from government and local body organisations.

Perhaps the most succinct summary is from a left-winger who isn’t happy with The Spinoff’s and Manhire’s “bullying”:

These smug, self-important lefty pricks are always trying to bully, silence and attempt to shut down voices of those they disagree with. The major problem I have with them doing this is they use government money to do it, all the while sanctimoniously claiming they are purer than everyone else.


-Twitter, The Spinoff, Taxpayers’ Union

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