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Advocating for the People: My Experience Working with the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union

Rhys Budge

Rhys Budge

2023 Mannkal Scholar

While Australians were casting their vote in the Voice to Parliament Referendum, New Zealanders were also heading to voting booths to decide who they wanted to lead their country for the next 3 years. Kiwis opted for a change of government, pushing out Labour and electing Christopher Luxon’s National Party. It was in early November not too long after this election outcome, that I departed for Wellington to begin my two month internship with the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

Upon my arrival, I was informed that, despite the recent result, New Zealand technically didn’t have a government. While National were elected by majority, they still needed to form a coalition with two minor parties, ACT and New Zealand First. Such an undertaking would prove easier said than done, with neither of these minor party leaders willing to make concessions to the other.

While these negotiations went back and forth, I had the chance to learn the ropes and get more acquainted with one of the world’s largest tax advocacy groups. The New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union’s stated mission is to deliver Kiwis greater transparency and accountability from their government. Through their public tip-off line, as well as a great deal of individual investigative digging, the Taxpayers’ Union can turn even a scent of government money mischief into a nationwide story.

Rhys in the offices of the NZTU

From day one, I was trusted with several ideas to research and leads to chase. I soon got to experience for myself the feeling of discovering several hidden gems of wasteful government spending. Seeing such revelations eventually become subject to public scrutiny and contribute to a wider conversation within an entire Nation was truly fascinating. Much of the thrill came from knowing that this kind of work is essential to the greater goal of keeping elected officials accountable for the public’s tax dollars.

Two weeks later, I was fortunate to be able to join the rest of the team in Auckland to celebrate the Union’s 10th anniversary gala. The event was held at the stunning Gibbs Farm, where we enjoyed a walk around the scenic landscape populated with many different animals and remarkable architectural art pieces. Later that evening, we heard from sitting member of the UK’s House of Lords and advisor to the Board of Trade, Lord Daniel Hannan. Lord Hannan’s incredible depth of knowledge was appropriately matched by his phenomenal speaking ability. His speech emphasised how individual liberty, though counterintuitive to our human nature, is of utmost importance to a nation’s continued success. His speech can be listened to here.

Over the weeks that followed the conclusion of the gala, New Zealand finally witnessed the formation of their new government. Since then, the general feeling around the office is that much of the real work is now just getting started, and the Union’s commitment to holding the government to account, no matter who is in charge, remains steadfast.

Reflecting on what has now been over a month, this experience has been unlike anything I have ever done. While working on my various projects and helping the Taxpayers’ Union staff wherever needed, one major highlight for me has been meeting some of the great people who support the organisation. Whether this was in my conversations with attendees at the gala, or shaking hands with people at gas stations and rest stops while I drove the Union ute from Auckland to Wellington, I got to see firsthand how much it meant to people that there are organisations out there advocating for them. I feel privileged to have been able to contribute, even for just a short time, towards work that is meaningful for so many.

Continuing now into the second half of my time here in New Zealand, I look forward to seeing some of the projects I have been a part of getting released into the world. Be sure to keep an eye on the Taxpayers’ Union’s newsletter to see what we get up to.

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