Election 2014 - FACT or FICTION?

10:47 am on 19 September 2014
Fact or fiction

In our fifth week examining political statements to assess whether they are fact, fiction or exaggeration we consider Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden.

Each week on this page Radio New Zealand has checked the claims made by political parties and their candidates against the facts.

We asked you to pass on claims you heard from politicians that made you suspicious, and asked you to email any documented evidence you had proving a statement was either wrong or exaggerated.

As well as uncovering fiction and exaggeration, we also confirmed when politicians got it right.

There will be LIVE coverage of Election 2014 from 7pm on Saturday on RADIONZ.CO.NZ as results come in, with continuous updates, reports from across the country, and an up-to-the-minute graphic showing how the parties are faring against each other.

Friday 19 September

Glenn Greenwald in Radio New Zealand's Auckland studio.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald in Radio New Zealand's Auckland studio during his visit to New Zealand. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

The biggest claim made this week came not from politicians but from American investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald and American whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Mr Greenwald has reported the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) has conducted mass surveillance on the electronic communications of New Zealanders. Mr Snowden, appearing by video link from Moscow, told the Internet Party's Moment of Truth meeting in Auckland on Monday night, said that when he was a contract analyst for the National Security Agency he had viewed personal information of New Zealanders caught up in the mass surveillance.

Mr Greenwald provided documentary evidence from the NSA, leaked to him by Edward Snowden, which revealed details about a project called Speargun. Another document said the GCSB was only waiting for law changes to go through before fully proceeding with the plan to conduct the surveillance.

Prime Minister John Key rejects suggestions the GCSB did so, saying it has no capability to conduct mass surveillance. He did concede though that a more limited cyber protection scheme has been put in place.

That could involve sweeping up the electronic communications people have with government agencies and other private sector entities which have sought cyber protection from the GCSB.

Mr Key also conceded that while the GCSB did not conduct mass surveillance, he could not rule out the NSA doing so, saying he had no control over New Zealand's Five Eyes partners. Later, though, he said that under the Five Eyes arrangement there was an agreement the partners - New Zealand, Australia, Britain, Canada and the US - would not spy on one another. But he cannot be sure that is the case.

Mr Greenwald and Mr Snowden remain adamant it is not just the NSA prying into New Zealanders electronic communications but the GCSB too.

As yet no conclusive evidence has been provided to prove the GCSB spying accusation. But internet liberty campaigners point out Mr Snowden's other claims about the activities of the spy agencies of the other Five Eyes members have been proven correct.

And Mr Key refuses to talk about XKEYSCORE, the system which is used to monitor electronic communications.

For the moment, the line between fact and fiction is blurred but Mr Key is under continued pressure to be more open about the activities of the GCSB.

This week there has also been focus again on the level of welfare dependency with the National Party promising to reduce the number of people receiving a benefit by 75,000 over the next three years.

Both National's leader John Key and its social development spokesperson Paula Bennett have made claims about benefit numbers. Mr Key says the number of teen parents on a benefit has dropped by 40 percent since 2009.

Figures provided by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) show that in December 2009 there were 4,263 mothers aged from 16 to 19 receiving a benefit. By December 2013 that number had dropped to 2,579, a drop of 39.5 percent or rounded up 40 percent.

Paula Bennett says there are 30,000 fewer children in benefit families than two years ago.

Again, figures provided by the MSD show that in June 2012, there were 227,456 children with beneficiary parents. By June this year that number had dropped to 196,771, a drop of 30,685.

It is also worth looking at beneficiary numbers going back to 1999 because Mr Key has claimed welfare dependency did not improve under the previous Labour Government.

But in September 1999 there were 375,226 people on benefits. That number dropped by more than 100,000 to 269,608 in September 2008, the year Labour lost power.

By December 2010 beneficiary numbers had risen to 352,707 but by June this year had fallen back to 293,586.

Saturday 13 September

Labour's David Cunliffe, left, and National leader John Key.

Labour's David Cunliffe, left, and National leader John Key during the TV3 leaders' debate on 10 September. Photo: TV3

In what might be one of the biggest claims of the election campaign, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has said 1600 people are moving off benefits into jobs every week. That is 83,200 a year.

National Party leader John Key repeated the claim during the TV3 leaders' debate this week.

But it is not correct. Both have mixed benefit numbers with job creation numbers to reach the wrong conclusion.

In the past year, 83,000 new jobs have been created, 1600 a week. But most of those jobs went to new entrants to the workforce - young people going from education to work, immigrants, and others returning to the workforce after a break (for example, those who took time out from paid work to look after children).

The number of people on benefits did not fall by that amount. In June 2013, 309,782 people received main benefits. By June this year that had dropped to 293,586, a decline of 16,196. On a weekly basis that is 311 people moving off benefits, not 1600.


Paula Bennett's office has objected to how we have reported the drop in benefit numbers. It said Ms Bennett's use of the figure that 1600 people were moving off benefits into jobs each week was based on 84,477 benefits being cancelled in the year from June 2013 to June 2014, with those people going to work. The net drop in benefits in that year is 16,000, about 311 a week.

John Key has also criticised Labour's fiscal plan and said in its last five years in Government Labour increased spending by 50 percent.

In the Government's financial statements on the Treasury's website, total Government spending in 2004 was $53.698 billion. It rose to $75.842 billion in the year ending 30 June 30 2008, Labour's last full year in office. That is an increase of 41 percent.

Spending did increase substantially during the 2009 financial year. National had the option of winding that spending back but did not, saying instead it was continuing to provide support to the most vulnerable New Zealanders as the country struggled through the Global Financial Crisis.

It is also worth noting some other statistics about Labour's last five years in Government. In the five years from the year ended June 2004 to June 2008 it ran surpluses, excluding investment gains and losses, totalling $31.236 billion.

In June 2004, net public debt was $23.858 billion. By 2008, it was $10.258 billion and total Crown net worth increased from $39.595 billion to $105.514 billion.

So when National took office the books were in good shape as the country began to feel the effects of the recession, even though the Treasury was forecasting ten years of deficits.

Mr Key has also claimed the National-led Government has lifted 30,000 children out of poverty

Just how correct this statement is depends on your starting point. The Ministry of Social Development's Household Incomes Report says in 2013 there were between 120,000 and 260,000 children in poverty, depending on what measure was used.

It says using one measure - the after housing costs at 60 percent of median income - there were 300,000 children in poverty in 2010 and 2011. This had dropped to 260,000 last year but still not much lower than the 270,000 who had been in poverty in 2009.

The report says the number of children in poverty is 30,000 to 40,000 lower than the peak recorded after the Global Financial Crisis in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 surveys but not from 2008 when National took office.

On other measures, which are less stringent, there were 230,000 children in poverty in 2013, the same number as 2007 but lower than the 320,000 recorded in 2004.

The report makes clear the biggest cut in poverty came between 2004 and 2007 as working families benefited from the effects of the extension of Working for Families tax credits put in place by the then Labour-led Government.

Debate will continue to rage about the extent of child and family poverty because successive Governments have refused to officially recognise a poverty line or set targets for reducing poverty.

Mr Key also said during the leaders' debate that only 11 percent of the 260,000 children in poverty come from working families.

But again the Ministry of Social Development's Household Incomes Report says two out of five poor children come from families where at least one adult in in full-time work or is self-employed. Mr Key might have got confused by the fact that only 11 percent of working families are in poverty but that is an entirely different statistic.

During the leaders' debate, David Cunliffe said the top ten percent owned more than the bottom 90 percent combined.

The most recent Household Income Survey - conducted by Statistics New Zealand - reveals the top ten percent held about 52 percent of household wealth. That figure is now a decade old but is unlikely to have changed substantially over that time.

Mr Cunliffe has also claimed National's proposed tax cuts in 2017 will cost $2.4 billion, not the $1 billion Mr Key says his party will put aside for the cuts.

Mr Cunliffe says Labour's calculation is based on 1.6 million families receiving tax cuts worth $1500 a year.

That's based on Mr Key saying the tax cuts could be worth $500, $1000 or $1500 a year to families. Labour has taken Mr Key's highest estimate.

While there are 1.6 million households in the country, there are not that many families. About 342,000 households include just one person. And of the remaining families not all are in work and therefore not all would receive whatever tax cut National might eventually implement.

So Labour's calculations might overstate the numbers.

Equally though Mr Key has given no justification of how families might be better off by $1500 a year.

Just cutting the two lowest tax rates by one cent each, for example, would use up most of the $1 billion National says is available for tax cuts. Someone earning $48,000 a year would be $960 a year better off in that case.

But lower income earners would receive less, leaving them well short of $1500. If there are two income earners in a family, though, they might well receive that much in tax cuts.

The actual amount people receive in tax cuts will depend on their individual and family circumstances.

Saturday 6 September

John Key and David Cunliffe

John Key and David Cunliffe square off in the Press Leaders debate. Photo: Fairfax NZ

Last week John Key said: "This month 80 New Zealanders left for Australia... I know their names..."

Then in The Press debate this week he said under Labour 35,000 people had left for Australia each year.

"Now they are down to 80 a month."

Neither is entirely accurate. Actually 1,627 New Zealanders left for Australia in July, which are the most up-to-date figures, while 1,200 came home. So there was a net loss of New Zealanders that month of 427.

Mr Key is correct if was talking about all migrants, including people who are not NZ citizens or residents, moving both ways across the Tasman. Using those figures the net loss was 79.

And does Mr Key know their names?

"Well the names was a joke yeah. I took it you had a sense of humour but if you don't let me know," Mr Key replied.

And over the year to the end of July the net loss to Australia was 7,300 at an average of 608 a month.

John Key has also made repeated statements about the impact of Housing Accords on increasing the availability of residential land.

On Morning Report he said "Auckland Council has consented more residential land in the last nine months, than was consented in the last nine years".

Our Auckland correspondent Todd Niall investigated.

He sought clarification from Mr Key's staff, who replied "What the Prime Minister meant was, that under the Auckland Housing Accord's Special Housing Areas, more land has been re-zoned residential in the last nine months than was done in the nine years of the previous Labour Government"

But there is no data to support either claim, and the difficulty lies in the use of technical language.

The Auckland Council said it does not have figures to directly compare the rates of re-zoning land, with the period before the council was formed out of eight other bodies in 2010.

Figures supplied by the Minister Housing's office claiming 3,700ha of Auckland land has been re-zoned residential, do not reflect what is presently occurring under that city's Housing Accord.

3700ha is the area of land currently approved or accepted to be declared a Special Housing Area, thereby qualifying for fast-track resource and building consents, and in some cases where needed, fast track re-zoning to "residential".

Much of the land is still in the SHA pipeline and has not yet been consented. Some has not yet re-zoned and that can take up to six months.

As well, some of that land was already zoned residential, including blocks owned by Housing New Zealand at Hobsonville Point, and in south Auckland.

This land has always been ready to develop, but the provisions of the Housing Accord have accelerated that development.

The picture which the Prime Minister is trying to paint of accelerated housing development thanks to the Housing Accord is correct.

The attempt to statistically compare that process with the creation of new residential land between 1999 and 2008 is not.

The Government this week attacked the Green Party's policy to gradually raise the minimum wage to 18 dollars an hour by 2017, if elected to Government.

Both John Key and Minister of Labour Simon Bridges, said that 16,500 people would lose their jobs if that happened.

Liz Banas looked at their claim.

Their source was The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

But MBIE's last review of the minimum wage, done in 2013, considers several scenarios for lifting the minimum wage in the following year.

It found that a lift to $18.40 cents per hour would put a "restraint on employment" of 24,000, and National has extrapolated that for the proposed lift to $18 dollars to 16,500 losing jobs.

But restraint on employment means jobs that would NOT be created, rather than existing jobs lost.

And the report only considers what would happen if the minimum wage was to rise by just over $4 ( from the 2013 rate of $13.75 to $18.60) in one year, not over three years as the Greens proposed.

The MBIE report actually said there was little adverse impact of minimum wage increases on employment - and any big impacts would only occur when there are significant changes that increase the ratio of the minimum wage to the average wage, does it start to notably constrain employment growth.

The 2013 ordinary average wage was $27.98 an hour in 2013 according to the Quarterly Employment Survey (Quarterly Employment Survey) and that is forecast to rise by nearly three percent over the next couple of years.

We sought clarification from Simon Bridges but he has not responded to our request for more information.

In attacking John Key's decision to set up an inquiry into allegations against former Justice Minister Judith Collins, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, said Mr Key should not be make such decisions because he is in a caretaker role.

But Mr Peters is wrong about the caretaker convention. The caretaker convention only applies after the election or if an election is called because a government loses a confidence vote in Parliament.

Mr Peters is right, however, that there is an established practice - referred to in the Cabinet Manual - that governments should avoid making significant decisions, such as senior appointments, in the three months before an election.

The ACT Party claimed there have been significant reductions in violence against women over the previous four years. On the surface, looking at the statistics, that might appear to be the case.

There were 8925 recorded cases of males assaulting females in 2010 compared with 6749 in 2013.

But total family violence numbers were up from 86,763 in 2010 to 95,080 in 2013.

The New Zealand Violence Clearinghouse at Auckland University, which reports on the statistics, warns that the data is dependent on reporting and recording practices by police and cannot be used as indicators of the incidence of family violence or violence against women, nor can it be used to comment on trends.

Saturday 30 August

Justice Minister talks to the media, including Radio New Zealand political reporter Craig McCulloch.

Judith Collins speaking to the media including RNZ political reporter Craig McCulloch. Photo: RNZ / Luke Appleby

Politicians are continuing to be caught out by making claims they cannot substantiate.

Justice Minister Judith Collins is one of those. Harried by reporters over the disclosures in Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics, Ms Collins continued to deny she had been wrong in passing on information to her friend, rightwing blogger Cameron Slater.

She was particularly dismissive of accusations she had breached the privacy of public servant Simon Pleasants by passing on his name and contact numbers to Mr Slater. Ms Collins went further by stating Privacy Commissioner John Edwards had cleared her of the allegation, saying the information she passed on was not private.

But Mr Edwards had done no such thing. All he had done was refuse to investigate a complaint from the Green Party about the matter because Mr Pleasants himself had not complained.

The commissioner said: "The Privacy Act is fundamentally concerned with the preservation and promotion of individual autonomy. It protects the right of an individual to determine, or at least influence, the extent to which their personal information is placed into the public domain and becomes the subject of public discussion.

"That purpose would not be served if we were to investigate a complaint in a highly politicised and publicised environment that is neither on behalf of, nor supported by, the affected individual."

When this was made clear on Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme, Ms Collins' office was then quick to clarify her remarks.

"The Minister interpreted from media reports that she had been cleared by the PC as he would not take a complaint from the Green Party further due to lack of personal interest. The Minister understands her interpretation was incorrect as should a complaint come directly from Mr Pleasants - the PC would consider it."

It was a strange misinterpretation from a politician who is the Minister of Justice and a lawyer.

Prime Minister John Key has also made a claim in relation to Dirty Politics. Asked about allegations that the National Party had been involved in gaining access to the Labour Party's computer system, Mr Key said this: "If the Wallabies on Tuesday night left their starting line-up on their website, their private website, would the All Blacks go and have a look. The answer's yes and the reason I know that is it's happened."

The All Blacks were surprised by the comment, with a spokesperson saying they had no idea what Mr Key was talking about.

We asked the Prime Minister's office why Mr Key was so certain the All Blacks had done what he alleged.

"The Prime Minister was actually referring to a hypothetical situation when talking about the Wallabies, but in doing so he also recalled a very similar situation late last year when the All Blacks left a hotel room door open on the tour of England and people entered the room and took down private team information from a white board," his office replied.

Mr Key has also repeatedly said the country is now earning more than we spend.

In fact the country is not earning more than it spends. The current account - the difference between what the country earns and spends overseas - is still in deficit and the Treasury expects that to get bigger.

If Mr Key meant the Government when he said it, then he has a point. But it is still based on forecasts. The Treasury is forecasting the Government's books will be in surplus at the end of this financial year on 30 June 2015. But even if that occurs it will not be a cash surplus so the Government will continue borrowing for a few years yet before it can start repaying debt.

The Maori Party's Tamaki Makaurau candidate Rangi McLean has defended his party's relationship with National saying it went to the Government's table with its own mana, its own tino rangatiratanga intact. "I know for a fact that the Maori Party has voted against the government - National's policies - more times than the Labour Party," Mr McLean said.

But in the last Parliament Labour voted 175 times against Government bills at their various stages of progress in the House while the Maori Party voted against just 90 times.

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe has re-announced the party's power policy and said low income households using pre-paid electricity paid 60 percent more for their power than other households.

A check of the Consumer New Zealand site shows that pre-paid customers do pay more for their power but not 60 percent. Consumers of Contact Energy in Invercargill pay the most if they take the pre-paid option. It finds the cheapest pre-paid deal costs $4011 a year compared with $2912 for the cheapest standard deal. That means pre-paid customers are paying a bit over 30 percent more than those on standard terms, but not 60 percent.

None of the other examples on the site reveal differences as big as that.


We checked the Consumer New Zealand site and found that the worst off were Contact Energy consumers in Invercargill who paid $4011 a year for pre-paid electricity compared with $2912 for the cheapest standard deal. We said that meant they were paid a bit over 30% more than those on standard terms.

In fact they pay nearly 38 percent more although none of the other examples on the site reveal a difference as big as that.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has said someone acting on behalf of a National Party MP, who was acting on behalf of Judith Collins, approached him to ask if he would do a deal with Ms Collins after the election rather than with John Key.

Ms Collins denied she or anyone acting on her behalf approached Mr Peters.

Fact or fiction? You decide.

Saturday 21 August

David Cunliffe.

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe has claimed more than half a million people did not go to a GP because of cost. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

In his speech at the Labour Party's launch, David Cunliffe said more than half a million people did not go to a GP because of cost, and that about a quarter of a million did not fill out their prescriptions because of the cost.

The Ministry of Health's latest health survey confirms that in 2012-13, an estimated 518,000 adults did not visit a GP because of cost and that 217,000 had an unfilled prescription because of cost.

The survey reveals the proportion of the adult population not going to a GP because of cost had risen from 13.8 percent in 2011-12 to 14.5 percent in 2012-13.

It also confirms 217,000 adults did not fill out a prescription because of cost.

Other statistics in the report reveal 184,000 children had an unmet health need for primary health care in 2012-13 due to cost, transport, childcare or not being able to make an appointment.

In Winston Peters' campaign launch speech, he said New Zealand First had raised the minimum wage faster than any other party, from $9 an hour in 2005 to $12 an hour in 2008.

That is correct to a point. But in fact the minimum wage moved to $9.50 an hour in March 2005 before New Zealand First became a support party to the Labour-led Government after the election later that year.

It then rose to $12 an hour before that government left office.

In one of its election pamphlets about the anti-smacking law, the Conservative Party said child abuse had increased 32 percent since section 59 of the Crimes Act was repealed. It also said the police had been investigating "good parents" at an average of nearly two a week.

Child abuse statistics held by Child, Youth and Family do reveal that in 2008 there were what it termed 16,290 substantiated abuse findings.

By 2013, that figure had risen to 22,984, which is more than a 30 percent increase.

But at the same time as the anti-smacking law was introduced, Child, Youth and Family also introduced changes to the way it dealt with child abuse, including running an advertising campaign encouraging people to report abuse. Since 2010, there has been virtually no change in abuse statistics.

The Conservative Party's claim on police investigations of smacking does not match the official statistics. In the worst period, from 23 December 2009 to 22 June 2010, the police attended 23 smacking incidents, just one a week.

In total, from September 2007 until June 2012 - the most recent figures held by the police - there were 140 smacking incidents which required police attention. That is the equivalent of one parent being investigated by policy every two weeks, a quite different statistic to an average of nearly two a week.

Follow Brent Edwards on Twitter @rnzgallerybrent

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