Hamish Rutherford reports:
Inland Revenue has admitted it was wrong to ask for New Zealanders’ political persuasions in a survey they are carrying out for the Government on the eve of the release of a crucial tax reform report.
The taxman is researching the public’s views on globalisation and fairness in the tax system. Questions had included where respondents sit on the political spectrum, prompting questions of whether taxpayers are funding sensitive political polling.
After days of defending the research, Inland Revenue conceded on Saturday night that it was wrong to ask the political question.
“We should not have included the question about political spectrum,” group head of communications and marketing Andrew Stott said, adding that the department would not include the question in its research.
So the question now has to be, why did they include that question on where respondents sit on the political spectrum? Who proposed it? Who was consulted? Who approved it?
If I was National, I’d be filing an OIA request asking for all correspondence around the question design. I’d be very interested in whether the Minister’s office was consulted.
Inland Revenue was forced to reveal details of the $125,000 research project it is undertaking with polling company Colmar Brunton, after repeatedly playing down its significance.
Around 1000 people are being asked questions about their views on Inland Revenue, whether they are generally trusting, believe what they read in the media, pay too much tax or whether public services should get more funding.
This must be a mistake. There is no way a 1,000 person poll would cost $125,000. Not even a Government Department could be so wasteful.
Even if it was a 30 minute survey, that would be a cost of $250 per calling hour.
I can only presume the $125,000 is for a wider piece of research, of what the poll is a small part.
Inland Revenue initially refused to release the polling questions. Group head of communications and marketing Andrew Stott denied the poll included political leaning questions. “I’d be incredibly amazed if there was,” Stott said.
He later admitted he had not checked the poll.
So IRD denied they had asked such a question. You really should check before you deny.
National’s finance spokeswoman Amy Adams planned to complain to the State Services Commission.
“It is deeply concerning that IRD is doing overtly political polling on the eve of the release of the Tax Working Group’s final report,” Adams said.
Adams said the survey needed to be examined independently.
“Given the implications of politicisation this raises, it is something the State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes should investigate and confirm that the IRD are not carrying out political services for the Government.”
There is nothing wrong with the IRD doing research on tax policy. But when the questions are about where people sit on the political spectrum, that becomes very different.
David Farrar, managing director of Curia Research, a polling company best known for its work for National, said the polling could be highly valuable for ministers to inform political decisions.
“I cannot recall a government department ever asking questions before which effectively are political rather than policy questions,” Farrar said, especially if the polling allowed ministers to target the views of particular parts of the spectrum which were likely to be swing voters.
I’ll be very interested to read, if it comes out, how this occurred. Was it just an over eager staffer, or was there someone asking for this info?