The Taxpayers Union and passports - for the win!

You should always be careful for what you wish for, in case you happen to get it.

Here's a short little story about the perils of getting what you ask for, courtesy of the New Zealand Taxpayers Union (NZTU).

Back in February 2014, the NZTU launched a report claiming that the cost of NZ's new 5-year-valid passports was far too high and calling for the Government to reintroduce 10-year-valid passports instead. These would be, the NZTU asserted, much cheaper for the individual passport holder. 

The NZTU was very happy with its report and campaigned hard to see it adopted by Government. You can, for example, see it proudly announcing on its first birthday that:

[The Passport Report] lead to considerable media attention and helped force the Government to review our passport regime with, according to Peter Dunne, a view of returning to a 10-year passport regime.

And, indeed that review paid dividends. As the NZTU told us here, Cabinet agreed to return to 10-year-valid passports earlier this year - albeit at a slightly increased cost to the applicant.

But that slight increase ($45) isn't that big an issue. David Farrar, the NZTU's co-founder, hailed this change as follows:

The Taxpayers’ Union did a report and campaign on this issue, so pleased to see another policy win for it.

The current passport cost is $134.50 for the five year passport. The fee of $180 for a ten year passport doesn’t seem unreasonable on the basis that they will have a mixture of fixed and variable costs.

And if that were the end of the story, then fair play to them. It is bloody annoying to have to (in effect) renew your passport every 4 years - so a longer validity period at slightly higher cost is OK with me.

Except ... it's not the end of the story. Because Radio NZ went and got the Cabinet Papers that accompanied the decision to return to 10-year-valid passports. And these reveal that:

Initially Ministers had agreed on a fee of $225 but after Mr Dunne met with Associate Minister Steven Joyce in April, it was decided that a fee of $180 plus a capital injection of $20 million would cover costs until July 2018.

So, you get that? Due to returning to a 10-year-valid period, we will go from a system of full cost recovery from applicants to one in which the taxpayer will subsidise the cost of individual applicants. Which seems like something that the NZTU might have a bit of a problem with, I would have thought.

What is more, the Department of Internal Affairs also told Cabinet that it had been advised by Treasury "that in six years time passport fees would need to go up to $404 or the DIA would need extra capital of $218 million over six years from July 2021."

We do have to take this information with the proviso that it is Treasury advice and so staring a chicken entrails may be more accurate ... but nevertheless, it's not exactly what the NZTU seemed to have in mind when it campaigned hard for longer validity and thus cheaper passports.