New Zealanders’ perspectives on tax

post by Emily Lawrence

A core value position of the social work profession is “the development and just allocation of the resources which enable everyone to achieve their full potential” (ANZASW, 2013,p.5). Most funding for social work services comes from revenue the government collects in tax, in the 2016/17 financial year tax revenue totalled over 75 billion dollars (Treasury, 2018). We know that policy, including tax policy, is influenced by public discourse which is often (mis)informed by mainstream media discourses (Wilson, 2013). So what do New Zealanders think about tax, the allocation of tax money and its spending?

The perception of the relationship between tax and citizenship changed hugely in New Zealand since the 1980/90 market reforms (Hackell, 2013). Prior to this shift to market based economics, citizenship in Aotearoa was based on the moral standards of social justice, fairness, equality and equal opportunity. However, with the introduction of neoliberal commonsense there was a seismic shift towards paying taxes as the right to citizenship. Taxpayers have become the supreme bearers of economic rights, who fall victim to ‘dole-bludgers’ or beneficiaries; those who are taking the system for a ride and are living in luxury off tax dollar (Hackell, 2013).

Discussion regarding tax and tax policy in New Zealand re-entered mainstream media and public discourse during lead up to the 2017 election which pitted tax cuts from the National Party against increased funding in public services and a tax working group from the Labour party. This gave the New Zealand public a choice between $50 per week in their pocket or investment into health, education and welfare services. Economist, columnist and often interviewed  tax expert Shamubeel Eaqub eloquently highlighted the zero-sum nature of tax spending and the decision for New Zealanders between individualized or communal benefits when he said “how much tax we pay is related to how much we want in public services… it feels like in New Zealand we are very worried about how much we get in our back pocket rather than what New Zealand needs as a country”.

There were elements of fear mongering around tax throughout the election build up. Such as a National Party TV ad which acted as a reminder to dutiful taxpayers of their superior citizenship. Duncan (2017) argues that there is no longer an underlying sense of a basic trust, despite who holds office, between New Zealanders and the state. This ad may have drawn on this and encouraged the public to vote for tax cuts over trusting the government to spend the money in a way that benefits the taxpayer.

As promised throughout the build-up to the election the Labour, New Zealand First and Greens government has launched a tax working group to explore a wide range of issues which interact with the tax system, including the changing nature of work, the environment, reducing child poverty and strengthening communities. The government will consider the group’s recommendations following their expected release in February 2019 in making changes regarding the structure, fairness and balance of the tax system. Labour will bring the tax working group informed tax policy into the 2020 election, after pledging not to introduce any new taxes if elected into power, following controversy over not having set tax policy going into the election. Early figures from the Tax Working Group’s public consultation suggest possibility of change in the public’s beliefs on tax. A majority of respondents believed that the tax system required either major changes or a complete overhaul. Furthermore, the most selected category when asked what tax issues matter to them the most was ‘introducing a Capital Gains Tax on investments that aren’t currently taxed’. This could suggest a movement in public belief.

It is clear that New Zealanders opinions on tax and tax spending can vary significantly. There is no doubt that New Zealanders’ perspectives on tax will be highlighted following the results from the tax working group and discussions will continue in to the 2020 election.


ANZASW. (2008). Code of ethics (2nd ed.). ANZASW, Christchurch: New Zealand

Duncan, G. (2017). Trust, distrust, and the end of politics-as-we-knew-it: the mood of the nation prior to election 2017. Kōtuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences Online, DOI: 10.1080/1177083X.2017.1355817 Read here

Hackell. M, (2013) Taxpayer citizenship and neoliberal hegemony in New Zealand, Journal of Political Ideologies, 18:2, 129-149, DOI: 10.1080/13569317.2013.784004

Treasury (2018) Revenue and expenditure.

Wilson, K. R. (2016). Constructions of welfare recipients and work in New Zealand newspapers : an examination of discourse and policy. (Master’s thesis, Massey University)

Author: socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand

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