Media have long stood accused of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.

Sadly, that criticism is becoming increasingly justified, but politicians are the true masters. In their case it is a matter of not letting the facts get in the way of a policy change or a tax.

All the talk at the moment is of the need to ensure that tourists pay their fair share of the costs they generate, for which the taxpayer is currently forking out, an argument that totally ignores the reality of what tourism does for this country.

"Many countries charge tourists at the door, for the same reason that we're about to. Tourists must pay their fair share. But in this country at least, they already do."

SHARE THIS QUOTE:

The perception that we are being invited to accept — and which, shamefully, some in the media have bought, hook line and sinker — is that overseas visitors swan in here like Lord and Lady Muck, eat our food, sleep in our beds, drive our camper vans and rental cars (often badly), look at our views, use our rubbish bins (if they are so inclined) and our toilets (if they can find one), then bugger off home, leaving us to pay the bills.

Advertisement

The new tax that the government plans to impose, somewhere between $25 and $35, won't deter anyone from coming here, and is hardly unprecedented. Many countries charge tourists at the door, for the same reason that we're about to. Tourists must pay their fair share. But in this country at least, they already do.

In the year to June 2017, tourism was credited with generating $3.27 billion in government revenue. GST accounted for $1.47 billion of that, with another $1 billion coming from income tax paid by those who work in the industry and company tax.

In the same year tourists cost the taxpayer $638 million, most of that being spent on roads and public transport, which benefits us all. Lesser recipients included the Department of Conservation ($60 million) and Tourism NZ ($117 million). The industry also generated $4 million worth of ACC claims, from a total for the year of $4.9 billion.

Those figures suggest that tourists are well and truly paying their fair share of the costs arising from their visiting us. If they can pay more, and the new levy is expected to generate only a few tens of millions, then it's probably fair enough for them to do so, depending on where the money is spent, but the sales pitch for this new tax is laughable.

Every tourist who lands here helps pay for our police, our nurses and teachers, our social welfare system, and to suggest that they are actually a drain on our public purse is ludicrous.

Mind you, going by current political wisdom, we should be talking about banning tourism altogether. After all, these people fly here, helping to destroy the planet in the process. When they get here they drive fossil fuel-powered vehicles, adding to our climate-changing emissions — not sure who takes the blame for aircraft emissions; we do, perhaps, once they're in our air space — and worse, they eat our meat.

This must dismay James Shaw. Going by his logic, every time a tourist sits down to a scotch fillet, or a hamburger for that matter, they are helping to pollute a river somewhere, and contributing to our next ex-tropical cyclone. We would all be better off, obviously, if tourism went the same way as future gas and oil exploration.

Perhaps the people who share these brainwaves with us believe what they are saying, but that's a bit of a stretch. They make the same fallacious claims, and have been for years, regarding the cost to the taxpayer of smoking tobacco.

This year smokers in this country will pay $1.9 billion in excise and GST, three times what their habit will costs in terms of smoking-related health care. Reducing tobacco consumption is undoubtedly a worthy goal, but not because it is a drag, no pun intended, on the taxpayer.

This refusal to acknowledge reality manifests itself in other ways, one current example being the government's desire to reduce the prison muster. Another laudable goal, which should be pursued with vigour, but we are being softened up for the manner in which this is to be achieved with what is technically known as utter crap.

Myth #1 — our prisons are bursting at the seams with petty criminals. Wrong. According to the government's own figures, 98 per cent of inmates have been convicted of offences punishable by at least two years' imprisonment.

Myth #2 — if the personal use of cannabis was to be legalised, the prison muster would plummet. Wrong. It is highly unlikely that a single solitary person is serving time because of their use of cannabis. There might be a few growers and dealers, but the vast majority of those with cannabis convictions will be there for other, more serious offences.

The fact in this case is that it isn't easy to go to jail in this country. To do so requires either a genuinely serious offence or persistent offending of a lower standard. The whole justice system is geared towards keeping people out of jail. Go and sit in on a sentencing session in your local court if you don't believe that.

What we are being told, however, is that a lot of people are in prison when they don't need to be, for their own rehabilitation (the word 'punishment' was expunged from the Sentencing Act years ago) or the protection of society. Even the definition of 'protection of society' is about to change, if Justice Minister Andrew little has his way.

Not content with making it more difficult for the courts to deny bail, Mr Little is now musing on just who represents a threat to public safety. Last week he went as far as to say that the only Class A drug (including methamphetamine) offenders who should be incarcerated are those who season their drug activities with violence.

It was "hard to say" whether drug offenders who did not indulge in violence should be removed from society in the interests of protecting others.

No it isn't. We, except Mr Little, know about the misery that methamphetamine, for example, causes. We all know that addiction to methamphetamine is not only devastating for the victim but for their families and communities. We all know that methamphetamine addiction is directly linked to other crime, including theft and robbery.

That 'we' includes parliaments past, which declared that the maximum penalty for manufacturing or dealing in methamphetamine should be life imprisonment. Now we have a Minister of Justice saying perhaps they should not be imprisonable offences at all.

The problem of the growing prison muster is a serious one that must be addressed, but the only solution is to turn off the tap. We must address the problems that are producing criminals, as opposed to raising the bar for admission to jail. We, politicians included, have been talking about that for a long time. We all see the elephant, but no one wants to remove it from the room.

What politicians want, however, is an instant solution, an answer that will reduce the prison muster now, not in a generation's time. Such is the nature of politics — no one ever seems to be interested in a solution that will not win them plaudits now, or at least before the next election, not in years to come. No one wants to plant a tree that will provide shade for their grandchildren.

And few, it seems, can resist the temptation to justify their pursuit of instant gratification with 'facts' that simply don't exist.