Poet accuses Taxpayers' Union of spending more taxpayer cash criticising his poetry than he was paid

A Kiwi poet whose work was criticised as "childish screeds" by the Taxpayers' Union has told the head of the lobby group to "get a real job". 

Victor Billot says he was paid $2000 - before tax - to write 20 poems for news site Newsroom, which received a $21,150 grant from Creative NZ earlier this year to go towards "commissioning weekly NZ book reviews, short stories, and poems".

The Taxpayers' Union, which has run a social media campaign this year highlighting some of the more eclectic arts projects supported by the taxpayer-funded agency, complained they were "political propaganda".

"Mr Billot is entitled to write childish screeds about politicians he doesn't like, and Newsroom is welcome to publish them - but taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for it," said founder Jordan Williams. 

Among the poems were one about National Party leader Judith Collins, accusing her of "F-bombs and eye rolls, head high verbal tackles" and spinning "her head round in circles demonically". Another made fun of ACT leader David Seymour, suggesting he thought making Matariki a holiday would be "fascism". 

Writing on his website, Billot said he targeted "all parties and politicians inside and outside Parliament" and WIlliams should "get a real job".

According to the New Zealand Law Society's registry, Williams' real job is in-house lawyer for the Taxpayers' Union. 

"My political views are socialist, they always have been," said Billot. "I am not an active supporter of the current Government, in fact I am openly critical of many of their policies. Not that my political views are any business of the PC thought police at the Taxpayers' Union."

But the Taxpayers' Union reckons Billot's poems about left-wing leaders - such as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern - are much less critical than those about politicians on the right.

Taxpayers' Union spokesperson Louis Houlbrooke told Newshub Billot was within his rights to hit back.

"We're not sensitive about it. The question for us is the principle of whether that kind of material should be funded by taxpayers. We personally don't think it should be." 

The Taxpayers' Union earlier this year gave up "ideological purity" in accepting $60,436.80 in assistance from the COVID-19 wage subsidy, Williams saying the "welfare of our employees [was] a more pressing immediate concern.

Billot said it was possible the Taxpayers' Union had now spent more money criticising his poetry than he'd received for writing it. 

"Who knows," said Houlbrooke. "I mean, he's welcome to take jabs at us but it doesn't justify taxpayers being forced to justify political propaganda."

Newshub asked Houlbrooke if there were any creative pursuits the Taxpayers' Union wouldn't mind receiving taxpayer funding, considering the emphasis they've put on it this year.

"In this particular case our concern is that it's political, and also the fact that when Creative NZ funds political material, it tends to all lean one way," he said.

"For us it's not so much about taking an ideological position on whether the arts should be funded or should not - we just want to actually expose some of the explicit examples of how taxpayers' money is spent because once there's a bit of transparency on that, then people can make up their own mind on whether their money is being spent in an appropriate way. 

"I think lots of taxpayers would be quite shocked to know that Creative NZ spends its money on political poems and indigenised hypno-soundscapes, for example."

Creative NZ funding decisions are publicly available

"Sure, but most people just don't know," said Houlbrooke. "If we can get a bit of an argument going on with some poet on Twitter and that then makes it into the news and highlights the way that money is being spent, then that's great." 

Billot said he agrees that taxpayer money should be spent wisely, and urged the Taxpayers' Union to consider making its future press releases rhyme. 

Creative NZ told Newshub it welcomed applications from "eligible individuals and organisations", and does not ask what political affiliation the applicant might have. 

"As part of our legislation, Creative New Zealand are mandated to uphold and promote the rights of artists and the right of persons to freedom in the practice of the arts," a spokesperson said."

The only information they ask for before deciding whether to fund a project is the idea, the process, the people involved, the budget and supporting material. 

"Applications are assessed based on the information given at the time of the application against a range of criteria."