Beleaguered Bridges revels in Ardern backdown.
By Richard Harman (author)
Simon Bridges and his beleaguered National Party won a sort of victory yesterday when the Prime Minister backed down on collecting fuel tax in the regions.
Up until Parliament met yesterday, the Government had said it would not implement any more regional fuel taxes during this term of Government.
But yesterday, the Prime Minister extended that to a promise not to implement them as long as she was prime Minister.
However her move will do nothing to stop the petroleum companies from equalising the Auckland ten cents a litre fuel tax across other regions in New Zealand so that Aucklanders pay less while those in the regions pay more.
The CardLink PriceWach which monitors fuel prices around the country showed that on Tuesday, Aucklanders paid between $2.31 and $2.40 a litre for 91 octane petrol. That price was actually less – even with a fuel tax --- than Otago where prices ranged between $2.32 and $2.49 and not much different to Wellington where prices ranged between $2.34 and $2.41.
Taxes make up 58 per cent of those prices, according to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment’s fuel price monitoring.
Opposition Leader Simon Bridges asked Ardern in Parliament yesterday why the Government's regional fuel tax legislation enabled other councils to bid for a regional fuel tax from 2021 onwards.
Then came her surprising reply:
“The regional fuel tax legislation puts in a date, but I can give this guarantee to this House and to consumers: there will be no other regional fuel taxes while I'm Prime Minister.”
National has been running something of a campaign against the Auckland fuel tax in Parliament during Question Time over the past week.
This included Bridges yesterday morning suggesting that the Wellington Councils were in discussion with the Government over a regional fuel tax similar to Auckland.
But Transport Minister Phil Twyford quickly shot him down.
”The Wellington councils have asked for a regional fuel tax. I have ruled it out,” he said.
That squared with what he said back in June when the legislation providing for regional fuel taxes was passed.
“I hear the calls from other councils around this country for greater investment, but for this term of the Parliament the regional fuel tax will be limited to Auckland alone,” he said. T
Nevertheless, the Opposition claimed that Ardern’s commitment to Parliament was a very recent addition to Government policy.
Paul Goldsmith: “When did he, as Minister of Transport, know about this change of policy?”
Shane Jones (on behalf of the Minister of Transport): “ When the Prime Minister stood up.”
The move seemed to fortify Bridges, who took the unusual step of kicking off his party's contribution to the weekly General Debate – a sign of how much he felt the need to defend both his actions and that of his party.
“National has just had its toughest week in a very long time,” he said in a frank admission of how tough it has been.
“But today it's the Government that's on the ropes.
“They come down here.
“They make policy on the hoof.
“They don't know their numbers.
“They're not sure what they're doing.”
This, of course, is National’s current strategy to try and pretend its business as usual while they wait for Jami Lee Ross to throw his next hand grenade at them.
National's campaign has obviously been getting to the Government. In part, it was bad luck for Ardern because, since July 1, when the Auckland petrol tax came on, crude oil prices have jumped by 14.25% according to MBIE. That has led to a 12.16% overall increase in petrol prices – but the tax component of that has seen the biggest jump; 17.36%.
Nevertheless, the price increase is having an impact on household budgets which Ardern acknowledged yesterday.
“When it comes to fuel, we've said that we will undertake a market study so we can look at competition," she said.
“ We can look at what's happening to Wellingtonians because they're paying a huge amount for their fuel that cannot be explained by transport.”
In the end it not one of the great issues or debates that divide National and Labour – but for an Opposition who must at stages over the past week thought that their political end was in sight, any win is a win, no matter how small.