The Week in Politics: A ‘feebate’ divides Parliament, as the opposition accuses the administration of imposing a new tax.

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The government’s feebate scheme splits Parliament as National promises to overturn it, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern offers a formal apology for the 1970s dawn raids, and the vaccine rollout schedule for the general public is unveiled.

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An EV parking and charging site in Wellington. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

The government began the week by announcing a “feebate” scheme designed to increase the uptake of electric vehicles, and National’s leader Judith Collins immediately vowed to reverse the policy if her party wins the next election.

It’s a revamp of the scheme proposed before the election, which was sunk by Winston Peters, and it’s as controversial now as it was then.

The carrot and stick approach to reducing transport emissions provides a rebate of up to $8625 for people buying new EVs with a price cap of $80,000, which starts on 1 July, and a fee imposed on petrol-powered new vehicles of up to $5175. Used cars being registered in New Zealand for the first time will be socked with a fee of up to $2875. The fees part of the scheme will kick in from the beginning of next year.

The fees are expected to cover the cost of the rebates, so the government won’t have to come up with money of its own.

It’s not one-size-fits-all because fees and rebates (hence feebate) vary depending on emission ratings. All the details are reported on RNZ’s website and Checkpoint went shopping at one of Auckland’s largest second-hand low emissions dealers to check out prices.

Auckland City Electric Vehicles director Hadley Hargadon had some interesting points to make about what people got for their money. “Don’t go and buy a $9000 car then expect it to it to do 300km on a charge because that’s simply not going to be the case” was one of them.

It’s the price of new and late model EVs that’s causing the fuss and the fact that there aren’t any on the market so far that fit the bill for tradies and farmers who need big strong utes. On the government’s own figures New Zealand’s top-selling vehicle, the Ford Ranger, will incur a fee of $2780.

Ardern said exemptions had been considered but were ruled out because it would be difficult to make them workable.

Motor Trade Association advocacy and strategy manager Greig Epps told Stuff new electric vehicles started about $48,000 and averaged around $68,000, whereas a really good petrol-powered car could be bought for under $30,000.

He described the scheme as a step in the right direction but said the rebates were far smaller than those offered in other countries. He thought the government might have to reach deeper into its pockets to make a real difference.

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Collins reacted to the announcement with a tweet: “National will fight Labour’s car tax every step of the way.”

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National Party leader Judith Collins. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Her transport spokesperson, Michael Woodhouse, told RNZ the policy was “reverse Robin Hood” – taking from the poor to give to the rich. His party supported incentives for buying EVs but not the “financial punishment” of those who couldn’t afford them.

Collins then told Morning Report the “punishment” extended to tradies, farmers and others who drove heavy vehicles, and there were not electric-powered alternatives. They were the ones who were going to have to pay for the government’s failure to deal with emissions, she said.

“I think the government’s move is simply a tax on those people who have to work for a living to enable others who want to have a ‘nice to have’,” Collins said.

Her party would encourage electric vehicles by allowing drivers to use bus lanes and have some free parking, and continue exempting EV drivers from road user charges.

It would remove fringe benefit tax for EVs, which would encourage businesses to buy them for their fleets, and that would help create a second-hand market.

ACT leader David Seymour joined National in opposing the scheme, also calling it a tax and accusing Labour of breaking a promise by introducing it.

“Let’s be clear – this is a new tax. A tradie or a farmer purchasing a Toyota Hilux will be slapped with a new tax of $2900. A family buying a Kia Sportage will be taxed $1230,” he said.

So far there had nnot been strong opposition to the scheme from outside the political arena, and Stuff said in an editorial the nation’s transition to electric vehicles had been in second gear, if that, for far too long.

“The greater sense of urgency now being shown by the government is warranted, given the sorry inertia of so many years spent in the transformational slow lane,” it said.

The scheme was announced by Transport Minister Michael Wood and Climate Change Minister James Shaw, and they emphasised the positive. Wood said the discounts would help New Zealand catch up with the rest of the world – monthly registrations of EVs was about half the global average.

Michael Wood and James Shaw at EV policy announcement in Auckland

Transport Minister Michael Wood and Climate Change Minister James Shaw at the feebate announcement. Photo: RNZ/ Katie Todd

Because the fee applied only to the import market, the existing second-hand market that lower-income families tended to buy from would not be affected.

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Wood has previously said New Zealand’s national fleet is one of the oldest and dirtiest of the developed countries, and something has to be done about it.

Charging an EV at home off-peak was like buying petrol at around 40c a litre and there was less maintenance, he said.

Shaw said the scheme was “one of the fundamental shifts” that were going to be needed in coming years.

And he came up with a new line on climate change: “The last time there was carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the concentrations present today, there were palm trees in Antarctica.”

Ardern made the other big political announcement of the week. She said on 26 June, next Saturday, she would issue the government’s formal apology for the Dawn Raids of the 1970s.

The infamous raids began in 1974 when the Labour government clamped down on overstayers. Samoans and Tongans, who had been brought in during the 1950s to relieve labour shortages, were targeted. They were renewed in 1975 under a National government.

The announcement generated a string of emotive accounts and Pacific Peoples Minister William Sio, who was with Ardern at the announcement, had one of his own from when he was a boy in Auckland.

Aupito William Sio.

Pacific Peoples Minister William Sio. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

“To have someone knocking at the door in the early hours of the morning with a flashlight in your face, disrespecting the owner of the house, with an Alsatian dog frothing at the mouth at your door, wanting to come in without any respect for the people living in there is quite traumatising… and that was just my family,” he said. “I do not want my children or any of my nieces and nephews to be shackled by the pain and to be angry about it. I need them to move forward and look to the future, as people of Aotearoa.”

Ardern said compensation had not been discussed and indicated another amnesty for overstayers wasn’t on the cards. She told questioners at her press conference that any amnesty would have to be for all ethnic groups because the government could not discriminate.

The Herald quoted University of Auckland Associate Professor of Pacific Studies Dr Melani Anae as saying the raids were “state-sanctioned terrorism” and the accounts of them were still causing intergenerational trauma and harm.

Ardern said people had been dehumanised and terrorised in their own homes. “People were told at the time if you did not look like a New Zealander they should carry ID to prove they are not an overstayer – you can imagine what impact that has on a community to live in an environment like that.”

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She said when computerised immigration records were introduced in 1977 they showed 40 per cent of overstayers were British and American – groups that were never targeted.

After all the condemnation it was surprising to read a Stuff article that reported overstayers were still being subjected to early morning raids. It said Immigration NZ had confirmed that between May 2020-2021 a total of 223 raids were conducted at private addresses and 19 were between the hours of 6am and 7am. The department was not immediately able to provide a breakdown of those raids by ethnicity.

General manager of verification and compliance Geoff Scott said standard compliance operations at private addresses were usually carried out between 7am and 9pm. Visits outside those hours were approved on a case-by-case basis because of the likelihood of people of interest being away during standard hours.

The last count conducted in 2017 estimated overstayers at approximately 14,000 people, he said. Pacific nationals (Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Tuvalu and Kiribati) made up around a third of the total.

The apology will be delivered by Ardern in Auckland Town Hall.

In other political news this week:

Ardern announced details of the vaccine rollout for the general population, those under 65. It will be done in age cohorts, starting with 60 and over from July 28. On august 11, those aged 55 and over will be invited to book for a vaccination.

“When it’s your time, you’ll receive an invite by phone, email. You’ll be able to choose a location that suits you and you’ll be asked to book vaccine dates within three weeks of one another,” she said.

An Asia New Zealand Foundation survey, published by Stuff, showed China is increasingly being seen as a threat by New Zealanders. The annual survey showed 35 percent of people perceived China as a threat, up from 22 percent last year. Only North Korea and Russia were seen as bigger threats.

“For the first time, more New Zealanders see China as a threat than those who view it as a friend,” the foundation said.

*Peter Wilson

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