Parliament debates road user charge subsidy, Greens slate policy over climate change impacts
The legislation will instruct Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency to apply a 36 per cent discount on road user charges over three months. Photo / Warren Buckland The Green Party says a bill being rushed through Parliament to subsidise fuel prices flies in the face of much-needed action on climate change. A major international report warns that without immediate and deep emissions cuts across every single sector, the world was on track to burst through the critical 1.5C warming threshold quickly. It also follows the Government leading efforts at Apec and the World Trade Organisation on fossil fuel subsidy reform, and making numerous international statements on the matter. Amid soaring petrol and diesel prices mid last month linked to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Government announced fuel at the pump would be slashed 25c a litre for the next three months and road user charges - for diesel vehicle owners - reduced at an equivalent rate, or 36 per cent. The Government also announced public transport fares would be halved over the same period, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said would be part of wider plans to increase patronage and reduce transport emissions. While the petrol tax could be cut immediately legislation was required to reduce road user charges. A bill is expected to pass under urgency Tuesday evening with the support of all parties - apart from the Greens. Green Party economic development spokeswoman Chloe Swarbrick said they acknowledged the cost pressures, which were particularly acute for lower-income New Zealanders, but cutting fuel taxes was not the answer. She pointed to the latest report of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - released this morning - which said such subsidies needed to end. She also referred to Parliament declaring a climate emergency two years ago, and recent comments from Trade Minister Damien O'Connor during APEC that subsidies were the "opposite of what we should be doing" given their impact on climate change. Swarbrick said just "two to three months" after those comments the Government was doing just that. Swarbrick said they would have preferred direct payments to those in need, such as boosting benefits. When the subsidies had to be taken off in about three months it would be a "really difficult political decision", she said. "This response is not cost proportionate nor an appropriate response." The Greens have also been calling for the half-price scheme to be greatly expanded and made permanent. Finance Minister Grant Robertson said at the time half-price public transport over three months would cost between $25m and $40m a year. This indicated that a fully subsidised scheme could cost $320m a year. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said earlier the policies were responding to the energy crisis off the back of the war in Ukraine and rising prices for New Zealand consumers. By halving the cost of public transport the Government was also encouraging people to make a switch, she said. "But this transition we need to make, we need to make it with New Zealanders coming with us. What's happening with those energy prices is jarring and doesn't support a transition." Transport Minister Michael Wood said the policies were already having an impact on New Zealanders' living costs. The road user charge subsidy would include safeguards around unreasonable and excessive purchases, he said. Te Pati Maori, National and the Act Party have supported the measures. National voted against the motion to pass the bill under urgency, which transport spokesman Simeon Brown said was because it did not support the process the Government had taken. Brown said that they supported the measures but it was policy "made up on the hoof" to deal with a bad poll at the time around the cost of living. It's been 22 years since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.