Luxon heckled as govt ditches ute tax

Christopher Luxon: "New Zealanders voted for change, we've got a lot to get through, if we start...
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon. Photo: RNZ
The Clean Car Discount - dubbed a “ute tax” by its opponents - will be gone by the new year, after a bill to repeal it passed through all three stages this week under urgency.

The policy subsidised the purchases of electric vehicles (EVs) by charging a tax on purchases of polluting vehicles. It led to a massive uptake of EVs.

In October, former prime minister Chris Hipkins said annual uptake of EVs and hybrids had risen by 180 percent, compared with a 30 percent decrease for petrol and diesel vehicles.

Transport Minister Simeon Brown passed a repeal of the tax this evening, after his leader, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, was heckled by Labour MPs to pay back the subsidy his family received for the purchase of a Tesla for his wife Amanda.

The New Zealand Herald reported earlier this year that Luxon had sought to have Parliament purchase a Tesla for his own personal use, using a Parliamentary perk that allows the Leader of the Opposition to select a “self-drive” car.

It was later revealed that Luxon’s wife Amanda had purchased a Tesla and claimed the $8625 subsidy. Labour MPs mocked this, taunting Luxon with cries to pay back the discount. Labour even sought to amend the bill to offer people the opportunity to pay back the subsidy - a clear dig at Luxon.

Brown said the bill would get rid of the “regressive” and “inequitable” scheme by the new year.

“Happy New Year to our farmers and tradies who have been punished by the former government,” Brown said.

He also faced calls to release a draft regulatory impact statement (RIS) for the bill, which assesses what could happen when the scheme is ditched - including the effects on New Zealand’s ability to reach climate goals.

Brown partly backflipped on its position not to release official advice on the repeal of the Clean Car Discount scheme, saying the advice would now be released.

However, MPs wanted the advice released before they voted on the repeal bill, as would usually be the case. The advice is almost useless to them after they have already cast their votes.

Industry group Drive Electric said the policy, combined with a plan to weaken emissions standards “could mean between 100,000 and 350,000 fewer electric cars on New Zealand roads by 2030″, and increase emissions by between 900 and 3000 kilotonnes.

Usually, an RIS would be published when the bill is first introduced. However, the Government has decided to exempt itself from RIS for any repeal bills in its 100-day plan.

This means that despite a draft RIS already existing, the Government is not required to release it to MPs and the public.

On Wednesday, the Herald revealed the existence of the draft RIS. Brown said that if anyone wanted to see it, they could use the Official Information Act, although this would mean the RIS would probably only be released after the bill had already been passed.

However, by Question Time today, Brown said the paper would be “proactively” released. He would not commit to releasing it before MPs voted to repeal the bill.

Brown told Green Party transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter that he had “asked Ministry of Transport officials to prepare the proactive release of the Cabinet paper and regulatory impact statement”.

Labour’s transport spokesman Tangi Utikere argued that the Government was failing to meet pre-election statements about how open and transparent it would be.

“Does he really think that telling journalists and members to just OIA a regulatory impact statement and continue to refuse to provide it to the Parliament meet National’s coalition agreement which says that decisions will be based on data and evidence?” Utikere said.

Brown told Parliament that advice he had received said “the transport sector remains on target to achieve its contribution to the first emissions reduction plan”. Brown said he gave this advice to Cabinet, but that it was consistent with the advice he had received from the Ministry of Transport. The first emissions budget runs from 2022 to 2025.

Supplementary questions from the Act Party allowed Brown to explain that he did not believe the Clean Car Discount scheme would make any difference to emissions because transport is fully in the Emissions Trading Scheme or ETS.