Winston Peters – speaking for the PM – was vexingly determined not to acknowledge the corrosive effects on people’s incomes of costs due to be raised by Government policies.
Asked by Opposition leader Simon Bridges if the PM stood by all her statements and policies, Peters – inevitably – said yes.
Bridges then asked if she was concerned her Government had implemented and proposed policies “that will significantly increase the cost of living for hard-working New Zealanders and their families?”
We didn’t get a no from Peters. Nor did we get a yes.
He opted to be contemptuously dismissive:
“The basis of that question is unadulterated nonsense.”
Bridges tried again, asking – in light of that kind of answer – if the PM was aware her Government’s decision to increase fuel excise tax and create a new Auckland regional fuel tax will increase costs for an average family by up to $700 a year?
This time Peters mixed contempt with mockery:
“Again, that is unadulterated rubbish. But, more importantly, in the read-out from the Speaker, that was the Minister that was talking about extra roads all the way to Whangarei, all the way from Hamilton, from the Waikato. Mr Bridges, if you’re going to ask questions, back it up with some consistency.”
Bridges was persistent:
“Is she [the PM] really contesting that the regional fuel tax and the excise tax will increase costs in Auckland for families by hundreds and hundreds of dollars from 1 July?”
Peters remained stubbornly disinclined to give a straight answer:
“I don’t know about the Prime Minister, but every sound economist is contesting what that member just said.”
This time the Speaker intervened to ask the Deputy PM, in answering for the PM, “to answer the question again in the Prime Minister’s voice”.
The best that can be said is that Peters gave it a go:
“On behalf of the Prime Minister, not only am I contesting that but so is every sane, sound economist.”
At Point of Order we haven’t kept tabs on what every sane, sound economist has been saying, but we do know that from July, petrol retailers are set to have to pay 11.5 cents in excise tax per litre of petrol sold in Auckland.
Where the money is actually charged is much more complicated and Transport Minister Phil Twyford a few weeks ago could give Parliament no guarantee that the cost of the Auckland regional fuel tax won’t be charged on motorists elsewhere.
According to Retail NZ’s latest Retail Radar survey, 32 per cent of retailers are expecting their prices to increase in the next three months.
Fuel prices, and therefore freight and transport costs, are one factor. The increase to minimum wage and rising property prices are also expected to push up the cost of goods.
“There are cost pressures across the board, it’s pretty much everything that is likely to be impacted,” Greg Harford, Retail NZ general manager of public affairs, said.
What else will erode our spending power from July 1?
Well, the fire service levy – in effect a government tax – will increase 40% to $106. The EQC levy has already been lifted, up 33% to $200 from November 1 2017. Insurers have no control over these levies but the resulting premium lift will flow through into policyholders’ premiums.
The cost of sending a standard letter within New Zealand will increase 20 cents from $1 to $1.20 from July 1. NZ Post is making this change, along with other changes to postal products, after its annual price review.
Local government intends raising more money from us, too.
The Hamilton City Council – for example – voted for a 9.7 per cent rates increase for one year and then 3.8 per cent thereafter. Waikato regional councillors have confirmed a 10 year budget which will impose an average 4.1 per cent rise in general rates from current ratepayers in 2018/19.
Then there are user-pays council services
Aucklanders will be paying more for their water from July, equating on average to an extra $21 per household each year. Auckland Council-owned company Watercare announced the price of water and wastewater services would increase by 2.5 per cent to cover the increasing cost of providing the service.
Back in Parliament, Bridges asked the PM if she had seen Otago University reports that the cost of a weekly supermarket shop has gone up by $21 a week under her Government.
Peters said “no”.
Bridges followed up:
“Has she seen reports in the New Zealand Herald this week that the cost of fruit and vegetables is set to rise because of higher fuel prices, increases to the minimum wage, and the increased cost of rent?”
This time Peters said yes – “but some of those forecasts are not correct“.
Nice try, Winston. But it’s too soon to say if the forecasts have been accurate or flawed. The July 1 tax increases have yet to kick in, for starters, and our faltering exchange rate is pushing up import costs.
Let’s wait and see, eh?