It seemed like a good idea at the time it was being formulated but the government’s Electric Vehicle “feebate” scheme is producing the kind of backlash any ruling political party going into an election should fear.
Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter released the government’s plan for a “feebate” scheme to encourage a quicker uptake of EVs. She clearly thought it would be welcomed on all sides, believing – as most Greens do – it’s vital for NZ to lead the world in saving it from climate change extinction.
But one of the rules of NZ politics is “don’t mess with the average New Zealander’s love affair with the motor car”.
Genter, who makes a bit of thing of riding a bike, does not appear to be conscious of how deeply Kiwis love their cars. They surely hate anyone, let alone a politician, instructing them on the choice of vehicle.
There is a reason why the uptake of EVs has been slow in NZ. Those on the market are not only expensive but don’t suit the purposes for which New Zealanders need a vehicle. And the prospect is that even at the new subsidised rate a Nissan Leaf will be only marginally more saleable than at present.
Did Genter ask herself why Toyota, one of the biggest if not the biggest car manufacturer in the world, doesn’t market a pure EV? Instead it sticks to hybrids.
The odd thing is Genter, in her cocoon of knowing best, has been surprised by the backlash. Strangely, too, the Left is puzzled that the National Opposition has seized on the Genter policy to mount one of its most powerful onslaughts yet through social media , with lines like “$3000 is just a small fee” (on a new petrol-fuelled vehicle): “that’s more than a year of power bills”.
That, according to one Lefty, is an “outrageously disingenuous” presentation of what the government is trying to achieve.
National has now sent out about 10 different posts focussing on the “car tax” . That comes on top of its deployment of the tagline “NZers can’t afford this government”, which in turn some have identified with the social media tactics of Scott Morrison in winning the Federal election in Australia for the Liberals.
As Claire Trevett noted in the NZ Herald,
“Morrison’s campaign was more like an Opposition campaign. It focussed on attacking his rival’s policies more than promoting his own. And it worked a treat”.
National’s social media posts are said to have had a reach of between 700,000 and one million people.
Suddenly, the government which was coasting along on the popularity of PM Jacinda Ardern is finding the Opposition onslaught on tax, cost of living and choice is beginning to hit home.
Stacey Kirk, writing in Stuff, says even National has been surprised at the reach its campaign on EVs has delivered. National’s Facebook page shows two paid ads running around EVs and tax: one is a clip of all the times Genter referred to the “small fee” that would be attached to high-emissions vehicles, juxtaposed with the various $1000+ fees of popular cars, and the other a chart of what the Nats are calling “Labour’s car tax”.
The current video was understood to have reached more than 750,000 Kiwis on National’s Facebook page, through engagement (excluding posts from individual MPs):
“Kiwis attune not just to the tax message, but the penalty for spending their money on something they deem necessary to their lifestyle”, Kirk wrote.
Even as the National criticism on the car “feebate” scheme was finding its target, the Greens came under fire from another direction. In the move to bring agriculture into the Emissions Trading Scheme , the Greens are being criticised by many normally regarded as in their core constituency, including a former co-leader, for not going far enough, being too timid, and still allowing agriculture generally a near free ride when it comes to taking responsibility for its emissions.
It’s a hard lesson for the Greens, being part of a coalition for the first time in government: even if you believe you are doing the right thing, you still have to carry the people with you.