Back in September, when the NZ Herald issued its supplement “Mood of the Boardroom”, Commerce Minister Kris Faafoi featured as the politician who most impressed top chief executives on ministerial performance.
The newspaper reported it was the first time in the history of the Mood of the Boardroom survey that a minister ranked towards the tail-end of Cabinet (at 17th) and who had been in the position only since January, had substantially outranked his colleagues.
Faafoi headed not only the PM, Jacinda Ardern, and deputy PM Winston Peters, but other senior ministers Grant Robertson, Andrew Little and David Parker.
Last week Faafoi was engaged in a rather different exercise, receiving what he described as a “stern talking to” from the Prime Minister after it was disclosed he had promised to “speed things up” in an immigration case for Opshop singer Jason Kerrison.
He did not offer the prime minister his resignation, but he did present an apology.
Fronting the media last Friday, he confessed to saying “some dumb things”.
“But I did not do the wrong thing, the language was loose, as I was communicating with an old friend,”.
Ardern, in a statement, said she had accepted the apology for poor handling of the issue, and told Faafoi she expects better.
Of course Faafoi’s political opponents thought he had got off lightly. They believe a “stern” reprimand from the PM wouldn’t stick in the memory for more than a week.
What possibly is more worrying to all those CEOs who praised him in that Mood of the Boardroom survey is Faafoi’s confession of being “dumb” in what he had said to his old mate.
If he were so dumb then, is there a chance he could also be dumb in handling major policy issues?
For example, will the changes to the fuel industry proposed by the government as a result of the Commerce Commission report last week lower petrol prices as he claims by 18c to 32c a litre?
Faafoi said a proposed new law would make it easier for new players to enter the petrol market.
This, he told media, in turn , would drive down petrol prices. And the drop could be fairly significant.
Although the government does not appear to have any concrete estimates, Faafoi estimates the drop could be within that 18c-32c a litre price range.
As for when prices might begin to fall, Faafoi said it would be great if they could start falling now.
“But the legislation that needs to come through, especially for the re-jigging of the wholesale market and the contracts that are there at the moment, we’re saying by midway through next year.”
Despite wanting to see petrol prices fall as soon as possible, he said any reductions to fuel taxes were not on the table. Those taxes, he said, help pay for new much-needed roading infrastructure.
National transport spokesman Chris Bishop said the government was squarely to blame for NZ’s high petrol prices.
Based on information provided to National through written questions the party has calculated that the extra revenue the government has collected from increased fuel excise, road user charges and the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax has already hit $565m. That works out to be $319 per household.
Apart from National’s criticism, others contend the government’s policy on transport fuel is “incoherent”.
On one side, it wants to reduce prices because the oil majors are making fat profits: on the other, it aims to raise prices with new taxes to counter global warming.
But the ordinary motorist, hearing the PM say he (or she) is being “fleeced”, is not so dumb as to be unable to work out just who is doing the “fleecing”.