Govt slaps caps on some bank charges – now let’s see if it curbs increases in the prices of power and pot (medicinal, of course)

 The government has intervened to reduce one set of business costs – imposed by the banks – that typically are passed on to consumers.  It is putting a lid on the bank charges imposed on businesses when customers use credit or debit cards to pay.

But it is bothered by rising costs – or the potential for costs to rise – in other areas too. 

The energy minister is seeking advice about electricity costs and their impact on businesses and families.

And Health Minister Andrew Little is keeping an eye on medicinal cannabis prices. 

In another fresh Beehive announcement Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Carmel Sepuloni brayed about the benefits flowing from government support for the cultural sector.  

Our morning check with the Beehive website advised us – 

New Zealand Wind Energy Conference

Energy Resources Minister Megan Woods, addressing the New Zealand Wind Energy Association, reminded her audience of Labour’s 2020 election pledge, which brought forward its target of 100 per cent renewable electricity from 2035 to 2030 to hasten the pace of decarbonising our electricity system.  

But while outlining developments in the energy sector in efforts to meet climate change targets, Woods said she was aware of the potential for consumers to be walloped in the wallet.  

“In parallel to this work I have been clear that I am concerned about at the prospect of rising power prices, something that households and businesses can ill-afford, especially those still recovering from the impact of Covid-19. This is why I have asked officials for advice on current wholesale price levels and trends.

Woods described wind energy as a critical piece of the transformation to  net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and ticked off a raft of  investments in wind projects –

  • Meridian Energy will build a new windfarm near Napier – a 41-turbine, 176 megawatt project – at a cost of $395 million.
  • Tilt Renewables – with Genesis Energy contracting in as an off-taker – has delivered the $277 million Waipipi wind farm in South Taranaki, which is now supplying energy to the national grid.
  • Mercury Energy has committed to building the massive two-stage Turitea wind farm. Stage One is still under construction. Together the two stages represent over half a billion dollars of investment.
  • Mainpower’s Mt Cass 22-turbine wind farm for $200 million, the largest planned yet in the South Island, is also under way.
  • Contact Energy has planned a new 152 megawatt, $580 million geothermal power station at Tauhara near Taupō

She said she being briefed, too, about developments in the solar sector, another important piece of the energy jigsaw.

While mindful of the big challenges, Woods said she believed a fully renewable electricity system was achievable and would help NZ to decarbonise other parts of the economy.  

Speech to New Zealand Drug Foundation 2021 Parliamentary Drug Policy Symposium

Health Minister Andrew Little reiterated Labour Party policy on treating drug use and abuse as a health issue, not a criminal issue.  But “the elephant in the room” was the result of the 2020 referendum on whether recreational cannabis use should be legalised.  

The vote on legalisation of cannabis will affect how the government works on drug law reform.

“To make reform in this area, we need good social licence. We tested society, and we didn’t get a licence for such a significant shift.”

The government therefore should make change carefully and cautiously.

 Little and the Police Minister have commissioned a review into whether the way the Police are exercising prosecutorial discretion is consistent with the objectives the government set for that law change. He expects officials to report back to me on this by the middle of the year.

A separate review into the defences to possession charges is under way.

“A medicinal cannabis products regime recognises the fact some people get therapeutic benefits from active ingredients in cannabis plants, mainly CBD.

“We decided that until the medicinal cannabis regime is properly up and running, we will allow consumption of cannabis for therapeutic purposes in defined conditions. That is what those defences relate to.”

But the medicinal cannabis regime is not yet operating as the government expected and the exemption on cannabis products has been extended to meet the safe manufacturing standard for those products.

Little expects more products will be on the market later this year.

“But it is not just about the number of products on the market. I am concerned about access to products, too. And that means keeping an eye on prices.”

The review of defences will report to him in December.  

Govt to deliver lower card fees to business

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister David Clark has announced the Government’s next steps to reduce merchant service fees, the fees that banks charge businesses when customers use a credit or debit card to pay. This is estimated to save New Zealand businesses approximately $74 million a year.

A Retail Payments Systems Bill will be introduced later this year to:

  • require reductions in interchange fees as soon as possible
  • enable direct intervention by the Commerce Commission using a broad suite of powers to regulate different participants in the retail payment system
  • introduce a disclosure and reporting requirement to enable the Commerce Commission to monitor the retail payments system.

“One of the main components of merchant service fees is the interchange fee. We will cap those for credit card transactions at 0.8 per cent, which is in line with Australia,” David Clark said.

“We’re also capping the interchange fees charged for online debit card transactions at 0.6 percent. Contactless debit card interchange fees will stay at their current levels of 0.2 per cent or less, and for swiped and inserted debit, it will stay at 0 per cent.”

The Government aims to seek final policy decisions on reducing merchant fees in mid 2021, with a view to the full regulatory regime coming into effect next year.

Government support boosts Arts and Culture sector

Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Carmel Sepuloni is chuffed about government support for the cultural sector – to help it recover from the impact of COVID-19 – resulting in more cultural sector jobs being predicted through to 2026, and the sector performing better than forecast.

She was delighting in data contained in the latest forecast by economic consultancy Infometrics, saying it  reflects the impact of Government investment in keeping people in work and highlights the resilience of the cultural sector and its workers.

The Government’s health and economic management of the pandemic included a $374 million recovery programme specifically designed to support arts and culture.

The updated forecast is for a decrease in the number of available jobs in the sector of just one percent in the year to March 2021.

Infometrics predicts an increase in cultural sector jobs through to 2026. This differs from forecasts in March 2020 of an estimated decline in cultural sector employment of 11.7 percent (around 11,000 jobs) as a result of COVID-19.

A separate report, aimed at understanding audience participation in the cultural sector in late 2020, shows how keen New Zealand audiences are to get back to cultural activities, Carmel Sepuloni said.

Commissioned by Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage, it found New Zealanders are eager to return to shows, museums, art galleries, and other cultural sector events.


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