Parliament, mostly a humdrum affair these days, nevertheless has moments which fascinate long-time aficinados. One such moment came at Question Time yesterday when ACT’s David Seymour was probing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern over the “feebate” scheme which the government is introducing to accelerate the introduction of EVs.
The Prime Minister carries such an aura these days that it is not easy to penetrate the wall of omniscience which protects her from criticism.
But as Seymour pursued his line of questioning, she showed a hint of fallibility.
Seymour, with a smile, teased her:
“Is my line of questioning getting under the Prime Minister’s skin?”
Of course he had only to look at Ardern’s face to know that he had.
So Point of Order decided to reproduce from Hansard the exchanges of this unusual event.
It began when Seymour asked whether Ardern stood by her statement that “a large number of those buyers of those vehicles are not using them for the legitimate use?”
Ardern responded that she stood by the point she was making,
“… even though I will absolutely say that I think I could’ve been clearer in the way I made it.
“As a Cabinet, we gave full consideration to the option of creating a carve-out for those vehicles for which there currently aren’t equivalent low-emission alternative options, where those vehicles were, for instance, used for business or work purposes.
“As the member and, I know, many in this House will appreciate, drawing such a distinction does raise issues of fairness, consistency, and implementation. I would make the point to the member that almost two-thirds of the utes sold in NZ last year would not be covered by this policy as they were part of the existing second-hand market. We also expect new models to become available over time.”
This was followed by these exchanges, as recorded by Hansard:
David Seymour: So as the “feebate” policy was finalised with that advice, will people who are using a ute for their legitimate use still have to pay tax under feebate?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: First, I’d like to clarify that, actually, it was not the advice of officials that we have a carve-out, and, in fact, their view was that we should not. That did not stop Cabinet having a discussion over the fact that for many, there is not an alternative for a ute which is used for business purposes, that there is not an alternative—currently—no-emissions vehicle on the market. So that’s why we had that discussion, but, ultimately, as I have said in my primary answer, there were issues around how you would implement such a carve-out. So, ultimately, the decision was taken to have a much more straightforward scheme, recognising which was coming on stream. The point I make to the member: no one who currently owns a ute is affected by this policy. This is for new and imported vehicles rather than those that are existing and in the country and in the second-hand market, a point that I note is not being clearly made by all members in this House.
David Seymour: Could those people buying utes for “legitimate” uses avoid the tax by purchasing an electric ute from Toyota, and if not, why not?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: At present, those who are bringing electric vehicles into the market within the next 12 to 24 months include LDV. Toyota have themselves said they “hope to have [a] Hilux hybrid enter the market before the end of next year.”—that statement was made by the Toyota New Zealand CEO on 22 April 2020. I would say again to the member: the vast majority of utes purchased by New Zealanders are from within the second-hand market, which is not affected, and this policy that we’ve applied does cover incentives or no fees for low and hybrid vehicles, not just electric vehicles (EVs).
David Seymour: Has the Prime Minister driven an electric ute from Toyota, and, if not, why not?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: LDV are bringing the electric vehicles, and Toyota themselves have acknowledged that they are bringing in a hybrid. Again, no one here is saying—and this is the very reason we’ve discussed the carve-out issue—that there currently is that immediate alternative. However, as has been said by Drive Electric, “Taken together, the emissions standards and consumer incentive, puts New Zealand on the map for electric vehicle manufacturers. We are telling them, New Zealand is a serious market for electric vehicles and we want that supply. We are looking forward to them bringing in new ranges and models.” New Zealand may have otherwise suffered from manufacturers not necessarily supplying New Zealand with alternatives if we did not have clean car standards and incentives.
David Seymour: Will it be a legitimate use for a Toyota electric ute to drive it on the bike bridge that the Government announced last week, and if not, why not?
David Seymour: Point of Order, Mr Speaker.
SPEAKER: Now, I’ve ruled the question out because it involves irony. The member knows that; the member knows it’s out of order. If he’s going to really argue that it doesn’t, he’s going to have to make a pretty good argument.
David Seymour: Mr Speaker, there’s a perfectly legitimate line of questioning about the legitimacy of different use of vehicles—the Prime Minister is trying to tell New Zealanders what that is, and people want answers about what it might be. There’s also a perfectly legitimate line of questioning about the utility to be derived from the Government’s announcement of a bike bridge. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask what the scope of that bridge is. Now, I’m glad that you find it entertaining, Mr Speaker, but people at home want answers to these serious questions……
Hansard shows the ACT leader exploiting his advantage this way:
David Seymour: If Toyota electric utes did exist, would it be legitimate to use them on the bridge recently announced by the Government?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No.
David Seymour: If Toyota electric utes did exist and they were able to be driven on that bridge, would that help raise the benefit-cost ratio for the bridge from the measly 0.4 reported in the New Zealand Herald on Friday?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Look, on the one hand I do want to applaud the ACT Party for finally agreeing that, actually, climate change exists. That’s a vast improvement on where you were 10 years ago. I sat in this House when Rodney Hide instigated a select committee to inquire into the existence of climate change. So, look, congratulations for moving on some way, but the member—at least if he wants to acknowledge that climate change exists, perhaps now is the time to actually support some initiatives that will do something about it.
David Seymour: Is this line of questioning getting under the Prime Minister’s skin?
SPEAKER: Further supplementary?
David Seymour: I’ll ask the Prime Minister: if Toyota electric utes did exist and could be driven on the bridge and it would make the bridge viable under the benefit-cost ratio, what would be the Government’s plan for disposing of all those thousands of toxic EV batteries?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: So the member unfortunately believes that we as a nation will be instead better off becoming the dumping ground for all of those high emissions vehicles that other countries are currently banning. No one in New Zealand, I would have thought, would think that is a good idea. Unless we move to a combination of clean car standards and incentives, we will be the dumping ground of the rest of the world. I also note that countries that he likes to replicate—the likes of Singapore has a clean car incentive such as the one that New Zealand is proposing.
David Seymour: Could the Prime Minister please now answer my previous question: what is New Zealand’s plan for disposing of EV batteries? It’s a serious question.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Well, I’d be forgiven for not thinking—
Hon Michael Wood: Point of order. The member’s had a fair go, but it’s very hard to see how that question stems at all from the primary question.
SPEAKER: I think, unfortunately, because the Prime Minister was fairly fast to answer the previous question when I would have probably ruled it out, by her answer, she made the subject area broad enough for Mr Seymour to ask his question—just.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I could be forgiven for not taking the member’s question as seriously as he intended, given the nature in which he asked it. But when it comes to the issue of batteries, these of course are things that the likes of the Ministry for the Environment continue to work through. But I would still caution the member around the idea that somehow that is a reason for us to continue, as I’ve said, to be the dumping ground of vehicles that many, many other countries we import from are banning.
So, even though several ministers had tried to come to the PM’s aid, the scorecard at the end was clearly in Seymour’s favour. One only had to look at the faces on the Labour backbenches to register that.
It might not count for much outside the parliamentary chamber, but certainly it revives morale among MPs on the opposition side.