You need to have watched a few sessions of Question Time over the last year to really appreciate the jaw-dropping ballsiness of National’s surprise petrol tax increase, and seen Key, English, Brownlee, Joyce, Groser and Simon Bridges splutter with dignified outrage at the suggestion that carbon emissions should be priced into the market. ‘That would lead to increased petrol costs for ordinary New Zealanders,’ they’d howl, disgusted at the opposition’s vicious indifference to the struggles of ordinary people. ‘Labour and the Greens want to hit working people the hardest,’ they crowed. ‘It would lead to across the board living increases that would cripple the fragile economic recovery!’
(If we weren’t heading into the holiday season it’d be fun to crowd-source finding the most ironic Question Time performance on this issue: I’m guessing it would come from Simon Bridges answering on behalf of Groser. The other Ministers manage to memorise their lines, Bridges tries to look self-righteous while reading off a sheet written for him by some anonymous senior staffer.)
Anyway, not unusually, everything those Ministers said all year turned out to be meaningless bullshit, and taxes will go up as of next June. This means the government can keep its election promise and restore the government’s books to surplus going into the election. That doesn’t mean much in real life: the surplus is forecast to be $66 million, the government debt is about $50 billion, so impact on the economy is non-existent. This is all about the impact on the 2014 election campaign. ‘Labour left us a decade of deficits! But now the John Key National government has put New Zealand in the black!’
That campaign slogan – or one very much like it – is literally all this new tax increase buys us. And it might not be enough. Ever since the 2010 ‘revenue neutral’ tax switch, Bill English’s job has largely consisted of dreaming up stealth tax increases to plug the enormous hole his high income and corporate tax cuts blew in the government books. I doubt this petrol tax will be the last.