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Associate Health Minister likely confused over conflicting tobacco tax comments- PM

Author
Adam Pearse,
Publish Date
Tue, 30 Jan 2024, 1:19PM
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon believes Casey Costello may have become confused in an interview but accepted that everyone made mistakes. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon believes Casey Costello may have become confused in an interview but accepted that everyone made mistakes. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Associate Health Minister likely confused over conflicting tobacco tax comments- PM

Author
Adam Pearse,
Publish Date
Tue, 30 Jan 2024, 1:19PM

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon believes Associate Health Minister Casey Costello was likely confused during a media interview when she said she hadn’t looked at freezing tobacco excise tax increases when a leaked document indicated she had.

Luxon today said he didn’t believe Costello had lied and instead felt it was more likely she could have been confused while discussing his Government’s approach to smoking regulation.

RNZ last week reported a leaked Ministry of Health document which indicated Costello - the minister in charge of repealing Labour’s smokefree generation legislation - was interested in exploring freezing increases in excise tax on smoked tobacco products.

Costello, an NZ First MP, told RNZ she had not asked for advice on the issue. However, the leaked document had asked whether she wanted advice on the implications of a three-year freeze on excise increases - the “yes” option was reportedly circled in the document, which was signed by Costello on December 20.

Luxon said ministers get advice on “lots of different things” and noted she was a new minister.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon believes Casey Costello may have become confused in an interview but accepted that everyone made mistakes. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon believes Casey Costello may have become confused in an interview but accepted that everyone made mistakes. Photo / Mark Mitchell

He said all that was required was a “coaching conversation”, acknowledging that “we all make mistakes”.

Luxon restated how Cabinet agreed on an increase to excise tax late last year.

Labour health spokeswoman Dr Ayesha Verrall said Costello had some questions to answer.

“We’ve seen reporting that she did take a decision that she wanted advice on a freeze of excise tax and yet she’s denied that in her comments to media, that needs to be cleared up,” Verrall said.

Having been fast-tracked into a ministerial role herself last term, Verrall accepted people should be “generous” in their judgment of Costello’s error.

However, she believed the best way for Costello to explain herself was to release the leaked document.

Verrall was expected to question Costello on the matter during the first Question Time of 2024. The former Health Minister had been given the ninth question of the day, which asked Costello whether she stood by “all her statements and actions”.

Adam Pearse is a political reporter in the NZ Herald Press Gallery team, based at Parliament. He has worked for NZME since 2018, covering sport and health for the Northern Advocate in Whangārei before moving to the Herald in Auckland, covering Covid-19 and crime.

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