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Casey Costello apologises to Parliament for 'confusion' on smoking tax advice

Thomas Coughlan,
Publish Date
Tue, 20 Feb 2024, 3:17PM

Casey Costello apologises to Parliament for 'confusion' on smoking tax advice

Thomas Coughlan,
Publish Date
Tue, 20 Feb 2024, 3:17PM

Associate Health Minister Casey Costello has apologised to Parliament and given an explanation for ropey answers she gave regarding advice she received about smoking policy.

Costello sought leave to make a “personal statement”, rather than a correction, in relation to answers given on January 30 about whether she had asked for advice about freezing CPI adjustments to tobacco excise.

“I am speaking specifically to the questions that asked if I was being truthful when I denied to the media that I had requested advice on freezing tobacco excise tax. On review of my response, I acknowledge that there is confusion arising from my understanding of the differentiation between seeking specific advice and accepting advice being offered,” Costello said.

“I had no intention of misleading the House, and I apologise for any confusion,” Costello said.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins rose to his feet to make a point of order, saying Costello’s statement was confusing because it did not state the incorrect answer Costello appeared to be correcting.

“I don’t think anyone in this House will be any the wiser on what it is the minister has just corrected,” Hipkins said.

The correction appears to relate to answers given to Labour health spokeswoman Dr Ayesha Verrall after it was revealed Costello circled an option given to her by officials to look at the idea of a tobacco excise freeze.

According to a document seen by RNZ, officials asked Costello, “whether [she] would like advice in January 2024 to include implications of a three-year freeze on CPI-related excise increases for smoked tobacco”.

The “yes” option is circled on the document, which was signed by Costello on December 20, 2023.

In Parliament on January 30, Verrall asked Costello: “Is it correct that she indicated she wanted advice from the Ministry of Health on a tobacco excise tax freeze in a document she annotated and signed on December 20?”

Costello replied: “Yes, in relation to a range of advice, there was a component that asked for the implications relating to the excise tax freeze.”

Verrall pressed further, asking: “In that case, why did she deny requesting specific advice on an excise tax freeze for cigarettes in an interview with Guyon Espiner?”

Costello replied: ”I did not state that I had not requested specific advice. I had sought advice on a range of issues which included that one.”

Later, Costello told Verrall, “Being offered something and asking for something are two separate matters.”

Costello’s statement today appeared to correct this, acknowledging that by circling a suggestion from officials that she received advice on the price freeze, she was in fact asking for advice.

Thomas Coughlan is Deputy Political Editor and covers politics from Parliament. He has worked for the Herald since 2021 and has worked in the press gallery since 2018.

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