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'This is just nonsense': Casey Costello fronts up over excise tax claims

Publish Date
Fri, 2 Feb 2024, 8:07am

'This is just nonsense': Casey Costello fronts up over excise tax claims

Publish Date
Fri, 2 Feb 2024, 8:07am

Associate Health Minister Casey Costello has told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking she did not ask to remove the excise tax on tobacco. However, she conceded there was a line in a document from last year about removing it for three years. 

Costello declined an invitation to go on TVNZ’s Breakfast this morning but has fronted up over her denial she specifically sought advice on freezing the tobacco excise tax. 

“It’s just a broad document,” she said. 

“There’s no involvement from big tobacco, this is just nonsense.” 

Costello confirmed she had links to the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, but has no association or involvement with the tobacco industry. 

“I have sympathy [for smokers], I’m getting messaging from people who know they should stop smoking, but they’re addicted.” 

She said prohibition doesn’t cure addiction, and they want to look at a range of things to help people quit. 

Documents show Costello asked for advice on freezing the excise, despite denying in an interview with RNZ that she had specifically sought the advice. 

But when speaking during Question Time on Thursday, Costello doubled down, maintaining she had not specifically asked for the advice, and she had not written the documents she sent to officials. 

“The documentation is a range of historical policy positions and notes that were held in New Zealand First policy positions. Some of it relates to things that were passed in the legislation when New Zealand First was in Government. This is a range of points and positions and it’s about five pages long.” 

She said her actions had been distorted by the media. 

“The fact is, I was asked a question about whether I had sought specific advice. I had not sought specific advice, which was the question I answered. I referred to a range of advice I had sought from officials,” she said. 

Costello said she was unsure who wrote the documents. 

Labour’s health spokeswoman, Dr Ayesha Verrall, said the minister was still responsible for the documents she presented, and the Prime Minister should relieve Costello of her duties. 

“When a minister gives documents to officials, if that is done or collated by her office it is still her responsibility. Her office acts on her behalf, she needs to take responsibility for it.” 

Senior National Party minister Chris Bishop said that while ministers were responsible for things they gave officials, there was a question over whether they were responsible for the generation of that material. 

“I would argue they cannot be, in the same way that if, for example, a Labour Party minister gave a document to the Ministry of Education, that was the NZEI or the PPTA or the CTU, for example, they cannot be questioned about the CTU in Parliament. 

“They can be questioned about the handling of that document and what’s in the document, but the generation of that document I think would fall outside the scope of ministerial responsibility.” 

Speaking to media after Question Time, he said the matter of the authorship of New Zealand First’s policies was for Costello to answer, but he had certainly presented party policy to officials. 

He said talking to a range of groups was how the country gets good policy. 

“People have easy access to ministers and MPs in New Zealand. All political parties work with a range of groups when it comes to developing policy.” 

Standing in for the Prime Minister in the House, Act leader David Seymour said he had had assurances from all coalition partners they had had no funding from the tobacco industry. 

“I am confident that there has been no undue influence on the policies of this Government by the tobacco industry.” 

Seymour told reporters it was possible Costello had misinterpreted RNZ’s questioning, and RNZ had misinterpreted her answers, which had caused confusion. 

“I think that she was being open to the best of her ability. The other thing I just say is this: We say we want people in our democracy to stand up, run for office, and become ministers, and actually go and listen, take the best advice, and make the best policy. She’s done all that stuff and people are jumping all over her.” 

- NZ Herald with RNZ 

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