ZB

Jack Tame: This Government cares more about polling than principles

Author
Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Sat, 19 Mar 2022, 9:30am
(Photo / Getty Images)
(Photo / Getty Images)

Jack Tame: This Government cares more about polling than principles

Author
Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Sat, 19 Mar 2022, 9:30am

Call me a sucker. 

Last Sunday morning, the petrol gauge in my car dropped to one bar and I pulled up at Mobil and filled up with gas. It cost $150 to fill my 2012 Toyota hatchback. In twenty years of driving, it was the most money I’d ever spent filling my car. 

Of course, it felt painful. But I figured I didn’t have much of a choice. The war in Ukraine looked set to continue and even if I waited, I knew I’d have to fill up sooner or later. 

The next day Labour cut petrol excise tax by 25c a litre. 

Cutting the price of petrol for three months and halving the cost of public transport will cost almost $400m. The policy had almost no scrutiny or oversight. There was no regulatory impact assessment. The Ministry of Transport and Treasury have kindly agreed to a ‘post-implementation assessment.’ They’ll tell us how it went, after it’s all over. Brilliant. 

But although the Government has framed the tax cut as an urgent and nimble piece of leadership, we should describe it for what it really is: cynical and reactionary. 

Transport makes up a significant slab of our carbon emissions profile. As painful as it was for businesses and households alike to have petrol at $3 a litre – and I appreciate that for some people it was extremely painful - the surge in prices presented an unrivaled opportunity to encourage significant behavioural change.  

The Government is concerned about the cost of living crisis? Last I checked, they said the climate crisis was the nuclear free issue of this generation. 

There are plenty of other more targeted ways to relieve cost of living stresses. Taking a couple of bucks off the cost of a bus ticket won’t encourage more people onto public transport if the cost of filling their car is just the same as it’s always been. 

The truth is, petrol taxes would never have been cut if Labour had been well ahead in last week’s poll. They saw the poll numbers. They freaked out. They dropped almost $400m to try and win back some popularity. 

And the annoying thing is... it works. The reason New Zealanders haven’t kicked up a stink is that fundamentally, we would prefer the comfort of cheaper petrol than a government with the courage to make difficult but necessary choices. 

This is why we find ourselves in the shit. This is why our housing is some of the least affordable in the World. This is why we have a looming crisis over the cost of superannuation. This is why we’re dragging out heels on doing anything meaningful about climate change. 

We voters only care about the short term. And our politicians only care about keeping us happy. They’re not nimble or urgent. They’re cowardly. 

But ask yourself this: regardless of your political stripes, wouldn’t you prefer a government to be led by its principles than by the polls? 

A society deserves the leaders it elects. Once again, Jacinda Ardern’s Government has shown it’s more interested in doing what is popular than what is right.