COMMENT:

Every female Prime Minister has their Boadicea moment.

With Dame Jenny Shipley, her Boadicea moment was her ousting of Jim Bolger as Prime Minister in a backroom coup and the sacking of Winston Peters as Treasurer.

Well before that Shipley had taken a blowtorch to welfare as a Cabinet Minister in the Bolger Government and continues to cite student allowances and healthcare as areas where today's middle and higher income earners should pay more.

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Helen Clark (a beautifully tempered Samurai sword according to former politics professor Bob Chapman) rallied her troops to defeat the Don Brash-led National Party to win a third term in government. But hers was a skilful managerial style.

Jacinda Ardern may have wasted hers with her sally against the petrol companies as she used her Beehive theatrette lectern as a bully pulpit to allege they were fleecing Kiwis at the pump.

Supermarkets were next to feel some of Ardern's scattergun approach as she savoured her warrior queen moment.

Pity for the Commerce Commission — which the Government will direct to perform investigations into fuel pricing once it has passed special legislation giving it power to do so — that Ardern has already made a judgment call.

Pity also that she passed up the opportunity to position herself as a climate change warrior instead of opting for naked politics.

Prime ministers do not always nail their colours to the wall this way.

Usually the portfolio minister sets the case for Cabinet intervention first by laying out the argument in speeches, or in Parliament. Particularly when it is blatantly obvious that a raft of factors have contributed to the escalation in fuel prices.

Higher international oil prices for one. The kind which Air New Zealand warned about when explaining why some ticket prices will have to rise even though the airline will also tackle its cost structures.

On top of that there is the impact of the drop in the New Zealand dollar which is also flowing through into oil prices.

The Government's recent hike in the excise taxes and the impost of an Auckland regional fuel tax is another factor. Plus the increased GST take.

The upshot is the Government's own coffers are doing very nicely from the fuel price spike.

If there is any evidence of collusion, the petrol retailers will be in the gun during the commission's investigation.

But meantime, Ardern is using them to distract from the unpalatable fact that unless consumer behaviour changes, the Government stands to rake in a bonus windfall from increased GST on fuel sales.

The whole scenario really comes down to a perfect storm.

When the coalition Government announced in June that it would raise the excise duty on petrol by 10.5 cents a litre over two years, this was to come on top of the July 1 regional fuel tax of 11.5c/litre on petrol sold in Auckland.

When the regional fuel policy was confirmed earlier this year the international oil price had not escalated and the NZ dollar had not slid.

Ardern could have chosen to sympathise with motorists and simply underline that the rising fuel prices underpin why there needs to be a switch to a greater reliance on public transport which will assist in reducing carbon emissions.

For a Prime Minister who claims climate change is her generation's nuclear moment this was a fail.

She has also put the Commerce Commission in an invidious position.

I have argued it is time the commission had powers to launch market behaviour investigations.

The ACCC is doing just that in Australia, looking into how Google and Facebook use their heft in the advertising market.

But there is no sign that the Government wants to move on that score here.
The petrol companies are easy meat. So too, the supermarkets which Ardern has indicated might come next.

Google, Facebook et al? Fat chance.