The optics, as the expression goes, aren’t good and, if it’s possible, they’re getting worse the more our new government tries to explain why it plans to fund tax cuts by dumping anti-smoking legislation which is so groundbreaking and highly regarded around the world that the UK is copying it.
In fact, the more explanation, the more it sounds like it’s losing the argument. After all, isn’t explaining losing? What the government has done is go searching for an explanation to justify the indefensible. Is this how anyone envisaged the first “100 days of action” under the “outcome driven” Prime Minister Christopher Luxon?
It’s a messy start and Luxon has been ordinary. He’s only got himself (and an adviser) to blame for that. He’s made embarrassing mistakes trying to defend the government’s position, claiming under the Ardern government’s smokefree legislation, just one shop would sell cigarettes in Northland, hence they’d become a target for ram raids and that’s why we need to drop legislation which would have created a smokefree generation.
Sadly, the numbers were wildly inaccurate but that’s the kind of mistake that happens when you desperately try to patch together an argument for political expediency. (For the record, it’s 35 shops not one in Northland.)
So, where does that leave the rushed and disingenuous argument about reducing ram raids? Stop treating the public as fools and at least wait a term before you use up all your political capital on arguments as shallow as a bird bath. We see it clearly: National needs the revenue from the excise tax on smoked tobacco products to give away in tax cuts because other plans were stymied by its coalition partners, Act and NZ First.
It’s as simple as that. Getting caught out only makes the wild spin more obvious – especially if one of your top-ranked Cabinet ministers, Chris Bishop, is a former tobacco company employee who repeats the misleading number the following day.
Paying for tax cuts
But National must pay for its promised tax cuts somehow. It’s their biggest policy. Could they delay them? Perhaps, let’s say if the fiscal conditions were no longer right. But, of course, they never were right in the first place.
Rising inflation should have seen the tax cuts proposal ditched months ago and now that a big, new, black hole in our finances has been discovered, they’re the last thing any government should be doing. To combat inflation, the Reserve Bank has warned it may have to raise the official cash rate (OCR) next year and when that goes up, all other interest rates, including for mortgages, follow. Who wants to keep paying high mortgage rates?
This is not the work of a government with a “laser focus” on inflation: tax cuts do not help inflation.
So, what are the chances of these cuts being ditched? Watch the mini-budget for further news, but nothing really surprises me anymore. After all, what a way to “get the country back on track” – when it comes at the cost of people taking up smoking, getting sick and dying earlier.
It’s laughable and embarrassing to us on the world stage; it’ll be fatal to some of us here at home. If the law had been allowed to roll out as planned, it would have meant anyone born after January 1, 2009, could never legally buy tobacco. We would have had the first smokefree generation in the world; we might have even become the first smokefree nation in the world.
We could have done it because we have come a long way in such a short time. In 2002, I spent weeks on the road for the Holmes Show interviewing bar owners who suddenly had to create outdoor spaces for smokers and cut them off from the rest of the bar.
According to them, the sky was about to fall in. (It didn’t.) Bars as we knew them would close. (They didn’t.)
After nearly two decades where all parties backed the common goal of a Smokefree NZ 2025, the decision to walk away from it is impossible to justify and needs to be seen for what it is: a desperate display of pork-barrel politics and expediency to take the excise tax gathered from selling smokes to pay for “prized” tax cuts.
Public health advocates say the smokefree law could save up to 5000 Kiwis a year from dying of smoking or related illnesses.
So, we’re trading people’s lives for tax cuts. Who wants to take the money on that basis? Most New Zealanders surely find swapping lives for tax cuts abhorrent, and this is surely an unacceptable price to pay for a few more dollars in your wallet.
How did three different political party caucuses and three different political party boards of directors agree to this? Did they see and understand everything? It’s not just 5000 lives at risk. It’s 5000 each year and ongoing.
No wonder the coalition talks dragged on. If Luxon had his reservations he kept them well guarded but they were well placed. Why did he eventually roll over? Because tax cuts are National’s biggest and most central plank, and he simply must deliver them, no matter what?
I don’t buy that, and I think National Party supporters, while disappointed, would understand this is the kind of deal that doesn’t pass the sniff test. It reeks – and Luxon needs to walk away from the tax cuts under these circumstances.
It’s given the Luxon-led government an incredibly unpopular start and, if this is New Zealand getting back on track, Luxon is captured and deluded already. This is the work of a heavily compromised government trying to keep all parties happy, but in the process, poor policy is developed that is likely to have devastating consequences.
It simply can’t be allowed to go ahead.