It’s just over a week since Jacinda Arden took over as leader of the Labour Party and she’s already announced two new taxes.
The first was a fuel tax :
The Labour Party might have changed its leaders but where it wants to take New Zealand hasn’t changed, National Party Campaign Chair Steven Joyce says.
“By resurrecting a decade-old idea of charging Aucklanders another tax it’s now clear why they had to abandon the “fresh approach” line,” Mr Joyce says.
“Regional Fuel Tax was Labour Party policy back in 2007 and it has been rejected by voters many times since then. It’s about as tired as R&D tax credits.
“Labour would make Aucklanders pay at least another 10 cents a litre every time they fill up their tank and that’s just for starters. That would have a real impact on the cost of living for hard-working Aucklanders.
“And it would probably spread around the country. Last time around, Wellington and Canterbury were lining up for regional taxes too. There is also no national price so fuel companies could easily transfer the cost to motorists around the country.” . .
The second is a water tax.
A Labour-led government would implement royalties for bottled water, irrigation schemes and other commercial uses, leader Jacinda Ardern told the Environmental Defence Society’s annual conference in her first major policy speech on environmental policy since becoming party leader last Tuesday.
Drinking water, stockwater for farms, and ‘non-consumptive’ uses such as hydroelectricity generation would not face the charges, which would be set following a national conference of affected industries and water users within the first 100 days of the new government, Ardern said. . .
What happens when irrigation water is also used for stock?
Why is water for stock to drink seen as a more virtuous use than water to grow grass for stock to eat?
Farmers are understandably worried:
Pledges from Labour to consult on a “proportionate and fair” royalty for irrigation water have eased the concerns of farmers – but only by a tiny margin.
They remain terrified by the potential impacts on farming families, rural communities and the entire economy.
Federated Farmers water spokesperson Chris Allen said consultation is welcome “but talking won’t allay the fears of farmers of where this could go”.
The Federation remained opposed to any royalty on irrigation water, especially when it remains unclear what purpose it would serve, other than adding another tax.
“At least Labour appears now to be proceeding with caution, recognising the considerable risks. They’ve promised that if they are part of a new government, deciding the levels of any royalty on commercial use of water will be preceded by consultation.”
Mr Allen said the 10 cents a litre figure some had bandied around would bankrupt farmers and cripple our export competitiveness and regional economies. Even one thousandth of that figure, if that’s a level Labour has in mind, would be “eye-watering” given the volume of consumptive water use.
“With any royalty, farmers and growers would have little choice but to pass on the extra cost, if they could, meaning New Zealand consumers would pay more for food, and our products would be at a disadvantage against imports.”
Farmers recognised some positives in the Labour policy announcements. They would applaud that riparian planting would qualify for carbon credits under the Emissions Trading Scheme, “but we hope this is not a hint of a policy announcement to come on including animal emissions in the ETS”.
And the idea of activating young people who are out of work to join water quality improvement projects is worthwhile.
“That will get young people out on the land and more familiar with the farming sector, and they’ll get to experience – and help with – the large amount of environmental enhancement work farmers are already doing.”
But the whole exercise of adding a new tax on water, even if the revenue is shared with regional councils for water quality work, “is counter-productive, and a money-go-round with administration costs added in.
“Farmers are working hard to live within the limits imposed by environmental standards and the desire by all New Zealanders – farmers included – to clean-up water quality hot-spots.
“Adding an extra cost in the form of a water tax drives a perverse incentive for farmers to intensify their activity, and deprives them of income that at worst puts them out of business and at best leaves them with less money to spend on environmental protection work.”
Labour has pledged to consult, and Federated Farmers would take that opportunity, Mr Allen said.
“If we can get round a table with them, we’ll be able to talk them through all the downsides of what they’re proposing in a rational way. This needs to be done without the distraction of a general election.”
Federated Farmers believes an important principle is that if there’s to be a charge for commercial use of water, it should be paid by all, with no room of discrimination.
“If you’re going to be stupid enough to bring this in, it’s got to be fair.”
DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle said Labour’s proposal to introduce a water royalty for commercial water users would be difficult and require extensive consultation around the regions.
. . .“Within a farming business, just like any business, commercial water rates already apply. Our farmers also pay for access to irrigation, and access to water on their land through council consents. Water royalties could potentially duplicate these costs.
“Labour earlier hinted that such a levy wouldn’t result in a cost increase for farming, but without a robust conversation about how their water royalty policy will work we can’t know exactly how this would affect dairy farmers.” . .
Horticulture NZ says “Let’s not do this“:
“Extra costs on growers of fresh, healthy fruit and vegetables will make healthy food more expensive,” Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman says.
“This seems incongruous with policies around alleviating poverty and the benefits of healthy eating to reduce the economic burden of secondary health issues as a result of obesity.
“Horticulture New Zealand supports sound, consistent water policy to support efficient use of water and we have issued our own such policy (available here).
“But we do not support a blanket tax without due consideration of New Zealand’s water priorities as a nation. These priorities must include water for drinking, sanitation and food production.
“Today’s statement does not provide sufficient detail about Labour’s intentions, which should be made clear prior to the election. We don’t feel it is enough to say that if Labour forms the next Government, there will be a conversation about water within the first 100 days.
“There is already the Land and Water Forum which has been working on the wider issues of water allocation, rights and use for some time.
“Horticulture is a rapidly growing industry, contributing significantly to the economic wellbeing of New Zealand. Our vision is healthy food for all forever. We do not want to see the cost of fruit and vegetables grown in New Zealand, supporting local economies and providing jobs, pushed up higher than the cost of imported or processed food. We do not believe the long-term outcomes from a blanket water tax would benefit New Zealanders.”
The Taxpayers’ Union says a water tax shouldn’t pick and choose:
“Picking and choosing who pays what ‘water tax’ and changing the tax rate based on its use, is economic silliness,” says Jordan Williams, Executive Director of the Taxpayers’ Union
“In principle, a case can be mounted for charging users of water. However, Labour’s proposal seems more focused at the users, than the actual use.”
“If Labour is genuine in charging a ‘fair’ amount for water, why hasn’t it backed tradable permits for water? That’s a far more efficient, fair, and environmentally beneficial system than royalties payable by some users.”
“Jacinda Ardern comparison to royalties on oil and gas is a bit silly. Labour’s water royalty policy is akin to saying, they’ll charge oil drillers if the oil is used to make asphalt, but not if it’s used for plastics. Our point is that a water royalty should treat industries the same – rather than pick and choose.”
“The most disappointing thing about today’s announcement is that it’s really just another tax on business and entrepreneurship.
With the Treasury swimming in money, Labour should be explaining how it will lower the tax burden to get Kiwi businesses ahead – not saddling industry with even higher tax bills.”
Taxing water for bottling will be popular with voters even though a tiny amount of available water is involved and there’s a danger of it being regarded as an export tariff.
But why tax water for bottling unprocessed but not the water that is processed into beer, wine and other beverages? Or will the spring water at Speights be taxed too?
Taxing irrigators might be popular in some places until the consequences become apparent – higher costs for milk, meat, fruit and vegetables.
But popular isn’t necessarily good and the water tax is unfairly targeting a small number of businesses, most of which are in Canterbury and Otago.
Most of these will have fenced and planted waterways and already be doing everything else they can to protect and enhance water on or near their farms. It is unfair and unreasonable to take money from them to clean up other people’s messes elsewhere.
It is especially unfair for those of us who have to adhere environmental farm plans which are independently audited each year, where the only problem with nearby water is E.Coli from seagulls and where we pay the costs of water to provide environmental flows in the Waiareka Creek.
Some of the money would go to regional councils the rest would be absorbed into the consolidated fund, to be used for Treaty settlements, where there is no need for it.
The government is forecasting surpluses for years ahead, there is no need for any new taxes unless there are compensatory cuts elsewhere.
The water tax is Labour’s attempt to hide its economic profligacy under environmental camouflage.
Two new taxes in one week prove that the party has a new leader but nothing else has changed including its tax and spend policies.