National leader Christopher Luxon had a rough morning of U-turns on Wednesday. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Christopher Luxon drove himself into a policy traffic jam on Wednesday morning, after he said National would U-turn on a policy it vociferously opposed – the clean car discount or “ute tax”.
National later U-turned on that remark, clarifying that Luxon misspoke and had not intended to U-turn on that particular policy. He was in fact talking about the clean car standard, an emissions standard for vehicle importers.
National opposed that policy too, meaning Luxon has still U-turned on a policy today – just not the policy he said he was U-turning on.
There is still a question hanging over the extent of the U-turn because National has floated that it supports emissions standards of some kind – but has always said it opposes the Clean Car Standard and voted against it earlier this year.
The Labour Party attacked Luxon on Wednesday morning by tallying up all of the climate policies National said it would reverse and saying they amounted to a black hole in the climate change targets that National and Labour have both agreed to.
Speaking to Ryan Bridge on the AM Show, Luxon said that he wouldn’t be junking all the policies Labour had said National would get rid of.
“We’ve got a government that is taxing people with utes and there is no alternative and subsidising wealthy Tesla drivers by giving them subsidies.
“We think there’d be a different way to do it. We’d keep the Clean Car Discount to make sure we’ve got low-emissions cars coming in.”
The problem is the policy Luxon said he’d axe – the one that charges people who buy polluting cars like utes to subsidise people who purchase EVs or hybrids like Teslas – is the Clean Car Discount, the policy he went on to say he’d keep.
Politicians have scrapped over the clean car discount since then-Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter announced an early version of it in 2019. NZ First killed that policy, but Labour revived it after the election and current Transport Minister Michael Wood passed it into law.
It works by charging people who purchase polluting cars a fee of up to $5175 based on how polluting they are. The fees then subsidise a “discount” on hybrid cars and EVs of up to $8625. To qualify, the car must be purchased for less than $80,000 meaning some Teslas qualify.
A spokesman for Luxon said the leader had misspoken and that Luxon was actually supporting the clean car standard. This policy would steadily increase the emissions standards of vehicles that importers bring into the country in a bid to gradually reduce the overall emissions of New Zealand’s vehicle fleet.
Labour crowed at the apparent U-Turn, with Wood rushing out a press release needling Luxon.
“This U-turn is great news for New Zealanders. We all know what sitting on our hands on this issue will do – and it’s catastrophic,” Wood said.
Wood laid into Luxon for the 50-metre limousine ride from his apartment in Wellington to Parliament’s forecourt that he took shortly after becoming National leader in December last year.
“The next time Mr Luxon decides to take a 50-metre limousine journey, perhaps now he’ll at least choose to do it in a zero-emissions vehicle.”
Wood defended the policy saying it had helped people buy clean vehicles, most of which were not Teslas.
“Across the programme we’ve supported Kiwis to purchase around 38,200 Daihatsus, Fords, Hondas, Hyundais, Mazdas, Mitsubishis, Nissans, Subarus, Suzukis, Toyotas, and Kias [79% of total vehicles], paying out over $113,000,000 [60 per cent of the total rebates] on these vehicles,” Wood said.
Luxon’s support for the Clean Car Standard was still something of a U-Turn
National spoke and voted against the standard when it was debated in Parliament in February, although transport spokesman Simeon Brown said in that debate that standards of some kind could be worked out with industry.
In September, this position softened further with Brown telling Jack Tame on Q + A that National supported cleaner car standards but that “realistic and reliable” emissions standards should be worked out with industry.