Un­der the petrol pump

Kapi-Mana News - - FRONT PAGE -

Cars drink up wealth like my chil­dren suck down home­made le­mon­ade.

Which is why it is so in­fu­ri­at­ing to see OPEC, the league of big oil-pro­duc­ing coun­tries, com­ing up with a plan to cut oil pro­duc­tion by 15 per cent to drive up the oil price.

OPEC is a club of na­tions with a li­cence to ex­tract money from house­holds.

It’s a car­tel that doesn’t even try to be dis­creet.

If New Zealand banks got to­gether in a dark­ened room and made an agree­ment to lift mar­gins on mort­gages, peo­ple would end up in jail.

But OPEC is out­side of coun­try law, so they can thumb their oily noses at us.

Com­pletely in­su­lat­ing your­self against the pric­ing power of mo­nop­o­lies, oli­gop­ol­ies and ra­pa­cious business types is tough.

For­tu­nately, par­tial in­su­la­tion isn’t so hard.

For ex­am­ple, buy­ing a house in­su­lates you from land­lords and rent rises.

Pay­ing off a mort­gage fast in­su­lates you from ris­ing in­ter­est rates.

But when it comes to petrol, many of us are trapped by the ‘‘tyranny of dis­tance’’.

Tra­di­tion­ally this phrase re­ferred to the dis­tance our ex­ports have to travel to over­seas mar­kets.

But in large, low-den­sity cities like Auck­land, the phrase per­fectly cap­tures the lot of com­muters forced to live far from their work­places.

Trans­port costs are 14 per cent of the Con­sumer Price In­dex, of which petrol makes up a third. It’s a big bite out of the house­hold bud­get.

Peo­ple who own a house near their work and chil­dren’s schools worry less about petrol prices.

They could even go back to a 1970s-style one-car fam­ily set-up like my own.

An study claims the av­er­age Kiwi com­muter spends $11,852 run­ning a car each year.

If they sold it and used pub­lic trans­port, they’d save $9065.78 a year.

If your house­hold can’t do what we’ve done, it might still save petrol by run­ning smaller, more fuel-ef­fi­cient cars, and cut un­nec­es­sary car jour­neys by car­shar­ing, walk­ing, or cy­cling.

Cut­ting petrol can limit your sense of phys­i­cal free­dom, and travel can take longer.

It can mean liv­ing a more lo­cal life, but that’s been work­ing for us, and the chil­dren be­came much fit­ter now they walk or cy­cle a cou­ple of kilo­me­tres a day.

Be­ing more fru­gal in your spend­ing, and pinch­ing your life­style to cut the amount you have to pay to mo­nop­o­lists and oli­gop­o­lists is in­fu­ri­at­ing.

Iron­i­cally though, it al­lows you to in­su­late your­self even more by grow­ing your wealth faster.

Re­duc­ing your petrol con­sump­tion isn’t just one in the eye for OPEC.

The AA’s Mark Stock­dale says just a quar­ter of the price of petrol is the cost of petrol. An­other quar­ter is the cost of get­ting it to the pump.

All the rest is tax- GST, ex­cise taxes and fuel levies.

‘‘We shouldn’t get too an­gry with Arabs in flow­ing robes, we should be an­gry with the politi­cians in the Bee­hive,’’ he says.

Fair point. When OPEC raises the oil price, your GST bill goes up too! With John Key gone, more breath­ing room has been created for next year’s elec­tion to be fought on poli­cies, not per­son­al­i­ties.

Key’s farewell state­ments were quite re­veal­ing in that re­spect. Many of the ac­com­plish­ments he listed were ei­ther ex­ten­sions of poli­cies he in­her­ited or – in the case of the home in­su­la­tion scheme – were con­ceived and de­vel­oped in as­so­ci­a­tion with the Greens.

With pride, Key also men­tioned his steer­ing of the coun­try safely through (a) the Global Fi­nan­cial Cri­sis (b) the Christchurch earth­quakes af­ter­math and (c) the Pike River tragedy.

Pri­mar­ily, these were tri­umphs of po­lit­i­cal man­age­ment, not pol­icy in­no­va­tion.

As one jour­nal­ist noted at Key’s fi­nal press con­fer­ence as leader, hadn’t he ended up ex­tend­ing the same Work­ing For Fam­i­lies scheme that he’d pre­vi­ously de­nounced as so­cial­ism by stealth?

As Key’s National Party pre­de­ces­sor Don Brash also in­di­cated, fu­ture his­to­ri­ans could find it hard to de­tect much pol­icy day­light be­tween the Clark/ Cullen team and the Key/English com­bi­na­tion that suc­ceeded it.

Point­edly though, the harsh poli­cies of aus­ter­ity prac­ticed in the UK by Key’s men­tor David Cameron were not pur­sued here.

Luck­ily, they weren’t needed. In­sa­tiable de­mand from China – which did so much state spend­ing we didn’t need a stim­u­lus pack­age of our own - kept the economies of both Aus­tralia and New Zealand afloat through­out the Global Fi­nan­cial Cri­sis.

True, the char­ter schools ex­per­i­ment was a bone thrown by Key to National’s part­ners in gov­ern­ment, and the par­tial as­set sales pro­gramme of­fered con­ces­sions to National’s cor­po­rate al­lies.

Yet the longer the Key era went on, the scarcer such

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