Why Ardern has missed her Boadicea mo­ment

Prime Min­is­ter’s re­ac­tion to the petrol com­pa­nies amid the ris­ing fuel prices was an op­por­tu­nity lost for the Gov­ern­ment

The Northern Advocate - - Business - Fran O’Sul­li­van

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 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.

He­len Clark (a beau­ti­fully tem­pered Sa­mu­rari 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 the­aterette lectern as a bully pul­pit to al­lege they were fleec­ing Ki­wis at the pump.

Su­per­mar­kets were next to feel some of Ardern’s scat­ter-gun ap­proach as she savoured her war­rior queen mo­ment.

Pity for the Com­merce Com­mis­sion — who 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 of 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.

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