The government has decided against a 2035 ban on fossil fuel car imports (Radio NZ)

The Bulletin: More caution from govt in strange car import stoush

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Govt rejects idea to ban petrol car imports in 2035, firefighters say they’re facing a workforce crisis, and Tamihere pledges rate freeze.

A strange sort of stoush erupted at the end of last week around petrol and diesel car sales. On Friday, Newsroom reported that the ministry of transport was in support of a ban on importing fossil fuelled vehicles by 2035. It would result in significantly lower emissions, and there would be a net financial benefit in the billions through fuel savings. However, the government considered, and then rejected the proposal.

The strange part about it all was how unpopular the whole process was. The NZ Herald reported that the National party were inflamed at the idea even being considered at all. Spokesperson Chris Bishop, after offsetting his comments by talking about the importance of cutting emissions, said it “would be irresponsible to make petrol cars illegal so soon without a solid plan to help people into electric vehicles.” Leave aside for a moment that the feebate scheme is making its way towards being in place, and that the proposal wouldn’t have made petrol cars illegal, and that the proposal would take a mere 16 years to rush up on motorists.

Environmentalists were aghast at the rejections, saying such an import ban would have put New Zealand among good company. As EV advocate Justin Boyd told Newstalk ZB, many are now enacting legislative variations of it. There’s a full list available here on Wikipedia. Some are even more ambitious than the proposed 2035 date. 16 years is slightly shorter than the general lifespan of a car being imported now, so it is entirely possible fossil fuelled cars would still be on the road in 2050. Is three decades to make the transition really an unrealistic timetable? The question must also be asked about whether that is too long, given the current frenzy of petrol and diesel imports.

Associate transport minister Julie Anne Genter didn’t exactly seem happy to talk about the proposal being rejected, when she spoke to Newstalk ZB. She pointed towards other measures being brought in, and New Zealand needing to catch up with what other countries were doing. But once again, it raises questions about why the government is being so cautious on climate change. There’s no suggestion an import ban far into the future would be some sort of silver bullet against emissions. But that’s because there’s no such thing – according to all the IPCC science many actions need to be taken concurrently to avert catastrophic warming. Why not take one entirely in keeping with the government’s rhetoric?


Firefighters say their profession is facing a workforce crisis, with many considering whether to give up the difficult and dangerous job, reports Gareth Shute for The Spinoff. While investments have been made over recent decades in new stations, those on the ground say in real terms there hasn’t been an increase in the number of career firefighters staffing them. Fire and Emergency say there’s no risk to the public, but the union says it’s a matter of time before there are – and that doesn’t even begin to cover the hazards firefighters themselves face.


Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere has promised a three-year rate freeze if he’s elected, reports the NZ Herald on their front page today. He says he’ll cancel planned rates increases, by finding so-called “efficiency gains” of 1% across all Council Controlled Organisations, along with the cancellation of other projects. Mayor Phil Goff described the plan as “incoherent and lacking in basic financial understanding”. Tamihere also said that he’ll ask landlords to freeze rent rises for three years if he wins, and I must say it’s wonderful to see that he hasn’t lost his sense of whimsy during the long campaign.


The Hamilton to Auckland commuter rail line is a step closer to reality, with construction funding approved by NZTA, reports One News. The service is expected to start rolling in the middle of next year, with stops in Frankton, Rotokauri, Huntly and Papakura. Transport minister Phil Twyford says the aim is to help take cars off the road.


Farmers with high debt loads are raising concerns about possible new bank lending policies, reports Farmers Weekly. The average sharemilker is in debt to the tune of about $1 million, which makes them heavily exposed. Along with likely costs attached to environmental policies, there are warnings that some farms could become unviable. The government currently has a bill moving through parliament aimed at making banks give indebted farmers more leeway.


The personal data of hundreds of New Zealanders has been exposed in a government website digital security breach, reports the NZ Herald. Those potentially affected are the 302 people who applied to sail on the Fa’afaite double-hulled canoe, as part of the Tuia 2050 commemorations. The breach has now been closed after being open for a day, and was reportedly caused by a coding error.


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Ronnie van Hout working on Quasi.

Right now on The Spinoff – it’s another bumper Monday morning: Kena Duignan writes about the fear that comes with watching the Amazon burn, and the “profound and simple” actions that can be taken in response. Toby Manhire reports on the possibility a NZer started a measles outbreak in California. Artist Ronnie van Hout, the man behind The Hand, talks to Megan Dunn about the reaction it has received. Duncan Greive gets nostalgic about reality TV, through the lens of the latest season of Celebrity Treasure Island.

Finally, two excellent pieces of writing about conversations over dinner. Alice Webb-Liddall sat down for a meal with Meng Foon, the remarkable outgoing mayor of Gisborne, who will soon become New Zealand’s race relations commissioner. And Josie Adams writes about a Naked Dinner event that took a turn for the weird, and the piece is a really deep and fascinating meditation on bodies and boundaries.


After Friday’s Bulletin about the economic impacts of delayed transport funding, there was a fair bit of feedback. So for a feature today, I’m going to take a response from Bruno and run it basically in full. He’s a self-described transport nerd, and a former NZTA staffer, and had this to say. Fair warning, it’s a bit wordy, but Bruno’s perspective gives a lot of food for thought.

“Transport funding” generally refers to the national land transport fund, an entirely ring-fenced $3b pot which the NZTA invests or co-invests based on strict criteria, which are derived from the priorities of the govt of the day but assessed independently.

Even under the previous govt’s priorities, some high-profile projects (the seven “Roads of National Significance”) didn’t stack up and so the government allocated funding for them directly out of Budget – they simply weren’t eligible for NLTF funding on their own merits. Some of those projects, like Ōtaki to Levin, weren’t actually funded for construction, but rather for investigation (on the hope that the investigation would result in a business case that would be eligible for NLTF funding to construct, or that more discretionary funding would be allocated from Budget if not).

During the last election, National took advantage of the general confusion about these respective funding sources to imply that Labour would “divert” money away from the then-current RoNS (funded from Budget) towards other things.

The current Coalition has shifted the priorities of NLTF spending, but the idea that this is “diverting” funding is entirely a National spin – they’re simply not willing to put Budget funds into projects which don’t stack up for NLTF funding, and which only ever really existed as a National campaign promise in 2017. In short, Ōtaki to Levin was only ever funded as a business case, an investigation into whether building it might be a good investment, and even that business case didn’t come out of transport funding but a politically-motivated Budget.


An enlarged sport section today, because there’s a lot to get through: 

New Zealand motorcyclist Chris Swallow has died in a race considered the most dangerous in the world. Swallow was a widely admired athlete around Wellington, who is survived by a wife and children. The Isle of Man TT race has killed hundreds of people competing in it since the inception in 1907. This piece from Radio NZ’s Hugh Barlow beautifully captures why people choose to race it.

Canoe sprinter Lisa Carrington has continued her incredible run of World Championship wins intact, reports Newshub. The performance in the final was described as “flawless”, and it guarantees that New Zealand will be able to send a boat (presumably with Carrington paddling it) to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Warnings are being raised about the potential for match-fixing to take hold in lower-league football in New Zealand. I was initially pretty sceptical about such claims, but this piece by Stuff’s Sam Sherwood and Martin van Beynen lays out a really convincing case for why the concerns are well-founded. There’s little scrutiny, no protection for vulnerable players, and the sums being bet on these games offshore is eye-watering.

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Finally, cricket. Ben Stokes has enhanced his reputation as the most clutch cricketer in the world, with an astonishing rearguard to steal an Ashes win away from the rampant Australian bowlers. Here’s the highlights of the day – it started with Stokes having his helmet smashed apart by a bouncer. It finished with him roaring in triumph to a thrilled Headingley crowd. The series is now locked at 1-1, with two games remaining – England will have to win one more to take the urn off Australia.


From our partners: With several high profile government objectives in the spotlight, a single ministry could drive better outcomes across them all. Robyn Holdaway, senior policy advisor at Vector, makes the case for a Ministry for Energy.


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