With fuel prices sky-rocketing, Cabinet made a swift decision this month to give relief at the petrol pump. But two weeks later and there are still many unanswered questions for diesel users, writes political editor Jo Moir.
It’s been a fortnight since the Prime Minister and her deputy, Grant Robertson, announced petrol excise duty was being cut by 25 cents a litre for three months to give Kiwis immediate relief at the pump.
The announcement included plans to reduce road user charges by an equivalent amount for diesel users, and halving the cost of public transport for the same period.
The global energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine had sent prices through the roof, only adding to the cost-of-living pressures already being felt across the board.
At the time Jacinda Ardern and Robertson said the road user charges (RUCs) discount was more complex and would take time to implement.
Last week Transport Minister Michael Wood confirmed RUCs would be cut across all 85 vehicle classes by 36 percent between late April and late July, allowing time to implement the changes.
“I want to assure road user charges payers they will get three months of reduced rates, even with the later start date. The complexity of road user charges means that a few more weeks are required to put the reduced rates in place,’’ Wood said.
For two weeks Newsroom has put questions to Wood’s office asking how the Government will stop diesel users from rorting the discount by stocking up, and whether people who had bought RUCs prior to the discount period would be compensated.
The only response Newsroom had received until Tuesday is that “agencies are currently working through the implementation of the announced RUC changes and any flow-on implications’’.
Wood’s office told Newsroom last Wednesday, and reiterated on Monday, that the minister is expecting further advice in the coming days.
On Tuesday Wood told Newsroom the framework for the RUCs discount would be completed in coming days.
He said legislation would be required and Cabinet would need to sign off on it so that it could be passed in the next fortnight before the end of the month.
Ardern told Newsroom on Monday the need for possible legislative changes wasn’t the only issue the transport agency, Waka Kotahi, and Ministry of Transport officials are working through.
“There’s been issues of bulk purchasing or needing to purchase within a designated timeframe when the change isn’t made until later, so it hasn’t been as straightforward,’’ she said.
When Wood announced the 36 percent discount from the end of April, he said the cost, depending on uptake, was estimated to be approximately $170 million.
Given there is little to no understanding of what the uptake will be, and no cap has yet been put on how many units of RUCs can be bought, it’s unclear how officials reached that figure.
Ardern told Newsroom the Ministry of Transport and Waka Kotahi knew the Government wanted to find a way to offer relief and weren’t caught on the back foot when the announcement was made.
She insisted the delay was simply a case of working through a complex problem and communicating it to diesel users and the trucking sector as quickly as possible.
For those needing to purchase more RUCs ahead of late April it remains to be seen whether they’ll receive all the 36 percent discount, and when it will back-date to.
No new advice on how to overcome the issues with the diesel discount was presented to ministers at Cabinet on Monday.