Week in Politics: Electric cars and medicinal cannabis

8:05 pm on 12 July 2019

By Peter Wilson

Analysis - The government's electric vehicle proposals upset farmers, regulations around medicinal cannabis run into controversy and the defence minister ponders the future of NZDF bases.

File photo of a Nissan Leaf.

File photo of a Nissan Leaf. Photo: 123RF

Proposals aimed at encouraging people to buy electric cars kicked off the week with Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter announcing the "clean car discount".

Intended to be in force by 2021, they would mean about $8000 coming off the price of new or near new imported EVs. Fuel efficient petrol cars would also be cheaper to buy while gas-guzzling heavy polluters would cost about $3000 more.

The scheme is designed to operate through an import fee and Ms Genter said it would make EVs and hybrids "a realistic option". There are differences of opinion over that and it's clearly not going to be as simple as she made it sound.

Federated Farmers immediately saw problems with realistic options. "Unless there's an electric vehicle that can take a whole lot of fencing equipment, kids, and a whole bunch of supplies and groceries we're kind of stuck with that double-cab ute," said the federation's vice-president Andrew Hoggard. "It looks like we've been forgotten again."

That sounds like another opportunity for Winston Peters and NZ First to step in and make sure farmers aren't forgotten. Could a rural exemption be on the cards?

National's Paula Bennett said her party wasn't against incentives to buy EVs but thought the proposals were "really unfair" to low-income families who couldn't afford them. Even with the discounts, EVs are a costly item.

Ms Genter countered by saying the second-hand market wouldn't be affected and that was where most people bought their cars. Eventually, as EV imports increased, they would filter through to the second-hand market and would be more affordable.

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Julie Anne Genter, left, and Paula Bennett. Photo: RNZ

The Motor Industry Association cautiously accepted the proposals and said they would send a clear signal to consumers, but the Imported Vehicle Industry Association didn't. Chief executive David Vinsen said there was a draconian aspect - the government was attempting to influence what the industry offered to the public.

The proposals are out for consultation and there's likely to be a lot of it.

Immediate controversy over medicinal cannabis products plans

The Ministry of Health released the regulations around medicinal cannabis products, which have been developed since Parliament passed legislation in December allowing access to the drug. The regulations cover cultivation, licensing, manufacture and supply.

Controversy quickly emerged over just how accessible the products would be for people wanting them for pain relief.

Under the regulations, only ministry-approved products could be prescribed by a doctor without a specialist opinion. At present there's only one such product, called Sativex, which is reported to cost users around $1000 a month.

Rebecca Reider, a member of the government's medicinal cannabis advisory group, said it seemed the ministry was actually making it harder for people to get a prescription for the products. "It just doesn't make sense - medicinal cannabis is safer than most prescription medicines," she said.

Ross Bell, Drug Foundation Executive Director

Ross Bell Photo: RNZ Insight/Teresa Cowie

Drug Foundation director Ross Bell said he would like to see fewer restrictions with GPs trusted to prescribe without a sign off.

Health Minister David Clark told Morning Report the scheme would benefit thousands of New Zealanders suffering long-term pain and recognised the global shortage of such products.

Licensing and approving them is expected to bring more onto the market and Mr Clark foresaw a bonanza for New Zealand manufacturers. The worldwide market is expected to grow to $80 billion by 2025, and about half a dozen local companies have emerged over the past year with plans to grow, process and manufacture medicinal cannabis products.

The scheme is expected to be operational by March 2020. It could be tweaked between now and then.

Boost for Defence Force's infrastructure

Defence Minister Ron Mark announced a sweeping review of the NZDF's bases and a big spend-up on refurbishing run-down buildings and infrastructure. There's an additional $400 million available and by 2030 total spending will be just over $2b.

Mr Mark said the 81,000-hectare defence estate was at a crossroads and major bases were threatened by urban sprawl, the urgent need for more housing development land and noise complaints. "Reverse nimbyism" was having a massive impact on the Defence Force's ability to operate. Whenuapai Air Base in West Auckland and Devonport Naval Base were examples of bases under pressure.

"We need to be smart with our investment in the estate, it makes sense for us to take stock of what we have and look at what we will need in the year 2070," he said.

Gisborne District mayor Meng Foon

Meng Foon Photo: New Zealand Government

Justice Minister Andrew Little announced the appointment of retiring Gisborne mayor Meng Foon as the new Race Relations Commissioner - the position has been vacant for more than a year since Dame Susan Devoy left. He has held the mayoral role for 18 years and is fluent in te reo Māori, Cantonese and English. Mr Foon told RNZ he hoped to showcase New Zealand as a great country to live in.

Mr Little said there were enormous challenges and also tremendous possibilities. He praised Mr Foon's outstanding record as a relationship builder who walked comfortably in the Pakeha world, the Māori world and the Chinese community.

The Dominion Post newspaper described him as "the country's new conscience" and said he seemed perfectly suited to the role. High praise indeed, and a lot to live up to.

*Peter Wilson is a life member of Parliament's press gallery, 22 years as NZPA's political editor and seven as parliamentary bureau chief for NZ Newswire.