30 Aug 2023

Greens, ACT cry foul over National's 'climate dividend'

4:20 pm on 30 August 2023
Deputy leader of National Party Nicola Willis

National Party Finance Spokesperson Nicola Willis Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The Green and ACT parties are calling out National over its supposed "climate dividend", saying the language is misleading.

Both argue the funds raised by the Emissions Trading Scheme should not be simply poured into general government finances.

National announced its tax policy on Wednesday touting tax cuts for the "squeezed middle", paid for with a suite of new revenue-raising measures and cuts to the public sector.

The policy document shows the party expected to see $2.3 billion return to the government coffers under a so-called "climate dividend", using funds from the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

This was a departure from the language used in the party's initial media release, which said its "climate dividend" would mean "returning taxes raised on climate polluters to Kiwi families" - rather than into the government kitty.

Finance Spokesperson Nicola Willis confirmed to reporters where the money would go.

"All of the revenue raised by the Emissions Trading scheme will be used to help fund tax reduction," she said.

The ACT Party has long had a "Carbon Tax Refund" policy which would actually pay back ETS funds directly to New Zealanders, which leader David Seymour said would see New Zealanders each receive $200 a year.

The party put out a media release shortly after National's, celebrating that their policy might be taken up by the party polls suggest would be their governing partner.

Having read the finer print, Seymour was frustrated, saying the dividend should be going directly back to taxpayers.

"This dividend is actually not a climate dividend by any sound definition of the term," he said. "This is ... just taking money out of the GIDI and putting it into the Crown accounts. Our climate dividend would give around $200 every person every year. That's important not just for people getting some cash back but also getting hte public bought in to long-term climate action."

ACT party leader David Seymour speaks at the censure of National MP Tim van de Molen

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The GIDI - or Government Investment in Decarbonising Industry - Fund has seen $1b allocated over seven years to help the industrial sectors switch away from fossil fuel processes, such as replacing coal boilers and industrial heating processes with renewable sources.

Green co-leader James Shaw was angry.

"It pisses me off to tell you the truth, it is not a climate dividend. A climate dividend would go up or down depending on the distributional impacts of the carbon price - what they're doing is they're taking money that's set aside for climate change and they're plowing it into a general tax cut."

"It incenses me because it's completely irresponsible, and it co-opts the language of action on climate change to fund their tax cuts."

He said the language National had used was "extremely misleading", and the money should be put back into climate action.

"If they are going to raid the Climate Emergency Response Fund (CERF) that means that there is no money for decarbonisation, there is no money for GIDI, there's no money for Home Insulation schemes.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw

James Shaw Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"In fact, the Climate Emergency Response Fund at the moment funds the entire walking and cycling budget of the transport budget so that means that there'll be no money for walking and cycling, bus fares will double."

He said a survey in recent years had found 90 percent of respondents wanted the money raised from the ETS reinvested into action on climate change. The revenues being raised by the ETS were not adequate on their own to the challenge of tackling climate change, he said.

"We've got to increase that - actually, the allowances in the next few years are going to be pretty thin because, of course, revenue is down."

Willis, challenged by reporters on National's language, asserted the money would indeed be going back to Kiwi families, "in the form of income tax reduction".

She did not believe the use of the term "climate dividend" was misleading.

"I don't think so. We're changing the current system. At the moment, the government uses the revenue from the Emissions Trading Scheme for a range of different schemes, including providing subsidies to polluters and the like. We don't want to do that anymore. We think this revenue should be used to reduce the income tax burden on working families.

"It's a climate dividend. We're taking money that wouldn't otherwise be there. That's a tax on polluters, and we're using it to fund income tax reduction.