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The New Zealand government is forgoing a raft of high-profile reforms and emissions-reduction measures as part of its pledge to refocus on “bread-and-butter issues,” using the savings to introduce a multi-billion-dollar welfare boost to ease the pressure reduce the cost of living.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announced Monday that the government would introduce increases for retirees, students, the unemployed and parents, ranging from $19 to $46.20 a week. The government estimates that 1.4 million New Zealanders will benefit.
The government would fund these increased welfare benefits by eliminating, shrinking or delaying a series of legislative reforms, including lowering the voting age to 16, reductions in driving speed limits, restrictions on the sale and marketing of alcohol, grants for clean cars and light rail projects and road transport reforms to reduce New Zealand’s transport emissions.
Hipkins said New Zealanders are focused on living cost pressures and the recovery from Cyclone Gabrielle and government priorities need to reflect that. “Stopping some of our plans and taking others on a slower path will give us the bandwidth to focus on those immediate priorities while also saving some money so we can provide a little extra support to help families with rising costs.” help,” he said.
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“Some of these things that we are delaying or stopping mean a lot to us as a government. But we make the tough choices because we know Kiwis make some tough choices too.”
A number of the reforms discarded by Hipkins focused on reducing emissions in the face of the climate crisis. One of the biggest financial reallocations will be $568 million from the discontinuation of the Clean Car Upgrade program, which would allow households to scrap old cars in exchange for a grant for a cleaner, lower-emission vehicle or for paying for public transportation. Also delayed is the project to build a light rail system for Auckland, the country’s largest city, which is now being phased in. Earlier in the year, Hipkins scrapped regulations requiring fuel companies to add biofuels to their gasoline and announced expanded gasoline tax cuts in the face of high fuel prices.
When asked if the government’s new priorities meant it was abandoning its ambitions on the climate crisis, Hipkins said: “The climate policies we are discussing today would have made very little contribution to our overall emissions reduction targets.
“We’re not changing our emissions reduction budgets — we’re making some changes to how we’re going to achieve those budgets.”
Also on the chopping block is lowering the voting age in New Zealand. Jacinda Ardern pledged in 2022 to introduce legislation to lower the voting age in New Zealand to 16 after the Supreme Court ruled the current law was discriminatory. Hipkins said while he personally supports lowering the voting age, the legislation will no longer be brought forward — although the government will introduce legislation to lower the voting age in local government elections.
“I support a lower voting age of 16 [but] There is no parliamentary majority for this – so I have no intention of moving forward with a bill that is doomed to fail because that would ultimately be an expensive endeavor to make a political statement,” he said.