Advertising Standards Authority rules in favor of 'hyperbolic' National Party ad attacking clean car scheme

Two complaints about a National Party ad attacking Labour's clean car scheme have not been upheld, but New Zealand's ad watchdog said a "hyperbolic example" was used for "political effect". 

The ad concerns the Government's recently announced clean car package, where discounts of up to $8000 will be given for newly imported electric and hybrid vehicles, while high-emissions vehicles will attract fees of up to $5000. 

The National Party ad shows a small, two-door red convertible with a large hay bale sitting on top. It seems to suggest farmers would be forced to use small electric vehicles instead of the likes of utes to carry out their work, as a consequence of the scheme. 

One of the complaints about the ad to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) expressed concern about farmers being painted as lacking "basic critical thinking skills" by doing anything to get a payout from the Government. 

"I believe to most casual readers this will come off to say that farmers will pass over suitable petrol or diesel models in favour of an unsuitable vehicle for the sake of receiving the rebate on their purchase - even if it means that they will lose functionality in doing so. I personally think this is insulting to Kiwi farmers," the complaint reads. 

"It also ignores upcoming electric utility vehicles and freight vehicles which will be unaffected by the levy imposed under this policy, and portrays electric vehicles as small and impractical, and serves to hinder efforts to reduce New Zealand's transport emissions as a whole."

The ASA did not uphold the complaints about the ad, but provided some candid commentary about it, suggesting the graphic was a bit over the top.

The watchdog said the ad "was the National Party criticising the Labour Party's clean car package by using a hyperbolic example of a ridiculous consequence of the tax for political effect". 

The ASA did point out, however, that it was important for National to be able to express its views on Government policies, and noted that "viewers were likely to have a political interest in what the Opposition party has to say". 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed last month the Government considered exempting utes from financial penalties in the scheme but ended up ruling it out, despite there being no alternative clean options on the horizon for years. 

Documents show consideration was given to remove or reduce the fee on utes with the lowest emissions, or on utes bought by a farming business that met strict sustainability criteria. But it's noted this would add "administrative complexity". 

Last week thousands of farmers took to the streets across 50 cities and towns across New Zealand to voice their concerns about the Government's "barrage of regulations" they say "aren't fit for purpose" - including the new clean car scheme. 

National leader Judith Collins.
National leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Getty Images

Judith Collins, as part of National's new campaign 'Demand the Debate', is calling on the Government to review its 'Ute Tax'. 

"Labour never campaigned on the Ute Tax and in fact was categorical in ruling out any new taxes. The rural sector along with almost every New Zealander is being hit in the back-pocket through new taxes, rent increases and costs on businesses."

Ardern rejects the idea of an urban-rural divide in New Zealand. 

"I do not accept any suggestion of a rural-urban divide," she said in response to the Groundswell protests on Friday. "What I accept is that we have national challenges." 

Electric vehicle sales in New Zealand were around 7000 in 2019. In 2020, when plans to introduce a clean car discount were put forward, this dropped to 5495, in part due to COVID-19. 

Officials expect electric vehicle sales of around 7000 this year without the clean car scheme, but up to 15,000 with the scheme in place. 

The clean car discount will only apply to vehicles below $80,000 and the vehicle must have a three-star safety rating. The scheme will not apply to vehicles already in New Zealand - only new imports.