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Greens: Tax the banks

Written By: - Date published: 8:25 am, March 1st, 2023 - 60 comments
Categories: class war, greens, tax - Tags:

Cross posted from the Green Party website.

Instead of creating an appeal fund and one-off lotto draw, the Labour Government could tax the billions of dollars banks have made in unearned, excess profits and use the money to support people.

“Has the Government heard of tax? It’s simple: tax the banks; don’t work with them to set up an appeal fund,” says Green Party finance spokesperson Julie Anne Genter.

“The profit made by the Government’s chosen appeal fund partner, Westpac, hit a record $1.1 billion last year.

“While Westpac and other foreign-owned banks are generating record profits, thousands of families are being forced to make impossible choices about whether to pay the bills or put food on the table.

“Lotteries and gambling disproportionately also harm lower income communities.

“Launching the appeal fund, the Prime Minister said the Government was ‘giving wealthy people the opportunity to contribute’. There is a simpler opportunity: tax them fairly.

“The money we need to support each other is already there. An excess profit tax would be a simple and effective way to unlock the resources we need to support the people who need it the most.

“A 10% levy on the banking sector’s record profits would raise over half a billion dollars which could be used to support people.

“There are only political choices standing in the way of building the Aotearoa we need. Today the Government has made the wrong choice,” says Julie Anne Genter.


Excess Profits Tax – a Green Party discussion document (PDF Oct 2022)

60 comments on “Greens: Tax the banks ”

  1. That_guy 1

    The Greens are at their best when they talk about inequality and taxes. Labour needs to start implementing these ideas if they want to convince people they aren't Diet National.

    "Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullshit in my opinion."

    • Hanswurst 1.1

      The problem being, of course, that Labour want to convince people precisely that they are diet National.

  2. gsays 2

    All good but won't the banks just pass that 'cost' on to it's customers?

    • Ad 2.1

      Well duh.

      Genter has a nice Socialist reflex but not too hot on consequences.

      90% of our banks are very capital-mobile and don't owe us anything and can adjust their NZ operations to respond to this …

      … unless you are a non-mobile bank like Kiwibank, SBS, TSB, or the other minor ones. So those customers are going to feel it harder than the Australian bank customers.

      All the Australian ones have to do is hint how the one-off charge will increase your fees, charges and interest. Maybe they'll disguise it in nice soft "climate change help your citizens" language, while they siphon our pockets.

      If only Mitterand were still around for a chat.

      • That_guy 2.1.1

        That's just the usual lame rebuttal of Green proposals: "Nice idea, but it won't work in the Real World of Serious People". You know: the Serious People who've damaged our planet irrevocably, got climate change utterly wrong for five decades, and created unprecedented levels of inequality. I can't take the Serious People seriously anymore.

        Ever considered that JAG understands the consequences just fine, but still believes that this is a good idea on balance?

      • That_guy 2.1.2

        … unless you are a non-mobile bank like Kiwibank, SBS, TSB, or the other minor ones. So those customers are going to feel it harder than the Australian bank customers.

        This only makes sense if you assume that these banks are making similar profits and are therefore likely to attract similar tax bills from a windfall tax. They aren't. Kiwibank made 131M last year. TSB 53M.

        • Ad

          Proportionality of impact is a major all by itself.

          A one off 5% tax on TSB profits may be less in number bus it much more likely to affect their viability as a bank than 5% on BNZ.

          • That_guy

            Why? They are making less profit, they will be hit with less tax with this proposal, and they could even be hit with no tax if the law is structured to tax excessive and/or windfall profits (with appropriate definitions of the same).

            Ie you could say that an "excessive" profit is where your profit exceeds a certain % of the total value of the bank.

            Or you could say that a "windfall" profit is where the profit is clearly due to market conditions, not business decisions.

            I'm not trying to smash you down, I just think your casual dismissal of this idea hasn't really looked into the details of how it might work.

            • Ad

              Any of those details about:

              – proportionality to size and viability

              – application

              – impact determination from profit

              – whatever 'windfall' is

              – capital mobility

              – applicable RB regulation

              … could have been supplied in the media release.

              There's no sign yet Genter has prepared for the obvious debate points.

              The Greens have put the idea up; but exactly how will this work? Which customers will be most impacted? What will stop the banks loading the costs to their poorest customers? What would happen if they just said no?

              If Genter wants this to be real in time for Budget 2023 she needs to pretend she's an Associate Finance Minister of Finance or Revenue and get the debate really ready, because what they are proposing is a political shitstorm.

              • That_guy

                Completely fair point, but you seem to be saying that because those details aren't in the press release, they haven't been discussed or thought about at any level.

                Also, press releases are succinct. Otherwise the press won't pick them up. I'm not sure they really are the place for the details you suggest. That's what select committees are for, which takes place after the legislation is proposed.

                So this idea that because JAG does not have a bulletproof detailed proposal in a press release, the proposal should just immediately be dismissed in the usual way "Crazy Unrealstic Greens with wacky policies that Won't Work in the Real World of Serious People"? Sorry, just not with you there.

              • arkie

                The details are contained in the policy discussion document released last October:

                Applying the tax to specific sectors can help with administrative simplicity. Options for sectors in Aotearoa include those that have been making record profits during recent times and/or have significant issues with competitiveness. This could include:

                • Banks
                • Fuel companies
                • Supermarkets
                • Building products suppliers
                • Energy generators/retailers (‘gentailers’).

                These sectors have had the highest contribution to CPI inflation in New Zealand and have varying degrees of issues with market competitiveness. This means they are the greatest cause of the rising cost of living, with the least innovation gains justifying the high profits. All of these industries provide essential goods and services to people and so there is a public interest in ensuring excess profits are not being made.

                Methods used to calculate excess profit in other places where taxes have been applied include:

                1. Average earnings method: this involves a comparison of a company’s normal profit from the period immediately before the change of economic conditions that led to the excess profits, and their profit after the change in conditions. For example, this could be applied in New Zealand by looking at 2017-2019, before COVID-19, and then comparing that with profits made once COVID-19 hit in 2020-2022.
                2. Invested capital method: this involves looking at the return on equity or total assets and determining that any return above a certain percentage are excess profits. Different sectors historically have different levels of return, so there may need to be adjustments across different industries.

                An excess profits tax is an opportunity to provide incentives on companies to be part of a just transition to a low emission economy. One of the theoretical criticisms of an excess profit tax is that they reduce profits reinvested in the growth of a company. This theoretical concern is questionable, as rational businesses should only invest for the normal risk return in that particular industry. To address concerns around reduced business investment, a potential option would be to carve out investment in important emissions reducing infrastructure or public benefit research and technology. Businesses, when deciding what to do with their profits, will have extra incentive to invest in a new electric truck, or retrofit their buildings, or remove coal boilers.


                • That_guy

                  Thanks for pointing that out. Seems like exactly the level of detail that certain commenters are complaining doesn't exist: “There’s no sign yet Genter has prepared for the obvious debate points”… lol.

                  But why, oh why, I don't understand why those 15 pages of extensive detail weren't in the press release?

                  Oh, looks like I've answered my own question.

                • weka

                  Cheers. Added the link to the post.

    • That_guy 2.2

      Sure, if they want to become even more unpopular and give people even more reasons to move to NZ-based banks.

      Also, I don't agree with your logic. If you are making a 1.1B profit every year, your income is higher than your costs, and there is obviously room to tax some of that income without passing on the costs to customers. Banks do not have an automatic right to excessive profits, especially since those profits are often brought about by market conditions, not competent business decisions.

      So if banks want to say "The most important thing to us isn't customers, it's maintaining our 1.1B pa profit, so instead of reducing that, we're going to charge you more", then sure. They can do that.

      • Ad 2.2.1

        Banks don't owe customers anything, and they have coped with customer mobility between the Big Four for decades without a blink.

        The Big Four banks have waaaay more power in New Zealand than supermarkets or fuel companies, and I'm confident Labour is aware of the fight it would set up.

        If you thought Federated Farmers was powerful in 3 Waters – which just rolled a Minister and a major Chair and an entire 4-your long policy programme – just wait for a fight with banks.

        • That_guy

          It's all a bit hard, we're slaves to the banks, so I guess we just give up then?

          • weka

            if you only see one kind of power, that's all there is.


            We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.

            Ursula K Le Guin.

            Speaking of the power of words, you are fast becoming one of my favourite TS commenters.

          • Ad

            Buy another fight why don't you. Here's a pointer:

            Which industry is our highest exporter and has close-to-zero capital mobility and is making record payouts?

            • That_guy

              Is it the whataboutery industry? It's a very active industry in these parts.

              • Ad

                No it's the dairy industry: our equivalent to North Sea Oil. The one that Norway generated at sovereign wealth fund making them all millionaires, and the UK didn't.

        • tWiggle

          But, alternately, there's the 2 million or so NZers who pay income tax. Not taxing profiteering businesses means the tax must come from workers and small businesses. Is the NZ government answerable to citizens (and voting residents) or to multi-national blood-suckers like the banks? After all, they reaped mightily with the billions from quantative easing.

          • That_guy

            If I was Chippy I'd be quite keen to present Labour as the Plucky Party who Takes On The Profiteering Aussie Banks to help out Struggling Kiwi Battlers / Hard Working Families.

            I mean if Labour can't construct a positive narrative about keeping money in the country instead of sending it to Oz, they need better comms.

  3. tsmithfield 3

    Everything Ad said.

    This idea from the Greens is very superficial and totally ignores the huge unintended consequences from such an ad-hoc move.

    If the government were, out of the blue, to levy a special tax against banks, not only would the risk be that banks would take away their ball and find somewhere else to play. But other buisenesses would be spooked by the prospect of the government targeting them next. Hence, the big hazard would be that there was a huge capital flight from NZ. If that happened, then the tax take would drop through the floor.

    I expect some will argue that this is unlikely to happen. I would of course disagree. But, the risk still isn't worth it. Much less risky to just go to the market and borrow the money.

    • weka 3.1
      1. it wouldn't be out of the blue, it would need to go through parliament and a legislative process.

      2. The more we talk about it, the less out of the blue it is.

      3. can I suggest running your argument through a process where the climate and ecological crises are centred? If we don't change the systems, the banks will collapse along with the rest of civilisation.

      • tsmithfield 3.1.1
        1. it wouldn't be out of the blue, it would need to go through parliament and a legislative process.

        I guess there are competing imperatives there. Firstly, if it goes through a proper parliamentary process, it would likely take a long time, and likely past the next election. Also, it would fly in the face of Labour's promise of no new taxes. So, the prospect of that being considered as a serious proposal before the election is quite unlikely.

        But, Labour does have the numbers to rush it through if it wishes. But, if it did that, it would come across as the ad-hoc type of tax I referred to.

        Overall, the effect would be to reinforce the idea that Labour has been trying to defuse. That is the idea that Labour doesn't like business.

        2. The more we talk about it, the less out of the blue it is.

        I don't think business will be particularly bothered if we are only talking about the concept.

        3. can I suggest running your argument through a process where the climate and ecological crises are centred? If we don't change the systems, the banks will collapse along with the rest of civilisation.

        This seems a bit of a stretch. We are only talking about how to fund the rebuild not whether to fund it. So, I don't see the direct link to climate change.

        Personally, I favour borrowing. If we are borrowing for assets and infrastructure that future generations will utilise, then those generations contributing to the cost seems entirely fair. Better than a lot of the borrowing that takes place now, where future generations are being expected to fund current needs.

        But lets make the infrastructure robust and future-proofed to cope with future climate events, and big enough to adequate for population growth over the next hundred years or so.

        Another funding option well worth considering is tolls, in the case of roading. Having travelled on some of the toll roads in Europe, these usually are a much better and more cost effective way to travel.

        We travelled from Provence through to Nice in France. There was a free road of about the same distance. The toll road was 2 hours drive compared to 4 hours on the free road.

        The cost of the toll road was easily paid for by the reduced cost in fuel use.

    • Robert Guyton 3.2

      Oh no, tsmithfield has supported Ad's argument.

      Kiss of death.

      • weka 3.2.1

        please don't troll Robert. Bring your best argument.

        • Bearded Git

          I don't think that RG is trolling Weka. I think RG is making an important point in a clever manner.

          Ad's attack on the idea of taxing bank profits is abhorrent to me. His stance puts him firmly in the right-of-centre policy position always advocated by tsmith.

          All power to the Greens for raising the issue of taxing the obscene profits being "earned" by the Australian banks in NZ, and using the proceeds to support suffering people. It's called creating a fair and equitable society.

    • That_guy 3.3

      Much less risky to just go to the market and borrow the money.

      Nobody goes to "the market" to borrow the money. We're going to future taxpayers, ie. our children, to borrow the money.

      I'm not totally against borrowing from our children, but any money borrowed from our children must be spend in the interests of our children, ie reducing emissions and climate resilience.

      This is just another comment complaining that a press release doesn't contain the level of detail you want. JAG and the Greens are not under any obligation to produce press releases that nobody will read.

      • tsmithfield 3.3.1

        See my comment above. I don't have any problem borrowing for assets that future generations will utilize. That seems fair and reasonable. If we were able to ask future generations what they would like us to invest in, I expect they would rather pay for that sort of thing rather than meeting the needs of previous generations.

        • That_guy

          I generally agree but I don't see borrowing and appropriate taxation as an either-or.

          We must combine reduced emissions with climate resilience or there won't be "future generations", at least not ones in a taxable and functioning civilisation. No, that's not an extreme statement. That's the sober and considered conclusion of an overwhelming consensus of scientists based on evidence.

          This is what I presume weka means about "running your argument through a process where the climate and ecological crises are centred".

      • Nic the NZer 3.3.2

        This is where Genter pushing the tax proposal goes too far. The implicit implication is that the rebuild might be difficult to fund if the tax policy doesn't go ahead. This is completely untrue. All that any cost of rebuilding (and more importantly shifts to sustainable economy) needs financially is to be part of the budget and its paid for. As an MP who votes on the budget Genter should be aware of that and should not be missleading constituants about that.

        Also this should be obvious to the commentariat now. NZ was of course declared close to bankrupt and unable to afford that (whatever it was) so many times leading up to covid, and yet it turns out when faced with the mammoth expenditure involved, not bankrupt at all. BTW basically the same in multiple countries with much higher public debt ratios. The lesson should be, no this skint narrative, thats not how public debt works.

    • KJT 3.4

      Funny how Capitalists, have no faith in capitalism!

      You think no one will take over the role of the Aussie banks, if they take off?

      Which is extremely doubtfull. They couldn't afford to dump all that "investment".

      And please explain why they havn't dumped Australia, where the "rate of return" for banks is considerably lower than their NZ profits

      Iceland, showed, that is BS.

      How Iceland Dealt with a Volcanic Financial Meltdown – Knowledge at Wharton (upenn.edu)
      “Our national economic output and purchasing power were restored by 2016 – nine years after the crash”.

  4. tWiggle 4

    Hang on, given much of the big four banks derive their profits from the property sector, they have a problem extracting their investment from this source. I think it would be hard to 'take their money elsewhere', as suggested. The Aussies are debating windfall taxes on their banks and extractive industries also. Be a good idea to double-whammy them in Australasia at the same time, maybe?

    • tsmithfield 4.1

      Of course existing mortgages will be continued.

      But, if banks start to reduce their capital held in NZ, then borrowing will become a lot more difficult and expensive.

      Banking is much more global now. If it starts getting to expensive to invest in one place, there are plenty of other options for where they can invest their funds.

      • That_guy 4.1.1

        According to the sober and considered conclusions of scientists, many of those "other options" to invest will be dealing with extreme weather, underwater cities, and wet-bulb temperatures that will kill any animal in a few hours.

        Meanwhile, this country is viewed as the absolute #1 option to flee to when the climate crisis really gets going. As these things go, the people who will flee will be those who can, which will be the rich.

        So I don't think we have a problem with investment flowing into the country.

        • tsmithfield

          So, those countries that are dealing with those sort of issues will likely need to borrow lots of money to fund adaption strategies. Hence, banks.

          So, banks would likely see that sort of scenario as an opportunity rather than a problem.

          • That_guy

            I love your optimism. Just as likely they will be collapsing into failed states.

            • tsmithfield

              There are securities that can be taken out that make money on the way down.

              For instance put options. Thing is, that people who know what they are doing can make money in whatever market they are in. It is called shorting the market, and players such as banks likely do that sort of thing to hedge their positions.

              So, don’t get all teary-eyed about the banks losing money. LOL.

              For a good example of this, watch the The Big Short. Probably still on Netflix.

              • That_guy

                Friend, we just fundamentally disagree on the scale of the problem. You're talking about "put options", I'm talking about mass extinctions and the Great Filter.

                • tsmithfield

                  That is certainly likely to be a problem for poorer countries who just don't have the funds to adapt. But that is not the sort of areas banks would probably migrate their funds to anyway.

                  But richer countries will likely look to move populations into safer areas not so exposed to climate events. That will involve huge amounts of investment, and opportunities for financiers and the like.

                  And, too much water might not be biggest the problem. I think too little water is going to be much more of an issue. Look at the drought in China for example.

                  None of this minimises the scale of the problem. It is just that there will be opportunities that arise out of this.

                  And, who knows, it might be the drive to make money from climate change adaption and mitigation that eventually saves the planet. The politicians are sure doing a piss-poor job of it.

                  A good example of this in action is all the money going into developing EV technology, hydrogen technology, and batteries etc.

                  • That_guy

                    Friend, I have no problem with you, but this conversation reminds me of another one where I pointed out that large parts of the planet are likely to become totally uninhabitable due to frequent and fatal wet-bulb temperatures, and someone responded by saying that those places could just put in more air conditioning.

                    Part of me died that day.

                    • tsmithfield

                      If we are going to save the planet it is not going to happen by wringing our hands.

                      It is going to take innovative technologies that either dramatically reduce the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere, or by creating neutral carbon cycles that take out as much carbon as they put back into the system.

                      If there is money to be made in developing such systems then industry will gravitate to that. It is a (rare) case of greed is good.

                      I guess it is either that, or take preemptive action that kills off half the world's population to redress the balance before climate change does that. Because I don't see that current measures are going to solve the problem. Do you?

                  • Drowsy M. Kram

                    National Party Energy spokesman Gerry Brownlee says Kiwi bill payers will be stunned to learn that the Electricity Commission is planning to spend up to $3.5 million in the next year promoting energy efficient light bulbs.

                    Labour’s priorities are so warped in these tougher times that Helen Clark plans to spend more than $3 million telling New Zealanders what light bulb to install.

                    Brownlee is the Nat's current Emergency Management spokesperson.

                    It is going to take innovative technologies that either dramatically reduce the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere, or by creating neutral carbon cycles that take out as much carbon as they put back into the system.

                    If there is money to be made in developing such systems then industry will gravitate to that. It is a (rare) case of greed is good.

                    Don't bet the farm on mythical for-profit salvation "technologies".
                    I was a good candidate for the innovative 'making do with less' response – it’s for everyone, but it's not for everyone (yet.)

                    Best way to save money? Just eat two meals, says the Wall Street Journal! [17 February 2023]
                    Our current stage of capitalism demands that poor people make do with less while the rich make no sacrifices

                    Nudging Behavior Toward Climate Solutions
                    with Elke Weber [14 June 2022]
                    A lot of the uncertainty in the existing forecast methods has to do with the climate system—how sensitive the climate system is to certain kinds of actions like increasing the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. But it turns out that the uncertainty we have about final results, like in terms of global warming down the road, is just as much related to our uncertainty about the human response as it is to uncertainty about the climate system response.

  5. Peter Bradley 5

    If you want to find out who runs the NZ economy and dictates tax policy, try raising taxes on the finance sector. In fact, try and do anything the finance sector doesn't approve of and you'll discover how "democracy" really works.

    The Labour government have repeatedly demonstrated how utterly powerless they are since they came to power.

  6. Maurice 6

    The response from the Banks would be very predictable – 'We are forced by Government to raise interest rates and now you cannot pay we are forced to foreclose your mortgage'

    'The government made us do it!'

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