Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Matters of Public Importance
Australia is the ninth-largest energy producer in the world and has enormous renewable energy resources capacity. Despite the naturally gifted position that we are in, we remain heavily dependent on imports of refined petroleum products and crude oil to meet our liquid fuel demand. The reason for this dependency is that our abundant energy sources are not the type and quantity of fuel we currently consume in the form of liquid fuels.
A report commissioned by the NRMA and prepared by retired Air Vice-Marshal John Blackburn, titled Australia's liquid fuel security, called on the government to take precautionary measures to deal with the disruption of the flow of oil to Australia. The report highlighted the fragility of our supply and the impact of disruption to our supply through war, natural disaster or economic turmoil. For instance, dry goods could run out within nine days, and chilled and frozen goods within seven days. Retail pharmacy supplies could run out within seven days, and hospital pharmacy supplies within three days. Fuel available to the public may also be exhausted within a matter of days. One could be forgiven for thinking this is some kind of bad movie script, but it's not a script; this is the very real risk we face as a nation.
Australia, as a member of the International Energy Agency, has the obligation to maintain 90 days of net oil stock supply. However, we have failed to meet this obligation since 2011. The fuel security package announced by the government purports to address this with measures that will increase our domestic storage and maintain a sovereign refining capacity, but much of it is about fuel tickets being stored in the US. This is not a solution. Our fuel security is directly related to the sovereignty of our nation, I think, more than any other issue.
What we need are clear strategies that will remove our dependency on oil with immediacy. The most effective approach within our control is to transition to electric vehicles. However, just as with our obligation under the International Energy Agency, we are also failing when it comes to electric vehicle sales. The reason for this is quite simple: we do not have a nationally coordinated plan for the transition to clean vehicles. In 2020, just 0.7 per cent of new vehicle sales in Australia were electric, compared with a global average of 4.2 per cent. In Norway it was 75 per cent. We should be building electric vehicles here, not just driving them. The government's Future Fuels and Vehicles Strategy is a start, but it falls so far short. The strategy omits some of the most effective policies at increasing electric vehicle uptake—namely, an increase in direct purchase incentives, fleet procurement, vehicle CO2 standards and stringent fuel efficiency standards.
Report after report concludes that direct financial incentives have the biggest effect on EV purchase decisions. Increased incentives would drive demand, which will increase EV model availability and, in turn, increase EV demand. Incentives do not have to be straight-out subsidies, although I would welcome such an initiative. Low-cost loans available through government-backed borrowing could provide access to EVs across the nation with minimal or no cost to government.
It is really quite appalling that Australia is one of the few OECD countries with no fuel efficiency standards. In contrast, mandatory fuel efficiency standards have been adopted by approximately 80 per cent of the global light vehicle market, including the US, the EU, Canada, Japan, China, South Korea and India. We have no mandate for ethanol in this nation, and it is a great shame. I know it's an issue that the member for Kennedy has talked about for as many years as I have been in this parliament.
We often approach complex policies and priorities with mutual exclusivity, and it is no more evident than in the discussion around fuel security. The transition to electric vehicles must be considered as a strategic component to our national goal of achieving fuel security and not just a standalone policy that promises a lot but delivers very, very little. Australia has been very, very lucky on this issue, but, really, any number of issues could stop the fuel coming into our nation, and then we would be in absolute dire condition.