Thursday, 8 September 2022
Treasury Laws Amendment (Electric Car Discount) Bill 2022; Second Reading
I certainly did not want to allow this historic opportunity to go by without making a contribution to the debate on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Electric Car Discount) Bill 2022.
It is an exciting time for the Australian people and, certainly, for this parliament. I was here in the 46th Parliament when you could barely utter the words 'electric vehicle', and I am overjoyed that we now have a government in place that is taking new technology seriously and has vowed to act on climate change, for which we have a very clear mandate from the Australian people. When the Minister for Climate Change and Energy introduced those bills, he filled my heart with joy—and not only mine. The people of Newcastle have long called for measures like these to be introduced because it is an unmistakable signal to Australian industry and also to the Australian people that we've got a government in charge that understands not just the human and social imperative to act on climate change but also the economic imperative to do so. We understand the economics of clean, cheap, reliable energy, and we recognise that generational imperative to act now. So it is incredibly important that this parliament gets to work.
This bill was introduced back in July—one of the first bills from the new Labor government—which indicates the seriousness with which we take this issue. The communities that I represent and, indeed, the communities represented by all Labor members understand clearly. Our communities have rejected the fear campaigns of the past now. I live in a city where all of our industries are very carbon intensive. I am home to the world's largest port that exports coal. My community knows full well the economics of energy. We've been doing it for more than a hundred years. We intend to be doing it for the next hundred years. They will be different forms of energy, however, and we will play a lead role in transitioning this country and in meeting our international obligations. It's communities like mine that have a lot of skin in the game that are going to lead this discussion in Australia, and it's governments like the Albanese Labor government that are going to provide the leadership to make these social and economic changes that are good for the planet, good for our people and good for the future.
We know that Australian businesses and industry are now desperate for some very clear indications and guidance about the risks of inaction on climate change. They're acutely aware of the risks. What they want is strong leadership and guidance about the pathways ahead, so everyone can get on with it. Indeed, I would argue that communities like mine have been way ahead of this parliament. Now they feel like they've got a government that's finally pulled its head out of the sand and is going to provide the kind of leadership that is required to ensure that people living in Newcastle and the Hunter aren't left behind.
We are about grabbing every opportunity available and leaving no-one behind, and that's what legislation like the bill before us now is going to present: new opportunities. This is one of those new opportunities that we can grab with both hands. Alternatively, you can do what so many members of the opposition do—turn their back, don't enter the debate, ignore, don't show up. We're not about to do that. We understand the imperative to be a responsible government in 2022. This bill is implementing an Albanese government election commitment to provide an electric vehicle discount by means of a fringe benefit tax exemption for eligible, employer provided electric cars. That, in a nutshell, is what this bill seeks to do.
The government is absolutely committed to reducing transport emissions. It's one of the big emission components that we do absolutely have to reduce, and we are making electric vehicles more affordable so that families and businesses who want them can get them. So many people are coming to my electoral office and saying: 'When is this going to happen? When can we start buying our electric vehicles?' They're desperate to get in on this game, and good on them. Those who are in a position to do so want to do their part. They need some help to make these electric cars more affordable. This bill, these measures, will deliver on that. As I said, it's a bill that will not only make electric vehicles more affordable for families but will also contribute to our climate change targets.
The bill will amend the Fringe Benefits Tax Assessment Act 1986 to exempt from fringe benefits tax the use of eligible electric cars made available by employers to employees. This fringe benefit tax exemption will apply to battery electric cars, hydrogen fuel cell electric cars and plug-in hybrid electric cars. Eligible electric cars will be limited to those first made available for use on or after 1 July 2022 and with a first retail price that is below the luxury car tax threshold for fuel-efficient cars. That is $84,916 for the 2022-23 component.
I expect there to be a big uptake on this. My community is absolutely ready. We are home to an electric vehicle festival. We have been doing this festival for more than a decade now. Just last week, I was at the University of Newcastle, farewelling a Tesla electric vehicle that is starting its journey in Newcastle. It will circumnavigate Australia in a project called Charge Around Australia. I was there to farewell, and send my good wishes to, Stuart McBain, the project director and driving project lead. He will be the person behind the wheel. It is an amazing opportunity for the university to incorporate all the smart things that it is doing in this area and take that car out to kids in remote and rural regions, who probably don't get to have a close-up experience of electric vehicles very often, so they can have access to the people who are building those technologies and talk to them about the science.
We know that children in Australia are anxious about their futures and what climate change means. I know members opposite also have concerns about the anxiety of children about their futures. One way of dealing with that anxiety is making sure that we provide great educational opportunities for those kids. I want to make sure that a kid at Yuendumu has got just as much chance as a kid sitting in Newcastle city of understanding this technology, of aspiring to be a scientist contributing to the technological solutions, of thinking about those problems that are ahead and being part of those solutions.
The University of Newcastle is very fortunate to have Professor Paul Dastoor, who has led the globe in producing incredibly cheap solar energy, where you no longer need sophisticated cells popped onto your roof or cars. He can literally paint the solar panel onto a plastic film, which is lightweight, incredibly cheap to produce and is printed on a 2D printer. That is what is going to help charge this electric vehicle as it travels around Australia.
We know there is range anxiety out there, and I heard the member before me speak to that issue. That is why Labor is committed to rolling out the 117 fast-charging stations that we are investing in along highways across Australia.
But there are other people playing a role in this as well. I congratulate the City of Newcastle Council, which is already rolling out charge stations in our city and region. I have community groups doing it, and the NRMA. There are a whole bunch of people who are way ahead of where the former government was at. They were already making efforts to get down this road and take opportunities with both hands, willingly and happily. The work that we will do to invest in those fast-charging stations will go in partnership with the NRMA, councils, the private sector and community groups who are also acting in this regard. That will go a long way to addressing those issues that people have around range anxiety, and I acknowledge that that's real. The project Charge Around Australia will educate and inspire some 70 schools along the way—how fantastic! They will get insights into the cutting-edge global technologies that are being produced here in Australia. They are being developed right in my city of Newcastle, and they are the sorts of technologies that will be addressing the climate crisis in Australia.
We are doing the heavy lifting because we know there's a lot at stake for communities like mine. I hope that events like Charge Around Australia and the work of Professor Paul Dastoor and the University of Newcastle inspire young minds everywhere to enter STEM. I want young girls from across Australia to be totally inspired to take up those STEM subjects, do those in schools and talk to industries about future career pathways they can have. They're going to be part of developing those technologies in the future as well—I know that. And that's why we are deeply committed as a government to provide new energy apprenticeships and new energy skills programs so those kids have got a bright future. That's what we want here.
This electric vehicle discount is just one of many measures now that the Albanese Labor government is putting forward in this parliament to make sure that we can honour our international obligations. We will honour that commitment that we have made both to the Australian people and to the world. We are serious partners in this endeavour now, and amending the fringe benefits tax to make sure that there are more affordable electric vehicles out there for families and for eligible employees is a great first step. It's one of many, many steps that we will be taking. For members opposite, who have dealt themselves out of so many conversations and so many important opportunities to be a partner in forging a better future, I really hope that there is some thought given to a better strategy in parliament. Instead of putting your head in the sand and pretending these things aren't happening, I urge you to work with government to ensure that we are offering the very, very best pathways forward.
I think it has to be acknowledge that this was a very clear commitment from the Albanese Labor government during the election. We absolutely have a mandate to implement this. There would be an outcry—and justifiably so—among the Australian people if this bill were not to pass through this parliament in both houses. It is certainly the way that the rest of the comparable democracies are travelling, and it would be a crying shame for Australia not to be taking part in ensuring that we make electric vehicles a more affordable option for the Australian people. We don't wish to become the dumping ground for all the vehicles that no one else in the world can sell. That's not the kind of future I want for my city of Newcastle. I'm pretty sure it's not the future we want to see for anyone in Australia. So I encourage all members of this parliament to get behind this bill and give it your support.