Senate debates

Tuesday, 27 November 2018


Road Vehicle Standards Bill 2018, Road Vehicle Standards (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018, Road Vehicle Standards Charges (Imposition — General) Bill 2018, Road Vehicle Standards Charges (Imposition — Customs) Bill 2018, Road Vehicle Standards Charges (Imposition — Excise) Bill 2018; Second Reading

1:24 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I'm rising today to speak to the Road Vehicle Standards Bill 2018 and associated bills. These bills replace the Motor Vehicle Standards Act—legislation that's provided the basis for the safety, environmental quality and anti-theft performance of all vehicles on Australian roads. The Motor Vehicle Standards Act dates to 1989, although it has been amended along the way. However, the last major review was undertaken over 17 years ago. It's easy to understand why the Motor Vehicle Standards Act needs replacing when you think about how far vehicle technology has come in the last three decades, particularly when it comes to safety and reducing pollution. It's only since 2013 that Euro 5 standards have applied in Australia, and that was the first set of standards that put a restriction on the amount of particulate matter that came out of petrol engines, and it's only since 2011 that electronic stability control has been mandatory on all new cars, reducing the danger of skidding. Technology moves on and legislation has to keep pace. However, we know that Australia is way behind when it comes to next-generation technology, including our dire position on electric vehicles compared to the rest of the world, but I'll come to that in a bit.

The bills will establish a new legislative framework for the regulation of the importation and supply of road vehicles and the provision of some road-vehicle components. We think the changes to the import pathways are sensible with the streamlining into two distinct groups—registered approved vehicles and registered specialist and enthusiast vehicles—which will make the system easier to navigate for both new vehicle retailers and the broader automotive community.

The Greens certainly welcome the new recall powers, streamlining the process through which the government can act on and enforce recall events if they're required for safety reasons or if specific models do not comply with the national road vehicle standards. This is an important addition to the powers of the minister, as the Takata airbag event can give testament to. However, I would note that there are concerns that the Greens have with this legislation. As noted in both the Bills Digest and the Scrutiny of Bills Committee report, the powers delegated to the minister are extremely broad. This is a trend which is concerningly becoming the norm for this place. As parliament is squeezed out, decisions are being made by the executive and less and less space is being left for parliamentary oversight.

I also want to put on the record that the bills that we are finally debating today are the outcome of nearly five years of process within the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development. There was consultation in 2013, a second consultation process began in 2014 and, finally, a bill made it to the parliament in 2016, but here we are, and it's 2018, so it's been two years since the bill first made it to the parliament. The original version of the bill had a more permissive pathway for the import of right-hand-drive vehicles from overseas, but the minister at the time folded after a deluge of industry pushback, and now we see in the bill before us today that those provisions have been substantially tightened. It's very interesting to think about the five-year process and the pressures that are applied during such a process, because right now we are looking at a very similar process and similar outcomes with the Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions. Since that body was set up in October 2015—that is, three years ago—we have had nothing but delay after delay after delay. We've had multiple changes of responsible minister, multiple rounds of discussion papers and draft regulatory impact statements and a continuous pushback in the time lines.

The proposals that the Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions have actually developed are quite good, even if they're not always as ambitious as us Greens would like. The proposed light-vehicle efficiency standard would finally implement something that 80 per cent of cars around the world already have to comply with, and that means more efficient vehicles and more efficient use of fuel. It would save up to $1,000 for the average driver at today's fuel prices. And it would reduce greenhouse gas pollution by over 65 million tonnes between now and 2030, which would be a big—although still insufficient—dent in our growing transport sector emissions, and those transport sector emissions are significant. Our transport pollution is now 18 per cent of our total emissions, and it's growing—it's the fastest-growing sector in the country.

The ministerial forum also recommended that we immediately begin the introduction of Euro 6 standards for light vehicles and trucks, putting tighter caps on particulate matter and nitrous oxide pollution, which kills literally hundreds of Australians per year. These standards have been in place in many other countries since 2014. Pollution from those heavy vehicles is incredibly significant, and it really needs to be tackled. I say this as someone who lives in Footscray, in the inner western suburbs of Melbourne, just across from the port, where massive semitrailers and B-doubles are plying our streets every day, belching out their diesel pollution—past schools, past kindergartens, past hospitals. The Euro 6 standards would put a reduction on this diesel pollution and, in doing so, would reduce rates of cancer, because diesel is a known carcinogen. Every time you've got a vehicle that is belching out those diesel particulates, you are doing damage to people's health.

The sorts of reforms that have been recommended in the Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions are very similar to the road vehicle standards being considered in this bill. They are simple, sensible, bare-minimum standards. But, again, we've finally got to this stage with the Road Vehicle Standards Bill and the implementation of the recommendations of the Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions—these critical updates to our motor vehicle regulation—and industry is calling the shots. In July last year, after beginning consultation on an actual implementation model for the changes that the forum is recommending, we saw a front-page article in The Daily Telegraph about a carbon tax on cars. Ministers Frydenberg and Fletcher immediately went into damage control. Their plans were immediately shelved, and the whole thing went away for another year. Could anybody be surprised that the story in The Daily Telegraph appeared literally the day after consultation on the implementation model began? No: it's what we would expect.

We now know from documents acquired by Senator Patrick through freedom of information that, in February of this year, Ministers Frydenberg and Fletcher had further discussions from which there were consequential actions for officials from the Department of the Environment and Energy to carry out. We were even told, when we asked questions about it in estimates in May this year, to expect something on vehicle emissions later this year. Well, there's not much of this year to go, is there? But of course after that we heard negative stories all over Sky TV, 2GB and the Murdoch press. If hope was held out that Ministers Frydenberg and Fletcher would be able to get it together on a third try, it's been pretty clear since the events of August—and the complete abandonment by this government of anything that even looks like doing anything meaningful about climate change—that those reforms are dead and buried. It's taken five years for us to get the Road Vehicle Standards Bill to this stage today, it's taken us three years so far in the ministerial forum, and I don't think they are going to be achieved within this term of government.

So, here we are. We welcome this bill, and we welcome the amendments that are going to be moved by Senator Storer, which will ease the pathway to the import of electric vehicles. If we don't have the efficiency standards recommended by the Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions, then at least being allowed to have imports of second-hand electric vehicles would provide another pathway to help build the base of vehicles on Australian roads so that we could begin the journey towards electric vehicles being the majority of the vehicles on our roads. So many other countries around the world are so far ahead of us in doing that. So many countries around the world now have regulations in place so that all new vehicles being sold will be electric vehicles by 2030, by 2040, by 2050, yet here in Australia we are lagging behind. So at least, as a stopgap measure to get more electric vehicles on the roads, allowing the importation of second-hand electric vehicles, with appropriate consumer protections in place, is a very sensible way forward.

In terms of our thoughts about this legislation, I have also got a second reading amendment to move, which I understand has been circulated. I think it's worth concluding my speech today by actually reading you out the text of that second reading amendment in full, because it summarises our concerns with the current situation regarding pollution from vehicles and the sorts of legislation that we would like to see—legislation about safety and the sustainability of vehicles on our roads; legislation that should be being introduced, in addition to the measures being introduced in this bill. So I move my second reading amendment:

At the end of the motion, add:

", but the Senate notes that:

(a) the Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions was established in October 2015 to address emissions from motor vehicles;

(b) the Draft Regulation Impact Statement on Vehicle emissions standards for cleaner air released by the Ministerial Forum notes that:

(i) Australia is estimated to have experienced a 68 per cent increase in deaths attributable to air pollution during the period 2005 to 2010, with total of 1,483 deaths in 2010; and

(ii) it is suggested that, in OECD countries, road transport accounts for approximately half of the cost of the health impact of air pollution (including these preventable deaths);

(c) while the Prime Minister insists that we will meet our Paris targets 'in a canter', the transport sector is now responsible for 19 per cent of Australian greenhouse gas emissions and has continued to grow in emissions year on year since 2001;

(d) despite two discussion papers, three draft regulation impact statements, two additional reports and over three years of work, there has been no substantive government action to reduce emissions from motor vehicles; and

(e) the Government has proven itself completely unable to deliver meaningful reductions in vehicle emissions and therefore cannot be trusted to reduce deaths from vehicle pollution or meet our international climate change obligations."

In conclusion, the Greens are supporting this legislation, but there is so much work that still needs to be done to ensure that all vehicles in Australia are safe and clean, and the Greens implore this government to get on with the job of doing that.


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