Senate debates

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Statements by Senators

Electric Vehicles

1:32 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on electric vehicles, and I do so because the government is not speaking on electric vehicles. Australia's electric vehicle policy is battery dead, and it's in need of a jump start. The reality is that the nature of transport is changing. Electric vehicles are the future, and we have some choices to make about Australia's role in that future.

I know people have an apprehension about electric vehicles in respect of range anxiety. These things are changing with technology, and the use of electric vehicles is positive in almost all respects. In terms of productivity, people in their own private cars will enjoy the lower operating costs of electric vehicles compared to internal-combustion-engine vehicles. People will enjoy the fact that most electric vehicles have very few moving parts—no pistons going up and down and those sorts of things. Again, that adds to productivity.

We would also see electric vehicles assisting us in our fuel security. We have an awful fuel security problem here in Australia. We've got something like 26 to 27 days of fuel stored here in Australia. Perhaps in an event like COVID but worse—indeed, a conflict of some sort—we would find ourselves very rapidly running out of the fuels we are so dependent upon. Also, in that respect, it helps balance trade. If we're not importing fuels, that assists us in that economic metric.

We would also enjoy a lowering of emissions. I know that's off-putting to the coalition government, but this is free. You get better productivity. You get better outcomes and a cleaner environment as you're improving the economy. Of course, there are fewer pollutants that come from the exhaust pipes of electric vehicles, because they don't have them, so we find overall that some of those noxious chemicals that are still being emitted from cars simply are not there.

The world is shifting away from internal combustion engines, so this is not a decision that the government has to make. It's a decision that's actually been made by the car manufacturers, who have announced they are moving away from ICE cars—internal combustion engine cars. So they're basically saying they're not going to be making them anymore. We could end up the dumping ground for outdated ICE technology. We also see that other countries have taken the step of announcing that the sale of ICEs will, in fact, be banned.

So we need to think very carefully about this. We need to be investing in the future. We need to be getting the infrastructure necessary for the rollout of electric vehicles in place. That includes more than just charging stations. It includes the configuring of parts. The building where I live in Adelaide is a relatively old building, and you have to commission significant works to be able to get a car-charging capability next to your car park in an apartment building. These sorts of things ought to be built into building codes to get ourselves ready for the future.

The other problem we have is that we now have things like plans to tax electric vehicles on a use basis. I don't think anyone has a problem with that, but right now is not the time to do it. Right now, we want to be giving incentives to people to switch across to electric vehicles, as a number of countries around the world have done, particularly places like Norway, which have fantastic incentives and fantastic uptake of electric vehicles. But right now we have South Australia and Victoria imposing electric vehicle taxes, and others are considering it. My understanding is that they are collaborating with each other on this particular issue. I get that we have to deal, as these vehicles come on the scene, with a lack of fuel excise to pay for our roads, but we want to do that in a consistent national way.

It's the same with charging. The charging arrangements that might be on electric vehicles can vary, whether it be the nature of the charging station or the nature of the grid technology that allows cars to return energy back to the grid in situations where the vehicle's sitting idle and the price for electricity is high. Then, of course, at some later stage, when the bid price is low, the electric vehicles can recharge themselves. There's all sorts of really smart technology that is out there, but we're going to end up with the same situation we had with our rail gauges, where each state has a different gauge. It's not helpful.

We need to have a sensible standalone national electric vehicle strategy to maximise the economic, environmental and social benefits that electric vehicles can bring. We need to have a national strategy that intersects and operates with and is worked up in conjunction with the states. I've already been talking about the grid arrangements, perhaps, in each state, and the building codes in each state. We need to get ourselves into a coherent position. We should be setting EV targets, and we should also be legislating to get clear fuel efficiency standards to give certainty to the private sector. We should be backing our own manufacturers to build our own EVs rather than just import them. I congratulate the government for providing some funding to ACE Electric Vehicles to look at setting up electric vehicle manufacturing in South Australia. That's a shining light in an otherwise pretty dark place.

We should also be using our own natural resources to create low-capacity battery manufacturing and value-chain supply activity. We take our lithium out of the ground and just ship it off overseas, where value-adding occurs, and we pay a huge price on the way back in—that price is not just the monetary value but the loss of Australian jobs that could have been in place, producing batteries. We could be investing in R&D in relation to vehicle-to-grid integration, which is another overarching system integration. We should establish and fund apprenticeships and traineeships in the local EV manufacturing, maintenance and support sectors. You can't take a mechanic, who's used to working on pistons and the rotating elements that you find inside a normal engine; you've got to bring in specialists who now work in batteries and permanent magnet motors and such technologies.

The opportunities are glaringly obvious, yet the government has decided to ignore them. What makes it worse is that these opportunities were made crystal clear in the final report of the Select Committee on Electric Vehicles in January 2019. I suspect that that report is sitting somewhere in government offices, gathering dust, and that's not acceptable. The fact that that report has been tabled and nothing has been done in two years means that we've lost two very important years—two years of dismal failure, two years with no electric vehicle strategy, no vision, no action, no idea.