Wednesday, 16 June 2021
Electric Vehicles Accountability Bill 2021; Second Reading
by leave—I table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows—
In introducing this bill, I want to talk about the work of the Senate Select Committee on Electric Vehicles, of which I was a member. That inquiry received 137 submissions. It held five public hearings across four states, between August and October of 2018. In January of 2019, the Select Committee's report, when it was finalised, was almost two hundred pages long. So far, we have not received a response to that report.
One of the key recommendations from that report - in fact, the first recommendation - was that:
… the Australian Government develop a national EV strategy to facilitate and accelerate EV uptake and ensure Australia takes advantage of the opportunities, and manages the risks and challenges, of the transition to EVs. Addressing these risks and challenges will require effective national standards and regulation in regards to charging infrastructure and electricity grid integration, building and construction, public safety, consumer protection, processes for disposal and/or re-use of batteries, and skills training.
In April 2019, the Liberal party promised a National Electric Vehicle Strategy, although they only allocated a measly $400,000 towards developing it. But it was only a month or two later, in the 2019 election, that for short-term political gain, the Prime Minister decided to attack electric vehicles, making the ludicrous claim that they would 'end the weekend'. Of course, once the election was over, the Department was forced to admit they couldn't substantiate those claims.
But it's now 2021, and despite the time passing, we still have no national electric vehicle strategy. In the exceptionally weak consultation paper released in February of this year, there was no commitment to consumer incentives, a crucial part of the puzzle.
The complete failure by the Commonwealth Government has left a massive policy gap. In that gap, we've seen a range of state government approaches, often tragically misguided. The Australian Capital Territory, commendably, is one of the few with a clear strategy and incentives, and we welcome the steps the ACT Greens have achieved in that government, including free registration for electric vehicles, to encourage their uptake.
Sadly, many of the other state and territory governments are going in the wrong direction. The Victorian Government has introduced an unfair tax on electric vehicles, that will not apply to vehicles with internal combustion engines. That tax will directly reduce the uptake of electric vehicles, at exactly the moment when we need more of them. As we noted in our dissenting report on the COAG Reform Fund Amendment (No Electric Vehicle Taxes) Bill 2020:
Despite subsequently committing to a national EV strategy, the Commonwealth Liberal government has comprehensively undermined action on EVs, including attacks during the 2019 election that were subsequently shown to be unsupported.
In the absence of the needed Commonwealth leadership, state governments have taken steps to introduce additional taxes on EV, that would further hinder the uptake of EVs, and slow the urgent action we need on emissions to address the climate crisis.
The simple reality is that Australia is being left behind by other countries. Many countries have introduced clear, urgent phase out dates for new internal combustion engines.
Manufacturers around the world are shifting rapidly to electric vehicle production. Without urgent action, led by the Federal Government, we risk becoming a dumping ground for the cars that other governments will not accept. As economist John Quiggin summarised:
Unless the government takes action soon, Australian motorists will be faced with the choice between a limited range of second-rate petrol and diesel vehicles, or electric vehicles for which key infrastructure is missing.
At the same time as we see this complete failure by the Liberal party at a national level, they are desperate to prop up dying fossil fuel sectors. That includes providing a $2 billion subsidy to fuel refineries, ostensibly for fuel security, whilst they comprehensively ignore the value for fuel security that electric vehicles have. Sadly, that pattern is all too reflective of the approach of the Liberal party. As Australian Greens Leader Adam Bandt said in relation to the 2020-21 Budget:
One in three big corporations in this country pays no tax, and billionaires increased their wealth by a third during the pandemic, but this budget fails to make billionaires and big corporations pay their fair share, grows inequality and fast-tracks the climate crisis.
In the middle of a climate crisis, this budget finds $11.4 billion for fossil fuels this year alone and another $1.1 billion for new coal and gas projects, but nothing, for example, for electrifying transport, a sector responsible for 16 per cent of our emissions. This budget is champagne for the billionaires and real pain for everybody else. In fact, this budget is based on real wages going backwards for two years. It's tax cuts for the billionaires and handouts for big corporations but wage cuts for workers and poverty for the unemployed.
In the midst of this inaction by the Liberal Party on electric vehicles, and subsidies for fossil fuel refineries, this Bill is a very reasonable, measured approach. It simply requires the Government to provide a regular statement, outlining their approach to electric vehicles. It would also require a report by the Productivity Commission on how Australia's approach compares with the rest of the world.
We know Australia has been left behind, due to the Liberal party's inaction. But rather than obfuscation, ducking and weaving, and avoiding accountability, this Bill would simply require them to be upfront with Australians about what they're doing - or failing to - and how far we're lagging behind the rest of the world.