Scott Morrison’s half-hearted U-turn on electric vehicles

Nov 1, 2021
electric vehicle charge
(Image: Unsplash)

Without the vision to invest in electric vehicles and transport technology, Australia is setting up its young people for a very limited future.

After telling us that electric vehicles (EVs) would ruin the great Aussie weekend, the Morrison government’s “plan” for net zero emissions by 2050 forecast that EVs would reduce transport emissions by between 53 per cent and 71 per cent.

Transport directly contributed 19 per cent of all emissions in Australia in 2019, so driving the take up of electric vehicles will be essential — even if they do ruin the Aussie weekend.

The “plan” states that: “Substantial emissions reductions from transport are needed for Australia to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 — especially road transport, which is responsible for more than 80 per cent of the sector’s emissions”.

Leaving aside the question of whether a 53–71 per cent reduction in transport emissions is a sufficient contribution to get us to net zero by 2050, how does the Morrison government intend to achieve its own forecast level of emissions reduction from transport?

The “plan” says the reduction will be achieved by:

  • the Future Fuels Fund, which is:
    • helping businesses integrate new vehicle technologies into their fleets;
    • reducing blackspots for public charging and refuelling infrastructure in both regions and cities; and
    • unlocking opportunities for heavy vehicle fleets to upgrade to utilise new transport technologies; while
  • also investing in:
    • critical reforms to ensure the grid is EV-ready and analysis to inform the roll out of charging and refuelling infrastructure;
    • better information on electric vehicles and charging infrastructure to support consumer choices;
    • $21 million of Australian Renewable Energy Agency funding to roll out ultra-fast charging sites along two highway networks;
    • up to $1.3 billion of Clean Energy Finance Corporation finance made available to assist uptake of low and zero emissions vehicles; and
    • $25 million for the Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre, which will develop Australia’s battery industry, including batteries for transport.

But extraordinarily the “plan” doesn’t actually say what the projected take up of EVs will be. The more detailed modelling, once we are allowed to see it, may make some assumptions along these lines. At this stage, however, the Morrison government deems that assumption not worthy of being revealed to ordinary Aussies — presumably because it may make them worry about their weekends.

The “plan” does say that “electric vehicles are becoming more accessible and affordable, with global car manufacturers increasingly offering electric models across their ranges. Market take-up will likely accelerate once EVs reach price parity with conventional vehicles. Some experts forecast this could occur by around 2025 for shorter range electric vehicles as the affordability of batteries improve”.

Is Scott Morrison worried any projection of EV take up may be compared with Labor’s 2019 election pledge to target 50 per cent of new cars being sold in Australia being electric vehicles?

It is good Morrison’s “plan” proposes making available better information on EVs to support consumer choices. There would certainly be merit in information that dispels the myth created by Morrison himself that EVs would ruin the Aussie weekend or indeed that tradies would lose their utes under any attempt to achieve a new car sales target.

It is also astonishing the “plan” makes no mention of the fact the take up of EVs in Australia is one of the lowest in the world at significantly less than 1 per cent. That is certainly not because Aussies are fearful of new technology — just look at the extraordinary take up of mobile phones and roof-top solar.

It is a function of the availability of the most recent and cost competitive models, the lack of competitive subsidies — the Commonwealth is one of very few central governments of developed nations that does not offer a subsidy for purchase of EVs.

After the Trump years doing nothing about EVs (which enabled Morrison to follow suit), the Biden administration is providing aggressive subsidies to both encourage EV take up and manufacture of EVs in the United States. The fact Tesla is now the biggest car company in the world in terms of market capitalisation gives the US an enormous advantage.

But the situation in Australia remains unsupportive of EVs as described by the head of VW. He says it was a key factor in his company being slow to offer EVs in the Australian market.

The lack of any substantial emissions standards for internal combustion engine cars in Australia is often cited as another limiting factor. A comparison of vehicle emissions standards by Australia’s Climate Change Authority makes for very uncomfortable reading.

Not surprisingly, this issue is also not mentioned in the Morrison “plan”.

And of course there is then the lack of car manufacturing in Australia after Joe Hockey encouraged car manufacturers to leave Australia.

Despite that, Australia still has a number of major opportunities to take advantage of the biggest transformation in transport technology in more than 100 years.

We have extraordinary reserves of lithium — essential to the manufacture of car batteries. We have one of the best battery charging companies in the world in Tritium. We have emerging companies such as SEA Trucks, an innovative electric truck manufacturing company.

Will the Morrison government have the vision to invest in encouraging these companies to maintain production in Australia or just let them leave as is so often the case with innovative Australian companies?

I fear Morrison will do as little as possible and rely on his view, no doubt encouraged by Australia’s mining magnates, that all we are really good at is “digging stuff up”.

That just consigns young Australians to a very limited future.

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