Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price at the government's climate package announcement at a function in Melbourne, Monday, February 25, 2019. Source: AP
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price at the government’s climate package announcement at a function in Melbourne, Monday, February 25, 2019. Source: AP

The Australian Coalition government says will not release its national electric vehicle strategy until midway through next year – over 12 months away, presuming it is still in power after the upcoming May election.

The decision on a delay – confirmed by the office of environment minister Melissa Price on Tuesday – will frustrate EV advocates because it leaves the transition to zero emissions transport in Australia to languish longer while the rest of the world gets on with it.

A detailed national electric vehicle strategy to accelerate the transition to zero emissions transport has been anticipated since Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced in February 2019 that a such a strategy would be introduced as part of the LNP government’s Climate Solutions package.

At the time, a one page “fact sheet” was uploaded to the Environment department’s website, but this did little other than confirm that a national electric vehicle strategy should be developed – but not when that would be.

While it was thought that a detailed national electric vehicle strategy would materialise within weeks of the Climate Solutions speech, the mid-2020 timeline has been confirmed by Price’s office.

Comments made recently by the PM during a private meeting with a senior auto company manager had hinted that the wait may be longer than expected.

Speaking with a member of management from Hyundai Australia, the PM indicates that the federal government may not issue a detailed strategy to the Australian public until after the election, Go Auto reported.

When it is finally unveiled, the package will focus on charging infrastructure standards and integrating EVs with the grid.

“The development of a National Electric Vehicle Strategy will ensure Australia’s transition to electric vehicle technology and infrastructure is planned and managed,” a spokesman said on Price’s behalf in an email to The Driven.

“The strategy will coordinate action across government, industry and the community to address barriers to uptake and ensure Australia reaps the benefits of new vehicle technology. It will be released around mid-2020.

“In developing the strategy, the Government will explore issues including standards that improve the consistency and interoperability of public charging, and the integration of electric vehicle batteries with the electricity system.

“We have already started to engage stakeholders, which will continue to inform the issues covered by the final strategy.”

Price’s office said the strategy will build on the Government’s existing work on electric vehicles, including grants from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, finance from Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and the work of the COAG Transport and Infrastructure Council.

There was no mention of the recent Senate inquiry on EVs, headed by independent Tim Storer, which took an exhaustive look at the issues and produced a string of recommendations, including targets and incentives.

Morrison’s comments in the Climate Solutions speech indicated that the federal government recognises that EV infrastructure must be invested in for the transition to be successful, while only committing to ensuring a plug type standard would be developed.

“Through that strategy the Government will investigate mandating an electric vehicle plug type to improve the consistency and interoperability of public charging,” Morrison said.

This is hardly revolutionary, or even useful, seeing as automakers are increasingly edging towards a standard of their own accord.

The elephant in the room of course is purchase costs: there are to date only two electric vehicles available in Australia with any useful driving range that cost under $A50,000 – the 2019 Hyundai Ioniq and the 2019 Nissan Leaf.

Australians wanting to make the shift to zero emissions electric vehicles are often hesitant to do so due to a number of barriers, as has been indicated in surveys conducted by the RACV and NRMA.

High prices of electric vehicles compared to petrol and diesel equivalents, a lack of EV charging infrastructure and vehicle driving range were all cited as barriers to EV purchase in the two surveys which were outlined in a report entitled “The State of Electric Vehicles in Australia” in June 2018.

A poll released in January 2019 by The Australia Institute’s Climate & Energy Program indicated that many Australians support policies to encourage the switch to electric, such as funding national electric car charging infrastructure, government loans to buy electric cars and EV targets  for government fleets.

Overseas, countries and states with strong fiscal policies and financial incentives geared towards encouraging EV purchase have been fundamental in pushing that transition – a fact that has been quantified in a report by the ICCT which found that taxation incentives and financial bonus schemes in particular have been successful in Europe.

While there is no mention as yet of financial or fiscal incentives for the Australian public to assist with the purchase of electric vehicles, drivers are able to access finance through measures provided by certain banking organisations through assistance from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Carmakers such as Hyundai and Nissan have also made it clear they are supportive of an Australian strategy that will see electric vehicles more affordable for everyday drivers.

Speaking at the recent launch of the Hyundai Kona Electric, HMCA’s manager of future mobility and government relations Scott Nargar said that the brand wants to see EV policy for fleets which will in turn assist the public to go electric.

“We want to make sure the cars can get into government quickly and spread across Australia and those cars get in the hands of mums and dads and the market.

“By doing that we can also increase usage of electric vehicles, which then in turn allows for investment into infrastructure, we want investment into nationwide infrastructure for vehicles and roads,” Nargar said.

The Prime Minister however sees the situation quite differently.

Speaking in an interview with Gold Coast radio station Hot Tomato in November 2018, the PM said, “There’s not a lot that has to be done there, frankly. It’s just increasingly making sense and the price will come down with the technology. I don’t think government has to get in there and subsidise all this sort of stuff, it’ll just make sense.

“When it gets to the right price point people will buy it and off you go. There’s been some discussion about how we can work with others about getting recharging stations and those sorts of things, but a lot of the companies are doing that themselves as well.”

Meanwhile, car sales in Australia are dropping at the same time as a recent survey by market research firm Roy Morgan has confirmed that drivers are holding off on new car purchases for the short term while interest in electric vehicles is rising, suggesting that buyers are indeed waiting for prices to drop.

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