Labor has warned that Australia risks ending like Cuba – a living museum of outdated vehicles – if it doesn’t embrace the global shift to electric cars.

In an interview with The Driven and RenewEconomy for the weekly The Driven Podcast, Labor climate spokesman Mark Butler says Australia has to embrace electric vehicles or risk becoming an island of automotive antiquity.

“If Barnaby Joyce had his way, we’d end up like Cuba. We’d be stuck … because of his ideological opposition to electrification of transport, all tuning up 1970s Commodores.”

Butler says he been astonished by the degree of hysteria in the Coalition and much of the media about the party’s EV policy, which sets an EV target of 50 per cent of new car sales by 2030.

The fear campaign launched by the Coalition has been broad and ridiculous – or in the words of software billionaire Mike Cannon Brookes “batshit insane”

The scare campaign has included everything from “killing the weekend,” the death of the ute, the lack of “grunt”, the inability to travel long distances and the refusal to believe that fast charging exists, even though Australian companies lead the world in this technology.

“People struggle to understand why the government wants to fight the future on this,” Butler tells The Driven podcast.

“It is happening whether we like it or not, and there are a whole range of really good things that will flow from it. We should be embracing it, not fighting it.”

Labor’s policy includes the target of 50 per cent of new sales of passenger cars by 2030 and half of all new government leases by 2025.

Butler says the cost will be minimal, because it will be driven by fleets – helped by the proposed $20,000 from accelerated depreciation allowance.

This is a quite deliberate strategy. Fleet sales account for half of all new vehicle sales – around 600,000 out of the 1.2 million sold each year – and Labor reasons that if the fleets can take up EVs, then the rest of the market will follow.

Butler says having fleets, including government fleets, going electric will ensure plenty of models are introduced into Australia, create a strong second-hand market for EVs, and underpin the critical infrastructure for charging.

Butler says that it is clear that the running costs of EVs are already significantly cheaper than petrol and diesel cars ($2,300 a year). Some analysis shows the whole of life costs are already cheaper, and the ticket price will be within a few years.

Because of this, the costs to government fleets of transitioning to EVs will be negligible, even in the earlier years. Costings from the Parliamentary Budget Office confirms this, Butler notes.

“It’s a bit of a no-brainer decision for governments that can amortise that over time.”Butler says.

“(In) …. four, five or six years it is very clear that the ticket price of an EV will reach the same level as petrol vehicles by the mid 2020s.”

“Given that the running costs are so much cheaper, and we have the infrastructure set up, then I think the sale of EVs in the second half of 2020s will simply take off.”

BILL SHORTEN CLIMATE CHANGE ACTION PLAN
AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

The main expense for the policy will come from Labor tipping $100 million into an infrastructure fund to support the roll out of 200 fast and very fast charging stations across the country. Each of these will have three to six charging points.

There are no plans to offer other tax incentives, or to impose taxes on petrol and diesel cars.

Labor proposes to introduce fuel emissions standards – it is the only OECD country in the world that doesn’t have them – but disputes talk that this would add $5,000 to the cost of cars.

(Indeed, after the interview, it was revealed that costings put the increase from tighter emissions standards at just $1,300, and falling. The annual fuel savings from more efficient vehicles would be $500 a year.

“Australia has got to catch up to where the rest of the world is going. It is the only OECD country not to have fuel efficiency standards, which means pollution rising on our roads and people are paying more at the bower than they should be.”

Butler says Labor has no intention of making changes to the luxury car tax, as suggested by independent senator Tim Storer, the chair of the recent Senate Inquiry, says Labor’s focus was to stimulate demand for more affordable EVs.

Questions about stamp duty exemptions would need to be discussed with the states and local councils.

Butler – who represents South Australia and whose electorate included the now closed Holden car factory – also confirmed an interest in reviving Australia’s car industry.

“The death of the car making industry in Australia was the direct result of the decision taken by Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey – one of deepest acts of economic self harm ever seen.

“Australia was one of only 13 countries that made cars from design table to the show room … I would love to get back to position where we were again a car making country.”

He said that, however, is a matter for industry minister Kim Carr, although he pointed to an announcement “some time” during the election campaign.

“We still do have substantial contributions from Toyota and General Motors – particularly at their research centres in Melbourne – helping shift platforms to electric.

“We can tap into decades of engineering expertise we built up in this country.”

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