Federal Labor MP Matt Thistlethwaite says the government is “putting the handbrake” on EVs and that drivers are missing out on cheaper EVs and a cleaner environment as a result.
“It’s clear that the handbrake is being put on electric vehicle sales in our nation. Those Australians who are buying EVs are paying too much for them because there is no federal government plan to encourage the transition to cleaner vehicle technology,” Thistlethwaite said in a speech on Wednesday.
He is the second federal MP in as many weeks has joined to call for stronger policy to support a transition to electric vehicles, in the wake of the release of minister for energy and the environment Angus Taylor’s future fuels strategy that prioritises hybrid cars over zero-emission all-electric vehicles.
In his speech, Thistlethwaite said poor policy settings put carmakers on the back foot as they seek a return on the substantial investment in developing new drivetrains by a certainty of sales in other markets.
“It means Australians aren’t able to buy popular mid-priced models of electric vehicles sold in North America and Europe,” said Thistlethwaite.
“That’s because demand for electric vehicles outstrips supply in the bigger markets that are more supportive of a transition to cleaner technology.
“Even New Zealand has more EVs registered, with over 25,000 cars,” he said.
The Morrison government has put the handbrake on the uptake of electric vehicles in Australia, making it more expensive to buy and slowing the transition to a cleaner environment. pic.twitter.com/XHNeJ5s99Y
— Matt Thistlethwaite (@MThistlethwaite) March 24, 2021
The new speech underlines a small groundswell of support on both sides of politics for a transition to electric vehicles, at a time when the government has been labelled hostile to electric vehicles, which have the potential to help Australia address transport-related emissions which account for nearly one-fifth of the country’s entire emissions.
Last Monday, federal Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman said he supports a ban on petrol and diesel vehicles sales by the mid-2030s, and that the luxury car tax should be dumped.
Thistlethwaite’s speech comes as an interview with VW Australia boss Michael Bartsch labelled Australia’s stance on electric vehicles as “embarrassing”, and said that its ID.3 and ID.4 may not come to Australia until 2023 because of the lack of policy to support a transition.
In early March, the Electric Vehicle Council (EVC) slammed Australia as “uniquely hostile” to EVs. EVC CEO Behyad Jafari said, “Our governments are apparently doing everything possible to ensure Australia is stalled with its hazards on while the rest of the world zooms into the horizon.”
The recent future fuels strategy released by the federal government said that electric vehicles would cost Australians much more than low emissions options such as non-pluggable hybrids, but the modelling used to support this argument was flawed, and government officials have since admitted they made mistakes in their calculations.
The attitude to reducing transport emissions in Australia is at odds with action being taken in major markets elsewhere.
States have also come under fire for wanting to circumvent declining fuel excise by introducing EV road user taxes, even though this would discourage adoption. Victoria plans to start charging EV drivers 2.5 cents per kilometre driven in July, and South Australia is considering following suit.
Australia’s lack of vehicle emissions regulations is in stark contrast to policies overseas such as in the European Union where carmakers are penalised heavily if their new car sales emissions exceed a certain limit (in 2021 this is set at 95 gram of CO2 per kilometre).
The first-year results for voluntary emissions limits put in place by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) were announced today, putting Australian vehicle emissions 23% above European counterparts for light passenger vehicles and 40% above for trucks and light commercial vehicles.
But with electric vehicle sales still faring poorly – just 0.75% of new car sales in 2020 were electric, well below the global average of 4.2% – Australia will not reach even Europe’s current emissions limits until after 2030, the FCAI estimated.
“We need leadership through the federal government. This means a national plan for a transition to electric vehicles. Australia needs better emission standards, support for public charging infrastructure and encouragement for manufacturers to supply in Australia,” says Thistlethwaite.
“We also need national coordination on road user charging, to avoid variations in state taxes, along with changes to planning laws.”
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model 3 and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.