Last night, on the ABC’s 730 report, Angus Taylor tried to repeat an old tactic while defending the Australian government’s inaction on transport emissions.
First, was the implication that governments subsidising electric vehicles is somehow equivalent to federal agents kicking down the doors of innocent families and stealing the keys to their combustion engine cars. “There are vested interests who would like us to tell what kinds of cars that customers should drive. That is not our role. We do believe in customer choice”, he told the ABC.
This has been the line for a while. From Michaelia Cash to Angus Taylor to Scott Morrison, the story has been that any attempt to accelerate the transition away from fossil-reliant engines would be a terrifying authoritarian crackdown.
Michaelia Cash to save the utes. Johnny's car today wont be the one he drives tomorrow and claims 50% of the apprentices standing behind her will be driving an electric vehicle under Bill Shorten. #ausvotes #qldpol pic.twitter.com/Lzvd26vBGh
— David Marler (@Qldaah) April 9, 2019
Taylor also tried to prod class divisions in his interview. “We are not into subsidising luxury cars. That is not something we are going to do as a government. People who have the money to buy a luxury car are welcome to go out and do that. That is their choice. Good on them”.
This probably worked well two years ago, during the uncritiqued and unexamined noise of a federal election. But the world of transport has changed – batteries are significantly cheaper, a far larger variety of electric cars is available, and electrification is extending to areas well outside of private vehicles.
Taylor’s comments on “luxury” cars were sandwiched between footage of the diminutive Nissan Leaf. It’s abundant on the streets of Oslo – a boring, bubbly and very average looking thing. It is also extremely cheap, thanks to a mix of government subsidies and falling manufacturing costs.
Small EVs are beginning to take off, particularly in countries with dense cities. This Chinese mini-car, the Wuling Mini, is becoming a massive hit. It’s cheap and extremely customisable, and the video is worth watching.
— Bloomberg (@business) June 8, 2021
The ABC’s story also heavily featured non-car technologies: buses and tip trucks being prepared for the prime time. Again, in Oslo, both are a very common sight. It really isn’t every day you see AC/DC jokes on the streets here, but there you go.
Electric garbage truck. Punny! pic.twitter.com/4oqcWphn26
— Ketan Joshi (@KetanJ0) January 15, 2020
Angus Taylor’s old narratives – that transport decarbonisation would remove “choice”, and that electric transportation is a “luxury” – are outdated, and it was stark to see these archaic lines among modern and clearly rapidly progressing examples of the widespread electrification of transportation – particularly big workhorse vehicles like trucks, buses and vans.
“If we were running, if the average household was running their petrol and diesel cars electrically, they would be saving $2,000-$4,000 a year on petrol and diesel”, said US-based Australian energy expert Saul Griffith, on the ABC’s 730.
Electric transport is far cheaper to run because it runs so much more efficiently, and therefore less energy is required. And not mentioned in the story but becoming increasingly well known are the severe air pollution impacts of fossil transport from trucks, buses and cars.
Angus Taylor and Scott Morrison chose their transport narrative back when EVs were the equivalent of a bulky, expensive, suitcase-sized mobile phone. Their lines played well because it wasn’t immediately clear what was being denied and dismissed, and the advantages of the new technology were not immediately clear.
The next federal election in Australia will be different. Roughly, it’s now equivalent to the smartphone era, except the Australian government is refusing to build cell towers and refusing to chip in to help make them cheaper. That trend is only going to continue, which means the gap between the government and what the Australian public wants will only expand.
Ketan Joshi has been at the forefront of clean energy for eight years, starting out as a data analyst working in wind energy, and expanding that knowledge base to community engagement, climate science and new energy technology. He writes for The Driven’s parent site, RenewEconomy, and has also written for the Guardian, The Monthly, ABC News and has penned several hundred blog posts digging into climate and energy issues, building a position as a respected and analytical energy commentator in Australia. He’s spoken at the Ethics Centre IQ2 debates on the need for urgent decarbonisation, he’s served as an subject matter expert on national television, and has a wide following on social media around energy and climate.