It seems that the federal Labor party is about to officially dump what is considered as the easiest and smartest policy to encourage the shift to electric vehicles, and clean up the air in Australia’s cities – apparently because it wants to avoid another Coalition scare campaign.
Nine newspapers on Thursday reported that Labor is walking away from its policy to introduce a vehicle emissions standard, which means that Australia is guaranteed to be the only advanced economy in the world without an emissions standard, even if the government changes next year.
Labor is right to expect a fear campaign against such policies, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg raised the idea of emission standards several years ago, before dumping the idea almost immediately after a Murdoch tabloid branded the idea as a “carbon tax on wheels.”
That meant Australia continued to be a dumping ground for dirty fuel and cars with inefficient engines. According to the government’s own data, Australian cars consume around $600 more fuel a year because the engines allowed in this country – and very few others – are so inefficient.
Worse, there are health impacts too. It is estimated that Australia suffers up to 2,000 premature deaths a year as a result of vehicle pollution, and billions dollars more is spent on the health impacts. The government’s own Future Fuels Strategy admits that a modest number of EVs by 2030 would save $200 million in health costs.
Vehicle fuel standards have been proposed for more than a decade. Even in 2014, the Climate Change Authority said the benefits from fuel savings would be $850 a year by 2025, or a total of $8,500 – more than offsetting the estimate $1,500 increase in costs.
“Improving the efficiency of light vehicles is one of the least costly emissions reduction options available to Australia,” the CCA said at the time. And there was basically no EV industry then.
But Labor is not game enough to argue these points. Sure, the Coalition attacks on Labor’s EV policies in the lead up to the 2019 election were outrageous and misleading, but Labor has decided that, rather than stand and fight – it will make itself a small target, and keep policy ambition to a minimum.
“It’s disappointing that we can’t have a mature discussion in Australia about fuel efficiency standards,” says Jake Whitehead, the head of policy at the Electric Vehicle Council. “It wouldn’t just help increase the uptake of electric vehicles, it would improve vehicle fuel efficiency.
“Australian cars consumer more fuel and cost more to drive. There are models for sale in Australia that you can’t even buy in New Zealand. We are really behind the eight-ball and we will continue to fall behind the rest of the world.”
It is clear that Australia has become a dumping ground for dirty and inefficient cars because of the lack of vehicle and fuel emissions standards, which means there is little incentive for major car manufacturers to bring EVs to Australia.
Most of their efforts are focused on Europe, where every stricter fuel standards is accelerating the shift to electric cars, now nearly 20 per cent of the new car market.
The Australian car industry supports voluntary, but weak efficiency standards. Laughably, the Australian and New Zealand car lobby argues that it cannot meet strict standards despite the fact that the very same companies are doing exactly that in other markets.
The Nine Newspapers reported that the vehicle emission standard will be formally dropped when Labor leader Anthony Albanese signs off on the party’s climate policy with shadow ministers, ahead of a caucus briefing on Friday.
Climate spokesman Chris Bowen is due to speak at the National Press Club on Monday, where he is expected to announce Labor’s climate and energy policies.
The 50 per cent renewable energy target Labor brought to that election will be easily met. The Coalition had branded it as “economy wrecking” but now privately admits the main grid will be up to 70 per cent renewables, largely due to the strong action of the states.
The emissions target is more problematic. Labor brought a 45 per cent target, but despite that even the main business lobbies now advocate a 50 per cent cut by 2030 – having undermined all of Labor’s policies when they were in government – Labor is not expected to go that far.
Many expect Labor to nominate a 35 per cent cut by 2035, compared to the Coalition’s target of 26-28 per cent, although the government also expects the 35 per cent cut to be achieved without additional policies.