Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP speaks in support of the Electric Car Discount

7 September 2022

The Treasury Laws Amendment (Electric Car Discount) Bill is an inoffensive bill. It's not too costly and does a little good. It's far better than what came before and gives hope of more to come. It's a scale model of this government's approach to decarbonising our economy.

The bill removes the fringe benefits tax from non-luxury, zero or low-emissions vehicles from 1 July 2022, designed to encourage in a pretty small way the uptake of electric vehicles in Australia. So it will help the uptake insofar as corporate fleets are concerned. I truly hope this little act is an early sign of true action on reducing emissions. For example, in the next budget, perhaps the government will include some sensible suggestions to expand the bill to cover the fuel, electricity and home charger related costs; perhaps it will be broadened to include electric motorbikes; perhaps next month's budget will provide support for the rapid rollout of more charging stations needed to power these vehicles, both for major roads and for people living in home units and inner-city houses with no garage facilities; and perhaps the final release of the National Construction Code 2022 will include requirements for charging infrastructure in commercial buildings like those recently implemented in Singapore.

The solutions here will require the support of all levels of government, but clear guidance from this government will accelerate the process. The budget could also provide support for private purchasers, the self-employed and SMEs to entice uptake in the non-leasing sector. We could do away with the luxury car tax on electric vehicles altogether, of course, to make them really price competitive. Last month, the minister committed to producing a consultation paper on an electric vehicle strategy. That announcement at the electric vehicle summit opened the door to introducing vehicle emissions standards in Australia; that's good. Electric vehicles are over three times as energy efficient as internal combustion vehicles. They use much less energy because they don't waste energy on noise, heat and cooling the heat that they make.

We're blessed with an abundance of renewable energy sources. More EVs means that what small, strategic fuel reserves we have—held in Texas—will last longer and one day soon will not even be required. So fuel security can be gained by accelerating this transmission. Energy for EVs is sourced locally. Every EV improves our balance of trade, our carbon footprint, the quality of our lived environment and our national security.

There is widespread agreement from electric vehicle advocates and green groups that vehicle emission standards are the greatest lever that the government can pull to increase the supply and affordability of electric vehicles in Australia. Absent those standards, Australia will remain a supply chain afterthought to major car manufacturers who are using zero-emission vehicles to help meet standards in the rest of the OECD.

Affordability, availability and access to universal charging stations are the key impediments to increased EV uptake in Australia, and I hope the government will engage with that issue of universal charging infrastructure. We are behind the rest of the world but we, at the very least, have an opportunity to make sure that, when we implement that charging infrastructure, we make it universal so there is no difference and no disadvantage depending on what type of EV people purchase.

I look forward to the government introducing fuel efficiency standards soon so we can move from being paired with Russia and join the rest of the OECD in having the standards that drive availability of low-emission vehicles. Widespread adoption of EVs would help reduce the carbon impact of transport, which is our fastest-growing emissions sector; it's some 17 per cent of our carbon footprint. This is low-hanging fruit where we can absolutely fix and reduce our emissions. If just 10 per cent of Australia's light vehicles were to provide vehicle-to-grid power, we could provide nearly three times the overnight power capacity of Snowy 2.0. That is the power EVs can have in our system.

There is no single silver-bullet solution to our future energy needs, but the current demands of the transportation sector, coupled with the many opportunities afforded by a mobile battery fleet, and charging stations to power that during the day, are the types of challenges and opportunities that suit the Australian spirit. It's time we got back to being leaders.

The previous government handed a quarter of a billion taxpayer dollars over to two oil refineries in April just this year. I would argue that that was raiding the bank on the way out of the door. There was $3.8 billion taken from the budget bottom line by the cuts to the fuel excise that is due to finish in just a few weeks. The cost of this bill pales by comparison. Why not match or redirect that subsidy to support a national battery strategy? Let's start supporting our industries of the future. Let's be in the supply chain instead of waiting around at the end of it.

Perhaps that will happen, but the adoption of a target of 43 per cent by 2030 by the government has given me and many in my community much cause for concern. I would argue that a 43 per cent target is small thinking; it's safe thinking; it's 'kick the can down the road' thinking. It's a net result of small acts ticking small boxes, making slight progress. We need commitments that drive this as a floor to ambition, not an aspiration. At the jobs summit last week, Ross Garnaut outlined, as he has done so many times before, the breadth of opportunity offered, and thus far refused by successive Australian governments, in our transition to net zero.

Australia is at a crossroads. We face two paths. One is small thinking, safe thinking, and inoffensive, small actions—it's a seductive path. I know it's a politically safe path, and governments can follow it, but there is so much more potential, so much more opportunity. I urge the government to commit to a steeper, braver, more ambitious path—one that will involve more work, but it is one that will deliver for Australia. It's a path that involves restructuring Australia to take advantage of the massive opportunities offered in the carbon-free industries. This century is a century of renewable energy, and the longer we shy away from that the further we get from our future path and the more opportunities we miss.

Previous Labor governments have indeed been ambitious. They have made changes to security, education, financial systems and superannuation. These changes were not always easy. They weren't comfortable or even popular, but the measure of a great government is sometimes taken some 30 years down the track. It's not with small measures like those in this bill that you are going to really leave a legacy. It has to be bigger and more than that.

When a third of Australia voted for minor parties and Independents in May, they voted not just for climate action; they voted for more vision, for politics over the long term, for more action when it comes to embracing opportunities. Australians are tired of being small, of being behind the rest of the world and of governments being afraid to embrace opportunities. We know now that there is a unique opportunity in our lifetime to establish our economy for the future, to genuinely set future generations up. The prior government refused to do this. I don't know if it was out of ideology, ignorance or opportunism. There was just an unwillingness to do it. Should this well-meaning government—and we hear a lot of talk, and there have been good actions—fail to act now, out of fear, out of political opportunism, just to hang on, then you also will be judged, and the question will be: who really missed the opportunities? We have only eight years till 2030. We need policies that are ambitious, that make big steps. We can't do it in baby steps. So, whilst I welcome this legislation, there is so much more that can be done when it comes to our transition to clean transport and to electric vehicles. I urge the government to do it without delay.