Labor’s pledge to remove import tariffs is not expected to do much to reduce car prices, with the majority of vehicles coming from countries already exempted from import duties by free trade agreements – including Japan, South Korea, Thailand and the United States.
The Morrison government targeted former Labor leader Bill Shorten during the 2019 election campaign for his pledge to lift new electric vehicle sales to 50 per cent market share by 2030, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison claiming the then-opposition leader “wants to end the weekend”.
But since then the government has found itself wedged between the electric vehicle advocates in its ranks, mostly from progressive urban electorates, and some of its conservative members – particularly among many Nationals MPs who oppose support for clean cars.
The Morrison government has promised an electric vehicle strategy since 2019. That initiative was broadened in February when Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor released a discussion paper on its Future Fuels Strategy, including talking points on electric vehicles.
Mr Taylor said the government would adopt a “fleets first” approach but the policy is still out for consultation.
The government’s $74.5 million Future Fuels Fund has announced its first funding initiative, with $16.5 million for electric vehicle charging stations in capital cities and key regional centres.
Mr Taylor said on Wednesday the government’s policies, including their focus on rolling out vehicle charging stations, would enable car buyers to make their own choices.
“We’re not going to tell Australians what kind of car to drive, but we are going to make sure that they are in a position to make those choices and the infrastructure is there to support those choices as they need it,” he said.
“We’re seeing technology being used to drive down the cost of energy and reduce emissions. The same is happening with vehicles. We’ve seen a doubling of the sales of hybrids in Australia in the last 12 months.”
Labor’s policy is estimated to cost $200 million over three years, with the exemptions applying to vehicles prices below the luxury car tax threshold of $77,565.
Electric Vehicle advocates have warned that Australia could become a dumping ground for car makers’ old run-out models with internal combustion engines, as they send their limited stock into more attractive markets with incentives for clean cars.
There are no electric cars currently available in Australia for less than $40,000 and just five for under $60,000. In Britain there are more than two dozen electric cars available for under $60,000 — including eight that are cheaper than the cheapest electric car in Australia.
According to polling commissioned by the Australia Institute in March, 62 per cent of voters support subsidies and incentives to reduce the cost of electric vehicles – including 65 per cent of Coalition voters and 64 per cent of Labor voters.
Climate Council campaigns director Alix Pearce said about 20 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gases come from transport but the country lacks “credible policies to reduce emissions from transport”.
“Australia is one of a handful of OECD countries without greenhouse gas emissions standards for vehicles,” Ms Pearce said.
Mike is the climate and energy correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.