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Thursday, 1 March 2018
Page: 2534


Mr ZIMMERMAN (North Sydney) (16:34): We live in a time when technological change is occurring at an incredible pace. The change is disrupting old industries and services but also creating new opportunities for consumers, businesses and the community as a whole. There will always be some who will try and hold onto the status quo. This is human nature. Some will look at technological change with trepidation, others with excitement and many more with a bit of both. We see this dichotomy in many areas of public discussion and policy, be it the future of energy, the development of artificial intelligence, or consumer services typified so often by Uber and Airbnb. I think for most Australians technological change leaves us in awe about the potential of the future and the ingenuity of our scientists and researchers.

One of those areas is the fast-developing changes we're seeing in the transport sector. Autonomous vehicles have captured the imagination of many, and as they develop they will revolutionise mobility. Similarly, electric vehicles will soon come within reach and reality for commuters around the world. Car manufacturers are investing tens of billions in their development, and see the future in electric or hybrid vehicles. For example, from 2019 every car manufactured by Volvo will be either electric or hybrid. General Motors has 20 electric models in development, which will reach the market over next five years. Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW are collectively investing $75 billion in the development of battery technology. Volkswagen itself, the world's largest car manufacturer, will move entirely to electric vehicle manufacturing by the end of the coming decade.

This has been matched by the decisions of governments in markets large and small to provide regulatory impetus for their adoption. The Minister for Environment and Energy was right to point to the electric future for our vehicle fleet in his comments made earlier this year. People like our Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, have long been advocates. Electric cars offer Australia obvious advantages. We're one of the biggest energy producers in the world, yet most of our fuel for transport, around 90 per cent, is imported. Much of this comes via the South China Sea. Electric vehicles provide the opportunity for greater reliance on our own energy sources, with obvious national interest and security benefits. In a nation where 15 per cent of household budgets are spent on transport, electric vehicles offer the opportunity for both cheaper running and maintenance costs. Electric vehicles also offer the potential to reduce air pollution in our cities and to reduce carbon emissions. Debates such as those current underway in my own electorate about the location of road tunnel stacks could be become redundant.

In so many areas Australians have been early adopters of new technology, be it in banking and payment products, the internet, smartphones or the use of home solar panels. Yet there are only 4,000 electric cars on Australia's roads today. This reflects a number of factors. Thirteen of the 16 electric car models sold in Australia cost over $60,000. In our vast continent there is understandable hesitation about the range of electric vehicles. This is accentuated by the absence of recharging infrastructure. Prices are coming down, and parity is expected to be reached over the next five or so years. Battery technology is quickly advancing. Ranges of 400 or 500 kilometres, more than most of us travel on a regular basis, will become the norm. DC chargers can recharge a battery in less than 30 minutes.

There is more that governments at all three levels can do to encourage the uptake of electric cars and give motorists more choice. The NRMA recently released an excellent report, in conjunction with the Electric Vehicle Council, titled The future is electric, which looked at some of the policies. Perhaps most critically, government can play a role in supporting the expansion of recharging infrastructure, particularly in regional areas. At the local and state levels, our planning should look to ensuring that residential and major commercial buildings include recharging facilities, or at least the infrastructure for them to be retrofitted. This was something I pursued 10 years ago as a North Sydney councillor, when I urged council to amend our planning instruments to consider the future needs of an electric vehicle fleet. At the federal level, there is a role for us to support the creation of kerbside recharging infrastructure. Only 50 DC-charging stations are currently available across Australia. This number needs to grow. Market and consumer forces are already driving the change to electric vehicles. With better coordination and modest investment, Australian governments can ensure we're part of this future.