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Monday, 21 June 2021
Page: 10

Senator RICE (VictoriaDeputy Australian Greens Whip) (11:06): I'm really pleased to be rising today to speak to my COAG Reform Fund Amendment (No Electric Vehicle Taxes) Bill 2020, which aims to neutralise the impact of discriminatory taxes against electric vehicles, such as the one that has just been introduced by the Victorian government and which has been described as the worst electric vehicle policy in the world. Hopefully, if passed through the Senate, this bill will warn off other states and territories thinking about going along the same misguided route. We need to be supporting electric vehicles, and in this place we need to be doing everything we can. The government has been missing in action, so it's up to us to be doing what we can to support electric vehicles and to support state and territory governments in encouraging the uptake of electric vehicles.

I went for a drive in an electric vehicle this morning with Daniel Bleakley. Daniel's an electric vehicle campaigner. He took me out for a ride in his Tesla. Daniel is famous for taking his Tesla to different places—he's been driving around the country—and letting people get behind the wheel of his Tesla. I understand Senator Patrick will be taking a drive with him tomorrow. It's a very practical demonstration of how great electric vehicles can be and exactly what our government, the Liberals and the National Party, are holding us back from. I'm not a revhead. My approach to cars is they are vehicles that get you from A to B. I enjoyed my ride this morning. It was a very nice car to drive, and it has a lot of oomph when you put your foot down. But the reason Daniel Bleakley and I are equally passionate advocates for electric vehicles is that shifting our private passenger transport to zero carbon vehicles as quickly as possible is incredibly important.

Daniel grew up in coal country, in Queensland. In fact, some members of his family are still very big advocates of the coal industry. So he knows the reality of the fossil fuel industry in Australia. But he learnt about the climate crisis, and he decided that he needed to do something practical and be part of the shift to a zero carbon society as soon as possible so that we can get out of mining coal and gas and oil and Australia can be playing its part, its role, in shifting the world to a pollution-free safe climate future. He's very aware of what the issues are, what the challenges are and how we need to be supporting Australians, ordinary working Australians, in the transition. That's the beauty of electric vehicles; they enable us to do that.

In our conversation this morning as we were driving around, Daniel shared a couple of things with me. One ongoing issue people seem to have with electric vehicles is range anxiety—'I couldn't possibly drive an electric vehicle because I've got to drive long distances.' In fact, he mentioned that this is an excuse that Angus Taylor, the minister for energy, has recently trotted out as to why he couldn't possibly have an electric vehicle. He told me the minister's office is 300 metres from an electric vehicle charger and that, with the current chargers, you can get a charge of your vehicle for 400 kilometres in about 20 minutes. So range anxiety is basically: how far can you go in an electric vehicle before you need to charge? How long is your bladder going to last out? You have to stop for a wee, and 20 minutes later your car can be charged up with 400 kilometres ready to go.

The other thing we talked about this morning was how much having a rollout of electric vehicles is going to improve the health of our cities. So much of the pollution in our cities comes from petrol and particularly diesel. There is no safe level limit for diesel pollution. Every diesel particulate is carcinogenic; it causes cancer. If we shift to electric vehicles and get that transition happening, we are going to have massive improvements in the health of our cities. In fact, Daniel told me about how the air quality in Oslo, with its uptake of electric vehicles, has improved dramatically over the last 10 years.

So, look, it would be really good if I didn't have to be introducing this bill today. It would be really good if we had a federal government that was actually showing some leadership and recognising that electric vehicles are so critical that we need to be taking every action we possibly can to incentivise their uptake. This government, by failing to take a leadership role, is what's leading the states and territories governments to decide they have to go out on their own. However, we know that the approach that the Victorian government is taking has been described as the worst electric vehicle policy in the world. We know it's going to stymie the uptake of electric vehicles by putting a discriminatory tax on electric vehicles.

The argument of the proponents of such a tax is that the electric vehicle owners are not paying excise; therefore, they should be paying the extra road user charge to make up for that. I want to tell people just to look at the amount electric vehicle owners are already paying. At the moment, out of the goodness of their hearts, because they want to be part of the shift to zero-carbon transport, they are paying on average an extra $20,000 to $30,000 for their electric vehicle compared to the equivalent internal combustion vehicle. By doing that, by paying that extra $20,000 to $30,000, they are paying more in stamp duty and GST, and that adds up to about the equivalent of five years of fuel excise. So they are already more than paying their way—five years worth of paying their way. Come back to me in five years time, when electric vehicles are actually up to around the 20 or 30 per cent mark, and then let's have a conversation about road user charges to replace fuel excise.

Let's start planning that uptake now. Let's do the work. Let's work out what is an appropriate regime of road user charging that's going to be fair, equitable and sustainable and will encourage the type of transport that we want to be encouraging and not discourage people from using public transport. Absolutely let's have that discussion and work out what is the road user charge that, I agree, is probably going to be introduced in the future. But let's do it properly. Let's not impose discriminatory charges as the Victorian government is doing.

We need to do everything we can here at a federal level to stop the states and territories from imposing those charges. My bill basically neutralises the revenue that would be raised by these discriminatory taxes. It would mean that every dollar that is raised by, for example, the Victorian government would be a dollar that that state wouldn't get from the federal government in the grants to the states and territories and that every dollar the Victorian government didn't get we would redistribute to other states and territories. It's the carrot-and-stick approach—a stick to the Victorian government and other governments that are doing the same thing, and a carrot of extra money to the states and territories to encourage them to take action, to encourage them to put money into the rollout of fast chargers. That's the nub of this bill.

The other thing I really want to talk about today is: why does it matter that we shift our fleet of passenger vehicles to zero-carbon-polluting electric vehicles as quickly as possible, side by side with changing our energy generation to be 100 per cent renewable? It matters because transport is now almost 20 per cent of Australia's carbon pollution and it's the fastest-growing area of pollution in Australian society and the Australian economy. This matters because Australia needs to be playing its part in tackling the climate crisis. Not only is this government failing us on the shift to electric vehicles; we know that it is totally failing us on doing anything else with shifting our society, shifting our economy, to a zero-carbon future. This matters because we are in a climate crisis. We are facing a future where global average temperatures are going to be three, four and even more degrees above what is safe for humanity and the rest of life on this planet.

I just want to remind people what this means. If we reach a future where we are three or four degrees higher than preindustrial temperatures, it will mean no more growing wheat in Australia—or pretty much anything else in the areas that are currently our major agricultural production zones. It will mean metres of sea level rise, flooding cities and towns where millions of Australians currently live. I find it hard to believe, but it will mean wildfires that are even more extreme, hotter and more frequent, over a longer fire season than we had in 2019-20. So it will mean thousands of properties being destroyed. It will mean, undoubtedly, many, many Australians dying, whether it's from the fires or from the heat. It will mean uncountable numbers of plants and animals across the world going extinct. It will mean billions of people around the world who will be climate refugees, homeless, without a way to feed themselves and looking to find anywhere on the planet where they can possibly survive. And it will mean billions of people living absolutely wretched lives, struggling to survive. It sounds really, really, really bad.

This is what the science is telling us. This is not over the top. This is not extremism. This is what the science is telling us. This is what we need to listen to. This is why we need to take urgent action to reduce our carbon pollution to zero as quickly as possible. There is no time left for delay or for half-measures. Other countries around the world have accepted the challenge. We've just had the G7. Let me remind you what the G7 agreed to, just over a week ago. They agreed that they would halve their collective carbon pollution from 2005 levels by 2030. That's in nine years time. They agreed that they would end fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 and they would achieve overwhelmingly decarbonised power systems in the 2030s. Australia needs to be up to the challenge as well.

The thing with electric vehicles is that they are a technology that we know we can literally be rolling out on the roads today. Other countries are doing it. In the UK they have got a commitment to have a ban on sales of polluting internal combustion engine vehicles by 2030. Similarly, 20 per cent of Norway's fleet is now electric vehicles. Seventy-five per cent of all new sales are electric. This is being rolled out around the world. Australia could be part of this electric vehicle revolution. But no. We are laggards. We have less than one per cent of our fleet being electric vehicles. We're being left behind, and we're being left behind in the opportunities for workers, for industry, for growth in manufacturing of electric vehicles or components or batteries.

Internal combustion engine vehicles have no place in a future where we need to be shifting to zero carbon as quickly as possible. Shifting to electric vehicles is a practical, easy response to address a huge part of our carbon transport pollution. It should not be about party politics. As I said, I've just quoted what the UK government are doing. They are a conservative government, led by Boris Johnson. The Norwegian government is a conservative government. We could be doing the same here. This should not be an issue of party politics. It's a matter of common sense. It's a matter of our common humanity. It's a matter of us working together to do what we can to create a safe future or us and our children.

Another example of why it's not an issue of party politics is an announcement over the weekend by the New South Wales government—a Liberal government—of a major new electric vehicle policy. I will come to the detail in a minute, but this highlights the devastating inaction and refusal to act that we've seen from the Commonwealth Liberal government. The New South Wales government have proposed subsidies of $3,000 for 25,000 new cars, waiving stamp duty for new and second-hand electric vehicles, $171 million in charging infrastructure, and access to priority lanes for EV drivers. In particular, on the issue of a road user charge, they have said, 'When the number of electric vehicles gets to 30 per cent, or in six years time, we will consider it.' This is exactly the way forward, and it should be coordinated at a federal level.

It's crazy to have a different system of road user charges right around the country. Nobody wants to see that. We need federal leadership, and we need support from the Labor Party as well. We need both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party to put their money where their mouth is. If they say they're concerned about carbon pollution, do something about it. I'm not sure whether the Labor Party are in support of this bill, but I urge them to be so. It's an opportunity to put your votes where your values are. If you say you want action on climate, here is an opportunity to do something about it, to act to reduce our carbon pollution and create a safe future for us all.

(Quorum formed)