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Thursday, 10 December 2020
Page: 7543


Senator RICE (VictoriaDeputy Australian Greens Whip) (19:14): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum and to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The world is facing a climate emergency. Countless scientists warned us for decades, and now we're actually in the midst of an emergency. We're experiencing the impacts already of the more than 1 degree of warming that's occurred. Around the world, we've seen a greater frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events from heatwaves, droughts, flooding, winter storms, hurricanes and wildfires. Just last summer, we saw a horrific bushfire season, linked to the climate emergency. The time for contemplation and questions is long past. The time for action is now.

It's urgent that we act because the emergency will get worse if we don't. Some of the impacts of only an extra degree include:

Dramatic increases in the amount of Arctic Ocean sea ice that we lose;

Almost doubling the number of people who will be impacted by sea level rises, which will be a metre higher at two degrees increase, compared to a 1.5 degree increase;

Much greater losses of coral reefs - we're already seeing terrible coral bleaching events around Australia, and have lost half the corals of the Great Barrier Reef; and

Significantly increased risk that we'll lose insect habitats that are vital for pollination of crops and plants.

Some governments are taking urgent action in response to this crisis. New Zealand has declared a climate emergency. That includes:

Acknowledging and recognising "the devastating impact that volatile and extreme weather will have on New Zealand and the wellbeing of New Zealanders, on our primary industries, water availability, and public health through flooding, sea level rise, and wildfire";

Reducing the public service carbon footprint, including its vehicle fleet; and

Recognition of steps New Zealand has already taken, including setting up a Climate Change Commission to establish a path to net zero emissions.

In the United Kingdom, a conservative government has recently announced a target of reducing emissions by 68 per cent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. The European Union has previously proposed a target of a 55 per cent reduction on 1990 emissions by 2030. If President-Elect Biden implements his climate plan, that will also involve rejoining the Paris agreement, making US electricity carbon-free by 2035, and a clear target of net zero.

So while the Liberal party is holding Australia back on climate action to address the climate emergency, on the international stage they are increasingly isolated.

If we're going to tackle the climate crisis, a clear part of that is action to support electric vehicles, which provide zero carbon transport when they are powered by 100% renewable energy. Countries around the world are taking urgent action to support a transition to electric vehicles, including providing government support to make them more affordable and accessible, and ensuring the infrastructure is available.

The European Union has approved a new fuel economy standard for cars and vans, with specific requirements or bonuses for electric vehicles. Those standards are providing a clear signal and incentive for manufacturers to produce electric vehicles.

China has introduced fuel economy standards for light-duty vehicles, and an electric vehicle efficiency standard with voluntary targets based on weight classes.

In the United Kingdom, a conservative government has announced a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, a decade ahead of the previous timeline.

In Norway, in October 2020, over 60 per cent of new vehicle purchases were electric vehicles. That fantastic figure is a result of clear government policies: providing charging infrastructure, and providing clear tax incentives to make electric vehicles more affordable.

The international examples show what happens when governments listen to the scientific evidence and advice, and are willing to take urgent action to address the crisis.

In contrast, sadly, Australia has seen a complete lack of action. The Liberal Party first promised a national strategy on electric vehicles in February 2019. They then spent most of the 2019 election campaigning against electric vehicles, running a scare campaign that cheap, renewably powered cars would somehow take away your weekend.

When I asked officials in Senate Estimates whether any of those scare campaigns were true, they had to take it on notice, and the answers they came back with weren't particularly impressive. But despite how comical the Liberal party's ideas are, the impacts are terrifyingly real. There's been a complete failure to consult publicly on an electric vehicle strategy, let alone to actually develop one. Instead, we're now told that there'll be a 'future fuels' paper sometime before the end of 2020.

The Liberal party is terrified of change, of the future, and they are holding Australia back.

Transport emissions policy matters, because transport is an important sector contributing to our emissions - it makes up around a fifth of emissions in Victoria and New South Wales, and is even higher - a third of emissions - in South Australia. That makes it even more important that we have policies to reduce transport emissions, at every level. Sadly, the complete policy vacuum at a Commonwealth level has contributed to disastrous policy at a state level.

In South Australia, we've seen the Liberal party there make their state the first jurisdiction on the planet that wants to make it more expensive for people to operate electric vehicles.

In Victoria, the government wants to apply a charge to electric vehicles that wouldn't apply to other vehicles, unfairly penalising them and making them more expensive to operate.

In New South Wales, they are actively considering the same terrible ideas as South Australia and Victoria, that will make it more expensive for people to operate an electric vehicle.

The reason this is all so unacceptable is that we know that electric vehicles are already more expensive than they should be, and that governments should be doing more to incentivise their uptake. Economic analysis shows that every driver who switches to electric vehicles provides a $1,370 boost to government revenue, and an $8,763 boost to the Australian economy. Keep in mind that's even without a price on carbon, based on current settings. Converting just a quarter of Australia's fleet to electric vehicles would deliver a $4.4 billion economic benefit - again, in a context without a carbon price.

So let's be clear. This isn't a perfect bill. What we should have is a national electric vehicle strategy that incentivises uptake, not a Commonwealth vacuum and ad-hoc state taxes. At the last election, the Greens had a clear policy that outlined steps the government could still take:

Fast track the roll-out of charging infrastructure;

Legislate tougher vehicle pollution standards;

Setting clear electric vehicle targets, to provide incentives for manufacturers; and,

Significantly reducing the cost of electric vehicles, not increasing them.

In the interim, this Bill provides a clear route for the Commonwealth to undo the state taxes on electric vehicles, ensuring that state governments don't impose them unfairly, at exactly the wrong time, when we need to be encouraging uptake of electric vehicles. Any state government that would impose an unfair tax on electric vehicles would lose a comparable amount of revenue, which would be distributed to other states on a per capita basis. This is a basic step, to ensure we're not putting road blocks in front of electric vehicles.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.