Labor promises 50 per cent of new government passenger vehicles will be Electric Vehicles (EV), and also to allow business buyers a 20 per cent deduction on any new EV valued at more than $20,000.
By Mike Seccombe
Plus, it has committed to requiring all new federal-funded road upgrades to include charging infrastructure, and to “work with states to ensure new and refurbished commercial and residential developments include electric vehicle charging capacity”.
The current government, in contrast, continues to defend old technology. At a press conference on Monday, the energy minister, Angus Taylor, attacked Labor’s emissions targets on the basis that Australia’s vehicle fleet did not currently meet them.
“The most popular car in Australia, the Toyota HiLux, is nowhere near that … I don’t know what tradies are going to do under Labor’s policies because there is no car that can do what they need to do that they can drive,” Taylor said.
That’s true, but also beside the point, as Peter Khoury pointed out to another publication, because electric utilities already were in development and would almost certainly be available in time to meet tightened emissions standards, given the rapid pace of change.
The other point the government argues is that electric vehicles are now more expensive than traditional vehicles. It claims Labor’s target would increase the average cost of a car by almost $5000.
But the cost is falling fast, and will likely be close to parity within a few years, says Khoury. And in any case, the savings on operating costs more than make up for the purchase cost.
According to the NRMA, a car can go as far on 33 cents worth of electricity as on $1.50 worth of fossil fuel.
Of course, that doesn’t help address climate change much, if the source of that electricity is a power plant burning fossil fuel, which is why the shift to electric vehicles must happen in tandem with a shift to renewable electricity, says Oliver Yates.
Yates is the son of a Liberal MP and was himself a long-time party member, but quit the party in disgust at its failure to address climate change. He is now running as an independent against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong. Most relevantly he is the former chief executive of the government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
“If we don’t want to destroy the environment and ourselves, we have to set a clear path and do these things together,” he says.
Bringing more renewables into the electricity grid is the necessary precursor to reforming the transport sector.
“You have to do that first. Then your car driving becomes cleaner, your homes become cleaner. You have to go for electrification,” says Yates.
Is it complicated? Yes. Will there be costs? Yes.
But much of the developed world is doing it, and the costs are nowhere near as great as the Coalition government, the fossil fuel industry and right-wing media claquers claim.
Yates dismisses the economic modelling the government relies on to support its argument that climate change action is prohibitively expensive. The modelling work is carried out by the fossil fuel lobby’s favourite modeller, Brian Fisher’s BA Economics.
Yates has carried out a detailed analysis of it, the details of which we need not go into. Bottom line, he says, is that it relies on a series of wildly cost-inflated assumptions. “It doesn’t pass the laugh test,” he says.
Then there are the claims made in the Murdoch media, which is running a ferocious scare campaign against the Labor climate policy.
To cite but one particular example: Sky News presenter, columnist for The Australian and former Liberal Party staffer Chris Kenny (below) this week used a column to lament that Labor’s electric vehicle target would ruin his family’s annual Christmas drive to Adelaide.
“With the airconditioner on full bore in the December heat perhaps we’ll be able to cover 250 or 300 kilometres at a time. With a succession of three-hour stops for recharging and extra stopovers in Narrandera and Balranald we might make it across in four days,” Kenny wrote.
Clearly, the man either does not know that fast-charging technology can power up a car in just 15 minutes, or simply hoped to mislead gullible readers.
“Yes,” said one senior Labor staffer, referring to the Murdoch campaign, “it’s outrageous. We can only try to ignore it.”
What else can they do? As The New York Times elaborated in a detailed series – on the basis of 150 interviews over six months on three continents – this week: “Mr. Murdoch and his feuding sons [Lachlan and James] turned their media outlets into right-wing political influence machines that have destabilized democracy in North America, Europe and Australia.”
It further noted: “In Australia, Lachlan expressed disdain for efforts to fight climate change.”
In trying to understand why this country has been so slow to act on climate change, the dominance of the Murdoch media is without doubt a major factor, along with the efforts of the powerful fossil fuel lobby.
And yet, multiple polls tell us the Australian electorate overwhelming favours stronger action.
Rebecca Huntley, director at Vox Populi Research, is regularly surprised at how aware members of her focus groups are that Australia has fallen behind the rest of the world.
“It is interesting to me how often people say, ‘Well, they’re doing this in China’, or ‘This is what’s happening in India’, or ‘Uganda has completely banned plastic bags.’
“People get that lots of initiatives are happening elsewhere, and [wonder] why are we falling behind? Whenever the environment comes up, it is rare for someone not to say: ‘This happened overseas, why can’t we do it here?’ ” says Huntley.
It is not just concern about the environment and climate change she detects. “It plays interestingly into concepts of patriotism and national pride, that Australia has in the past been at the forefront of reform in a host of areas and now we’re not,” she says.
In her assessment, the government’s intractable resistance to climate change action simply reinforces people’s belief that Australia is at risk of becoming a can’t-do nation because it has a won’t-do government.
Thus, the vitriolic opposition of the right-wing commentators – such as News Corp, such as Alan Jones – will probably do the Labor Party no harm at the election. It might well help, because it highlights a significant difference between the parties.
And if that is the case, then perhaps Jones was right to tell Morrison that Monday’s climate announcement was more significant than the budget.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 6, 2019 as “All torque, not enough action”.