Fossil of a federal government keeps handbrake on EV uptake

Ian Bushnell 7 February 2021 63
Electric vehicles

The switch to electric vehicles is underway, but Australia is holding back. Photo: File.

A tipping point has been reached with electric vehicles, yet the Morrison Government seems intent on limiting their take-up in Australia and the contribution they can make to reducing our greenhouse emissions.

GM is but the latest of the big car makers to announce it was throwing the switch to EVs in line with the Biden Administration announcing renewed vigour in the fight against global warming and committing to transitioning the entire US Government car fleet.

The US has also had a range of cash and tax incentives for EVs for years.

China is in the midst of an EV manufacturing revolution, including autonomous vehicles, and the UK won’t allow the sale of new petrol cars and vans from 2030 and offers a range of subsidies to increase the uptake of EVs.

The ACT Government understands this and is doing what it can to encourage EV uptake.

The fact is it’s happening. Yet a federal government discussion paper for its future fuels strategy rules out any such incentives, a phase-out of petrol vehicles or even fuel efficiency standards, opting for the language of giving Australian drivers choice.

The Morrison government appears to accept the shift is on, expecting the range of new vehicle technology options in the Australian market to continue to increase each year, and that by 2030 battery electric vehicle sales will reach 26 per cent of annual new vehicle sales. It could be so much more.

But the Morrison government wants to hedge its bets, to assuage its own internal critics and vested interests.

READ ALSO: $20 million funding boost for mental health services as demand surges

A national EV strategy canvassed in February 2019, before the last federal election, was replaced last year with a broader approach that also covers hydrogen fuel-cell and biofuel-powered vehicles, which may just be sops to the gas industry, agribusiness and their National Party patrons.

Of course, the election was also marked by the Prime Minister’s inane comments about EV proponents wanting to end the weekend.

The PM says Australia is not about to tax its way to lower emissions, and argues subsidies to hasten the transition to EVs are not value for money, despite a combination of carrot and stick being a proven way to achieve an outcome.

It talks about the costs but not the benefits.

It’s a hands-off approach that ignores the urgency of combating global warming, the pace of change overseas, and the benefits a faster transition would bring.

Not only would it make a huge dent in our emissions but clear the air of our cities, reduce noise, and bring better health outcomes.

The government’s approach also risks Australia being left behind and facing greater costs to update later on, a bit like the NBN.

Some fear Australia will become a dumping ground for dirty, old-tech vehicles.

While consumers reap the benefits of government-supported accelerated uptake overseas, Australians may still face cost barriers and a market still dominated by a redundant technology.

READ ALSO: What drives Canberra’s best-selling car?

Advocates also argue that it leaves Australia exposed from a national security perspective if supply chains are disrupted, with the nation only having six weeks’ supply of fuel.

At least work is continuing on how an EV-based transport system will integrate with the electricity grid, with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency’s trial of smart chargers to observe how charging can be managed at optimal times.

The government also says it will be prioritising charging and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure where it is needed, but again are we talking green hydrogen or that derived from gas, and what does ”where it is needed” actually mean?

This is a government that continues to not want to lead, and uses the idea of choice to string out Australia’s reliance on fossil fuels.

It’s an approach that will cost consumers, affect the nation’s health, restrict the nation’s ability to reduce emissions and undermine national security.

Australia should be at the forefront of this momentous shift, not dragging its feet.

The question has to be asked: who is benefiting from this approach?

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63 Responses to Fossil of a federal government keeps handbrake on EV uptake
rationalobserver rationalobserver 8:22 am 16 Feb 21

I am man enough to admit that, perhaps, the rabid lycra brigade may have a valid argument.
They often claim that they dont need to be registered or contribute to the cost of roads in any way because they all have cars at home, and by riding they are removing that car from the congestion.
If the principle of substitution is correct, then it should readily translate to other modes of transport, correct?
So, my policy proposal is that if (and only if) you own a big v8 diesel 4wd, then you should be able to obtain a government subsidy to by an EV for local commuting. If you own a petrol powered family car, the subsidy is halved. If your other car is a bike, then you should pay full price for the EV including taxes, on the basis that your EV is now removing a bike from the general congestion.
Makes perfect sense, right?

Maya123 Maya123 9:58 am 14 Feb 21

I would like an EV, but as I only have one car, this car must be able to do all that I require of it, at a price I can afford. It would be great for when home in Canberra (although often in Canberra I catch the bus, or for shorter journeys cycle or walk, so this reduces the need of a car a bit while at home), but when I travel to central Australia, or off road it wouldn’t work. I need at least an AWD with enough clearance underneath and to be able to travel long distances between charges; all at a price I can afford.
A hydrogen car would work.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:29 pm 14 Feb 21

    AWDs are not suitable for off road stuff.

LanyonRegis LanyonRegis 5:41 pm 11 Feb 21

I would like to know more about the role of the Motor Vehicle Trades Association in nudging the Morrison government toward its current policy position on this. Also, it seems quite unpatriotic of them to leave our country so exposed strategically. I always think of this when ScoMo makes Defence announcements and wraps himself in the flag. A definite lack of credibility here.
And another thing, as I understand it, most the fuel we import via Singapore originally comes from Russia as crude oil. Are we really that keen to prop up Putin’s nasty little regime?

Jorge Gatica Jorge Gatica 9:34 am 09 Feb 21

Ah yes! The greens ideology, buy an electric car made from raw materials mined and manufactured with fossil fuelled machinery and factories and charge the batteries with fossil fuel generated electricity

Nick James Nick James 9:48 pm 08 Feb 21

Rent seekers everywhere

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 6:55 pm 08 Feb 21

This is surely the most shocking public policy failure in Australia since the refusal of the Fraser government to subsidise the roll-out of Betamax recorders in Australian homes….

Subsidies in other parts of the world make immediate economic sense because of the major industry development opportunities – which simply won’t happen here, because we’re a small, distant, expensive place to make big things which benefit from economies of scale.

We’ll be better to let others solve (at their expense) a lot of the early problems and shortcomings (to the extent they are soluble), and then adopt the more mature technology – we can then pretend (as we so often do) that installing and maintaining imported technology is a viable, stand-alone industry.

    JS9 JS9 10:46 am 09 Feb 21

    Its an interesting balance that needs to be struck HD. I agree there is benefit in waiting and not wanting to jump in too quickly – on the EV side in particular. Where the focus should be is on the ‘enabling’ side of it – charging infrastructure to fix market failures etc (noting even that will be solved in time).

    On the hydrogen vehicle side (note by I’m not convinced it will take off in the passenger vehicle space, but has huge potential at the more energy intensive transport levels) – to me, that is where we should be focusing some serious energy. We have a huge opportunity to be a world leader in proper ‘green’ hydrogen (not the coal inspired dribble of Herr Taylor and his buddies) – given our abundance of opportunities for renewable energy generation on a massive scale. I’d prefer to see us throw a lot of money that way, then to subsidise upfront EV purchases at this point.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 5:55 pm 08 Feb 21

A new study suggests that electric cars can create almost twice as much ozone per kilometre as cars powered by conventional fossil fuels. However, if fuel production and tailpipe emissions are added together, the electric car has highest for ozone, the analysis found.

Ozone from EVs – Wiley Online Library

    ubu ubu 8:56 am 09 Feb 21

    This is not new (2017 publication).

    The primary article (Johnson, E. Cars and ground-level ozone: how do fuels compare?. Eur. Transp. Res. Rev. 9, 47 (2017). It highlights that the source of electricity is the issue for electric transport emissions. Ozone from the generation of electricity for electric transport in the UK comes from the nature of electricity generation in the UK. The models used are not relevant to Australian conditions or markets for either electric or petrol driven transport.

    Quoting from the primary source in Conclusions and Further Research:

    “Based on the results shown above, a priority ranking of the main types, from best to worst in the United Kingdom, is: LPG, gasoline, diesel and battery electric. For electric, this ranking will vary in other regions, depending on the emissions of the power-generation grid. For the liquid fuels, the rankings are valid for Europe and North America in general. At a national level, reducing emissions of both NOx and hydrocarbons should be a priority. At the local or regional level, policy detail might differ, particularly depending on degree of urbanisation and levels of natural emissions.”

    Australia’s grid is going green, driven by market forces. Note, too, that all diesel and petrol for cars is imported into Australia. If the total emissions for the extraction and refinery of oil imported into Australia for transport use were included, I suggest the conclusions for Australia would be quite different.

    Australia has the ability to be wholly energy independent and green (i.e. little ozone generated for electric transport). Competent focus on this goal is the job of the government.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 5:48 pm 08 Feb 21

“……..the 29bn$ fossil fuel subsidy that the government pays……”

Neil Craven, please give some detail – that’s a lot of money.

    ubu ubu 9:20 am 09 Feb 21

    The $29 billion fossil fuel subsidy figure comes from a working paper published by the International Monetary Fund, updated in 2019 but based on 2015 data. Available at

    It relates to ALL fossil fuel subsidies, not state sourced road fuel subsidies, which effectively ended about 2002 in AU.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:21 am 09 Feb 21

    Thanks for the link.

    Given that the modelling used to arrive at the claimed figure is based on under-charging for domestic air pollution accounting for about half of the total subsidy and
    global warming about a quarter that leaves about $7 billion that may be paid in real money like RECS subsidies are paid to the renewable industries.

    Attempting to suggest that domestic air pollution and “climate change” are subsidies is fanciful at best and fraudulent at worst.

theguru theguru 5:15 pm 08 Feb 21

Geez, you must be a genius Ian !!

So in your words, Lets give subsidies to the wealthy who can afford to buy New Electric Vehicles! But lets slug the poor because they can only afford a fossil fuelled vehicle and have to pay Fuel excises etc !!

Lets harass the Liberal Govt for refusing to give subsidies to the Rich !! Lets plunder the poor and give to the rich! That sounds like the Sheriff of Nottingham not Robin Hood !!

Given that Teslas represent 50% of all electric vehicles sold, and the Cheapest Tesla costs $69,000 before on road costs, how can you justify a subsidy for the rich? Particularly when the total number of electric vehicles on the road in Australia has only just hit the 20,000 mark.

I’ll wait.

Fortress Epiphany Fortress Epiphany 4:24 pm 08 Feb 21

Yep, charge an electric car using coal-fired power....sounds sensible to me.

    Adele Craven Adele Craven 5:06 pm 08 Feb 21

    Fortress Epiphany Well if you took a moment to think about it and stopped ignoring what has been going on for decades, it's obvious that powering cars from electricity generated in Australia is so much better for multiple reasons than shipping fuel from overseas

    Adele Craven Adele Craven 6:06 pm 08 Feb 21

    Fortress Epiphany No - you haven't thought about it or you're not going to think about it?

rationalobserver rationalobserver 1:49 pm 08 Feb 21

EV’s are such a dishonest industry, as are it’s proponents.

You still need to burn roughly a tonne of coking coal to produce enough steel for one car. That increases when you use light weight material such as aluminium.

The sources for the rare earth minerals like cobalt used in the batteries exploit child labor in appalling conditions.

That’s ignoring the real sources of electricity to charge these things with all the transmission power losses along the way, and the horrendous disposal challenge for the batteries once their useful life is over.

An artificial market fueled by insecure consumers seeking personal validation, encouraged by politicians seeking to exploit any situation they can.

    cycladelec cycladelec 6:01 pm 08 Feb 21

    EVs use far fewer resources. Fewer moving parts and no need for cooling, lubrication, injection and exhaust systems. A car body for an EV is essentially the same as a ICEV body.
    Arguing that so many EVs will require so much cobalt actually means that mechanised mines will provide the quantity and quality required. There are international commitments covering cobalt supply along with other resources. Ignoring the politics, destruction, waste, risk, pollution and emissions associated with getting fuel to the pump while talking about EV upstream emissions (particularly in ACT) is not rational.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:22 am 09 Feb 21

    How does the heating and cooling work in an EV?

    rationalobserver rationalobserver 11:54 am 12 Feb 21

    Good theory cycladelec. Cobalt demand is up 30% since 2016. Has that resulted in a marked shift towards mechanisation in the mines of the Peoples Republic of Congo, or has it resulted in more kids being shoved into the mines?

    JS9 JS9 10:37 am 09 Feb 21

    So are you telling me Internal Combustion Engine cars are magically made without any emissions in their production.

    As cycla said, in that regard they are fundamentally the same.

    rationalobserver rationalobserver 12:02 pm 12 Feb 21

    There is zero difference in the energy consumed in the production cycle.
    Similarly, when the true lifecycle costs of renewable energy sources are brought to account (think energy consumed in producing the concrete in foundations for wind turbine towers, etc) there is little difference between EV and ICE cars during their operational lives.
    There is a marked disadvantage in the disposal and recycling of EV’s
    You cannot consume your way to a guilt free environment simply by substituting one form of consumption for an equivalent. The only way to do that is by reducing demand. That requires both population control and lifestyle sacrifices.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 7:10 pm 12 Feb 21

    In the absence of any answer I conclude that they do not have heating and cooling. Great.

chewy14 chewy14 1:09 pm 08 Feb 21

There’s a whole lot of the author’s opinion as to why he believes a faster EV uptake is a “good” thing, but no supporting information or data provided to back it up.

You don’t simply get to use Climate Change as a get out of jail free card to support any change you think should happen.

    IrishPete IrishPete 1:54 pm 08 Feb 21

    Why not? Anthropogenic climate change is bad. Ask any firefighter.

    And then there’s urban air quality.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 2:19 pm 08 Feb 21

    I know a few bush firefighters and I am training to become a volunteer one myself.

    They are flabbergasted by the claims being made about last years fires being “unprecedented” and “climate change” has nothing to do with it. Some remember similar bush fire events about 50 years ago.

    Once again, I urge you to turn off your social media and read some bushfire history books. Don’t know what you mean by “urban air quality”.

    salvatge salvatge 8:05 pm 08 Feb 21

    Could you point me to the bushfire history book that shows there are no links between the bush being hotter and the severity of bushfires increasing?

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 7:50 am 09 Feb 21

    “bush being hotter”? What exactly do you mean?

    If you are talking about the severity of bushfires that occur regularly every 50 years ago I concede that they will be hotter because of the buildings and motor vehicles that weren’t there the but are now that they now consume but this has nothing to do with the extent of the fires.

    The CSIRO Forestry Division has several publications dealing with history of bushfires in Australia.

    rationalobserver rationalobserver 8:38 am 13 Feb 21

    Of course there are links, but you are confusing climate with weather.

    chewy14 chewy14 4:17 pm 08 Feb 21

    Irish Pete,
    What on earth do firefighters have to do it? Are they expert climate scientists, international policy experts or diplomats?

    And I fully believe in anthropogenic climate change but that doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate discussions about how much the climate is changing and what is the best course of action to deal with it.

    Australia could remove all carbon emissions tomorrow and it would make almost zero impact. So if you want to make an argument here you need to spell out the costs and potential benefits. You need to link them to global agreements that will deliver meaningful change.

    As above, “but climate change” isn’t a catch all argument for any possible policy you want.

Peter Major Peter Major 1:07 pm 08 Feb 21

EVs are a waste of money. Hydrogen fuel cells are the future not these coal guzzling dinosaurs. Industry lobby groups trying to drum up business for overpriced obsolete rubbish.

    Adele Craven Adele Craven 3:41 pm 08 Feb 21

    Peter Major Hydrogen is wasteful, inefficient and no advantage over ICEV. Electric is so much better - convenient, much simpler, multiple times more efficient and can charge everywhere

    Peter Major Peter Major 7:23 pm 08 Feb 21

    Adele Craven rather BS, try crossing the Nullarbor as they only have generators for power and minimal charging capacity. Hydrogen has a longer ranger fillup in normal not glacial time and is totally renewable.

    Adele Craven Adele Craven 9:08 pm 08 Feb 21

    Peter Major I intend to cross the Nullabor in my current electric car one day. I could do it tomorrow if I chose - because there is electricity at multiple spots across the Nullabor (been there for years) And there are spots to charge an EV. Where are the hydrogen stations, or the hydrogen cars?

keek keek 9:11 am 08 Feb 21

Why should the Federal Government subsidise this? If the product is at the right price, people will buy it.
There is also the whole thing where EVs won’t work for everybody. I know quite a few people who do hundreds of km in the bush, and drag an extra maybe 100L of diesel with them when they do, because even a long range tank doesn’t hold what’s required. How is that going to work with an EV?

Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:53 am 08 Feb 21

“Some fear Australia will become a dumping ground for dirty, old-tech vehicles”

Like this?:

    IrishPete IrishPete 1:56 pm 08 Feb 21

    Never owned a used car? Lucky you.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 2:12 pm 08 Feb 21

    I only buy used cars.

    If you read up on the link you will see that all the cheap used EVs are 8 years old and they have “old-tech” batteries. They are probably worthless in their country of origin.

    JS9 JS9 10:40 am 09 Feb 21

    And the point about being a dumping ground for dirty, old tech ICE vehicles is absolutely valid. We already have some of the most lax requirements around the quality of petrol in the developed world. Car manufacturers won’t blink twice towards the end of sending their crap our way.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:16 am 14 Feb 21

    I think the reference to dumping was directed at early technology EVs, like the first Nissan Leaf.

Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 8:51 am 08 Feb 21

My next car will probably be an EV. But I don't agree with the level of support people want provided, mainly because it will distort market forces. There is also the issues of road space being finite and the other airborne particulates emitted.

Put simply, if the product offered is good enough and the price is right we will buy them in droves.

    Adele Craven Adele Craven 3:38 pm 08 Feb 21

    Bill Gemmell Luxury car tax should be abolished because it was designed to protect the Australian car industry. Stamp duties were meant to disappear with the introduction of GST. Fossil fuels get tens of billions of dollars a year in various forms. There are very good reasons to provide incentives for EVs

    Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 3:42 pm 08 Feb 21

    Adele Craven disagree entirely with removing incentives. There are good reasons to remove the disincentives you describe

    Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 6:21 pm 08 Feb 21

    Neil Craven my previous post has been edited. Sorry, written on the fly. I fully support a totally level playing field.

    Thomas Boyce Thomas Boyce 9:36 am 09 Feb 21

    The “level playing field” argument is a classic tool for ignoring “externalities” to an economic model. The issue is: What are the boundaries of the playing field? If we begin to include “externalities” of ICE transport such as all the emissions from fuel production, use, and ultimately burning, which produces proximate health care costs and fatalities, we start to see some of the true cost of ICE transport.

    But fatally, (pardon the pun), playing field arguments also ignore impending changes to the playing field, i.e. the catastrophic consequences of > 2 degrees C climate change. How do you factor into the cost of the ICE transport the known, yet not yet internalised change? Answer: by responsible governments shifting the economics to achieve the desired resilience to the change. Examples would be universal healthcare and the like.

    So, yes. Subsidies ("distortions in the market") make sense if the problem is viewed in its entirety and "the market" is incapable of responding for the overall good.

    Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 10:21 am 09 Feb 21

    Thomas Boyce so replacing a distorting subsidy with another one makes sense?

    Thomas Boyce Thomas Boyce 10:49 am 09 Feb 21

    Depending upon the ultimate goal for society, yes.

Eric Anthony Lucas Eric Anthony Lucas 8:01 am 08 Feb 21

So the government should use taxpayers money to subsidise electric cars? They already have a tremendous competitive advantage because their owners pay no fuel tax. The cost of the subsidies demanded by this author is disproportionate to the tiny savings in emissions. And it is absurd to claim the Feds are applying a “handbrake” by refusing to pay subsidies.

    Adele Craven Adele Craven 3:29 pm 08 Feb 21

    Eric Anthony Lucas Admittedly it is no where near as much but EV owners still pay tax on the electricity. It’s so much better to know the price per kilowatt and to pay the amount once a quarter rather than dealing with ever changing fuel prices and pulling your wallet out every time

    Eric Anthony Lucas Eric Anthony Lucas 7:44 pm 08 Feb 21

    Adele Craven you’re right, I overlooked gst. But on top of gst petrol carries 42.3 cents excise per litre! That gives electricity a huge advantage.

Corey Karl Corey Karl 7:57 am 08 Feb 21

If every house in Australia can’t run an aircon at the same time without blackouts, how are we all going to charge electric cars all at the same time ??

    Anura Samara Anura Samara 8:15 am 08 Feb 21

    Corey Karl check the current draw. I mean, we’re all able to light our houses at the same time without blackouts!

Mick James Mick James 7:49 am 08 Feb 21

All this hype about EVs, what about the methods used to generate the electricity used to charge these vehicles????

    Chris Mitchell Chris Mitchell 7:52 am 08 Feb 21

    Which is why we also need to move away from fossil fuel power plants

    Adele Craven Adele Craven 3:34 pm 08 Feb 21

    Mick James .. you mean the world leading renewable adoption we have actually in Australia- as opposed to the liquid fuel that is so resource hungry and inefficient and all has to come from overseas.

Paul South Paul South 7:33 am 08 Feb 21

Ev is not very environmentally friendly .

Wake up !

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