The Australian Senate Select Committee on Electric Vehicles report is out and it calls for a major initiative to bring electric vehicles to the country. It says Australia will miss out on the environmental benefits a transition to an electric vehicle culture can bring, benefits that include better health for its citizens. “[Electric vehicle] uptake in Australia lags behind that of other comparable countries due to a relative absence of overarching policy direction from Australian governments,” it says, according to a report by The Guardian.
Today there are just over 7,000 electric vehicles on the road in Australia. Sales last year were under 3,000 compared to 1.2 million in China. “At the moment we are nine to 10 years behind the rest of the world in the take-up of electric vehicles. Do we want cleaner roads? Do we want safer roads? A better environment? And the other thing is, do we want to get a slice of the pie?” asks Behyad Jafari, head of Australia’s Electric Vehicle Council.
“We’ve had people in the government opposing any new technology on ideological reasons rather than based on evidence,” he added. “It was a startling thing to see. We’ve been slow to get off the mark, so there is the increased need to make the policy makers understand the urgency of this. We’re very far behind.”
The latest poll, released January 30, shows Australians support stronger government action to promote electric vehicles. According to the Australia Institute’s Climate & Energy Program:
- 79% support for the government building a network of charging stations across the country for electric vehicles.
- 76% support for governments to switch fleets to electric vehicles.
- 55% support for governments to offer loans to drivers to buy electric vehicles.
- 73% support for all new apartment blocks to have EV charging stations installed.
- 74% support for rebates to promote installation of charging stations for electric vehicles.
“Our research makes it clear that Australians are keen for the Government to encourage electric vehicle uptake through a range of policy measures,” Richie Merzian, the program director says according to a report by The Driven. “We have to ask ourselves — do we continue to remain behind?”
While the results of the survey appear encouraging, people who took the survey were broadly opposed to cutting taxes on electric cars, raising taxes on gasoline or diesel fuel, providing dedicated parking spaces for electric cars in cities or granting electric cars access to high occupancy vehicle lanes. The idea of banning the sale of gasoline and diesel power cars received very little support.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Tim Storer, the senator who chaired the select committee was none too pleased with the report. Although it had “fine intentions,” he said it did not go far enough and was “neither as effective nor responsible” as measures he had previously put forward.
Rex Patrick, a senator from South Australia, said the country not only needs to develop an EV policy but also ban the importation and sale of gasoline powered cars by 2035. “The world is embracing EVs and we must too. It’s not a question of if, it’s simply one of when,” Mr Patrick said. He called the committee’s recommendations “shallow and weak.” Ouch!
“We need to recognize there is substantial opportunity for Australia, leveraging off the considerable ongoing and residual automotive industry skill and experience, to become involved in the manufacturing of EVs and EV components in-country,” Patrick said. “The government must abandon its Luddite approach to Australia’s inevitable transition from internal combustion engine vehicles to EVs.”
Even the country’s Green Party had little good to say about the report. Senator Janet Rice, the Australian Greens transport spokesperson and a member of the Select Committee said, “The weak recommendations of this report demonstrate just how feeble Labor and Liberal are when it comes to EV policy. When it comes to actually getting behind policies and incentives that will support electric vehicle uptake, they are missing in action.”
Australia once had a bustling auto industry, but all of its former vehicle manufacturers have now shuttered their operations because it is cheaper to manufacture cars in nearby Asia and import them than build them in Australia. Since the country has very weak emissions standards, automakers are able to produce cars that do not meet emissions regulations in other world markets and sell them in Australia.
“There is no other national government that doesn’t bother having a plan or consider knowing what to do next,” says EVC’s Jafari. “If you come into the conversation saying ‘we can’t do it’, then it isn’t going to happen. If you come in saying that we’re going to work hard, we may not achieve 100% of what we do, but we’ll still try, you’re going to get somewhere.”
In the final analysis, Australia will have electric cars when buyers can afford them. With no political will to promote the adoption of EVs, that doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon. Australia is witnessing the die off of the Great Barrier Reef due to warming ocean temperatures and ocean acidification. The shame is that Australia has abundant wind and solar resources which could be used to power an electric car fleet if its politicians were not so clueless.
Despite the evidence of the harm that comes from burning fossil fuels right off its coast, Australian leaders still think the country can muddle through without taking bold action to address a warming planet. That sort of thinking is not confined to Australia and it is precisely the reason why solving the global warming challenge probably won’t happen in time for millions if not billions of people.