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Second reading speech, COAG Reform Fund Amendment (No Electric Vehicle Taxes) Bill 2020 (Greens), 21 June 2021

It’s my pleasure to rise and speak on the COAG Reform Fund Amendment (No Electric Vehicle Taxes) Bill 2020. I say ‘it’s my pleasure’; this is a bill that the government does not support, because we consider it to be piecemeal and not in the national interest. I’m really disappointed that Senator Rice didn’t mention any of the very substantial incentives announced by the New South Wales government just yesterday in relation to electric vehicles. Some $490 million has been committed in the 2021-22 New South Wales budget in relation to cutting taxes, incentivising uptake and reducing barriers for electric vehicle purchases. These include a stamp duty waiver, rebates of $3,000 to be offered on private purchases of the first 25,000 eligible electric vehicles, $171 million for new charging infrastructure across the state and $33 million to help transition the New South Wales government passenger fleet to electric vehicles where feasible. So we’re seeing some very good action in some states.

Very importantly, the New South Wales government and the South Australian government have deferred any road user charge because the Liberal governments in New South Wales and South Australia recognise that it is important to have a nationally consistent approach where there is proper consultation across the board. It is a shame that the Andrews Labor government has gone ahead with this tax—yet one more tax from the Andrews Labor government. On that point, the Greens and the Morrison government are in unison. We do not agree with the huge array of additional taxes being imposed by the Andrews Labor government. I note the significant difference between the New South Wales and South Australian governments with respect to a road user charge for electric vehicles, and, disappointingly, the Victorian government, which is persisting with this tax, which, frankly, is not an incentive to drive the uptake of electric vehicles in Victoria.

I want to reiterate that this government is committed to lowering emissions and protecting our economy, jobs and investment. Despite the many attempts by the Greens and Labor to mischaracterise the efforts of our government in the many different initiatives that we are delivering to drive down emissions to invest in our environment and, at the same time, protect jobs and the strength of our economy, this government has a very strong record in meeting and beating emissions reduction targets without sacrificing the health of our economy. In contrast to the Morrison government, we know that Labor is bitterly divided on its energy and climate policies—bitterly, bitterly divided. They are a complete and utter mess. The blue-collar workers, the coalmine workers and all other workers in the oil and gas industries in this country know that they do not have many friends in the Labor Party. Their friends are in the Morrison Liberal-National government. We understand the importance of oil and gas to this economy.

The key to this success has been the fact that our emissions reduction plan is driven by technology, not by taxes. It’s one thing to have these lofty ideals—the rubbish that Mr Shorten took to the last election—the 50 per cent renewable energy target and the 45 per cent emissions reduction target, which said to every worker working in coalmines, in oil and gas, and in construction and building sites that Labor had deserted these workers. Mr Fitzgibbon has it right: he’s worked you mob out. That’s why Labor is such a mess when it comes to its energy and climate policies.

Proudly, Australia is only one of a handful of countries that has beaten our Kyoto commitments. We didn’t just beat them; we beat them by a very substantial 459 million tonnes. Our emissions have fallen faster than the G20 average, faster than the OECD average and much faster than similar developed countries, like Canada and New Zealand. Between 2005 and 2019, they fell by more than 15 per cent, while New Zealand’s fell by only four per cent and Canada’s barely moved at all. In contrast, our emissions fell by more than 15 per cent. The latest figures for 2020 have us at 20.1 per cent below 2005 levels. We are well on our way to meeting and beating our 2030 target, which is to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels. As the Prime Minister said, our target is net zero emissions as soon as possible, and preferably by 2050. This is realistic and sensible. Net zero emissions is a worthy goal but it is not one that ought to be pursued at all costs. We will not sacrifice jobs, we will not sacrifice industries in regional Australia for no benefit and we won’t increase taxes with no thought to the effect on families and businesses. (Quorum formed) I’m sorry that Senator Ciccone saw fit to interrupt my contribution. I think that Labor senators are imposing a bit of disruption on the chamber. Nevertheless, I will continue.

As I was saying, technology, not taxes, is the way to go. Australians are practical people, and this is no more apparent than in the context of technological adoption and adaptation. Australia’s experience has always been that, when new technologies become economically viable, businesses and households rush to adopt them. We can see this happening right now with the adoption of renewables in Australia at 10 times the global average under the Morrison government. It is four times higher than in Japan, the US and Europe. We now have the highest solar capacity per person in the world. What an achievement!

That’s why we have developed our technology investment road map. It is a comprehensive plan to invest in the technologies that we need to continue to bring emissions down here and around the world. It’s driven by the most incredible investment in renewables happening here, on the watch of Prime Minister Morrison and under the leadership of the Morrison Liberal-National government. Our investment is accelerating technologies like hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, soil carbon measurement, low-carbon materials like steel and aluminium, and long-duration energy storage. Getting these technologies right will support 160,000 new jobs by 2030 and maintain Australia’s position as a world-leading exporter of food, fibre, minerals and energy. Widespread global deployment of those technologies will reduce emissions or eliminate them in sectors that are responsible for 90 per cent of the world’s emission—some 45 billion tonnes. This is about setting practical goals for the technologies that offer the most abatement potential where Australia has real advantage.

The government is also driving investment into consumer choice when it comes to new vehicle and fuel technologies. We have already committed around $1.4 billion to help increase the uptake of low- and zero-emissions vehicle technologies, including over $74 million through the Morrison government’s Future Fuels package. This is proactive investment in future fuels, in future technologies for vehicles in this country. The Future Fuels Fund is the centrepiece. It will enable businesses to start integrating new vehicle technologies into their fleets and address blackspots in public charging or refuelling infrastructure. We’re developing a Future Fuel strategy that considers all of these new technologies, not just in relation to electric vehicles. This includes hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, hybrids and biofuels to support fuel consumer choice. We’ve released a discussion paper for consultation to help inform our final strategy and shape the design and rollout of our investment programs. The strategy will be finalised later this year, once this feedback process is complete.

Australians are already making the choice to switch to new technologies such as hybrids. Hybrid sales have almost doubled in the last year. Hybrids have immediate emissions reduction benefits, even over battery electric vehicles, across many parts of Australia. In contrast to the Morrison government’s integrated national plan, this bill from the Greens is, as I mentioned before, a piecemeal measure that would do little to provide the taxpayer with value for money. To bridge the gap over the 10-year lifespan of an electric vehicle purchased today would cost an estimated $195 to $747 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent. To put that into some perspective, the Emissions Reduction Fund price is $16 per tonne.

This bill, if it were ever to be implemented, would add yet another set of rules to an already dizzying number of local and state regulations that add nothing to what is incredibly important in this sector, and that is national consistency. We do not need more piecemeal regulations across different states and territories. Regrettably, this bill does not facilitate a nationally coordinated strategy for electric vehicles. It does not solve any problems that are not already being solved by the government’s Future Fuels package and the Future Fuels Fund. It creates more red tape for local and state governments and delivers no value for Australian taxpayers. With this bill, the Greens rush without pausing to consider some of these bigger issues at a national-interest level. Unfortunately the Greens have not considered the better alternatives, including I think a lost opportunity to provide for a nationally coordinated strategy. This is very much legislation on the fly. It may be good enough for the Greens, but it’s certainly not good enough for this government, and it’s certainly not good enough for Australian taxpayers. When it comes to effective emissions reduction legislation, driven by incredible investment in renewable technologies in this country, we need the Morrison government’s nationally coordinated scheme, not the piecemeal approach of the Greens. For these reasons, I do not commend this bill to the Senate.

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