Zero and Low Emission Vehicle Distance-Based Charge Bill 2021 Second Reading

4 May 2021

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I rise to speak on behalf the Greens to the Zero and Low Emission Vehicle Distance-based Charge Bill 2021, a bill that will put a standalone tax on electric vehicles, a bill that is coming at a time when we are facing a climate crisis; when transport is our biggest growing source of emissions in Victoria, our biggest source of emissions outside our coal-fired power stations, coming in at around 20 to 25 per cent of our emissions and growing; and when Victoria and Australia are lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to the uptake of electric vehicles.

This policy should not have survived the laugh test. Now, I am sure the Treasurer probably did have a big laugh in his office when he thought of this, when this idea was furnished around or first proposed, but it should not have gone beyond that. This policy should not have survived the laugh test, yet somehow it did. The Treasurer took it up to the Board of Treasurers, his interstate counterparts, and Victoria led the charge on the application of a standalone tax on electric vehicles. Well, they led the charge and they have been left out on a rock, because no other state now is proceeding with a standalone tax on electric vehicles. In the only state where they introduced these laws their Parliament would not support them, so they have now deferred them and put them off I think until after the next election. In fact it was the Greens, crossbenchers and South Australian Labor who stopped the bill in South Australia. The South Australian Labor leader was very critical of their bill, calling it bad for the environment, bad for jobs and bad for South Australians.

That is not the only Labor leader to oppose a standalone tax on electric vehicles. The leader of the federal opposition, Anthony Albanese, said it was absurd that states would be going it alone on a tax on electric vehicles, and most other states are not even considering it. But this did not deter the Treasurer. He took it to cabinet. You would think surely an environment minister—any environment minister worth their salt—would have objected to this. That is what happened in New South Wales when the New South Wales environment minister opposed the EV tax floated by their Treasurer, but not here in Victoria. Our Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change supports the EV tax, so it got through cabinet and presumably it got through the party room—if these things do actually go to the Labor Party party room—so now we have in this Parliament a bill, a proposal that was quite rightly described as ‘the worst electric vehicle policy in the world’. That is 25 industry and environment groups coming together, from the Electric Vehicle Council to Environment Victoria, Solar Citizens and GetUp! all describing this as the worst electric vehicle policy in the world, and the community outrage and the community opposition to this bill, this EV tax, has been significant. We put out our own call to get people to tell us what they thought of the electric vehicle tax, and I will just read out some of the comments that came through:

Taxing EV drivers for not burning petrol is like taxing non-smokers for not smoking.

Putting a tax on them stinks like the pollution and diesel from petrol.

This tax would be an utterly irresponsible decision at a time when climate action is so crucial.

Get on board for our environment. Have the guts to step up and make a better future for our children.

We need to do everything we can to reduce emissions and pollution and this EV tax does exactly the opposite.

These are comments from the Victorian public about Labor’s electric vehicle tax. Why is this the worst electric vehicle policy in the world? Well, transport, as I said, is our fastest growing source of emissions. The majority is coming from polluting cars, and the vast majority of people want their next car to be an electric vehicle and the biggest barrier is price. While governments around the world are offering incentives of $10 000 to $15 000, bringing electric vehicles down to price parity with their petrol counterparts, this government, faced with a backlash, had to scramble and come up with a political fix, which was their announcement on Saturday. They have now got a very confusing stance of offering incentives with one hand and making them more expensive with the other. What they are doing is they are undermining whatever incentives they are offering, short-term incentives that will not go nearly any of the way to achieving the target that they announced. It was designed to take the heat out of the debate, and it certainly would not have been done had it not been for the community outrage about the EV tax.

Our message to the government is clear: ditch the EV tax. And if that is not going to happen: Parliament, you need to stop the EV tax and keep and increase the incentives. Let us get electric vehicle numbers up before this is even considered. I mean, it is just no wonder we are lagging behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to EV uptake.

The government cannot even get their story straight when it comes to why they are actually introducing this tax. First the Treasurer manufactures an argument about fairness and about paying for road use, yet fuel excise is a federal tax and it is not linked to road funding. Fuel excise does not go to road maintenance. It has not done so for decades. It comes out of general revenue, and any reduction in fuel excise that has occurred has not actually come from EVs, it has come from fuel-efficient vehicles. Would you put a tax on fuel-efficient vehicles because they are not paying as much as older cars? No, you would not. It is ridiculous, just as this tax is ridiculous. So to say it is about maintenance of roads is deliberately misleading. It is a deliberate attempt to mislead the Victorian public and try and get support for this bad idea, and it is another misjudgement because, as I said, most people want their next car to be an EV. In fact we all benefit when people buy an EV instead of a polluting car—cleaner air, less emissions, less pollution.

Now, there are claims about all this revenue—the member for Burwood was saying that it is hypothecated. It is not hypothecated. It is not even in the bill. They did not even put in the bill that any of the revenue raised from this tax would actually be guaranteed to be spent on road funding or on charges. We have had bills and amendments before this Parliament that have hypothecated revenue from other sources, fines and what have you, but not in this bill. So it is not a hypothecated bill. It is going into general revenue. Apparently this charge, which over the next four years is going to raise around $40 million, is going to pay for new roads, road maintenance, EV charging stations and the EV package. I mean, it is completely misleading, completely inconsistent and it really just demonstrates, quite frankly, a shambolic development of this tax.

I have got to say: when has this government actually given two hoots about fuel excise? I have never heard the government actually mention it in here. Have they ever acted to create transparency around fuel excise? Have they ever passed a law to say petrol stations need to actually disclose how much they are charging in fuel excise? No, they have not. Have they ever raised this with the federal government before, to actually replace fuel excise with another road-user charge? No.

But the real reason this government is introducing a tax on EV drivers is that they have got dollar signs in their eyes and I reckon they have got privatisation on their minds. They want the money, and we know they are addicted to privatisation. We know that anything that Jeff Kennett did not privatise in the 1990s is getting sold off now—the port of Melbourne, the land titles office and now we have got VicRoads. In fact at this very moment they are looking to privatise the licence and registration functions of VicRoads—as we speak—the very same function that is going to be administering the EV tax. Money from the EV tax will be going into private profits.

No doubt the Treasurer and the Premier in their quest to be innovative when it comes to revenue raising—well, we now know what this means. What does it mean for this future source of revenue for the government? We know that, just like what was done with the land titles office, there is potential for this to be privatised. We know Transurban want to get their hands on road-user charging. They want to be the ‘natural custodian’ of the nation’s motorways in the likely event of motorists being charged to drive on them. The original champions of the EV tax were a pro-privatisation think tank. Just imagine that: not a road-user charge working for the public good, where it could be used to manage congestion and limit the amount of cars on the road, but one that is about guaranteeing profit to a private company. That is one of the main reasons why we should be opposing this bill. The shadow of privatisation hangs over this bill.

Tellingly, all the government’s statements about the EV tax have been about revenue. I know some have rightly pointed out that ultimately we will get down to the stage where we need a road-user charge, but this government is not doing it to manage demand or reduce congestion or improve travel times. This is a standalone tax on electric vehicles that will just be another barrier to the uptake of EVs. The burden of this tax will also have negative impacts for those who live in regional or suburban areas that have little to no access to public transport and who have to drive further. I note the government in fact ruled out a congestion levy on the CBD when that was proposed by Infrastructure Victoria as one of their main priorities. In fact the Premier said:

We’ve had a very consistent policy about not tolling existing roads.

He said:

That remains our policy and that won’t be changing.

Well, it changed when they wanted to put a tax on electric vehicles. I note the government is not introducing a road charge on heavy vehicles, the ones that actually do the most damage to our roads. Is it fair that heavy vehicles are not the ones that are having a road user charge like they have in New Zealand and other jurisdictions? They are not putting a charge on all vehicles or having a pilot scheme that would cover a range of vehicles. This government are not serious about managing congestion; they are serious about raising revenue however they can.

Australia is lagging behind and Victoria is lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to electric vehicles. They are around 10 to 40 per cent of new car sales in European countries and just 0.6 per cent of new car sales in Australia, and that is because we have got the least incentives. Just look at the comparison: even with the $3000 now offered by the state government for just a fraction, around 20 000, of the vehicles needed to reach its own target, we are still behind the rest of the world, which offers around $5000 to $15 000, again bringing it in line with price parity. These are the sorts of targets and incentives you actually need. Price parity will come, but it is not going to be this year or next year. It is going to be some time yet, and that is why we need these significant incentives in place now, not the small, limited incentives which the government has put forward.

When it comes to the government fleet, a fleet of around 10 000, we have got five electric vehicles and 29 plug-in hybrid vehicles. The government have announced as part of their plan over the weekend they are going to buy an extra 400. We can look in comparison at what President Biden announced. They have 650 000 in their fleet, and he wants to replace all of them with electric vehicles. Tasmania have made a commitment to go to 100 per cent of their fleet, and so that is what we need to be doing here in Victoria.

When it comes to electric buses, Victoria has one. New South Wales is transitioning its entire fleet. Other countries are racing ahead with hundreds if not thousands. Now, the government has said—I am going to be very interested, because the government has been quite misleading in its promotion of this particular policy—that by 2025, 100 per cent of buses are going to be EVs. Well, it is 100 per cent of new buses, so every bus you buy after 2025 is going to be an EV. How long is that going to take to transition the entire fleet? Really you could be saying that now. It is quite misleading. You can build buses in Australia now, and in fact I notice in New South Wales they are looking at sites to actually place the bus plants. That is exactly what we could be doing here in Victoria if we actually made a firm commitment not just to buy buses in 2025 but to place the orders now. You could actually be setting up the plants here in Victoria, here in Melbourne.

To cut transport emissions, the fastest growing source of emissions here in Victoria, we put forward an alternative plan for EVs. We need to both transition our current petrol cars to electric vehicles but also shift people to sustainable forms of transport, public transport and active transport, and we need significant initiatives to do that. That is how we are going to reduce transport emissions. We are in a critical decade. This is the critical decade now to tackle climate change. This is when the heavy lifting needs to be done, in the next 10 years. We do not have the luxury of half-measures or political fixes; we need significant investment to reduce emissions from transport.

What we put forward, our position on EVs, has been more than just opposing the electric vehicle tax. We want to see significant incentives—around the $10 000 mark plus more—to bring electric vehicles into price parity for the next five years at least. We want to make sure that everyone has access to charging in their own homes. This Parliament needs to be passing right-to-charge laws that will give renters the right to install charging stations in their residential parking spaces so that they are not unduly blocked by landlords and passing electric vehicle readiness laws requiring all new parking spaces and new developments to be electric vehicle ready.

As I said, we need to transition our government fleet of 10 000 to electric vehicles. That will not just have great benefits for the emissions from those vehicles but also help the second-hand market and put more cars onto the second-hand market. We need to be ordering thousands of electric buses, creating jobs and getting more buses on the road with more higher frequency services.

We need to support our local governments. I have seen a number of local governments that have been looking to transition their own fleets to electric vehicles, and of course there is also a market for specialty vehicles. I think out in Hobsons Bay they have got an electric garbage truck, and that is something that this government can be doing: assisting in getting all those specialty electric vehicles out there and out to their councils.

And we need to continue on with some investment in public transport and to significantly increase investment in active transport by building hundreds of kilometres of separated bike lanes and really taking advantage of the changed travel patterns that people have now during COVID. Improving public transport is not just about infrastructure—it is very important—it is also about creating a more people-friendly service so all people can access public transport, whether it is by improving disability access or access to trams for people in wheelchairs, people with mobility issues or parents pushing prams or by making sure that there are staff on every station to help sell you a ticket or to help you on your journey or to make sure that people are not waiting 15 to 20 minutes for a train, a tram or a bus, sometimes late at night. These are the things that we can do to make sure that we are helping cut transport emissions.

But this bill—this tax—needs to be opposed by this Parliament. It was a rush job by a Treasurer who basically thought he could get away with it. It has backfired. He has had to scramble and put in place a package to take the heat out of the issue. Interestingly, he created an expert advisory committee after this bill had been put through. Perhaps he might want to wait and delay this bill until he has actually consulted with his expert advisory committee.

I note the biggest champions of this bill have actually been Sky News. Craig Kelly supports this bill. Michael Kroger, Peta Credlin and Sky News—they all support this bill. This is not a progressive tax; this is a regressive tax. This is a tax on clean air, and this Parliament needs to vote down this bill. I am presuming it will go through this house, given the weight of the government’s numbers, but there comes a time when Parliament and the upper house need to stand up. The community expects them to stand up and oppose this bill. Any Parliament worth its salt would block this bill, just as they have done in other states, and so I call on this Parliament to defeat and block and stop this tax on electric vehicles.

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