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Accelerating EV policy

Electric vehicles represent an incredible opportunity for Australia. We can transport Australians using electricity generated from the solar panels on our rooftops and from our enormous renewable energy zones. This will transform our relationship with energy and reduce emissions simultaneously. Only last month, this House passed the Climate Change Bill 2022 and the target of 43 per cent emissions reduction by 2030. That is less than eight years away. The time is ticking.

Each sector must do its bit, and the cost of reducing emissions in the transport sector is comparatively low. Transport makes up nearly 20 per cent of Australia's emissions, and these emissions are rising. Transport emissions have increased by 14 per cent since 2005. This is a big truck to turn around. But we can achieve what has already been done in other countries, and that is making electric vehicles affordable, accessible and reliable for everyday Australians.

To do this, however, attendees at the recent national EV summit agreed that ambitious policies from the government are required. At that summit, ministers from New Zealand, and the US ambassador, told us about what was happening in their countries. They told us of a future with EVs of unlimited upside; a future in which innovative Australian businesses pave the way to net zero; a future where we mine, process, and manufacture batteries using our critical minerals, cheap renewable energy and skilled workforce; a future where our Aussie sunshine and wind provide secure and stable energy; a future where everyday Australians use their car batteries to power the country; a future where EVs are affordable for Australian families and businesses; and—we've all been using the same line—a future where electric vehicle utes make the weekend fantastic. Other nations are already living this future. In Norway, over 70 per cent of new cars sold are electric.

The Treasury Laws Amendment (Electric Car Discount) Bill 2022 shifts Australia into first gear when it comes to electric vehicles. This bill removes the fringe benefits tax for new electric cars purchased by employers for use by employees—cars that are under the threshold for the luxury goods tax. This will increase the number of affordable EVs in the Australian market, particularly as these vehicles move to the second-hand market over time. It is estimated that business buyers account for over 40 per cent of the new light vehicle sales in Australia, but their uptake of electric vehicles is shockingly low, with a mere 487 electric vehicles acquired by business fleets in 2020.

To ensure we increase the use of electric vehicles in this country, we need this legislation to focus on electric vehicles and not cars that use fuel. Cars that use fuel include hybrid vehicles. Plug-in electric hybrids are, in fact, petrol cars that happen to also have electric motors. Despite plug-in electric vehicles having the potential to run 85 per cent of the time on electricity, research has shown that, in practice, they run 85 per cent of the time on their fossil fuels. This research includes the experience of the ACT government, and it shows that plug-in hybrid cars emit vastly more emissions than expected when driven as fleet vehicles. The reason is simply a behavioural one. Quite simply, employees don't bother charging the car. Effectively, if plug-in hybrids are included in this bill and included in the fringe benefits tax exemption, the unintended consequence will be that this bill further subsidises fossil fuel use. I am hopeful that I will be supporting an improved version of this bill on its return to the House from the Senate—one that excludes hybrids.

With this legislation, employers have the potential to save $9,000 per vehicle. That is significant. It will drive the market. It is, however, not enough on its own to deliver cost parity. The upfront cost of owning an electric vehicle is the biggest hill to climb. I am voting in favour of this bill, but I would have more confidence if it were part of a broader strategy that is multifaceted and comprehensive. I call on the government to implement additional policies that will fix Australia's electric vehicle supply problem—to ensure that there are enough electric vehicles on the market here so that every business and person who wants an EV can actually get an EV.

Vehicle fuel efficiency standards are next off the rank—a focus that my crossbench colleagues and I are also championing. The standards discussion paper announced by Minister Bowen moves us closer to being in line with best practice globally. These standards need to be ambitious and aligned with the Paris Agreement. However, only a few weeks ago, we saw leaked reports of the automotive industry's cynical plan to undermine the push for fuel efficiency standards. Vehicle particulate pollution is responsible for thousands of deaths in Australia each year. Research also shows that exposure to particulate pollution impacts our cognitive function. If a young person, say in their 20s, is exposed to a high-pollution day, their cognitive level will be increased by 30 years. A 20-year-old will have the cognitive function of a 50-year-old—not that I think that's too bad!

Ordinary Australians want us to get on with the job. Australians do want electric vehicles. In fact, only last month new electric vehicle sales hit a record high, and many thousands more are on waiting lists. But electric vehicles currently make up only 4.4 per cent of cars sold here in Australia because of the significant lack of supply. Mackellar, my electorate, gets it. Our famous B-Line buses are going electric. EV charges are being rolled out across the Mackellar electorate. People in Mackellar want cleaner air, they want to reduce their petrol costs and they want to play their part in reducing emissions. Mackellar wants to see more electric vehicles on the roads.

It's not only about making electric vehicles affordable and accessible for everyday families—it's also about positioning Australia as a renewable superpower. For this we need to look at what is happening in America. In the US the Inflation Reduction Act is a game changer. It's big and bold—it's not just tiny tax tweaks. It will unleash a deluge of electric vehicle models and innovation. It's time to put our foot down and accelerate EV policy here in Australia. As parliamentarians, let us collaborate, coordinate and capitalise on electric vehicle opportunities. After years of inaction, let's lead. This bill is the first gear, but it's a welcome start.