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Change fuel standards to unlock electric vehicle supply

First published in The Australian on 3rd February 2023.

EVs are fun to drive, save you money on fuel and maintenance, and are a huge opportunity for Australia to improve its fuel security.

As the need for climate action increases, we’ve all watched electric vehicles being used as a political football. It’s meant that we have a lot of work to do to ensure Australians don’t miss out on the huge savings EVs make possible.

Unlike rooftop solar, where the Howard government began a program (and subsequent government’s backed and refined) that resulted in us enjoying the cheapest rooftop solar in the world, we’ve been left behind when it comes to EVs.

Despite demand skyrocketing last year, increasing by 65 per cent, EVs make up just 4.7 per cent of new vehicle sales.

But we can change this fast and the Federal government has a big role to play. The best way to increase the number and variety of electric vehicles being supplied to Australia is to establish ambitious fuel efficiency standards. Done right, these standards encourage manufacturers to import more EVs.

Australia and Russia used to be the only OECD countries without fuel efficiency standards. Russia was suspended from the OECD so we’re now on our own. In the absence of standards, vehicle manufacturers treat Australia as a dumping ground for inefficient internal combustion engines.

Our laggard approach also means we remain highly reliant on expensive, imported fuel. The average household spends more than $100 per week on fuel, 90 per cent of which is brought in from overseas. Tens of billions of dollars flow out of Australia to oil producing countries. The transition to EVs will mean we can keep those billions of dollars in Australia.

We also need to ensure we have policies in place that ensure people aren’t left behind in the transition. Manufacturers should be encouraged to prioritise low and zero emissions vehicles that suit all Australian motorists, especially those who can’t afford to drop $60k on a car, and the farmers and tradies who need their vehicles to work for them. There are many challenges but they’re also huge opportunities: developing a second-hand market, building the charging infrastructure that allows people to travel without range anxiety and doing the hard work of ensuring the value chain for critical minerals is ethical and can keep up with demand.

With petrol prices rising sharply over the past few years and remaining high, the thought of never having to pay at the pump again is more appealing than ever. And EVs make that vision a reality. With some really simple policy changes, we can ensure Australians can unlock these cost savings.

David Pocock 

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