Australia finally has a national electric vehicle strategy. Finally.
At the centre of the strategy released last week is a commitment to introduce the nation’s first mandatory fuel efficiency standards. That’s a start, although it’s long overdue and not yet legislated.
Once legislated, strong standards will help bring more EV models (including cheaper ones) to Australia as well as reduce fuel bills and emissions. Consultations around fuel efficiency standards are at the core of the national EV strategy but put that modest commitment to the side and you are left with an even more bare-bones policy package.
Here are 5 notable omissions from the EV strategy:
1) E-bikes and micromobility
Electric bikes and scooters barely rate a mention. This is particularly disappointing, as they were promisingly included in the scope of the consultation, raising hopes the strategy might introduce financial assistance for micromobility and cycling infrastructure or harmonise existing legislation and safety standards. National cycling advocacy group, We Ride, has labelled this a ‘missed opportunity’ and a failure to acknowledge ‘some of the most affordable and rapidly deployable forms of e-transport that are available now’.
2) Vehicle to grid and demand management of EV charging
Electric vehicles are effectively big ‘batteries on wheels’. They can charge and discharge so, with the right technology, can help power a BBQ, home, or even the electricity grid (V2G). While the widespread use of bidirectional charging to power homes and the grid is still multiple years away, the regulatory and policy groundwork should be laid now to prepare for that future and harmonise state policies. Unfortunately, the national EV strategy doesn’t set any V2G goals or targets, or consider standards, tariffs or incentives for V2G systems.
3) Scrutiny of tax arrangements skewed to bigger vehicles
The national EV strategy is silent when it comes to the tax settings and incentives that make buying big vehicles cheaper. Big SUVs and utes have become increasingly popular in Australia due in part to preferential tax treatment. According to the National Transport Commission, this is ‘tempering Australia’s improvement in transport emissions’, effectively wiping out the emissions benefits from increased EV sales. Experts and think-tanks including the Australia Institute have called for these tax arrangements to be removed or reviewed – calls that have gone unheeded in the national EV strategy.
4) Social equity considerations
There are no new initiatives to help lower-income individuals and households access EVs and charging infrastructure or shift to cleaner forms of transport. The Australian Council of Social Services notes that the Government’s main policy to bring down the cost of EVs, the Electric Car Discount, is regressive, providing more benefit to those on higher incomes. Policies that could have been considered include no-interest loans, and schemes to support the trade in of old, polluting vehicles in exchange for discounted EVs, e-bikes or public transport.
5) Targets and accountability
The national EV strategy was an opportunity to set clear national targets for EV sales, electrification of bus fleets, transport emissions and light vehicle emissions intensity, and to provide clarity on the roles of different Ministers and departments. While these targets and clarity on accountability are missing, the strategy does provide for annual updates and a comprehensive review in 2026 – leaving the door hopefully open for additional targets and policies.
There are many other missed opportunities.
The head of SEA Electric, Tony Fairweather has called the strategy’s failure to consider commercial vehicles ‘very disappointing’.
Other notable omissions national plans for electric buses and rail, reliability standards for public EV chargers, policies on parallel importation of EVs, plans to decarbonise last mile delivery, assistance for battery swapping stations and heavy truck conversions, and long haul charging infrastructure. Bigger-picture transport planning is absent– including consideration of federal road user charging or new measures to spur domestic manufacturing.
While there are some promising elements, like getting EV chargers into apartments and developing a mapping tool to work out best placement of EV charging infrastructure, these are light on details and few and far between – two of just five ‘new initiatives’. Even some of the sweeter elements have a sour note – the development of a battery recycling scheme and standards, called for by the Smart Energy Council, is tasked to the fossil fuel car industry lobby group to co-develop.
The Government’s commitment to fuel efficiency standards really is the meat and guts of the national electric vehicle strategy, but there is still a way to go before it is legislated and the road will be bumpy. The fossil fuel car industry is already pushing for weaker standards and loopholes, as per their track record. However, even if the Government does legislate strong and ambitious standards by the end of the year, other transport policies will still be necessary.
No single policy measure will reduce transport emissions to the levels needed to meet our climate targets. Transport emissions are rising, and by 2030, the transport sector is projected to be Australia’s largest source of emissions. Australia’s passenger transport intensity is the highest of International Energy Agency countries – meaning more imported fuel and higher fuel bills.
The effort required to clean up transport is huge but doable. If it doesn’t happen in the transport sector, which is relatively easy to decarbonise, then the burden will be on sectors like agriculture, construction and manufacturing to reduce emissions even further in order to curb catastrophic climate change.
Australia must adopt measures to avoid unnecessary travel, shift to cleaner transport like bikes, walking, and public transport, as well as improve vehicle efficiency.
Clearly the national EV policy will not be the vehicle to deliver these necessary measures, nor the big-picture planning required to capitalise on opportunities. That leaves a large gap to fill, and a more glaring need for a national plan to decarbonise transport built on strong emissions reductions targets.