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Zero and Low Emission Vehicle Distance-based Charge Bill 2021

Uniquely in the world, Victoria proposes a tax on the only cars that have zero emissions. Putting a tax on these is a bit like putting a tax on some other clean technology very early in its evolution.

The following is a speech by Dr Tim Read - Greens MP for Brunswick, in the Legislative Assembly, on Tuesday, May 4th, 2021. 

I appreciate the opportunity to speak on the Zero and Low Emission Vehicle Distance-based Charge Bill 2021. The context in which we are speaking about this bill is the context of the climate crisis, at a time when glaciers are melting around the world and rainforests that have never burnt before are burning, at a time when we are experiencing or approaching climate tipping points which will accelerate climate change if we do not do everything we can to stop it. Victoria’s greenhouse gas emissions have been stable or gradually falling in many sectors, but not in transport. Transport emissions are increasing, and most transport emissions come from private cars.

Here in Australia the transition to electric vehicles, driven by business and consumers, has only just begun. We are still at way below 1 per cent of vehicles, and multiple speakers have said that they do not see a Tesla in their electorate. But the small amount of electric vehicle sales occurring in Victoria are occurring with essentially no support at all. Contrast that with Norway, which leads the world in electric vehicle sales. This has been brought about, oddly enough, by a campaign by the musical group A-ha, which kept crashing—

A member: We love A-ha.

Dr READ: We love A-ha. They kept crashing their little electric Fiat through toll barriers repeatedly, and then the government confiscated it and auctioned it. But no-one wanted to buy it, so A-ha bought it back for a song and kept crashing into toll barriers, arguing they should not have to pay a toll because they had a non-polluting vehicle. What we really need is for Victoria to have its own A-ha moment and to understand that we need incentives for these vehicles here rather than deterrents.

Uniquely in the world, Victoria proposes a tax on the only cars that have zero emissions—both on hydrogen and battery-powered electric vehicles and on low-emission plug-in hybrids. Analysts predict that here in Australia the rapid fall in electric vehicle prices will lead to combustion engine cars and electric cars being about the same price in as little as three to four years. Until recently you could not get an electric car for much under $100 000, but right now you can go and buy an MG ZS, I believe, for just a whisker over $40 000. At around $50 000 or just under you can get the Hyundai Ioniq or the Nissan Leaf. These cars are getting cheaper rapidly. We are not quite at the stage of mobile phones, but they will be like mobile phones. Putting a tax on these is a bit like putting a tax on some other clean technology very early in its evolution. I am thinking about solar panels. Imagine putting a tax on solar panels when just a few hippies had them and they were rare. That is kind of where we stand with electric vehicles right now.

The other key thing is we are just talking about new vehicle prices, but most of us buy second-hand cars, and second-hand cars start to build up in the market three or four years after new vehicles. That is why I applaud the decision of the ACT government to make its entire government fleet electric, which I think it has virtually completed now, because those vehicles turnover rapidly and introduce second-hand vehicles into the market. I commend the Victorian government for doing the same thing, at a much slower scale of course, but still they have started, and that is not a bad thing.

The really key point I want to make here is that taxing the cleanest vehicles in the state does not make a lot of sense when you think about how much air pollution costs us. We know—and these are Australian figures—that in one year air pollution causes somewhere between 900 and 2000 premature deaths. Air pollution from vehicles that is. Air pollution from vehicles contributes to somewhere between 900 and 4500 cases of cardiovascular and respiratory disease, which costs Australia somewhere from $1.5 billion to $4 billion. That is what vehicle air pollution costs us, and yet we are proposing taxing the only zero air pollution vehicles that we have. So it is really true to say it is a little bit like taxing people who have stopped smoking.

Vehicle air pollution produces, in particular, oxides of nitrogen, and diesel cars especially produce small particle pollution. You might have seen this referred to as PM2.5. This is the dangerous stuff that people were worried about when Melbourne was shrouded in bushfire smoke a bit over a year ago. This is why people were wearing masks in that smoke. These small soot particles about the size of a bacteria are absorbed into the bloodstream, making coagulation more likely and contributing to an increased incidence of stroke and heart attack. This is why we want to be encouraging, not discouraging, a rapid switch to the electrification of private and public transport.

Look, if the climate crisis was not so urgent, you could argue that, sure, this is the thin end of the political wedge for introducing a road-user charge—and maybe that is not such a bad thing. Sure, but we need to apply it to all vehicles, not just the clean ones, and given that the climate crisis is so urgent, we need to do every single thing we can to reduce emissions from transport. So that means things as diverse as promoting alternatives to flying, because air travel contributes an enormous amount of emissions. We need to be encouraging a whole-scale shift from private to public transport and active transport—walking and cycling. We need to electrify public transport urgently—not start buying electric buses in four years but start buying electric buses tomorrow—and we need to decarbonise the grid so these electric vehicles are charging on renewable energy.

You know, I think we should even make the grand prix an electric vehicle event. I reckon that would be a winner, the first electric vehicle grand prix in Australia—in the world. It would be the quiet grand prix. And, hey, I think we would even encourage you to tax those vehicles. Otherwise I really think that doing anything to discourage the shift to electric vehicles now is a backward step in the context of a climate crisis, and that is why I urge members of this house and the other place to have another think on this bill. Thank you.

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Dr Tim Read
Greens MP for Brunswick
5 May 2021



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