Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:53): I am pleased to rise to speak to this bill. It has been really interesting listening to the somewhat patronising comments that have come not only in this chamber but on social media and the fearmongering that has been rampant about what I would have thought was a very modest bill—not perfect by any means. From the outset I will say that I will be supporting it, and I am supporting it because we are in a state of emergency, a climate emergency. We are in a state of climate emergency. It is not on its way, it is happening now—fires, floods, storm damage, extinction, and at a scale we have never seen before. We must act, and we must act now. I am pleased that by making that call to action I have caused Mr Finn to act by leaving the chamber.
We talked about the one-in-100-year storms, but they are now commonplace. The one-in-100-year event is now once every few years. Our children are going out there. They are taking the initiative. They are the ones going out and marching in the streets, calling for us to act on climate, calling for us to act now. So this is part of what we can do to act now.
We need to work to protect our communities. We need to work to lower our CO2 emissions. Everyone needs to do that, and we as a state Parliament need to do that.
Now, it would be great if our federal government was doing more in this area—and I will speak about that a little later—but that is where it is really disappointing. In fact if that was where Dr Ratnam had placed her criticism, I would have understood that more. But, you know, I thank a number of people for the campaign that the Greens ran that caused us to receive a lot of emails from people and a lot of phone calls. In fact I actually really thank them because I have probably investigated this far more than I may have done previously. I certainly learned far more about the electric vehicle industry here and overseas. I learned far more about the EV market in Australia and overseas. I learned more about cars than I have ever learned before. I mean, I just used to like a yellow car, generally with a light on top, and we used to call it a taxi. Now we call it a commercial passenger vehicle. I never had great interest in vehicles myself, but this bill has caused me to learn a lot more about this and to speak to EV drivers.
EV drivers are not telling me that paying $240 a year is going to break the bank for them. In fact anyone I spoke to who is interested in buying an electric vehicle is not saying that a road-user charge will actually be the final thing for them to not buy one, because that is not why people are not purchasing electric vehicles today. They are not purchasing them because they have range anxiety. They worry that they will not be able to get from A to B. They worry that they will not be able to go on their school holiday road trips with those cars. Part of this package that this bill is a component of is about addressing that range anxiety. When I speak to people who own electric vehicles—and I hope to be one myself very soon—that range anxiety goes out the window the minute they purchase a car and they realise that it is very simple and that it does not take much more planning than just knowing where the next petrol station is or knowing where the next charge is. I think there are some other areas that I will campaign on to change how we charge our electric vehicles to ensure that we are, wherever possible, using renewable energy to charge our electric vehicles. But this bill is not going to stop people from purchasing EVs. I can categorically promise Dr Ratnam that that is the case.
This is about a road-user charge. It is completely disingenuous to be telling the crossbench that we are not progressive, that we do not understand the issues, that we are stupid and that we are misinformed. The type of condescending rhetoric that we have received really says more about them than it does about us, because I have investigated this issue. I am comfortable with how I am voting today, and do you know why? Because when this bill came up, when this was announced, do you know what I did? I wrote to the Treasurer. I said, ‘Treasurer, I need to understand this. And while I understand you want to do this, my reading from my consultation is that we need to do more. We need to incentivise the industry’. So when I wrote to the Treasurer—I believe I have made this letter public—I said that I wanted to hear more about the expansion of charging stations across the state to address that perception of range anxiety, I wanted to see the government fleet purchase and I wanted to see plans and targets for how we are going to transition our government fleet from combustion to electric vehicles. The government has announced that they will be purchasing 400 electric vehicles to form part of the government fleet.
When I spoke to Volkswagen, Hyundai and many other car traders, they were very pleased with that, and they said, ‘That is actually what we need’. This is the type of lever that we as governments can use to expand the number of EVs on the road, and that also flows into the second-hand market.
As part of not just saying no and actually sitting at the grown-ups table, I spoke to the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change about this and asked her where we were going with targets for our government fleet for EV.
Mr Ondarchie: Did she know?
Ms PATTEN: She assured me that they have got a business plan now and that they expect to be able to provide us with targets in August–September this year. That is on top of the 400 that they have announced and have budgeted for now.
We asked for stamp duty exemptions. We asked for registration fee waivers. We asked for toll waivers. We asked for discounts. We asked for interest-free loan programs. We asked for incentives for purchasing vehicles. And that was based on the evidence that we received. That was based on the consultations that we did. This was at their request, and I will be pleased to alert the house that vehicle traders, car dealers, will be exempt from the levy up to 1500 kilometres, and I note that Mr Limbrick mentioned that in his contribution. And certainly in speaking to the Victorian Automotive Chamber of Commerce, they raised this with me and I raised it with the minister, and the Treasurer did come back and say, ‘Right, we are willing to provide an exemption here’. We understand the difficulties that there will be for traders to really encourage people to go out there and test-drive EVs, to go out there and get them on the road but then have to pay sometimes what might be a minuscule amount of a road levy each time the car changes hands. So I am pleased to say that the government did listen to that.
But on top of speaking to the Treasurer and advocating for greater incentives, I spoke to the Grattan Institute. I spoke to the Electric Vehicle Council, the Institute for Sensible Transport, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Infrastructure Australia and, as I mentioned, the Victorian Automotive Chamber of Commerce. Do you know what? Apart from the Electric Vehicle Council, the rest of those peak bodies that I spoke to did not oppose this bill. They did not oppose the idea of a user charge. Now, certainly they had suggestions on how you might make it better, and I think that will be something that I will continue to advocate for to improve this.
When you look at some of the reports by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), guess what? It was not road-user charges that they thought would discourage people from taking up electric vehicles, it was the cost. It was not only the cost, but it was also the lack of range. And I do not mean range anxiety—the lack of range of a car—I mean the lack of absolute range. There are barely 20 models to choose from in Australia. Now, that is not the Victorian government’s fault. In fact if we were to look at how to improve the range of models in this nation, we actually need to speak to the federal government. The federal government could do something about that today, and I will touch on that a little bit later.
But in speaking to all of them, one of the biggest impacts was the up-front cost—the financial costs for up-front purchases—and that is why I was pleased to see what the government did. And I am sure that it was not me, but I am sure that I had some part in pushing for greater incentives. So, yes, there will be a $3000 incentive for 20 000 electric vehicles over the next four years. Now, I hear: ‘Oh, that’s nothing. That won’t do anything’. I can tell you: ARENA, Infrastructure Victoria, the Grattan Institute and many other organisations will say, ‘That will actually provide the incentive. That is what people need to do’.
Look at what Norway is doing. Now, Norway is put as a leader here in bringing out electric vehicles. I do not think that there would be a government in Australia that would be brave enough to do what Norway does. Norway does not necessarily provide great incentives for electric vehicles; Norway taxes and taxes and taxes petrol cars. They tax cars that are not low emission, and that is actually where we have got the problem here. Because we have no emissions regulations, because we have no fuel efficiency standards in this country, we are getting all of the cars that the rest of the world reject. It is impossible for Volkswagen Australia to do a deal to bring out electric vehicles for Volkswagen, because every single one of them is being sold into Europe because Europe is saying, ‘If you don’t sell an electric vehicle, you will be charged for selling a petrol vehicle’.
Every single report—from Infrastructure Victoria, from the Grattan Institute, from the Institute for Sensible Transport—is saying, ‘What we need is incentives on purchases. What we need is a rollout of infrastructure. What we need is campaigns around electric vehicles’. If you actually do not just say no, if you actually go to the table and negotiate on these things, I think you do the right thing for your community. You do not say, ‘No, no-one should pay this tax’, or, as I was hearing from some, ‘Yes, we should have this tax, but not now’. If not now, when? If we do not start levying road users now, when will we? In 2025? Is that going to be a better time to levy electric vehicles? What is the four years difference going to make? Because there will be more on the road, so that will mean that more people will be willing to pay the levy?
As the Liberal Democrats say, a user charge actually makes sense. It is actually, I think, a fair and efficient way of raising revenue. We do it with our public transport. We do it with many things, and this is no different. As I say, this is a good measure going forward, and the package that this is part of is good. It is sensible. Why should EVs not have a user charge? Let us remember, when we are talking about a user charge we are talking about about $240 a year, which is far less than a petrol car would pay through the fuel excise. But there is also the $100 waiver on registration fees, there is also the $3000 incentive and there is also the sheer fact that it is a cheaper car to run.
So this all makes sense, but what seems to not be discussed so much by some of the opponents of this bill is what we really need to be doing is having less cars on our road at any one time. We need to deal with congestion. This probably will not do that. In fact some of the research says that once people get EVs they actually drive more, not less. They actually are on the road, and having been in some of them I think it is because they are quite a delight to drive and be in. But a traffic jam is a traffic jam, whether it is an EV, an electric vehicle, or a combustion vehicle.
So what do we do to address that? Road user charges can do that. They can start incentivising people not to use their cars by encouraging people to save money. If they do not use the roads, then they do not pay for them, which I strongly believe is where we should be going here. Also, vehicle emission standards: if we could get some CO2 emission standards for our cars, if we could get some form of fuel efficiency standards for our cars, we would stop being the dumping ground for all environmentally unsound cars in the world, because right now we are the dumping ground. We are the dumping ground for high-emission cars, for cars with poor fuel efficiency.
Going forward I would like to see us doing more around a road-user levy, and that will be extending it to most people. This will require federal government commitment to electric vehicles. This will require federal government commitment to setting up standards for CO2 emissions on vehicles. But we could also do things like shift the TAC premiums from the fixed upfront cost to a per-kilometre cost. For example, you are paying the TAC whether you are on the road or not, but if it was actually part of a user-pays system, for every day I did not use the road, for every day I rode my bike, for every day I walked or for every day I caught the train or the tram that would come off what I like to call my rego payments. That would reduce that.
If we also look at when we charge electric vehicles—and I think this is something that I will be looking at significantly over the next few months and over the next few years—we need to ensure that we are not fuelling our electric vehicles with brown coal. We need to make certain that that is not what we do. One way we can do that is to ensure that people can charge their cars during the day, when we have got renewable energy flowing into our grid. That needs infrastructure. That probably needs planning changes so that car parks—whether they are work car parks or retail car parks—have got charging stations, have got places for people to charge during the day. I would like to see discounts for those zero-emission vehicle owners that actually do charge their vehicles on renewables.
There is so much more that we can build on this, but this gives us the foundations to start building on moving towards zero emissions in Victoria. I think it is reckless for people to say, ‘Let’s just not do it now, because it’s not good enough and it’s a big old bad tax’. It is a user levy. It is the way of the future. It has the support of the peak bodies here. I understand that the Electric Vehicle Council says, ‘Not now, maybe later’, but you know, when you are introducing a levy there is never a good time. I think that this levy, that will save—
Mr Finn: She loves taxes.
Ms PATTEN: I like user charges. I like user-pays schemes. I actually think it is equitable and I think it is fair. I would say that this bill is not perfect—I think the plug-in cars have got probably a bit of a bad deal out of it—but I will continue to go to the table. I will continue to knock on the government’s door to work out ways to improve it, because standing on the sidelines shouting ‘No’ and saying ‘It’s a disaster, it’s a disaster’ like I am Chicken Little and the sky is falling in is not going to make it better. It is not going to get us to zero emissions. It is not going to expand our EV fleet, which we must do. I would encourage people to support this bill.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading speech 25/5/21