Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Tuesday, 9 November 2021
Scott Emerson: The federal government has today announced the electric vehicle policy it's taking to the election. $250 million will be poured into the Future Fuels Fund, with most of the money to be spent on $50,000 electric vehicle charging stations. As electric vehicle sales continue to grow. The money will also be used to implement other low emission transport measures, but the Electric Vehicle Council has slammed the policy, saying it's only offers about five per cent of what it reckons is needed. The council wants more subsidies and tax incentives to increase the take up of electric vehicles. Simon Birmingham is the Federal Minister for Finance and he joins me on the line. Minister, thanks again for being on 4BC Drive.
Simon Birmingham: Hello, Scott. Great to be with you, as always.
Scott Emerson: Now I mentioned this $250 million been announced today as part of this future fuels fund on electric vehicles. But let me go back, you know, three years or so ago to the federal election, when Labor put forward its own electric vehicle policy, which Scott Morrison just rubbished. He said Labor was going to end the weekend. Now what's the difference between what Labor was advocating then and what your announced today?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the big difference really lies in mandates that Labor was seeking to put in place policies that established clear targets and mandates for transitioning to a larger fleet of electric vehicles. Theirs wasn't about empowering choice of the consumers. It was about dictating where we had to get to. And so, you know, this policy isn't about dictating that people must make changes and that there will definitely be outcomes. It's about simply backing the market that we're seeing ever more electric vehicles now come onto the market. They're coming on at lower costs and prices. But the impediment that we're seeing in terms of take up are concerns people have about charging them, the reliability of them and those factors. And so this is really seeking to narrow down to those concerns, as well as ensuring the sustainability of our electricity grid to be able to meet that uptake in your electric vehicles.
Scott Emerson: Well, fair enough. There's no mandate, which is what Labor did have under Bill Shorten last time round. But it wasn't just the mandate because Scott Morrison was very critical. It was very almost, he said it was almost ludicrous this policy of Labor that was going to be such an uptake in electric vehicles. Clearly, you see, now three years later, that is where the trend is going towards more and more electric vehicles. And that's why you've announced this policy today. So did at least Labor see into the future and get some of that right?
Simon Birmingham: We had an electric vehicles policy at the last election, too. We were making significant investments already in support for the technology around charging infrastructure and the like. The $250 million Future Fuel strategy that we're announcing today actually takes our total investment in electric vehicles and supportive policies to close to $2.1 billion. So this isn't our first foray into this area, far from it. We each had policies at the last election, just that ours at that stage, as it is at this stage, is about backing Australians to make the switch in the choice themselves when it suits their circumstances, when they have confidence and to help to build that confidence. And you know, we've seen that across the country. Australia has one of the largest uptakes in the world of solar panels and use of solar technology on people's homes. And Australians have done that because they've seen that it makes sense for them and their household to do so. They've chosen to do it overwhelmingly. They've done it in instances with some targeted types of government support, but they haven't done it because they've been mandated to do so. They've done it because they've seen it makes sense and increasingly we're seeing that interest in electric vehicles. And so the policies we're outlining and have released today to great more public electric vehicle charging stations, as well as refuelling for future hydrogen and hybrid cars to focus on the heavy and long distance vehicles and support we can provide there, as well as with commercial fleets, but also, crucially, households smart charging infrastructure. Because what we can't have is a situation where as more electric vehicles come onto the market and more people buy them, it then distorts the electricity grid in ways that drive up people's electricity bills that would be counterproductive. Smart charging is a way for us to get ahead of that and avoid an estimated $220 million plus hit to electricity network and upgrades that would be necessary if we didn't have that sort of smart charging infrastructure in place.
Scott Emerson: I'm talking to the Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham. Minister, look, I know that they're becoming more and more popular electric vehicles. But the vast majority of Australians and a vast majority of Queenslanders still have regular old petrol and diesel cars out there, and they're paying fuel excise to pay for roads at the moment, it repairs the road, buildings and roads. Now one of the criticism we keep hearing from those owners of traditional cars is those with electric vehicles aren't contributing to the cost of repair, maintenance and construction of roads. When are you going to start seeing electric vehicles getting charged the same way as those with petrol and diesel cars?
Simon Birmingham: So this is something that is already under discussion. The Victorian Labor government, the South Australian Liberal government, have all taken tentative steps into working through what a charging framework for electric vehicles might be. And so that we do address this issue early on in the piece and have a smooth transition as possible between the current road user charges that essentially apply through fuel excise and make sure that road users are making a fair and equitable contribution in the future as they may not be using those traditional fuels, but they do have a need to make that contribution. We welcome the fact that states are taking those steps and will continue to work constructively with them to try to ensure that we end up with a sensible national structure in relation to this type of approach. It is early days and it's a question of being grappled with around the world in terms of how to apply those charging regimes in a way that are efficient and effective and fair. But we certainly understand where many road users today would be wanting to make sure that they're not hard done by in relative terms.
Scott Emerson: Simon Birmingham, thanks for being on 4BC Drive this afternoon.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Scott. My pleasure.