What's behind the political battle over electric cars?

Electric cars continue to spark debate this election campaign.

Electric cars continue to spark debate this election campaign.

Electric cars continue to spark debate this election campaign. Source: AAP

Electric cars have become a big feature of the 2019 federal election campaign.

So, why are pollies talking about electric cars?

Earlier this month, Labor unveiled its climate plan with electric cars forming a key component.

The federal opposition wants half of new car sales to be electric vehicles by 2030 and 50 per cent of the government's fleet to be electric by 2025.

Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten
Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten Source: AAP

In announcing the plan, Labor Leader Bill Shorten said Australia lags behind other developed nations in adopting the new models.

"Incredibly, New Zealand has more electric vehicles than Australia," he said.

As part of the plan, businesses would also be allowed to deduct a 20 per cent depreciation for private fleet electric vehicles worth at least $20,000.

How did climate groups react to Labor's announcement?

The Climate Council said the move is long overdue.

“This policy is the jolt Australia needs to modernise our cars and start dealing with transport pollution,” Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie said.

“Australians expect to have access to the best technology but because of poor government transport policy, we have been stuck in the slow lane. European countries are miles in front of us on this issue."

Transport is Australia's third largest source of greenhouse gas pollution - accounting for almost 20 per cent of emissions.

Does Australia need a push towards more electric cars?

Australia is "well behind" other countries in the uptake of electric vehicles, senators were told on Monday.

Clean Energy Finance Corporation CEO Ian Learmonth said there are about 7,000 electric vehicles on Australia's roads and sales amount to about 0.1 per cent of new cars.

Labor is pushing for far more electric cars.
Labor is pushing for far more electric cars. Source: AAP

"It's certainly no secret we're well behind in terms of the uptake of EVs," he told a Senate estimates hearing.

"We are significantly behind the uptake of EVs in this country relative to what we might see as comparative markets."

What has the government said?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ridiculed Labor's target, and described it on Monday as a "war on the weekend".

Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week. Source: AAP

"What Australians have always expressed a preference for is the vehicles that have a bit of grunt and a bit of power, because they like to enjoy the great recreational opportunities that are out there," he said.

Labor strongly pushed back, saying the plan is based on the best research and won't prevent anyone from buying vehicles they want to.

"We believe it's a good idea to set a goal, a target," Mr Shorten told reporters.

"That doesn't mean that we're going to confiscate someone's ute in 2030. It doesn't mean that."

So the government is anti-electric cars?

Not at all. At not least in the leadup to an election.

In fact, the government had included a national electric vehicle strategy as part of its "climate solutions" package.

"Greater electric vehicle uptake could mean cleaner air, better health, smarter cities, lower transport costs, and lower greenhouse gas emissions," it said.

Several senior ministers in the Coalition have also endorsed a greater take-up of electric vehicles.

The then-Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg last year predicted an electric vehicle "revolution".

"It is estimated that by 2025 there will be 230,000 such cars on our roads and more than one million by 2030.

"This will not only produce a good economic dividend for consumers, but also a better environmental outcome," Mr Frydenbrg wrote in a column last year.

Also last year, Energy Minister Angus Taylor announced $6 million to support the rollout of fast charging station.

"Electric vehicles have the potential to lower transport costs, enhance fuel security, and increasingly create more sustainable cities with less pollution and better health outcomes for our communities," he said.

What's the argument over charging?

A key flash point over electric cars is charging times.

Last week, Mr Shorten said "it can take eight to 10 minutes" to charge a vehicle, but later added, "it can take longer".

An electric car charging station.
An electric car charging station. Source: AAP

The Coalition was quick to jump on the claim, saying it was unrealistic.

"If he can't explain it and he can't understand the details, how can he expect anyone else to?" Mr Morrison asked.

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek later pointed out: "[at] a fast charging station you’d spend about 20 or 30 minutes charging your car".

Charging stations around Sydney.
Charging stations around Sydney. Source: myelectriccar.com.au

Most electric cars take several hours to charge fully, but even a small charge can provide a substantial distance.

It's a point even the government has previously admitted.

When announcing an ultra-rapid charging network last year, Mr Taylor said, "it will provide a range of up to 400km in just fifteen minutes, compared to a current charging time of several hours".

Tim Washington, a co-founder of Chargefox, pointed this out on twitter

"Hi Minister here is a charging station your government funded that can charge a car up in 15 minutes. And 200km in 8 minutes. I know because I'm one of the co-founders you funded," he said.

Another point of contention is the accessibility of charging stations.

As part of its plan, Labor has committed $100 million to build an extra 200 fast charging stations.

However, there are already  around the country.

Additional reporting: AAP

5 min read
Published 9 April 2019 at 5:39pm
By Nick Baker