‘Increasingly stupid’: Coalition’s reluctance to cash in on EVs slammed by Labor

electric vehicle EVs splend

Source: Unsplach/Andrew Roberts.

Shadow climate spokesperson Chris Bowen has called the Prime Minister’s past comments on electric vehicles (EVs) “increasingly stupid”, as a new report today suggests we face an enormous manufacturing opportunity in reviving the Australian car industry with clean cars.

Bowen made the comment during a Clean Energy Council webinar in reference to Scott Morrison’s 2019 election scare campaign warning Labor’s EV policy would “end the weekend” and EVs would not “tow your trailer” (a claim that has been since disproven).

“Climate change was an issue at the last election and Morrison was out there saying ‘electric vehicles will end the weekend’, well, I think that now looks increasingly stupid,” Bowen says.

“We released the most comprehensive economic modelling that any opposition has ever released on any policy ever and did that in December and what have we heard from the government since? Yeah, nothing.”

In November, the Coalition announced its Future Fuels and Vehicles Strategy with $178 million in funding for EV and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure, as well as charging stations for business fleets, with a vision of just 30% of new car sales to be EVs by 2030 — a date some developed nations are banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars altogether.

The Centre for Future Work’s Carmichael Centre says the Australian government must not miss out on the “enormous opportunity” to revive our car industry through electric vehicle production, with a report from the centre saying we sit on a treasure trove of mineral resources, particularly lithium, the price of which is skyrocketing to record levels as it is snapped up by the world’s battery manufacturers.

In addition to our rich mineral reserves, the report pointed out Australia’s car manufacturing industry retains a 34,258-strong workforce (mostly creating parts for the global market) while many empty car factories remain after the closures last decade, creating an ideal launching pad for Australia to become an EV powerhouse on the world stage.

If we capture the moment, the report says, we’ll create tens of thousands of regional manufacturing jobs, reduce our dependence on raw resource extraction, reinforce our accelerating transition toward non-polluting energy sources, and spur innovation, research, and engineering activity in Australia.

But, the Carmichael Centre’s Mark Dean qualifies, “Australia’s advantages would count for little without significant government support … We just need our government to act”.

The report’s recommendations for government include establishing an EV Manufacturing Industry Commission and using tax incentives to encourage firms involved in the extraction of key minerals — primarily lithium and rare earths — with local manufacturing capabilities like emerging EV battery industries.

It also suggests investing in the workforce — with a focus on vocational training to ensure Australia has the technicians to service major EV players looking to move to Australia. To that end, the report continues, the government should offer tax incentives, access to infrastructure, and potential public capital participation to lure them to our shores, particularly in the regions.

It comes as the Labor Party backed the formation of a manufacturing industry fund in a Senate report that laid the groundwork for manufacturing to be a key battleground amid the upcoming federal election in May.

The Labor-led Economics References Committee tabled its report into Australia’s domestic advanced manufacturing capability on Monday morning following several delays — it also suggested regular reviews of R&D incentives, and changes to procurement rules.

But the recommendations were roundly rejected by the government, with Coalition senators accusing Labor of pushing for a “government-driven interventionist approach in the manufacturing sector”.

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