That Kevin Rudd would get it wrong on the availability of the petrol-electric hybrid as an electorate vehicle is a problem for two reasons. Firstly it shows a certain lack of thoroughness and persistence and secondly, it shows how disinterested the Department of Finance & Administration is in informing him on how he might reduce his greenhouse emissions.

Senators and members are invited to choose a new leased electorate vehicle every two years from a list of Australian made or assembled cars, this year 36 standard vehicles were on offer, ranging in retail price from $29,500 to $46,690 and from four to six cylinders, including four wheel drives.

In 2000 I broke new ground getting agreement for a compressed natural gas conversion for a Ford Falcon. When it was due for a changeover in 2002, I asked for the newly available Toyota Prius. Had I asked for a big imported 4WD this would have been OK.

Months later it was determined that a non-standard vehicles could be based on ‘environmental considerations’ and I could have a Prius but I would have to pay an extra $164.78 a month because there was a mis-match between its price and the size category into which this unique two motor combination car had been put. In fact it was cheaper than several vehicles on the list and had the added advantage of saving taxpayers about $1,000 in fuel a year.

The new list of standard vehicles came last year. Members and senators are told they can apply for a non-standard vehicle on the basis of environmental considerations but not too many MPs are tuned into what this may mean and words hybrid or Prius that might give them a clue are missing.

The list came with fuel consumption ratios but not the more thorough AGO rating system – the Green Vehicle Guide for cars available in Australia. I pointed this out to the Minister last September and three months later a new list came around with the GVG rating. Sadly none of the available cars is in the AGO’s top 16 performers – those with 5 or 4-1/2 stars.

The Holden Berlina and Calais are close to top of the price range but bottom on performance with only 2 stars. Not far behind with 2-1/2 stars are the Ford Territories, as driven by Kevin.

Four hybrids are now on the GVG’s top 16 – the best performer; the Toyota Prius, followed by the Honda Civic and two Lexus models.

I asked the government for a list of non-standard vehicles approved and how many there were in each. Months later the answer was “At present there are

15 non-standard vehicles approved for operational needs, five for environmental considerations and three for occupational health and safety reasons.” Hoping for a more complete answer, I’ve now put the questions on notice.

The latest advice from the department on standard vehicles included encouragement to use alternative fuels, particularly E10 ethanol blends.

This is not much use however, to senators and members in Victoria for instance, where only independent retailers sell it and, you guessed it, fuel cards for independents are non standard too. After almost three years of ‘examining’ my first request for this non-standard fuel, the card finally arrived and my new Prius and I enjoy the benefits of ethanol.

Again, no notice has been sent to all senators and members advising them that if the major oil companies won’t sell ethanol – and most won’t – then there is another option and this is how to ask for it.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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