Jan 23, 2018

No togetherness in Frydenberg’s electric car dreams

Having a culture war over electric vehicles can be very dangerous. It's funny what you might end up supporting.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg has some peculiar ideas about energy and the environment. This is a bloke who tries to explain away the fact that Australia's CO2 emissions are at historic highs, and rising, by invoking emissions per capita, as if the laws of physics generously allow for a head count when it comes to global warming. He also, it seems, has some odd ideas about economics and protectionism when it comes to electric cars.

Electric cars are the new front of the culture wars -- although this conflict is primarily inside the ranks of the right. It pits Frydenberg on one side versus climate denialists and fossil fuel dead-enders. Chief among the latter is the far-right Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who wants a punitive tax on electric cars because they don't use petroleum. If Kelly were king, he'd wipe those smug sneers off the face of every Tesla driver in the land.

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24 thoughts on “No togetherness in Frydenberg’s electric car dreams

  1. old greybearded one

    Funny, I pay a lot of fuel excise as I live in the bush where we also have shit roads to show for it. We also have record numbers of B Doubles destroying the roads.

  2. Simon Cobbold

    New year – same old predictable Bernard. This is getting pretty tiresome. “Picking winners” is bad, put “market incentives” into more things, like road usage. I am not sure how road pricing is the rational policy option if you are arguing for a progressive taxation system. Seems like classic IPA Libertarian thought bubbles again.

  3. klewso

    Bloody hell I hope Kelly doesn’t find out we’ve got an electric TV, fridge, washing machine …. how much is the petrol industry sponsoring him for?

  4. Betina Goldsmith

    Road pricing might be a good idea but what about people coming to work from the far flung suburbs? They won’t be happy about it. Public transport would have to be a lot more efficient before road pricing could be undertaken.

    1. JMNO

      Agree with Betina. In Sydney and Melbourne at least, road pricing is regressive and also unreasonable unless car drivers are able to choose alternative means of transport. At the moment, in Melbourne at least, in the wealthiest suburbs people don’t have to drive because they have excellent public transport, for the most part. It is people who cannot afford to rent or buy in inner Melbourne who are car-reliant as they must rent or buy mostly a long way from reasonable, regular and reliable public transport.
      And that isn’t about to change any time soon with the Victorian State Government’s latest strategic plan for transport focussing on roads, roads and more roads and precious little for upgraded or new train or tram services.
      And the Opposition won’t be any different. Out of government some oppositions promise new train lines – even a train to the airport! – but in government, they quickly convert to being pro-roads. A train line to the airport is always 10 years away. Has been for years.

  5. brian crooks

    the ignorance of this coalition of fools is only eclipsed by their sheer economic stupidity, with a treasurer that cant count past 10 with his shoes on to a prime minister whose economic allegiance is to the Cayman Islands and tony abbott standing in the wings and doing everything possible to destroy the man he replaced shows the sooner they are sacked the better.

    1. Heather Lacey

      That comment is just abuse of the political side you hate and adds nothing to the discussion! Pathetic.

  6. AR

    How about rod pricing with added percentage depending on the quality of the road?
    As OGO notes, some of us beyond the Sandstone Curtain drive long distances on unsealed & otherwise not gold plated roads, unlike urbanoids.
    Of course, along with road pricing we could also charge those denizens determined to stay in the overcrowded coastal wens the true cost of their pampered lives.
    Little things like pristine water from hundreds of kms to flush toilets into their highly desired beachwater, food from even farther afield and whatever passes for energy which, by definition, is not being generated by barista sweat.

  7. Roger Clifton

    If we had a hefty carbon tax placed on all sources of fossil carbon, the power stations would already have paid taxes on the electricity used by EV’s. Being proportional to the kilometres driven, it would be equivalent to a road tax.

  8. dirtysnowball

    I’ve always liked fuel excise as a sort of proxy carbon tax. I think it’s entirely fair that my Mum’s little Toyota pays less excise than a Toorak Tractor (and a 4WD weighing twice as much as a Yaris does 16 times more damage to the road, it damn well should be paying more). If you actually think road travel should be charged by usage then vehicle weight should make up much of the formula, and this would even catch electric cars, which tend to be a bit tubby due to their heavy batteries. But I’d also argue that electric cars should get some sort of credit for economic benefits of killing us more slowly than fossil fuel burners, both in local pollution and global climate effects.

  9. Mark Gibbons

    Road use charges are rentseekerism dressed up as rationality. You can calculate the wear and tear a vehicle will cause to roads by the fourth power of a vehicle’s weight. (To understand the logic, consider – will it do more damage to drop one kilo on a table a thousand times, or a thousand kilos on it once?). Eight ton trucks do thousands of times more harm to roads than one-tonne cars; 32 tonne semis do more than a million times as much damage.

    “Rational” road user charges that reflected engineering and economics would end up costing a few bucks a year for regular cars, but land on trucks like a tonne of bricks. The surveillance systems overseeing cars would actually cost more money than they raise. It’s far more likely that “road user charges” would become an instrument to force cars to subsidise trucks. Basically it is mass surveillance in service of rent-seeking.

    Congestion charges are rational. Petrol excise is rational, when framed as a pollution tax. Charging trucks based on their odometer readings is rational if you want to hypothecate funds for road maintenance. But road user charges are never rational.

  10. Nereus

    A very good piece, Bernard, putting both sides to the sword in one blow, and rightly too. Can I add one piece of perspective? It is absolutely true that electric vehicles damage roads as much as petrol vehicles do; that is a question of mass and axle loadings. (And passenger cars whether Teslas or Commodores do nowhere near the damage heavier vehicles do, as Snowball points out.) So if excise is a means of collecting related revenue – and it is – then there needs to be an additional charge on electric vehicles whether that be via a registration surcharge or by direct road user charging. (Tesla know exactly how many kilometres their cars have been driven. Would they hand over the data voluntarily? I doubt it.) But this is not a money pot. Even if the volume of electric cars increases by 50% per annum, at average rates of vehicle use and current excise charging rates government would collect only about $3.5m in 2020-21. But this would compound over time. So worth doing, but not a magic pudding.

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