Apr 3, 2019

Infrastructure, Transport and Cities Committee – Report – Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (18:42): I rise to speak on the release of the report Innovating transport across Australiaproduced by the House Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities. I commend the chairman of the committee, the member for Bennelong, and his committee for producing a serious, forward-looking report. This report examines how technological advances in areas including automotive vehicles and alternative energy sources demand serious consideration by governments, along with comprehensive planning and significant investment.

The report says:

The automation and electrification of mass transit … has the potential to make our cities and regions cleaner, greener, more accessible and more liveable.

The member for Bennelong noted, in an accompanying media statement, that ‘achieving this outcome will demand vision and leadership from government’. He continued to say, ‘We need to make the timely provision of the supporting infrastructure for the transition to the fuels of the future.’ That is absolutely correct. Technological change is accelerating in the 21st century, particularly in the area of transport.

The fact is that what we have to do is manage the change that inevitably will occur. We must do what we can in terms of planning, coordination and infrastructure investment, and we’ve seen that this week from one side of politics. We saw that from the Labor Party when we released, on Monday, our plan for managing not only the transition that is occurring around the world to newer fuels but also, in particular, the transition that’s occurring to electric vehicles, with our policy that looks towards having 50 per cent of new vehicle sales be electric vehicles by the year 2030; that looks towards 50 per cent of the government car fleet being electrical vehicles by 2025; that allows for 20 per cent accelerated depreciation in the first year, to encourage the private sector to increase its uptake of electric vehicles; and that looks at creating a fund of $200 million to provide the required infrastructure to have charging available on, in particular, our national highways and major road networks.

The fact is that in a country as vast as ours this technology will be required as a precondition for the increase in the supply of electric vehicles. In Australia we have, at the moment, the lowest uptake of electric vehicles in the OECD. This is problematic, because we know that around the world there is no major car manufacturer looking at new internal-combustion engines. They are all looking at electric vehicles and other fuels of the future—hydrogen and other potential innovations that are occurring.

We know also that Australia is the only nation in the OECD that doesn’t have fuel emission standards. And we know that, as a result of that, Australian motorists are paying an additional $500 per year at the bowser than they would be if there were available a better standard of fuel that was more efficient. We know that it would produce economic benefits as well as environmental benefits. That’s why Labor have said that we’ll support the US standards transitioning. We’ll sit down with the automotive industry, just as we’ll sit down with car dealers and people across the sector, and work through the transition that is required, which is consistent with the report of this important House standing committee, chaired by the member for Bennelong.

Indeed, one concern that’s been raised is road user charges and what will happen. There, of course, I was approached by the government about supporting a bipartisan approach to establishing a committee that would report on road user charges and what the implications were—the fact that we will see a change in the mix of vehicles on our roads over the coming years. It is indeed most unfortunate, the government having gone to the 2016 election with that policy and having announced in 2016 that they’d establish a committee chaired by an eminent person, with both representation nominated by the government and a member nominated by the opposition, that not only has that committee, at the end of this term, not completed its deliberations and reported but it hasn’t actually started. It was never appointed. It says it all about this government’s complete failure to do the basics of government that that hasn’t occurred.

The fact is that, if there is a change of government when the election’s called in coming days, we will see a change. We’ll see the major cities unit re-established to look at a visionary approach to these issues. You’ll see once again a government that’s prepared to look at change and how it occurs in terms of climate and managing the transition—a genuine approach to dealing with the challenge of climate change and how we transition to a clean energy economy. What you’ll see is a government that is committed to managing the transition to the future rather than being fearful of the future.

The report before us includes 17 recommendations. Most of them are just a commonsense road map for what governments have to consider as our transport systems are transformed by the arrival of automated vehicles and other changes that will occur, including the growth of cars powered by electricity and hydrogen. Indeed, recommendation 5 says:

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government facilitate the introduction and uptake of electric vehicles (both BEV and FCEV), especially mass transit vehicles, including through coordination and planning of the development of infrastructure to meet demand; ensuring that refuelling and recharging technology follows defined standards for compatibility and interoperability; and by promoting greater coordination between the transport and energy sectors.

Well, we’re doing just that. The government’s not doing anything, but we’re responding to the recommendations of this report. It is a unanimous report chaired, of course, by the government and with a majority of government members.

A range of recommendations for supporting the sector are in recommendation 13. The fact is that we have a policy to deal with these issues. We have a coalition that is scared of the present and terrified of the future. What we need is a government that is prepared to transition the Australian economy through these issues.

There’s also an important consideration in this report about automated vehicles that does require consideration. There are real implications for employment, for example, and it is to the credit of organisations like the Transport Workers Union that they’ve hosted forums giving consideration to what that means. Indeed, recommendation 12 refers to ‘an audit of Australia’s existing transport communications infrastructure’, and that is certainly something that would be required.

In conclusion, I thank the committee and congratulate them for delivering a thoughtful report in a short time frame. Some of the best work that’s done in this parliament is done in a bipartisan way, looking at the policy challenges and coming up with recommendations. Certainly the government will give proper consideration to these recommendations if there is a change of government. If there’s not, I suspect that what we’ll see is more of the same, which is no action on dealing with the challenges of the future.