Blink and You’ll Miss Morrison and Albanese’s EV Hot Takes in the First Debate of the Election

Blink and You’ll Miss Morrison and Albanese’s EV Hot Takes in the First Debate of the Election
Image: Tesla, Sky News. Compiled by Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Last night at the leader’s debate, someone asked a question about electric vehicles.

“Hi guys, I would like to know a little about what your policies are around the electric batteries space from an investment perspective, and also how you’re going to help Australians get into electric vehicles?”

A good question. I’m glad someone asked about electric vehicles at the leader’s debate, because as much as I’ve been observing, this question hadn’t been put to the two PM candidates in a way they can both address it.

We know that technology isn’t a terribly big focus for both of them, with the sector fairly well glossed over in both the 2022 federal Budget and Labor’s response to the Budget. That said, Labor has said that it’s interested in exploring investment opportunities and subsidies for electric vehicles in Australia if the party were to be elected into power. While we’re at it, here’s where the major parties stand on tech as this all ties into the policies the two leaders are taking into the 2022 Federal Election.

Here’s what current Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese had to say about electric vehicles.

Anthony Albanese

“This is a part of a future made in Australia,” said the leader of the Australian Labor Party during the Sky News debate last night. Albanese responded first.

“We need to make more things here. It makes no sense that everything that goes into a battery: copper, lithium, nickel, is all here, we send it offshore, and the batteries are made. This is a potential major industry here in Australia, and we need to do more to create those high-value jobs. I support exporting our resources, but where possible, we should be value-adding here rather than seeing the value add somewhere else and the jobs created somewhere else. And that’s what we’ll do on EVs.”

Albanese also brought up old promises.

“The Prime Minister said during the 2019 campaign that electric vehicles would ‘end the weekend’. They said that ‘they couldn’t tow your trailer, couldn’t tow your boat’. It was all nonsense. The truth is that electric vehicles are here, they will continue to grow in the future,” he continued.

“We will reduce the taxes on electric vehicles, particularly a measure that will make a difference is removing the fringe benefits tax for all those below the luxury car tax threshold because that’s how a whole range of cars get into the fleet.”

Scott Morrison

“It was just over 12 months ago that I was in Newcastle and we broke ground on a battery manufacturer, right here in Australia,” said Morrison.

“So, they are being made here, and they’re going to be made here more and more. Angus Taylor said tonight that as part of his plan to ensure that we get to net-zero by 2050, we’re investing $22 billion between now and 2030 on ensuring that we’re developing the clean energy technology, which includes batteries, that will enable us to transition our economy, and not just ours by the way but the economies in our region as well, to ensure that they can access to this technology.”

He continued.

“Now, Anthony Albanese is right about critical minerals and rare earths. These rare earths and critical minerals, particularly coming out of Western Australia, they are a major opportunity for Australia, and back in 2019 when I went to the White House, I said to the president: ‘this is what we need to do together’.

“Critical minerals and rare earths, we can mine in Australia, but we need to make sure that the takeoff agreements that need to be in place to justify the investment in the first place can be achieved. And so we worked with Japan and we’re working with India, that’s called the Quad: Japan, India, the United States and Australia. We’ve come together as leaders and critical minerals and rare earths development in Australia, which will give us many opportunities, but also the processing of those.”

Adding also:

“A great Australian company Lynas, is a company that is doing this right now. There’s also another Australian company in Western Australia we’ve just committed over $1 billion to, to make sure that they can get that processing and resources development in place, right now, so we have that plan to achieve that, and I think Australia can be an energy powerhouse continued into the future. We have been up until now, but as we move over the next 20 or so years, and particularly over the next 10, we’re going to position Australia well to do that again.”

Picking apart what the leaders had to say on electric vehicles

Albanese’s response was nothing new, really. We’ve heard all of this stuff from Labor before: that they want to make stuff onshore and that they want to help facilitate electric vehicle adoption through local industry and by reducing taxes on electric vehicles.

Albanese highlighted the removal of the fringe benefits tax for electric vehicles below the luxury car tax threshold. This isn’t a policy that would necessarily translate to widespread EV adoption, rather it’s a policy that incentivises EVs as work cars purchased by employers.

Another key part of Labor’s position on electric vehicles, though glossed over in Albanese’s response, was the removal of the import tariff for EVs, a 5 per cent tax on imported electric vehicles. This would apply to electric cars under the luxury car tax threshold in Australia, and would make electric cars more affordable, but ultimately this is where Labor’s EV policy ends for now. A 5 per cent price cut on the cheapest electric vehicle in Australia at the moment (the MG ES EV) would only bring it down to $42,740 (from $44,990). This isn’t exactly affordable territory yet.

Morrison’s response, however, was more focused on establishing industry around the things that go into electric vehicles, which isn’t out of line with what we’ve heard before. He focused a lot on rare earths, which go into making parts of expensive technologies and batteries, along with what the government has already done, like supporting rare earth companies like Iluka and Lynas. Morrison also brought up that a lithium-ion battery manufacturer near Newcastle opened last year.

It’s interesting to me that the Coalition still don’t have a policy for the adoption of electric vehicles in Australia. Rather, such things have been state-run, without a national plan to get people driving electric cars. Labor wants to federalise EV adoption incentives through import tariffs and tax cuts, but we’re not seeing a challenger policy to this. Morrison didn’t bring up that the federal government is supporting the rollout of EV charging infrastructure across Australia, however.

If you’d like to watch the full leaders debate beyond electric vehicles, you can watch it on YouTube here.