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Australia's EV plan loses spark

By KARL WILSON in Sydney | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-11-23 07:01
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FILE PHOTO: Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks as National Statements are delivered as a part of the World Leaders' Summit at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain November 1, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

In carbon-intensive Australia, it didn't take long for a government plan aimed at boosting the uptake of electric vehicles to run into its first pothole.

Less than 24 hours after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Nov 9 the much-anticipated policy on electric vehicles, news emerged that the company behind a proposed electric vehicle plant in the state of Victoria had scrapped its plans.

SEA Electric told the Victorian government on Nov 10 that it was ending its agreement to build the factory in the Latrobe Valley. No reason was given for the decision.

The reversal on the factory has fed into doubts on Canberra's ability to reduce carbon emissions in an economy reliant on fossil fuels. Morrison has also had to contend with widespread skepticism over a pledge-announced in the lead-up to the COP 26 climate summit-that the country will reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

As Morrison unveiled the government's new strategy, he said it was "built on the back of the core principles technology, not taxes; choices, not mandates".

Under the strategy, the government will spend A$250 million ($182 million) to build charging stations around the country for heavy commercial vehicles, passenger cars and households.

Light on details

But analysts said the government's strategy was light on details, such as how it defines zero-emission vehicles.

Behyad Jafari, chief executive of Australia's Electric Vehicle Council, said the nation's new strategy ignored the most important measures to improve EV uptake, including subsidies, tax incentives and sales targets. "The strategy has identified some of the correct benefits and pathways, but it does little to realize them," Jafari said.

Australia's car manufacturing industry closed in 2017, ending 70 years of domestic vehicle assembly as General Motors-Holden, a subsidiary of General Motors of the US, Ford and Toyota ceased large-scale production of conventional vehicles in the country, citing cost as a major factor.

The SEA Electric deal in Victoria was seen as an attempt to give new life to the sector and give Australia a foothold in the market.

News of the project's demise comes amid a renewed focus on electric vehicles after the climate summit in Glasgow this month.

The Victorian government has not said how much money had been paid to the company or whether any had been repaid, saying the matter was "commercial" and in "confidence".

In contrast to the approach announced by Morrison, governments in many countries are offering massive subsidies and tax incentives to make electric vehicles more affordable.

In 2019, during the last federal election, the opposition Labor Party took a policy on electric vehicles to the people. But Morrison tore the policy apart, claiming it was a war on the family weekend.

"They (EVs) cannot pull trailers, caravans or boats," he was famously quoted as saying during the election campaign. But in his defense, Morrison now says he was not against those vehicles but "simply opposed to government telling people what to do".

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