Keeping to the theme of the leadership from states and territories, I’d like to invite my colleague Audrey Quicke, the Transport Lead at the Australia Institute, to the stage for the next two panels on government action at the national and subnational level.
Thank you, Richie. So welcome to our next panel discussion on what we need from the federal government. It is my pleasure to invite to the stage Andrew Barr, Chief Minister of the ACT, and Mark Bailey, Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads. Andrew, if you wanted to just pop up to the podium. So we’re going to hear from the Chief Minister first, and then we’ll be hearing from Minister Bailey, and then we’ll have some time for a panel discussion.
Terrific. Thank you very much, Audrey, and thank you for the opportunity to speak today. [inaudible 00:00:55] acknowledge the traditional custodians. This is Ngunnawal country and pay my respects to elders past, present, and emerging, and I join you today as a First Minister who has five portfolios. They’re all public, though, and the intersection of those portfolios has been important in working with Minister Rattenbury from the ACT Greens, and my friend and colleague Chris Steel, the ACT Minister for Transport, in bringing together the ACT’s zero emissions strategy. So my roles include First Minister, Treasurer, Minister for Climate Action. I’m Minister for Economic Development, and finally Minister for Tourism, and I welcome all our interstate guests, and please stay for the weekend, on that note.
We have been striving in our jurisdiction to be national leaders. It’s been important for our community and important for our government and the shared priorities that ACT Labor and the ACT Greens have in governing here in the ACT. Our focus has been to work collaboratively where possible through organizations, such as the Board of Treasurers, which is the state and territory body that coordinates our work at a state and territory level in policy areas like taxation and road user charging and other issues that have been raised. Our endeavor, and what we will be seeking from the federal government, is to extend that collaboration that’s been quite effective at a state and territory government level, although not perfect as we have heard, to have a willing partner in the Commonwealth to work towards a national EV strategy.
I think there is a significant opportunity. All jurisdictions, labor, all liberal at a state and territory level are broadly pursuing the same policy direction. Some of the issues at a highly local level will relate to the pace of change and some specific issues that are domained to each jurisdiction. As a veteran of the Australian Federation, I’m into my 16th year, I’ve been on nearly every ministerial council that has ever occurred in our Federation. I know the strengths and weaknesses of this structure of governance. At its best, its collaborative and cooperative and just the right amount of competition to see each other strive to be just that little bit better and drive the nation forward. In other times, it can be highly disruptive, really, really challenging to reach a national consensus and has actually set the nation back. This is one policy area where I think we have an opportunity to make really quick gains.
So I’ve been delighted with what I’ve heard from the federal minister this morning. I commit the ACT to be a constructive partner together with the other states and territories in achieving the sort of national policy framework that I think everyone in this room is looking for, but there does also need to be a little bit of room for tailored local responses, and I particularly want to acknowledge and support the role of local government as a delivery partner. It’s not just about the federal government and states and territories. It’s also important that we involve local government, and that will be, I think, an exciting opportunity in every community in our nation to make a difference, to bring forward the practical delivery of the policy objectives that we’re seeking to reach agreement on at a national level.
But if I’ve learned anything over the last 15 years, it’s that high level national policy intent great, but you’ve got to be able to deliver it in your part of Australia. Now, we stand ready to do that, and I would hope that the result of all of this national policy work is we get a little bit more sophisticated and that we don’t have 20 million EV charges in marginal seats and none in other parts of the nation. And friends, I’ve seen this happen before. So we need to remain sharply focused on a national response but to give that room for a little bit of localized activity.
I’d just like to push the agenda forward a little, though, beyond what we’ve talked about today, and some really worthy initiatives. We also need reforms to our national construction code to enable EV charging infrastructure in new multi-unit and commercial buildings. We need an increased investment from a Commonwealth in a number of these areas, but delivered by the states and territories. I don’t think we need the Commonwealth to try and come in over the top and be a delivery agency in many of these areas. We’ve talked about legislation to phase out the sale of internal combustion vehicles. We’ve obviously led with 2035. I’d like to see other jurisdictions follow that and that become a national position, and clearly we need to develop nationally consistent approaches to road user charging reforms to replace the fuel excise.
Now, I speak as a treasurer here. The nation still needs revenue from motorists. That might be unpopular with some in the room, but there still needs to be a source of revenue to maintain our transport infrastructure. And speaking as a passionate social Democrat who believes in a role for government, this should not be an exercise over the next several decades in reducing government revenue because we will not be in a position to provide the services that we need to into the future. We need to manage this transition. I think we can, and I look forward to being part of that debate.
Thank you, Chief Minister, and I’d like to invite Minister Bailey up to the podium.
Thanks very much. Can I also acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners on the land in which we gather, and offer my respects to elders past, present, and emerging for a culture that goes back more than 3000 generations. Can I just acknowledge my colleagues, Andrew Barr and Chris Steel from the ACT who are doing such good work, all the federal MPs in the room as well, everyone here. Look, it’s a great time for this country. This country changed on May the 21st after a very dark decade, but we’re only at the beginning of the light at the end of the tunnel. So there is obviously a lot of work to do, but we’ve got to make every post a winner and acknowledge a few truths as well.
The reality is unlike the UK and, say, Germany where there’s bipartisan support for action, that still is not the case here and is probably not likely to be. So all of us who believe in progress have to make every post a winner. We have to avoid the follies that we saw in the Senate in 2009. It’s fragile. We’re strong at the moment. We want to stay strong, that we have a lot of community support for us out there, and we need to keep that relationship fresh and renewed and make sure we take the people with us, and they want to see action. They’re well ahead of where we’ve been in the federal government.
It’s an honor to follow, not just Andrew Barr, but also Tom Coots [inaudible 00:08:19]. We were on the Energy Council together for COAG, and we were very frustrated for a number of years together as we saw blocking and absolutely no action from the federal government, and what we need to do going forward is to make sure that we accelerate change, that we take every opportunity. In Queensland, we are the most vulnerable, I would suggest, to climate change and the extreme weather events. We have already seen that in the last six or seven years, cyclones that escalate from the lowest category to the highest category in 24 hours. We saw the greatest level of rainfall in a three-day period since records began in February and March this year, and of course the bush fire crisis actually started in Queensland when we had to evacuate 10,000 people out of Gracemere because there was a raging fireball headed straight towards it, and we have a thing called The Great Barrier Reef.
So we understand how important action is on climate change and how we are absolutely responsible as a developed, skilled first-world country to do so. But what we’ve seen is a really inadequate situation where in the void of national leadership, in fact, not just a void, an open hostility to action, it’s been the states and territories have stood up and tried to fill that void in the best possible way that we can, to the extent that we could, with the resources that we had. Now, that’s highly, in the end, inadequate despite the good work of the states and the territories because it sends out the wrong signal internationally, and you saw the car companies early on. They need a clear national signal about what this country wants, and they weren’t getting it previously with a patchwork sort of situation.
So I’m really heartened to see the election of the new [inaudible 00:10:20] federal government and the commitments from Chris Bowen this morning, and I had meetings yesterday with Catherine King. The transport minister was in Brisbane for … Obviously, decarbonization was a key thing we discussed two weeks ago at the National Transport Ministers meeting. And out of that, we have the offer to partner from the federal government, all the jurisdictions, about the strategy forward, and that is very heartening. I thank the federal government for that collaboration, that commitment, and is one that we will grasp in Queensland, and I know the other jurisdictions will as well, and of course, the fuel standards announcement is important, too.
So going forward, there’s a lot of work to do, and that national strategy will be key. It will be the first actual authentic, genuine electric vehicle strategy we’ve ever had in this country. We actually haven’t had one at the moment, but what was the previous government’s written policy wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. So going forward, that’s what we’ve got to do, is work together and make every post a winner, and don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. We’ve got to keep moving forward and take … The community wants us to move forward. They’ve made that very clear with their outcomes in the federal election, and we’ve got to work together to do that, and I think this is a case where industry wants us to do that. And as a country where the relatively small market worldwide right-hand drive, we’ve got to understand where our place is in the world, manufacturing sectors are in terms of automotive.
So that clear signal has to come. I think it will come. I look forward to working with the federal government, Catherine King, very consultative, fantastic minister across her brief, Chris Bowen, the Prime Minister who was in Queensland recently, too. And look, it’s a great opportunity. We’ve got to grasp it. We’ve got to seize the day together and seize every day together to make sure that we can get the progress that we want to see.
Fantastic. Thank you both. So we’ve obviously heard this announcement from Minister Bowen this morning on fuel efficiency standards. It sounds like we’ve got a discussion paper that’s going to be coming in September, and there has been a warm welcome extended to state and territory governments to participate in that process. So I’m wondering, what are you expecting from fuel efficiency standards, how ambitious do you want them to be, and what sort of timeline are you thinking you’d like to see there?
Look, I don’t want to sort of preempt it, but I think I was interested to see the car company feedback on the panel earlier on. I mean, they just want certainty and clarity, and then they can work with us a lot better. So I don’t want to preempt the process, but we can do a lot better than we’ve been doing. Under the previous government, they kept kicking the can down the road on road user charging. They didn’t want to deal with … We had to fight to have electric vehicles put on the agenda of National Transport Ministers meetings. That’s how absurd it was in this day and age, and we achieved that, but you could see the conservative ministers sort of starting to look at other things and do other stuff: “What are you doing?” “I just weren’t interested in doing that,” and I think that’s an interesting dynamic, is that it’s actually not a bipartisan support here in Australia, whereas in other countries, it has been. I think Australian conservatism’s been taking their cues from the US and Trumpism rather than conservatives in the UK and Germany, and that’s a big change in the last 10 to 15 years around where they take their cues, and I don’t see that changing in the short-term.
Look, having heard all I have this morning, I was thinking 2025 might be the timeframe, but I think what we need is at least Euro 6d by 2024 and possibly earlier. So ACT government will make a submission. I’ll endeavor through the state territory treasurers to see if we can also submit as a board so that all eight states and territories, if we can reach consensus, can put through our treasurers one submission into the process, but I recognize that sometimes that can be challenging in a short time frame, and each jurisdiction may wish to submit individually, but I think there is a sense of momentum and we do need to move on this. So having had the reassurance of hearing from the manufacturers that they’ve actually been preparing for this for some time, a relatively short lead-in and an ambitious target is what we need.
Hmm, and I think if we’ve learned anything about electric vehicle policy in Australia, it’s that we don’t have to wait for the federal government to act. States really have been leading this for the past few years. Do you expect that to continue to be the case?
Look, I think there’s commitments thereby a lot of the states to do things like the rebate, the $3,000 arrear, which is in the end, a lot smaller than many other national governments. So that will stay in place, but I think there’s got to be a renegotiation of what a genuine national policy looks like. Obviously, the new national government is just still looking at the books working out where they stand having been in opposition. So I think we’ve got to be mindful of that and work with them on that because I think that’s just an inevitable part of that process.
Look, I think a lot more is possible now. When we were developing this, we got to a certain point, thought, well, we just need to see what happens in the federal election to see how ambitious and realistic we can be, and we went further as a result of what happened in May. So I think there is momentum there. The states and territories had to do a lot of heavy lifting over the last decade, and the thing I took from that was that whether it was a state liberal or state labor administration, we were able to work together. I credit people like Matt Keen and others for that bipartisanship and willingness, large and small jurisdictions, to work together. So I think that spirit is there, and having a federal government that we’re not pushing against but everyone is traveling in the same direction now, it does mean you can get your foot on the accelerator, I think.
Hmm, and I guess we’ve heard quite a bit today about passenger vehicles, particularly, but of course there’s lots of other vehicles that we can be talking about. So I’m interested to hear about buses, electric buses. Where are we at in terms of electrifying bus fleets, and also what would you like to see from the federal government to assist there?
Yeah, look, I think that’s got to be part of the conversation because, obviously, buses make up a significant amount of the air shed. And in Queensland, we’re making some pretty strong progress on that front. Industry’s very interested, so there’s manufacturing going on. We’re seeing electric buses go into not just the Southeast Queensland mark, but up the coast into Cannes and Townsville and others, and industry knows that they’re cheaper to run. They’re better technology. They’re moving into the space pretty well. So I feel optimistic about that.
I think areas that we’ve got to look at is, obviously, freight because we’re actually a small population spread out hugely. So freight, road freight, is actually a big issue for this country. It is particularly for Queensland. We’ve got the biggest road network in the country with only a third of the population. So if we’re looking at emissions, heavy vehicle freights got to be looked at, and I know industry is looking at, and also rail freight, too, because obviously we’ve got a pretty big sector in that regard, and I know that Aurizon, for instance, are looking at hydrogen and what their options are there. I think that’s really good to see, too.
Look, Mark’s touched on, I think, the really key points. An ACT perspective, we’re in procurement at the moment for a significant transition in our bus fleet. Electrification of public transport is an opportunity not just for buses, though, and is my plug for Canberra light rail, and of course, we look to partner with the Commonwealth as the Commonwealth has done with other states to assist in the delivery of that mass public transport. The ACTs also has some specific partnerships in areas like emergency service vehicles, so a partnership with Volvo there. We’re looking at pretty much every vehicle type that we operate because we’re a hybrid of state and local government responsibility. Pretty well every vehicle the government in Australia would seek to procure we’ve got somewhere in our stock. So our challenge, and this will be the case for some of the other smaller jurisdictions, is just the volume of procurement.
So one thing that we would look to is to partner with some of the larger jurisdictions if we can reach a consensus on which technology to go with; just makes it a little bit cheaper and easier for smaller jurisdictions to make the switch. When you are the first and you’re going out alone, it can be challenging and expensive, and the one thing that we’ve also found has been a bit of an inhibitor is our existing energy network. So it’s one thing to procure the buses. It’s another to have the bus stations in the right locations where the electricity network is sufficient to be able to charge them all overnight.
So the logistics of all of this are a little more challenging than just making the sweeping statement of “we should electrify by a certain date.” You’ve actually got to be able to do it. And if we fail at this, then it sets back the cause that I think we are all working towards. So practical delivery, I’ve talked about it a bit. I’m going to continue to talk about it because at our level of government, we’ve got to make it work.
And I think we’ve got time for one last question. You touched on the electric vehicle tax or road user charging. We’ve also heard that in South Australia, that’s been abolished, and I believe in Victoria, it’s been challenged in the high court at the moment. So what do you see as the federal government’s role in this space?
Okay, well, look, I’ll try and give a 60-second answer to this. Look, we have an emerging challenge. We will need to collect revenue as a nation. Now, states and territories forged ahead here because we could see what was coming, and frankly, because we all suffer the scourge of vertical fiscal imbalance, that is that the Commonwealth collects all the revenue but we have a responsibility for service delivery, and so there’s a fiscal deficit effectively. We saw an opportunity to try and collaborate and to see this growing revenue source come to state and territory governments. The Commonwealth, eye to the main prize, are seeing their main … a very significant revenue source diminishing over time, and the more EVs are on the road, the lower the amount of fuel tax that the Commonwealth will collect. At some point, obviously, we are going to have to have a meeting of minds on this question and work out how we can fairly share the revenue.
But again, speaking as a veteran of this federation, there’s nothing like revenue coming into your own treasury, not that is passed to you at the behest or goodwill of another treasurer at another level of government. So the states and territories do have a collective interest here in being able to harmonize but also collect the revenue ourselves, and it does intersect, of course, with state-based registration schemes, as I’ve indicated where we’re looking to move to an emissions-based process rather than a weight-based process on registrations.
That was way more than 60 seconds. I apologize.
Look, I’ve been critical of bringing in or even giving the signal out on road user charge too early because I think we’ve seen such anemic sales of electric vehicles where we are nowhere near critical mass yet. So I think that while we’ve had conflicting signals going out because of no national leadership and it’s been the states and the territories doing the heavy lifting, I think until we get some real momentum and it becomes inexorable, I’m very cautious about us sending out signals that aren’t kind of clear about our way forward. So there will need to be a renegotiation about how we pay for roads, no doubt about that whatsoever. Do we want to be saying that right now, or do we want to … Let’s get the units moving. Let’s get the inexorable transition to clean energy happening. I think everyone accepts that EV drivers have to pay their way, but at the moment, the numbers are so small that it’s not an issue at the moment, but let’s get the momentum going first and then have that negotiation, is my view.
So unfortunately that’s all we’re going to have time for now. Just a big round of applause, please, for our two panelists. Thank you.