The PM has announced a new green strategy, which his government projects could create more than 2,600 jobs, ahead of a federal election next year.
The prime minister anticipates $250 million in federal "Future Fuels" funding announced on Tuesday will be matched by private investment to reshape Australia's transport sector and put up to 1.7 million electric vehicles on roads by 2030.
Ahead of the last election, Mr Morrison mocked electric vehicles and Labor's then policy to support them. He declared their widespread adoption would "end the weekend" and falsely claimed they couldn't tow trailers or boats.
But in the wake of Australia's attendance at the COP26 global climate change summit, the Morrison government is seeking to defend its record on clean energy in the face of widespread international criticism with veteran EU parliamentarian Bas Eickhout overnight calling Australia's net-zero plan "literally a brochure".
The newly flagged investment by the Morrison government will focus on public and household electric vehicle charging, as well as electrifying commercial fleets, and heavy and long-distance vehicles.
Under the proposal, more than 50,000 households and 400 businesses would have access to charging infrastructure, alongside at least 1000 public charging stations.
Making sure the electricity grid is ready for widespread EV use is expected to avoid upgrade costs of $224 million this decade.
This approach is projected to cut emissions by eight metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2035.
Treading a fine line after his previous comments, Mr Morrison says the strategy will make it more appealing for Australians to buy an EV by expanding charging access, but critics say it does nothing to address the expensive upfront costs of electric vehicles which is the main obstacle preventing uptake.
"Australians love their family sedan, farmers rely on their trusted ute and our economy counts on trucks and trains to deliver goods from coast to coast," he said.
"We will not be forcing Australians out of the car they want to drive or penalising those who can least afford it through bans or taxes.
"Instead, the strategy will work to drive down the cost of low and zero emission vehicles, and enhance consumer choice."
However after positioning itself as the defender of tradies and petrol engines, the government needs to pull off a strong about-face as it appeals to voters ahead of an election now widely tipped to be held in May.
Michaelia Cash to save the utes. Johnny's car today wont be the one he drives tomorrow and claims 50% of the apprentices standing behind her will be driving an electric vehicle under Bill Shorten. #ausvotes #qldpol pic.twitter.com/Lzvd26vBGh
— David Marler (@Qldaah) April 9, 2019
Policy slammed as a 'fizzer' by industry
The Electric Vehicles Council (EVC) has criticised the government's policy, calling it a huge missed opportunity because it does not include any subsidies, tax incentives or sales targets.
Nor does it include mandated fuel efficiency targets which require manufacturers to sell vehicles with a combined level of emissions below a certain benchmark. Such standards have long been used in the US and Europe, prompting warnings that Australia has already become a dumping ground for high-exhaust vehicles.
"There's no sugar coating it. Future Fuels is a fizzer," said EVC chief executive Behyad Jafari.
"If it contained fuel efficiency standards and rebates it would give Australians more choice. The best and most affordable EVs would make their way swiftly into our market.
"Fuel efficiency standards are the absolute bare minimum of what you would expect in a 21st century plan," he said.
"[It] is certainly an advance on the government's rhetoric of the last election. The strategy has identified some of the correct benefits and pathways, but does little to realise them.
"A strategy that has apparently taken years to write, leaves much to be desired."
Labor says it will eliminate EV taxes
Labor has accused the government of copying the policies it took to the last election, which was attacked by the Coalition in the lead up to the poll.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Australia was falling behind globally on electric vehicle uptake.
"What we would do is eliminate the taxes, but also to make sure that companies could take up electric vehicles," he told the ABC.
"(This is) a government that had a violent opposition to electric vehicles and now we would have it believe that have converted."
In a separate environmental announcement, Labor is promising to spend $200 million fixing up urban waterways if it wins power at the next federal election.
The program, which involves local governments and community groups, is aimed at improving water quality, reducing localised flooding and restoring habit.
"Many of our rivers in urban and peri-urban areas have been treated more like stormwater drains over the years," Labor leader Anthony Albanese said.
"Fixing up our waterways and the catchment areas around them will give people access to a better quality of living."
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