Are electric vehicles really a partisan issue?

Electric vehicles have exploded onto the political scene in recent weeks following Labor’s bold 50%-of-sales-by-2030 Federal election pledge. At the same time in the US, Senators are facing conservative resistance to an EV tax credit extension. With the Coalition rapidly turning against them and Labor demanding adoption, we turn to international examples to answer the question: Are EVs really a partisan issue?

The short answer is no. If we put recent events aside and consider the global precedent, it’s clear that international support for EVs isn’t split along strict ideological lines. Let’s not forget that prior to this month Liberal leaders were publicly calling for EV adoption and writing lengthy op-eds about their benefits.

Policies and incentives for electric vehicle adoption can be found all over the world in 2019, from conservative and liberal (i.e. progressive and left-leaning, not big-L Liberal) governments alike. Let’s take a closer look:

Norway

Norway coast

Current administration: conservative

When people think electric vehicles, they think Norway. Over 20% of their new car sales were pure electric last year due to hefty incentives which have continued to expand under conservative and progressive governments alike. EVs aren’t just nonpartisan for the Scandinavian nation, they’re a fact of life.

That said, Norway is a clear outlier. Their pro-electric policies can be traced back to an import tax exemption for EVs in 1990, long before other nations had even begun to think abut the technology. This long history of support has transcended party lines and secured their position as a world leader in the market. For a slightly less European example, perhaps we should look closer to home...

New Zealand

New Zealand Queenstown

Current administration: liberal

It’s not just Norway; our neighbours and long-time rivals to the East have us beat on the EV policy field. While our politicians bickered, theirs put forward a comprehensive incentive package in 2016 that has led to them having more EVs on the road today than Australia does — And while the policy has been maintained by the progressive Labour government since their election in 2017, it was the conservative National party that developed and implemented the plan.

However, both Norway and New Zealand are quite green by Aussie standards. They’re both smaller countries with a history of strong environmental policies and a consensus-driven political system. To really see if EVs are a partisan issue, we need to take a look for the nastiest, greasiest country we can.

United States

San Francisco skyline

Current administration: conservative

If there’s one country that loves big engines and long roads as much as Australia, it’s the US. Not to mention their politics is about as divisive as it comes. So it might come as a surprise to some that the Americans are a long way ahead of us when it comes to EV and vehicle emissions policy.

One of the points Labor has received the most flak for this month is their proposed 105g CO2/km light vehicle emissions standard. This value would almost halve the current Australian levels of ~192g/km and has been widely criticised by the LNP and conservative media outlets. What many commentators have failed to mention, however, that this value falls exactly in line with existing US emissions standards. Not only does the US have stronger vehicle emissions standards than we do, but they’ve had significant federal tax incentives for EV purchases since 2009.

But those incentives are under fire this week as President Trump wants them abolished and Congress works to extend them indefinitely. So is this a partisan division of the same kind as Australia’s? Not quite. The bill currently being debated by Congress was sponsored by a bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans. Meanwhile, those opposing the extension are all closely associated with fossil fuel donors, so perhaps it isn’t party lines but donation lines we should be considering in this debate.

And while the US does share many similarities with our own situation, their political system has plenty of massive differences that don’t translate to an Australian context. But we don’t have to look much further afield for a more relevant parliamentary system — as well as a similarly-fractured EV debate.

Canada

Toronto skyline

Current administration: liberal

The 2015 election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal (Canada’s left-leaning major party) government was seen as a progressive victory by many. With a fresh young face at the helm it was assumed that environmental initiatives and emerging tech would be embraced. And while that is true to an extent, there have been some sizeable roadblocks that’ve held back EV adoption for the last 4 years. But is it a stubborn conservative opposition? Nope, it’s Canada’s provincial governments.

Canada’s federal system functions similarly to our own. Their 10 provinces function more-or-less like our 7 states, with a degree of autonomy in certain affairs and deferring to the national government in others. They’re also frequently required to cooperate with the federal government, and policies often stall when they don’t. This is what’s become of the 2017 federal EV strategy, which has been repeatedly subverted and opposed by provincial leaders.

The take-home message from Canada, then, is that cooperation at all levels of government will be necessary to implement Australia’s EV policy. Arguing at the Commonwealth level might be all anyone’s talking about for now, but it could be state and local governments that make the difference for EV adoption in Australia. JET Charge has already worked with a number of local councils to install and manage EV infrastructure, and we’re excited to see what’s next as more Aussies start taking advantage of this technology.

Looking at the examples above, it seems pretty clear that EV policy doesn’t have to be an ideological question. Supporting electric vehicle uptake means supporting Aussie lithium production, Aussie businesses, and ending our reliance on fossil fuels. Let us know what you think and stay tuned to https://jetcharge.com.au/blog for more EV industry news and updates.