“The Norway of Australia”: what does good electric vehicle policy look like?

The NSW Government has just joined the pack of state governments announcing electric vehicle subsidies, with a $500 million policy to incentivise purchase of electric vehicles, and improve EV infrastructure.

So, what’s involved in NSW’s new policy, how does it compare to other states, and what’s slowing electric vehicle uptake in Australia?

NSW’s new policy

The strategy announced by the NSW government includes waiving stamp duty for electric vehicle purchases for cars under $78,000, $3000 rebates for cars under $68,750, transitioning the government fleet to EVs, and a large investment in charging stations across the state. The aim is to have a majority of new cars be EVs by 2035.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s definitely not enough,” says Gail Broadbent, a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales, whose research focusses on increasing uptake of electric vehicles.

“If we’re going to reach net zero emissions by 2050, our modelling shows that we’ve really got to have 100% EV sales by 2030.”

This is in contrast with NSW Energy & Environment Minister Matt Kean’s calculation. In a statement, Kean said: “with new cars staying on the road 15 years on average, the vast majority of new cars sold in NSW need to be EVs by 2035 to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.” The policy is based on this logic.

According to Broadbent, the simple numbers are off here. “That’s not true – they last about 20 years.” So net zero emissions by 2050 isn’t possible if new petrol vehicles are still being sold in 2030.

“In tandem, we will need to transition to 100% renewable energy for our electricity supply,” points out Broadbent.

Kean also said on Twitter that he aimed to make NSW the “Norway of Australia”. Norway – where 75% of new vehicles are electric, and which has a commitment to 100% new EVs by 2025 – is regarded as a world leader in electric vehicles.

While policies vary hugely between states, nowhere in Australia is remotely as ambitious as Norway when it comes to EVs. What’s holding us back?

Barriers to EV uptake

There are a few things inhibiting EV uptake in Australia. One area that requires focus is infrastructure: specifically, charging stations. Subsidies are little use without them.

Forget long road trips for the moment – keeping an electric car charged at home might not be an option for some people. “There’s a lot of people who live in blocks of flats, who just don’t have any power points in garages or capacity to get them,” says Broadbent.

“Whatever you’re selling, you have to provide a complete environment that supplies everything the customer needs to be able to use that thing.”

For widescale usage, there needs to be widescale public charging stations – employing a lot of electricians. Over the next nine years, Australia will need to dramatically increase its “training of people who are going to be capable of installing the technology that we need to support electric vehicles”, says Broadbent.

Another barrier is emotional acceptance of EVs. “There’s this concept called range anxiety, where people are worried they’re going to run out of charge before they get to their destination,” says Broadbent. You really need an education program to address concerns about range and reliability, she says. Her research on EV uptake in New Zealand has shown that good communication is a key way to encourage people to buy electric vehicles.

“You’re not going to buy an electric car if you don’t know what’s available.”

Finally, car manufacturers have little incentive to sell electric vehicles to Australia, because national policies mean that EVs make more money elsewhere.

“The federal government could help here by getting on board with vehicle emissions standards,” says Broadbent.

Other countries – particularly in Europe – impose heavy penalties on car manufacturers if the vehicles they sell emit, on average, too much carbon dioxide. Manufacturers are thus incentivised to sell EVs there, to bring their numbers down – leaving higher-emitting cars for the Australian market.

The upshot, according to Broadbent, is that manufacturers can “dump petrol or diesel vehicles on us, because there’s no reason not to.

“If you’ve got a choice between getting fined in Europe and not getting fined in Australia, where are you going to sell [petrol cars]?”

While state governments can make a lot of progress with electric vehicles, the federal government still has a role to play. Done well, it could even revive the car manufacturing industry. Broadbent highlights the UK’s policy in particular, where a “conservative government has recognised a number of benefits from [electric vehicles].”

Aside from the obvious advantage – EVs decrease emissions – the UK believes that they’ll “revitalise their car industry. And that’s something we could do here.

“We used to have a very good industry here. We have world-class engineers. There’s no reason why we can’t have it again; it just requires a bit of commitment.”

How are other states faring on electric vehicle policy?

In its statement, the NSW government claimed their new policy makes the state “the best place in Australia” for electric vehicle uptake. In raw money terms, this is true – the $490 million package is more than any other state government has committed for electric vehicles.

But the states and territories are all at different stages and trying different tactics. While most places are introducing subsidies and infrastructure of some sort, three states – Victoria, South Australia and NSW – have also announced additional taxes for users of EVs. These user charges are designed to account for the lost revenue from taxes on fuel, and they all have different time frames.

Here’s a summary of each state’s current EV policy:

State/ TerritoryMost recent electric or zero-emissions vehicle (EV/ZEV) policiesAdditional road tax? (Announced as of June 2021)
ACTIn the 2020-2021 budget: financial incentives for ZEV purchase (including stamp duty exemption & two years’ free registration), infrastructure including rollout of 50 public charging stations.None.
NSWStrategy announced 20 June 2021: Financial incentives for EVs (including stamp duty exemption and rebates), building widespread charging network.Phased in from 2027: 2.5 cents per kilometre for ZEVs, 2 cents/km for hybrids.
NTDiscussion paper published 18 November 2019 ahead of a not-yet-announced strategy and implementation plan.None.
QLDConsultation on ZEV strategy currently running, this will be an update to a 2017 strategy that included low registration/stamp duty costs and 31 statewide charging stations (additional 18 new stations announced 17 June 2021)None.
SAStrategy announced 10 November 2020: focusing on accessible public charging, securing investment for statewide public charging stations.Initially announced in 2020, implementation delayed until July 2022: 2.5 cents/km for ZEVs, 2 cents/km for hybrids.
TASIn the 2020-2021 budget: government fleet transitioning to 100% EVs by 2030, investment in statewide charging stations.None.
VICStrategy announced May 2021: subsidies for purchases of private ZEVs, public bus trial, rollout of statewide charging infrastructure.Starting 1 July 2021: 2.5 cents/km for ZEVs, 2 cents/km for hybrids.
WAStrategy announced November 2020: increasing government fleet EVs, improving stakeholder knowledge, increasing rollout of charging stations.None. 

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