Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (15:23): I am quite pleased this afternoon to make my contribution on the Zero and Low Emission Vehicle Distance-based Charge Bill 2021. It will not be a surprise to the house that The Nationals, like the Liberals, will also be opposing the bill before the house. What we see in this bill is I think we are up to the 38th tax that the Andrews government is placing on the shoulders of Victorians. Now, it is an art form that they can come up with 38 new taxes in about eight years, but they seem to have come off with great aplomb—except the burden, as I said, lies squarely on the shoulders of Victorians. This time this tax, which is subject to indexation, starts off as a distance tax, so 2.5 cents for electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles and 2 cents for a plug-in hybrid vehicle.
Now, this attack is just plain silly. It is not productive when as a state and as a country we are working to reduce our emissions. The government seeks to tax those people who are, we will say, reasonably early adopters who are choosing to purchase a hybrid vehicle which is out and about—they are certainly out and about now—or an electric or hydrogen vehicle. And we know hydrogen is off in the near future. So we have got a government that is prepared to tax those people who are financially able and making those choices to drive low- and zero-emissions cars. As I said, this is counterproductive in the extreme—and not only for hybrid car owners, of which there are many on our roads now, as they are quite popular and probably more so in and around the city areas, but they get to pay it twice. They get to pay the tax of 2 cents a kilometre for electric cars and then on the fuel excise when they are using petrol or diesel, per litre. So it is a double whammy.
Now, the bit that I find quite interesting that the Treasurer, Tim Pallas, in his second-reading speech came up with was that this bill is needed, and it is needed to ensure that all motorists contribute their fair share to the cost of funding road and road-related infrastructure. Well, it is interesting that the government wants to walk down that road, because we in the country know that this government is turning its back on country Victorians. We who drive country roads on a regular basis and live in the country know that our road and road maintenance and road infrastructure are being appallingly left behind. We know that the government now is choosing to put go-slow signs on our roads rather than fix them, rather than maintain them in the proper format. We know that too many country drivers are in our road statistics. We know that unfortunately our road surfaces are deteriorating. And we see in this year’s road budget the maintenance budget for regional roads is one-tenth—it is in the budget papers—of previously allocated funding: $44 million for planning and upgrades and road maintenance through the regional road network compared to 10 times that in the previous year’s budget.
Now, it is not fair and it is not appropriate that that should happen. In fact today in the Gippsland Times, one of my local papers, the RACV is talking about this issue and saying that it estimates that:
… only 20 per cent of the 180,000 kilometres of Victorian regional roads with 100kmh speed limits actually meet the Australian Road Assessment Program’s minimum three-star safety standard …
It also goes on to say that:
The motoring group further estimates upgrading all the 100kmh roads in Victoria to such a standard would take about 1000 years at the current level of funding.
We talk about Towards Zero, the importance of it, and we all agree that it is so important to get our fatalities down on our regional roads—yet here we have this government cutting funding to such an important infrastructure budget.
I heard Mr Rich-Phillips speak very eloquently before about the issue in even policing this and creating the administrative framework by which this new tax will be implemented. You have got to look at the lodgement of your odometer at July 2021 this year, the new financial year, and then within 14 days of the vehicle’s registration payment the secretary can issue an invoice. And there is a penalty—of course, there is always a penalty—for unpaid invoices. We have seen the debacle about unpaid invoices through COVID, and we are going to see this is going to be another clunky and hard-to-administer tax. And then again what we see of course is that there are all these back-end people—it would not be a thrilling job to administer this sort of thing. They are going to get paid and they are going to take up more and more administrative money and our bureaucratic money, when things like fixing our roads should be a higher priority. We know that other states have not taken this up, and indeed we are an early adopter of this next tax here in Andrews government land.
They talk about zero emissions and electric cars. Well, there was a monumental muck-up by the government, a monumental failure of the government, in my electorate of Eastern Victoria Region, in the Latrobe Valley, where Daniel Andrews, Minister Carroll and a Labor member for Eastern Victoria Region stood there in October of 2018 heralding the news that we were going to have SEA Electric come to the district and the region and create 500 jobs each year and annually there would be 2400 electric cars rolling off the production line. And what have we got 3½ years later? We have got four people being paid by the Latrobe Valley Authority to travel down to Dandenong to work in the Dandenong plant. We will not receive a brand new, fantastic facility, because the government has mucked it up. They make it so difficult for people to do business in this region. They give false hope to our region, particularly in the Latrobe Valley, and it is just unfair. So when the government says we are doing things, we are doing things wrongly in this direction.
The other issue that I would clearly like to raise with regard to this is that the Andrews government seems to be picking winners and losers in terms of hydrogen. This government talks about hydrogen cars and is supposedly supporting hydrogen cars. This government also has supported CarbonNet, the investigative body that looks at how this state can best capture carbon and carbon dioxide, sequester it safely out to sea in previous oil and gas deposits and capture that CO2. The whole argument in this debate should always be about emissions, but what this government is doing and what the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio, is saying is, ‘No, I’m picking green hydrogen. It’s far better than blue hydrogen’. If the outcome is about emissions, why not let the market choose? She has invested money in CarbonNet, and it is now like doing a backflip and turning on CarbonNet and CCS technology.
It also then means that the hydrogen is made from coal or gas, but let us look at coal. That is happening with the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain program that the Japanese government, the federal government and the state government have put money into—particularly the Japanese government have invested quite a lot of money into this, millions and millions of dollars—and now they are saying, ‘I’m sorry, we’re walking away. We don’t like it coming from coal’, when the argument should always be, ‘What is the best outcome, what is the responsible outcome and will we have reduced CO2 emissions?’. So I find this duplicitous, and I find that the government is absolutely picking winners and losers. Unfortunately, the losers are road users in regional Victoria, and there also are losers in terms of the Latrobe Valley. It is unfair, and I just cannot understand—well, it is ideology over common sense, so I should understand it.
The other thing that is important to note is that CarbonNet has been doing a wealth of work and has been working with the hydrogen cluster that is down in Gippsland to talk about ways to integrate hydrogen into our economy and into our energy system, and I think it is important to walk down that path and keep everything on the table. Let the market decide whether hydrogen from coal works or not, but do not put up the blockers, Minister D’Ambrosio, right now. You are actually shooting your own department in the foot, and I think it is very counterproductive.
So with those few words I would like to say that The Nationals again feel disappointed that government is putting up somewhere in the vicinity of 38 new taxes. This should be about supporting the movement to low carbon emissions. It should be about adopting great technology in terms of electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles. But it also should be about common sense, and unfortunately this government is very slim on common sense and very good on ideology.