Recent changes indicate a massive storm is brewing. It has been well reported Victoria has introduced a road user charge (RUC) for electric and hybrid vehicles. The charge will increase by almost eight per cent per kilometre for EVs and 10 per cent for plug-in hybrid vehicles. On July 1, rising electricity prices by as much as 25 per cent have exacerbated these charges.
Effectively, the RUC is the replacement for the fuel excise tax. However, the Victorian government has seen a gap in the regulation that offers an opportunity for revenue and has assumed a taxation role. As expected, the RUC is being challenged in the High Court by two Victorian motorists with the federal government’s assistance. This is a fight not only for $13.9 billion, but for upwards of $100 billion in the Commonwealth fuel excise over the next five years. This all raises the question of who’s in charge?
History is littered with examples of jurisdictions implementing their own rules and killing national economic productivity, the quintessential example being the three different rail gauges used across eight jurisdictions. The trend is continuing and broadening.
The Queensland government in 2020 commissioned Dick Williams, former State Secretary of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), to review the Queensland Electrical Safety Act 2002. A discussion paper from minister Grace Grace seeks feedback concerning the need to change the act to consider EV inclusion in the Act’s scope, introducing electrical licensing for those working on or servicing EVs and changing definitions of what is electrical equipment, work and installation.
The 2002 Act specifically exempts EVs, except for mining vehicles. The Williams Review surmises that renewable and EV technology is new and that the risks have recently developed, with there being concern regarding worker safety based on risks of voltages of up to 700 Volts. The review lacks insight – vehicles have been safely operated and maintained by trained motor trade technical and roadside workers for the past 20 years with no Australian or Queensland data to indicate a history of near misses or injury that would raise concerns.
The Williams Review recommends that the Queensland state government should be able to determine EVs as electric equipment, set a standard for them, license who can install and maintain them and determine who can enter the state to undertake this work, all in isolation without reference to any other state or national body.
The electrical industry in Australia at a regulator level is fractured, in that there is not one electrical equipment ratifying body recognised by all states and there is no licensing body, nor do states recognise and implement standards in a universal way. State-based regulators can also recall or ban the use of equipment in conflict to Australian standards without regard to national implications.
The above fractured system is further compounded by the refusal of the Queensland government to progress a nationally consistent Automatic Mutual Recognition (AMR) process for trade licenses.
Similarly, other states are commencing other state-based regulation including Transport for NSW, who is drafting vehicle standards separate to the national Australian Design Rules (ADRs).
If state-based policy setting is allowed to flourish inside a nationally significant industry such as passenger and heavy vehicles, Australia’s national productivity and local manufacturing will vanish. Vehicles of all sizes have been a federal responsibility to ensure standards and safeguards. It is vital that there is only the federal government in charge of standards and safety to ensure consistency and to allow the Australian community to benefit from the economic growth that is possible as we develop a nationally consistent zero-emissions transport system.