In the days since the ‘“black summer” bushfires I have watched my community suffer. That moment in our history was a major climatic event and the largest wildfires our nation has ever seen.

We can’t spend any more time, or expend any more energy, debating climate change. We need to take action now. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s real or not – regardless of your viewpoint, you will be a beneficiary of the innovation.

An immediate way we can lead change is to increase the number of electric vehicles on our roads.

What we have seen in Australia is too much concern around losing tax revenue. There is a belief that as we scale up our electric vehicle market, we will see the dollars coming in from the fuel excise scale down.

But we need to encourage, not discourage, change for the better. We need visionary thinking to deal with this issue. We need to incentivise the market. We need to see a variation in price points – the notion of electric vehicles as being only for the wealthy must be dispelled – and importantly, we need to do this here and now.

I travelled to Oslo a few years ago to have a look at what is happening with electric vehicles there. They are so much further down the track – they even have electric excavators and ferries. Meanwhile, in Australia we’re still focused on an outdated approach. We are worrying about tax when we should be worrying about how we can speed up the electrification process. It makes me nervous that we are stuck having a debate around revenue. We have got to think differently.

As transport and roads minister I have shifted the electric bus situation in New South Wales very quickly. We now have a manufacturer in western Sydney producing electric buses, and we will have the entire fleet running as electric by the end of the decade.

As anyone who has spent time in Sydney knows, we repeatedly see smoke and fog settling in over the basin. That mix contains a toxic cocktail of nitrous oxides and diesel particulates, which everyone is breathing in. Even those who are climate change sceptics cannot deny that it is bad for our health and that things must change.

I don’t think we should see the implementation of a road user charge anytime soon. Victoria has gone down this path and has made itself the laughing stock of the world. A road user charge for electric vehicles should be many, many years off. Not now. Not before we have a reasonably priced electric vehicle market and the right level of supply. First, we need to encourage the uptake.

We need to look at the incentives which assist people in choosing to buy and drive electric vehicles. Overseas cities have carparks, fully lined with charge points, where people can park their cars for free and charge them all day, for free. I want to see access to transit lanes and similar types of incentives here in NSW to encourage the use of electric vehicles. It is also imperative we deal with the price point associated with the purchase of an electric vehicle in both the new and the secondhand car market.

Why don’t we look at stamp duty incentives, and at a national level, the luxury car threshold? Our taxes need to be geared towards incentivising and encouraging electric vehicles and not the opposite. We also need to look at the infrastructure in place to deal with range anxiety, particularly in regional areas, where there are longer distances to travel. But I am inspired and excited by the options and I think we can achieve all of this and more if we just think creatively and show leadership. We will all see a huge benefit to our health, our environment and to the future of this country.

I am very encouraged by what I believe is going to happen and I think Australia should be looking at every possible avenue. We shouldn’t just think of this as something that happens in Norway or in other foreign countries. We can make it happen right here, right now, at home.

We should be saying to the world “we can do this as well as all of you, if not even better”.

Andrew Constance is transport and roads minister of New South Wales



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