Prime Minister Scott Morrison in an electric vehicle.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently unveiled a plan to increase uptake of low-emissions vehicles. Image by AAP Images/Mick Tsikas

PM’s claim about Labor’s 2019 electric car policy is all gas

AAP FactCheck November 16, 2021
WHAT WAS CLAIMED

In 2019, Labor had a policy to raise the price of petrol to force people to switch to electric vehicles.

OUR VERDICT

False. Labor had no such stated policy, and any link between the opposition's then proposals and increased fuel prices was only tangential.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has used two media interviews to claim that Labor’s electric vehicle policy at the 2019 federal election included plans to raise the price of fuel to force drivers away from petrol cars. 

However, Labor had no such policy. Rather, the opposition planned to introduce average emissions standards for new vehicles, among other measures to encourage electric vehicle (EV) uptake, which may have also required the introduction of better quality fuels but did not include any stated plan to increase petrol prices.

The prime minister’s claim relates to Labor’s 2019 election pledge for electric vehicles to make up 50 per cent of new car sales by 2030, a policy Mr Morrison dubbed at the time as “a war on the weekend”. On November 9, 2021, the Morrison government unveiled its own plans to increase the uptake of low-emissions vehicles in Australia.

When asked on November 11 how the government’s new policy differed from Labor’s 2019 policy, Mr Morrison told Channel 7’s Sunrise program: “They (Labor) were going to put up the price of fuelÔǪ They were going to put up the cost of fuel to try and force people to switch over.”

Mr Morrison repeated his claim during an interview with Channel 9’s Today show on the same day, saying: “I mean, their (Labor’s) electric vehicles policy was about pushing up the price of petrol to force people to change”.

The prime minister’s office did not respond to an AAP FactCheck request for information about the basis of Mr Morrison’s claim.

Labor’s EV policy prior to the 2019 election was summarised in a Bill Shorten media release dated April 1, 2019. The policy includes “a national electric vehicle target of 50 per cent new car sales by 2030” and a target that 50 per cent of new government cars would be electric by 2025 among other measures.

The statement also said Labor would also “aim to phase-in (emission) standards of 105g CO2/km for light vehicles”, which it said would be applied as an average to retailers. These standards could be met by retailers offsetting high-emission car sales with sales of vehicles such as EVs.

The only mention of petrol prices in the media release is a pledge that Labor will “help Australians save on their petrol bills”. Similarly, a policy document setting out the plans in more detail does not mention increasing fuel prices to encourage uptake of more efficient or electric vehicles.

However, it does suggest the lack of vehicle emissions standards in Australia means Australians are paying more for petrol than they should be, adding that better standards would provide an added incentive for retailers to sell EVs and therefore lower prices for the cars.

AAP FactCheck could find no evidence in news articles, speeches or Labor policy documents from the year before the election of the opposition ever suggesting raising fuel prices to encourage the purchase of EVs.

For example, Labor’s 2018 national platform, which outlined the party’s key priorities in the run-up to the 2019 federal election, said the party would “support public and private fleets to transition to low or zero emission vehicles” but makes no mention of any policy to increase petrol prices.

On April 1, 2019, leader Bill Shorten mentioned fuel prices in a doorstop interview about EVs but only in the context of reducing consumer spending on petrol.

“It’s about time we reduce the cost and burden of driving petrol cars and the fuel costs that go with it,” he said in the interview. Mr Shorten also addressed the topic of electric cars and petrol prices in an interview on May 1, 2019, arguing that electric vehicles will “save your petrol bills”.

During the election campaign, Mr Morrison argued that Labor’s proposed emissions standards for cars would lead to costlier vehicles, also raising concerns that it was not known what impact the policy would have on fuel prices.

“If Bill Shorten can’t explain his policies or won’t explain his policies and what it means for the price of a car and the price of petrol, then don’t vote for it,” he said on April 11, 2019.

Two days earlier, Mr Morrison said Labor’s “policy on fuels … will also push up the price of petrol” after pledging that the coalition would not follow the “mandatory route” of higher vehicle emissions standards proposed by Mr Shorten. He did not explain at the time how Labor’s policies would lead to the claimed petrol price increase.

The car industry lobby warned during the election campaign that Labor would be unable to introduce its improved emissions standards without the availability of higher quality fuels.

A government impact assessment published in August 2018 noted that improving fuel standards would enable better engine and emission control technology to be brought to Australia. It noted that its preferred option, which would allow the country to be aligned with European emissions standards, would lead to an increase of around 1c per litre in fuel prices in the medium-term. Fuel standards are currently being reviewed under the coalition government.

The Verdict

Labor’s electric vehicle policy in 2019 did not include a plan to increase petrol prices to force people to buy electric cars. Rather, the federal opposition proposed average emissions standards for new cars as one of several measures to encourage EV uptake. These standards could require better quality fuels leading to a potential increase in prices – however the extent to which this would occur is unknown and the link to Labor’s EV policy is tangential.

False ÔÇô The claim is inaccurate.

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