Scott Morrison has denied the government’s latest support for electric vehicles is a policy backflip, despite warning just two years ago that a Labor plan to boost take-up of cleaner cars would “end the weekend”.
The Prime Minister’s announcement of $178 million in funding for charging stations prompted ridicule from the opposition, after Mr Morrison famously railed against Labor’s policies by saying electric cars couldn’t tow a boat or take a family camping.
“I don’t regret opposing Bill Shorten’s policy,” Mr Morrison said on Tuesday, after being reminded of his previous criticisms.
“I still don’t think it was a good policy because Labor wants to tell everybody what to do… I don’t have a problem with electric vehicles.”
Mr Morrison continued his week-long national roadtrip to spruik his energy credentials on Tuesday, arriving in Melbourne at a Toyota centre focusing on hydrogen fuel. Flanked by Energy Minister Angus Taylor and local Liberal MPs, he outlined cash for the government’s Future Fuels Fund, which would go to boosting take-up of hydrogen and electric vehicles by building charging and refuelling infrastructure.
Households would be incentivised to build electric charging facilities, the grid would be bolstered to support increased strain from charging, and businesses would be encouraged to put clean vehicles in their company fleets.
“It’s making sure that smart charging facilities available to consumers. It’s making sure that you don’t crash the grid when everybody goes in to plug in for their vehicles in the future,” Mr Morrison said.
“It’s about supporting, whether it’s councils to translate their vehicles into hydrogen powered vehicles for their waste trucks, or indeed for large commercial fleets or heavy vehicles.”
Mr Taylor said the government hoped the whole strategy, with a total cost of $250 million, would lead to $500 million in spending once the private sector joined to add more investment.
But Mr Morrison was peppered with questions about his criticism of the electric vehicle policy proposed by Mr Shorten at the 2019 election. At the time, the PM famously claimed an electric vehicle was “not going to tow your trailer”, “tow your boat” or “get you out to your favourite camping spot with your family”.
“Bill Shorten wants to end the weekend, when it comes to his policy on electric vehicles … He wants to say ‘see ya later’ to the SUV when it comes to the choices of Australians,” Mr Morrison previously said.
In 2019, the government claimed Mr Shorten’s policies mandating a minimum fuel efficiency would lead to banning popular fuel-intensive cars such as four-wheel drives and utes. Mr Morrison ridiculed the idea by joking people would have to dangle extension cords out their window to charge electric cars, while Mr Taylor claimed people would forget to plug the vehicle in to charge overnight.
Mr Taylor also joked in a Twitter meme before the 2019 election that people going camping would need petrol generators to charge their electric cars.
On Tuesday, Mr Morrison stuck by his comments, claiming his government’s policies were different to Labor’s in 2019.
“I just have a problem with governments telling people what to do about what vehicles they should drive and where they can drive them, which is what Bill Shorten’s plan was,” he said.
Mr Morrison alleged it was a “Labor lie” that he opposed electric vehicles, accusing the opposition of ” telling people what to do, what cars to drive.”
“They don’t like our plan because it doesn’t tax you and doesn’t force you to do anything,” he said.
Mr Shorten, appearing on Channel Nine’s Today show, accused the PM of imitating his policies.
“Mr Morrison must read my policy book at night-time for ideas,” he said.
When reminded of his joke about people having to dangle extension cords from their windows, Mr Morrison said there had since been a “massive change in the technology”, before going on to talk about hydrogen fuel – which was not what his original quote referred to.
“Technology is moving. It will continue to move forward. Australians will make those decisions. What I’m opposed to is forcing Australians to do things, forcing them out of their jobs,” he said.
“I want to let Australians make their own choices and have policies to support them. Electric vehicles were part of our policies at the last election. They just weren’t the Labor Party’s policies.”
Labor has continually raised Mr Morrison’s comments in press conferences and parliament in recent months. On Tuesday, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese called the announcement “completely inadequate”.
“Last election, Scott Morrison said electric vehicles would ‘end the weekend’. Today he’s saying electric vehicles are the future. You cannot trust what Scott Morrison says,” Mr Albanese tweeted just minutes after Mr Morrison’s press conference ended.
“He’ll say anything before an election and go back on it afterwards.”
Labor senator Murray Watt called Mr Morrison a “total bulls–t artist”.
Mr Albanese said Labor’s policies on electric vehicles included removing fringe benefits tax to cut prices and encourage take-up in business fleets. He was critical of the government for not doing more to lower prices of electric vehicles.
Electric Vehicles Council chief executive Behyad Jafari said the government’s strategy ignored important initiatives to boost uptake.
“There’s no sugar coating it, Future Fuels is a fizzer,” he said.
“If it contained fuel efficiency standards and rebates, it would give Australians more choice.”