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Electric Vehicles

Estimates & Committees
Scott Ludlam 26 May 2010

Senator LUDLAM-To begin, can you give us an idea of your mandate, because we have a number of different agencies and different folk running around thinking about infrastructure and surface transport policy. We have Infrastructure Australia making project-by-project assessments and we have got the Major Cities Unit doing more high-level work about modelling of where our communities are going. Can you just define for me precisely the nature of your mandate and then I will target my questions accordingly?

Mr Mrdak-This is a division in the department which essentially has three major streams. The first is maritime and shipping policy, including the administration of the coastal shipping regulatory regime. The second is what we would call our land transport reform agenda, which is principally focused on single national market reform; rail, heavy vehicles and maritime regulatory reform; and also the productivity reform agenda around heavy vehicle pricing and regulatory reform of land transport. The third area is in relation to vehicle standards. We have responsibility for essentially the Australian standards in relation to vehicles coming into the Australian market.

Senator LUDLAM-If I ask you about electric vehicles, will you send me off to industry, innovation and science and those sorts of folk?

Mr Mrdak-We can help a little bit with vehicle design standards.

Senator LUDLAM-Can we start there?

Mr Mrdak-Yes.

Senator LUDLAM-I will start with the importing of electric vehicles from foreign manufacturers. I know we are not doing any manufacturing ourselves. When are we going to see a large scale rollout of EVs, charging stations and so on, and what kind of role would you play in that?

Mr Mrdak-Our role is largely around the vehicle standards themselves, that they meet the Australian
Design Rules for safety.

Senator LUDLAM-What about the charging stations that would have to come along with the vehicle?

Mr Mrdak-That is not really an issue which we would engage in. I will turn to our VSS colleagues but I think our role is largely around the vehicle certification standards: that they meet the Australian design rule standards for importation or manufacture.

Senator LUDLAM-The reason I raise the charging stations is that one of the issues the industry is confronting is how to be able to put a surcharge into these small, very high density batteries without blowing the charging station up. I presume you are going to need to assess not just the vehicle standards but the infrastructure that comes along with it as a package or it will not make a lot of sense. I will throw to you if you like.

Mr Mrdak-I will seek clarification.

Ms Riggs-That is not an issue that we have heard of from the industry so we are not familiar with that. As the secretary has said, the issue of charging stations and how they interface with the car is not directly a responsibility of the division.

Senator LUDLAM-So can you give us some idea of the lie of the land? In terms of manufacturers, are there people coming to you seeking to get accreditation to import cars?

Ms Riggs-All the car manufacturers are aware of the Australian Design Rules that cover cars. The same rules cover the car irrespective of its motive power.

Senator LUDLAM-Are there special hurdles that an electric vehicle is going to need to climb over that do not apply? I am aware, for example, of the little Indian vehicle that there was some controversy about a year or two ago which could not drive around in Australia even though they are rolling them out in India in quite large numbers. I suppose what I want to know is whether the hurdles are the same as those for regular vehicles.

Ms Riggs-The Australian Design Rules apply to all cars irrespective of their motive power.

Ms O'Connell-An electric car that was brought out to Australia and demonstrated, I think it might have been late last year, actually met the certification and design standards. It was the Mitsubishi i-MiEV.

Ms Riggs-The i-MiEV is now being imported in small quantities by Mitsubishi.

Senator LUDLAM-How many different manufacturers are seeking to import or are actually bringing electric vehicles into Australia at the moment?

Ms Riggs-The i-MiEV is the only one that I am aware of that is actually currently being imported.

Ms O'Connell-As a production electric manufactured car.

Ms Riggs-Mr Terrell informs me that the Tesla is also seeking acknowledgement that it meets the rules.

Senator LUDLAM-What is the normal processing time? How long does it take you to assess whether it does or not?

Mr Terrell-For new vehicles in full volume we have a normal processing time of about 30 days.

Senator LUDLAM-Okay.

Mr Terrell-That is from the last piece of acceptable evidence. In general the manufacturers would need to do a lot more work before they put all that in.

Senator LUDLAM-A lot of back and forth, you mean?

Mr Terrell-Not usually too much backwards and forwards unless there are errors in the submissions.

Senator LUDLAM-What I am trying to get is the general lie of the land. If we were having this conversation in five years time, how many different manufacturers would we expect to see? How many manufacturers are now seeking to bring these vehicles in?

Ms Riggs-We have just identified the two that we are aware of. You would have to speak to the manufacturers to get a sense of the lie of that land.

Senator LUDLAM-If only we could call them up. I am just noting the name of the agency- Infrastructure and Surface Transport Policy. Do you do any thinking at all about modelling future energy prices or oil prices?

Mr Mrdak-Our Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics does do forecasts of demand for each of the transport modes and that information is published.

Senator LUDLAM-When you are thinking about whether to put a freeway in or a railway line in you are using the BITRE modelling on oil costs, are you? You do not do your own modelling?

Mr Mrdak-The BITRE does probably some of the best modelling in terms of transport demand and also greenhouse impacts out of the transport industry and the like.

Senator LUDLAM-From the thinking that you do or the modelling that you import from BITRE-we can talk to them as well-what is your understanding of the medium-term, 10-year horizon oil prices in Australia? Can you show us whether or not that is influencing your thinking?

Mr Mrdak-I think we have the policy group and the bureau appearing later. I do not have those officers with me. I would probably get Dr Dolman to comment on that, if that is okay.

Senator LUDLAM-Can you pass on a heads-up on that? If I am still here at 10.30 at night then we will put that question to them.

Mr Mrdak-Otherwise, we would be happy to take questions on notice in relation to that and give you a more fulsome answer.

Senator LUDLAM-If you like, that would be my question then.

Ms O'Connell-There is also published research work on the bureau's website within our department that we could refer you to.

Mr Mrdak-Let me take that on notice. We will get you a comprehensive answer from Dr Dolman in relation to the assumptions they are using in relation to fuel prices and their current projections for transport demand.

Senator LUDLAM-That is helpful. This is my last question, and then I will pass you back to the chair. Within the whole of the Commonwealth Public Service who is the lead agency with responsibility for assessing and acting on oil price vulnerability or oil vulnerability in Australia?

Mr Mrdak-That rests with the resources portfolio. They are currently working on the government's energy white paper.

Senator LUDLAM-I will put those directly to them. I have no other questions, thank you.

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