Senate committee considers EV boost to Australian health and mining

An inquiry in Canberra led by independent Senator Tim Storer has heard from health and mining organisations about the benefits that could result from greater uptake of electric vehicles in Australia.
Written by Jonathan Chadwick, Contributor

The public inquiry into the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) in Australia has heard that the mining sector and the health of Australians would benefit if there were more of them in the market.

During the inquiry's second hearing on Friday in Canberra led by independent Senator Tim Storer, Doctors for the Environment Australia, the Pilbara Metals Group, and the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (AMEC) gave evidence to the committee.

In a report produced by the AMEC, it was estimated that the lithium value chain -- which includes raw materials through to cells and battery packs -- could increase from $165 billion to $2 trillion by 2025 if more EVs were to be introduced down under.

The chief executive of AMEC Warren Pearce said that rather than just exporting lithium, Australia should also focus on processing the minerals and manufacturing electric vehicle batteries, according to the ABC. AMEC says that Western Australia alone mines 60 percent of the world's supply of lithium used for the production of EV batteries.

"[The demand for lithium] is really quite incredible, so it's not an issue about us being able to supply all the demand of the world," Pearce told the ABC. It's really about Australia being able to actually cement a place within that global supply chain at both the mining level where we already dominate, but also at the processing, refining level."

Doctors for the Environment Australia, meanwhile, told the committee that poor air quality causes 3,000 deaths a year, half of which are a result of vehicle emissions.

A spokesperson from the Pilbara Metals Group also said that Australia has a "unique opportunity" to become a force in the EV space.

"PMG has seen an opportunity to use the growth of a new industry in Australia and made the decision to take significant action to become part of the supply and value chain for the EV market," it said.

"We have a chance to be able to make high-quality, low-cost materials for batteries specific to electric vehicles."

At the inquiry's first hearing last week, Tesla senior manager Sam McLean said that there would be advantages to producing its EVs down under, including easy access to lithium and nickel, as well as the availability of a skilled workforce.

However, there would also be disadvantages in Australia for Tesla, McLean said, including the size of the domestic market for EVs, which accounts for less than 1 percent of total sales.

"In Australia, given the size of the market and how much it lags the rest of the world, a relatively small proportion of manufacturing would be absorbed by the domestic market," McLean said. "If Australia wants to be more attractive to electric vehicle manufacturing, it will need a more mature and faster-growing electric vehicle market."

McLean said a plan in Australia should set clear sales targets for EVs and include investment in EV infrastructure. Greater public education would also help people understand the benefits of shifting to electric cars, he added.

The inquiry follows a recent report from UK firm GoCompare that ranks Australia behind Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the US for number of electric cars per nation. Australia also has one of the higher figures for electric cars per charging point, at 15 to 16, it said.

The Senate established a motion to form a select committee on EVs back in June, tasking it with inquiring into economic, environmental, and social benefits of widespread EV uptake in Australia; the opportunity for the development of EV manufacturing, supply, and value chain activities; and how the federal government can work with state governments to support EV goals.

At the establishment of the committee, Storer said that as the world's leading lithium exporter, Australia is "in the box seat" to develop EV supply and value chain industries.

His home state of South Australia would be particularly suited to build EVs, he said, adding that both the site and skilled workforce of Holden's now defunct operations in Elizabeth could be put to use. British billionaire Sanjeev Gupta has been considering building an EV plant at the former site, the Guardian previously reported.

Adelaide, in particular, is a flat, well-planned grid city with a "world-class" data network and high rooftop solar penetration, Storer added.

China, France, and Britain are among the countries that plan to phase out fuel cars in the next 25 years. China's Deputy Industry Minister Xin Guobin last year said that his ministry had begun "research on formulating a timetable to stop production and sales of traditional energy vehicles" as a way of curbing the country's carbon emissions.

France, meanwhile, will gradually reduce the sale and advertising of traditional cars in favour of electric alternatives, and, by 2040, it is hoping an outright ban will be in place. The overall aim is to make the country carbon neutral by 2050.

In July last year, the UK outlined its plans to ban all diesel and petrol vehicles by 2040. UK ministers believe poor air cost the nation up to £2.7 billion in lost productivity in one year, according to The Guardian.

With AAP


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