Transport Minister Barnaby Joyce has quashed the prospect of Australia replicating overseas bans on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, as the Turnbull government splits on whether to encourage the electric vehicle industry.
Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg this week strongly backed the prospects of electric vehicles in Australia against opposition from conservative backbenchers. He told Sky News on Tuesday that critics who ridiculed the technology would "probably be the ones buying them in a decade's time".
In an opinion piece for Fairfax Media this month, Mr Frydenberg said Australia should prepare for the electric car revolution that has already swept Europe and will soon hit China. He said France and Britain would end the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2040, and Norway and the Netherlands aimed to do so by 2025.
Asked whether Australia would follow suit, a spokeswoman for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Barnaby Joyce on Wednesday said his government had "no plan to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars ... Australia's transport policies are modelled on Australia's needs." His office declined to elaborate.
Two Liberal backbenchers – Craig Kelly and Tim Wilson – have signalled they will oppose any government subsidies to the electric car industry.
This is despite the International Energy Agency's 2017 outlook for electric vehicles stating that financial incentives were "essential for reducing the purchase cost and total cost of ownership gap between electric and conventional cars".
The report said such incentives would encourage sales, leading to a rise in production and technology development that would help lower the cost of electric car components.
It said measures could include direct rebates, tax breaks or exemptions. These were used in countries including Brazil, Canada, China, South Africa and 20 European Union members states.The incentives can be technology-neutral, favouring low-emission vehicles and penalising those with high environmental costs.
Mr Kelly, a climate change sceptic, this week claimed a Tesla electric car powered by a coal-intensive electricity grid emitted more greenhouse gas than a Toyota Corolla. He based his assertions on the government's online Green Vehicle Guide.
Electric Vehicle Council chief executive Behyad Jafari questioned the website's data, saying some calculations on electric cars "don't add up".
"There's a pretty clear concern; the government needs to re-look at these numbers," he said.
Debate over the environmental merits of electric cars has been fuelled by a 2016 government-commissioned report that said those driven in Victoria, NSW and Queensland – where power derived from coal is highest – have a "higher CO2 output than those emitted from the tailpipes of comparative petrol cars".
Asked if that claim still held true, a spokesman for the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities said on Tuesday the emission intensity of the grid "has fallen and this trend is expected to continue".
"Furthermore, developments in electric vehicles will continue to advance, both in terms of more efficient batteries and an increased range of vehicles being manufactured," he said.