Friday, 23 May 2008

Nelson killed the electric car

Earlier this week, leader of the federal opposition Brendan Nelson came up with an idea so bright it deserves some extra polish: What Australians need, according to Nelson, is a 5c per liter cut in their fuel costs to be achieved via tax deductions. Despite opposition from within, the Liberal party has adopted this policy as its own and repetitively flags it, ensuring that the support it receives from thinking Australians plummets to an all time low.
Think about it for a second. Assuming you fill your cars up with 100 liters a week, a 5c discount would save you $5 a week or roughly $250 a year: a nice sum, but nothing that would really change your life around even if your income is on the lower side of things.
Now, if Australian politics comes down to buying a vote for $250, we’re in deep sh*t. For the record, our household buys around 25 liters of petrol a week (that’s 12,000 kilometers per year for you), thus rendering our votes even cheaper at $30 per vote.
Then again, if petrol costs bother you so much, why wait for the government to make a move? Why don’t you just go and buy yourself a car that consumes less petrol? Assuming you’re on the Aussie standard six cylinder north of three liters engined car, you can easily identify cars that are effectively almost as spacious and consume around 25% less gas.
If you look at the current gas price situation with your eyes open you would probably notice that Australia is actually getting the cheaper end of things at the moment. With the Aussie dollar at an all time high, importing gas is relatively cheap; just think what would happen when the dollar goes back down to where it belongs (as in, once interest rates go down from their current peak, the way all of us mortgaged people would like them to go): gas prices could easily eclipse the $2 per liter mark and the value of that 5c discount would be even more negligible.
But no; it is our god given right to go around burning gas at will, and luckily Brendon is there to act as our savior!
I really don’t think Nelson is stupid. I do think, however, that he thinks us stupid, otherwise he wouldn’t have come up with such an incredibly stupid policy. Problem is, with the headlines he’s creating, it does seem like we’re all so very stupid. Stupid enough to deserve him and his party back in the reigns?

I know my opinion does not conform to mainstream attitudes, but I’ll repeat it here anyway. You see, I think the real problem here is not the current purse status of the average Australian but rather what the purse contents is going to be like in the not too distant future and what it is going to be like for our kids. When thinking this way, the 5c difference truly makes no difference.
In my not so humble opinion, taxing on gas should be raised, and raised significantly; the extra income should be used to cure us of our addiction to fossil fuels, using such means as subsidies for the installation of solar panels and subsidies for water tanks so we don’t have to build and power desalination plants.
In my opinion this fossil drug habit needs a cure now, before peak oil and global warming cause too many wars and misery. I’ll put it in a way all Australians can understand: when China runs out of oil and its population is forced to migrate because its cities are flooded, where do you think they’ll go? I’m not being xenophobic; what I’m saying is that if push comes to shove, China won’t ask Australia for permission to access its resources.

Another potentially good use of tax raised funds is to help convince car manufacturers to finally build electric cars.
The papers routinely report how car manufacturers such as GM and Ford are threatening to cut away from their Australian manufacturing plants. Most recently, they have been asking the government to help them financially so they can start manufacturing Aussie hybrid cars, as these might actually sell themselves and help them stay in Australian. The government, on its own part, is tempted by such offers, as the car manufacturing industry is very sexy and as it one of the very last things that are actually still manufactured in Australia.
But should the government pay the car manufacturers up? Well, in my opinion, they shouldn’t. Not before car manufacturers come up with genuine hybrid cars, as in cars that you can recharge by plugging them to the electricity socket in the wall rather than charging them by burning gas. Such a feature would be as easy as adding a socket to the cars, yet the car manufacturers actively avoid it because it would reduce their income and the income of the oil companies they’re in bed with. For the record, owners of hybrid cars can easily customize them for wall plugging, but then the nice manufacturers rebuke their car warranties in response. How lovely of them.
So no, I don’t think car manufacturers deserve to get government subsidies. However, if the choice is between subsidizing them anyway and subsidizing them while forcing them to produce worthy electric cars, I would go with the second option. It’s not ideal, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Call Nelson up and ask him what he thinks of this idea. Don’t be surprised if you can’t get him to answer this one.

1 comment:

Moshe Reuveni said...

Since posting this the Labor government has started humming to the same tune, now talking about axing GST on petrol to make it cheaper.
Which further proves my point that:
a. All dominant Australian politicians are idiots.
b. All dominant Australian politicians take us for idiots.
c. We are idiots.
d. All of the above.