Adjournment: Electric Vehicles: Rural and Regional Australia

Parts of Australia are already dealing with bushfires, and we know the Labor government is trying to force Australians into buying, by majority, electric vehicles. But how would these vehicles work during sudden bushfires, cyclones and/or floods, particularly for those of us who live and work in regional and remote parts of Australia, when there is no power because the poles and wires have been destroyed or damaged? Will our lives and livelihoods be at even greater risk as a result?

I want to paint you a picture. In the sudden summer lightning strikes that caused the Yarloop bushfires in 2016, 69,000 hectares were burnt and two people lost their lives. In the windy conditions, the fires moved very quickly. Given the time of year, we were home, working on our dairy farm. As the fires raged, one of the first things we lost was our electricity. The poles and wires had been burnt. The first thing we had to do was fuel up each of our farm and personal vehicles in case we had to evacuate, and we had to move those farm vehicles into green paddocks and away from the fires as much as we could. Very quickly, several of our neighbours came to fuel up at our farm fuel tanks because their own vehicles were low on fuel and they didn’t have enough fuel to get away if they were told they had to evacuate because the fires were so close.

What happens when all or most of these vehicles are electric, according to the government’s plan—our personal vehicles, tractors, trucks, utes and motorbikes? How and where will we charge our vehicles at the height of an emergency when there is no power, when there are aggressive, fast-moving and unpredictable fires, driven by strong and changing winds, for instance, or when the spot fires are at times kilometres ahead of the actual fire front? What about when the embers are landing on our homes and on our dry paddocks and when the charging stations have no power because the power lines have been burnt down? When whole towns and communities are told to evacuate, how will they get away from the fires, cyclones or floods when there is little or no charge left in their batteries? Where and how far will we have to go to charge our vehicles or find a charging station that actually works? And, if we do, how long will the queues be?

People in the Harvey and Yarloop communities were told to leave and travel to an evacuation centre or to family or friends to get away from the fires. Where will people go when there is no power to charge their vehicles to get away? How is the government planning to risk-proof our areas and people in these circumstances? And what happens when all the buses are electric? There will not be time for all of these vehicles to be recharged in the face of disasters. I haven’t heard anything about plans for this.

Events in Queensland and WA right now should be a very stark warning—because additional lives will be put at risk. And we know it can take weeks to restore these basic services at a time of crisis. And what will be the additional cost of lost vehicles, property and human life as a result of a total dependence on electric vehicles, and on wind and solar sources that may also be burnt when there is no power generation? What happens if the power’s cut to charging stations because the power lines have burned down? What do we do then? And how much will our insurance premiums increase to cover the cost of the increased risk?

This will disproportionately affect those of us who live and work in regional and remote parts of Australia. Will some of the 1,700 fire and rescue vehicles also have to be electric, and how far are they going to go? What happens when they’re in the middle of a really serious fire, like those 69,000 hectares? How often will they need recharging and where will they go when they’re trying to fight a fire front? This is when the power lines are already down.

We also lose our communications at the same time. That’s what happens to us out in the regions. Often you’d rely on your vehicle to help charge your phone to try to get in touch with someone if you could, but often the towers are out as well. I know that what happened at Donnybrook and Balingup was that residents didn’t even know if they needed to turn right or left because of the intensity of the fires. In hilly areas, with fast-moving fires and wind changes it can be really impossible to get accurate warnings and communications. So this is now a very real issue for us in the regions. When the power goes out in regional and rural areas, we rely on diesel generators and gas for cooking, and we don’t need to be not only cold and hungry but also stationary when these disasters happen—and they will keep happening