This bill combines a number of tariff proposals that were tabled in parliament in August and November last year, as well as making minor name changes to align with the 2022 harmonised commodity description and coding system. In summary, the proposals incorporated in schedule 1 of this bill include: section 1, a 35 per cent tariff on top of the existing tariff payable on goods from Russia and Belarus; section 2, a free rate of tariff on goods that are the product or manufacture of Ukraine; section 3, an extension of free tariff designation on essential hygiene and medical related goods as established in response to COVID-19 pandemic; and section 4, a free tariff for certain electric and low-emissions vehicles.
I want to make it clear from the outset that the coalition supports the first three tariff proposals in the strongest possible terms. The additional tariffs in relation to goods produced in Russia and Belarus, as well as continuing free status for goods from Ukraine, help meet our international obligations. The international community has rightly continued its strong condemnation of the Russian war on Ukraine. The invasion of Ukraine, over a year ago now, was illegal and unprovoked and has resulted in thousands of deaths. We have seen the ongoing violence and destruction over the past 12 months, and Australia has been clear: we stand with all democratic nations in our condemnation of Russia and in our admiration of the resolve of the Ukrainian leadership and people.
Australia has been one of the largest non-NATO contributors and we have done so across a range of pillars. We have provided military support, and our unique Bushmaster vehicles have been particularly welcomed. We have provided cyberexpertise and support to help respond to Russian cyberattacks on key systems, including energy. We also provided humanitarian support, putting in place measures to help Ukrainians who were fleeing, in terms of visa access and the types of support they receive in Australia.
As the coalition stated very firmly on the anniversary of the invasion, we honour the bravery and strength of the people of Ukraine, who continue to courageously defend their sovereignty, their freedom and their home. We grieve the fatalities and casualties at the hands of Russia’s abhorrent actions, their brutality the cause of more than 7,199 civilian deaths and more than 11,756 injuries.
Under the former coalition government, $255 million of defence military assistance, including 40 Bushmaster armoured vehicles and $65 million in humanitarian assistance, was provided to Ukraine’s fight for freedom and to assist its people. Australia must not grow fatigued of helping Ukraine defend itself. It is imperative the Albanese government provide additional humanitarian support and further military assistance. The Australian embassy in Kyiv must be reinstated and join the 67 diplomatic missions which have already returned. This is our pledge and we will work in a bipartisan way to support government efforts towards these goals.
Economic sanctions and penalties are another important part of Australia’s response as part of the international community, so we strongly support sections 1 and 2 of schedule 1 in this bill. We also support section 3 of schedule 1, which permanently extends the tariff concession on medical and hygiene goods, including masks, soap, gloves, protective clothing and testing kits. This was first introduced in March 2020. The temporary concession was extended several times, most recently to 30 June 2022. In the March 2022 budget the coalition announced that the concession would be made permanent and the scope of the concession expanded to also provide a free rate of duty for ingredients and primary containers used in the manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. So we obviously welcome this measure. And we note that Australia’s health record during the pandemic was among one of the best in the world. The strong measures the federal government took to secure our national border and to ensure the availability of vital medical products undoubtedly saved many thousands of lives.
The one aspect of this bill that is a cause for concern is the decision to create a free rate of tariff for low emissions vehicles under the luxury car tax threshold limit. Our position on this has been clear. The coalition expressed opposition to the Treasury Laws Amendment (Electric Car Discount) Bill 2022 on the basis that the money provided as a subsidy to some individual taxpayers would be better off invested in EV infrastructure for the future. That tax measure along with this tariff concession were the major platforms of Labor’s EV policy, which we opposed prior to the election.
I’d like to place on the record a few important facts in relation to this tariff cut. Direct EV subsidies and tax concessions are some of the most expensive forms of carbon abatement possible. The Productivity Commission has found that state and federal EV subsidies and tax exemptions have implicit carbon prices in the range of $2,000 to $20,000 a tonne of CO2, compared to the average $16 Australian carbon credit unit price under the coalition. It’s also important to note that, as an importer of vehicles, EV supply is already constrained in Australia due to global demand and the scarcity of right-hand drive models. Subsidies and tax incentives increase demand without altering supply and; therefore, also have an inflationary effect. Importantly, 70 per cent of the top 10 countries from which we import passenger motor vehicles are already covered by a free trade agreement, largely secured by the coalition. So this measure only applies to a fraction of EVs, yet it constitutes the majority of the financial impact of this bill, representing a $140 million loss in revenue over forward estimates.
The coalition’s view is that consumer choice needs to be supported. What most people considering the purchase of EVs really want is a greater network of charging infrastructure. They want to know they can charge their car quickly. Greater charging infrastructure is what would improve uptake, not a personal subsidy. That is why, in government, we delivered the first national Future Fuels and Vehicle Strategy, which set out how the government would support a technology-led approach to reducing transport emissions, because that is the smartest and most efficient way we can support emissions reduction.
The coalition committed $2.1 billion to partner with industry to support the uptake of low- and zero emissions vehicles. Our strategy would have generated around half a billion dollars of private and public co-investment and would have seen 84 percent of the population have convenient access to fast public charging. The coalition committed to back the strategy further with an expanded $250 million Future Fuels Fund to build the infrastructure that will allow motorists to charge or refuel across urban and regional Australia. This would have added to over 400 charging stations the coalition committed to in round 1 of the fund, which delivered a total of $79.9 million of public and private investment into Australia’s fast charging network. Clearly, the revenue forgone with this tariff reduction would have gone a long way and done more to support uptake if invested in infrastructure.
On this side of the House we recognise that tariffs, both their imposition and any concessions, are an important economic tool that can achieve significant outcomes and send a clear message on government policy. Our free trade agreements, championed by the coalition, have meant that Australia, a net export nation, faces fewer barriers to trade, and that is good for our farmers and our manufacturers. But tariffs should always be utilised in the national interest and in a way that is responsible and effective. The first three parts of schedule 1 achieve that objective. The fourth part does the opposite. It is inflationary and it is ridiculously expensive as a tool for emissions reduction. The coalition will support the bill on the basis of the significance and importance of the first three measures in schedule 1.