Gas guzzlers under the pump
Australia's car makers could face a new mandatory fuel-efficiency standard following a United States decision to declare war on polluting gas guzzlers.
Transport and environment ministers will tomorrow consider options to improve energy-efficiency standards, including a recommendation for a mandatory standard to lower carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles.
A mandatory standard would be likely to provoke a backlash from car makers, who have campaigned for years to keep their system of pollution reduction a voluntary scheme.
Last night, the car industry warned the Government to think carefully about imposing a mandatory standard.
"We would be concerned to ensure there is not a knee-jerk response to events in the US," the chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries Andrew McKellar said.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday backed the US move, saying it was pleasing that America was adopting climate change measures.
Transport Minister Anthony Albanese is open to a mandatory standard to reduce carbon dioxide pollution.
Industry Minister Kim Carr is understood to have concerns about any shift away from Australia's voluntary scheme, and favours an approach of rewarding the manufacturers for lowering emissions rather than penalising them.
Environment Minister Peter Garrett declined to comment other than to say tomorrow's meeting of environment ministers would work through the results of a submission process on fuel-efficiency policies.
The Council of Australian Governments will consider any change in July.
This week's move by the US has given cabinet supporters of mandatory standards a significant boost.
The renewed debate on mandatory fuel standards was sparked by US President Barack Obama raising mandatory fuel-efficiency standards on Tuesday after weeks of negotiations with the US car industry, green groups and automotive unions.
The new US standards will require an overall reduction of 30 per cent in emissions from cars and trucks by 2016, meaning a rise in mandatory fuel efficiency from 10 kilometres a litre to 15.
Australia has a voluntary standard of 10 litres per 100 kilometres and a requirement that every new car sold has a sticker stating the vehicle's fuel efficiency and carbon emissions.
The US changes won strong support yesterday from Australia's largest motoring association, the NRMA, and green groups. NRMA motoring and services president Wendy Machin called for a staged introduction of mandatory standards so that Australia's regime was on par with the rest of the world by 2015.