Bills Digest No. 88  1998-99 Motor Vehicle Standards Amendment Bill 1998

Numerical Index | Alphabetical Index

This Digest was prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments. This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the Bill.


Passage History
Main Provisions
Contact Officer and Copyright Details

Passage History

Motor Vehicle Standards Amendment Bill 1998

Date Introduced: 3 December 1998

House: House of Representatives

Portfolio: Transport and Regional Services

Commencement: On Royal assent



The purpose of this Bill is to:

  • broaden the definition of a vehicle standard used in the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 to include standards for energy saving
  • create a position of Associate Administrator under the Act, and
  • restore some provisions removed or affected by previous amendments.


On 20 November 1997 the Prime Minister, Hon John Howard MP, announced a number of measures designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.(1) He proposed, as part of the Automotive Industry Environment Strategy, the introduction of mandatory, model specific, fuel efficiency labelling for motor vehicles.(2)

Subsequently, the Government received legal advice that the scope of the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 would not permit the making of an Australian Design Rule for fuel consumption labelling.(3) At present section 5(1) of the Act provides that:

vehicle standard means a standard for road vehicles or vehicle components that is designed to:

  1. make road vehicles safe to use; or

  2. control the emission of gas, particles or noise from road vehicles; or

  3. secure road vehicles against theft.

    This Bill proposes adding an additional purpose to the definition of a vehicle standard, namely:

  4. promote the saving of energy.

It is an offence to sell or manufacture a motor vehicle that does not comply with regulations made under the Motor Vehicles Standards Act 1989. The regulations are called Australian Design Rules and apply Australia-wide for first registration of vehicles. The proposed standard for fuel efficiency is being developed by the Australian Greenhouse Office and will provide consumers with comparative information about the fuel consumption of particular models of motor vehicles. According to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, Hon John Anderson MP, the Government hopes that, as a result of the proposed standard, industry will be encouraged to develop more fuel efficient vehicles.(4)

Australia is a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and has signed the Kyoto Protocol to that Convention. If ratified, the Protocol will commit Australia to a legally binding limit on its future greenhouse gas emissions, of which transport is a major source.

According to the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1996, transport was responsible for 17% of Australia's net greenhouse gas emissions. Road transport was responsible for 87% of these emissions, followed by domestic air transport (7%) and rail transport (2%).(5) Cars are responsible for 56% of transport's greenhouse gas emissions(6) and for 10% of Australia's net emissions.(7)

The National Greenhouse Gas Inventory data indicates that, from 1990 to 1996, gas emissions from passenger and freight transport in Australia grew by 15%. The Bureau of Transport Economics predicts that, in the absence of further measures to limit greenhouse emissions, domestic transport emissions will increase by 42%, on 1994 levels, by the year 2015.(8)

Limiting Australia's net greenhouse gas emissions, consistent with the Kyoto Protocol, has been identified by the Commonwealth and all State and Territory governments, as an important area for action. One of the strategies adopted is to make available information about energy consumption. The first report on Energy use in Commonwealth operations was tabled on 10 December 1998, and provides information on the fuel consumption of the Commonwealth vehicle fleet. In 1997-98, cars used by Parliament House consumed 10.5 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres in covering a distance of over 591,000 kilometres, compared with the national average for all petrol vehicles of 11.4 litres per 100 kilometres.(9)


Mr Geoff Gardiner of the Motor Trades Association of Australia is reported as saying that, while the MTAA was strongly supportive of Government moves to modernise Australia's car fleet, it was 'very cautious' about mandatory fuel efficiency labelling.(10)

Dr Clive Hamilton, executive director of the Australia Institute, has stated that the Government's tax package proposes a 25 cents per litre reduction in the price of fuel for 'heavy' vehicles, and a 7 cent-a-litre cut in diesel and petrol prices for businesses. He writes that:

(t)he negative environmental impacts are due principally to the excise changes that result in the cut in the price of diesel for 'heavy' vehicles along with the cheaper prices of petrol and diesel for business users. These negative effects are partly offset by the increased rate of turnover of the fleet in response to the cut in the price of new vehicles.(11)

He also suggests that the proposed reduction in fuel excise appears to contravene Article 2 of the Kyoto Protocol which seeks the reduction or phasing out of fuel tax exemptions and subsidies. In response, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Sen. the Hon Robert Hill, is reported as saying:

We do not believe that the tax package in any way contravenes the Kyoto Protocol. Clive Hamilton is wrong.(12)

Press reports have also indicated concern that the proposed reduction in the diesel fuel excise would impede the growth of the natural gas vehicle industry. Commentators have written that reducing fuel costs encourages increased road trips, promotes road transport over rail, and supports the higher-polluting diesel fuel over natural gas for heavy vehicles, including buses.(13)

Main Provisions

Item 2 amends the Act's definition of a vehicle standard to include standards designed to 'promote the saving of energy'. The amendment will enable the drawing up of additional Australian Design Rules relating to energy saving.

Items 3, 4 and 5 rectify inconsistencies in the Principal Act following amendments made in 1995. Under section 11 of the Act, the Minister may withdraw the authority of a person to place identification plates on road vehicles. Item 6 adds an additional ground on which the Minister may cancel, suspend or vary the person's authority. Item 8 concerns offences with relation to identification plates. The amendment will allow a person who places an identification plate on a road vehicle in the knowledge that it breaches the conditions listed in section 10A, to be dealt with in a manner that does not have a criminal penalty attached.

The effect of items 10 and 11 is to create the position of Associate Administrator within the Department of Transport and Regional Services. The Associate Administrator need not be a member of the Senior Executive Service. Item 12 enables the Minister to delegate specified functions and powers to an Associate Administrator. The effect of item 14 is to enable the Minister to delegate his or her power to cancel the authority of a person to place identification plates on a road vehicle. Item 15 allows decisions about approval for the placement of identification plates to be reviewed by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.


  1. Safeguarding the future: Australia's response to climate change, statement by the Prime Minister of Australia, Hon John Howard MP, 20 November 1997.

  2. ibid., p. 6.

  3. Motor Vehicle Standards Amendment Bill 1998, Explanatory memorandum, p. 3.

  4. Motor Vehicle Standards Amendment Bill 1998, Second Reading Speech, Hon John Anderson MP, House of Representatives, Debates, 3 December 1998, p. 1265.

  5. Australian Greenhouse Office, National Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1996, National Greenhouse Gas Inventory Committee, 1998, p. xix. Fuels used by international transport (international aviation and marine 'bunkers') are by international agreement reported separately from the national Inventory.

  6. National Greenhouse Strategy, Australian Greenhouse Office, 1998, p. 55.

  7. Safeguarding the future, op. cit., p. 6.

  8. National Greenhouse Strategy, op. cit., p. 55.

  9. Energy use in Commonwealth operations 1997-98, Department of Industry, Science and Resources, November 1998, Annex C8 'Passenger Vehicles', p. 12; Jason Koutsoukis, 'Yarralumla's gas guzzlers', The Age, 15 December 1998, p. A5.

  10. Nick Hordern, 'States rethink commitment to national greenhouse strategy', Australian Financial Review, 24 November 1998, p. 7.

  11. Turton, H. and Hamilton, C. The GST package and air pollution: the impact of proposed indirect tax changes on atmospheric emissions, The Australia Institute, Discussion paper no. 19, September 1998 [] (20 January 1999).

  12. Murray Hogarth, 'Price cut fuels fear of global warming', Sydney Morning Herald, 22 August 1998, p. 10.

  13. Murray Hogarth, 'Gas firms to fight diesel tax cut', Sydney Morning Herald, 7 December 1998, p. 4; Murray Hogarth, 'Price cut fuels fear of global warming', op. cit., p. 10; Kenneth Davidson, 'Howard fails the green challenge', The Age, 12 November 1998, p. A19.

Contact Officer and Copyright Details

Rosemary Bell
27 January 1999
Bills Digest Service
Information and Research Services

This paper has been prepared for general distribution to Senators and Members of the Australian Parliament. While great care is taken to ensure that the paper is accurate and balanced, the paper is written using information publicly available at the time of production. The views expressed are those of the author and should not be attributed to the Information and Research Services (IRS). Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion. Readers are reminded that the paper is not an official parliamentary or Australian government document.

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ISSN 1328-8091
© Commonwealth of Australia 1999

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Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1999.

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