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When “can’t-do capitalism” killed the Flinders electric vehicle project.

Written by: Nick G. on 11 November 2021


The Prime monster Scott Morrison has declared that “can-do capitalism”, not “don’t do government”, will lead the way to cutting carbon emissions and reaching net zero by 2050.

Morrison underscored the “independence” of the private sector from government policy direction by putting his hand in the taxpayers’ pockets to gift the private sector $500 million dollars in seed capital.

This money will be directed through the government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and will assist companies trying to breathe some life into carbon capture and storage technology, but will not go to the renewable energy sector which has developed alternatives to reliance on fossil fuels. The renewable energy sector has certainly had enough of “don’t do” negativity from the Morrison government.

The only problem for Morrison is that the Act governing the CEFC prohibits it from funding carbon capture and storage because it assumes the continuation of emissions from fossil fuels.  This means that Morrison must change the legislation and is confident of doing so because Labour is not prepared to oppose anything that Morrison puts forward.

Morrison’s love fest with “can-do capitalism” comes in the wake of self-inflicted embarrassment arising from his U-turn on electric vehicles. Not that he is doing anything to make them more available to people. 

As the Renew Energy website says: “The people who are being penalised the most by the country’s inaction are those who have no choice but to buy the dirty and inefficient internal combustion engine cars that land on these shores because of the complete lack of vehicle or fuel standards.

“Australia is not about to change that. It remains virtually the only western economy to allow the dirtiest fuel and the dirtiest engines on to its roads, at huge cost to health, and to consumers, who pay an average $600 more in fuel than they should do because of the dirty and inefficient fuels and engines.”

And electric vehicles have their own history with “can-do capitalism”.  

Technical workers at the Flinders University School of Physical Sciences began a project in the early 1970s aiming at developing an electronic vehicle for use as a commuter vehicle in city and suburban areas. By the mid-70s they had produced two prototypes, the second of which had a range of up to 150 kms. The success of the project was partly a consequence of funding by the Dunstan state government. “Don’t do government” had helped “to do”.

However, in 1976 Dunstan appointed an advisor, J.J. Holden who began the process of shutting the project down. Why?  Holden had previously been a director of General Motors-Holden, a US multinational that was Australia’s largest car manufacturer.

All of a sudden, government funding to the electric car project was cut off. 

Project leader, Prof. Don Atkinson, said of Holden that “We understand he has said that Australia is incapable of carrying out this sort of research. He considers that the only way a viable electric vehicle could be developed is ‘within the structure of the existing internal combustion vehicle industry’…If this is the sort of advice the government is getting, no wonder the electric vehicle project was axed.”

It was a clear case of the US owned motor industry stifling a genuine Australian project which offered an alternative to the petrol driven motor car.

It was a case of “can-do capitalism” saying “You can’t ‘do’ because you are threatening our profits”.

It was a case of the power of an imperialist corporation to bend an Australian state government to do what was in the interests of imperialism.

It was a case of fossil fuel technology obstructing an environmentally friendly alternative technology.   

Morrison’s glib catch-phrases fool no-one.

Capitalism is the problem, not the answer.


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