But experts questioned why taxpayers are paying fossil fuel companies to clean up their act, criticising the government for being slow to replace 2005-era rules that allow less-efficient cars to be sold in the first place.
Grattan Institute energy program director Tony Wood said producing cleaner fuel without also updating vehicle standards wouldn’t drive a significant reduction in transport emissions.
Calling the measure a “partial solution”, Mr Wood also questioned why taxpayers are forking over hundreds of millions of dollars in handouts to fossil fuel companies to build these upgrades.
“I support refineries producing ultra-low sulphur fuel,” he told TND.
“[But] I do not see why taxpayers are paying for it.
“It would have been better to introduce an emissions standard on the industry years ago.
“The refineries would have paid the full cost and passed that on to consumers as happens with all regulations.”
“It’s a terrible, wasted opportunity,” said Mr Wood, arguing much higher funding for EVs is a “no brainer”.
Richie Merzian, climate and energy program director at progressive think tank The Australia Institute, said the government’s cleaner fuel package doesn’t “get to the heart of the issue” on transport emissions.
He said cleaner fuel doesn’t go far enough when Australia’s outdated vehicle emissions standards are forcing motorists to consume more petrol anyway, increasing the size of their carbon footprints.
“The funding to upgrade the remaining oil refineries gets us no closer to having more fuel-efficient vehicles in Australia,” Mr Merzian told TND.
Cleaner fuels not the main game
Under the $250 million handout, federal taxpayers will give $125 million to each of Australia’s two remaining oil refineries for plant upgrades.
It will allow each to produce lower-emissions petrol to meet new cleaner fuel standards from 2024 – capabilities that are already widely adopted by other refineries around the world.
But because Australia already imports most of its petrol from overseas, experts said making cleaner fuel locally won’t play a big enough role in reducing transport emissions over the next three decades.