Emissions regulation in Australia

@gary1 had some great points about how we regulate vehicle emissions in Australia, sparking off from the VW Emissions Scandal topic. I think this conversation deserves its own topic, so I’ve split it off.

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Wow – and thanks To get the ball rolling I have improved the post with this:

If you REALLY want to be concerned about engine emissions in Australia, then consider how we handle regulation.

In February the Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions released a public consultation basically about moving to Euro 6 - the 2015 EU standard. https://infrastructure.gov.au/roads/environment/forum/index.aspx

The AU public consultation process would not deliver a decision for a year or more so that means we would be 3 years behind world’s best – at the very least.

I think part of the reason we are so very slow is that the study is being run under 3 different Ministers. That’s crazy that that something as important as car emissions has no one clear Department taking responsibility.
What is recognized as needed is an AU version of the Clean Air Act. That way we can have a law in place and “plug in” cars and things that are not regulated in Au but are in many countries like Locomotives, farm machinery, diesel generators, wood fired heaters, aircraft, boat engines, lawn mowers, chain saws … shall I go on?

Environment Minister Greg Hunt took this a long way forward, unlike the previous 4 Environment Ministers I have followed since 2015. Hunt delivered an agreement with the states – A National Clean Air agreement earlier this year, which smooths the path to the sort of laws we need, but is tricky under our Constitution due to state vs federal powers. What Hunt didn’t get passed in time before the election was the first set of laws covering small engines from lawn mowers to outboards to chain saws. (I’m writing this early morning on Election day – so let’s see who is Environment Minister in August. If asked I’m happy to expand on the 3 major political parties. but after the election - i too have heard enough political opinion)

DISCLOSURE: I’ve been working pro bono since 2005 to get these small engine laws in place. – Ask me anything. nothing to hide here.

What they found out about VW would never have been caught in AU. The Department of Environment insists on this passive, “risk based” approach despite being severely criticized in two Auditor General reports and a Royal Commission. Unlike the US, Australia has no inspection program, no inspectors and no auditors of emissions standards.

Not only are we slow to adopt world’s best practice for Motor vehicles, but we let a lot of engines through the cracks. The public consultation dismissed regulating motorbikes based on a whitewash that they are clean because of overseas standards and they are small. Well 12 minutes of research shows that motorcycles that meet the old international standards have more emissions than a Hummer. AU motorcycles, especially two strokes are far far worse.

And let’s not forget two stroke garden equipment. A brush cutter has 10 times the emissions of a car, a lawn mower 40 times. And there are plenty of them. To put these small but very polluting engines in scale we buy around 1 million Cars p.a. and 1.4 million pieces of garden equipment. Sure, we run the car more than the mower – but 40 times more? But the greatest unmeasured risk is the Mower pollutes right where we live, close to family as opposed to leaving the emissions behind at 60 KPH.

The USA regulated these engines 19 years ago and since then the rest of the world including even India and China. Australia? Bureaucrats have been stuffing around with this since before 2005 – 11 years!

Currently planned for 2017 - Watch this space. And this space.

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The Australian Government is absolutely remiss in not providing good, sound, timely and affordable public transport. Regardless of how much we want to calculate the emmissions, all we have to do is watch the number of cars on the road, with only 1 driver in it.

Governments of all persuasions have never got the formula for public transport right and this is the reason the public prefer to use their own cars and pollute the air, not by choice, but because they need to have the convenience of knowing that they will be able to get to work on time, get home in time to be with their families and afford the travel.

It has been mentioned that the possible reason for the lack of good public transport planning in various cities and towns, is that all town planning is done the wrong way round - instead of planning the city, town and/or suburb first, planning should be based on planning where public transport will be most effective, then build the area around this information. This is definitely an area for all Town Planners to consider. Governments should also allow tax-payer funding for public transport, this will ensure that it remains affordable.

One of the big problems in Australia is that emissions and clean air regulation in Australia is set by agreement between State and Federal governments.

This convoluted process leads to not only slow, but poor outcomes. Witness the last December’s meeting where agreement on revised national standards on particulate pollution failed due to partisan decisions favouring the NSW coal industry.

A National Clean Air Act could simply set the emissions parameters but allow state administration/ enforcement

One of the issues here is as a country we have abdicated our responsibilities to foreign companies and governments. Why?
For a whole bunch of reasons that are too many to post here but a major factor is most of us seem to want to buy foreign made cars hence the local industry has withered and died and therefore the policing of it standards locally has become redundant.
As a nation we now rely on the emissions regimes of other countries to control actual emissions output in Australia. Is that bad thing? well maybe not because most markets have traditionally adopted higher standards than us so the imported vehicles we buy are usually built to a higher emission standard than we have here. The VW case by all reports was a deliberate attempt cheat and subvert the laws therefore having become a importer nation it really isn’t our job to be policemen of a foreign manufacturing facility, but law breaking once detected should be punished in all jurisdictions it has impacted.

Emission standards for new vehicles are all well and good and to be welcomed.
I have worked in the motor industry for most of my life and can see the glaring faults in the system here.
The average age of vehicles here is approx 10 years and the emission standard as far as I know (in WA) only applies for 80,000kms.
In my time in the industry it is a standing joke to the many people and businesses that carry out illegal modifications ie:
Catalytic converter modification, engine computer modification (chips) ,older engines fitted to later vehicles and various other changes to the original specifications. This of course is not a problem to do these modifications, especially as in most states there is no compulsory testing of vehicles and certainly no emission testing.

As a note to this annual vehicle emission testing has been carried out in the UK since the early 1990s.

So unless we get serious we are not ever going to get to the European standards.

It it not time then that ALL vehicles over a certain age (or kilometres)in Australia undergo ‘over the pit’ tests to check on emissions and other relevant safety equipment?

The National Clean Air Agreement and the state Ministers has allowed the federal government to legislate standards for small petrol engines. (mowers, generators, chain saws ) and all petrol marine engines

So expect late this year new laws ( to commence in mid to late 2017) that will stop the importation or local manufacture of high emission engines. Nothing you own now will be banned.

But by 2018 you wont be able to buy a traditional two stroke outboard or mower. Better quality two strokes will still be seen in handheld equipment like chainsaws.

We are going to follow the USA standard. The EU is currently harmonising to the US so its the defacto standard - and the worlds toughest.

contact me if you need to ask more

Thanks for all the info on this Topic. Just on the indicator of the breakdown of how States & Federal operate, again strengthens the reason why State Governments NEED to be abolished. We arr overgoverned & in spite of so many paid politicians & the continued Drag on our Tax dollars, we don’t make the headway we need to keep our country Great!

The ABC reports that ‘Progress on changing car emissions and efficiency standards in Australia has stalled.’ We worked closely with the AAA and the Conservation Council when the Ministerial Forum was active.

What do you think about the AAA’s calls for tighter emission standards?


Australia seems to lag behind equivalent countries in both vehicle emission standards and fuel efficiency standards. Both have been getting reviewed for years but no progress has been made. I can find many articles documenting that it is so but none explaining exactly why. The only thing that pops out is that it could increase the cost of vehicles. This was the case with many improvements to vehicle efficiency and safety in the past and yet here we are with cars that are much better than they were 30 years ago and cheaper relative to earning power. In addition both measures will reduce running costs and pollution which are a saving for both the owner and society. So where is the problem?

Before I start a long line of research can anybody give me a reference to a reliable explanation for government tardiness in this case?


Good question, probably no simple answer too. Industry lobbying as a potential factor is something to consider.


One government source suggests the government is intent on bringing Australia into alignment with updated European safety standards. Not much about current technology vehicle emissions from the very recent national ministers Transport and Infrastructure Council meeting.


On vehicle safety though

Unless emissions = safety?
Given Aust imports all new cars, and generally now even USA and Japan match or better the EU, adoption simultaneously of the higher standards should be a given.

Perhaps in 2020?

Australia had committed to parallel the EU on emissions however the Gillard Labour Govt deferred the timetable after lobbying from the now defunct Aussie car manufacturers.

Would importing vehicles that are compliant with the latest EU standards simply cut into dealer profits, or would the increase in price to the consumer slow demand and cut into dealer profits?


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You have confirmed my thoughts. For instance here is the recent history of fuel efficiency with the feds.

2015 form a group
2016 start writing
2017 consult
2018 publish your results
After that comes:

Next steps

The Ministerial Forum will continue to undertake a mix of public consultation and targeted discussions with key stakeholders.

The Forum will also continue to consider other measures to encourage the uptake of low emissions vehicles.

The Forum intends to provide a draft implementation plan on potential measures for consideration by Government.

Do something? You don’t actually expect us to Do Something! We have only been consulting for four years, you can’t rush these things. All in the fullness of time Minister.


As part of the AU & EU FTA they are negotiating with us the EU requires Australia to improve it’s fuel quality. This would have a flow on effect in reducing some noxious emissions from our ICE vehicles and other ICE powered tools/engines. Cleaner fuel burns more effectively so that has a flow on effect of an increase in efficiency that could be around 5%. We cannot currently use the EU higher efficiency cars they produce because our fuel is not “clean” enough to allow those vehicles to run on it.

Another point to cleaner fuels is that we currently use the Euro 5 standards for emissions but the EU are currently using the Euro 6 standard (which we cannot achieve due to our more sulphur content). During 2017 the intensity of emissions for passenger cars here was 171.5g/km and at the time the EU average was 118.5g/km with their standard at 130g/km and by 2021 they will have reduced that standard to 95g/km with a 30% further reduction by 2030. (Pages 95 & 96 of The Senate Select Committee on Electric Vehicles Report Jan 2019)

We also have the following article which report on these issues:

To read about the Euro standards see:

or this image from the Wikipedia article on the standards:

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Seat belts increased the cost of cars. What a terrible thing to insist on!

I have trouble believing that a ‘free trade’ agreement would actually do something beneficial for consumers. There must be a hook!

I see that carbon monoxide and THC (total hydrocarbon content, presumably, rather than tetrahydrocannabinol) emission standards have remained stable since January 2005.


The hook may be “Cleaner Air”? It would also mean they don’t have to build cars for our market to use the lower grade fuels and just ship us the cleaner fuel using cars. I really don’t know but the EU certainly is pushing for “greener” outcomes in all areas of their markets.


So that explains Brexit! /s


The UK is one of the better performers in reducing use of coal and overall greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s also perhaps also one outlook shared between the other major European economies and the UK?

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BTW…something which is often mistaken…The photo is of steam from cooling towers and not particulates. Particulates, if they could be seen, would be visible from the taller, slender stack between the centrally located cooling towers (there are another 5 brick stacks in the photo heading the article)…

I appears that the generator on the left may be a nuclear plant as it appears to be discrete and no visible emission stacks. The ones in the foreground and far right (in the whole photo) are generators burning carbon sources.