Motor Vehicle Emissions

About this Item
SpeakersLangton The Hon Brian; Murray Mr Wallace
BusinessBusiness of the House


Mr LANGTON (Kogarah) [3.50]: My grievance on behalf of constituents relates to the Government's proposals for vehicle emission testing, a matter previously raised in this House. There are grave concerns about the direction the Government is taking. Quite simply, the Government does not have an integrated strategy to control air
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pollution in the Sydney region. This was quite evident at the Air Quality Summit held in February. Before any emission testing program is introduced, the Government needs to take certain steps. They consist of air quality and meteorological monitoring, the conduct of an emissions inventory including characterisation of emissions from the vehicle fleet, and smog formation modelling. When this work has been completed, a strategy can be formulated and can include targets for reduction of emissions from both new and already operating motor vehicles. The problem is that, at present, the Government has not stated the extent to which emissions can be reduced because it has not undertaken the research to enable it to do so. It also does not have emission targets, because it has not formulated an overall strategy.

Obviously more research into actual vehicle emission levels is needed before the Government can justify proceeding with the introduction of a vehicle testing scheme. There has been the decision of the Government, announced by the Deputy Premier, Minister for Public Works and Minister for Roads, to proceed with vehicle emission testing. The Government does not know why it is testing, what emission it is trying to reduce, or what pollutant in the existing smog in Sydney needs to be reduced. Is it coming from vehicles? Will the proposed testing procedures actually reduce pollution levels? The scheme which is proposed for New South Wales is based on the United Kingdom system. The Opposition is in possession of information from the Royal Automobile Club of the United Kingdom which indicates that the United Kingdom emission testing program has been introduced "on the cheap and in a hurry" and is not expected to be effective. In the United States of America, however, where emission testing has been done for a number of years, there is a large body of evidence which indicates that there are more efficient procedures to control on-road emission than engine idle speed testing - the procedure proposed for New South Wales. I believe the Deputy Premier and the Government should try to learn from the experience of the United States.

The pilot scheme which the Government intends to introduce over the next six months does not address, for example, oxides of nitrogen emissions from vehicles. Oxides of nitrogen are only produced when the engine is under load and combustion temperatures are high. That can only be replicated on a dynamometer. It cannot be done simply by testing at idling speed. Oxides of nitrogen are of concern because of their existence in smog, the effects these pollutants have on health. The pilot scheme does not address the problem of evaporative hydrocarbon losses - that is petrol fumes which leak from the fuel tank, generally on hot days, and from vehicle engines when they are hot. United States data indicates that evaporative emissions can be even higher than emission from tailpipes. As many Australian vehicles are meeting current United States tailpipe emission standards, the extent of evaporative loss may be significant in New South Wales also. Research on Australian vehicles must be carried out prior to the establishment of any emission testing system to ensure that what is proposed is cost effective and environmentally effective.

The Deputy Premier and the Roads and Traffic Authority must take note of Professor Stedman's across-the-road emission measuring device. A technical investigation is currently being undertaken in Victoria in respect of that device. It functions in a manner similar to the slant radar unit. It has the potential to detect high polluting vehicles from the roadside and has been developed by Professor Don Stedman at the Denver University in the United States of America. It acts as a filter for an emission testing program, ensuring that only a relatively small number of dirty cars are required to undertake more intensive testing. In other words, rather than test every vehicle on the road, an across-the-road scheme would be implemented. I suppose it could be related to the wand that is now used as a screening device for random breath testing.
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Only those vehicles which do not pass the test would be required to undergo further testing. Obviously, that action has to be investigated. It would lead to a more cost-effective scheme and would be likely to result in significant benefits to the environment. However, the New South Wales Government has already committed itself to a pilot program without even considering that across-the-road device.

Another problem associated with the United Kingdom scheme - which the Deputy Premier, Minister for Public Works and Minister for Roads has indicated will be introduced on a pilot basis in New South Wales - is that grave errors have been found in the results. That data is available. I referred to it in this House a couple of weeks ago. In respect of up to 50 per cent of vehicles shown to have poor emissions, the tests are inaccurate. Conversely, tests have shown that many vehicles are okay when in fact they are not. Obviously with a 50 per cent false failure rate in one instance and 30 per cent in another, there is a problem. What will happen, for example, in the case of a vehicle shown to have failed the test when in fact it is okay is that the owner will be required to spend a lot of money searching for a fault that does not exist. In fact, some work done during the repair process may cause the vehicle to emit the type of fumes that are causing the problem. Such irregularities will bring the whole system into disrepute, thus making it difficult to introduce a decent system.

I am concerned at the way this is heading. I raised this matter in this House a few weeks ago when the honourable member for Ermington raised a matter of public importance in relation to it. I am concerned that the pilot program will not address anywhere near the number of issues it should. I do not believe that the Minister and the Roads and Traffic Authority have any idea about the make-up of smog, what proportion of smog is caused by vehicles, how it can be tested, or to what extent it can be reduced. Those issues have to be addressed more carefully. The Minister is very ill-advised. The Minister has an absolute responsibility to reinvestigate all issues surrounding the proposed scheme. Things are moving too quickly. The Minister attended the Air Quality Summit in February but the recommendations were written before he got there. That is no way to do business. I am more concerned about smog in Sydney and making certain that any vehicle emission testing scheme works properly and effectively. [Time expired.]

Mr W. T. J. MURRAY (Barwon - Deputy Premier, Minister for Public Works and Minister for Roads) [3.58]: The National Roads and Motorists Association and some environment groups have criticised the Government's vehicle emission testing program. The criticisms can be grouped into three parts. The first part concerns the effectiveness of the type of testing proposed for New South Wales. Emission testing is being introduced in New South Wales with a twofold purpose: first, to educate the public about its responsibilities to maintain clean vehicles, and the benefits of emission testing, and, second, to find the worst 10 per cent to 15 per cent of vehicles which cause approximately 80 per cent of vehicle emission pollutant. The type of idle emission test being proposed for New South Wales is referred to as a gross filter test, which is aimed at finding the worst emission cases. It is not intended to be a highly discriminating test.

The Government is confident that a properly administered idle exhaust test will find the worst of the polluters. At the recent vehicle inspection forum, which covered two days and examined many aspects of vehicle inspection, including emission testing, the forum agreed that a pilot scheme should be run to ensure that idle emission testing will be effective in New South Wales. This scheme will be established and monitored by a task force which will include government - the Roads and Traffic Authority and the Environment Protection Authority - industry and National Roads and Motorists Association representatives. The National Roads and Motorists Association prefers a type
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of remote sensing emission testing. This technology will be very effective for scanning vehicles while they move along the road. But this technology is not yet perfected, and the work being undertaken by the Victorian Environment Protection Agency will be useful in determining how it can be applied in Australia. The application is not yet ready for general testing.

It has been asserted that emission testing would be more effective if conducted at specialised emission testing centres. It is arguable that specialised testing centres would allow a higher degree of quality control of testing and ultimately allow for more specialised testing. However, that type of testing has a number of significant disadvantages at this time in New South Wales. Another assertion is that the program is being introduced with unseemly haste. Emission testing of the type proposed by the Government can be introduced relatively quickly - six months is the target period - and at relatively low cost, as the inspection station infrastructure is in place. The motoring public is used to having the vehicles tested each year at authorised inspection stations. Therefore, in this way emission testing can be introduced with the least adverse reaction from the public and in a manner that is familiar to them. To introduce testing in any other way - for example, through specialised centres - would require a lead time of at least two years, which would be lost time in terms of getting experience on testing. Introducing idle-type emission testing as soon as possible will contribute valuable experience for long-term planning and allow more detailed testing of alternative technologies to be undertaken under the auspices of the Environment Protection Authority. Thus, considerable experience in testing will have been gained quickly and at low cost, the worst offending vehicles will have been identified and rectified, and the public will become accustomed to the concept of regular emission checks. [Time expired.]