Attempts to roll back the imposition of tariffs on e-bikes imported to Australia have failed,
Australian bikes riders will have to cough up an estimated $2M a year extra for the e-bikes they buy.
Electric assisted bikes are set to boom in Australia as they are a great substitute for many trips currently taken by motor vehicle.
The tariff will dampen demand, reduce supply options from bike importers, and further delay the urgent response to the climate change imperative of low emission transport.
Tariffs are typically used to protect local industries from unfair competition.
As Australian bike riders well know, there is no Australian e-bike industry to protect—effectively, all of the e-bikes we use daily to commute to work and education are imported.
The story of how we got to this farcical point is a tale of skulduggery, subterfuge and government incompetence.
The tariffs were originally instituted at the instigation of an Australian assembler of electric motorcycles, Stealth. It says Customs asked them to apply for the tariff, extraordinary if true.
Stealth’s e-motorcycles, which currently all have motors capable of 1500 watts or more output, are illegal to ride in Australia unless registered as motorcycles.
The majority of their products are exported, mainly for use in off-road environments.
Stealth are nothing if not stealthy. They had a trick up their sleeve and that was to modify one of its powerful models so that its power output was seemingly reduced to 250 watts, which with a few other changes, qualified it as a legal e-bike for Australia.
A small number of these dribbled on to the Australian market—enough so they could later make the claim that they were selling into the local e-bike market.
Riders started to report these weird electric motorcycles on the bike paths and trails around cities, travelling at speeds that would have been illegal in a car.
Aren’t e-bikes supposed to have no electrical assist beyond 25kmh? Yes, but what if the manufacturer supplies you with a dongle that defeats the power restriction at the whim of the rider?
Yes, Stealth were so stealthy that they actually did that.
This is the company that the Federal Government is protecting with a $2M tariff impost from your pockets.
When the Australian bicycle sector realised the scope of the lurk that was underway, they objected to Customs.
Customs officials seemed blithely unconcerned that the e-bike it was protecting from foreign competition was a tricked out motorcycle. Customs still maintains Stealth makes bicycles.
Furthermore the government maintains that these bikes are substitutable for any other kind of legal e-bike. Really? You could swap out Brompton e-bike or your family cargo e-bike for a Stealth?
Australian bike industry representative attempted negotiations with Stealth, but the company management evaded all contact for six months.
When BIA, the Australian bike industry organisation, attempted to get the Australian e-bike standard updated to the latest international specifications, which require the bikes to be tamper proof, Stealth objected.
As a consequence there is currently no prohibition on importing into Australia easily-tampered-with e-bikes—bikes that pose a risk to Australia’s everyday bike riders.
With Australia’s public servants totally befuddled, Minister Peter Dutton was approached, to no avail.
One ray of hope is that Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese does appear to recognise the absurdity of this tariff, so if the government changes at the next election, it may be banished.
This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.