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Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Page: 2137

Senator MILNE (5:48 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

This piece of legislation, the Safe Climate (Energy Efficient Non-Residential Buildings Scheme) Bill 2009, is one that I introduced to the parliament and I am pleased that the Senate agreed to refer it for consideration by the Economics Legislation Committee. This legislation has been a long time in the thinking and the working, and it was really something that had been worked on by Lend Lease and WSP Lincolne Scott Advanced Environmental. It is actually world-leading legislation, although you would not know that from the dismissive way in which it was treated by the economics committee of the Senate. I draw attention to the fact that it has the support in Australia of people as diverse as, for example, Tim Flannery, who was chair of the Copenhagen Climate Council, and of the CEO of Lend Lease, Asia-Pacific and Global. It also has the support of David Gottfried, who is the founder of the US Green Building Council and World Green Building Council, and I would like to read for the Senate what he had to say about this particular piece of legislation. He said:

I believe the Efficient Building Scheme that they have developed is a leading the way for our movement as it searches for a simple, fair, low-cost solution which is both appropriate and effective for our industry. By providing real incentive and investment certainty, it makes it financially viable for building owners to undertake the energy efficiency improvements that are needed, and which will benefit us all.

The proposal will deliver economic benefits including skills and services as well as result in reducing the infrastructure burden on our cities.

The Efficient Building Scheme is a world-leading solution and I commend it to the Australian government as a step change in thinking to drive emissions reductions, while at the same time driving economic growth.

David Gottfried

CEO, Regenerative Ventures

Founder: U.S. and World Green Building Councils.

This legislation also has the support, interestingly, of Rand Corporation, one of the largest corporations in the world. A non-profit organisation, it is one of America’s oldest research institutes. I doubt that a piece of legislation has ever come into this parliament which has even been on the radar of Rand Corporation, let alone one that has a group like that saying:

Commercial real estate may be sufficiently unique in terms of longevity of assets, diversity of building types, and financing and leasing characteristics to merit specifically tailored white-certificate/abatement programs such as Australia’s Efficient Buildings (sic) Scheme.

So this legislation was developed, thought about and circulated to the US Green Building Council and globally. It has been looked at all over the place. But the economics committee, frankly, could not have been less interested. When the hearings were on for this particular piece of legislation there was minimal turn-up by members of the committee. When the hearings were over and the chair’s draft was circulated, I submitted six pages of comment on the chair’s draft. The chair did not circulate those comments to the rest of the committee. When the committee met to consider the legislation, the other members of the committee had not even read the comments I made on the bill, yet they all felt quite happy to say, ‘Okay, pass it; let it go through.’

What was the conclusion of this? The conclusion was:

… the committee does not support the legislation. Rather, the CPRS must be the priority, supported by the range of complementary energy efficiency measures currently being pursued by the federal government.

So the answer is: ‘We’ll have the CPRS. We don’t want this world-leading solution’—which ultimately will be taken up somewhere else in the world and we will see it boomerang back to us, when we could have been leading in this field.

What the government is saying is that the CPRS will provide a sufficient price signal to drive energy efficiency in non-residential buildings, with the complementary measures that the government is proposing. What are they? The government is proposing that, at the time of sale or lease, the energy intensity of a building has to be reported, but it is based on the NABERS assessment of that energy intensity, which is inappropriate for developing the kind of scheme that we are talking about because it includes factors such as the level of occupancy and all sorts of things that are irrelevant to what we need here for a fair and decent baseline.

The exciting thing about the hearings from my point of view was that nobody could actually say what is wrong with the simple proposition that is being put forward in the bill in terms of a tool for finding exactly what the energy intensity of a building is. That is what is exciting about this whole proposal, because it just requires the building owners to submit their bills, effectively, and from those bills you can work out the average energy intensity of a particular building type, whether it is a shopping centre, a hospital, a school or whatever it might be. You can look at the climate zone, the particular type of building, then work out the average and take the scheme from there.

But no. We now have a situation where the economics committee does not understand what is being proposed, or else it would not have made recommendations saying that it will be enough to collect the data that the government is proposing to collect and, from that, formulate a scheme—because the data that is being collected will not be sufficient to be able to formulate a scheme that has both sticks and carrots in terms of energy efficiency.

It is a grave disappointment to me that this was not taken seriously in this parliament. It suggests to me that there is no real drive to seriously reduce emissions in Australia, because, according to conservative research published by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council, there is huge potential. It says:

Electricity demand in residential and commercial buildings can be halved by 2030, and reduced by more than 70 per cent by 2050 through energy efficiency.

 It goes on to talk about the extent to which we can make savings in greenhouse gas emissions and make these buildings not only more efficient but also healthier workplaces in which people actually have greater productivity. During the inquiry we visited a building here in Canberra which has had that kind of refit. What you find is that people are healthier, happier and more productive in those buildings, plus the building has much less of a footprint on the environment.

When I come to assess what has gone on here in terms of the recommendations that the government majority report has made, I find that there is a complete misunderstanding of the scope of the government’s proposed Mandatory Disclosure of Commercial Office Building Energy Efficiency program, which, as I said, does not provide the right kind of data and is limited to commercial office buildings only. Are we to assume that the government is only intending to develop a scheme for office buildings? Does it think schools, hospitals and shopping centres ought not to be included in such a scheme?

Furthermore, it should worry industry particularly that the government is saying that the government should collect and analyse data from the mandatory disclosure initiative to identify factors that correlate with the emissions intensity of non-residential buildings. One can only assume that this means the government intends to investigate the re-lation-ship between building age, size and emissions intensity. ‘What then?’ you say. It is not clear how this information will be used in the future. Does it foreshadow a move by the government to pick winners in this sector, with selective subsidies and exemptions? It does not seem to be a step towards introdu-cing anything like the efficient building scheme, because what we want to do is establish a level playing field on which all non-residential buildings of a certain type, size and climate zone would be treated equally, with the only exception being heritage buildings.

I have to say the Senate and the Parliament of Australia have not been well served by this report. It is superficial in its analysis. It is confused. That is the best thing you can say about it. It is totally confused. It fails to understand what was being attempted here, fails to appreciate the opportunity for huge reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from non-residential buildings and demonstrates a lack of commitment from both the government and the coalition to energy efficiency in the non-residential sector. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.