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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6150

Mr BALDWIN (6:39 PM) —I rise today to address the Building Energy Efficiency Disclosure Bill 2010. This bill takes further action to install mandatory commercial building energy efficiency reporting—action which was started by the former, Howard government. The coalition took the lead on this matter, and I am pleased to see that the Rudd Labor government has followed. As detailed in the coalition’s direct action plan, it is important that all Australians take action to protect the environment for our kids, their kids and so on. This action needs to be practical so that people can make a real difference in their everyday lives. It is simply not acceptable to punish people with great big new taxes or huge increases in energy bills.

Last year, EnergyAustralia increased the price of electricity to consumers by 20 per cent. IPART in New South Wales has agreed that the cost of energy can rise by 64 per cent over the next three years. It is beyond me how many people are going to afford their energy bills. If we want to change the way people treat our environment then we need to educate them. Most importantly, we need to give them the tools to make a measurable difference. That is what energy efficiency measurement and reporting is all about—giving businesses the tools to find out what they are doing right and what they could improve.

Specifically, this bill will set up a new scheme to publicise the energy efficiency of large office buildings in Australia. Large office buildings are defined as commercial spaces of more than 2,000 square metres. Under the legislation, large office buildings will be given a star rating for their level of energy efficiency, and this will be recorded in a building energy efficiency certificate. The certificate will need to be disclosed when buildings are put up for sale, lease or sublease. The certificate has three parts: firstly, the building will be given a star rating; secondly, lighting efficiency will be detailed; and, lastly, guidance will be given to new occupiers on how the energy efficiency could be improved. Star ratings will be determined by professional and accredited assessors. In terms of access, certificates will need to be placed in an online registry so that they are readily available to potential buyers and lessees. The star rating of each building will also need to be included in any future sale or lease advertisements, and there are heavy penalties for those who do not comply.

The benefits of such a scheme are wide reaching. For example, buyers and lessees of commercial properties will be able to consider the energy efficiency of buildings before they purchase and, therefore, will have a better idea of how high their greenhouse gas emissions will be. Knowing how efficient a space is will also give buyers a better idea of how high or low their power bills might be. Conversely, the scheme will also affect those selling properties. By having a mandatory star rating attached to an office, sellers of properties will be given an incentive to improve efficiency. With companies looking to be kinder to the environment, this could be a very important selling point.

As I have already touched on, one of the most important elements of this legislation is that it gives people practical tools to lower their carbon footprint. Importantly, it does not punish those who are already at world’s best practice—unlike Labor’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which would have placed a huge tax burden on businesses in the Paterson electorate, even those who are already at best practice and working hard to lower their impact on the environment. For example, when I drive around the Paterson electorate, I see more and more homes and businesses with solar panels on their roofs. I have also personally visited businesses across the Hunter Valley which are working hard to lower carbon emissions, such as Corky’s Carbon and Combustion Lab in Ashtonfield. The employees there are developing technologies to directly lower CO2 emissions and better utilise waste in industries such as mining. They are in the perfect position to help others lower their impact on the environment.

Another positive example of a business in the Paterson electorate that is working hard to protect the local environment is Salamander Bay Shopping Centre. Its proactive approach to reducing its carbon footprint sets a positive example which I sincerely hope others will follow. I would like to mention a few details about that tonight. Salamander Bay Shopping Centre employed consultants to audit its existing systems and, as a result, the centre has now implemented a number of energy saving programs and facilities. These include waterless urinals, external light sensors, water restrictors to all taps, water-saving toilet systems, building maintenance systems for energy management and waste recycling. There are also a number of projects in the pipeline for introduction in the next 12 months. They include converting the shopping centre’s hot water systems to solar and making tenants aware of sustainability.

Tenants are important to shopping centres. One such tenant, the owners of the Donut King franchise in Salamander Bay, Adam and Jodie Olsen, have a very special interest in reducing their carbon footprint. They want to be a business that is sustainable and they want to be a business that lowers its footprint. They also wants to teach their young children, Sydney and Reagan, that looking after the environment, reducing their footprint and energy efficiency are important not just for today but for the long term. They are determined to educate their children about the environment.

This is a such a great example to others, because it shows how relatively small changes can make very big differences. Imagine if we could all convince our children to turn the lights off when they leave the bedroom, to switch their computers off when they have finished with the internet, to flick the television off at the wall when their favourite program is over or to turn off the heater lights in bathrooms when they are not needed. These small action when multiplied by millions of people would make a momentous difference to Australia’s carbon emissions.

What never ceases to amaze me as I drive through the capital cities of Australia in particular, with all the talk about energy saving and reducing our footprint, is the number of multistorey buildings with full lights blazing through the evening—24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. That is not using energy efficiently or effectively. There is no-one in those buildings. There is no benefit ti lighting it up other than to improve the tourism vista of looking at a city all lit up. I am sure that we could retain a vista without that number of buildings, high buildings in particular, being all lit up at night. That is why practical changes such as those in this bill will make a difference.

This will also be an important bill as the Hunter Valley grows and expands. At the end of June 2007 there were 9,801 businesses in the Paterson electorate. While the great majority of these businesses are small, privately owned operations, we also have a number of sites which would be covered by the legislation, particularly in heavy industry. For these businesses, energy efficiency principles will become a normal part of setting up, moving or expanding operations. Therefore, a building’s impact on the environment will become a more mainstream part of the property market.

This is important if Australia is to develop as a leader in energy efficiency. It is also important in combating the current trend of growth in energy use. In fact, in the 15 years to 2006 there has been an 87 per cent growth in energy use in the commercial building sector. This coincides with an increase in working hours and advances in technology which have become essential for businesses right across the country. We as a society are also becoming increasingly reliant on air conditioning. That is why, in 2007, the coalition committed $20 million in support for the CBD energy proposal to build a 30-megawatt solar farm at Grahamstown. This would have included a state-of-the-art energy manufacturing factory to produce thin-film photovoltaic panels. It could have provided enough green electricity to power more than 30,000 homes.

Unfortunately, after taking over government, Rudd Labor did not follow through on the previous, coalition government’s pledge. Because of this government’s refusal to invest, 100 local jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in energy manufacturing exports did not go ahead in our region. Under a coalition government, this solar farm would be operating now, providing real and measurable benefits to our carbon footprint and local jobs. Instead, under this government, this project is non-existent.

For any scheme to work well, experts should be consulted. It is those in the industry who know industry best. That is why the coalition has fought hard for amendments to the Rudd Labor government’s original Building Energy Efficiency Disclosure Bill—as a result of concerns from industry groups. Together with further assurances from the government, we are confident the bill can now be implemented. Changes to be made include deferral of the lighting tool, which is still under development, and the exclusion of short-term leases. In addition, more up-to-date emissions factors are to be included by assessors when determining the star rating of an office space. This will help ensure accurate and thorough energy assessments.

I noticed with great interest a press release by the Property Council of Australia today titled ‘Compromise on Energy Efficiency Disclosure Bill welcomed’. It reads:

“The Property Council welcomes the changes to the Bill and believes that it will provide a clear direction for building owners,” ...

Further, it says:

“We welcome the agreement to extend the transition period and changes to the proposed punishing penalty regime.”

“We also welcome the Government’s commitment to review the legislation, before it is expanded, to ensure that it is operating efficiently and effectively.”

“The Government has committed to the Opposition and the Property Council that building owners won’t be penalised due to bureaucratic delays.”

“It has also promised to delay the use of the lighting tool and consult further before it is finalised.”

…            …            …

The Property Council acknowledges that mandatory disclosure is an important energy efficiency measure supported by both the Government and Coalition.

Making sure that you engage and consult with industry is critically important. Again, this bill, with the amendments being put to it today, is another reflection of how little consultation this government did—the fact that it has to amend its own bill and is going through the process now. The one thing I say to this government is: learn from your mistakes of the past, consult and consult widely, and listen to those in industry that are the experts. This government has shown that it is not prepared to listen to the mining industry and it will suffer the ramifications of that. But in relation to this I am glad it has finally been dragged to the table to listen to the property industry on what is manageable, workable and effective.

With the Hunter Valley region so reliant on energy-intensive business and its support industries, it is vital we give people practical tools they can use to make wise choices and lower their emissions. That is the intention of this bill, which will make selecting energy efficient properties that much easier. Just as consumers can now go to the shops and select a washing machine, television, clothes dryer or refrigerator with clearly visible energy star ratings, so too will renters and buyers be able to select energy-efficient office spaces. I welcome any such practical program to protect our environment for years to come.