Policy Perspective - August 2019

Infrastructure Audit prepares ground for informed decisions

Infrastructure Australia has delivered a fresh evidence base for more informed infrastructure decisions with the August release of the Australian Infrastructure Audit.  Weighing in at over 600 pages with an additional 2000 pages of supplementary reports and analysis, the Audit is a comprehensive stocktake of the opportunities and challenges facing the delivery of energy, water, telecommunications, transport and, new for this Audit, social infrastructure, across Australia. With a focus on future trends, industry capability, and delivery for users the Audit is a critical read and reference point for the years ahead.

The challenges presented by climate change and the opportunities presented by sustainable infrastructure feature strongly. The Audit observes that Australia could lead the world in sustainable infrastructure with benefits for the community and business. IA observes that we are at risk of not meeting our 2030 Paris Agreement commitments to reduce emissions due to increases in transport, direct combustion and fugitive emissions; clearly calling out a warning that Australia risks becoming one of the highest carbon emitters per capita in the world.

These challenges sit alongside the considerable opportunities identified for the right infrastructure to support the increasing demand for services coming with the growth of our cities, regional communities and towns.

We were pleased to see the Audit acknowledge the significant contribution buildings can make to: reducing our emissions, easing the transition to a low-carbon future across the economy, and building resilience. IA notes, consistent with the GBCA’s own Carbon Positive Roadmap, the breadth of opportunities, including a focus on improving the efficiency of appliances, equipment and building envelopes, fuel switching to electric alternatives, and deployment of on-site distributed energy and water systems or offsite low-carbon electricity.

The success of standards like Green Star are rightly acknowledged as providing benchmarks that reduce carbon use and waste, save water and promote better outcomes for communities and the end-user. The Audit notes, that in an environment marked by policy uncertainty, Australia’s natural energy advantages, and consumer appetite to seize control of their energy infrastructure, must be leveraged to support our energy transition.

The importance of better understanding the role of green and blue infrastructure in urban environments, and integrating water in urban planning is rightly identified as an opportunity to enhance quality of life and manage urban heat islands that will increasingly impact the liveability and resilience of our cities. These findings sit within a broad chapter exploring for the first time social infrastructure as an essential ingredient for the liveability of our communities. The challenges of ageing assets particularly in social housing, education, health and aged care, and increasing demand for services are profound.

Perhaps most importantly IA finds that engagement with customers and the broader community is often lacking in the development of business cases for infrastructure; citing $20 billion of infrastructure projects mothballed over the last decade in part due to community opposition.

IA’s findings highlight the importance of continuously improving our approach to business case development: developing broader business cases for projects that effectively communicate quality of life benefits, and articulate projects in term of desired community and policy outcomes over the long-term.

IA is to be commended on this Audit as an invaluable evidence base to support a vision that responds to our nation’s most significant challenges, but which highlights the enormous opportunity ahead of us. The GBCA looks forward to working with IA, and across government and industry, to help deliver the policy reform and action we need across our infrastructure investments to deliver a more prosperous, inclusive and sustainable Australia for today and the next generation.

Commitment to stronger residential energy efficiency sets stage for higher performance

Whilst the topic of building compliance and enforcement dominated at last month’s meeting of the Building Ministers’ Forum, a less publicised outcome was the agreement to strengthen minimum energy standards for residential buildings.

At the meeting, Ministers agreed to implement higher minimum residential energy efficiency provisions, informed by the COAG Energy Council’s Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings in the next update of the National Construction Code (NCC).

The decision marks a significant step towards improved energy performance in our residential buildings, and has been welcomed by the GBCA for providing industry with greater regulatory certainty.

The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) has been tasked with advising the BMF of their preferred way to implementing the Trajectory in the NCC. As part of the consultation process, the ABCB has released an early scoping paper that outlines possible approaches for updating the residential and commercial energy provisions for 2022.

The GBCA will be responding to the ABCB’s scoping paper, and participating on both the residential and commercial working groups that will meet over the next three years with the ABCB to provide technical input to the next update. In a recent meeting with Minister Angus Taylor, we took the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to supporting higher performance in the residential sector, both with the ABCB and through direct engagement in the residential sector where we are exploring how to work with our members and the broader industry to develop a standard for new homes.

Climate Change Authority consultation on Paris Targets

The Climate Change Authority is currently updating its advice to the Federal Government on policies to meet Australia’s commitments under the Paris Agreement.

This updated advice will provide recommendations that ensure Australia can meet our national 2030 emissions reduction target, as well as subsequent targets that will place Australia on a path to net zero emissions consistent with the Paris Agreement.

The GBCA recently met with the Authority to discuss key opportunities for emissions reduction in the built environment, noting the suite of measures highlighted through our Carbon Positive Roadmap and research addressing specific areas of the built environment such as infrastructure procurement and mid-tier office buildings.

As part of its work to inform the update, the Authority released series of three stocktakes earlier this year that canvassed industry, national and overseas emission reduction efforts, which noted the GBCA’s efforts in areas relating to design, construction, operation and maintenance of buildings, in relation to Green Star and the Carbon Positive Roadmap.

Victoria develops interim emission reduction targets

The GBCA has responded to the Victorian Government’s final report on Interim Emissions Reduction Targets for Victoria, urging the Government to leverage fully the built environment in the transition to a low carbon economy.

The report, delivered by an Independent Expert Panel presents the Government with advice on setting emissions reduction targets for 2025 and 2030 as part of a state-wide pathway to net zero emissions by 2050.

Whilst we welcomed the clear, science based pathway presented in the report, we expressed concerns with its narrow assessment of Victoria’s built environment sector, which overlooks the bulk of emissions from commercial and residential buildings by attributing indirect emissions to the electricity supply sector. These concerns were brought forth in a recent meeting with the office of the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, where we also presented a number of priority areas for the Government’s attention.

The Government is now identifying a number of priority actions to reduce Victoria’s emissions to inform the development of sector pledges to 2025. These sector pledges will describe the actions Government will take to reduce Victoria’s emissions, and will be developed with the Victorian community and businesses before being announced by 1 August 2020.