By Tina Perinotto

15 April 2011 – Consult Australia has joined a coalition of major companies employing more than 120,000 people voicing support for a price on carbon. And the Property Council of Australia has said it has supported a carbon scheme since 1999, but has issues it wants addressed in relation to the property industry.

Consult Australia, previously known as the Association of Consulting Engineers Australia, represents more than 270 consulting companies that provide professional services to the built and natural environment. The coalition includes GE, AGL, Linfox, Fujitsu, BP, Better Place, IKEA, Kell & Rigby, Alstom, Pottinger, ARTC and Pacific Hydro.

A joint media statement from the coalition yesterday said: “Australia can be a global force in clean energy, energy efficiency and low-carbon technology. A price on carbon should be accompanied by a range of complementary measures that reduce emissions at least economic cost,” the statement said.

Consult Australia Chief Executive, Megan Motto said the association’s report Seizing the Sustainability Advantage provided a blueprint for ambitious governance reform and proposed a 12 month deadline for the introduction of a price on carbon.

Chief executive officer Peter Verwer told The Fifth Estate in a telephone interview from Shanghai in China yesterday that the Property Council said in 1999 that the Kyoto Protocol should be ratified; and that Australia should cap carbon and introduce a carbon emissions trading scheme.

But while the PCA supported the carbon tax there were ” five big issues for the property sector”, Mr Verwer said.

First was what rules would be applied to stop price gouging on energy prices?

“The lesson from Europe is that energy suppliers took the permits and increased the prices. The issue here is about how to form rules to stop price gouging,” Mr Verwer said.

Second, there were issues around fixed contracts, especially, but not only, in leased property. “What happens to leases that don’t contain reference to a carbon tax? The potential is for the lessor to be caught between the energy retailer and the lessee.”

The impact on building materials input prices was a major concern. So far there was no Treasury modelling to show how prices could rise on housing and other building construction, Mr Verwer said.

Finally he said the impact on household disposable income for property sectors such as shopping centres was important and also raised the question of how compensation could be provided to business if households were to be provided with 50 per cent of the tax revenue, as flagged by Climate Change Minister Greg Combet this week.

A “strategic headline issue” Mr Verwer said, was to what extent the tax would change behaviour, given that it was to be accompanied with compensation.  And he said: “It doesn’t make sense to rely solely on a carbon price signal to meet carbon emissions reduction targets.”

In relation to the property industry, Mr Verwer urged a speedy resolution to the design problems in the $1bilion tax break incentives program promised by the Labor government in the lead up to the election. Key was that the tax breaks would be of little use to property trusts and would only apply to buildings that could achieve two star improvements in their NABERS Energy ratings – something many observers say is too hard. See our extensive coverage on this by Leon Gettler.

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