Two Senate Economics References Committee inquiries with direct implications for the sustainable property sector have become casualties of the double dissolution.
The inquiry into non-conforming building products, which before the election was announced had already received three extensions on its final report, asked for a further extension on 4 May until September this year. The extension was granted, but due to the dissolving of Parliament, the inquiry is now lapsed and the committee dissolved.
An interim report was published on 4 May, but the only recommendation was for an extension to report and it revealed no major findings.
Senator Nick Xenophon, who was involved in the public hearings held by the inquiry, told The Fifth Estate he would push for it to be re-established once Parliament resumes. However, none of the preliminary reports that may have been prepared can be published at this stage.
The Construction Product Alliance is hopeful the inquiry will be resumed.
“Despite the fact that the Senate’s interim report delivered no actions or recommendations and the committee has been disbanded due to the federal election, the Construction Product Alliance is hopeful that the inquiry will be reconvened after the election and continue its work,” a CPA spokesman said.
He said the CPA was encouraged by the ongoing work of the Building Ministers’ Forum – Senior Officers Group.
“This separate group has made significant progress in identifying the seriousness of the problem, the various areas of glaring weaknesses in the regulatory regime, including the certification process, and the disjointed regulation of the use of building products, both manufactured in Australia and overseas.”
“The CPA is working with the BMF-SOG to address the problem and identify appropriate action.”
Carbon Risk Disclosure also affected
Another Economic References Committee inquiry that hit the skids is the Carbon Risk Disclosure Inquiry, which was due to report on 22 June this year.
Head of ethics research at Australian Ethical Investment, Stuart Palmer, said the submission it had put into the inquiry called for increased compulsory reporting of corporate greenhouse gas emissions to help ensure companies set accountable emissions reduction targets.
“We proposed specific additional disclosure requirements and also contributed to pro-transparency submissions made by the Investor Group on Climate Change and Financial Services Council,” Mr Palmer said.
“Improved disclosure – and the improved understanding and capacity for action it enables – is crucial to meeting the targets agreed in Paris.”
He said this was evidenced by the diversity of submissions and the strong support for greater transparency.
Not all the respondents supported compulsory reporting, however. The Business Council of Australia in its submission stated that “reporting of carbon risk should be voluntary, industry-led and suited to the needs of specific stakeholders”. It also said that existing mechanisms should be used, such as the CDP, voluntary ASX Governance Principles or the Global Reporting Initiative.
The fact the inquiry is now de-railed and there are no guarantees it may pick up where it left off under a new government is a matter for concern.
“Given the importance of improved carbon risk disclosure; the complexity in formulating the most useful disclosure metrics; and the depth and diversity of insight already contributed to the inquiry, it would be extremely damaging for the inquiry’s work to be wasted,” Mr Palmer said.
“This is not only because of the waste of energy which has been dedicated to the inquiry, but also because of the signal it sends that government continues to dodge its urgent obligation to implement a long-term policy framework which will enable Australia to meet its climate commitments.”
His organisation would like to see a firm commitment from both major parties to picking up the inquiry, delivering recommendations and also taking action.
In terms of what carbon risk means for investors, Mr Palmer said there was massive risk of disruption of businesses which are operating inconsistently with a path to achieving the global commitment to limit warming to well under two degrees.
“We need to understand how businesses are equipped to respond to the social and economic changes which will be required to meet our climate obligations,” he said.
The Investors Group on Climate Change also made a submission to the inquiry. Chief executive Emma Herd said she hoped the new parliament would reinstate the inquiry as “it was doing very valuable work”.
She said that given carbon risk disclosure was such a specific and technical area of the climate change debate, it was interesting to see that there were almost 40 submissions from a broad range of groups, including environmental, education, business and investors.
Ms Herd said this reflected a global trend of governments, financial institutions and investors very much looking at how to better understand company performance and how to make reporting more fit-for-purpose.
“The issue [of carbon risk] is not going anywhere, even if the committee is not re-established,” she said.