By Tina Perinotto

[UPDATE 16 November 2009] The Federal Minister for Industry Kim Carr appears to have bowed to the heavy handed tactics of the building and housing industry associations which have bitterly attacked the proposed six-star energy efficiency standard for housing.

In today’s Australian Financial Review the Minister said the Building Minister’s Forum would review the regulatory impact statement produced by the Australian Building Codes Board, a move applauded  by the Housing Industry Association.

A spokeswoman for the Minister this morning confimed to The Fifth Estate that the AFR report was accurate but would not comment that the Minister may have been influenced by the front page story in the AFR on Thursday [see below]  which included attacks on the accuracy of the ABCB’s cost estimates of the higher standards.

13 November 2009 –Last time there were moves to make housing greener the housing and building industry associations let forth an outrageous  stream of bile and invective with claims that the sky would fall in on their industry. Things got so nasty, word is they attacked members of the Australian Building Codes Board on a personal level.

Greener housing would send the industry broke, they said. It would ruin consumers – add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of a home and a $3 billion cost to the economy.

Not a word of it was true. Within months the members of the Australian building industry, considered one of the most efficient in the world, worked out how to build in more sustainable features at no discernible extra cost.

Now those industry “leaders” are at it again.

A front page article in last Thursday’s [12 November] Australian Financial Review was an orgy of anger and desperate claims attempting to stop change: “Business and greens lash Rudd eco-housing code”, the headline said.

“The housing industry and green groups have savaged the federal and state government’s proposed national rules to improve the energy efficiency of new buildings…” went the first paragraph.

The reason? A step up from five star energy rated housing to six stars, proposed by the ABCB and agreed by the Coalition of Australian Governments in May.

The ABCB’s own assessment of the costs of going six stars for new houses and five stars for apartments ranged from an $8000 benefit to a $2200 cost, The AFR pointed out.

Trouble was, the housing and building industry gurus simply don’t believe this. Instead it’s the end of the world as we know it, they would have us believe. Again.

The Residential Development Council claimed the new code would add $20,000 to the cost of a new apartment. People might be made to have smaller windows, they said. [Well that just proves the sky is falling in. However, a price increase of $20,000 due to market forces usually passes unremarked.]

The Master Builders Association said the focus of enery savings should be on existing homes instead of new homes, and the Housing Industry Association wanted specific details on how many tonnes of emissions could be saved by each green star before any change was made to the paper-thin walls, open-plan, uninsulated, un-eaved, energy-guzzling style of housing they clearly believe they have the right to construct, un-constrained.]

As for the “green groups” who joined in the “savaging” of the scheme? This was none other than the Green Building Council of Australia – a property industry group made up of 747 property companies trying to do the right thing in the commercial sector – not the Total Environment Centre, not the Australian Conservation Foundation, not The Greens.

The comment attributed to the GBC, that it was concerned that “focusing on energy efficiency was not the same as reducing greenhouse gas emissions” was apparently a simple mistake – because the comment  formed part of a submission made by the GBC to the ABCB on commercial buildings, not on residential buildings, and had been taken out of context, the GBC told The Fifth Estate yesterday.

Chief executive officer of the Total Environment Centre Jeff Angel said the comments by the housing and building industry were misguided.

“The construction industry is simply indulging in an ideological knee jerk rather than a considered and informed response about environmental sustainability and the capacity of the industry to respond practically and intelligently.

“Their comments do a disservice to the many members who are doing the right thing and to the broad community who want concrete action on energy efficiency and global warming.”

Green architect and commentator Caroline Pidcock fears for the damage to the building and housing industry caused by such talk from its leaders.

The backlash was evidence of industry leaders in denial and it would endanger the industry by creating uncertainty about the need for people to “getting skilled up and working how to deal with this issue in a positive way,” Pidcock said.

“I’ve just been to the Energy Efficiency Conference in Melbourne and in comparison to what the rest of the world is doing we are too far behind in most things – in terms of building regulations in particular – for us to be quibbling about six stars.

“China is so far ahead of us on building regulations, on [clean] energy production, on every sort of measure you want to look at.

“In Europe they were at 8.5 stars 20 years ago.”

If Australia wanted to keep exporting services, it needed to stay ahead of the trends, and the skills, Pidcock said.

Australia was replete with clever creative people forced to move overseas to realise their potential or their inventions. And going green was a positive for the economy, she said.

“There are so many green jobs, It’s completely against what the Coalition is saying – there is a load of work in the Green Economy.”

“We know what happened when we moved from the horse and buggy to the car – the buggy makers had to re-train.”

tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au

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