On a conservative base for a carbon tax, the markets, and FM in Hobart comes of age

30 May 2013 — Dear Mr Abbott,

By all accounts it looks like you could well be the next Australian prime minister.

That being so – although this is a time when anything can happen – there is something really important you might want to take note of in relation to your attitude to the carbon tax.

 In the US there is a new conservative movement, and it’s born out of the very essence of conservative America, the Heartland Institute. This is the organisation, we’re sure you’ll know, that funded the climate denial movement world wide.

The new organisation is called the R Street Institute, and it’s run by Eli Lehrer, who was previously a Heartland vice president.

Mr Lehrer started the new group because, though he’s still a strong conservative, he wants to do something about climate change and he supports a carbon tax to do it.

In a most fascinating article, The New York Times says Mr Lehrer is convinced that a carbon tax fits conservative orthodoxy.

The tax is a “broad and flat tax, whose revenue can be used to do away with the corporate income tax — a favourite target of the right,” the article points out.

“It provides a market-friendly signal, forcing polluters to bear the cost imposed on the rest of us and encouraging them to pollute less. And it is much preferable to a parade of new regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We are having a debate on the right about a carbon tax for the first time in a long time,” Mr Lehrer said.

Mr Lehrer has friends. This include the former Republican congressman Bob Inglis from South Carolina who before he left Congress, he proposed a revenue-neutral bill to create a carbon tax and cut payroll taxes.

“Changing the political economy of a carbon tax remains an uphill slog especially in a stagnant economy. But Mr Inglis notices a thaw. “The best way to do this is in the context of a grand bargain on tax reform,” he said. “It could happen in 2015 or 2016, but probably not before.”

He lists a dozen Republicans in the House and eight in the Senate who would be open to legislation to help avert climate change. He notes that Exelon, the gas and electricity giant, is sympathetic to his efforts — perhaps not least because a carbon tax would give an edge to gas over its dirtier rival, coal. Exxon, too, has also said a carbon tax would be the most effective way to reduce emissions.

Call it the roar of the markets.

Now Mr Abbott, we know you’ve taken that inconvenient blood oath to remove the tax, but we just want to know, what for?

And have you considered what your blood brothers will think of you? How about we promise never to mention broken promises and Julia Gillard? Ever.

Just something we hope you consider.

The third wave

On the subject of markets, environmentalists are starting to understand the same thing as Mr Lehrer: the markets are a powerful rational force.

All they need is better pricing mechanisms that reflect the real costs of pollution and externalities. And less government distortion through subsidies for fossil fuels, for instance.

The Australian Conservation Foundation on Wednesday launched its new agenda for Australia with an address by president Ian Lowe at the National Press Club in Canberra that targets the power of the markets.

Lowe says it’s the third wave of the environmental movement, after conservation and legislation.

BHP gets it. Ask them about coal.

Malcolm Turnbull gets it. The former Liberal Leader and now a shadow minister spoke at a Grattan Institute event last week and called for NSW Treasury to get serious about value uplift capture. This is a way to fund infrastructure by reaping some of the benefit that comes from new infrastructure. An attendee from Treasury said they were “looking into it”.

As are some other clever treasuries around the country. Okay, one other.

You have to ask, why does it take so long to do the rational thing and pick up the money that’s on the table?

Leon Gettler in this week’s Green MashUP makes a similar point on the emerging wave of interest in using market drivers. He says the environmental movement isn’t failing, it’s just retooling for a massive swipe on investment.

Bill McKibben who will visit Australia for a roadshow next week has a list of 200 companies he and his friends are telling investors to get out of.

Mr Abbott, the interesting thing is that the Great Disruption V2 could well come from the very thing that you and your friends and political relatives espouse.

How does that feel Mr Abbott?

You could be the man to take up the greatest challenge of all time and win a place in the hearts of the nation and the world. Not to mention history.

Remember Churchill: whatever it takes.

Markets aren’t always enough. Sadly markets aren’t quite enough. They can be devastatingly quick but they can also take their time.

Look at NABERS and Green Star.

Green Star: voluntary, expensive, a measure of design and built result but not yet performance (though that’s coming very soon) is not doing so well according to a presentation at last Friday’s Victorian Property Council Sustainable Development Conference.

NABERS: cheap. Related to an actual measure of energy consumption, is looking good.

Stefan Preuss from Sustainability Victoria told the conference that if the NABERS disclosure threshold was lowered to 500 square metres it would capture an additional 2100 buildings across the state and encourage a spate of retrofits and business activity.

Look out for more coverage from this conference from the irrepressible and prolific Donna Kelly. Star.

Delegates at Ideaction in Hobart

FM Ideation conference

The most interesting thing about Ideaction 2013, the Facility Management Association conference in Hobart on Monday and Tuesday this week was as much about who turned up as what they said.

Delegates included Bryon Price of AG Coombs Group, Catherine Parker from CSIRO, Craig Roussac from Buildings Alive, Phil Wilkinson of The Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating, David Craven of Woods Bagot, Laurie Aznavoorian of Geyer, Peter Philips of MPES Consulting and Phil Senn of Exergy.

Not to mention heavyweights of the facilities management industry itself.

It was quite a line up. And surprising for an industry that at least for some of its members has been in the boondocks of property, holed up in the basement or engine room, unseen and for the most part unknown.

Not any more.

The FMers are coming out of their basements. And the reason is because the most sophisticated building engineers, technology specialists and workplace designers who are recreating commercial buildings and reconfiguring them have suddenly discovered they need FMers to be their new best friends.

If you’re going to create new models of energy efficiency and thermal comfort you’ll need the FMer on side. If you’re going to integrate all the incredible building and energy monitoring technology hitting the radar on a daily basis, ditto.

And what about the workplace designers who are doing all sorts of weird and wonderful things with desks and space?

They too will need a carefully honed partnership with the people who run the building lest the operation of the facility lets down the dream.

As one delegate pointed out it’s all very well to design activity-based working spaces where no-one has a fixed desk so that more people can fit into the same space, but what happens to the airconditioning and the services of the building? It’s the equivalent  of repurposing an old Holden into a Ferrari and it just may not perform as desired.

Prodded a little some of the delegates we spoke to were not quite sure what to expect but they knew they had to get to know this industry. The verdict was it was surprisingly challenging and interesting for the most part, with no shortage of ambition coming from the top, through the efforts of relatively new chief executive Nicholas Burt, but also the passionate members of the industry who want to raise it to a higher platform.

Speakers: John Farrell, Federal Group and Cath Johnson, CBA

But what is FM? And do so many people want it to be raised out of their current digs?

The first question has a multitude of answers. The second answer is, not necessarily.

As one feisty delegate said during a controversial session on education, who’s got time to earn a diploma or degree in FM, and where are the clients who require it anyway? Maybe it’s something for the next generation coming through the ranks.

Speaking of newcomers it was good to see that there is big push for diversity from the industry.

Another of the more geeky delegates was Pete Tickler of Greensense, which runs a range of data collection software for  buildings. Tickler told us after the event that the industry was hugely important and he for one wanted to know the people that his company needed to deal with.

“The FM industry is in an interesting space,” he said.

“Buildings themselves are being retooled and there are really capable guys such as in the Arups and the NDYs designing formula 1 cars – but are they being driven by bus drivers?”

“People need to be retooled themselves and to get greater capability.

“That’s one of the industry’s biggest challenges.”

If you don’t get the FMer on side or if they don’t understand what you’re trying to do with the data sets you’re trying to collect or technology you’re trying to implement, “at their worst they potentially can just say no and shut it down,” Tickler says.

Another issue was the FM demographic.

Tickler pointed to one of the session observations that the demographic of an FM staffer was “relatively old” and male. Good news announced at the opening cocktails was that the industry now has a diversity policy.

Tickler’s company, which he founded with two other partners, is in its fourth year and hiring.

There’s a new business development manager based in the Perth head office and another two staffers recently appointed to expand the Melbourne office, with hopes for the addition of another five staff next year to add to the current 15.

If there is slowdown and cut backs in some part of the property industry it’s not in the data collection and analysis sector of the market.

Lynne Blundell will provide a full report on the conference in coming days