On governments: dangerous, some good and even collaborative

Queensland is  killing the Great – now Lesser – Barrier Reef. Its state of health has been downgraded to poor, and no-one, but no-one is going to stand between Qld premier Campbell Newman and a dollar (unless its embarrassment at the extravagant salary he and his cronies have – by law – allotted themselves.)

This week new federal environment minister Mark Butler made the reef’s amazing creatures wait another five years for reprieve from pollutants and poisons, among a program of measures that had some positives.

Nick Heath from the World Wildlife Fund praised the efforts of farmers who’ve changed practices to reduce harmful run off, but he says: “We’re incredibly disappointed that 72 per cent of the reef’s coral now appears dead.”

Greens Senator Larissa Waters says the “major threat” from dredging and dumping of sediment is still being ignored.

“Labor has approved the dumping of 17.5 million cubic metres of sediment into the Great Barrier Reef.”

That’s nearly 200 times the amount of sediment the Reef Rescue program has prevented from running off into the reef, she says.

In early August the minister will decide whether to approve another three million cubic metres of dredging at Abbot Point, next door to The Whitsundays.

Would be prime minister Tony Abbott would not hesitate to get out of the way. His policy is to give a green light to the states to do whatever they want.

But if you want to know how things really are, ask a local.

Terry Ryder, a straight down the line property investment reporter, researcher and veteran of many years writing for major newspapers, his own hotspotting and other investment websites, says things are going from bad to worse under the Newman government.

Although conservative governments who have taken over in various states have scaled back on environmental programs, the Queensland government has seemed “almost to resent” the environment, Ryder said in a recent chat.

“It’s an incredibly conservative government and I think a lot of people have been surprised at how conservative Campbell Newman is now he’s in a position of power. They might have thought he was a middle of the road politician before but he’s shown himself to be extremely far right.

“He’s shut down any program that can’t be measured in direct dollar terms. If it’s not mining or property development, it doesn’t rate.

“There will be some people who regret they voted for him including 15,000-odd public servants who don’t’ have a job now.”

Not to mention those affected by the flow-on effect.

“It’s caused a spike in unemployment; although he says it will be a temporary one, support will be diminishing, although there will always be the core support that is there from people who always vote the same way.”

The landslide, not so much for Newman, but against former premier Anna Bligh, has seen people wondering whether it was quite such a smart move to have left almost no opposition government.

“It’s been incredibly destructive. I can’t think of a single thing they’ve actually created. They’ve torn down anything set up by the previous government; shut down many worthwhile projects in education, environment, the arts and creates a loss of jobs.

By way of replacement, Ryder can see “no agenda or policy platform that’s evident that would take the state forward”.

In fact, the only thing the state government has done is to approve a “new ivory tower for themselves”.

“They’ve axed all those jobs and now they’re spending half a billion dollars on new offices for the politicians.”

It’s a double standard, said Ryder, matched in news after we spoke, by massive pay rises.

But Ryder has a wry view of other state governments as well. In Victoria he sees the state government overriding local councils as a matter of course in planning decisions.

In NSW, he might have added, there is emerging concern about the probity of the green light that seems to be shown by the O’Farrell government to the new casino proposed by James Packer’s Crown group at Barangaroo.

Extra building height and less public space suddenly seems minor issues when it comes to this billionaire proponent but there’s growing unrest, expressed on Thursday in the Australian Financial Review and through more media releases of discontent.

“You’ve got to wonder who the governments are governing for – the mining industry and property developers; that’s pretty much what it’s about in Queensland. Environment does not rate in their mentality. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen,” Ryder says.

But watch it; it’s catchy.

A revolution builds slowly but surely

Outside of Queensland there’s good news amid the questionable.

For instance, NSW is now collaborating with Victoria to ramp up its energy efficiency program over its government-owned buildings, which includes massive energy guzzlers such as hospitals.

In Victoria the government expects to save a whopping $2 billion by 2020 in energy bills. That’s either some new feathers in their credit rating caps, less taxes or more hospital beds, teachers, education facilities and care for disabled and aged people.

At least there’s a choice.

In NSW the amazing story is that $40 million has been available for low interest loans from Treasury but hasn’t been taken up to its maximum capacity. It’s not such an easy thing to do it seems.

You need a good plan, a good process, and some good companies who can work magic, such as promise specific energy savings and guarantee them.

These two state governments are now sharing an ESCO (energy services companies) panel who have been fully briefed, know the deal and have the track record to deliver the goods.

The other thing you need, says Sam Burke who runs the Victorian program for the Department of Treasury and Finance, is buy-in from the board. It’s a big commitment to manage a new program, and can be disruptive. Even if it promises dollar savings at the end.

It’s the unfolding story in the retrofit game: promising savings is often not enough – like everywhere, managers and chief executives are immensely strapped for time. There’s the risk of disrupting the business and the risk the process won’t work.

No wonder this building retrofit revolution is taking its time.

Good to see though it’s finally on its way.

With some wind in our sails

Building services engineers be on full alert: the US and China want to improve their building energy profile.

A joint agreement between these two giants of climate change who pump out 40 per cent of greenhouse gases between them, have forged two major agreements in a month. And that’s not long after US president Barack Obama said he would use government agencies to bypass a hostile Congress in his own country to achieve environmental reforms.

Among the new China–US deals are promises to work towards better energy efficiencies for buildings, cleaner trucks, carbon capture technologies, smarter grids and improve reporting of greenhouse gas emissions.

This followed another agreement by US president Barack Obama and China’s premier Xi Jinping that they would work together to reduce the production of especially powerful climate pollutants – hydrofluorocarbons.

Deborah Seligsohn, who has advised the World Resources Institute on China’s climate and energy policies, said in a report in The Guardian that the move could prod China towards more ambitious curbs on its own greenhouse gas emissions at future negotiating rounds.

“There is a little bit of new wind in everybody’s sails right now,” she said.

A former PM’s legacy to new PMs

Ray Brown of Architectus, joint architects with Ingenhoven Architects on 1 Bligh Street, reports that the fitout of the three office floors in the building destined for the Prime Minister while in Sydney are nearing completion. But no, Brown can shed no light on what kind of fitout will be used. Seems sort of wrong, doesn’t it?

After all the famed late harry Seiler would not only insist on designing the interiors of his buildings but also what furniture was to be used and where it should be placed.

He is famously said to have exploded in one of his extremely colourful and entertaining furies when invited to a residence in Paris, which he had designed for the Australian government, by none other than first couple Gough and Margaret Whitlam. He insisted on placing the couch right back where he had decided it should go.

But in the humble realms of humans, even six star buildings with fantastic designs need to submit to the fancies of their tenants. (And of course the cover is blown, landlords: after doing our e-book on environmental agreements and now on green and best practice leases we know you are afraid of your tenants.)

So we will have to politely request an on-site briefing from the asset managers for the new space, which by the way will officially be known as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices to be used by the PM and the Opposition Leader alike, when in Sydney.

One person unlikely to get a walkthrough now is ironically the person who is said to have personally given the go-ahead for the lease: former PM Julia Gillard.

And was it true that it was Brown and Ms Gillard on the night she opened the building that sealed the deal? Well, the two did attend the same high school in Adelaide, admitted Brown, without quite saying much more.

Even more intriguing perhaps, given the global profile and penchant for sustainability of its majority owner Michael Bloomberg, is the fitout for the three floors of his eponymous finance media business.

Let’s hope an invitation for a walkthrough post completion will be as generous as pre-completion.