The Funsters Party

On the Funsters Party, Chris Slack, Terry Leckie and Lucas Heights

17 October 2013 — If you live in Sydney and stuck your head out side the window on Thursday afternoon you would have noticed the sky covered in the eerie pink tinged cloud of smoke and the pungent smell of Australia burning. By late afternoon the news came through that houses had indeed been burned in a range of fires not far from Sydney. It’s just October.

Yet we’re getting rid of the carbon price and there’s no clear alternative to do the job that’s needed to avoid this horrid frightening event from becoming a daily occurrence.

Maybe we all expected to get used to this Russian Roulette and just do our jobs happily and regardless.

But you have to look on the bright side, right?

Clive Palmer who heads the mini coalition, The Funsters Party (because they stood for the Senate as a joke, got in, and now the joke’s on us), is a hoot.

That is, if you ignore what he says, and just enjoy the crazy antics. Last week on national television, for instance, he trotted out his new line-up of senators, pushed one or two to the microphone in turn, then shoved them back into line when they started saying more than, “Hello, I’m X and I’m here to help.”

Palmer wants to be the Prime Minister’s new best friend. But he wants to do a swap for the really big bullseye marbles first and some nice lollies as well. Try this: he will pass the carbon tax repeal legislation but only if the PM gives back the $10 billion it will have reaped in the meantime. And by the way, he doesn’t want to pay the $6.5 million or so he owes in carbon tax because, well… he just doesn’t want to.

The PM has threatened a double dissolution if the repeal is blocked. It’s been reported in much of the media that this trigger is “embedded” in the repeal legislation. As if it’s some kind of threat to Labor and The Greens. In fact, they might be delighted to see Abbott go back to the electorate. The Australian public is not known for its fondness for elections and after a summer of bushfires and crazy talk in Parliament with the Funsters running the show, we’re not so sure Abbott would relish the option of being judged on his performance to date.

To keep an eye on the shenanigans in this critical area of environment at the federal level, we’ve started a “Greg Hunt Watch”.

Oh, and thanks to tweeter Dr NO who said this in response to our announcement of this:

“Dr No @theretrogressor: @FifthEstateAU@GregHuntMP I’ve got a new Greg Hunt watch too. Problem is the bloody thing only unwinds and goes backward”

Thanks Dr No.

Queensland’s lovely old building timebomb

We wrote recently about the potential for a boom in energy efficiency retrofits coming out of Brisbane and now we have a better idea of why.

Chris Slack, from advisory, investment and capital solutions company Alceon, says his company is “actively trying to identify and acquire assets and reposition building infrastructure” in Brisbane.

Slack says that around 70 per cent of building stock in Brisbane was built before 1990, as part of the ’80s investment boom. That means that building systems are now coming to the end of their economic lives of 20-25 years and needed replacement.

There’s a “massive pool” of assets in Brisbane owned by government, private and institutional interests, and they’re in dire need of upgrading to meet market standards, he says.

Adding to the pressure is the distressed leasing market in Brisbane, with vacancy rates the highest they’ve ever been for B and C grade buildings.

The is an expectation that for investment purposes these buildings need to be upgraded to meet market standards and attract tenants. And of course that means quite a lot of work could be bubbling up.

“It’s going to be very relevant for our sector for the next 10 years,” he says.

The other driver, says Slack is the social and political pressure to have high environmental performance. And his company was “very proactive” in engendering green outcomes.

EUAs can help

Also assisting is the Property Council of Australia sub-committee for environmental upgrade agreements.

Slack says Brisbane might be a couple of years behind Sydney and Melbourne regarding this finance mechanism, but what it lacked in timing it was making up for in optimism. All going well, EUAs could start rolling out in the next 18 months to two years.

Helping things along is some quite good political goodwill from both state and local government, he says. The fact that government wouldn’t have to provide financial incentives is a big advantage to getting the changes in legislation needed through parliament.

But it will take four to five acts to be amended. It will also need a stakeholder education campaign to get the message through, Slack says.

“All these buildings will have to go through this [refurbishment] process anyway,” he said. “If that’s done in an a coordinated way with access to finance, everyone wins.”

Sydney has another EUA… we think

Speaking of EUAs, we know there’s a new environmental upgrade agreement that’s just been signed in Sydney and that it’s a great example of how far this funding can be taken. But sadly details are still under wraps. [So many secrets. We might have to get Edward Snowden on the case soon].

Some people are doing good work

While the New Feds get themselves into a knot over their promise to reverse the carbon tax, some people on the ground doing the solid sustainability work have got good news to report.

Terry Leckie for instance. Leckie, who we wrote about in June last year when his Water Factory had six staff, is busy changing the way we manage water in precincts, by privatising it and slashing the costs – in financial as well as environmental terms of water provision and recycling.

He’s pioneered this in NSW and now this change agent is bringing with him some of the key government agencies in Victoria, and possibly Queensland. Leckie thinks the influence of what’s happening in NSW will also penetrate South Australia and he says Western Australia is certainly interested.

Leckie’s angle is privatised water management. That’s fresh water, brought to the edge of the site by the conventional authorities and then managed in terms of delivery, recycling, storm water management and sewerage by Leckie’s company.

He’s doing this in all of Sydney’s big urban regeneration precincts, at Green Square, Australand’s Discovery Point, Central Park and possibly Barangaroo if negotiations go to play.

In greenfield sites he’s doing the same over some very large projects. The cost of new development in environmental terms as well as economic is one of the biggest issues sustainability advocates have with this kind of housing. And water efficiency advocates such as The Fifth Estate’s own favourite agitator and columnist Michael Mobbs have long pointed out the huge energy and emissions cost of shifting water and sewerage over huge distances.

It’s fascinating to speak to someone who in a quiet and laconic way is simply doing his best to change the world.

Earthquake misses Lucas Heights

From Cameron Jewell this week comes a sobering thought on another level: earthquakes.

According to Cameron, an earthquake hit Sydney last week. It measured 3.5 on the Richter scale and guess where it was? Right next to Lucas Heights.

Adjunct Professor Kevin McCue from the Australian Seismological Centre, and former president of the Australian Earthquake Engineering Society, told The Fifth Estate most buildings in Australia were not adhering to the Australian Standard AS 1170.4 (2007).

Read the story to find out why this is important and how unprepared Australian buildings are for earthquakes.

Some like it hot

Despite the bad weather and the Coalition’s determination to do nothing much about it, some elements of the business community are delighted with the results of the election.

So said the Property Council/ANZ Property Industry Confidence Index to December 2013 with its report that confidence has “surged” on the back of the win.

Needless to say we think it’s good for business to be happy because sustainability has a better chance of getting done when confidence is up. But it’s a worry that this is a kind of celebration of short-term thinking and people who only want to do stingy mingy things to curb emissions, if at all.

But still, a surge of confidence is a surge of confidence – 30 points on the index in this case, based on results last year.

PCA chief operating officer Nathan Paine said New South Wales and Queensland were the merriest of all.

Of course, the rising price of houses had something to do with this; in Australia it always does. Expected increases in construction activity is another jolly-factor.

Hopefully the economic boost will bring a boost to rational sustainable options in the buildings constructed or retrofitted.