Green Cities 2010

India, the Turnbulls, jobs and economy, mandatory lighting assessment and something on the carbon price

8 September 2011 – There are two fantastic stories on India in this issue  from Amanda McCluskey and David Gait of Colonial First State. They show in colourful detail just how tough the environmental and sustainability challenge is in that rapidly developing country. But also how exhilarating is the work of people who succeed, especially when they address the urgent social issues India faces.

Both articles are a must read for those who want to absorb knowledge -– in a well written and entertaining format.

Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull
Sometimes it’s not what is said that counts but the thing left unspoken. It was like that last Friday when former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull took to the stage, along with his wife Lucy, and addressed a Property Council of Australia audience.

At The Fifth Estate’s table were the usual mutterings that follow this former leader of the Liberal Party: “He’s in the wrong party”, a comment intended kindly if the speaker is a Labor voter, nastier if the speaker is an Abbott fancier.

What was interesting was that here was the former leader of the opposition, deposed in an almighty coup almost as dramatic as that which brought down Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – but there was not a single question on the issue that led to this – the emissions trading scheme – or how he feels now about climate issues. Still, both he and his wife Lucy showed plenty of clear strategic thinking on broader issues, and Lucy Turnbull demonstrated a strong grasp of urban planning, as she might with her advisory role with the Council of Australian Governments. See the article

In NSW a budget to vanquish the evil of graffiti for our sensitive urban eyes
The NSW budget was handed down this week, but look as we may, we could find no headline mention of environmental issues except in the negative: how much the carbon tax would cost the NSW economy a tiny bit on energy savings and some stuff about handing decisions on environment and other matters back to the communities.

Here’s what the government said:
“Individuals, families, businesses and communities know best what works for them – wherever they are. The NSW Government will trust and encourage this local energy, innovation and ownership, and work to strengthen community relationships” here

As if communities are best at making decisions that are part of a global eco-system.

Well, let’s not get excited. The issues are not focused on  climate change. They are environmental community matters such as local planning, land management and, guess what, graffiti!

Yes, one of the headline items is a plan to tackle this dastardly disruption to our daily sense of calm and order.

Note the link these days between environment and that furry new flavour-of-the-month-word “communities”, over which a few achievements can be proudly flagged and under which a great many more failures can be buried.

Another interesting thing to note is the use of the word “energy security” instead of “energy efficiency”. This follows  the Tea Party influence in the US which sees energy efficiency and a greener America as a world government plot.

Jobs and outlook
Mmm, it’s a little slow in jobs-land right now. One of our recruiter contacts said there is a lot more caution about: there is a pipeline of work but not much rush to fill the positions created.”Twice in the last week I have heard [the term] GFC2 (Global Financial Crisis), our source said.

The worst his is Queensland, still.

Not so long ago, the Property Council’s executive director in Queensland, Kathy Mac Dermott, told The Fifth Estate that the property market is probably at the bottom of the cycle.

“I’m hoping it’s coming off the bottom but it’s at the bottom,” Mac Dermott said.

“It’s out of kilter with the other states. The commercial market is doing best because it benefits from mining.”

Mac Dermott thinks the tide is bound to turn soon and that the Queensland government investment incentives announced in the budget earlier in the year will be a stimulus. She is amazed how few people know about them: For properties under $600,000 buyers from anywhere, not just Queensland, will get a $10,000 grant. On top of that is a $9000 affordability grant for qualifying rental properties.

Simon Wild of Cundall agrees on the poor outlook for Queensland but says that in the sustainability sector Sydney has picked up significantly in the past few months. “Hopefully there will be enough work coming through if people don’t get too nervous. But so far it’s been the busiest few months in Sydney for the past three years.”

The outlook in Melbourne is still quite strong, he says, and likewise with Adelaide.

The Property Council view
The Property Council of Australia’s chief executive Peter Verwer also thought the outlook for the property’s construction sector was not good, describing it as “extremely dark”. The pickup in private investment to bolster the end of the Federal Government’s stimulus package had not yet materialised, he said.

The likely outcome was that Australia would go down the path that Europe has taken.  “Australia could run a bigger debt, there’s no question of that, and we could radically alter interest rates”. But in the end it was all about sentiment, Verwer said.

“Fundamentally, the natural disasters, the international gloominess, is drowning out what is fundamentally a very sound economy.” It’s a sentiment driven economy, he said.  Which means, “When it comes good it will swing back very swiftly.”

The politicians could help. “Political leadership is meant to inject that mojo, but we’re not going to get that because the Federal Government has lost its capacity to govern with confidence.”

Verwer was more keen to talk about the cities calculator or app about to be released at the PCA’s Cities Summit on Monday in Sydney. The app, which we’ve mentioned before, will be able to forecast needs for (now) 44 cities around Australia in terms of “hard” property infrastructure of buildings and “soft” such as education, and so on. Incidentally, speaking at the summit will be Joel Kotkin, hailed by the New York Times as the US’s uber-geographer.

Carbon impact
The PCA is also working on more details of the impact of the carbon price, and the warning from Verwer is for companies entering forward contracts to nail down the details. For instance, would companies supplying trade-exposed goods such as aluminium pass on all of the “shielding” or kickbacks they get from the Feds to compensate for the carbon price?

“How much do they pass on?” Verwer asked. “Should they be forced to pass it on?

“The ACCC has a role here and the government in its climate change announcement said there would be a special-purpose regulation – so it’s of great importance.”

Until now, of course, the carbon price has been declared a non-event or at worst a minor event.

“It all depends what modelling is used,” Verwer said. “It looks like the price of a typical house will go up by between 1.4 to 1.7 per cent; that’s about $3500. That’s not nothing, but it’s not the $7000 or more that that the MBA [Master Builders Australia]  says, or the HIA [Housing Industry Association] say.”

In the end, the high Aussie dollar has probably hit harder.

Mandatory disclosure
On mandatory disclosure, and its inclusion of a lighting assessment by November,  Verwer says there are not enough accredited assessors to handle the work. He warned of the dangers of rushing work that involved climbing all over ceilings and up ladders. We don’t have to mention where that could lead, he said.

Of course, Verwer shared his views (with the government, we understand) “I think  this tool is idiotic; it’s delusional. Nabers over the base building is no problem at all.”

However, if the government insisted in persevering with the program, the industry would comply.  His only request was to fast track more certified assessors.

The Fifth Estate – sustainable property news and forum