Keynote Speech –Sustainability
Built Environment Meets Parliament 2009
Canberra, Wednesday 12 August 2009
By The Hon Peter Garrett,AM AMP, Minister for the Environmnet, Heritage and the Arts.
I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land the
Ngunnawal people, their elders, past and present.
I also acknowledge my Parliamentary colleagues here today.
It is a pleasure to be with you at this year’s Built Environment Meets
Parliament Summit. I congratulate all the hosts of this important event.
There are many aspects of the built environment that are being discussed
here today, spanning the themes of liveability, prosperity and building
While I am here to talk about environmental sustainability, it is also the case
that today’s themes are both interlinked and interdependent.
Put simply, a built environment that is more sustainable is without question
more liveable and -as we are increasingly recognising -more prosperous,
both now and as we set about the vital task of building a low-carbon economy
for Australia’s future.
It’s a task this Government takes seriously, despite the serious lack of
leadership from our political opponents.
By ‘sustainable’, I mean buildings that useenergy and water efficiently, that
employ building materials with a low environmental impact, that manage
waste responsibly and form precincts with low-carbon infrastructure, like
distributed generation and effective public transport.
In so many ways, liveability and prosperity flow from sustainability –buildings
that are more comfortable and enjoyable to live and work in, neighbourhoods
with more amenity and green space, and design features, technologies and
facilities that save money through reduced energy use, water use and waste.
Of course, all these objectives can only be achieved through ‘building
partnerships’ –collaborating with those of you in this room, the practitioners
and advocates of sustainability in our homes and workplaces, in Australia’s
cities, suburbs and regions.
This annual conversation between politicians and your industry is an important
opportunity to take stock, exchange views and chart future directions.
And today I want to reinforce a message that I have been advocating for some
time -emphasising the potential of our built environment to deliver cost-
effective cuts in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
There are few sectors that have demonstrated stronger leadership or more
creative thinking when it comes to tackling climate change than Australia’s
built environment sector.
Your sector has true champions of sustainability -in the Green Building
Council of Australia, the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council and
the recently formed Energy Efficiency Council to name but three -recognising
that not only is climate change an urgent challenge, but one that presents vast
opportunities for growing new industries, for sustainable innovation and for
getting ahead of the curve.
Many of you will be familiar with the McKinsey cost curve for greenhouse gas
reduction. In 2008, this global consultancy published an Australian cost curve
modelling positive and negative cost actions that could be taken to reduce our
The take home message from McKinsey was that if governments pursed an
integrated set of policies now, at the same time as proactively supporting the
global framework, then we could deliver major greenhouse gas emissions
reductions by 2020.
That policy suite included fast-tracking the commercialisation of key
technologies -as we are pursuing through our $4.5 billion Clean Energy
Initiative, investing in carbon capture and storage and baseload solar power
generation -and the acceleration of effective information campaigns to drive
changes in consumer behaviour -something we are building into the design of
our new programs.
A shining example is the black balloons campaign that originated in Victoria
and is now being picked up by other states. It has been so effective because it
has given consumers a graphic representation of what is often a complex
Thirdly, McKinsey said the integrated set of policies should “include rapid
pursuit of negative cost opportunities through regulation and incentives”. This
is a key area of activity for government under the recently agreed National
Strategy on Energy Efficiency, which I’ll return to later.
Other compelling sources of evidence for Australia’s energy efficiency
potential include the ‘Garnaut Climate Change Review’, the Australian
Sustainable Built Environment Council’s report ‘The Second Plank’ and the
report card for the Government’s own appliance energy efficiency program,
‘Prevention is Better than Cure’, from George Wilkenfeld and Associates.
But McKinsey’s curve, like ‘black balloons’, provides a graphic illustration of
the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency –those ‘negative-cost’ opportunities
that are quite literally hanging below the line.
These are of course actions we can take that pay back investments with cash
Almost every negative cost opportunity identified is an energy efficiency
And almost every one of these is in the built environment.
A significant proportion of these opportunities will come from improving
appliance and equipment energy efficiency; by taking decisive steps on
standby power, lighting, water heating, heating and air-conditioning –the list
The Wilkenfeld analysis I referred to earlier suggests the current inter-
governmental ApplianceEnergy Efficiency Program is expected to deliver
energy savings of 32,000gigawatt hours peryear by 2020.
These savings will be achieved through raising the performance of household
appliances likefridges and industrial equipment like transformers -equipment
that is in millions of Australian households and workplaces.
We aretalking about energy savings equivalent to 14 per cent of the total
227,000 gigawatt hours of electricity generated in Australia in 2006-07 –just
from making our everyday electrical appliances less energy hungry.
Or to put it another way, by 2020, greenhouse gas abatement from the
Appliance Energy Efficiency Program will be around 19.5 million tonnes per
year. This is equivalent to removing almost five million cars from our roads
The critical point I want to make here is that McKinsey’s list of energy saving
initiatives reads like a check list of actions the government is taking now.
Since the 2008 Built Environment Meets Parliament Summit we have
experienced what was then an emerging global financial crisis.
This Government acted early and decisively to support the economy, and
critically, this was done through measures that are also improving the
environmental sustainability of the built environment.
Through the stimulus package we have supported jobs, embarked on the
largest energy efficiency measure in Australian history and invested in the
construction of high quality public and community housing.
Existing Australian homes are receiving more support than ever before
through the Energy Efficient Homes Package, rolling out ceiling insulation and
solar hot water on an unprecedented scale.
The Green Loans program, now open for business, is providing up to 360,000
households with free home sustainability assessments, offering detailed
recommendations on the practical things they can do to reduce their energy
and water use. This is a significant and practical behaviour change program.
Under the Nation Building -Economic Stimulus Plan, we are also investing $6
r the next three and a half years in the construction of 20,000 new
public and community homes, which will be built to best practice
So the shovels are out, the hard hats are on, and the built environment is
being transformed at the individual household level.
But of course, that is not the end of it. These kinds of incentives and this scale
of investment, significant as they are, are not enough alone to effect large-
And now the long-lasting vacuum of national leadership on energy efficiency
Just over a month ago, the Council of Australian Governments signed off on
the National Strategy on Energy Efficiency, drawing together the pervasive
energy efficiency agenda being pursued by this Government and the states
The built environment is a critical aspect of this strategy.
There are a range of essential improvements to building energy efficiency
standards that will be bedded down over the next year.
And sitting over the top of this immediate action is a more fundamental reform
-the move to a nationally consistent, outcomes-based framework for building
energy assessments, ratings and standards.
This new framework for the building sector will be implemented in 2011
through the Building Code of Australia, and will help drive a significant
improvement in the energy efficiency of Australia’s building stock over the life
of the National Strategy out to 2020.
It will illuminate the path from where we are today, with a built environment
that has -notwithstanding some notable exceptions -underperformed on
sustainability, to a place where the aspirations and exceptions of today will
become the norm of tomorrow.
We will have a new system under which building energy efficiency standards
will be reviewed periodically with the aim of setting increasingly stringent
minimum standards for new buildings and major renovations, both commercial
And just as importantly for many of you here, this framework will provide for a
new engagement with built environment industries, practitioners and
advocates, building the partnerships we need to take our built environment
where it needs to go.
As a first step in this engagement, I can announce today the convening of a
Built Environment Sustainability Roundtable –establishing a regular
The roundtable will provide built environment industries, advocates and
practitioners with a structured and direct opportunity to bring forward issues
and ideas in the area of building sustainability.
It will provide Government with the opportunity to listen to your concerns, to
update you on our agenda and to ensure the conversations at leading forums
like Built Environment Meets Parliament are taken to the next level.
The first Built Environment Sustainability Roundtable will take place in the
coming months, and I anticipate –subject to demand –twice yearly after that.
In the meantime, we are working within the existing arrangements under the
Building Code to take important steps forward.
On the residential front, new homes built in Australia will have to be
constructed toa six-star energy efficiency standard or equivalent by May
Similarly, we are tightening the standards for commercial buildings.
Also in the commercial sector, commercial office buildings over 2,000 square
metres will have to provide energy efficiency information at point of sale or
lease from 2010 under the Government’s proposed mandatory disclosure
scheme, the design of which has incorporated significant industry feedback,
and is nearing finalisation.
The Government’s $90 million Green Building Fundhas already provided a
total of $29.5 million for 89 projects in its first two rounds, the first time a
Commonwealth Government has taken this kind of action in the commercial
The Government’s $2.75 billion Climate Change Action Fund will also provide
targeted assistance to businesses and community organisations to assist in
the transition to a low carbon economy by providing information programs and
And the Australian Carbon Trust will incorporate a $50 million Energy
Efficiency Trust that will promote energy efficiency in the business sector,
including commercial buildings.
I mentioned earlier that this Summit should be used as an opportunity to chart
Of course, buildings don’t exist in isolation –they sit alongside other buildings
within neighbourhoods, within suburbs and cities.
Just as the structures we build now will be with us for 50 or even 100 years,
the precincts and neighbourhoods we plan and redevelop and the
infrastructure that services them will define our environmental impact for
On this count, the last federal budget marked an historic change, with this
Government becoming the first ever national government to invest
significantly in passenger rail infrastructure within our cities.
There is no doubt that we need to improve the efficiency and sustainability of
our cities by increasing the desirability and use of public transport, cycling and
walking and making better use of existing transport infrastructure.
At its April meeting,the Council of Australian Governments acknowledged that
re-shaping the future development of our cities through better integrated
infrastructure and land-use planning will be critical to Australia’s future
productivity growth as well as enhancing quality of life and conserving the
Again, the interdependence of prosperity, liveability and sustainability –three
sides of the same extremely rare three-sided coin.
COAG established a task force to examine the integration of state and
national infrastructure in major metropolitan cities with land-use planning and
I look forward to seeing the report of the task force at the end of this year.
And just last week, my colleague, the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport,
Regional Development and Local Government, Anthony Albanese, outlined
the Government’s progress for the development of a National Urban Policy,
being formulated by the Major Cities Unit.
This policy marks the Commonwealth’s long-overdue return to the urban
policy arena –a space that was vacated by the previous Government for more
than a decade, to the detriment of our great cities and their growing
Moving down to the precinct level, if we want to maximise the use of solar
power in cities for passive heatingand cooling of buildings and for water
heating and electricity generation then we need to start thinking about building
lot layouts and planning controls that support solar access. The National
Strategy on Energy Efficiency has tasked the Local Government and Planning
Ministers Council to examine this measure.
On the same theme of interconnectivity, the Government’s National Energy
Efficiency Initiative: Smart Grid, Smart Citywill accelerate our path to the next
frontier in energy efficient infrastructure.
Smart grids combine innovative technologies, like smart meters and sensors,
which together can make the most of the power we generate and consume.
They allow power companies to better manage peak loads, ‘evening out’
electricity supply, and identifying and fixing faults faster.
Critically, smart grids have the potential to create significant efficiencies, to
better integrate renewable and distributed generation, and to help incorporate
technologies like electric vehicles.
And even more importantly, smart grids will provide consumers in households
with the opportunity to make active and informed choices about the way they
With an investment of up to $100 million from the Government, Smart Grid,
Smart Citywill include Australia’s first commercial-scale demonstration of a
smart grid, providing meaningful data about how this cutting-edge technology
can be optimised in the Australian environment.
This is a frontier we must investigate rapidly and strategically if we are to roll-
out the supporting infrastructure for the green buildings, precincts and
neighbourhoods of the near future.
Given the urgent need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and the
contribution the built environment makes to our emissions at present, this is a
time and place to move forward –even more so as the opportunities are
immense and the desire and the capacity of the community to be part of the
remaking of our built environment is so strong.
Working with our hands as we build, our heads as we plan, our imaginations
as we design -and putting all this together to create buildings that literally live
and breathe and are friendly to the climate and to the occupants -this is the
That journey, and so much of this Government’s agenda in the built
environment, will only succeed if we harness the knowledge, expertise and
enthusiasm of your industry.
The Australian Government is determined to build those essential
partnerships, to undertake the necessary collaborations and to show the
required leadership to help deliver a sustainable built environment for
sustainable a low-carbon future.