By Tina Perinotto

5 July – Sustainability Victoria on Friday, 1 July,  took its last submission for a major review that will determine its fate.

Fears are rife among its supporters that the government will do what it mooted before the election and scrap it or fundamentally taper its sustainability wings, perhaps corral it into a unit focused on waste issues, a huge focus right now in Victoria.

Industry leaders such as Grocon’s David Waldren thinks with the plethora of carbon and sustainability issues gathering force right now it’s imperative that this organisation be “active and busy.”

The Property Council in Victoria wants SV to refocus onto the property sector with some urgently needed incentives to encourage transformation of the old grade energy guzzling stock.

It will be quite a  wait for a new direction.

Chief executive Anita Roper announced her resignation almost immediately when the review was announced on 5 May, ceding the reins to new interim chair Gillian Sparkes.

For the 140 or so staff it has to be a nervous wait. Certainly a boring one. Activity virtually ceased last year as the election approached, there was not much confidence for action when the Coalition came to power and now there is a lengthy review.

Jennifer Cunich

From the property sector there has not been a lot of engagement with SV. The perception is that it concentrated on behavioural change,  with a gamut of “inspirational” actions favoured by the Labor Party, seeded far and wide in the business community and consumers.

Its property related activities were not many and programs such as the Zero Energy Neighbourhoods, or ZEN, failed to ignite the imagination of the sector, not because it was not a good program, but for lack of good communication, according to one view.

Property Council Victoria executive director Jennifer Cunich certainly hopes that SV can be refocused to property.

She told The Fifth Estate on Monday that her members are working hard to convince the new government how necessary this is.

She is quite upbeat on the final decision. There were noises about the government abandoning VicUrban, but it didn’t, she says. And there were noises about it ditching the Growth Areas Authority but it hasn’t done that either.

“I think they will take this review process really seriously,” she says.

“I think SV will look for any opportunity to keep their funding, understandably, and it might be a really good opportunity for them to engage more with the [property] industry.

“Our members are talking to them about the industry and the hurdles they face, in particular with upgrading old stock.”

“The main issue with them is how do we get incentives in place; what can the government contribute.”

“We’ve got this massive stock of old grade buildings, C and D grade, and we call it the low hanging fruit.  With some incentives in place we could entice those buildings to tune up programs on their buildings.”

All incentives are needed fast, says Cunich. Yes, there is the tax breaks for green buildings program, but that is currently under review and some cynics in the property industry thinks it will stay that way.

There is also the Melbourne City Council’s 1200 Buildings program, which ties repayments for green upgrades to council rates, paid by the tenants. Cunich says members would rather there was a majority rule about the legislation. As it stands – and the MCC is adamant that it stands – the requirements are that all tenants must sign up voluntarily to the scheme, in order to accept levies for the upgrade.

David Waldren

Grocon general manager Carlton Brewery David Waldren is an SV supporter and he thinks noises about it “being ditched” are unfair to the government’s actions, [as opposed to its rhetoric]. He told The Fifth Estate he believes the new government is keen to give SV a fair review. As he sees it the Baillieu government showed significant bi-partisan support for carbon abatement issues and a sensible approach to sustainability.

Reviews are always a good thing, he says. “We can see how we are all performing and it’s an opportunity to think about how we want to go in the future.”

Waldren’s view is that SV has done a good job, especially in raising the profile of sustainability issues across the gamut of the community, not just from a sustainability point of view but in waste stream management and its work in terms of general carbon pollution abatement.

“They had a very charismatic leader, Anita Roper, but they’ve got a new chair now and I think that’s all very exciting.”

In Waldren’s view change is good right now because “things move quickly in this area.”

“There’s the whole debate about water and carbon and international imperatives around carbon and we need for that organisation to be active and busy. Maybe it’s got a new set of agendas and priorities, it can develop.”

He did not think the government would consider for a moment scrapping it or substantially decimating it.

“I suppose I would be disappointed,” he said.

In Waldren’s view the government was elected to make decisions and “if they want to do that using different directions and different vehicles that’s fine.”

He think the negative expectations or fears for SV were not warranted.

“I don’t think that fairly reflects on the importance that the state government placed on sustainability at a political and administrative level.”

There was bi-partisan support for the 2020 carbon abatement goals and the government backed up these sentiments on the week end, he said.

See the website for details of the review.

The Fifth Estate – green buildings and sustainable property news