The early stunned sentiment flowing through from Queensland after the shock dumping of the Liberal National Party at Saturday’s election is that things will change and they will take time to change. But for sustainability the incoming government is a serious positive.
According to our industry readings before the election there was almost a climate of fear around sustainability and the green agenda, quite a deliberate ploy by former Premier Campbell Newman to stifle the industry in favour of fossil fuels. The Abbott Government did the same at the federal level as one industry commentator pointed out on Thursday.
But how will the landscape change now? Following is a cross section of responses from the property industry, green building advocates and some environmental supporters.
Queensland state manager for Consult Australia Stacey Rawlings said late Tuesday afternoon that on sustainability, “obviously there will be some changes”.
The issue was not high on the agenda for association’s Queensland office, she admitted, but certainly it was something the national office was concerned with and she expected it would rise higher on the agenda for the state office.
Within government there was interest in sustainability but the decimation of the public service, especially for areas with green agenda (and energy efficiency), left the skills set seriously depleted.
“It’s not that we haven’t had discussions on sustainability and adaptation with the government – and they were open to talking about it. But they didn’t have the resources to deal with them,” Rawlings said.
“The Labor Government will be having a lot more of a look at that.”
After a few years of contraction there were skill shortages within the industry too, she said, and it was a diminishing workload that worried her members most right now.
A membership survey in August 2013 found a 30 per cent reduction in employee numbers and the latest survey in early December showed that while the industry had stabilised there was no pick up in activity and even “a bit of reduction”.
Rawlings said that after an election the big concern was always the unknown.
“There’s always a lot of uncertainly after an election and the biggest challenge when there is a change of government is that the taps get turned off.
“The ALP said they will have an infrastructure pipeline within two months. But the worry is that some of the projects planned and tendered for – those not actually locked down – might stall.”
A problem is that whatever changes are afoot in terms of stalled projects, even while the government gets its head around what policies to pursue, is that for Queensland they come off the back of two years of uncertain times, Rawlings says.
“That’s been part of our conversations – the skill set internally and externally.
“There’s been quite a reduction in skills and this has impacted on our interaction with them.”
Grass roots and the event organiser
If the engineers were finding it tough to talk to government it’s no surprise corporate support had retreated from open support.
Not that there weren’t pockets of excellence scattered throughout the state.
Especially in local councils such as Townsville, and Brisbane with its district cooling system.
See our related articles:
- Townsville bolsters resilience with UN help
- Brisbane CitySmart taking the lead on CBD district cooling
One man who thinks the tide was turning though, even without the election, is Australian Living’s marketing and communications manager Anthony Lieberman, who has been “bravely” working in the North to create the ambitious trade exhibition and education event in June, the SEE Sustainable Experience 2015.
At the coal face, among the associations, the builders and the suppliers, there’s quite a bit of interest, he said on Tuesday.
Yes, there was an element of “fatigue” around sustainability towards the end of last year, but there are now signs of a re-invigoration.
“Sentiment is getting better,” he said. “Sustainability is getting more traction up there and I feel that our event has perfect timing.”
Certainly Queenslanders need greater sustainability and energy efficiency, he said.
“They have massive peak energy problems and they need help with flood prevention, and they live in homes that need lots of airconditioning.
On the change of government, Lieberman says he’s encouraged.
“We’ll certainly be knocking on their door next week.”
The Green Building Council
The Green Building Council of Australia, as we flagged in an early election story, said it extracted commitments from both sides of the political fray, but they arrived late on Friday before the polls.
According to the GBCA the Labor Party said:
- We will commit to working towards achieving Green Star ratings for Government-owned buildings
- We will audit the Queensland Government office accommodation to determine where improvements can be made
- We will work with industry to encourage the uptake of practices that will enhance sustainability
“In summary – a strong commitment to a more sustainable built environment,” the GBCA noted.
The property industry
Property Council chief Ken Morrison said the Queensland election on Saturday night made magnetic viewing and few predicted it (though the polls kept pointing to swings big enough to unseat the government).
Morrison told his members in a media statement on Tuesday that “with asset sales off the political table assuming a Labor victory, the new Labor Government will probably need to look for other drivers of growth for the struggling Queensland economy, and the property and construction industry is likely to be its best hope”.
Queensland Property Council executive director Chris Mountford told The Fifth Estate that much of the concern for the property sector was around planning issues.
The LNP had moved a lot of “stand alone” environmental policies into the planning framework, which made the system more workable for industry.
“Under the previous Labor Government we had something like 15 or 16 environmental planning policies – one for coastal protection, one for x,y, z, and now there is a single planning policy that incorporates all those elements in them, so it’s much easier for industry to understand where they are.”
He was keen to see the work on planning reform continue under the new government. There were a lot of stakeholders who had invested much time working through the changes and were keen not to see them rolled back, he said.
The reforms had been highly consultative, he said. Would environmentalists agree?
The planning system was very complex and he expected there would not be agreement on all fronts, he said.
Asked to comment on the reported hostility towards a green agenda from the Newman Government, Mountford said, “It’s not been our experience. The environmental offsets framework ensure a robust outcome on sustainability.”
Most of the issues for the property industry relating to sustainability, he said, came back to a planning agenda.
On resilience, he agreed Queensland had more erratic climate impacts to deal with than most states but said the answer was not necessarily not to build in vulnerable areas, but to ensure more robust and resilient construction.
“The important thing from our perspective is that when we’re talking about improving resilience to climate change that that sits in tandem within the planning system”, he said.
Green or sustainable buildings especially in the commercial area were more a concern for local government, he said.
Would Labor change the focus on sustainability?
The ALP “certainly has a stronger focus on renewable energy,” he said.
“The main thing is that we’re keen to work with whoever the next government is and that we continue the key reforms and move ahead.”
Following is a summary of key issues that Mr Mountford outlined in his media statement:
“While the ALP’s campaign was criticised in the media for being ‘policy light’”, Mountford said, “the fact is that a number of commitments were made that will shape a Queensland ALP government’s agenda and impact the property industry.”
The ALP said it would “not replace, rename and politicise good planning reforms as happened under the Newman Government.”
“However, the status of the overarching planning reform agenda, including the new Planning and Development Bill, is uncertain. The Property Council will strongly encourage the ALP not to abandon this reform if they are successful in winning government.
The ALP’s fiscal strategy included a firm commitment to “no new or increased taxes, fees and charges.” This is positive news for the property industry with real estate specific taxes already totalling 29 per cent of State taxes.
The central pillar of the ALP’s bid for government was that they would not sell public assets. It is clear that the ALP would therefore not privatise the assets that were central to the LNP government’s Strong Choices campaign. However what is less clear is what this would mean for the disposal of excess government land. In particular, it is unclear if the Government Land Asset Management program – which has been methodically identifying excess government land and bringing it to market – would also be scrapped.
The ALP’s position on asset leasing means they did not make extensive infrastructure commitments during the campaign. The only major financial commitment made during the election campaign was new funds to replace the Royalties for the Regions fund. These funds will be quarantined for local governments and total $200 million over two years.
The ALP has made it clear that their preference was for the original Cross River Rail proposal to address limitations in the inner-city rail network, rather than the LNP’s revised “BaT” tunnel proposal. Therefore this project’s future is also unclear.
- See what shadow federal minister for infrastructure and transport Anthony Albanese says about this proposal
The ALP’s central infrastructure policy commitment was the establishment of “Building Queensland”. This would be an independent statutory authority that would take responsibility for long-term infrastructure planning. They have committed to producing an infrastructure plan within one year of forming government. Building Queensland would also assess business cases for projects over $50 million proposed by government departments.
Over the past three years the LNP government courted a number of major projects across the state, in particular new integrated resorts. The ALP has publicly stated that it does not support the proposed integrated resort and cruise ship terminal in the Gold Coast Broadwater.
The ALP’s position on the Queens Wharf redevelopment in Brisbane’s CBD is unclear.
The ALP did not support the development of the 1 William Street office tower, although as this project is now well underway, it will continue. However, the ALP’s broader office accommodation strategy – including regionalisation – is unknown.
The ALP has committed to establishing a “Construction, Planning and Property Red Tape Reduction Panel”.
It has committed to an Advisory Taskforce on the Residential Transition for Ageing Queenslanders and a Cabinet Minister for Seniors.
The energy economist
According to Tim Buckley, director of energy finance studies, Australasia, for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, the Queensland Labor Party has committed to:
- Ban the sea dumping of capital dredge spoil within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area
- Not supporting the plan to dump dredge spoil from Abbot Point onto the Caley Valley Wetlands
- Ensure that dredging does not go ahead until Adani has demonstrated its project has financial close
- A comprehensive climate change policy to manage stewardship of the Great Barrier Reef
- Repeal the Newman Government’s water laws
- Not spending taxpayer money to build a private rail line for a private commercial project… “Labor will not do any secret deals.”