ELECTION 2022 REACTION: Now the election is over, peak organisations across the built environment sector are calling on the incoming federal government to deliver on its commitments on climate action and housing, and to take a greater role in planning.

Most peak bodies across the sector know incoming Prime Minister Anthony Albanese from previous roles, such as days as Minister for Infrastructure and Transport during the previous Rudd and Gillard governments.

Property Council of Western Australia’s executive director, Sandra Brewer, “our chief executive, Ken Morrison, and advocacy team has worked closely with Mr Albanese and his senior colleagues in opposition and government over many years”.

The election campaign raised the profile of the issues that matter to the sustainable built environment sector, with housing and carbon emissions emerging as two of the biggest.

“This was the climate election and Australians have spoken,” Green Building Council of Australia chief executive Davina Rooney said. “Labor took a commitment to stronger climate action to the election and we look forward to partnering with the Albanese government to seize the opportunities on the road to net zero.”

With the election over, The Fifth Estate sought reactions from a range of peak business organisations to the result, the big challenges they face, and the solutions they seek from the incoming government.

Planning – we need national leadership on climate adaptation and housing

With the states failing to deliver on key planning issues peak bodies are calling on the federal government to take a greater leadership role.

Among them is The Planning Institute of Australia, which has called on the new government to create a national disaster and climate adaptation plan, developing a National Housing Strategy and Data Hub, and ensuring a nationally consistent approach to regional planning.

“Bringing together all levels of government with a common objective is an important first step in creating more sustainable cities, towns, and regions. This will be a critical role for the federal government,” PIA’s advocacy and campaigns manager Audrey Marsh said.

Master Builders Australia’s chief executive, Denita Wawn, said she wants to see “federal leadership in working with state and territory governments to resolve the barriers to an adequate supply of new homes, social and affordable housing”. 

Australasian Railway Association chief executive officer Caroline Wilkie called for a “coordinated, national approach” to deliver on the $155 billion in rail infrastructure planned over the next 15 years.

The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects national president Claire Martin called on the new parliament to “convene a national built environment summit on climate resilience to drive development of a National Resilience and Recovery Plan; and the development of a National Urban Green Infrastructure Framework that recognises green infrastructure as an asset class to drive investment and tackle Australia’s biodiversity emergency”.

Climate action and building standards

Regardless of the final makeup of the incoming government, climate change is now firmly back on the national agenda, following a decade of inaction, with Labor pledging to achieve an emission reduction target of 43 per cent by 2030.

The Australian Institute of Architects conducted a survey of 13,000 members, which showed the most important issue to members was climate action, with three out of four respondents (72 per cent) rating climate action absolutely critical.

“One of the major impediments to increasing sustainability across the built environment are the current standards in the National Construction Codes. These are not sufficient to enable our goal to become carbon neutral as an industry by 2030,” Australian Institute of Architects incoming national president Shannon Battisson said.

Ms Martin from AILA said “we’d also like to see national mandatory standards set for open space tree canopy and green cover provisions for building and development, a strengthening of the National Construction Code to fast-track planned climate mitigation updates, and standardised national rating and measuring tools for the decarbonisation of construction and building operations, addressing supply chains (scope three emissions)”.

Engineers Australia chief engineer Jane MacMaster pointed out that reaching the emissions reduction target will also require the risk-averse culture of the construction industry to embrace more innovation. 

“To reduce carbon footprint of our built environment, adoption of lower emissions technology and improvement of industry practice across the whole lifecycle of the built environment remain as priorities,” Ms MacMaster said.

With a clear regulatory signal from government likely to lead to more private investment in sustainability, Responsible Investment Association Australasia Simon O’Connor said the incoming government will need to embed sustainability into the financial system.

“The incoming government has shown it is committed to harnessing private capital to grow the sustainable and equitable economy that Australians are calling for. We look forward to seeing strengthened climate change commitments, greater support for investment in green energy, along with greater action to value and protect natural capital.”

Delivering more affordable housing

While Labor’s shared equity policy garnered the most attention in the lead-up to the election campaign, it is two of its other key housing policies were also applauded.

The National Housing Supply and Affordability Council would ensure “improvements in land supply and land use planning” where the “Commonwealth plays a leadership role in increasing housing supply and improving housing affordability”. It will take advice from experts in “finance, economics, urban development, residential construction, urban planning and social housing sectors”.

The $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund will build 30,000 new social and affordable housing properties in its first five years, with investment returns transferred to the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (which would be renamed Housing Australia) to pay for social and affordable housing projects.

Community Housing Industry Association chief executive Wendy Hayhurst said HSAC and  Housing Australia “should provide the necessary foundation for a serious effort to tackle our national housing affordability problem. This is a long term project that requires a non-partisan approach to delivery.”

Likewise, Common Equity Housing Limited managing director Liz Thomas? said delivering “permanent, affordable housing for all Australians” that “includes recognition of co-operative housing” should be a priority for the incoming government.

Skills shortages

Finally, an urgent challenge for the incoming government will be to address critical skills and supply chain shortages across the sustainability and built environment sectors. 

These skills shortages range from sustainability experts, through to qualified builders, and STEM-qualified engineers for major infrastructure projects.

“A holistic approach that upskills Australia must include industry in identifying critical skill sets in short supply,” Ms MacMaster from Engineers Australia said. “Another critical component alongside increasing the domestic supply of skilled STEM professionals is a migration program that is globally competitive in attracting and retaining talent.”

Ms Wawn from Master Builders Australia said “supply chain pressures have driven up the cost of building materials and are causing major delays in the availability of labour to meet demand. Many businesses in our sector are experiencing a cost and cash flow crunch as a result”.

Ms Martin from AILA said “we’d like to see increased funding for Commonwealth Supported Places for landscape architecture post-graduate study to address the domestic skills supply shortage, combined with improvements to visa processing times and a migration program that supports Australian trained international students to stay and practice in Australia”.

Updated 25 May to include comments from the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects.

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