On stunning beauty and even more stunning willful destruction
Queensland might have a new government after Saturday’s election. That is, if the desperate hopes of sustainability advocates and a bunch of other people whose lives have been slammed by the Liberal National Party get their way. And if the poll surveys translate into the huge swing needed to oust one of the most climate-hostile fossil fuel-friendly governments in Australia’s history.
It would be a huge shock if the majority won by the LNP in the last election – currently a massive 74 seats to nine – was to crumble and the LNP in Queensland was to follow the fate of the Victoria Liberals and fall after just one term.
A recent Newspoll survey suggests anything can happen. There are swings of up to 13 per cent against the LNP showing up and Labor leading the LNP 56 per cent to 44 per cent on a two party preferred basis.
Of course there are plenty of non-environmental reasons why there is dissatisfaction with the LNP and it’s true not much of the dissatisfaction seems to be related to the environment or sustainability. But don’t be fooled. There is huge support for the green agenda. The trouble is it’s been forced underground by a government that has pretty much banned the use of the worlds sustainable, green or climate. In fact after the national government changed hands National MP George Christensen was emboldened enough to make it seem a crime to be green by calling opponents of the Abbot Point coal loader expansion eco-terrorists, who were opposed to the national interest (with the implication they should be and should be shot, or at the very least jailed for life and deprived of sunlight).
The support for a green agenda exists albeit covertly in some of the biggest property companies in the land, among the community and industry leaders who last year provided widescale input into consultation for Queensland’s 30 year plan, and much more overtly from the Green Building Council of Australia, which continues to be a champion for more rational and higher quality development.
Let’s be clear, the LNP is a government that spent its first days in office methodically ridding the state of anything that remotely looked like a green or sustainable program. It was all about coal and rampant development as unchecked as possible. And if the Great Barrier Reef stood in the way, well, that was too bad.
Today it’s promising some public transport investment, funded from the sale of the leasehold of electricity assets.
Too little too late? Yes.
Queensland is a huge state and it’s hugely important. As well, this government’s anti-climate anti-sustainability regime is breathtaking in its scale and impact, so we’ve taken a good look at what the policies are from the contenders on Saturday and we’ve taken a pulse of the industry sentiment to help you Queenslanders decide (to make the right decision) and the rest of us understand the Aussie north just a little better.
The development professional
A well-placed industry source who preferred to remain off the record (they are very well placed) seemed to be suffering a kind of ennui with the election and sustainability. He confirmed that the words green, sustainable and climate were banned by government and that corporates in the property sector had followed suit.
“The language has changed. You can’t talk about sustainability or green with the current government,” he says.
The green building movement “certainly has stalled”.
“I’ve not seen a lot of commitment out there other than what The Greens have tried to promote and they’re not going to get up.”
Newman “will probably loose his seat, but God help us if it’s Jeff Seeney that replaces him.”
Seeney is the minister who ordered the removal of references to rising sea levels in the planning approvals system at Moreton Bay Council.
- Complacency rules as Queensland makes risky edict on sea-level rise
- Queensland government to carry planning risk for sea level rises
And it’s hard to get more irrational and ideological than that. (No wait. We gave an Australian knighthood to a British prince).
Hutchinson Builders contract administrator Ryan Coyne, whose company is probably at the top of the tier two builders in south-east Queensland, said builders are quite happy about the tilt against unions by the current government in industrial relations.
“The industrial relations side is the biggest issue. It’s been unprecedented, in terms of strikes and lost time,” Coyne said on Thursday.
“At the worst end of it we could be delayed a day every two weeks.”
The company has been working on mostly residential high-rise towers such as The Milton with 319 apartments over 30 levels and a small number of commercial such as the new Rydges hotel tucked in among the massive Lend Lease Showgrounds site.
But sustainable? Not so much.
“It’s rare,” Coyne says. “It’s a minimum in the high rise buildings. They’re not enforcing any specific requirements. It’s just the minimum building code.”
This is something that is not isolated to Brisbane.
Counter intuitively, things at better in suburban areas such as Hamilton where the state government took over control over local planning under the previous state government regime and actually demands at least some sustainability outcomes, Coyne says.
“That was the Bligh Government and it was pretty good actually [at planning] and took planning control out of local areas and into the state.
“The Gold coast are much better; they specify Green Star a lot on the high-rise resi developments.”
Partly this is encouraged by allowing greater than regular yield on units, Coyne says.
The previous government had a “Green Door” policy that provided incentives for green development – another program dropped by the Newman government.
Coyne believes the green agenda will rise again when the commercial development sector resurfaces.
“For sustainability in the built environment, while residential is the focus there will be no change from the current state government, but when commercial comes back around that will change – and partly because the [Property Council] standards for high rise commercial are tied into Green Star.”
To be fair the culture of ignoring sustainability and even environmental regulations isn’t confined to Queensland. As our report last week found it’s a rampant problem throughout the entire industry.
- o See our report from last week Explosive report lifts the lid on Australia’s building energy performance sham.
The Green Building Council of Australia
Certainly there was no equivocation from the Green Building Council of Australia on what needed to be done in Queensland.
The association called on all political parties to “outline their vision for a stronger, more sustainable state”.
The state currently had 167 Green Star-rated buildings. It was once a leader in green building but no more, chief executive Romilly Madew says.
In a media statement on the election she said: “We commend the Queensland Government for its commitment to strengthening the Queensland construction industry through the ConstructionQ initiative, which identified the importance of ensuring Queensland’s built environment ‘stands the test of time’, but a clear plan with measurable targets will be needed to achieve this.”
It advocates that the next Queensland government certify new and existing buildings using Green Star. This isn’t just a call from its wish-list but backed by public opinion.
“A 2014 study of Queensland residents conducted by the Online Research Unit on behalf of the GBCA found 86 per cent of those surveyed think it is important for government office buildings to be green,” the GBCA media statement says.
Another call was for the government to encourage industry to move beyond standard practice and perhaps reinstate incentives akin to the Green Door Policy initiated by the previous government to encourage greener buildings by providing faster approvals and other incentives.
“Financial and non-financial incentives – from training and capacity building and awareness raising through to environmental upgrade agreements – can help Queensland building owners and industry to accelerate upgrades of existing buildings,” the GBCA says.
A third main plank was the call for “better communities” using Green Star – Communities which was launched “with the support and sponsorship of Queensland’s former Urban Land Development Authority”.
Queensland has some of the fastest growing regions in Australia, Madew says.
“Re-invigorating its commitment to sustainability can help the next Queensland Government realise a range of economic, social and environmental benefits – from reduced costs to improved productivity, health and wellbeing – and ensure a more efficient, productive, sustainable future for all.”
All of this makes sense, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the agenda that the Newman government wants to promote.
Nor any other LNP branded government, it seems.
The Property Council of Australia
The Property Council has been keen to make known its support for the LNP government at least in planning reform terms, with newly appointed executive director Chris Mountford telling media outlets that there has been much work to “streamline and reform” the state’s planning system.
“The industry’s endorsement of these changes is reflected in the continued strong positive response when asked whether or not the State Government is doing a good job planning and managing growth,” he in one media report.
“On this issue, the Queensland Government’s performance rating is more than twice that of NSW and streets ahead of the other mainland states.”
His only worry was that further reform was threatened by the election.
Below is an excerpt from a list of what the PCA outlines as the top of the policy agenda for the Queensland election. Note the closest the lobby group seems to have come to any mention of sustainability is in calling for better planning outcomes. It’s certainly in a position to call for greater sustainability, which after all is rational, logical and makes for a higher quality property product.
- Independent review of council planning law _ A key area of focus for future reform must be local government planning schemes. The fact is that these schemes are now excessively complex and this complexity adds time and cost to developing in Queensland.
- Regional plans with a purpose. . . to ensure you can choose where and how you want to live – Over the past decade, successive regional plans have failed to live up to their potential. We have seen the primacy of the urban footprint eroded by other state government planning regulations, a disconnection from infrastructure planning and a failure to ensure implementation by local governments. All of this has resulted in industry and the community losing confidence in regional planning
- Assistance for local government in setting planning rules.. . to ensure it is simpler to make changes to your property, with decisions being made faster – Queensland councils are a diverse group. Some have the resources and focus to deliver real change. Others do not. If planning reform is to succeed, funding and resourcing to assist local governments to deliver the on ground change is vital.
- Tax – For too long, governments have been targeting property owners as an easy source of revenue. – The Government has made a positive decision to reverse previous stamp duty increases on the family home, but there are still too many extra costs being lumped on the property industry. The Property Council’s plan for Brighter Communities and a Stronger Economy identifies three actions that will make Queensland a better place to invest.
- Establish a tax reform advisory council… to ensure the national tax changes planned by the Federal Government deliver a fair result for Queensland
- Fairness in local government rating systems… to ensure individual property owners pay their fair share of taxes.
- Consistency in fees and charges… to ensure the amount we are paying reflects the services we receive.
Community and industry groups
Here’s an excerpt of what community and industry groups told the state government in consultation for its Queensland Plan for the next 30 years.
- Our mines and farms produce more at less cost to our environment. Industry-led and collaborative stewardship programs support our sustainable growth. We adopt more renewable energy sources. Through such rigorous standards, our environment is returned to its natural state.
- Our natural assets are valued and protected for future generations to enjoy. We have internationally renowned natural and cultural heritage tourism experiences. People visit and choose to stay here because we have world-class opportunities to experience Queensland.
- Our priority is protecting our environment. We ensure our national parks, World Heritage areas, cultural heritage areas, prime agricultural land, water supplies, significant ecosystems and heritage places are conserved and managed well.
- We have a healthy natural environment that is a key contributor to our economy. By protecting and maintaining our natural assets, we thrive in key industries such as tourism and agriculture.
- We are renowned worldwide for our research, investment in, and delivery of renewable energy solutions. We develop industry, community and government partnerships to preserve Queensland’s landscapes and wildlife.
- Our learning and development programs teach us to value and protect the environment. We make wise choices in our personal consumption of natural resources. Communities are supported to care for their local natural environments.
- Alternative, renewable energy is a Queensland commodity. It is affordable, commercially viable and available to all Queenslanders.
- Our infrastructure supports these renewable energy solutions.
- We use sustainable business practices as a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.
- Sustainability is embedded into our business culture. It is carefully considered in our planning and research into the future.
- As our population grows, we plan new developments that protect our environment. We give priority to best practice urban renewal. This gives us better access to transport, services, and recreation and entertainment facilities.
- Outward city development is limited and cities are planned to be safe, attractive and environmentally sustainable places to live.
- Local communities help develop long-term and area-specific plans for their city. Our plans encourage community togetherness. They ensure that each community has accessible dedicated green spaces. They limit the need for long-distance commutes.
See the Queensland Plan
The document’s general comments provide some insight into the conflict Queenslanders face between protecting a stunning natural environment and economic drivers:
We are passionate about our diverse landscapes and unique ecosystems and have identified the environment as a key foundation for our future. Our environment is a natural asset to be valued in its own right, as well as providing the many ecosystems that underpin our lifestyle, health and economy. Yet Queenslanders’ ideas differ on where the balance lies between protecting our environment and achieving economic success.
What the contenders say
Here’s what’s promised on energy and infrastructure:
The Queensland LNP has released a policy document “New energy for our future”, which states that it will support the development of the gas industry – “setting us apart from other states” – and that it will “send a clear message to Australian companies and to all investors and entrepreneurs that Queensland is open for business”.
Renewable energy technology could be included in a newly announced Strong Choices investment project stream, however the focus in on fuels like LNG and CNG.
“We’ll open up our $500 million Strong Choices Innovation and Entrepreneurship Fund on a competitive basis to support the development and commercialisation of viable new and emerging energy technologies,” the policy document states. “Support will be available to develop energy and fuel technologies and projects that can produce viable, affordable and cleaner energy, and importantly that do not rely on government handouts or extra red tape to succeed.”
As Queenslanders have been opposed to the privatisation of the electricity network, the Newman government is proposing to lease the assets for up to 99 years. The plan is estimated to net $37 billion, with $3.4 billion of the proceeds to be spent subsidising electricity bills, which the government has marketed as relieving “Queensland households of the burden of subsidising the Solar Bonus Scheme”, a government-mandated feed-in-tariff program, with the typical household saving $577 a year.
It’s energy policy statement calls it a $3.4 billion plan to “invest in solar energy”.
Labor has set a target for one million households to have solar by 2020. It will also commission a review into a fair price for solar put back into the grid.
On the large-scale front, it will commit to generating 40 megawatts of solar through a renewable energy auction.
Labor will also commit to a review investigating whether the provision of electricity to remote communities can be opened up to competition from local councils, “which would provide communities with a direct say on localised solutions, including the facilitation of off-the-grid technologies,” Labor’s energy policy document states.
It will also look into how achievable a 50 per cent renewables by 2030 target is.
The Greens have a plan to set aside $30 million for 60,000 low-interest loans for solar, as well as investing $40 million for 40,000 solar and storage systems for social and low-income households.
A $100 investment would be made into solar generation, storage and transmission, and a state-based renewable energy target of 90 per cent by 2030 would be rolled out.
They want Townsville to be a leader in baseload solar, and will invest in 760-megawatt of solar thermal in the area.
The LNP has committed $70 million to 20 new and upgraded “Park ‘n’ Ride” facilities across South-East Queensland, designed to make public travel easier and reduce congestion.
A total of $295 million will also be spent fixing level crossings across Brisbane.
In the energy market $1 billion from electricity asset leasing will go to Brisbane’s Bus and Train tunnel project – which will involve a 5.4 kilometre north-south tunnel for buses and trains under the CBD.
The government is also committed to building Stage 2 of Gold Coast Light Rail to link with the heavy rail network at Helensval, which is says will remove 2.3 million car trips a year off the road network by 2028.
The LNP has a Townsville revitalisation project, which will involve $150 million to “completely revitalise central Townsville” into a sporting, education and community precinct, including a stadium, revitalisation of industrial land south of Ross Creek, commercial and residential development, and a stadium.
Other plans include the Bruce Highway upgrade, Kuranda Range Road upgrade, and infrastructure boosts to Toowoomba, Cairns and Bundaberg.
Labor has committed to establishing Building Queensland, an independent statutory authority to assess and prioritise infrastructure investments over $100 million, while accusing the LNP of making decisions based on politics rather than evidence.
It will also replace the current Royalties for Regions program, which it says has failed to provide funds for regional communities, with targeted regional infrastructure funds.
Labor has also committed to committing $100 million to building the Townsville Stadium, though said this was not contingent on leasing off the Port of Townsville or other assets as is the case with the LNP plan.
Labor says it will complete the Gold Coast light rail from Helensvale to Coolangatta and consider the feasibility of light rail in other corridors. It will also extend Brisbane’s busway network, including completing the Eastern and Northern Busways and CoastConnect on the Sunshine Coast.
The Greens have committed to investing $60 million in bus, ferry and train services through increased frequency and more stops.
They will also commission a review of public transport in regional and remote Queensland, build a light rail network in Brisbane, and work with the federal government to commence or extend the construction of railway lines to Redcliffe, Coolangatta, Springfield, Ripley Valley, Caloundra and Maroochydore.