NEWS FROM THE FRONT DESK: We’re in the first week of an election campaign, and the Canberra press gallery is delving into details of where the parties and candidates stand on the big social, economic and environmental issues of our times.
No, they’re playing gotcha journalism games with politicians by quizzing them to recite, off the top of their heads, some esoteric number or statistic. Get the answer wrong, and it will be presented as one of the great gaffes of the campaign.
Federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese copped it first, when he was asked to quote the latest unemployment figures off the top of his head.
At the National Press Club on Wednesday, when asked “what’s the current WPI (Wage Price Index)?” Adam Bandt’s response was simple and brilliant: “Google it.”
But here’s the thing. There is no great mass of rusted on Labor voters who will turn up to the polling booths on election day and say: “Sure, Scott Morrison might have taken a trip to Hawaii during the bushfires. Sure, he stuffed the rollout of quarantine, vaccines, RAT tests, drought relief, flood relief, the response to sexual assault in Parliament, sports funding and train station car parks. But Albo didn’t know the unemployment rate, so I’m voting Liberal.”
Outside the imaginations of the press gallery, frankly, it really doesn’t matter.
What does matter is sustainability. This nation faces a massive uphill challenge in reaching net zero by 2030. The policy decisions our leaders make over the next four years will play a big part in deciding whether we can make it or not.
As voters and citizens, we’re being asked to make some big choices about vital policy areas. Areas such as the future of the National Construction Code, climate resilience, research into low-carbon building materials, how we roll out infrastructure, water policy, sustainable transport and the future shape of our cities.
We’re electing legislators and a national government, not contestants for Hard Quiz.
What we need right now from the candidates is vision and policy around how we’re going to answer the big questions of our time.
And in the grand scheme of things, the trivia doesn’t matter.
While we’re on the subject of policy failures…
Speaking of issues that matter, the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe in the UK is coming up on 14 June.
Five years since an easily avoided manmade disaster needlessly killed 72 people, in one of the most horrific ways imaginable.
Within weeks of the tragedy, the NSW state government promised it would implement “Australia’s most comprehensive response to the disaster”.
Yesterday, just a couple of months out from the anniversary of this terrible event, the NSW Audit Office released its report into the rollout of that policy. It was scathing.
Here’s a single piece of data that sums up the scale of this policy failure: just 40 per cent of the 1200 apartment buildings that were at the highest risk because of dodgy cladding have so far been cleared.
That’s not even getting into the fact that there are still not robust tracking processes in place to properly track at-risk buildings or that types of combustible cladding that have been banned in other states are still legal in NSW. Not to mention that councils aren’t even notified unless buildings are assessed as “high risk”.
Frankly, the fact that we’re still talking about removing cladding, five years on, is utterly astounding.
This is the kind of report that is easy enough for people working in the sector to dismiss.
Until someone flicks a cigarette off the wrong balcony.
Then it becomes an exhibit in a coroner’s inquest.
These ongoing problems with cladding also speak to a greater issue.
Retrofitting buildings is a difficult, expensive and time consuming task. After all, it has taken us five years to fix just a small percentage of the buildings with bad cladding.
So what hope do we have of fixing all of the unsustainable apartment buildings and housing estates that are being built right now?
Down the track, who will pay for all these buildings to be retrofitted to be energy efficient and resilient? To implement electrification after the fact? To add green spaces between buildings? To build on-site solar panels, batteries, bike racks and EV charging stations? To have natural light and ventilation?
Putting up cheap and nasty bulk mass apartment blocks won’t make housing more affordable once the strata bills come in for expensive retrofits. Or when residents get insurance bills for properties at risk of fires and flooding.
That’s why, at state level, we need policies like the Urban Planning Guide and the revised Apartment Planning Guide, which were part of the now abandoned design and place State Environmental Planning Policy.
Circling back to the federal election, we also need to make sure that basic standards protecting sustainable and livable housing are enshrined across the nation, through the National Construction Code.
In the lead up to this federal election, we need candidates to put forward strong policies for how they will create a nation of sustainable, livable communities.
Because we can’t all afford the strata bill for the retrofit.