Let's back our true self-interest

National elections should be about the big picture, the strategic direction the country should go in. Not show bags stuffed with a few self-interested goodies to take home, and that like all show bag goodies quickly end up in the garbage.

But still, the stakes for this election have never been higher. It’s absolutely our last chance to fight for a reasonable climate and for sustainability – in all its forms, including social.

So let’s look at that horse former prime minister Paul Keating once said always won the race: self-interest.

For the property, it turns out that self-interest aligns perfectly with the fight for the planet and sustainability. These are so closely-aligned it’s almost eerie.

What’s sometimes missing often is the view, the lens that makes this obvious.

So let’s take a look at what’s been happening to the decades-long holy grail for the property industry of harmonised legislation and regulation.

The property industry says nationally harmonised rules and regs are absolutely necessary for efficiency for so many logical reasons and we agree.

Many developers and builders tend to be national, or spread across several jurisdictions.

Their materials suppliers tend to be national, (or global). The rules and regulations that govern building standards are national.

And consumer trends and demands are national. Never more so than in the age of media syndication from a tiny number of owners and social media.

Unfortunately, what’s progressively unfolded over the past decade of this current government is a growing vacuum in national policy on the most critical issues that relate to the built environment.

Climate and sustainability are fundamentally attached to the built environment.

Whether it’s the threats from the wild weather that’s pummelled vast swathes of our real estate assets and homes in the past three years, in the meantime creating chaos with insurance and a radical rethink from the finance and capital markets about how they value and assess risk in property.

Or how we plan our buildings with decent quality, energy efficiency, lower embodied carbon in the materials we use, or the standards in our building codes that relate in part or whole to all of the above.

National leadership on these issues has not only gone AWOL, it’s missing in action and unlikely to come back under the current regime. And not while the federal government, of any colour by the way, is captured by a single industry that promotes our own destruction.

Let’s take a look at just three things that you’d think have nothing much in common.

There was Monday’s big event by MECLA, the Materials and Embodied Carbon Leaders Alliance at the Sydney Mint, with a bevy of powerful government and industry people determined to drastically reduce embodied carbon from building materials.

There was the ditching of New South Wales’ Design and Place State Environmental Planning Policy (let’s call it the “cooling” planning policy) an ambitious framework to make life more reasonable and resilient for people who mostly live in Sydney’s west where temperatures have reached 50 degrees and more (forget the official figure; ask the people who live there.)

And finally there’s the new version of the National Construction Code, an eon in the making.

On the surface they seem separate, unrelated things.

They’re not.

Look closely and you see a common denominator: these are each either important state-based initiatives without a national framework or heading that way.

MECLA, for instance is an awe-inspiring program to reduce embodied carbon in our building materials. We’ll bring more details on it soon but for now what’s important to know is that the co-operation between competing industry players, the collaboration with and support from a state government, in this case New South Wales, is almost unprecedented in its ambition and the speed of its achievements.

In just one year it’s gathered 120 members – among the biggest players in the property industry – and it’s about to spread its wings to go national.

Victoria first, probably.

Good news, huh?

Absolutely.  But wouldn’t it be much better if there was some national leadership on all this? And a harmonised set of rules and regs that would provide the certainty for industry – the developers, local manufacturers and the design professionals – to eliminate waste, reduce carbon to help with net zero targets set by government and expected by investors.

Plus raise productivity; the way the sharemarket and the economy is going right now we’re going to need it.

Next there’s the ditching of the SEPP. Its aim was to ban dark roofs that reach 80 degrees Celsius in the summer and to introduce the same kind of leafy walkable liveable communities that people in the east or north shore of Sydney enjoy.

It was in the same vein as Treasurer Matt Kean’s bold challenges to his federal peers with commitments to renewable energy and net zero. Fantastic leadership.

But with the cooling SEPP the NSW government has not been so heroic. Under pressure from some parts of the property industry and with a new planning minister in tow, the planning policy was ditched, unceremoniously and with much glee (it needs to be said).

The ramifications are a fracturing of the industry, much anger in the sustainability sector and now outrage spreading to the general community as television stations and mainstream media start to pick up on exactly what this means for many people. Not good.

Now other states and territories, which have been watching NSW closely may decide to follow the negative track or do the right thing and leap to the front in sustainability.

Melbourne could certainly do a with a leg up in liveability after 60,000 or so people abandoned the city.

The third issue is the National Construction Code.  With its paltry improvements in energy efficiency it’s still not able to get across the line at a national level. So, some of the states look like going it alone. NSW and Victoria most likely and possibly the Australian Capital Territory.

Property, the built environment, real estate, call it what you will, is our most important asset. It’s most critical to our economy, most valuable to our wealth and financial stability and most vulnerable the scourge of our time, climate change.

But instead of co-ordination and harmonisation we have a vacuum in leadership from the federal government with no appetite for sustainability or climate action. And it’s hurting the property industry.

Instead of cohesion we have the various parts of the country doing their own thing, floating away as if on leaky rafts detached from the mother ship.

The Fifth Estate often proclaims we are non-political. And we’re not. We don’t care who works hardest to save the planet, as long as they do.

The Liberal National Party Coalition has proved it’s deaf to the needs of our future generations, and to our own needs, right here and now, as we’ve seen in the past three years of climate disasters.

The Australian Labor Party took ambitious plans on climate and equity to the last election but was routed by a series of powerful reactionary forces. Now it’s a variant of its former self. With a strong national voice from the people on Saturday, it might be persuaded to ramp up its commitments.

At Saturday’s election we have another choice. We can elect smaller parties or Independents who promise to force the bigger parties, whoever wins, to the negotiating table on strong platforms of action that leave the two majors in the shade.

The Independents are not a collective; they offer a range of policies that will appeal to various subsets of the electorates.

There is also the Greens.

As our analysis on 28 April makes clear there are climate policies that most of the Independents or teals are strong on, but they don’t always include strong social equity policies. And we know that a climate transition has to be an equitable transition.

Check out that article where the various platforms are made clear.

“If social inequality matters to you as much as environmental sustainability and you want detailed policies to tackle wealth inequality, then the Greens are the best option,” we said.

“Just don’t vote teal if what you’re really after is Green, and vice-versa.”

And make sure you distribute your preferences correctly and fully. Leave nothing to chance.

Because this is our last chance. We need to get rid of this government that has blocked climate action and sustainability at every turn. It’s now critical to elect a government that will help the built environment to fight for these issues fully and fulsomely, not hinder us.

Paul Keating had the right idea about self-interest and it let him cruise in on an election win he called the sweetest victory.

We desperately need that sweet victory on Saturday. Vote for our biggest self-interest in humanity’s history, this beautiful blue planet we live on and the things and creatures that make it amazing.

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  1. Bravo! Great article. I concur wholeheartedly. The environment, the planet, can’t vote for itself, which is why need to.