ELECTION 2022: Over the coming weeks, your letter box will be stuffed until it’s overflowing with glossy “our action plan” pamphlets and how-to-vote cards.

Yes, it’s that time again, with the election to be held on 21 May.

Across the country, MPs in safe seats will emerge from their hibernation and drive down to the local Westfield to shake the hands of voters.

In coming days, federal ministers are likely to mysteriously discover the places that are in the greatest need of road upgrades all just happen to be in marginal seats. Pure coincidence, we’ll be told. And rest assured – no marginal seat footy oval change room or public car park will be left behind!

However, beyond the circus of candidates in high-vis vests and shiny smiles kissing babies, there will be important policies that we need to make big noises about. With urgency.

It’s true that planning is mostly a state responsibility. But the federal government can influence a lot of the planning agenda through regular meetings with the ministers who can agree on building standards, and as wild weather encroaches, surely some standards for resilience in our communities.

And planning is where climate and resilience hit the ground.

In recent days, we’ve seen the reversal of the NSW government’s position on what had been a brilliant climate and resilience focused planning agenda. The removal of mandates for tree canopy cover, light roofs and walkable neighbourhoods will place undue health and financial burdens on the new residents of greenfield suburbs in Sydney’s west and south west. Meanwhile, in the leafy suburbs of Sydney where many developers reside, property values remain high and the residents are very happy to protect their existing patch.

The feds will feel the wrath of the marginalised, no matter which level of government added to their misery.

That being said, the feds control much of the tax regime (such as negative gearing) that stimulates the notion of housing as an asset not a home. And it’s the government that doles out the fuel to cause a housing and building bubble that may well come back to haunt it. 

The feds are also responsible for the climate that’s causing this mess anyway, through the unmitigated free passes and subsidies it gives to the mining and fossil fuel industries. Even today, after so much angst over the dire warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that we are losing the chance to keep warming to 1.5 degrees.

That’s without mentioning the Great Barrier Reef or our defence policy, which must deal with a sure fire surfeit of climate refugees as the climate makes previously benign places unlivable.

We will no doubt add to and expand this list of what we want now, but here’s a start. Please add your views and insights (including any policies you’d like to see) by sharing them in the comments section below, or by emailing Andrew@thefifthestate.com.au.

And by the way, this first set of policy items on our agenda holds for whoever wins (or whoever holds the balance of power, if a hung parliament is the result).

Action on climate change

1. Net zero emissions by 2030

The science is in – and it has been for about 30 or 40 years. 

This past decade has been a massive wasted opportunity for this country. We’ve wasted time that could have been spent preparing for a post-carbon future. And we’ve missed the chance to be a world leader in lucrative new industries, such as manufacturing electric vehicles and manufacturing solar panels.

Urgent action on the climate crisis really needs to be the north star that guides policymaking in Australia – at all levels of government.

Buildings and urban planning

2. A National Construction Code that enshrines sustainability and quality 

Right now, the Australian Building Codes Board is reviewing the National Construction Code

So far, there’s been positive news around making sure the code promotes energy efficiency and lower emissions from buildings. But it doesn’t go far enough. Sure there’s progress but this is mealy mouthed and mean spirited and, again, dominated by the housing and development lobby.

Check out what happened in New South Wales when new Planning Minister Anthony Roberts  dumped the design and place State Environmental Planning Policy to show what thin ice our futures skate on. A great idea can be reversed in the blink of an eye, even when that great idea is a drop in the bucket of what’s needed. Watch the nod (if you can catch it) as just one well connected developer passes the minister in the corridor lined with other developers (who all want the same thing). And what we know about the NCC is that there is a fierce campaign to do the same to the new code, modest though it be.

We need a federal government that will demand the states protect their citizens.

3. Climate resilience

A warming planet means warming oceans. For Australia, that leads to stronger El Niño and La Niña cycles, with more intense droughts, bushfires and floods.

Over the past few years, we’ve had a taste of what the future looks like. The Menindee Lakes went dry, the 2020 bushfires ravaged the east coast and the most recent floods have repeatedly washed away cities like Lismore.

The bad news is that it’s only going to get worse in the years ahead – and we need to be ready.

We need national insurance policies, strong influencing of state and local government to work with the risks instead of ignoring them, and a national settlement policy that identifies the safest places to live.

We also need national standards and codes for the safety of all our buildings, in the same way that we protect consumers from dodgy toasters.

Research 

4. Sustainable cities and low-carbon building materials 

Right now, Australian researchers are doing good work preparing us for the world of tomorrow.

We have world-leading research into new building materials with less embedded carbon, sustainable urban planning and green buildings.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has hit our higher education sector hard, with fewer full fee paying students reaching our shores.

It’s time for the federal government to step in to make sure our universities have the funding and resources they need, so we can be prepared for a net zero future.

Equity 

5. Affordable, sustainable homes

There’s a whole range of options on the table when it comes to making good quality, sustainable homes more affordable.

This one’s a biggie, but the short answer is there’s no silver bullet on this front. We’ve seen short-term cash splashes to new home buyers that only serve to drive up house prices. What we need is a suite of policies to address our housing needs.

The first part of the answer lies in tax reform (perhaps including a review of capital gains and negative gearing, as well as potentially something like a site-value based land tax). 

The second element is innovative new home ownership and residency models, such as shared equity. 

And finally, a big part of the solution is federal funding to grow alternative affordable housing models, including housing co-operatives and alternative solutions such as Nightingale housing.

Transport

6. Active and public transport

Traditionally, federal governments have spent billions on new urban roads and freeways, generous tax deductions for private motor cars and tax breaks for the petrol used by the big miners.

At the same time, they’ve tended to shout “state’s responsibility” at anyone who dares to raise the possibility of federal funding for cycling infrastructure and public transport.

All it’s gotten us is traffic jams and literally, roads to nowhere. 

It’s time to flip the focus and make walking, cycling, trains, bikes and buses a priority for federal transport funding.

7. Fast trains

Fast trains along the east coast of Australia is one of those ideas that has been repeatedly raised and dismissed.

Usually, what happens is we’re presented with the total cost of building fast trains down the east coast, from north of Brisbane to Geelong in Victoria. We’re told it’s too expensive, and would not be competitive (in terms of time and cost) compared to flying.

At the same time, we’ve built freeways down the east coast, from north of Brisbane to Geelong in Victoria. This has been presented as a series of discrete projects – just a bypass around Wangaratta, just a tunnel under the northern suburbs of Sydney. We’re never presented with the total cost of building all these roads.

It has been very expensive to build. It’s only cost competitive to motorists (compared to trains or flying) because most sections of the road aren’t tolled – in other words, it’s subsidised for the motorist. And even with freeways, it takes far longer to travel by road than either by fast train or plane.

If we could afford to incrementally upgrade roads along the east coast to freeway standard over the past 30 years, then we can certainly incrementally upgrade our railways to fast trains over the next 30 years. It’s time to get started.

8. Electric vehicles

At the recent Green Building Council Transform conference, Volkswagen’s Australian boss put forward some sensible ideas for boosting electric vehicle uptake in Australia. That includes things like subsidies for new EVs, and mandating charging infrastructure in homes. 

It’s time to stop making Australia a dumping ground for gas guzzling cars, and start implementing policies to boost the number of EVs on our streets.

Infrastructure

9. Reform the way we plan for infrastructure 

As anyone in the field will tell you, infrastructure planning in Australia is a joke. Literally – that’s what the ABC’s satirical comedy show Utopia is based on.

Infrastructure Australia recently released a 15-year industry roadmap to address the long-term issues around how Australian governments manage big infrastructure projects.

Now it’s time for the federal government to put the plan into action.

Energy

10. Building more energy efficient, sustainable homes

Our future energy needs won’t be provided by big coal power plants in the Hunter or Latrobe Valleys. They will be provided by solar panels on our rooftops and batteries in our basements. Likewise, we need to make a big shift in how we cook and heat our homes, from gas to electric. 

The federal government has a big role to play in making this clean energy future happen. That includes making interest free loans and subsidies available to rental properties, low income earners, new green buildings and retrofits.

11. Stop giving cash to the fossil fuel lobby

Last, but certainly not least, we have to stop wasting money on businesses and projects that are moving us in the wrong direction. 

Are there any big policies you’d like to see? Any ideas we’ve missed? Leave your ideas in the comments below or send a note to andrew@thefifthestate.com.au

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  1. Food is another essential. Consider providing a food-growing high rise or roofed precinct in every suburb/village by 2030, with a community garden and a retail outlet. With the wild and variable weather that is already upon us, it will be increasingly difficult to produce any vegetables, for example, in the open.

  2. You do not include water in any of these policies. Water supplies are also impacted by climate change so when we build more energy efficient homes they should also be water efficient. This includes reusing rainwater inside the house and wastewater on the gardens.