If NSW and other states follow Victoria into further delays of the energy provisions in the National Construction Code 2022 it will be yet another big win for the housing lobby groups that have fought tooth and nail to hold back improvements to housing standards.
Executive director of the Australian Built Environment Council Alison Scotland said her association would soon be writing to the relevant government ministers to understand what their intentions were.
“We have been reaching out to the relevant governments and ministries to understand their rationale for the further delay, along with reinforcing the significant benefits these changes will have for Australian households. After all, it has been over a decade since Australia meaningfully increased the minimum energy efficiency requirements for new homes in the National Construction Code.”
Other industry sources said NSW was being lobbied heavily by the Housing Industry Association, which was confirmed by the HIA, and that there was “no clarity on Queensland” which was likely to wait and see what NSW did.
However, in a late response to inquiries from The Fifth Estate, a spokesperson for the Queensland Mick de Brenni said there were no plans to [further] defer the introduction of the NCC changes.
However, it’s clear the HIA will continue to lobby where it can.
HIA executive director, Victoria, Keith Ryan said in a statement made available to The Fifth Estate that the “HIA has long called for an extended transition for implementation of the NCC 2022.
“HIA urges the government to talk to industry now and act fast to finalise its decision. An extended transition period of an extra year for livable housing, energy efficiency and condensation changes will be more consistent with outcomes in other parts of Australia.”
In Victoria, a spokesperson for Greens MP Ellen Sandell told The Fifth Estate in a written response to our article on 16 June that “we still haven’t received anything publicly confirming the news from Labor. Instead, when pressed on the issue by Ellen…in parliament, Planning Minister Sonya Kilkenny MP delivered an irrelevant (and frankly strange) monologue on housing supply.”
The focus on housing supply echoes the line provided by the housing lobby groups.
Industry sources say that the most intense lobbying has come from the Housing Industry Association. But the Master Builders Australia too is understood to be part of the “Dr No” pack.
And they’ve been effective. Most of the non-eastern seaboard states automatically deferred the new provisions by three years when the new NCC was announced last year and Victoria has just caved by another six months. The kindest and most polite of industry observers pointed out that in context that’s not a lot of delay – it could be worse.
But others have been scathing. And angry. The context is a bio-diversity emergency, a cost of living emergency and a climate emergency, said Caroline Pidcock who is a leading sustainability architect and founder of Architects Declare along with holding a string of other influential positions.
Pidcock was a long term industry representative on the Australian Building Codes Board, which manages the NCC, and she was furious.
She pointed out that effectively this means we’ve had no change to efficiency standards in our national housing since 2009. (Previous NCC updates have focused on the commercial sector.)
The further delays to the NCC were “bullshit and backward looking…when people are dying of cold in Australian in winter,” she said.
If cost is a problem, she continued, build smaller housing.
“If you have a budget work to it.”
We are facing huge cost of living challenges and it’s absolutely time to build smaller – but the HIA was not calling for that.
“I’m sickened by it and really angry and they’ve got to be called out on it.
“It’s not okay and it was never okay and the fact is it’s still happening 20 years later.”
A representative at the HIA told The Fifth Estate on Tuesday afternoon that there was a simple answer to the heating problem – the Australian government should simply lower energy prices… [so people could use more energy to heat their houses.]
The representative who spoke by way of background only, also suggested there was not a lot of difference between 5 star NatHERS rated houses and 7 Star NatHERS. They also said that one of the reasons for lobbying so hard for a delay to the NCC was that changes were sudden and foisted on the industry with not much notice.
The representative said the HIA had been in “major talks” with governments to delay and that the changes had been “brought on quite fast.”
“There’s a lot of problems with it and we’ve been opposing it in the first place.”
The changes were “bureaucratic” devised by bureaucrats and 7 star NatHERS probably not much more energy efficient that the previous standard, they said.
“I’m not saying that 7 stars is not warranted but I’m saying that this thing has been put in too fast in a climate that is hyper vigilant about energy savings…it’s regulation for regulation’s sake”.
The provisions were also complex, the representative said.
Keith Ryan said in his statement that there were “too many questions that remain unanswered by governments about the application of these new provisions, including what happens with renovations and extensions of existing homes and building on smaller blocks of land.
“The process for considering an extended transition of NCC 2022 must proceed quickly as the next deadline is 1 October 2023. HIA will ensure the voice of industry is heard with members telling us builders and consumers need more time to prepare for the complex new NCC provisions.”
The comments would not accord with industry advocates for better housing performance.
A national disgrace
Tony Arnel, professor in the faculty of science, engineering and built environment at Deakin University who was also deeply involved in the push for better standards in housing and buildings through many industry leadership roles, including as chairman of the Green Building Council of Australia, said the delays were now a “national disgrace”.
“After 13 long years industry are still asking for more time to implement modest new minimum standards.
“The (mostly) industry led rhetoric regarding ‘needing more time’ has been part of the tactical approach for 20 years and state governments still fall for it. Responsible ministers come and go but still succumb to the powerful industry peak bodies,” he said.
“My own state of Victoria once proudly led the regulatory ambition to implement properly considered minimum energy standards for new housing in a timely manner, but this is long lost.
“The familiar discourse of climate delay in the housing energy standards space has become evident since the last standards upgrade in 2010” ‘too disruptive, no sticks just carrots, technical and material development required, too costly’…and the list goes on – all part of the song book that distressingly has been vastly successful in delaying modest increases.”
Arnel who responded while travelling overseas concluded with comments he noted from the new Australian Government Net Zero Authority board members about the importance of getting on with the job.
“In my opinion, forget it. If the housing component of the built environment can’t deliver long overdue minimum outcomes…then we have no chance of net zero ambitions because industry bodies will still be asking for more time!”
Building product manufacturers regret the delays
Meanwhile building product manufacturers have been preparing for the changes and are disappointed at the delays.
Clinton Skeoch, chief executive officer of the Australian Glass & Window Association, said the delay in the NCC was a disappointment to his members who had been preparing for the transition to higher energy efficiency for some time.
He members representing more than 1200 companies had been innovating and making sure they were ready for change.
“As an industry we’ve invested probably $170 million to be ready – between all the manufacturers in new capital. We’ve done a lot of work to be ready and make sure our members know how to be ready.”
This comprised increased capacity and new product design. Skeoch said there had been about 26,000 windows rated under the association’s energy rating scheme in the past 12 months with another 4000 on the way.
Most people won’t change unless they have to
He observed that though leaders in the housing industry might be keen to participate in the “improvement journey” the reality was that this is only a small part of the market.
“The majority is moved by legislation and government requirement and that’s why leadership is so very important.
The screaming and yelling is bullshit
Caroline Pidock summed up the sentiment that doesn’t often make it to the front pages of newspapers.
At the time she was on the ABCB board as an industry representative between 2003 and 2011,”it was the MBA and the HIA that were yelling and screaming and not wanting to have [energy efficiency provisions] come in and not wanting to represent the best interests of their members,” she said.
“They should have been working out how to help their members do this effectively.
“If you put the right house design on the right block with the right orientation the additional costs are minimal and more than compensated for by the savings [in energy].”
Pidcock said it was time for careful comments from sustainability leadership to stop.
“Stop being careful. We are in a climate emergency, a bio-diversity emergency, a cost of living emergency and a climate emergency.
“Stop pandering to those people who are supposed to be protecting their members but are doing exactly the opposite and not saying to them, ‘this is what we have to do and this is how we need to do it’.”
The Fifth Estate contacted the NSW building minister Anoulack Chanthivong for comment but did not receive a reply before processing for publication.