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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Keynote Speech - Sustainability - Built Environment Meets Parliament 2009

12 August 2009

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Thank you, Romilly.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land the Ngunnawal people, their elders, past and present.

I also acknowledge my Parliamentary colleagues here today.

It is a pleasure to be with you at this year's Built Environment Meets Parliament Summit. I congratulate all the hosts of this important event.

There are many aspects of the built environment that are being discussed here today, spanning the themes of liveability, prosperity and building partnerships.

While I am here to talk about environmental sustainability, it is also the case that today's themes are both interlinked and interdependent.

Put simply, a built environment that is more sustainable is without question more liveable and — as we are increasingly recognising — more prosperous, both now and as we set about the vital task of building a low-carbon economy for Australia's future.

It's a task this Government takes seriously, despite the serious lack of leadership from our political opponents.

By ‘sustainable’, I mean buildings that use energy and water efficiently, that employ building materials with a low environmental impact, that manage waste responsibly and form precincts with low-carbon infrastructure, like distributed generation and effective public transport.

In so many ways, liveability and prosperity flow from sustainability — buildings that are more comfortable and enjoyable to live and work in, neighbourhoods with more amenity and green space, and design features, technologies and facilities that save money through reduced energy use, water use and waste.

Of course, all these objectives can only be achieved through ‘building partnerships’ — collaborating with those of you in this room, the practitioners and advocates of sustainability in our homes and workplaces, in Australia's cities, suburbs and regions.

This annual conversation between politicians and your industry is an important opportunity to take stock, exchange views and chart future directions.

And today I want to reinforce a message that I have been advocating for some time — emphasising the potential of our built environment to deliver cost-effective cuts in Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.

There are few sectors that have demonstrated stronger leadership or more creative thinking when it comes to tackling climate change than Australia's built environment sector.

Your sector has true champions of sustainability — in the Green Building Council of Australia, the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council and the recently formed Energy Efficiency Council to name but three — recognising that not only is climate change an urgent challenge, but one that presents vast opportunities for growing new industries, for sustainable innovation and for getting ahead of the curve.

Many of you will be familiar with the McKinsey cost curve for greenhouse gas reduction. In 2008, this global consultancy published an Australian cost curve modelling positive and negative cost actions that could be taken to reduce our emissions.

The take home message from McKinsey was that if governments pursed an integrated set of policies now, at the same time as proactively supporting the global framework, then we could deliver major greenhouse gas emissions reductions by 2020.

That policy suite included fast-tracking the commercialisation of key technologies — as we are pursuing through our $4.5 billion Clean Energy Initiative, investing in carbon capture and storage and baseload solar power generation — and the acceleration of effective information campaigns to drive changes in consumer behaviour — something we are building into the design of our new programs.

A shining example is the black balloons campaign that originated in Victoria and is now being picked up by other states. It has been so effective because it has given consumers a graphic representation of what is often a complex issue.

Thirdly, McKinsey said the integrated set of policies should “include rapid pursuit of negative cost opportunities through regulation and incentives”. This is a key area of activity for government under the recently agreed National Strategy on Energy Efficiency, which I'll return to later.

Other compelling sources of evidence for Australia's energy efficiency potential include the ‘Garnaut Climate Change Review’, the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council's report ‘The Second Plank’ and the report card for the Government's own appliance energy efficiency program, ‘Prevention is Better than Cure’, from George Wilkenfeld and Associates.

But McKinsey's curve, like ‘black balloons’, provides a graphic illustration of the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency — those ‘negative-cost’ opportunities that are quite literally hanging below the line.

These are of course actions we can take that pay back investments with cash savings.

Almost every negative cost opportunity identified is an energy efficiency measure.

And almost every one of these is in the built environment.

A significant proportion of these opportunities will come from improving appliance and equipment energy efficiency; by taking decisive steps on standby power, lighting, water heating, heating and air-conditioning — the list goes on.

The Wilkenfeld analysis I referred to earlier suggests the current inter-governmental Appliance Energy Efficiency Program is expected to deliver energy savings of 32,000 gigawatt hours per year by 2020.

These savings will be achieved through raising the performance of household appliances like fridges and industrial equipment like transformers - equipment that is in millions of Australian households and workplaces.

We are talking about energy savings equivalent to 14 per cent of the total 227,000 gigawatt hours of electricity generated in Australia in 2006-07 — just from making our everyday electrical appliances less energy hungry.

Or to put it another way, by 2020, greenhouse gas abatement from the Appliance Energy Efficiency Program will be around 19.5 million tonnes per year. This is equivalent to removing almost five million cars from our roads permanently.

The critical point I want to make here is that McKinsey's list of energy saving initiatives reads like a check list of actions the government is taking now.

Since the 2008 Built Environment Meets Parliament Summit we have experienced what was then an emerging global financial crisis.

This Government acted early and decisively to support the economy, and critically, this was done through measures that are also improving the environmental sustainability of the built environment.

Through the stimulus package we have supported jobs, embarked on the largest energy efficiency measure in Australian history and invested in the construction of high quality public and community housing.

Existing Australian homes are receiving more support than ever before through the Energy Efficient Homes Package, rolling out ceiling insulation and solar hot water on an unprecedented scale.

The Green Loans program, now open for business, is providing up to 360,000 households with free home sustainability assessments, offering detailed recommendations on the practical things they can do to reduce their energy and water use. This is a significant and practical behaviour change program.

Under the Nation Building — Economic Stimulus Plan, we are also investing $6 billion over the next three and a half years in the construction of 20,000 new public and community homes, which will be built to best practice environmental standards.

So the shovels are out, the hard hats are on, and the built environment is being transformed at the individual household level.

But of course, that is not the end of it. These kinds of incentives and this scale of investment, significant as they are, are not enough alone to effect large-scale change.

And now the long-lasting vacuum of national leadership on energy efficiency has ended.

Just over a month ago, the Council of Australian Governments signed off on the National Strategy on Energy Efficiency, drawing together the pervasive energy efficiency agenda being pursued by this Government and the states and territories.

The built environment is a critical aspect of this strategy.

There are a range of essential improvements to building energy efficiency standards that will be bedded down over the next year.

And sitting over the top of this immediate action is a more fundamental reform — the move to a nationally consistent, outcomes-based framework for building energy assessments, ratings and standards.

This new framework for the building sector will be implemented in 2011 through the Building Code of Australia, and will help drive a significant improvement in the energy efficiency of Australia's building stock over the life of the National Strategy out to 2020.

It will illuminate the path from where we are today, with a built environment that has — notwithstanding some notable exceptions — underperformed on sustainability, to a place where the aspirations and exceptions of today will become the norm of tomorrow.

We will have a new system under which building energy efficiency standards will be reviewed periodically with the aim of setting increasingly stringent minimum standards for new buildings and major renovations, both commercial and residential.

And just as importantly for many of you here, this framework will provide for a new engagement with built environment industries, practitioners and advocates, building the partnerships we need to take our built environment where it needs to go.

As a first step in this engagement, I can announce today the convening of a Built Environment Sustainability Roundtable — establishing a regular government-industry dialogue.

The roundtable will provide built environment industries, advocates and practitioners with a structured and direct opportunity to bring forward issues and ideas in the area of building sustainability.

It will provide Government with the opportunity to listen to your concerns, to update you on our agenda and to ensure the conversations at leading forums like Built Environment Meets Parliament are taken to the next level.

The first Built Environment Sustainability Roundtable will take place in the coming months, and I anticipate — subject to demand — twice yearly after that.

In the meantime, we are working within the existing arrangements under the Building Code to take important steps forward.

On the residential front, new homes built in Australia will have to be constructed to a six-star energy efficiency standard or equivalent by May 2011.

Similarly, we are tightening the standards for commercial buildings.

Also in the commercial sector, commercial office buildings over 2,000 square metres will have to provide energy efficiency information at point of sale or lease from 2010 under the Government's proposed mandatory disclosure scheme, the design of which has incorporated significant industry feedback, and is nearing finalisation.

The Government's $90 million Green Building Fund has already provided a total of $29.5 million for 89 projects in its first two rounds, the first time a Commonwealth Government has taken this kind of action in the commercial building sector.

The Government's $2.75 billion Climate Change Action Fund will also provide targeted assistance to businesses and community organisations to assist in the transition to a low carbon economy by providing information programs and capital support.

And the Australian Carbon Trust will incorporate a $50 million Energy Efficiency Trust that will promote energy efficiency in the business sector, including commercial buildings.

I mentioned earlier that this Summit should be used as an opportunity to chart future directions.

Of course, buildings don't exist in isolation — they sit alongside other buildings within neighbourhoods, within suburbs and cities.

Just as the structures we build now will be with us for 50 or even 100 years, the precincts and neighbourhoods we plan and redevelop and the infrastructure that services them will define our environmental impact for decades.

On this count, the last federal budget marked an historic change, with this Government becoming the first ever national government to invest significantly in passenger rail infrastructure within our cities.
There is no doubt that we need to improve the efficiency and sustainability of our cities by increasing the desirability and use of public transport, cycling and walking and making better use of existing transport infrastructure.

At its April meeting, the Council of Australian Governments acknowledged that re-shaping the future development of our cities through better integrated infrastructure and land-use planning will be critical to Australia's future productivity growth as well as enhancing quality of life and conserving the environment.

Again, the interdependence of prosperity, liveability and sustainability — three sides of the same extremely rare three-sided coin.

COAG established a task force to examine the integration of state and national infrastructure in major metropolitan cities with land-use planning and urban development.

I look forward to seeing the report of the task force at the end of this year.

And just last week, my colleague, the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Anthony Albanese, outlined the Government's progress for the development of a National Urban Policy, being formulated by the Major Cities Unit.

This policy marks the Commonwealth's long-overdue return to the urban policy arena — a space that was vacated by the previous Government for more than a decade, to the detriment of our great cities and their growing populations.

Moving down to the precinct level, if we want to maximise the use of solar power in cities for passive heating and cooling of buildings and for water heating and electricity generation then we need to start thinking about building lot layouts and planning controls that support solar access. The National Strategy on Energy Efficiency has tasked the Local Government and Planning Ministers Council to examine this measure.

On the same theme of interconnectivity, the Government's National Energy Efficiency Initiative: Smart Grid, Smart City will accelerate our path to the next frontier in energy efficient infrastructure.

Smart grids combine innovative technologies, like smart meters and sensors, which together can make the most of the power we generate and consume.

They allow power companies to better manage peak loads, ‘evening out’ electricity supply, and identifying and fixing faults faster.

Critically, smart grids have the potential to create significant efficiencies, to better integrate renewable and distributed generation, and to help incorporate technologies like electric vehicles.

And even more importantly, smart grids will provide consumers in households with the opportunity to make active and informed choices about the way they use energy.

With an investment of up to $100 million from the Government, Smart Grid, Smart City will include Australia's first commercial-scale demonstration of a smart grid, providing meaningful data about how this cutting-edge technology can be optimised in the Australian environment.

This is a frontier we must investigate rapidly and strategically if we are to roll-out the supporting infrastructure for the green buildings, precincts and neighbourhoods of the near future.

Given the urgent need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and the contribution the built environment makes to our emissions at present, this is a time and place to move forward — even more so as the opportunities are immense and the desire and the capacity of the community to be part of the remaking of our built environment is so strong.

Working with our hands as we build, our heads as we plan, our imaginations as we design — and putting all this together to create buildings that literally live and breathe and are friendly to the climate and to the occupants — this is the road ahead.

That journey, and so much of this Government's agenda in the built environment, will only succeed if we harness the knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm of your industry.

The Australian Government is determined to build those essential partnerships, to undertake the necessary collaborations and to show the required leadership to help deliver a sustainable built environment for sustainable a low-carbon future.


Commonwealth of Australia