This Budget comes at a crucial time for Australia.
COVID-19 has left our economy under serious threat and the challenge for Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was how best to address this with targeted stimulus. Many sectors are clamouring for support, with jobs in industries like tourism and hospitality severely impacted by the pandemic. At the same time, climate change has not gone away and we still need to urgently reduce emissions to meet our international obligations.
The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) knows that the building sector must be a key part of Australia’s post COVID recovery. As a major employer, the sector can deliver jobs and growth, and as the sector with the knowledge to deliver better buildings, it can create a more resilient country with lower energy bills and healthier buildings, as well as lower emissions. Our joint Buildings efficiency for jobs and growth identified five key areas where government support could work to facilitate this. The Budget will be funding some of these, but others represent a missed opportunity.
How does the budget support better buildings?
Energy efficiency: The government’s Technology Roadmap seeks to accelerate development and commercialisation of low emissions technologies. This Roadmap recognises energy efficiency as an emerging and enabling technology and the Government aims to remove barriers to uptake.
In this context, the Budget includes funding for $52.2 million over 5 years, to facilitate improved energy efficiency for residential and commercial buildings. This funding includes grants to upgrade the energy efficiency of hotels, pubs and community facilities, as well as further measures, likely addressing energy ratings for commercial and residential buildings as addressed by the Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings.
ARENA: It’s good to see that the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which works to increase the supply and competitiveness of renewables, has had its funding extended. Even better, the organisation’s scope has been expanded to include energy efficiency. Whilst it is clear that ARENA will fund energy efficiency for industrial processes, we are hopeful that it will also address building energy efficiency; opening the opportunity for them to support enabling technologies for better buildings. The detail on this is not yet available.
Skills: The $1.2 billion package to support apprentice wages, along with support for STEM pathways for women, can pave the way for a skilled and diverse workforce which will benefit the built environment sector.
Infrastructure: A multi-billion boost has been allocated to an infrastructure-led COVID recovery. It is good to see that this will be strategically supported through additional funding to Infrastructure Australia, who will provide reform and investment advice for Australia’s infrastructure.
Government building retrofits: State, Territory and Commonwealth Governments occupy about 30% of all commercial space in Australia. Many of these buildings, like hospitals and schools, are in dire need of upgrading, and making them more energy efficient would reduce the energy costs of operating them, easing pressure on budgets at a crucial time. At the same time, retrofitting and renovating these buildings has the potential to employ large numbers of Australians, while boosting skills in areas like the installation of energy efficient technology.
Social housing: Approximately 440,000 social housing units are owned by Australian governments and it is not clear how well this form of housing is being addressed. Much of this stock is aging and needs upgrade, with huge potential to provide work for thousands of tradespeople across the country. At the same time, the relative benefit of cheaper energy bills is much bigger for people with lower incomes.
Suffice to say, whilst the budget delivers some helpful measures, there’s a lot more to be done on the road to better buildings. ASBEC will keep working with our members in the building sector to identify the best ways to a zero carbon built environment in Australia, where buildings that are healthy and affordable to run are the norm.