There are 10 million homes in Australia, from humble fibro shacks to new-build McMansions and everything in between. On Saturday 21 May 2022, the people who live in them went out to vote.
The election of Anthony Albanese’s Labor team marks a change of direction for Australia, and the thumping victories of Teal Independents and Greens sounded a clear message that climate matters to Aussie voters. All this means that our housing, too, will need to change.
We now have the political will to act on climate change. But one thing we don’t have is time. We were starting to recover from the devastation of the 2019-20 bushfires which destroyed more than 3000 homes and turned a sizeable percentage of our forests to ash. But then this year’s floods drenched much of the east coast, causing billions of dollars more damage, wiping out infrastructure from roads to schools, and leaving thousands homeless.
We know what we need to do. One of the first things the new government has done is to formally commit Australia to a stronger 2030 emissions reduction target of 43 percent by the end of the decade. This is a significant increase on the26 to 28 per cent reduction first adopted by the Abbott government, but the scientists tell us we need to do more.
And we need policies in place across the economy to deliver on these commitments. The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) has been working with stakeholders across the building sector to advise on the best ways to meet these challenges and we know our homes can help.
Improving the energy performance of buildings like houses, offices, shops and schools is the fastest, cheapest route to cut carbon emissions at a time when this is more urgent than ever. Not only that, but reducing how much energy our homes need to stay comfortable all year round also helps Australians struggling with spiralling energy costs. With severe weather events like heatwaves coming more often, these cost-of-living pressures are only going to get worse, particularly for vulnerable households.
Another looming expense is upgrading the energy grid. Our energy infrastructure is creaking at the seams, unable to cope with surges in demand at key moments like heatwaves or cold snaps. More efficient homes will reduce the strain and help avoid expensive upgrades to the grid. Simply put, improving efficiency helps make the transition to renewable energy cheaper, faster and fairer – and who wouldn’t want that?
Our new government needs to get cracking on upgrading those 10 million homes of ours. Fortunately, the building blocks are already in place for a number of pivotal policies that could give Australians the tools and assistance they need. In September this year, the National Construction Code that governs all new builds will be updated and stronger energy performance standards are on the table. If adopted by Australia’s Building Ministers, new home-buyers could wipe months or years off their home loans with the money they save on energy bills – and get a more comfortable home to boot!
We also need to create incentives to improve our existing homes. Requiring home vendors to obtain and disclose an energy rating would give prospective buyers valuable information about comfort and running costs, locking in energy efficiency as part of the value of a home. There’s good evidence that when home-buyers have better information about what a home will cost to run, they’ll pay more for it – which in turn encourages home-owners to think about efficiency next time they renovate. A Draft Framework for Disclosure of Residential Energy Efficiency Information that shows how a national scheme could work was released in February. We now need our new Commonwealth government to get behind it and make it happen.
As someone who grew up in social housing, our new PM understands better than most the importance of rental housing stock. But across the country rental homes are more likely to be inefficient and cost more in energy bills to run – but there’s not much a renter can do to fix an inefficient heater or non-existent insulation. And there’s no obligation on landlords to provide these basic health and safety features. Victoria has been doing good work on developing energy efficiency standards for rental homes, and is now leading work on a national rental standards framework. This is another area where commitment from the Federal government will make a real difference.
Australians voted for action on climate. We know that our homes can deliver a big part of the emissions savings we urgently need, and a cheap way to speed the transition to renewable energy. Right now, when our energy system and households are facing unprecedented pressures, we’ve got a real chance to not only address the short-term crisis, but also invest in the measures that will deliver benefits over the long term. Here’s hoping our new leaders act fast enough to ensure the homes we live in are affordable, comfortable and ready for what the future holds.