As ABBA sang in Money Money Money, “All the things I could do/If I had a little money…”

Following the release of the Albanese Government’s first budget in October, we have an opportunity to do some of those things – and it’s not before time.

Climate change is increasingly making itself felt around the country. Floods are battering the east again. Fires are becoming hotter and more intense. Storms are more frequent and extreme. What used to be statistical outliers – those “once in a hundred years” events – are now becoming regular occurrences.

As a country uniquely vulnerable to this mix of extreme weather events, we’ve got a lot to gain from lowering emissions and potentially avoiding even further intensification of these symptoms of climate change. That’s why we’re signed up to the Paris Climate Agreement and why more recently the Commonwealth government passed a Climate Change Act which enshrines more ambitious emissions reduction targets of 43% of 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050.

At a time when housing is increasingly in crisis, with high prices to buy or rent locking many out of the safe and secure homes they need, it’s great that the government has placed housing front and centre of the budget. ASBEC’s Building Tomorrow’s Homes report explained that Australia would have to build around 197,000 homes per year over the coming decade to keep pace with our population.

The budget’s stated target of a million new homes by 2029 is therefore essential. This provides us with a great opportunity to further reduce emissions and meet our climate targets. ASBEC’s report Built to Perform shows how, with a strong National Construction Code, housing stock with strong energy performance can be affordable to run, comfortable and increase the resilience of our homes to climate change. There is also money to strengthen the ratings consumers use to understand energy efficiency of homes and appliances, with $4.6 million to expand and modernise the GEMS appliance rating program and the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS).

All these homes will need to be built by someone – but in a time when acute labour shortages threaten our recovery from the Covid pandemic, we need to think carefully about where these people will come from. We already have the technology for a sustainable built environment, from solar PV panels to smart building systems. But technology is useless if our tradies don’t know how to install and maintain it.

ASBEC has been calling for investment in green skills for a decade now, so we welcome the commitment to $1.4 billion towards providing 480,000 free TAFE places to train the next generation of tradies and ensure a skilled up workforce. University places also include 1,738 supported places for engineers. An extra 60,000 apprenticeship places, plus dropping the fees for a further 120,000 existing apprentices, as well as an Australian Skills Guarantee scheme to ensure Commonwealth funded projects must include apprentices and trainees.

But better housing stock is only part of the systemic change we need in our built environment. The switch to renewables is another crucial part of the puzzle. In recent months, people with household solar panels have been able to join trials of the Community Battery scheme, allowing this renewable generated from our homes to be stored locally and fed into the grid at the optimum time. This kind of distributed generation and smart real time monitoring of energy consumption is a key part of our transition to renewables, so ASBEC is delighted to see the budget committing to more than $220 million to expand the programme to 400 batteries in communities nationwide. More than $102 million for solar battery banks for apartment dwellers, a further $63 million for trials of other battery storage, as well as money to convert First Nations communities to renewables, complete the picture.

Our ageing electricity grid has been a source of worry for a long time. We know that electrification is a key part of our transition to net zero carbon by 2050, so it’s reassuring to see the Albanese government putting $20 billion towards improving it. The “Rewiring the Nation” initiative will connect up new wind energy generation via interconnectors, linking distant places, such as Tasmania with Victoria, together.  This interconnectedness increases our ability to run a smart grid, moving power around to where the need is greatest, as well as making the grid more resilient to dangers like wires burning out from bushfires.

It’s not just homes that are being supported to cut emissions, but workplaces and businesses. The government is walking the climate talk, setting aside $7.1 million to help transition the Australian Public Service (other than security agencies) to net zero emissions by 2030 and create greater transparency through regular emissions reporting. For the business sector, there is $62.5 million to assist small to medium enterprises to improve their energy efficiency by upgrading old, inefficient equipment and electrifying operations.

Infrastructure is being subject to greater rigour in business cases – something ASBEC has long advocated. Our report Bang for Buck detailed exactly how business cases can help ensure best spend of our limited infrastructure budget and meet the challenges of a growing population, demographics shifts and climate change. The Budget’s commitment to more thorough analysis of infrastructure projects and ensuring the best outcome for the $55 billion infrastructure spend means we now have a chance to avoid locking in decades long emissions with poor infrastructure choices.

As Australia’s peak body for building sector experts committed to a sustainable built environment, ASBEC’s members know that the built environment will be key to reducing emissions and being resilient to the effects of climate change. And we know that the built environment provides the cheapest and quickest way to reduce emissions. This budget gives us a flying start to taking advantage of the opportunity we now have, to build a better Australia – one that works to solve today’s problems by building for the future we know is possible.


Alison Scotland is Executive Director at Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council



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