Despite the tweeting and posturing of the most patriotic of Prime Ministers and Presidents, global demand is waning for products that are environmentally irresponsible.
However, the question remains, will our government create demand for climate-responsible products and services?
Last week I walked past one of the numerous major capital projects underway on some of Australia’s leading universities, and I chatted to contractors unloading IGUs for installation as part of a $100 million new build and refurbishment.
IGUs - insulated glass units - are high-tech windows made of two or more sheets of glass separated by a gas-filled cavity where desiccant prevents condensation. The units are sealed with silicon and used to clad many city buildings.
IGUs have structural, safety, aesthetic and environmental benefits and are a critical component to long-term building performance. If the units are not made strictly to specification, then a building’s operation and design intent, along with heating and air handling units, may be compromised. The mechanical services of buildings may overload with consequent maintenance issues as well as an impact on occupant well-being and asset values.
An element that keeps the wind and rain out, that we look through and lean against, is a crucially important component product of the building.
The IGU I was looking at last week had a paper sticker in the corner with a large blue ‘QC’ (Quality Control) stamped over foreign-language characters in faint black. The contractor delivering the units assured me the product met Australian standards. He pointed to another more robust sticker in the corner with triple ticks. I wondered who put the stickers on, and when and where?
The current Australian Senate Inquiry into non-conforming building products has been told that a significant percentage of glass does not comply with Australian standards, regulations or certifications.
Who knows which IGUs actually comply to Australian standards? Ponder the question as you look out a window on the 47th floor of any of our nation's buildings. Unless you are looking for surprises, don’t lean too hard on the question or the window.
Our government, through the Building Ministers’ Forum Senior Officers’ Group is developing a plan. It’s taken two Senate Inquiries, three elections and four years, at $2 billion wasted per year. That equates to $5.5 million wasted per day due to lax regulation, and we will soon have a report on which to develop a plan to address it.
Perhaps this waste and delay is not a problem in the lucky country with wealth to spare?
Let’s take stock of what a lazy $5.5 million could do per day. Cure homelessness or fund a little Gonsky reform? Stock our TAFE schools? Or perhaps raise STEM in primary schools? Maybe fund the NDIS or company tax breaks or compensation for building failures?
Will we wait another year or for another government before our representatives serve the national interest?
There is a better way forward.
The Australian market economy has key ingredients that make it appealing to global business. Some of these include its low risk, relatively high consumer wealth, stability (but inconsistency) of government, and a skilled workforce. Talk of open markets and subsidies in the corridors of Canberra are music to the ears of the global marketplace.
Setting clear rules for regulation and equitable implementation is a core attribute of democracy. When governments do not implement regulation to the full extent of the law or are biased by producers, lobbyists or funding sources, then policy implementation is compromised and our nation sold short.
The greatest challenges to our manufacturing industry come from within: the industry is plagued with self-doubt, problems of succession planning, and lax governance. And our industries, governments and consumers must support local businesses if the country is to endure the industrial transformation currently underway, or our kids won’t have jobs.
Right now, we are at a pivot point from being a product-based economy to being a service economy. But, for whom, and where, do we wish our children to work?
We have the capacity to source, manufacture and value-add products for the world market. We can competitively resource, design, produce and build, service, and recover our manufactured products. Our commodities and energy are plentiful and our workforce skilled.
However, our political leaders need to lead. They need to demonstrate, through the use of our taxes, their commitment to Australian-made, which will create demand for our skills, our products and our services.
When our government commits to multi-billion tender submissions in pursuit of Australia’s infrastructure, schools or defence acquisition, the taxpayer is owed the right of contract scrutiny.
In every dollar spent, this nation’s welfare should be considered, and, if it is not expressly considered, a public explanation is warranted.
When a precondition of government tender is to demonstrate Australian national interest and whole-life value, then our trades, knowledge and productivity is boosted, local participation in the supply and build cycle is encouraged, and demand rises for skills and technology.
This is GDP growth in a positive direction - a modern economy on the move. This is what small and large businesses, industrialists, merchants and capitalists target: economic activity with the potential for jobs and productivity. What could governments not like about benefiting the Australian taxpayer, citizen and business owner?
The billions of GDP dollars spent on public works represents an opportunity for responsible and deliberate input into the Australian economy. What consideration of whole value or local content is required when approving developments that sit outside public available planning envelopes?
Recent amendments to government procurement rules are encouraging, but the devil is in the detail: will they be implemented, measured and managed?
We call on all governments, our institutions and corporates to pull in the same direction. Short-termism degrades our future and non-conforming IGUs - just one product line of thousands that go into our public infrastructure and privately built environment - will one day return to haunt us.
Buy to Australian Standards, or we will find they are of little credibility and we will all suffer the costly consequences.