Victorian Energy Efficiency Target Amendment (Saving Energy, Growing Jobs) Bill 2015

Ms SANDELL (Melbourne) — It gives me great pleasure to rise on behalf of The Greens to say that of course we will be supporting the Victorian Efficiency Target Amendment (Saving Energy, Growing Jobs) Bill 2015.

As other speakers have said, the bill is about setting the energy efficiency target for Victoria until 2020, scaling up from 5.4 million tonnes in 2016 to 6.5 million tonnes in 2020 and providing the regulations for setting additional targets up until the end of the scheme in 2029. It also means that the minister must consider the Victorian energy efficiency target when setting greenhouse gas reduction rates for electricity and gas, which is a good thing.

This is certainly a far cry from suggestions by the previous government that the scheme should have been closed down altogether. I listened intently to the contributions from the members for Caulfield and Morwell, who do not seem to be supporting nor opposing the bill. They do not seem to know what their position is, and I cannot work it out either. They do not seem to know what their overall position is on energy efficiency or energy policy, which is a bit worrying.

In our opinion the targets in the scheme are the minimum level of ambition that we should be striving for, and I look forward to Victoria outperforming the targets set in this bill — which is absolutely doable — and showing the rest of the country that we are not only committed to more efficient energy use but also in helping households with their energy bills and addressing climate change. Of course energy efficiency is an essential part of any strategy to combat climate change. It is one of the key pillars on the path towards decarbonisation, and I would say it is universally supported by climate and environment groups for that reason.

Energy efficiency is also a great policy because it is not just a climate change policy. It is a win-win-win situation. It helps people save money on their energy bills because they consume less, it helps people make their homes more comfortable and livable and of course it helps the climate by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For these reasons energy efficiency is a great tool, but government has an essential role to play in facilitating energy efficiency where it does not happen on its own. That can be done through the regulation of appliances; setting targets for energy efficiency, as we are seeing in this bill; and improving housing and building standards, for example. Consumer education and targeted assistance are also important for low-income households or for those areas where targets, regulation or education do not lead to the outcomes that we need.

It is great that we are seeing the government set this VEET scheme target. There are a couple of ways that I think we can improve the effectiveness of the administration of the scheme.

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms SANDELL — I hear interjections from government members, but I would think they would welcome some suggestions on how to tighten the administration of the scheme to make it work better. I am not sure why they would not like to hear suggestions for improvements, but anyway that is their prerogative.

Currently there are some methodologies under the VEET scheme that are not allowed. The VEET scheme as it stands is pretty restrictive in terms of its methodologies. I have been talking to a lot of businesses in the energy efficiency industry that say this is a little bit of a problem. Energy efficiency is a fairly complex equation in a lot of areas, particularly when low-hanging fruit has already been taken. It would be good for the government to recognise more bespoke solutions that are being offered by industry and to really encourage the industry to innovate, and particularly to go beyond that low-hanging fruit.

There are a couple of notable exceptions within the methodologies. For example, as has been mentioned, insulation is not in the scheme. It would be great to bring insulation into the scheme. It is one of the single most effective ways of increasing the energy efficiency of a building. Victorian homes are often poorly heated and poorly cooled. Recently I read an article in the Age, which I think was written by someone from Environment Victoria, saying that houses in Victoria are essentially like glorified tents at the moment; we have pretty low standards. This is particularly important for vulnerable people, who suffer through heatwaves and who often cannot afford to cool their homes during summer or heat their homes during our freezing winters. Not only is this a bad climate outcome because people use more energy and a bad financial outcome for these people, but it also puts their health at risk. It often leaves people with quite outrageous electricity bills as they try in vain to keep these poorly insulated homes comfortable.

Of course we are still feeling the shockwaves and the community is still wary of government-supported insulation programs because of the history with pink batts. There certainly have been some tragic circumstances associated with home insulation in recent history. But rather than shying away from the issue for fear of political contamination, the government really needs to overcome this scepticism. We could have a carefully monitored, effectively administered scheme for insulation, and we need to educate the wider community about the importance of insulation in an energy efficient home. We could be doing this. I hope the government is not just scared off by some of the mistakes of their federal colleagues in the past but that it can actually look at this objectively and put in place some really robust schemes for insulation. Obviously we would need robust accreditation of installers, monitoring and compliance to make sure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

In addition to the target set out in this bill, the Greens would like to see some more support for low-income households built into the VEET scheme to make sure that it is targeting those who would most benefit from it. This could be done through VEET. It could be done through a different system, but we think there is an opportunity here to do it through VEET. The member for Morwell was saying that low-income households might be hit hardest by this scheme, but in fact low-income households are the ones that could most benefit from it.

If we just sit back and do nothing, as the coalition seems to be advocating, what happens is that energy bills keep rising, people keep just pumping the heat and the cool air from the air conditioning out of their houses because those houses are so poorly insulated or they have very poor energy efficiency ratings. It leads to higher bills, and there is no end in sight. We have a responsibility to look after vulnerable people and provide them with some easy ways to lower their energy bills through things like the VEET scheme.

There is another issue, which is about addressing the needs of large energy users, particularly the EREP sites — the environment and resource efficiency plan sites — which are currently excluded from the scheme. New South Wales has made some good headway with regard to EREP sites, so I would encourage the Victorian Parliament to have a look at those and see whether it can include them in this scheme.

As well as VEET, there are some extra energy efficiency measures which would be valuable for Victoria to take up. I have spoken in this house before about the One Million Homes Alliance, which is an alliance of not only environment and climate groups but also social groups, which says we could bring our entire housing stock up to a 5-star energy standard. It could be done in a number of ways, and it is not just about one particular tool; it is about a suite of tools that all work together.

The first would be introducing mandatory disclosure of the energy rating of the house at the point of sale. That is really important and is something that is done in a lot of other jurisdictions. It also would mean minimum standards for rental properties when it comes to energy efficiency. This is something the Greens have advocated for over a long time. We have introduced bills in the other place about it which have not been supported by either the Liberal Party or the Labor Party. It is necessary because really the only way that we can support renters with energy efficiency is through regulation; there is a split incentive which stops landlords from taking action in a lot of cases, so regulation is needed not only just through disclosure but also through minimum standards for rental properties.

Environmental upgrade agreements are a really great tool that the government could use. At the moment they are being made available to commercial properties, and the Greens were pleased to support the bill that expanded the scheme from the City of Melbourne to other local government areas, but we could also expand it to make it available to residential properties.

I have also spoken about using other innovative finance mechanisms to support homeowners to upgrade and retrofit. There are many ways that the government could partner with retailers or local government and the finance sector to make sure that upgrades are accessible and achievable and that they are strongly encouraged.

Lastly, I want to talk about public housing. I have talked about the need to address energy efficiency in terms of renters, but the other category of tenants that are often overlooked is public housing tenants.

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms SANDELL — I am talking about public housing. I would have thought that was something the government would be quite interested in hearing about, as this is a natural constituency of the government and also of the Greens now because the government has not actually dealt with public housing for such a long time. I hope members on the other side of the house will listen to some of these contributions and pick up some tips on how they might be able to bring public tenants back into their confidence.

Public housing tenants are often living in highly inefficient properties that have not been upgraded in a very long time. In particular, people who live in public housing are very susceptible to heatwaves. In a lot of the towers in my electorate, and indeed in the electorate of the member for Essendon, who seems to be interjecting a lot during this contribution, people simply cannot live in the units when there is a heatwave; their units are like ovens, and it is really unacceptable. The government has a strong duty of care when it comes to public housing tenants. We should be working not only to reduce the energy costs but also to make those houses not just comfortable but in fact livable — at the moment they are not livable in a lot of cases.

Energy efficiency upgrades in public housing would also save the government a huge amount of money. A lot of money is spent on energy concessions that the state government gives to concession card holders in particular. If we invested some money in energy efficiency upgrades of public housing and low-income households, we could reduce the cost to the state of energy concessions. It is a win-win-win, and I do not see why we cannot do it. But such an upgrade needs to happen in more than just a handful of properties.

The One Million Homes Alliance is advocating that something like 10 per cent of public housing properties be retrofitted in a year. That would mean we could do the whole stock of around 80 000 properties in 10 years. It would be an amazing aspirational goal for our state to say, 'We will upgrade every single public housing property in 10 years'. That is something really practical that we can achieve not only in terms of climate outcomes but also in terms of outcomes for low-income households, and it would actually save the state some money as well. It would mean a funding injection into the Office of Housing, which is something that neither government has been really interested in doing, I understand, and it would also require clear directions to the department that these upgrades are a top priority.

I strongly encourage the minister and the Andrews government to implement some of these additional proposals as well as VEET, which is a really good start. It would be great to see some other measures taken as well. As I said at the start, energy efficiency is a complex matter and we cannot just put one tool in place and hope everything will be fixed. It actually needs a suite of tools covering regulation, targeted assistance, education, minimum standards and public housing retrofits. We have a great opportunity to take this action now, while we have a government that actually believes in climate change and is not opposed to energy efficiency. I wish this bill a speedy passage through the house.

 

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