House debates

Monday, 11 September 2023


Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Amendment (Administrative Changes) Bill 2023; Second Reading

5:23 pm

Photo of Alicia PayneAlicia Payne (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Amendment (Administrative Changes) Bill. The act that we are amending today has been around for just over a decade and was introduced by the Gillard government in 2012. Since its introduction it has proved to be instrumental in reducing emissions, particularly from Australian households. Research suggests that the average Australian family saves between $140 and $220 on their electricity bill each and every year as a result of the measures brought in through this bill. For Australian families facing cost-of-living pressures at the moment, reductions in costs like these are incredibly important. There is so much that can be done to reduce our power prices and our household emissions in one go.

Last week I was very fortunate to be able to visit the home of a constituent of mine, Martin de Domenico, in Curtin, along with the Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Senator Jenny McAllister, who spoke to Martin about the absolutely incredible renovation he had just finished in his home. Martin's home is one half of a duplex built in the 1960s. Before the renovation, his home was cold and very inefficient, with the warmth literally leaking out of the house. His home, pre renovation, had an energy efficiency rating of 3.4 stars. Today, his home is rated at a massive 7.2 stars, which is a huge transformation. It was achieved through some relatively simple changes, including the use of double glazing in the windows, the installation of PV solar panels, the use of insulation, and the electrification of the hot water system, of heating and cooling and of the stove. Martin's home is now snug and airtight. It has an air-leakage permeability rate a quarter of the average Canberra home. This wasn't achieved with any special construction materials or equipment, either. Standard residential construction materials and methodologies were used, which kept construction costs low and provided for excellent thermal bang for buck.

As Canberrans know, we face extreme weather in our city. We have, obviously, very cold winters, but it's quite hot in summer, so we can often rely heavily on air conditioning and heating, which brings up energy costs and the emissions from our homes. So making these changes is really important, both for our bank balance and for the environment.

Martin's home is now fully electric, and the gas meter has been decommissioned. The result of all this? While Martin's home is 29 per cent smaller than the average Canberra residence, it now consumes 68 per cent less energy than that same average.

I want to really thank Martin for inviting us into his home and to congratulate him and the architects and scientists at Light House Architecture and Science for their incredible achievement of winning the Housing Industry Association Australian GreenSmart Sustainable Home of the Year. From visiting his home, this seems very well deserved, because not only was it efficient—and we heard that he had cut his energy bills by 70 per cent—but his home was absolutely beautiful and comfortable. You could just feel that it was actually keeping warmer from the sun coming through the windows—simple things like that.

I can relate, just a little bit—not from having done such a beautiful renovation, but from also living in a 1960s Canberra home. When we moved in, we put some insulation in. It makes a huge difference and definitely does cut your power bills.

The Albanese Labor government is helping Australians to save on energy and save on their bills. We want to make every watt count and put downward pressure on every Australian's power bills while lowering their emissions, because we know that their energy bills are placing significant strain on Australian businesses and households. We also know that, after 10 years of inaction by the former government, Australians are paying for the energy that is literally leaking out of their front doors.

The Climate Council's 2023 Smarter energy use: how to cut energy bills and climate harm report found that combining electrification and practical efficiency upgrades could save an average Australian household $2,005 each year. And this is something that most Australians don't think about all that often. Most Australians know more about the performance of their washing machine or their fridge than they do about the performance of their home. That's why we're seeking to give families the tools they need to make their homes more comfortable and more affordable to run. This bill is just part of the effort to bring those savings to Australians.

I want to briefly touch on some of those other measures that are being introduced by our government. We are investing over $1.7 billion to help businesses and households, including those in social housing, to access energy savings and upgrades through the Save Energy, Save on Bills Package. The package makes energy performance upgrades, like those seen in Martin's home, more accessible and affordable.

Through the Household Energy Upgrades Fund, the Albanese government is investing $1 billion into Clean Energy Finance Corporation concessional loans and mortgages, through partnership with financial institutions, to incentivise household energy performance upgrades. These loans will help more than 110,000 households reach a net zero future and lower their energy bills. This could include upgrades to homes with battery-ready solar PV, better insulation and windows, and modern appliances.

Through the same fund, we're investing a further $300 million to support energy efficiency upgrades to public and social housing, in collaboration with states and territories. This funding will help Australians in social housing properties upgrade the energy performance of their homes. It's estimated that up to 60,000 social housing properties will save around 30 per cent on their energy consumption each year.

Through our decarbonisation boost, the Albanese government is investing $314 million to allow small and medium sized businesses to deduct an additional 20 per cent of the cost of assets that support decarbonisation. The bonus tax deduction will be available for up to $100,000 of total eligible expenditure, with the bonus tax deduction capped at $20,000. This will help up to 3.8 million small and medium sized businesses with ongoing energy savings in the financial year 2024-25. From 2025 the government's investment of almost $25 million into the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme will expand and upgrade the scheme to apply to existing homes, which means people will be able to seek a star rating of their home's energy performance. And, of course, the measures in this bill will expand and modernise the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Act, known as the GEMS Act, to help Australian households and businesses save on bills and emissions.

The main purpose of the GEMS Act is to set minimum energy performance standards and energy labelling requirements for products and appliances. The GEMS Act currently regulates 24 products, setting minimum energy performance standards and energy labelling requirements for products and appliances. In 2021-22, labelling and standards are estimated to have saved Australian households and businesses between $1.3 billion and $2 billion in avoided energy costs. They were estimated to have delivered emissions savings of between 4.1 million tonnes and 6.3 million tonnes in 2021-22, about a quarter of South Australia's annual emissions.

The bill we're discussing today will implement technical changes arising from the 2019 independent review of the GEMS Act. The review found that reform was required to modernise the act to reflect changes in the energy operating environment and to build on the already significant outcomes of this successful program. The main provisions of this amendment bill will do a number of things: they will reduce the administrative burden for bespoke products; streamline the application of test standards and the granting of exemptions; reform grandfathering provisions; and grant powers to the regulator regarding the payment of fees. The government is also considering further improvements to the regulation of energy performance standards as part of the development of the National Energy Performance Strategy. This bill introduces a first phase of GEMS Act amendments targeted to streamline the implementation of the GEMS scheme and reduce unnecessary burden on our regulated community.

I want to address the specifics of what this legislation will achieve. Part 1 of the bill would amend the act to provide flexibility for suppliers of customised products in complying with the act by refining the registration requirements for such products. This part of the bill would implement recommendation 13 of the review.

Part 2 of schedule 1 of the bill would provide greater flexibility for how suppliers of GEMS products can demonstrate compliance with a GEMS determination. Suppliers often apply for an exemption from being subject to a GEMS determination ahead of a GEMS determination coming into force because they have identified potential issues with meeting the new requirements and want certainty as to how their product will be dealt with ahead of time. Part 3 would improve the timeliness of exemptions during the transition to new requirements and would allow exemptions to be more targeted.

Part 4 of the bill would provide greater flexibility in defining product classes to ensure effective descriptions of product classes in GEMS determinations. This will assist with regulation of certain subsets of models identified by the GEMS regulator as being difficult to administer, for example for products like motors, which may be supplied within other equipment.

Part 5 of the bill would allow certain 'other requirements' to be made under determinations which have labelling requirements but do not set minimum standards for energy use, and part 6 of the bill would amend the act so that the GEMS Regulator position can be occupied by a person acting as an SES employee and that references to the GEMS Regulator refer to the substantive acting SES employee in that position, as the case may be. This would improve the timeliness, efficiency and effectiveness of the administration of the act when the substantive GEMS Regulator is absent from duty or when long-term acting arrangements are in place. It would also modernise references to the GEMS Regulator in the act to align with best practice drafting standards.

Part 7 of the bill would extend the grandfathering exemptions from the prohibition on supplying or offering to supply a model of a product that is not registered. The amendments of this part would also implement recommendation 18 of the review. Finally, part 8 of the bill would give the GEMS regulator the power to extend the time to pay application fees that would otherwise be payable.

I commend this bill to the House, and I'm very proud of the efforts that our government is taking to make it easier for Australian households to not only cut their emissions but cut their power bills. Nowhere is this more important than in a place like Canberra with extreme weather—cold winters and hot summers—and a lot of older housing stock that isn't as well insulated. There are lots of simple changes that these policies can help support you to make so you can cut your emissions and have a more comfortable home as well as cutting your power bills, as Martin did, by up to 70 per cent. The Albanese government is really focused on those two things—on the climate action we need and on helping Australians with the cost of living.


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