House debates

Monday, 11 September 2023


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

12:41 pm

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

I present the explanatory memorandum and the addendum to the explanatory memorandum to this bill, and I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Amendment (Administrative Changes) Bill 2023 (the bill) would amend the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Act 2012, otherwise knowns as the GEMS Act.

The GEMS Act has been in effect for more than 10 years now. Its principal purpose is to provide a streamlined nationally consistent approach to energy efficiency while effectively reducing energy use, power bills and greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the life of the GEMS scheme, it has produced significant economic benefits.

At a national level, between 2012 and 2021, GEMS initiatives are estimated to have reduced emissions by between 40 and 60 mega tonnes of CO2 and to have saved households and businesses between $11.8 billion and $17.8 billion in energy costs.

Further to this, in 2021-22 labelling and standards are estimated to have saved Australian households and businesses between $1.3 and $2 billion in avoided energy costs. These were estimated to deliver emissions savings of between 4.1 and 6.3 million tonnes in 2021-22—this is equivalent to about a quarter of South Australia's annual net emissions.

The GEMS scheme also has direct benefits at the consumer level. In 2019, the Independent review of the GEMS Act found that regulations under the GEMS scheme save the average Australian household between $140 and $220 on their electricity bill each year. We only expect this to get better as we look to expand the number and type of products regulated under the GEMS Act and see consumers looking to purchase higher energy-efficient products to save even more.

GEMS helps all of us make informed choices, so we can use more energy efficient appliances in our homes and our businesses, and better equipment in our industries.

As we consider our energy transition, it is time to update the GEMS Act, and modernise it to make sure it fits in with today's technologies, appliances and energy demands.

To move forward, we need to expand the GEMS Act to gather more information, set more minimum performance standards on a broader range of appliances and products to meet our climate and energy needs into the future. We need to build in flexibility into the GEMS Act to be ready for the future, and to support better choices.

This bill introduces a first phase of GEMS Act amendments, targeted to streamline the implementation of the GEMS scheme, and to reduce unnecessary burdens on our regulated community.

GEMS is one tool of many in the pursuit of finding smart ways to manage demand to not just use less electricity but to use it when it's cheapest and cleanest.

Modernising and updating the GEMS Act would support the National Energy Transformation Partnership—an agreed national plan between the states, territories, and the Commonwealth to enable Australia's massive energy transformation, including by helping to make homes and appliances more energy efficient.

It would be a tool to help deliver the National Energy Performance Strategy, otherwise known as the NEPS.The NEPS will provide a framework and supporting policies through which the government provides clear guidance on longer term direction for energy performance. The NEPS will build on existing energy efficiency policies in place to improve energy affordability, such as through the Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings, and the GEMS Act.

These initiatives will be integral to reaching our emissions reduction targets.

The amendments in this bill, while minor, support the achievement of the objects of the GEMS Act by giving flexibility to help more energy-efficient products be available in the Australian market.

It's a start to improving and modernising the GEMS Act as recommended in the Independent review of the GEMS Act released in 2019.

The review found that while the GEMS Act is achieving its purpose, reform is required to adapt to changing market conditions and requirements. This bill will introduce changes to build on the already significant outcomes of this successful program.

Many of the changes in this tranche have already been considered by the states and territories and stakeholders.

Under the intergovernmental agreement for the GEMS scheme, the ministerial council is responsible for approving proposed amendments to GEMS legislation. State, territory and industry stakeholders alike support this bill. The amendments are seen as necessary and not controversial.

The International Energy Agency describes energy efficiency as the 'first fuel', noting that it 'provides some of the quickest and most cost-effective CO2 mitigation options while lowering energy bills and strengthening energy security'.

Demand-side measures, including improving the energy efficiency of appliances and equipment supplied in Australia, can support Australia's net zero target.

The GEMS Act regulates appliance energy efficiency to deliver significant savings and abatement and we want to continue this and build on the excellent outcomes GEMS has already delivered.

If passed, this bill will improve the GEMS Act, enabling the changes needed for today's energy operating environment, reducing the burden on business and industry, and paving the way to get more energy-efficient products into the Australian market.

I commend the bill to the House.

12:46 pm

Photo of Ted O'BrienTed O'Brien (Fairfax, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm delighted to stand in the chamber today to speak about the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Amendment Bill 2023. In short, we support this bill because it aims to simplify and improve the operations of the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Regulator, otherwise known as the GEMS Regulator. It's also a piece of legislation that builds on the good work of the former coalition government in this regard. Indeed, as we continued in government ourselves to improve the operation of this scheme—as the minister just referenced, a scheme that has been working very well—we welcome these additional amendments that improve the scheme yet again.

Before we delve into the specifics of the bill, it might be worthwhile reflecting on the role played by the GEMS Regulator, and it probably starts with a recognition that the responsibility to decarbonise the Australian economy does not lie just with government, of course. There is a role to be played by individuals, households and businesses. We all need to do what we reasonably can, and the GEMS Regulator helps us towards this end goal.

The GEMS Regulator simplifies the process at the over-the-counter stage, if you like, of the shopfront by ensuring consumers have adequate information available to them to determine the energy efficiency rating of everyday products, in turn enabling a more transparent and cost-effective purchasing process for the Australian consumer. At its core, the GEMS Regulator is responsible for overseeing the energy efficiency of a wide array of products, working towards the goal of reducing energy consumption through driving greater efficiency. Most of us would recognise the energy efficiency star system. For me, that's at home on my fridge and my dishwasher—something I think everyday Australians have become accustomed to. These are examples of the good work done by the GEMS Regulator. It's a practical set of measures that the GEMS Regulator looks to.

The bill's provisions before us today relate to several key amendments—namely, lessening administrative burden, by streamlining administrative processes within the GEMS Regulator; improving response time to industry applications, so that improves for applicants by supporting businesses by expediting the application and approval process; alignment with international product categories, by ensuring Australian standards are harmonised with international benchmarks and facilitating their compatibility; and flexible application of the act's intent, by empowering the GEMS Regulator to interpret and apply the act's intent in a reasonable manner so they can respond, where needed, effectively and efficiently. The bill before us does build on the good work done by the coalition when it comes to GEMS. Indeed the former coalition government commissioned the review, which found the act was effective in reducing energy use, energy bills and greenhouse gas emissions and it was delivering these benefits in a streamlined and nationally consistent way.

Nevertheless, opportunities were identified to add flexibility to the scheme, reduce impacts on the regulated community and allow it to adapt to changes in market conditions and technologies and look to those improvements. The bill before us therefore presents a plan to act on some of the recommendations that independent review identified, improve the implementation of the act through improving the regulator's performance and further reduce administrative burdens. The coalition were pleased to accept the findings of the review when in government, and we continue to support the direction of the GEMS Regulator.

The coalition, however, did still undertake a thorough assessment of the bill itself. A number of concerns were raised based on our assessment and also from industry feedback. Each of these issues we investigated through industry consultation and also through the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications. For example, we did investigate concerns raised by the Airconditioning and Refrigerant Equipment Manufacturers Association of Australia, otherwise known as AREMA, and these AREMA issues were in turn also considered by the government and the committee. The coalition considered potential impacts of not just these issues but others raised on consumer prices, consumer choice and market competition, areas that should always be considered in such circumstances, and we came to the conclusion that this bill will not have any direct undue influence on such factors.

It is important to note the bill does not give the regulator any new powers to alter standards, therefore if any substantive change to standards themselves were to be made—again, which might impact price, choice or competition—this would come through a separate legislative instrument, which we would then review as a coalition on a case-by-case basis. I emphasise that point in light of the minister, in his contribution to this debate, alluding to an aspiration to expand further the works of GEMS. In the event of any substantive change to a standard, the coalition would do a separate assessment and look at that, case by case, and if the government wishes to know what would be front of mind in that assessment, it would be those key criteria of price, choice and competition.

I would like to thank the Labor senators and other committee members for their goodwill and good faith interaction with the opposition in allaying the various concerns on behalf of AREMA and other stakeholders, including a detailed briefing organised for us with the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water and in particular the GEMS Regulator team.

In closing, the coalition believes the stated aims of the bill will be met through the amendments which the government is proposing. We welcome the bill as a practical and logical measure to lessen administrative burden, improve response time to industry applicants, align with international product categories and provide for more flexibility in the application of the act. In such ways the bill reinforces the GEMS Regulator's pivotal role in advancing energy efficiency. The coalition is therefore happy to join in supporting the bill, and we commend it to the House.

12:55 pm

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

While probably not a lot of people go around talking a lot about the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Act, we do think of it every time we buy key appliances for our house. It's the legislation that determines those energy-saving labels that are red and yellow with stars on them. They tell you whether it's four star, five star or six star. That's why it's a really important piece of legislation to be updating, which is what the amendments in the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Amendment (Administrative Changes) Bill 2023 that we're discussing today will do.

The GEMS Act 2012 regulates a range of appliances and industrial products—things like televisions, dishwashers, household refrigerators, hot-water heaters, computers and monitors, pool pumps and set-top boxes all the way through to electric motors, close-control air conditioners and even commercial refrigeration. So it's wide-reaching, and it helps all of us make informed choices so we can use more energy-efficient appliances in our homes and our businesses and be better equipped in our industries.

We recognise that it is definitely time to update this GEMS Act and modernise it to make sure that it fits with today's technologies, with today's appliances and with today's energy demands. That means expanding the GEMS Act so that we gather more information and set more minimum performance standards on a broader range of appliances and products so that we meet our climate and energy needs into the future. Key to that is building some flexibility into the GEMS Act so that it is ready for people to make better choices. When I talk about flexibility, what this bill will do is provide suppliers of customised products with flexibility in demonstrating how they comply with the act and with greater flexibility to comply with determinations under the act.

The International Energy Agency has described energy efficiency as the 'first fuel', noting that it provides some of the quickest and most cost-effective CO2 mitigation options while at the same time lowering energy bills and strengthening energy security. So it makes a lot of sense to be really thinking about improving the tools we use to find smart ways to manage demand—not just to use less electricity but to use it when it's cheapest and cleanest.

I support the amendments in this bill, noting that it will have that multiple effect of helping people make better decisions so that, on an individual level, they are operating cheaper and more energy-efficient appliances while, at the same time, lowering their personal footprints or their business's footprint. Along the way the bill will really act as a useful tool to encourage greater development and consideration of how the people who are making these appliances can work.

I think it's important also to see this in the context of the government's broader energy performance agenda. It is just one tool of many in the pursuit of finding those clever ways to reduce our emissions and to provide cheaper energy for people. Modernising and updating the GEMS Act supports the National Energy Transformation Partnership, which is where, for the first time, there is an agreed national plan between the states, the territories and the Commonwealth to keep the lights on through Australia's massive energy transformation, including by helping to make homes and appliances more energy efficient.

One of the things that came out of the May budget was the investment of around $1.7 billion into our energy-saving plan to make homes, businesses and social housing more energy efficient and to drive down energy costs. In particular, one of those incentives was to help Australians who run their own business to save on their energy costs. There was $310 million for the small-business energy incentive, and that provided to businesses with an annual turnover of less than $50 million an additional 20 per cent deduction on spending that supports electrification and more efficient use of energy. The bonus tax deduction is going to be available for up to $100,000 of total eligible expenditure, with the bonus tax deduction capped at $20,000. And it'll help 3.8 million small and medium sized businesses with ongoing energy savings.

Another step we took was to help small business make every watt count, as we like to say. Around 700 small and medium businesses were offered grants of up to $25,000 to invest in energy performance technology. In my own electorate, two businesses were eligible for this grant. The Sky Rider Motor Inn up in Katoomba was eligible, as was the Closeburn House boutique guesthouse, which is in Mount Victoria. I had a lovely discussion with the operators of Closeburn House about the insulation and additional fabric upgrades they did. For them, it was as simple as reducing some of their energy loss by using much heavier fabrics and curtains. Mount Victoria can be a cold place in the middle of winter, and the operators were very mindful that they could reduce the leakage of their energy by doing something as simple as that and some other insulation upgrades they did. They were given $15,000 to do that. Small amounts of money can make a really big difference.

I look forward to this government continuing to work with community members, whether they're individuals in their own homes or social housing, or they're small businesses, to be able to look at this. The legislation before us is a very practical step in the right direction.

1:02 pm

Photo of Elizabeth Watson-BrownElizabeth Watson-Brown (Ryan, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Amendment (Administrative Changes) Bill 2023 is an update to regulations passed back in 2012 after a review. The greenhouse and energy minimum standards scheme is basically designed to create a national standard for energy efficiency in household appliances. There's nothing wrong with that, especially in the context of rapidly rising household energy bills. These particular amendments are extremely minor, and the government have signalled their intent to add more significant amendments later.

That's all good, all fine, except this scheme doesn't substantively address the biggest drain on household energy: the heating and cooling of our homes. The replacement of household appliances is a small step towards lower emissions as we transition to more renewable clean energy. However, it's nowhere near the scale to meet the crisis. We need much bigger moves. We need to, at the federal level, address the fundamental design of houses, buildings, neighbourhoods and cities. This is about survival, as we face the looming and most dangerous threat of climate change: heat. Heat is the biggest killer of the climate crisis. There are far more deaths from that than from other unnatural disasters brought on by climate change, like floods, fires and cyclones, and Australia is hugely vulnerable.

We know the cause of the climate crisis and we know Australia is complicit. We've seen the bushfire and heat maps. We've heard the BOM's predictions and the dire warnings of those in the know, like Greg Mullins, former Commissioner of Fire and Rescue New South Wales and member of Emergency Leaders for Climate Action. I heard from him again last week at a very timely briefing. We are heading into what is likely to be our most challenging summer ever, a summer of unprecedented and extensive heatwaves and potentially catastrophic fires, and every summer thereafter will likely be worse. Greg has risked his life, literally, at the fire front, and he warns that we haven't seen the worst yet. We need urgent and systemic answers to this, and the federal government must play a central role, as this is a national-scale crisis. We need to transition to clean energy now, and part of this is reducing the energy demand of households across Australia.

My 40-year career as an architect has taught me that twiddling with appliance specifications is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reducing household energy demand. To really address household energy use, we need to address the spatial and material design of our houses, and there are a number of fundamental principles and minimum standards that every house design must meet if we are to address the scale of this crisis.

An absolutely fundamental principle of residential amenity and energy efficiency is passive solar design. Environmental designers know that houses oriented to north and south can capture winter sunlight and be easily and economically shaded to exclude summer sun, while east and west frontages expose the house to unwanted low, hot summer sun. Houses, townhouses and apartments receiving northern sun in their front or rear gardens or balconies, with natural cross-ventilation, are comfortable and energy-saving living environments. North sloping roofs also allow the maximisation of solar panel harvest. Experienced solar designers know that residential streets should be oriented to primarily run east-west, yet surveyors and planners persist with seemingly random development plans and patterns that make good passive-solar design virtually impossible and thereby lock in high energy use.

Good solar design is not only useful for comfort, reduced energy use and lower emissions; it also mitigates the worst impacts of the climate catastrophe. Instead, because of the bad design of our neighbourhoods and houses, households that can afford them are running aircon units far more than they should have to. This can be as much as 20 per cent of a household's energy use and result in massive spikes in our energy system during heatwave weeks. Ironically, in addition to driving climate change through the HFCs and burning fossil fuels to power them, aircon units can also raise ambient temperatures surrounding the home by 1.8 Celsius.

We can't just make our appliances better; we have to change the way we design our homes. As well as good environmental design of individual houses, we must plan our precincts and cities to mitigate climate challenges. We must locate housing judiciously in areas protected from bushfires, above flood levels and secure from coastal erosion and inundations. Hotter seas will likely produce tropical cyclone effects further south in Australia, just as hurricanes are increasing and extending further in the Northern Hemisphere.

The greatest climate killer in Australia is heatwave effects. We need to design our neighbourhoods to deal with this inevitability, yet we continue to build our cities in ways which create urban heat islands. Heat islands are stationary zones of exceptionally hot air that can persist through the night, with no relief, causing huge stress to the human body. They actually threaten survival and are particularly dangerous for the vulnerable. The hard surfaces of our buildings, roofs, roads, driveways and parking areas absorb heat from the sun and slowly re-radiate it through the night. We know that areas of cities with trees, gardens and permeable soil are significantly cooler, with the shade of leaves and the cooling effect of evapotranspiration significantly reducing temperature. We know we should include generous greenery, a very practical and economical way to shade and cool, but we keep building these air-fryer suburbs. You know the ones—everyone will be familiar with them: black roofs almost touching side to side; front yards dominated by driveways and backyard only a few metres deep; facing windows so close that they're kept closed for privacy, so the air-conditioning has to be cranked harder. This cooling, as I mentioned before, is just a local illusion, as the air-conditioning throws the heat out into the already baking environment. These are literally killer environments in a heating climate.

It's not just the misleadingly named 'greenfield' sites that are to blame for the heat island effect. Poorly designed residential consolidation in what are now called leafy suburbs can destroy valuable established backyard trees and sacrifice permeable water-absorbing gardens to driveways. We can increase density in an environmentally responsibly manner—again, with good design. There are plenty of great international examples of urban housing that's built taller, with a smaller footprint, to allow valuable green courtyards and gardens, the free circulation of cooling breezes and important absorption of water, not to mention pleasant, liveable gardens. An urban network of street trees and backyard gardens serves other important purposes, like providing wildlife corridors and absorption and slowing of the storm run-off that, in our ubiquitous hard paved environments, can actually exacerbate flooding.

Saul Griffith's dictum to electrify everything must guide our endeavours to replace gas and solid fuel from our domestic cooking and heating, as it also must guide the replacement of gas and coal at the national level, as the UN says we must right now. Just this morning Saul Griffith, who is actually the Australian architect of the United States Inflation Reduction Act, outlined the massive opportunity for Australia's future if we invest in all aspects of clean energy incentives and stimulus at every layer of the economy—that is, incentives for buyers to purchase EVs, appliances and goods; incentives for producers of clean energy to run those appliances; and incentives for producers and manufacturers of cars, appliances et cetera. This is an emergency, and we have to respond with emergency powers. Sort of like the US arsenal of democracy in World War II, the world needs an arsenal of survival.

In another huge opportunity for Australia, the world needs our resources. Australia is the first, second, third or fourth largest producer of these essential minerals: aluminium, copper, nickel, magnesium, cobalt and lithium. We would be absolutely insane not to capitalise on this. Intelligent design of whole-economy solutions is clearly what we need, and I need to stress this would be an investment, as Saul Griffith said, with potentially enormous returns, not a cost. We know these things, we know what works and we know that good design and planning for the reality of climate challenges from the ground up is far more economical than, especially in the place of housing, retrofitting poor design or the overuse of energy for heating and cooling, which poor design actually locks in.

Yet where are the appropriate controls and provisions in our planning and building codes and mandated design standards? Australia's mass housing patently does not meet even the most basic environmental standards. In fact I would say it's an environmental—and I'd also argue social—disgrace, causing rather than solving problems. Why? Local for-profit developers intimidate and dominate local government, and building property organisations and major builders play state governments off against each other—another example of the dangerous capture of Australian governments by corporate for-profit interests working against the needs and interests of everyday people and communities. We urgently need to build hundreds of thousands of new affordable social and public houses. Like rental reform, this is an issue of national import, way too important and of too large a scale to just leave to local and state governments.

A comprehensive response to our housing crisis is a remarkable opportunity, at the large scale needed, to design and build exemplar housing, to improve our lives and to create more sustainable cities. Why waste it dithering around the edges? This is an urgent national issue that requires a national-scale solution. We need to develop a comprehensive and cohesive sustainable cities policy and delivery mechanism at this federal level. The measures in this bill are a tiny step towards this, but in terms of the existential scale of the climate crisis they mean virtually nothing while the government keeps approving new coal and gas.

Earlier I mentioned Greg Mullins, former commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW and member of Emergency Leaders for Climate Action. Greg Mullins knows the score and knows the risk from experience of climate induced catastrophe, literally from the front line. Greg Mullins just last week called for the immediate cessation of Labor's $65 billion a year in fossil fuel subsidies, as he blasted the incomprehensible coalmine approvals—incomprehensible indeed. The environment minister just approved a coalmine expansion to 2073. That's 50 years from now; long past the supposed net zero year of 2050. That's Labor's fifth coal mine approval this year.

Labor does love to trot out the excuse that they're just following the law as they're approving these coal mines, 'Nothing to see here,' but do I need to spell it out? You're in government, Labor. You make the laws. In fact, Labor has been in government for over a year and has not just failed to act but has ruled out putting a climate trigger in our environmental laws, the exact thing that would have stopped these approvals. Does Labor care about stopping the climate crisis? For the answer to that, don't listen to what they say; look at what they do. Tragically, what they do is protect the interests of their donors in the fossil fuel industry. So, no, it seems they don't care. It seems they've given up caring about stopping the climate crisis. They'd rather that mining billionaires make a few more billion while our future burns. In the face of the magnitude of the climate crisis, bills like the GEM are an almost meaningless distraction if the bigger picture issues like the housing and climate crises remain unaddressed.

1:15 pm

Photo of Zaneta MascarenhasZaneta Mascarenhas (Swan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am proud to be a part of the Albanese Labor government which indeed is acting on climate change. In our first parliamentary sitting week, when we met in this place, we had the opportunity to legislate a 43 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. That was something that we did not have to do, but we chose to do that because we wanted to send a strong signal to the Australian community as well as the business community. We saw investment in low-carbon technologies unlocked, and that's something I'm really proud to see. We've also strengthened the safeguard mechanism to make sure it actually sees a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This Albanese Labor government is a government which continues to be focused on building a better future and providing cost-of-living relief to families as well as creating a sustainable future. This is a task that we embrace with vigour and determination.

Today I stand here to discuss the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Amendment (Administrative Changes) Bill 2023, also known as the GEMS Act because it is a bit of a gem. This legislation aims to enhance the administration of the GEMS Act. It was an important initiative that was introduced by a previous Labor government. Historically, this is one of the policies that's been incredibly effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I note that we have students watching the chamber duties at the moment. The thing that I want everyone to understand is that this is a government that cares about your future. We want to make sure that we have a liveable planet and that we reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The initial GEMS Act ensured that we could get more productive output of energy for every bit of energy that we put into an appliance, so this is basically about productivity. Energy efficiency is a really important pathway to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving net zero emissions. Often solar panels, wind turbines and wave power are seen as the more glamorous ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the truth is that energy efficiency is an unsung hero. The thing that we're doing today is implementing the recommendations that arose from a 2019 independent review of the act. This review was conducted by Anna Collyer, who now chairs the Australian Energy Market Commission. Her review resulted in 40 recommendations. Some of these recommendations required legislative change, which is why I stand here before you today to discuss this bill.

The review was completed in 2019. Labor came into government in 2022. It's really unfortunate that these policy initiatives were not actually implemented. I see this as being consistent with the wasted decade under the coalition government. It's a shame that the previous government sat on these recommendations for such a long time. Is it because the coalition is full of climate deniers? But the truth is that I also know that they are into productivity, so I'm not really sure of the reason for the lack of impetus in getting the job done. Maybe it was lethargy and inaction, but once again, the previous government has cost people money, and that's really unfortunate. It was, unfortunately, a waste of time but also a waste of money for not just households but also small to medium businesses. It's disappointing but not surprising. While the coalition wasted a decade, the Albanese Labor government will not waste a day. We're getting the job done, and that's what's needed to move Australia forward. It's the job necessary to protect consumers and support businesses in meeting their compliance obligations.

The primary objective of the GEMS Act is to establish a national scheme for the labelling of the energy performance of electrical appliances. You might have gone shopping at one of the retail stores like Retravision or Harvey Norman. If you buy a fridge or a washing machine, one of the things that you'll see on that appliance is that it has a star rating. That star rating gives you an understanding of the energy efficiency performance of that product. The thing that's interesting is that, when we buy products, we often think of the capital cost or the initial cost, but we forget to think about how much this is going to cost going forward. That's what an energy-efficiency star rating does: it gives you a good understanding of how much electricity or gas is going into that appliance. You might initially buy a product that seems really cheap, but, when you actually look at the cost of running it over a one- to three-year period, it could be significantly more compared to a more expensive item that might actually be more energy efficient and save you money in the long term.

What this policy does is give consumers a clear and transparent understanding of the energy consumption of a product. It's smart Labor policy that saves the average Australian household between $140 and $220 on their electricity bill. In addition, the really cool thing about the GEMS Act is that it's estimated to have saved between 4.1 million and 6.3 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in the financial year of 2021-22. This indicates great environmental policy. It's an intelligent way to manage electricity demand. It's smart use at a time when both cost effectiveness and environmental issues are a challenge. Labor is fully aware and understands that the rise in cost of living is putting pressure on Australian households, and we are acting on providing relief to households through electricity bill relief, cheaper child care, cheaper medicines and a rise in wages, and this legislation contributes to that effort. We're making a difference when it comes to electricity bills.

This government does not want to let people continue paying more for their energy. That's not productive. Electricity and gas can be wasted through inefficient appliances, poor building maintenance and poor insulation. This is why, once again, it's a Labor government that's taking action. These amendments represent a smart initiative that equips families with the tools and information they need to make informed decisions about their energy use. They can make choices regarding affordable financing, effective appliances and even upgrading their homes and businesses. Empowering consumers to manage their expenses while simultaneously reducing emissions is precisely what these amendments aim to achieve, and that is the goal of this government. We're empowering consumers to make choices about how they spend their money and we're making changes to the regulatory framework to facilitate this process. We're wanting to empower businesses with the flexibility to adapt to the changing conditions and also reduce the costs that come with the necessary measures of compliance. Furthermore, businesses will benefit from reduced compliance costs, a change supported by the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Equipment Manufacturers Association.

The technical amendments proposed in this bill allow customised products to be registered at the point of sale. This allows greater flexibility for businesses and provides for business support and for the regulator to grant exemptions. The bill does this by implementing recommendation 13 of the review by reducing the administrative burden for bespoke products; the bill does this by implementing recommendation 33 of the review by streamlining the application of test standards; the bill does this by reforming the grandfather provisions found at recommendation 33 of this review—the grandfathering provisions provide a transitional exemption where legacy products may be sold under certain circumstances—and the bill also does this by granting powers to the regulator regarding the payment of fees. It's about consumer empowerment, cheaper bills, business flexibility and regulator autonomy. These provisions will directly impact the lives of Australians, putting money back into their pockets and helping businesses thrive and lower greenhouse gas emissions. This is yet another testament to a government that takes its responsibilities seriously, a government that is dedicated to significant changes that truly matter.

These amendments are a reflection of our commitment to improving energy efficiency, reducing costs and protecting our environment. And we're not stopping there. This government will continue to review the energy performance standards as part of its national energy performance strategy. It's top of our agenda. Getting the job is our focus; ensuring support and benefits for all Australians, keeping costs down and protecting the environment is our No. 1 priority. It's another step forward in creating a better future for Australia and a better life for all Australians. I commend this amendment to the House.

1:25 pm

Photo of Kylea TinkKylea Tink (North Sydney, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

The people of North Sydney elected me because they wanted faster action on climate change and, in this context, I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Amendment (Administrative Changes) Bill 2023. For the truth is one of the most important things my community is doing as it takes responsibility for getting itself as close as possible to net zero as quickly as possible is getting all of our electricity from renewable generation and then electrifying everything we can.

In this context I welcome the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Act, otherwise known as the GEMS Act, which permits the Australian government to set mandatory minimum efficiency requirements for electrical products, further helping to drive greater energy efficiency and excluding the poorest performing products from our market. But while it is a good start, it leaves a long way to go. All the technologies for electrification are commercially available at scale and electrified replacements for gas appliances, including induction cooking, reverse-cycle air conditioning and heat pump hot-water systems are orders of magnitude more efficient than gas and carry additional benefits, chief of which is improved indoor air quality.

Research shows that children living in homes with gas stoves have a 42 per cent increased risk of asthma—that's the equivalent of living with an indoor smoker—but I'm concerned we're not hearing that message. Instead, we're getting bombarded with ads from the gas industry in New South Wales, including offering cash incentives for people who switch from electric to gas appliances. With millions of gas-connected buildings and more climate change fuel disasters reported every day there is no point in prolonging our dependence on this or any other fossil fuel.

The proposed amendments improve the flexibility of the scheme's administration as well as easing the compliance burden on industry. This bill actually implements two of the 40 recommendations from the 2019 independent review of the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Act conducted by Anna Collyer. I must highlight, however, that two of 40 recommendations in the period of four years is not nearly enough. In the words of the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, 'The era of global warming has ended, and the era of global boiling has arrived.'

Leaders must lead. There is simply no more time to delay. That's why I'd like to see more from the GEMS program. I'd like to see more funding so the regulator can do more work. For example, currently there are no efficiency standards for cooktops. There are no efficiency standards for heat pump hot-water systems. These are on the GEMS priority list but, with the new standards taking two to three years to develop, the standards have fallen behind the technology, so consumers are missing out. I acknowledge the government in its recent budget provided $36.7 million over four years to deliver further initiatives, but this pales into insignificance against the $65 billion invested in fossil fuel subsidies. Models run by Rewiring Australia show an overall investment by the government of around $12 billion over the 2020s would finance electrification of all suitable households with electric devices and electric vehicles. Importantly, this investment would also generate cheaper energy bills in the order of $3,000 to $5,000 per household per year in 2030.

Spending should be directed through a variety of measures, including grants to low-income households for energy-efficient upgrades and renewable installation. Ultimately if we don't step up our investment in electrification, we will find ourselves the losers in a rapidly accelerating global race for the labour, material and money needed to decarbonise. To make the work of the GEMS regulator more efficient, I'd also like to see more use of international efficiency standards where it makes sense. Reinventing the wheel with local efficiency standards each time in the case where we can borrow from overseas makes no sense. I'd also like to see more focus on reducing greenhouse emissions. With our grid 35 per cent renewable in 2022, it's great to see emissions from electricity dropping rapidly. Emissions from gas, on the other hand, though, are a different story. Consumers can't compare apples with apples, as it currently exists, on efficiency in emissions performance when the stars they see on gas appliances—

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour, and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.