Budget offers launchpad, now we must aim high, says AIRAH

AIRAH has applauded the Australian 2023–24 Federal Budget and its strong investment in a net zero future. It also notes that success will require ambition, as well as continued cooperation between government and industry.

AIRAH CEO Trish Hyde says the federal government has wisely combined short-term relief with investments that will bring energy bills down in the long term – and reduce emissions.

“The $1.3 billion allocated to the Household Energy Upgrades Fund is a major and much-needed action to improve Australia’s residential building stock,” says Trish. “Cooling and heating represents as much as half of a household’s energy use, so investing in thermal performance will definitely pay off – for householders, and for the environment.”

AIRAH has also applauded the ongoing investment in the Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards program and NatHERS.

“We use these systems to measure improvements in our buildings,” says Trish, “so they are absolutely essential.”

Outside of the residential sector, the government has committed to $314 million in incentives for small businesses to invest in energy-efficient equipment. These specifically target energy-efficient refrigeration equipment, assets that support electrification such as heat pumps and electric heating or cooling systems, and demand-management assets such as batteries or thermal energy storage.

“The key now is to maximise these investments,” says the AIRAH CEO. “Our industry has a leading role to play here, by promoting the initiatives to end-users, and by ensuring that when we upgrade equipment, it is done to the highest possible standards. Of course, to do that, we need to make sure we have a strong workforce.”

The skills shortage continues to affect the HVAC&R building services industry, and the Budget has acknowledged this in a range of measures.

“We are pleased to see the government investing in programs to strengthen STEM and support women in historically male-dominated fields,” she says. “We’re also hopeful that increased overseas migration and the transition of workers from emissions-intensive sectors – via the new Net Zero Authority – will make more talent available to our industry.”

One area that did not receive significant funding in the Budget was indoor air quality (IAQ). Although some resources were allocated to COVID-19 vaccines and testing, there is no clear plan to improve ventilation.

“We were surprised,” says Trish, “and frankly, disappointed. After the government’s statements at the recent Clean Air Forum and the recommendations around ventilation from the parliamentary inquiry into long COVID, it seems like indoor air quality has dropped off the radar. This despite the fact that conservative estimates put the cost of doing nothing on IAQ at about $12 billion a year. At a moment when economic conditions have given us a chance to invest, it’s a missed opportunity.”

Nevertheless, AIRAH says the Budget offers industry plenty with which to work.

“We’re encouraged not just by the headline numbers, but also by the increased engagement we’ve seen from government over the past year,” she says. “We know our pre-Budget submission was considered, and we continue working closely with government on initiatives related to our sector, sharing the expertise of our members. We can confirm that Australia’s HVAC&R and building services professionals are eager to play their part.

“The Budget has given us a launchpad. Now it’s up to all of us to aim high.”

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