Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH) notes the signs of recovery highlighted in the 2021–22 Federal Budget and commends the government for seeking to build on this momentum through a comprehensive suite of stimulus measures. And it says that Australia can reap greater benefits at no extra cost by focusing on sustainable solutions – including HVAC&R – in the built environment.

“The government has indicated that its focus over the coming years will be on rebuilding the economy,” says AIRAH CEO Tony Gleeson, M.AIRAH.

“The initiatives outlined in the Federal Budget will help do that. But we also believe that with some additional sharpening of focus, these investments will set us on course for an even stronger future.”

As part of its commitment to create jobs and rebuild the economy, the government has pledged an additional $500 million, to be matched by state and territory governments, to expand the JobTrainer Fund by a further 163,000 places and extend the program until the end of 2022. The government will also spend an additional $2.7 billion to extend the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements program, expected to support more than 170,000 new apprentices and trainees.

There is also a push for gender equity, including an investment of $42.4 million over seven years to boost the next generation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through industry-focused university scholarships, as well as a Women in STEM Evaluation Toolkit.

“For those working in HVAC&R and other parts of the building and construction sector, these are welcome announcements,” says Gleeson. “In order to grow, businesses in our industry will need a steady supply of VET and university graduates. Our workforce will benefit from being more diverse and inclusive, too.”

These workers will be needed for the many infrastructure projects that were also announced in the Federal Budget. The government has committed an additional $15.2 billion towards road, rail and community infrastructure projects, expected to support more than 30,000 jobs.

“We are unlikely to see this level of investment again in our lifetimes,” says Gleeson, “which makes it all the more vital for the money to go into projects with low- or zero-carbon credentials. And, after creating such a strong pipeline of apprentices, the government is ideally placed to help them into the workforce by instituting requirements for minimum apprentice numbers on government infrastructure projects. Refining the initiatives in these small ways will get maximum bang for taxpayers’ dollars."

Gleeson also notes that increased spending on infrastructure could be directed towards purpose-built quarantine facilities, the lack of which has enormous implications for the country’s health – economic and otherwise.

“So far, we have been making do with hotels,” says Gleeson. “But our members, who are experts in ventilation and building physics, have signalled that this is a stopgap solution. To restart much-needed international migration while protecting our world-leading position with regards to the virus, we need a world-leading quarantine program.”

The government has also allocated $600 million to the newly established National Recovery and Resilience Agency, to help combat the threat of natural disasters. For many years, AIRAH has had a Special Technical Group dedicated to resilience in the built environment.

“It’s encouraging to see the government responding to the extreme events that are increasingly affecting us,” says Gleeson. “We should also be addressing the cause of these events: climate change. By investing in sustainable initiatives, including the work being done by AIRAH’s Innovation Hub for Affordable Heating and Cooling, we can start preventing these catastrophes, rather than dealing with the aftermath.”

Gleeson points to the instant asset write-off scheme that was expanded in the Federal Budget, both in terms of eligibility and timelines.

“This will be of great benefit to many businesses in our industry that can purchase new fleet, for example,” says Gleeson. “It would be even better if large heating and cooling systems, which are classed as capital assets, were included in the scheme. HVAC&R equipment in Australia uses 24 per cent of all electricity, and produces 11.5 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions. If this scheme covered these systems, building owners would be incentivised to install more energy-efficient systems, making a huge difference.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Gleeson. “By investing in a sustainable built environment, including, of course, HVAC&R, we can take maximum advantage of it.”