Greens Member for Newtown, Jenny Leong MP has spoken in favour of new reforms to make it easier to install sustainability infrastructure in Strata complexes in NSW.
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (15:34:04): On behalf of The Greens I join in debate on the Strata Schemes Management Amendment (Sustainability Infrastructure) Bill 2020 and at the outset express our support for the bill, subject to minor amendments that will be moved in the upper House. As we have heard, the bill will make it easier for owners to obtain support to install sustainability infrastructure such as solar panels, battery storage and electric vehicle charging points by lowering the voting threshold on strata committees to 50 per cent from 75 per cent. Previously, approval of a change to common property required a special resolution and registration of a change pursuant to section 108 as well as a by-law conferring rights under section 143 of the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015.
This amending bill provides that approval of a changed common property also may be in the form of a sustainability infrastructure resolution—a new resolution that requires a simple majority, which is 50 per cent or more, of persons who are present and eligible to vote at a general meeting at which the motion is considered. The bill introduces several other small reforms, such as provisions to make sure voting takes place in secret and that ballot results must not be disclosed, and provides for a civil penalty of up to $5,500 to be imposed by the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a contravention of an order under the principal Act. The changes that are not related to the sustainability infrastructure resolution are uncontroversial.
Because a sustainability infrastructure resolution requires a by-law, those who wish to install solar panels must pay for legal costs. When that cost is combined with the cost of an extraordinary general meeting, for which individual owners also must pay, the total cost can be as much as $1,000 to $2,000 for the project. The Greens will seek to amend the bill to remove that prohibitive costs by making standard by-laws available to strata owners and occupiers so that they will be in a position to use those standard by-laws for approval of sustainability infrastructure resolutions without additional cost. The Greens hope that the Government seriously considers that amendment.
Before approving a sustainability infrastructure resolution, the owners corporation must consider the following: the cost of the sustainability infrastructure and works including any expected running and maintenance costs; who will own, install and maintain the sustainability infrastructure; the extent to which the use of the sustainability infrastructure will be available to all or some of the lots in the strata scheme; and any matter prescribed by the regulations. Under "any matter prescribed by the regulations", solar panels can be objected to on the basis of appearance. The Greens are concerned that that would be an unfortunate intention or an unintended consequence of interpretation of "any matter prescribed by the regulations". The Greens will seek to amend the bill so that sustainability infrastructure cannot be objected to on the basis of appearance, other than on heritage grounds. The Greens also will seek to insert a clause to ensure that the costs of not installing sustainability infrastructure will be one of the factors considered.
While the changes in this amending bill are welcome, they go nowhere near far enough to improve the sustainability of existing housing stock in the State. It is very clear that with the current climate emergency, the ongoing challenges in our community around extreme weather, the extreme heat and the need for us to address environmental sustainability measures we need to be moving to a point at which we can achieve zero emissions by 2030 in relation to housing. The Greens initiative—Our Cool Homes, Cool Planet—will result in investment in the idea of both new and old homes being renovated to make them more sustainable so that the zero emissions aim can be achieved by 2030. The Greens want to see a retrofit of sustainability infrastructure for every home in New South Wales. The Greens believe that that will be a good way to stimulate the economy—although that is hard to imagine with current winter weather—because we will be facing extreme heat in the summer, which is only months away.
Potentially we face the risk of both current economic and health challenges combined with the climate emergency of extreme weather and extreme heat such as we experienced last summer. The Greens hope that serious consideration can be given to supporting an increase of tens of thousands of jobs by the creation of packages to retrofit New South Wales homes with sustainability infrastructure. I note that Minister Anderson, who has carriage of this bill, also has responsibility for the millions of renters who live in the State. I note the challenges faced by many people who rent their homes because they cannot make changes that will make their homes more sustainable and habitable in extreme weather conditions. There are endless reports of people suffering because of huge energy bills. Because they are at renters, they are unable to change their properties to make them warmer in winter. They face similar challenges in summer when they face the huge energy costs of keeping cool.
In opening up this space, I hope we look at taking an approach to housing and sustainability that will also support the millions of renters in this State. Every household should be assisted with appropriate support to make the transition to a pollution‑free future by 2030. It should be recognised that the New South Wales government is the landlord of many public housing properties and places. I hope that as we move forward we look to meeting the needs of making places more habitable and more sustainable and also look to putting jobs back into society that have been lost as a result of the current pandemic.
Making every home in New South Wales zero emissions will, on average, halve power and consumption bills, eliminate almost one‑quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in New South Wales and create healthier and more comfortable homes. The Greens offer our support for this bill. As I have outlined, we will be moving amendments in the upper House and I ask the Government to look closely at those amendments. I hope that in the future we will see further changes that will provide environmental sustainability for people in homes, not just for home owners but also for renters.