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Unions push for energy efficiency boost in Canberra

Spoiling for a double election year fight, the union movement has called on the ACT government to begin a major expansion of environmental programs to boost jobs and fix the budget.

Unions ACT will release a new discussion paper on Monday, calling for a major increase to the government's energy efficiency improvement scheme and for a "just transition" to take place as part of the move towards better renewable energy outcomes.

The paper calls for workers to be fairly included in the development of new industry and technology in Canberra to promote jobs as part of innovation.

Unions estimate a substantial increase to the existing scheme could see as many as 760 new and ongoing jobs created by 2026, see household energy bills reduced by about $1300 per year and a more rapid decrease to Canberra's carbon emissions totals take place.

The discussion paper is designed "to provoke debate, develop new ideas and influence long-term policy thinking" within the government, community and the trade union movement. It states the ideas do not form Unions ACT policy.

The scheme, which began in January 2013, aims to promote energy saving strategies through home-based improvements by energy retailers. Strategies already implemented include improvements to door-seals, stand-by power, lights and fridge removal. The scheme has been extended to 2020.


Unions ACT secretary Alex White is preparing to campaign in the ACT and federal elections in 2016, including in key marginal federal seats such as bellwether electorate Eden-Monaro. Mr White has already sought to join debate about job creation connected to the government's light rail project and attacked the ACT Liberal opposition over its policies.

Among five recommendations to boost the ACT's energy scheme by about $630 million are calls for mandatory efficiency standards for Canberra's newly constructed housing stock, mandatory disclosure of energy standards when existing houses are sold or leased, better facilitation of private investment and targeted support for vulnerable householders including residents with low literacy and low incomes.

The discussion paper also recommends increased skills and training to retrofit Canberra's homes and other buildings. Skills training, apprenticeships and workplace safety training increases are called for.

"Savings in energy and water use is worth potentially tens of millions of dollars, to individuals and to the government," the paper says.

"The benefits for the economy, for jobs, for communities, for the government, and for the climate are only realised when energy efficiency measures are implemented at scale – that is, across entire communities or cities."

Mr White said the discussion paper will be presented to the government, community groups and environmental campaigners this week, as territory politics begins its election year cycle.

The coming federal election could overlap with the territory campaign. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said last year the election could be expected in September or October. Some political observers viewed last week's NSW electoral boundary redistribution announcement as a key hurdle to be overcome before a possible early federal poll.

The union discussion paper could serve as a precursor for a broader debate ahead of the October 15 territory election. It says jobs in the energy sector are focused in small to medium sized businesses and the community sector, jobs which in turn support a range of downstream low to trade and manufacturing jobs.

"Consequently, delivery of a comprehensive residential efficiency retrofit program could not only support thousands of jobs, particularly for low-skilled and disadvantaged workers, but also help to diversify the ACT's economy," the paper said.

A large-scale retrofit of Canberra homes could address the absence or inadequacy of home insulation, poorly sealed windows and doors, inefficient fixtures and poor heating. Research shows about 20 per cent of ACT homes have no insulation.