03 August 2020
(Debate, 28 July 2020, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
The Strata Schemes Management Amendment (Sustainability Infrastructure) Bill 2020 will help apartment owners to upgrade the sustainability of their building by lowering the threshold of votes needed to approve sustainability infrastructure from 75 per cent of owners to 50 per cent. Human-induced climate change is making the planet uninhabitable, with severe heatwaves, bushfires, droughts, floods and storms becoming regular occurrences. We know from a recent special report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the world's efforts to cut emissions fall far short of what is needed to prevent devastating impacts on human civilization. That report warned that we must make far-reaching, rapid and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society to cut the 2010 level of carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030.
Around 20 per cent of housing in New South Wales and 28 per cent in Greater Sydney is now apartments. In the Sydney electorate it is much higher, at more than 80 per cent. More and more people will live in apartments in the future; the majority of the nearly 200,000 homes to be built over the next five years in Greater Sydney are to be apartments. We cannot have a robust, comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategy without significantly reducing emissions in strata living. Apartments have not been part of the boom in household rooftop solar installations in this State—less than 1 per cent of buildings have had panels installed. That is a pity because solar is viable on apartment buildings. Many of them have flat roofs that receive day-long sun and could generate sizeable amounts of green energy. The cost of solar photovoltaics is declining, battery technology is advancing and the potential for virtual power plants is growing.
The Institute for Sustainable Futures has calculated that Australia could produce 179 gigawatts of renewable energy from household rooftop solar. That would create an annual output of 245 terawatt hours, which is greater than the total electricity consumption from the main grids. We are only reaching 5 per cent of that capacity. Increasing the uptake of panels on apartments—the fastest growing form of housing—will be crucial to achieving that potential. The bill removes a major barrier to adopting solar energy in apartments by reducing the very high voting threshold currently needed to approve the installation of solar panels. The current voting threshold of 75 per cent of owners is the same as that needed to dissolve the strata, or redevelop or demolish the building. Many constituents in my electorate report not being able to pass resolutions to install solar because of this high threshold, even with evidence that it would save the owners' corporation by generating enough energy to power lifts, lighting, ventilation and water heating in common property.
The bill takes a more balanced approach, with a majority of owners still required to agree to sustainability infrastructure, more appropriately reflecting the significant actions that we as a society must take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make all aspects of life sustainable. The definition of sustainability infrastructure provides flexibility to cover all decisions to upgrade a building's sustainability from waste to transport, ensuring that advancements in energy technology are included. In addition, the bill fixes unintended consequences that have arisen from the 2015 broader strata reforms. I support these changes, which do not reflect major policy shifts. One of the changes would allow a proxy holder in buildings with less than 20 lots to hold multiple proxies if they are for one sole owner who owns more than one lot.
This reform will improve management in some buildings; however, I remind the House that although proxy reforms in 2015 reduced proxy farming, the practice has not been eliminated. I still hear from owners in many large buildings in my electorate where loopholes are being exploited or laws flouted to control the strata and its funds. I understand that strata laws will be subject to a statutory review this year and this concern must be addressed. The bill recognises the important role that strata must play to combat climate change, and I strongly support it.