Sunday, September 10, 2023

Builders warn new code to push up home costs

Increasing the cost of living is what governments do, all for a good reason of course. But there is an infinity of good reasons

The building trade has taken to the airwaves in its battle against costly changes to the national building code (NCC).

Master Builders Queensland chief executive Paul Bidwell says the cost to build a new home in Queensland will rise by up to $30,000 from 1 October when changes to livable housing and energy efficiencies come in. Queensland is the only state going ahead with the reforms this year with all other jurisdictions delaying them for at least a year.

Bidwell (illustrated) says costs will increase conservatively between $20,0000 and $30,000 – depending on a number of factors.

“Housing Minister Mick de Brenni says we’re exaggerating this but we’re not,” says Bidwell. “This is what builders across the state are telling us. These cost increases are on the back of a 42 per cent increase to build a new home over three years.”

Master Builders Queensland has launched a television advertising campaign to lobby against what it says is the hasty introduction of the changes while more than 1,000 builders have signed a petition opposing the reforms. It has yet to received a response from Mr de Brenni.

Bidwell says Queensland needs 48,000 homes a year over the next five years to meet the national housing target set recently – however, with the 2023/24 forecast only sitting at 36,000 dwellings – we are well short.

“We have supported inclusive, sustainable and affordable housing and been in discussions with government and stakeholders for years – however, in the face of a housing crisis and rising costs, do not believe now is the right time to introduce these changes,” he says.

The advertising campaign being shown on commercial television shows a series of builders with their tools in battle like stances with the tag line ‘Builders fighting to keep the Queensland building dream alive”.


Fear the wind droughts

Matthew Warren knows as much about the energy industry as anyone and his book Blackout (2019) is a very good overview of the system.

In the Financial Review on the weekend, he called for a contest of ideas and not a rigid central plan because the timetable for decarbonisation that AEMO provided for the government in the so-called Integrated System Plan is purely aspirational and it is not really a plan at all.

As a former chief executive officer of the Australian Energy Council and a veteran of the Energy Supply Association and the Clean Energy Council, some may argue Warren is too embedded in the parallel universe to fully challenge the decarbonisation narrative.

In my view, the story will not have a happy ending and the time has come for a new energy narrative based on realism and concern for the welfare of people and the planet. Let’s be energy realists and responsible stewards of the environment at the same time.

On that basis we can move forward using conventional power, including nuclear, to generate cheap, relatively clean and reliable energy, as we did two decades ago.

It has been acknowledged that building a power system driven by intermittent energy only is a radical and unproven venture, but the Western world is betting the farm on it. Given this, it is already admitted that we will have to adjust to unforeseen difficulties.

Wind droughts were not anticipated and they have emerged as the fundamental problem, a fatal flaw in the system, the Achilles heel of Net Zero the program… The official wind-watchers and meteorologists did not warn us.

It was left to others, notably the world-leading wind-watchers Anton Lang and Paul Miskelly, who documented our wind droughts over a decade ago. Now everyone can see them in the public records from AEMO, displayed at Aneroid Energy.

You can also look at the Nemwatch Widget at breakfast and dinnertime and see how often you will sit down to a hot meal on the back of wind power!

The time has come to face the facts about wind droughts and the futility of the three strategies, the ‘Holy Trinity’: transmission lines, pumped hydro, and batteries that are supposed to keep the lights on through windless nights.

When the wind is low across the whole of the NEM, there is no spare wind power for the interstate connectors to carry. As for pumped hydro, where in the world are large pumped hydro schemes powered by intermittent energy? And batteries! Do the arithmetic and see the puny capacity of even the largest ‘big batteries’ compared with the demands of the grid on a windless night.

As Mark Mills explains, the so-called energy transition is not happening worldwide. Trillions of dollars of expenditure over two decades have hardly moved the needle from fossil fuels to green energy.

What is more, there is no way that it can happen, considering the amount of rocks that have to be dug up and transported and then converted into a myriad of products using highly energy-intensive processes.

The AEMO data dashboard has a tab for Renewable Penetration which gives the impression that we are making steady progress with the green transition. The high point is approaching 70 per cent, and the average was up to 36 per cent last month. That is the metric of choice in the parallel ‘Net Zero’ universe.

In the real world, the critical indicator is the amount of wind and solar power generated in the worst case, the night with little or no wind. That is next to nothing and increasing the installed capacity by a factor of 5 or even 10 (if you can imagine that) will not help because 5 or 10 times next to nothing is still next to nothing.

Do not dismiss that argument as unfair or misleading cherry-picking. It is due diligence to see if the equipment is fit for purpose. So we put our weight on the rungs of the ladder before we use it, maintenance workers look for defective parts in aero engines, we check the low point of the flood levy, the gap in the fence around the stock, and the weak link in the chain.

The tipping point in warming was a bogey invented by climate alarmists and now we are approaching a very real tipping point in the power supply.

This is a highly simplified picture of the way we are approaching a critical tipping point in the power supply as conventional power capacity (mostly coal) has run down since the turn of the century.

We expect that coal will continue to exit the system until it falls below the level of peak demand at dinner times. Then the first shocks of wind droughts will be felt. Eventually, the supply of conventional power will fall below the base load that is required day and night. Then there will be rolling blackouts every night when the wind power falls away to a point where it cannot make up the difference between the downward-sloping line of conventional power and the horizontal line representing demand.

The Renewable Energy enthusiasts expect that increasing the capacity of wind and solar will ensure that the gap is closed but on windless nights there nothing to fill the gap. Heroic load shedding, and widespread rolling blackouts, will be required to avoid a system-wide blackout.

All the states and nations on the road to Net Zero by wind and solar power will arrive at the tipping point sooner or later. Britain and Germany have arrived there but their collapse is cushioned by power imported from other places. We are on the brink and we don’t have any extension cords.

Lately, there has been a flurry of alarm about this potentially catastrophic situation but it should not come as a surprise. Since early 2020 the Energy Realists of Australia sent a series of briefing notes to all state and federal MPs and many journalists to raise concern about wind droughts, lack of storage and cognate matters. However, the major parties all pressed on with aggressive policies to eliminate coal (surely the biggest public policy blunder in our history) and they all share the responsibility for the impending crisis.

Moreover, the press corps neglected to inform the general public about the issues and voters sleep-walked into the last election without understanding the energy policy issues that are at stake. Echoing Paul Keating’s pronouncement on his recession, you could say that this is the energy crisis that we had to have!


A reading revolution is underway in many Australian schools but classes are still a 'lottery' for parents

Noni Bogart's daughter Zoe was a bubbly and confident child when she started school. But she struggled to learn to read, and repeating a year didn't help.

Zoe was learning to read at a Canberra school that used a strategy that has since been removed from the Australian curriculum, yet remains in use in many classrooms around the country.

The three-cueing system encourages children to think of a word when they get stuck and ask themselves: "Does it make sense here? Does it sound right? Does it look right?"

This technique is coupled with "predictable" home readers — books that follow a pattern with pictures to match.

"The books that she was reading at the time, they were pretty much just 'look at the picture and guess what the words are'," Ms Bogart says.

By year 3, Zoe was barely able to read kindergarten books. It left her feeling frustrated and her mother "quite let down".

"I put my trust into the teachers and into the public system, and I've literally got no result," Ms Bogart says.

She took matters into her own hands, finding a tutor and scraping together enough money to move Zoe and her older sister Lacey to a Catholic school.

There, they were taught letters and sounds in a particular order so they could blend them and decode unfamiliar words.

The theory is that, after a child has decoded a word a number of times, they will just know it and progress to more difficult words and sentences.

Canberra-Goulburn Catholic schools, as well as public schools in South Australia, New South Wales and Western Australia, have trained their teachers to deliver this structured, explicit literacy approach.

Once Zoe was taught this way, she caught up to her peers within two years.

Ms Bogart says her family is an experiment that shows how effective the explicit instruction of phonics can be.

Her son Jagger learnt this way from the start, and the kindergarten student is already at a year 2 reading level, according to his mother, who has been on her own learning journey to teach her children at home.

Jagger had the benefit of using Zoe's old "decodable readers" — books that use a restricted number of letters and sounds the child has been learning. "There's proof there that those decodable readers work," Ms Bogart says.

Children like Zoe are known as "instructional casualties" by advocates of structured, explicit literacy.

Speech pathologist Scarlett Gaffey sees many of them in her Canberra clinic who are "failing to learn to read not because they can't but because they're not taught well enough".

"I'm working on other things like speech and language or stuttering perhaps," Ms Gaffey says. "But on top of that, because the school is teaching them using a 'balanced literacy' method, I then have to spend significant amounts of time teaching them to read."

Debate has raged for decades over the best way to teach children to read — whether that's focusing on the meaning of words in a balanced literacy approach, where students immerse themselves in literature, or focusing on learning letter-sound combinations, known as phonics.

Pamela Snow co-founded the Science of Language and Reading Lab at La Trobe University. She says the evidence clearly backs the explicit instruction of phonics and that reading, unlike speaking, must be taught.

"We know that children who are effective readers early on are the ones who have acquired those automatic decoding skills," she says. "What we don't want is for children to be taught strategies that effectively promote guessing."

Professor Snow says there is huge variation in how schools teach across the country, creating a "lottery" for parents. "Two schools only a few kilometres apart can be taking a completely different approach to reading instruction," she says.

"It's reasonable for parents to not give any real thought to the question of whether their child would be taught to read when they go to school — it's just assumed — and some will be lucky and some won't be so lucky. "But it shouldn't be a lottery."

Professor Snow says the stakes are high: children who are early strugglers experience a "multiplier effect" as they go through school, potentially facing a "lifetime on the margins of society".

"When that support isn't provided in a timely manner, the gap opens up — and it opens up early and it opens up very wide," she says.


Charles Darwin University students told to 'reflect deeply' on career choice if they oppose the Voice

A university professor is under fire for telling allied health students who don't support the Indigenous Voice to Parliament to consider a different career.

Charles Darwin University Associate Professor Bea Staley sent a pro-Voice email to speech therapy students suggesting they should rethink a career in allied health if they plan to vote No at the October 14 referendum.

'As you know, CDU has also taken the stance of a Yes vote,' Professor Stanley wrote.

'The speech pathology courses at CDU have been created with notions of equity and social justice at their core. We will be voting Yes.

'If you feel you are unable to vote Yes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' rights, you might want to reflect deeply on whether a career in allied health in Australia is really for you.'

Associate Professor Staley described the referendum as 'Australia's Brexit moment'.

'If we as Australians seek to move towards reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we must vote Yes,' she continued.

'A Yes vote will not make up for the atrocities of colonisation, but it is certainly a step in the right direction for a more humane and just Australian society.'

Federal NT Senator and prominent No campaigner Jacinta Price described the email as 'effectively bullying'.

She claimed concerned students had previously contacted her office regarding CDU's stance on the Voice.

'They no longer feel like they have the freedom to discuss – certainly this issue – and that they are being ostracised because the school, the University, took the position to support the Voice,' Senator Price told Sky News on Thursday night.

'This is a leadership failure, and I would call on the chancellor to correct this to ensure this sort of pressure isn't applied to students by their lecturers.'

'Universities are supposed to be spaces where debate is encouraged, where universities don't take a position on a political issue.

Sky News host Rita Panahi later described Professor Staley's email as insane.

Charles Darwin University vice-chancellor Professor Scott Bowman said the lecturer would be 'counselled' and stressed that anyone who votes No still make excellent healthcare workers.

'We respect everyone's right to hold their own views regarding the referendum,' he said.

'CDU has actively provided a platform for discussion and the exchange of well-informed ideas and points of view. 'We know that people who vote no will still make excellent healthcare workers.'

CDU is yet to comment on whether the matter will be investigated further but has reiterated its support for the Voice.

Professor Stanley supervises PhD students in her areas of expertise and has several active research projects.

'Bea's teaching and research interests relate to language development, literacy, diversity and difference,' her university bio states.

'Bea studies children and youth in the context of their families and communities.'




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