28 October 2010

Why I have nominated for the ABSA Board

With the ABSA 2010 Annual General Meeting less than a month away, members will shortly be receiving information about who has been nominated to run for the all-new Board of Directors.

There has been some speculation that I would be among the candidates. I am hereby announcing that this is indeed the case.

If you've been reading my blog - which has been dominated for nearly a year by the (ahem) less successful facets of the Home Sustainability Assessment Scheme (HSAS) - or, as it is still (inaccurately) called, the Green Loans Program - you might be wondering what on Earth has possessed me to go through with this.

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This is really more than one question. First is the question of what I want to achieve for the industry. Second is the question of why I think I can do it.

As an organisation, ABSA is surrounded by the reflections of its own impotence and irrelevance. Through the HSAS, it is forced to deal with a government department that - even under new management - affords it not the slightest amount of respect. Many members have lapsed into disrespect and disillusion of similar proportions, in the understandable belief that the organisation isn't doing a good job of representing its paying customers. To be fair, it's hardly ABSA's fault, for the most part.

Outbreaks of fortitude such as last week's letter from ABSA CEO Alison Carmichael to the Department have been few and far between. The Department issued a directive that effectively prohibited assessors from accepting assessment bookings via cold-calling. ABSA took the time to remind the Department - as if it had forgotten - not only that many assessors still rely on telemarketing to drum up business, but also that without the centralised marketing strategy that Green Loans promised, assessors are struggling to find a steady stream of work. I want both to congratulate ABSA for doing so and to scold it because it might always have been that easy.

Even for those of us who will remain in the HSAS, the near future looks pretty grim. DCCEE still reserves the right to change the rules of the game at any time and watch on unrepentantly as its pawns limp painfully in whatever direction is left to call forward. On the remote possibility that the revamped Green Start Program will start on schedule in a matter of weeks - and the key word is surely "remote" - it will do so without having offered any assurances that assessors will not be subjected to the same mismanagement that has all but ruined the industry once already.

Of course, my greatest concern with the HSAS has been those who never found work in the Program at all. Fewer than half of those trained to become Green Loans assessors were contracted into the Program; Green Start will likely halve that number again. ABSA hasn't supported members' attempts to claim compensation from the Government; nor has it ever spoken out against the Government's plans to "assist" assessors by shipping us all to Centrelink. When you're picking shards of broken promises from the soles of your feet, this is far from enough to stop the bleeding.

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How this might affect you depends a lot on the situation you're in right now.

You may want to leave the industry. Indeed, you may have to, or you may soon be forced to. As a representative body, ABSA has to face, and support those of us struggling already to face, the uncomfortable truth that there isn't enough work to go around. It needs to snap out of the mindset in which "compensation" is a dirty word but "Centrelink" is perfectly acceptable.

You may be planning to give, or hoping to give, the business of assessing another go. ABSA needs to be both stronger and more active in standing up for you, particularly against a Department that would be hard-pressed to remember doing anything right. We can't let them off the hook.

You may even be considering remaining an assessor in the longer term. Ultimately, we all need to remember that the HSAS isn't the only game in town: with government money comes government interference, and we already know that they will, possibly sooner rather than later, simply pull the plug. There needs to be better-structured training in place for you to move into a career that is recognised by related industries and less hampered by DCCEE's artificial restrictions. It is paramount that our industry be able to stand on its own merits, without this abusive dependence.

I'm only in the first category for now, having never been offered a contract to start work in Green Loans. However, I am standing for the interests of all members, regardless of any category or label you care to apply.

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I did hesitate to make this decision for a long time. Admittedly, I wondered how my steadfast attempts to uphold my integrity would be seen in an organisation that has appeared so weak in the past. Likewise, I was concerned that it might interfere in my attempts to document what has gone wrong in the Program or the claim I have lodged for compensation - or rather, that my being on the inside, should I be elected, may compromise my appearance of neutrality, which is something I hold very dear.

Rest assured that this will not slow me down at all. I will still be writing about the Program, about its victories and its defeats, and I will still be pushing for compensation for anyone who wants to try to forget that this debacle ever happened. Above all, I believe that solving problems requires a certain ability to face up to such problems in the first place, and that only then can we be level-headed in finding effective solutions.

Sustainability is still an issue about which I care enormously, and building sustainability in particular is an industry that I hope will succeed and flourish. We hardly have the best blueprint so far, but there are many positive things happening for assessors that I hope will lay new and stronger foundations for our fledgling industry.

My ambition is for something good to come of this for each and every one of us, whether there is room for us in the industry or not. It sounds like a monumental challenge, but it's not one I've backed away from yet, and I'm not going to start now.

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