A major industry initiative known as Prime, which was created to provide industry with a roadmap toward a low emissions future, is in complete disarray after key stakeholders resigned from the steering council.
The Prime steering council was created to develop a policy framework for the future of Australia's HVACR industry but infighting has effectively hijacked the initiative.
In a statement issued by the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH), the Prime secretariat confirmed that a number of organisations representing refrigerant and equipment manufacturers and suppliers, and contractors, have withdrawn from the steering council.
This includes Refrigerants Australia (RA), Refrigerant Reclaim Australia (RRA), Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Equipment Manufacturers Association of Australia (AREMA), Consumer Electronics Suppliers Association (CESA) and Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (RACCA).
All of these groups have officially withdrawn their participation in Prime which was first established in 2014.
The most significant feature of Prime was wide-ranging stakeholder engagement which represented the entire HVACR industry.
According to RA executive director, Greg Picker, the main source of contention is a lack of collaboration and concerns about governance.
"We did raise our concerns with Prime around issues of process and governance," he said.
"For example, previously decisions were made based on complete consensus from all participants. Now decisions are based on a majority vote and with much less consultation.
"Despite this, we will continue to support and work with Prime on a project by project basis, particularly on issues where our members have a clear interest or capacity."
AMCA executive director, Sumit Oberoi, agreed Prime has changed direction adding that AMCA does not support the national licensing policy position advocated through Prime.
"AMCA does not believe the role of Prime is for policy and advocacy activities on behalf of the industry and we have communicated this to the secretariat," he said.
Oberoi said AMCA would like to see a project focus similar to the original 2010 HVAC High Efficiency System Strategy (HASS) in which all the major stakeholders could work towards addressing the specific needs of industry.
"These projects are still relevant in 2016," Oberoi said.
"Our support for Prime is purely focused on projects that could collectively improve outcomes for the industry. An example of this includes the best practice commissioning guide which is an excellent project."
Prime is currently developing a building commissioning guide which has won widespread favour but other projects under development do not have the same level of support including a proposal to develop an industry-agreed approach to national licensing.
Australian Refrigeration Association (ARA) president, Tim Edwards, said the Prime initiative is important because industry is seriously lacking in governnment support.
As a result, he said there is no initiative by government to address a broad range of HVACR issues.
"In the absence of government leadership Prime is a way to gain consensus on matters of importance to our industry," he said.
"We are in a highly fragmented industry. Prime provides a platform for collaboration across the entire industry.
"Prime was initially established to transition to low emissions but sought agreement to broaden the scope of Prime to enable collaboration across the entire HVACR sector including the trade and end user organisations.
"Government will pay attention if we can work together."
Edwards said it is important to note that four of the resigning organisations are also members of the Australian Refrigeration Council (ARC) which provides licensing for technicians.
"Basically, by resigning from Prime they are saying the national interest and their commercial interests are not aligned. By this act they are refusing to contribute to industry collaboration and are choosing to put their commercial interests before the national interest and industry," he said.
Australian Refrigeration Mechanics Association (ARMA) CEO, Kim Limburg, said she is disappointed that support has been withdrawn.
"We were little more than a week away from submitting our proposal for national licencing but we will still move forward and plan to deliver our proposal to the Prime executive early in the new year," she said.
"While it can be argued that this withdrawal has weakened the ability of Prime to function, ARMA believes this is an opportunity for Prime to move forward without the obstruction these groups were previously providing.
"2017 is a new year for industry to establish the measures necessary to transition to natural refrigerants, skills based licensing and energy efficiency."
Phil Wilkinson of the Prime secretariat said Prime working groups are currently working on a range of projects and initiatives.
He said four key areas have been identified for action including: training and education; licensing and registration; maintenance for energy efficiency; and flammable refrigerants.
In addition to work being carried out into building commissioning and a CSIRO sponsored modelling study into net zero energy buildings, Wilkinson said Prime has also commenced work on improving awareness of the industry and its role in reducing emissions.
"Proposals are underway for developing an industry agreed approach for national licensing," Wilkinson said.
"Plus two industry expert focus groups are being established to reduce energy usage and to address issues associated with increased use of flammable refrigerants in refrigeration and air conditioning."