Event: Denita Wawn interview with Stephen Cenatiempo, 2CC Radio
Date: Tuesday, 10 January 2023, 6.10am AEDT
Speakers: Stephan Cenatiempo, host 2CC Radio; Denita Wawn CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: building and construction; migration; skills
Stephen Cenatiempo, host 2CC Radio: To talk to us more about this we’re joined by the CEO of the Master Builders Association, Denita Wawn. Denita good morning.
Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Good morning.
Stephen: Is anything improving because the building industry is always the thing that we expect to lead us into recovery, but you guys seem to be more under the pump than any other industry at the moment?
Denita: Yeah, you’re right. If we’re going the rest of the economy is going strong. But things have been pretty tough throughout the pandemic with shortages of products and also people. And as a consequence, significant increases in cost. And if you top that off with increasing interest rates then we are seeing a decline in the number of people wanting private dwellings built and unfortunately, that’s having an impact on those numbers.
Stephen: Yeah. What’s the way out of this? Is there any light at the end of the tunnel?
Denita: There is a little bit actually. Certainly, from a product perspective we’ve seen a stabilisation of prices. That’s still high. And shortages are reducing. So that is a good thing. The difficult thing at the moment is people. We simply don’t have enough skilled people to do what we want to do. And that obviously delays things significantly. So it takes around about nine months to build a residence but at the moment it’s taking around about 12 months on average around the country. Simply because we simply don’t have enough people to schedule everyone really quickly.
Stephen: Denita, the property market seems to be softening and we’re seeing governments around the country offering proposals that think are going to make it easier for first home buyers to get into the industry. What impact are these having on the building industry?
Denita: Look, they’ve been positive. Particularly given the pandemic. But most of those have now gone except for the first home buyers’ schemes but people are concerned about rising interest rates and as a consequence we’ve seen this decline in private investment in the housing market. We appreciate that the RBA does have to increase interest rates with inflation rising so high. But it is having an impact on the building industry. At a time where we can least afford it as a country because we’re short of houses it seems quite incredulous to think that we’ve had a decline in private investment when everybody is saying they can’t get a house including rental houses. So, it is something we need to address and we commend the federal government in the development of the Housing Accord as well as the Supply Chain Council to try and resolve some of the more fundamental structural issues affecting the reason why we’re not getting more houses built.
Stephen: The problem with that I see with that Housing Accord is that it’s going to rely on state and territory governments releasing more land which for some reason seem reluctant to do.
Denita: That’s right. It is dependent on all levels of government as well as the industry working collaboratively together and recognising and resolving some of those massive issues which includes the release of land as well as planning restrictions. We are hoping that with the Accord there is a level of goodwill, but we’ve now got to see some action on the ground. And you’re absolutely right we need more land in place particularly like Canberra so we can resolve those housing shortages.
Stephen: Yeah especially in Canberra because we have a government here that refuses to release land at all. But I want to go back to the shortage of staff because you’ve talked about a number of different things that need to happen like domestic vocational education and the like. But none of that is a short-term fix is it? I mean there’s going to be a considerable time lag before that actually achieves anything.
Denita: That’s right and certainly we need to focus on more Australians not only commencing apprenticeships but actually completing them. But also we are seeking, from our migration submission that was released last week, an increase in the number of skilled migrants coming into the country. It is not just us as an industry but all industries at the moment are feeling the pain of border restrictions over the last two years and we simply don’t have enough people. So, we’ve asked for more people but also flexibility in the way that we’re bring people in. A good example is that we have very, very high levels of English literacy standards. We think that needs to be dropped. Our country has been built on a broad cultural spectrum of people coming into this country regardless of their English proficiency and we think that we need to make more flexible as an example.
Stephen: Yeah well let’s hope that we see some results sooner rather than later. Denita, always good to talk to you. Appreciate your time this morning.
Denita: Pleasure, likewise.
National Director, Media & Public Affairs
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