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Interview with Danica De Giorgio, Sky News


Event: Interview with Danica De Giorgio, Sky News
Date: Tuesday, 12 December 2023
Speakers: Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: skilled migration; industrial relations; housing


Danica De Giorgio, host Sky News: Construction industry leaders say tradies have been dubbed by the Albanese Government’s overhaul of migration. Under the changes, overseas tradies will be able to enter through a lower-tier pathway but have not been included in a new, highly-skilled visa pathway. Joining me live now is Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn. Denita, thank you for joining us. Were you blindsided by this decision?

Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Well we, of course, were really impressed that the Government has been focussing on skilled migration and looking at how we can resolve skills. We we were shocked to hear yesterday afternoon by the Minister that we have to continue to prove there’s a shortage and I think everyone in Australia knows there is a shortage of tradies. The government’s own data says that. But the thing that’s been the most disappointing is that they’ve created a three-tier system for skilled visas. The first tier is anyone who earns more than $135,000 but there’s a caveat to that. They’ve got to be white-collar workers and anyone who is a trade qualified person whether they’re in building and construction or mining they are now into the second tier. We say that is totally inconsistent with the government’s own data. We’re the biggest needed trade and any specialised skill to meet skill shortages in this country. So why have they differentiated between white-collar and blue-collar workers meaning we’ve got to go through greater hoops to solve the issues around shortages in our sector?

Danica: Just on your point before, what do you make of the government seeming to be of the few that there’s no real shortage of tradies to justify fast-tracking workers in from overseas? I mean how many skilled workers are you indeed short?

Denita: Well, we say we’re short nearly half a million people over the next three to five years to meet the demand we’ve got in our sector, particularly in relation to the housing crisis. The Minister has indicated that what she really meant is we will have to continue to go through labour market testing to prove that we have got shortages. Now we agree with the premise that you’ve got to look at each individual visa holder and make sure that they are appropriately qualified but why would we need to prove that we’ve got shortages? That seems incredulous to us. We want to build more homes. We want to build more roads. We want to build more schools and hospitals but we need more workers. Now, of course, we’ve got to look at apprenticeship numbers but nevertheless we also need skilled migrants to assist us so why not put us in that top category? We pay extraordinarily well. So why aren’t we on that top category with white-collar workers?

Danica: And there’s obviously ambitious housing targets across the board. We know the Albanese Government has a target of 1.2 million new homes in the next five years. Given the changes that have been announced, how confident are you that these targets will actually be met?

Denita: Well, we’ve always been positive about trying to meet those targets, but we’ve actually also been realistic and said we need to ensure that the environment is right and we need skilled migration and a prioritisation of skilled migration. We thought we were heading in the right direction but there’s too many caveats that we are worried about. We want to make sure that we’ve got the right productivity in the industrial relations system and the reason why I’m in Brisbane today is we’re holding briefings to our members around the problems of the IR laws that have been proposed to be debated in February, particularly for independent contractors. We need governments to resolve supply constraints. They’ve agreed to it but we’ve seen no action. We’re getting somewhat tired of being told that a lot of changes are going to be made to help us meet those targets, but at this stage, little has been done, and in many instances, more barriers have been put up. So, we really need to restart discussions with government about if they really mean to meet these targets, then they’ve got to work with industry as opposed to constantly putting more barriers in place for us to get to where we need to be and that’s resolving housing for all Australians.

Danica: Yeah, it looks like you’ve got a fight on your hands there. Denita Wawn, thanks for joining us.

Denita: Please, as always.

Media contact:
Dee Zegarac
National Director, Media & Public Affairs
0400 493 071

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