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Interview with Jacqui Felgate, 3AW Melbourne Radio


Event: Interview with Jacqui Felgate, 3AW Melbourne Radio
Date: 4 June 2024, 3.10pm AEST
Speakers: Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: Skilled Migration.


Jacqui Felgate, 3AW Melbourne Radio: On the line now is Denita Wawn, the CEO of the Master Builders Association. Thanks for your time this afternoon, Denita.

Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Good afternoon.

Jacqui: So, what was your reaction initially, when you found out that construction workers are not a priority right now?

Denita: Somewhat perplexed, I think is a diplomatic way of describing it. It seems incredulous to think that every document that we read, whether it’s from us or from our government agencies that we’ve got considerable shortages. We know that the cost of construction has gone up by 40 per cent over the past five years. And a lot of that is because of shortage of skilled labour. So, it does not seem to make any sense that some trades are on the definite list, a lot are on the maybe list. And yet we get jobs such as yoga instructors on the definite list, you know, common sense seems not to have prevailed in this instance.

Jacqui: I couldn’t agree with you more. Can we go through the list of trades that are on that maybe list? We’ve got plumbers, bricklayers, and carpenters. Where do they fall

Denita: They fall in the maybe list, as do things like tilers, roofers, plumbers, the list goes on. And we know that as an industry, our builders are screaming out for all of those trades. We know that many builders at the moment are just not even tendering for work because they cannot guarantee that they’ll have the right trades to do the work. So, it is really curtailing our ability to build homes, schools, hospitals, you name it. We are building slowly, simply because we do not have enough people. And yes, we want to employ as many Australians as possible, but we know that we need skilled migration. Skilled migration has been the heart of construction industry ever since you know, the key post-war migration of the 1950s, 25 per cent of our workforce are migrants. So, we can’t understand why there’s been a sudden curtailing of our capacity to bring in skilled migrants.

Jacqui: You say you can’t understand why, but is there any reasoning behind this whatsoever? Like what could the government’s excuse be here to say “we value yoga instructors and martial artists more than we value tradies in this instance”?

Denita: Well, we’ve heard this afternoon some of the concern is in relation to exploitation of building construction workers. Of course, Master Builders says any exploitation of any worker on building sites should be certainly brought to account. But we’re not aware of evidence that we are breaching workplace relations laws, any more than any other industry that is on the definite list. So, our industry is the third highest paying of any industries in the country, so they’re certainly not low paid with higher risk of exploitation, as is some other jobs in our economy. So that is the only response we’ve heard from to date. So, we continue to lobby hard to get a change to this list that is in draft form. But it does not seem to make any sense from our perspective.

Jacqui: And do you think you’re seeing a decrease in young people becoming tradies? We talked about this in the TAFE sector last week on this program with a number of TAFE enrolments dropping and not enough appropriate courses. So why don’t young people want to become traders nowadays?

Denita: I think it’s an issue that’s been decades in the making, and we’ve had a situation where since the 80s, there’s been a significant focus on university education as being the most priority approach you should take post-school. We’ve treated trades as second-class citizens, which is absolutely abhorrent, and as such, we need as an industry we are promoting the industry as much as we can schools. But we’ve got a fair way to go in terms of ensuring parents and students and career advisors that there is a really, really valuable career in trade and huge opportunities in the sector over the next couple of decades. We also know that we need to attract more women, and that’s something that we’re trying to do through our Women Building Australia program.

Jacqui: Would some of the criticism be by bringing in skilled migrants, Denita, that they’re not trained to the standard of, say, Australian workers? Could that be the case

Denita: People could argue that, but that’s not the case. We have very strict Skill Assessment rules in this country. And in fact, we commend Minister Brendan O’Connor, in his decision during the Budget the other week of putting some money aside for skilled migrants in the country, that are finding it too costly and too cumbersome to get their skills assessed and pay for their gap training. So no, we do have an appropriate assessment process in place, it is simply – it takes anywhere between 12 to 18 months to get all of your papers assessed and that costs over $10,000. That doesn’t even include the training if there’s a gap there. So, we don’t make it easy. And when we compare what Canada and the UK are doing, and making it so much easier than we are, we’re certainly not competitive in this international workplace at the moment.

Jacqui: So how many workers as well, just before I let you go, I know you have to be somewhere else. But in terms of the sector to build 1.2 million homes over the next decade, how many extra workers are we going to need?

Denita: Well, we’ve estimated that it’s going to be about half a million new entrants into the industry over the next five years. And that we think, is going to be around about 200,000 trades over that period. That is a lot of people we’ve got to find.

Jacqui: Is that a pipe dream at this point?

Denita: It is unfortunately but we’ll keep on trying.

Jacqui: Denita Wawn is the CEO of the Master Builders Australia, appreciate your time today, Denita.

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

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