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Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News


Event: Denita Wawn interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News
Date: Tuesday, 12 September 2023
Speakers: Laura Jayes, host Sky News; Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: Housing Australia Future Fund; Master Builders Industry Forecast; Housing Accord

Laura Jayes, host Sky News: The Federal Government has won the Green’s support to finally pass that $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund through Parliament. The Greens backed down from demands of a national rent freeze, well a semi-back down I would say, this is after Labor offered another one billion dollars for social housing. The Greens are now maintaining those threats saying they’ll block other things. Joining me now is Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn. Denita, thanks so much for your time. First of all, your reaction to this Housing Future Fund passing. Is it good news? And when can we expect to see some material effect?

Denita Wawn, chief executive Master Builders Australia: It’s great news, Laura. It’s something that we’ve been supporting since the Government announced this policy. It really fills the void that at the moment, we have a significant downturn in building approvals. It keeps the industry going over the next few years while we wait for the economics of private investment to return back. And so, it’s good news and from our perspective, we understand that there will literally be money coming into the system pretty quickly. We know that there are a lot of shovel-ready community and social housing prepared, ready to start. So, let’s get on building.

Laura: Yep. So, economists today are warning that even with this Future Fund, this getting through Parliament, we can expect not to see huge change for quite some time. The supply chain issues and the shortage of workers. How diabolical are those two things in the industry at the moment?

Denita: The material supply chain issues are declining. We are seeing both availability in supply and the prices are starting to go down on most products which is good news. Nevertheless, you’re right, we have got labour shortages. Again, that will lengthen as those building approval numbers reduce. We will go from building around about 230-odd thousand homes since year to about 170,000 homes this financial year. A significant difference which will mean there’s easing in the labour market. But that’s only short-term. What we’re forecasting today, is that from two years now we will back over the 200,000 homes a year again. So, we’ve got a very short period of time to sort out our labour shortages. That means training more people, that means encouraging people back into the industry, and it also means skilled migration.

Laura: Denita, anecdotally, I’m hearing from a lot of builders that say essentially they’re ready to do the work but there is so much red tape, so many hoops they need to jump through, so many costs that they need to bear up front that it’s becoming really difficult to operate in that environment. Given the last, kind of, two or three years from COVID, all those expenses are starting to catch up with them. What needs to happen in the industry to make business more viable for these builders? I’m not talking about big developers either, I’m talking about the smaller ones.

Denita: Absolutely, Laura. We’ve just released new industry sustainability goals and very much business viability is part of that. We need to ensure that we have quality outcomes, business confidence, not only with ourselves within the industry but also by consumers as well. And ensuring that we are meeting best practice standards. Equally, we are asking Governments to reciprocate on best practice and moving the dial. The delays that we’re seeing on development approvals, building approvals, and also occupancy approvals are just too long. And it costs money and it adds [inaudible] into the industry. So, we all need to lift our game. We’ve started that by ensuring we have goals in the industry. But equally, it’s up to the governments to do that as well. We commend the Prime Minister for the recent National Cabinet decision on focusing on those supply constraints around regulation and policies and resourcing on the ground, and that has to be met. We are not going to be able to house all Australians if we don’t get those supply constraints fixed as soon as possible.

Laura: The Greens have essentially played a game of chicken with the Government and the Greens have one. They’ve got an extra billion dollars out of it. We heard from the Greens this morning that they’re going to continue to hold out on things that they want because they said look we held out, we got an extra billion dollars so why wouldn’t we do that in the future? That’s a pretty dangerous territory to be living in, isn’t it? Politically?

Denita: Well this is the nature of the crossbench in the Senate. There’s always negotiations going on. The $3 billion is welcome but we would urge extreme caution to the Greens about talking about rental controls. There is a really simple solution to resolving the rental crisis in this country and that is more supply of homes. And if you actually put rental caps, it actually shrinks private investment into the rental market and that is something that is not in anyone’s interest. So, from our perspective, we need to build more homes, we need to ensure that we upgrade our existing stock to ensure it is energy efficient. And therefore, we need to focus on those supply constraints. That is what our focus should be. The National Cabinet has agreed on that, now let’s get on with the job.

Laura: This is a little outside of your remit but surely something drastic needs to be done about Airbnb. There’s an article in the Daily Telegraph that has Sydney as the 10th highest Airbnb market in the world and yet there is a housing crisis here. Surely, if you were to limit the amount of Airbnb’s, like New York is considering only allowing Airbnb if there’s an individual, the owner is at home. So therefore, shared living. Surely that would help things? And also, help the tourism, hotel market in the meantime?

Denita: Laura, Master Builders doesn’t have a position on Airbnb but I think the answer is simple. We need to build more homes, we need to build more infrastructure whether it’s social, tourism, health, education, the list goes on. We have a growing population, we have a very good quality tourism market both domestically and internationally and we are simply not keeping up with demand. Supply is the key to everything. If we’re going to build more homes, we need more schools, we need health services, we need more transport infrastructure. It’s got to be a wholistic approach – supply is the key – and we will continue to say that until such time as the macroeconomic environment is conducive for private investment in our urban environment. It’s as simple as that.

Laura: Thanks so much for your time Denita. Talk soon.

Denita: Thanks. Cheers.

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

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