Event: Denita Wawn interview with Laura Tchilinguirian, ABC NewsRadio
Date: Tuesday, 4 July 2023, 3.40pm AEST
Speakers: Laura Tchilinguirian, host ABC NewsRadio; Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: housing, skills shortages, Regional Australia Institute ‘Move to More’ campaign, interest rates
Laura Tchilinguirian, host ABC NewsRadio: Right now, attracting workers to rural and regional Australia seems to be an ongoing dilemma. Whether it’s trying to find staff for medical services, tradies, workers in the agricultural sector, it can often be hard to encourage people to leave city life behind for the country. Now a new recruitment drive hopes to change that. The ‘Move to More’ campaign is the brainchild of the Regional Australia Institute and it’s joined forces with the National Farmers Federation, Master Builders, National Rural Health Alliance and Rural Doctors Association to fill job gaps where they’re needed most. Denita Wawn is the CEO of Master Builders Australia and good afternoon to you.
Denita Wawn, chief executive Master Builders of Australia: Good afternoon.
Laura: Now Denita, why did Master Builders want to get on board with this ‘Move to More’ campaign?
Denita: Well, we know that if we’re going to accommodate all Australians, we can’t just be looking at capital cities. We’ve got to consider the entire country and the community’s needs. And we know that if we want to encourage more people to the country to undertake all those jobs, we need more housing, we need more social infrastructure, which means, therefore, we also need more tradies out there as well. So, to us, it was a no-brainer. We can’t just focus on the capital cities. We’ve got to look after our members in the industry across the country.
Laura: And how is it going to work? What is the ‘more’ incentive in the ‘Move to More’ campaign?
Denita: Well, it’s a recognition that when people look at the opportunity of moving into regional Australia, they want a bit of an incentive to move whether that is more flexible working conditions, that they want more infrastructure support whether that’s in health infrastructure, education, decent housing and so forth. We as industry need to listen to what would encourage and incentivise them to move into the regions. And that’s not just industry but also governments as well. We’ve all got to be working collaboratively together to try and incentivise people. So, for us, this is about making sure that we’re working with local government in particular to have the right housing mix for example. It’s not just about detached houses, but do we want to look at more medium-density housing in regional Australia that is more affordable? What type of social infrastructure and transport infrastructure do we have to ensure that people still feel connected to their loved ones if they’re living elsewhere? They are the types of things we need to consider. We know that the regions are doing a lot but it’s important that all of the Australian community gets behind them as well. Otherwise, we’re just going to have very overcrowded cities.
Laura: Denita, just how great is the need for tradies and builders in the regions right now?
Denita: It’s huge. We’ve estimated that in building and construction alone we need nearly half a million new people entering into the industry over the two or three years. And we’re thinking around about 150,000-odd will need to be in the regions at least as a conservative estimate. So, we know that a lot of our members are calling out for more workers in the regions that they are providing things like free or subsidised housing to encourage them to move to the regions. And certainly, working with them to ensure that they’ve got access back to their homes etc if they are moving away from family. So, they are the types of things that I know some of our members are looking at to attract more people. And we won’t be able to get other professions coming into those regions unless we actually are able to build those houses and those communities for them.
Laura: Would you say the shortage is getting worse?
Denita: It is, unfortunately getting worse. We know that we’ve got a fairly low attrition of people in our sector but nevertheless, we’ve got a lot of building to do. We’re about to have a downturn in housing building due to inflationary and interest rate rises. But nevertheless, the medium and longer term is showing that we’re going to have a massive amount of work to do over the next five years. And to achieve those outcomes to meet the population demands, we need more people. So, it’s across the professions, it’s across the trades, and it’s also in entry-level jobs as well. We want to make sure that we employ Australians as much as we possibly can but also looking at migration options as well.
Laura: Denita Wawn, just before I let you go. What does it mean for the building industry that the RBA has decided to leave the official cash rate on hold this month?
Denita: It’s a sigh of relief, to be honest. We’re seeing a massive decline in forward contracts because people are feeling the pinch. They feel unsure that it’s the right thing to do to invest in a new home. And as a consequence, the inflationary pressures that we’re seeing combined with the interest rates mean that building a new home is getting out of reach for a lot of people, even more so than it has in the past. We acknowledge that the RBA has to increase interest rates to reign in those inflationary measures. But the RBA shouldn’t just be doing the heavy lifting. It’s also the role and responsibility of governments to ensure that they’re not putting additional inflationary pressures into the economy and that everyone needs to be working together to get this inflation down as quickly as possible so we can contain those interest rate increases.
Laura: Do you think this reprieve will help? Because it looks like we’re in for at least another two rate rises.
Denita: That’s the concern that we’ve got that this is just going to be a blip. You’re right, we’re likely to see increases which only incur greater alarm within our sector that we’ll see a longer and deeper downward trend on forward contracts particularly in the housing market. And that is not good news when we actually need to be building more homes for Australians. So, we’re working really hard with Minister Collins the federal housing minister in looking at solutions. We’ve been really welcoming her consultations with us to look at all of the facets of how we can resolve investment into the housing market.
Laura: Denita Wawn, appreciate your thoughts this afternoon.
Denita: Thank you.
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