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Interview with Lindsay McDougall, ABC Illawarra


Event: Interview with Lindsay McDougall, ABC Illawarra
Date: 9 February 2024, 5.25pm AEDT
Speakers: Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: Regional housing, labour shortages, housing supply

Lindsay McDougall, host ABC Illawarra: Let’s talk about housing around all of the regions. It used to be that living in the regions came with the perks of a more affordable way of life. But regional housing prices are now over 50 per cent more expensive than there were three years ago. Housing stock is at critically low levels in the regions, and today representatives from real estate, building, local government and regional development sectors descended on Canberra to discuss what can be done to. Denita Wawn is the chief executive officer at the Master Builders Association. Thanks for being with us, Denita.

Denita Wawn, chief executive Master Builders Australia: Pleasure and thank you. Good afternoon listeners.

Lindsay: Now, obviously, building more houses, simple solution, but it’s not that simple.

Denita: No, unfortunately not. We just need more houses, but we’ve got multiple levers that we need to pull to resolve the supply shortages. And there’s a lot of goodwill out there, but it needs all levels of government, the community and businesses to be working in tandem together, and that’s not necessarily always the case. So you know a lot of good ideas today, but really, it’s all about collaboration and getting on with the job.

Lindsay: Well, yeah, you, you mean you think about the different levels of government and, you know, local governments there as well. What are some of the biggest obstacles? Is it just communication between tiers of government or is there, you know, something that could streamline processes more?

Denita: Yeah, look, if we just simply resolve communication would be so nice, wouldn’t that be if it was that simple? But nonetheless, it’s not. Certainly, we find that we’ve got massive skills shortages, and that’s not just in the building sector, but also we don’t have enough resources in local government to actually get approvals through the system. So, building surveyors, town planners, certifiers, you name it we need it in terms of speeding up the approval process. There’s a lack of money for local governments around the key infrastructure we need to actually build in the first place. Roads, footpaths, sewage, water, electricity, the list goes on. So before we can even build a home, we need to ensure that that land that we know we have is actually, you know, build-ready. And so that’s a significant issue about who’s paying for that. The government certainly has announced a fund that I understand will become available in the next few months, but nevertheless, we’re going to need a lot more. And then, of course, we need more builders and trades in the regions, and it would be nice if those interest rates go down because we know building approvals are at a significant low simply because people can’t afford to invest in housing at the moment.

Lindsay: Yeah, I mean there’s expenses at every step of the way. What about materials? Is there still shortfall when it comes to materials that the builders need to get and that the building companies need to get to build the houses?

Denita: We don’t have material shortages, but unfortunately, prices are still high because of inflation. Building materials are sitting on around about 35 per cent higher than what they were pre-COVID. And we know that building a house or renovating a house is nearly 40 per cent higher than what it was pre-COVID. And when you combine that with interest rate hikes, people are very, very hesitant to investing in housing at the moment, and so the time when we need more supply, there’s actually a reduced number of new houses being built. We’ve got to reverse that problem.

Lindsay: And I guess when you sort of think of people moving to the regions, the idea of the house, the detached separate house, white picket fence, that kind of dream space for a backyard. They are the common traits of homes that bring people to the regions. Do we need to rethink the type of dwelling, the mix of dwelling? Do we have to understand the characters of our towns and cities may have to change?

Denita: Absolutely. While we all love the picket fence dream in the middle of a nice country town. The reality is that we have a large number of professionals moving into our regional cities and towns that don’t have time to garden as much as they would like to. There’s a real increased demand in one, two bedroom apartments, townhouses and the like. So, we’ve got to look at mixed dwellings and of course we know when you’re looking at multiple units and so forth, it’s harder to get investors involved in that. So there’s a really interesting discussion around making sure that the banks are aware of where that demand is and getting investment accordingly in that more higher density homes as well as an ongoing development of detached housing as well.

Lindsay: There’s a lot of interest in this discussion in Canberra at the moment, Denita. Do you think that we’ll have something productive, constructive coming out of it?

Denita: Look, I think so and and credit to the federal government, they’ve already been holding significant discussions at all levels of government through the national cabinet process. We just now need to see action. We all agree supply is the solution, but we now need to see action on the ground. It’s started, but not in the droves that we need. So, we’re all in violent agreement. We’ve just got to get on with the job.

Lindsay: Denita Wawn, thank you for being with us today. Cheers. Have a great weekend.

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

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