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Interview with Melinda James, ABC Illawarra


Event: Denita Wawn interview with Melinda James, ABC Illawarra
Date: Tuesday, 12 September 2023
Speakers: Melinda James, host ABC Illawarra; Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: Housing Australia Future Fund; Master Builders Industry Forecast; Housing Accord; Industrial Relations

Melinda James, host ABC Illawarra: Well, look it’s been a long time coming. There’s been a lot of to-and-fro but the Federal Government’s, you’d have to say, central housing policy to deal with the housing crisis is due to pass Parliament most likely this week. We’ve been hearing in the news after the Albanese Government managed to broker a deal with the Greens. This is the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund. As part of that, 30,000 new and affordable social homes will be built in the first five years after this passes and the Greens managed to, they say, secure an extra one billion dollars for community and public housing. That’s a lot of brand-new housing and then on top of that we’ve got pressure on state governments to build more medium-density housing across the country as well and to expedite approvals. We also know we are in a tradie shortage at the moment and I’m wondering what it might mean for you if you want to do some renovations, if you want to maybe build your own home or just put an extra room on, maybe redo the kitchen, is it doing to get tougher? Do we have enough people to do all this? What is this going to mean for the building industry? Denita Wawn is the CEO of Master Builders Australia and joins me now. Denita, good morning.

Denita Wawn, chief executive Master Builders Australia: Good morning.

Melinda: You welcome this, I’m sure. This a lot of work in the pipeline for builders isn’t it – this investment in social and affordable housing?

Denita: Yes, it’s great news for builders but more importantly it’s great news for Australians that desperately need community and social housing. It’s something that we’ve been supporting since the Government came to power last year and commend the Prime Minister and Minister Collins for their advocacy on this as well as crossbench support. Certainly, it is part of the puzzle of resolving the housing crisis and we believe that this amongst other things that the Government has been pursuing enables us to meet those badly needed housing targets to ensure that we can house all Australians around the country.

Melinda: Are you confident that we can meet these targets that have been set that are becoming more ambitious all the time as the pressure, as I said, mounts on for example state governments to expedite some planning approvals to build houses more quickly, all of those sorts of things, those incentives that have been provided to state governments. Is there capacity within the industry to make good on these commitments?

Denita: Certainly in the short term, yes there is. We have been providing evidence to the Federal Government over the last 18 months, reinforced by our forecasts that have been released today to show that we really see a dip last financial year, this financial year, and the one thereafter.

Melinda: And is that just a function of the economic situation at the moment and people being less likely to invest?

Denita: That’s right. We’ve had those inflationary pressures, we’ve had interest rate rises, and knew to smooth out the capacity issues for the industry, government funding was required and that suited well for the $3 billion as part of the incentive to get this passage of legislation through to be spent immediately is perfect for the industry. We do have short-term capacity to meet that focus on social and community housing. The big issue for us though is when we hit the 2026-27 financial year. We’re forecasting well over 200,000 homes for that financial year across the country. Now that is good news for Australians.

Melinda: Why then? I mean, that’s when the Future Fund dollars start to flow as well. Is that right?

Denita: A combination of increased migrations and also with a stabilisation of inflationary pressures plus also the stabilisation of interest rates. We also brought forward demand during COVID. So, we think that there are a number of factors that are going to see an increase to meet that magical 200,000 homes each year for five years for the Housing Accord. The issue will be, however, making sure that we’ve got enough people to undertake that work and we continue our discussions, constructive discussions, around skilled migration and also employment incentives and training incentives. The big unknown for us, of course, is the industrial relations bills that were introduced last week and what that does in terms of impacts on independent contracting and specialist subcontracting. So, there is a lot of issues that will play a role in ensuring that we meet those targets. But of course, supply constraints and the role of local government as well as state government is a critical part of the story as well.

Melinda: Just very briefly, is it going to be, come 2026-27, that year when we are expecting to see that boom begin, is it going to be next to impossible for a Mum or Dad to renovate their home in smaller construction jobs?

Denita: We hope not. We hope we’ve got enough skilled people that we’ve trained enough Australians to do it and we’ve supplemented that by skilled immigration. We not only have a need for housing but we also have an ambitious energy efficiency target, not only for new homes but also retrofitting for existing homes. This is a huge opportunity for people wanting to get into the industry to see opportunities whether it’s those renovations or new homes. So, we’re seeing it as a really great opportunity for the industry. We’ve just got to resolve those problems to ensure we can meet the challenges and ensure that everyone who wants to have work undertaken on their home or build a new home we’ve actually got the capacity to do that.

Melinda: Denita Wawn, I really appreciate you talking to us this morning. Thank you very much.

Denita: Pleasure, thank you.

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

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