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Interview with Prue Bentley, ABC VIC Statewide Drive


Event: Interview with Prue Bentley, ABC VIC Statewide Drive
Date: 9 February 2024, 4.05pm AEDT
Speakers: Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: Regional housing, labour shortages, housing supply, Housing Australia Future Fund

Prue Bentley, host ABC VIC Statewide Drive: Now the solution to the housing crisis seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? Just build more houses. So why is it so hard? Representatives from the real estate, building, local government and regional development sectors have descended on Canberra today to talk about just that. Denita Wawn is the CEO of Master Builders Association and with us this afternoon. Denita Wawn, good afternoon.

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

Prue: Look, this is an ongoing problem. What do you think is the biggest obstacle to getting more housing built in the regions?

Denita: Unfortunately, it’s not one obstacle, but it’s many and that’s the problem we need to resolve all of them at the same time to streamline the process. I find it incredulous to think that here we were talking about a regional housing crisis and saying in part because we don’t have enough land. And I’m sure your listeners will laugh at that. But the reality is that we have land, but it’s not build-ready land. We don’t have sufficient resourcing to ensure that land has been subdivided, it’s got roads, it’s got sewage, it’s got electrical connections, it’s got water connections, and this goes on. And that’s just one of the components that we’re grappling with. So I think everyone in the room today, we were in violent agreement with each other about what we need to do. We now need political will at all three levels of government, as well as community will to make sure that everything is working in tandem.

Prue: So if we’re talking about that political will. Who is not pulling their weight? I’ve spoken to so many local councils who are trying to, you know, cut through the red tape and get land made available. Who do we need to focus our efforts on here?

Denita: Well, it was great to see national cabinet in August last year with all three levels of government agree that supply needs to be our focus and that there has been federal funding allocated to assist in that regard. Some incentives put in place for both local government and state governments. But it’s some really simple solutions. For example, we simply do not have enough planners and building surveyors to ensure this process is streamlined. So what about flying squads of planners and surveyors going around to inadequately resourced councils to assist them in that regard? Why is it that we have systems in place, particularly centralised systems for approval processes taking longer than what it did when you went over the counter to get your plans approved and your developments approved. Equally, we have very complicated building regulation laws. The list goes on. As well as a huge shortage of skilled workers. And that’s even before we start talking about electrification of the country and and the impact that has on regional Australia. So, a long list of things that we need. We need it from all levels of government but the local government needs help and that’s where state governments and federal government need to lean in.

Prue: I’m going to be speaking with a CEO of a Shire in just a moment and they have done a project, they basically did it themselves because developers just simply were not interested in coming to their regional Shire and putting up developments. Is this still the case, do you think Denita?

Denita: It is unfortunately. For anyone to invest in housing, whether it’s detached housing, townhouses or high-rise, you need to make a dollar. You need a return, and at the moment, the cost of development, a lot of it taxation, a lot of it because of delays. Sthe numbers don’t add up and therefore we are detracting the investments that we need. Interest rates don’t help. Inflation doesn’t help. We’re seeing significantly low building approvals as a consequence of a lack of investment in building around the country. So, that is what’s happening. Local government are trying to work with local businesses in trying to fill that gap, but they’re not gonna be able to do the heavy lifting themselves. And that’s why we need to ensure that any development, wherever it is in the country, that there is a financial return. So we can encourage investors, whether it’s mum or dad investors, right through the big institutional ones.

Prue: My understanding is today that the Bendigo Bank who has been involved in this summit today in Canberra, have actually called on the federal government to quarantine 40 per cent of the Housing Australia Future Fund for regional areas specifically to really get the ball rolling. Would you support that and do you think that that could actually help?

Denita: Well, I think we’ve got to be really cautious around targets and quarantining certain amounts. We know that some community housing providers and local governments and so forth are better, they’re really, they’re housing ready, so to speak, in terms of applications to the HAFF. And also more importantly, that you cannot get developments off the ground if you also, if you don’t have the right civil infrastructure, the right infrastructure in terms of our utilities and so forth. So I think we need to first and foremost ensure that all our communities are ready to access government funding. And to ensure that they are getting support to get that vital infrastructure in the ground first. So we need to ensure that HAFF is rolled out as quickly as possible. Therefore, I think it’s difficult to put targets. Nevertheless, the longer term of HAFF needs to ensure that we’re looking after all Australians, not just those in the capital cities.

Prue: Denita Wawn, thank you very much for your time.

Denita: Pleasure. Thank you.

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

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