Event: Denita Wawn interview with Scott Hayward, 3AW
Date: Monday, 11 September 2023
Speakers: Scott Hayward, host 3AW Money News; Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: Housing Accord; Industrial Relations; Housing Australia Future Fund
Scott Hayward, host 3AW Money News: What does the industry think? Welcoming the peace-making between the parties today is Denita Wawn the CEO of Master Builders Australia and she joins me on this Monday night on Money News. Denita, welcome back to the show.
Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Thank you. Great to be back.
Scott: Denita, a bit of politics is still to happen before the legislation becomes law but ultimately you must be happy with the outcome today?
Denita: We’re really, really happy. We’ve been behind this policy from day one. It was a critical piece of the puzzle in terms of the housing supply crisis that is facing this country. We’ve said, as many others in the industry have said, that we need more social and community homes to ensure that as many Australians who are homeless and finding it tough to find housing can have a roof over their heads. And this is a very welcome piece of the puzzle to resolving those problems and it’s great that we can now get on with the job because it also fills some of the gaps of the downturn in building and construction over the next two years with that $3 billion promise of immediate action. That is quite crucial that keeps people in jobs as well as we see a downturn in building due to the labour shortages, due to inflation and also due to interest rates as well. So, good news for the industry.
Scott: I’ll talk to you about that in a moment Denita, some of the challenges the industry is facing. But does the entire housing problem boil down to supply?
Denita: It does, and we’ve been saying for seven years now that supply resolution is the answer that we’ve got to solve supply constraints and we commend the leadership of the Prime Minister and Treasurer and Housing Minister in bringing that to the fore in the recent National Cabinet meeting. That actually now holds state and territory and local governments to account in removing those supply impediments. It means more land, better use of land, reduced developer charges, and also taking away the significant delays we have on building approvals, on developer approvals and occupancy approvals. It has all led to the quagmire that we are in now of simply not enough homes for all Australians.
Scott: So how likely is it that it will actually get close to the Government’s National Housing Accord target of 1.2 million new homes in the next five years?
Denita: Well, other than a couple of issues facing at the moment when it comes to things like labour supply, industrial relations, we think it’s achievable for the million homes over five years if, you know, inflation goes down, if interest stabilise plus with government expenditure we will be able to meet that million. The 1.2 is going to be hard unless the state governments, territory governments and the local governments actually get their act together and utilise that incentive money from the federal government to resolve those supply impediments. So, it can be done so long as we’ve got the right macroeconomic settings to ensure that we are not hamstrung in building enough homes.
Scott: You touch on labour supply and industrial relations which are challenges in itself and that leads me to a very simple question. Who is going to build these houses, and do you have a list of builders on the bench ready to go?
Denita: I think the really important thing is that our 435,000 building and construction businesses around the country are ready to go. We are starting to see the downturn in the market after, obviously, a huge amount of work over COVID. There are concerns that there is not enough forward sales. We are seeing that in the building approval numbers over the last six months or so. So, people are ready. They’ve got the labour ready. But if we are going to look at that stretch of 1.2 homes and all the infrastructure around it we cannot forget that we can’t just build homes, you’ve got to make sure that they’ve got the supporting infrastructure around them as well. We are going to need a greater number of skilled migrants. We’re going to need more people working in the industry and being trained to work in the industry. And so, again, we’ve got some great programs that the government has been supporting and we eagerly await some of the reports into employment and skilled migration that the federal government is currently considering.
Scott: Denita, do you think the Government understands the pressures in the property industry? Now, off the top of my head, the industry is facing challenges such as builders going broke, soaring construction costs, increased industry payments over the last three years, record high taxes including land tax, high insurance costs and a genuine slowdown in the economy. That’s a lot to deal with, isn’t it?
Denita: That’s right, and that’s why it’s so incredibly important that there is leadership from the likes of the Prime Minister and Treasurer that we look at this holistically. The Government is doing some great stuff in a number of policy areas including housing. But of course, we are being curtailed by Minister Burke’s industrial relations laws which will actually put all of that at risk. So, we’re asking for leadership of the government to look at this holistically rather than at a policy by policy basis that any change in policy that is detrimental to our industry puts this target at risk. And certainly, we argue, that the industrial relations legislation that was introduced into Parliament last week is a high risk of hampering our capacity to deliver.
Scott: So, on one hand you’ve got Tony Burke with his industrial relations reform which is going to hamper all sorts of parts of the economy, particularly casuals and the gig economy. And then you’ve got the Government who are saying we are going to press forward and be positive. So, on which side of the fence do we sit on?
Denita: Well, I think it’s really important that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer ensure that any policies that go through Cabinet do not hamper one of the biggest industries in this country. We are the largest employer of full-time employees. We have the largest number of small to medium-sized businesses. We’ve got the largest number of independent contractors. And every dollar spent in our sector is three dollars returned to the economy. It’s one of the biggest if not the biggest economic activators in this country. That can not be put at jeopardy by industrial laws that will curtail the capacity of us to meet those ambitions of the Government. That’s why we are being so vocal. That’s why we implore the Prime Minister and the Treasurer to rethink from a leadership point of view the approach being taken by Minister Burke. Things have to change on that IR Bill. We are looking forward to voicing loudly our opposition and why we’ve got such opposition to that Bill over the next few months and commend the crossbenchers and the Coalition for ensuring that we have sufficient time to consider that Bill with the Senate report now not due until February next year.
Scott: Denita Wawn, CEO of Master Builders Australia. Thank you so much for joining me on Money News on this Monday night.
Denita: Pleasure as always. Thank you.
National Director, Media & Public Affairs
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