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Interview with Steve Austin, ABC Radio Brisbane


Event: Interview with Steve Austin, ABC Radio Brisbane
Date: 27 March 2024, 8.45am AEST
Speakers: Alex Waldren, National Director Industry Policy Master Builders Australia
Topics: housing supply; labour shortages; migration


Steve Austin, host ABC Radio Brisbane: Let’s go back to the issue of the housing shortage. You’ve heard it again and again and again. Whether it’s about the housing shortage or the infrastructure needed for the 2032 games, there are not enough skilled workers to build. Just this week, you might have heard that the industry needs to find 90,000 tradies just for the next 90 days to achieve the Housing Accord goal of 1.2 million new houses by 2029. Master Builders has today made recommendations in a pre-budget submission and Alex Waldren is the National Director of Policy at the MBA. Alex, I’m just trying to get my head around that, 90,000 trade is needed in the next 90 days if they’re going to meet the federal government’s target.

Alex Waldren, National Director Industry Policy Master Builders Australia: Yes, it’s a big challenge, Steve, and we’re sort of working with government to try to sort of resolve some of these challenges.

Steve: I mean, it’s an impossible challenge, isn’t it? They can’t meet, it’s not going to happen.

Alex: Oh it’s a difficult challenge. We hope we can sort of start to chip away at it. It’s been a problem within the industry for a while that’s been building and is now a chronic workforce challenge for the sector.

Steve: So your recommendations are what to the federal government?

Alex: Look, we’re saying there’s a number of options we need to work. But specifically on this budget submission we’ve made, we’ve talked about better utilising the migrant workforce. We’ve talked about training more school leavers and retraining more people within the domestic workforce, but we think we need to look more closely at the migrant workforce to plug the immediate skills shortages and gaps that are, you know, challenging our industry.

Steve: Now there’s a fair body of opinion around that says bringing in skilled labour from overseas looks reasonable on the surface, but it is actually adding to the pressures in the housing market because they need to live somewhere themselves. How would you deal with that Alex Waldren?

Alex: Look, we’re saying in our submission that we need to look at the existing migrant workers in Australia. So, not bringing in more at the moment, but looking at the existing overqualified and underutilised migrant workers already in the country. We’ve got a proud history in our sector of employing migrant workers. We’ve, you know, got 24 per cent of migrant workers make up our workforce, and over the last five years, we’ve only sort of drawn from 2.8 per cent of the migrant workforce to fill our skills gaps.

Steve: So we have skilled migrants already living in Australia who are not employed in their skill set?

Alex: Yeah, we’re seeing, and we’re hearing from people around the industry that there are people here that are overqualified, underutilised and already have the skills from their home country, but they’re just not recognised in Australia.

Steve: Why aren’t they recognised in Australia?

Alex: The complexity of getting them recognised. You know, we say there’s barriers around, you know, cost and time and navigating the system as well as English language barriers. The Parkinson Migration Review that was released, I think, last year has indicated that it can cost around $10,000 and 18 months to sort of, you know, get through some of these hurdles.

Steve: Wouldn’t it have been more likely that groups like yours, the Master Builders, because you’re a sort of professional representative organisation wanting to maintain a certain standard, is actually part of the problem while they haven’t been utilised because they don’t have Australian-recognized qualifications?

Alex: Yeah, we, you know, we’re not calling for so lowering the standards we do sort of call for the standards to be maintained. But we do say there’s an option for the governments to work through looking at English language training, support subsidies for skills gap training so the qualifications can meet Australian standards. You know, mentoring and coaching support, you know, to help migrants navigate the system. They’re some of the things we’re calling for in our submission.

Steve: Alex Waldren is the national director of policy at Master Builders Australia. They’ve revealed that to meet the federal government’s clearly stated Housing Accord goal of 1.2 million new houses by 2029, you would have to find 90,000 qualified tradies in the next 90 days, in other words, in the next three months. This is ABC Radio. I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Are you someone who is new to Australia or a migrant and your skills have not been recognised and you want to work? I’d love to know. You give me a call or send me a text. So what challenges Alex, are you currently facing finding skilled labour?

Alex: Look, you know, as I said, we’ve been saying we’ve got, you know, a shortage of, you know, around 500,000 workers that need to come in over the next few years, and we’ve also got an ageing workforce where there’s around, you know, eight per cent of the industry sort of leaving the sector. So you know, they’re big challenges that we need to to get on top of and we need all people to take some action and stop talking.

Steve: So, you’re not the only one who’s sick of people talking about it. Could the federal government take action about this now?

Alex: Look, I know the governments are working on this, you know, across the federation. You know, a big part of the challenge is just governments, you know, looking at these big issues and getting beyond the parochialism and cutting through some of the challenges and red tape in the space.

Steve: Forgive me. What’s the parochialism you’re referring to? What parochialism?

Alex: I suppose state partisanship, political partisanship. You know, states having sort of more control over how they manage, you know, the state system and the local environment. And look, that needs to happen, but we need everybody to sort of come together and just try to cut through some of these national issues.

Steve: So what, sort of, what Queensland are saying no, we have to have the final say on what happens here? Explain, I don’t understand how that would reveal itself in question?

Alex: Queensland is not saying no. I think people have, sort of, you know, a local flavour on the way they do business, the way they work, and that is, you know, happening all around the country and it is something that’s part of the process. But there are some national themes that can be looked at and improved on and all states coming together. Things like, you know, looking at wait times, looking at better skills recognition processes, looking at consistent qualification recognition, you know, looking at occupational licence arrangements and making it more harmonised around the country. They’re just some of the things, and we’re not saying anyone’s a massive road blocker here, but we are saying just come together and start to resolve some of these issues that have been around the industry for a long time.

Steve: Alex, thanks for your time.

Alex: Thank you.

Steve: Alex Waldren is the national director of policy at Master Builders Australia. They’ve just handed in their pre-budget submission to the federal government. They say Australia needs 90,000 tradies in just the next 90 days in order for the Albanese government to achieve the Housing Accord goal of 1.2 million new homes by 2029.

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


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