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Interview with Steve Price, Sky News Credlin


Event: Interview with Steve Price, Sky News Credlin
Date: 5 June 2024, 6.20pm AEST
Speakers: Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: Skilled migration; labour shortages


Steve Price, Sky News Host: Now we all know Australia is in the grip of a housing crisis. It’s one of the biggest issues the Government has to deal with. The Federal Government is on track to fall well short of its goal which always seemed to me to be an impossible dream to build 1.2 million new homes by mid-2029. Now planning bottlenecks, you’ve got soaring material costs and you’ve got a lack of tradies have all been blamed by as building companies continue to go into liquidation one, one seems to fall over every day, we’re also running out of people to actually do the building. And if you thought skilled migrants might be the answer, most of us would think that would be sensible, well the Government seems to disagree. Incredibly, leaving plumbers, builders, engineers off a list of skills for visas. But there’s better luck if you’re a dog handler or you make jewellery or you’re a yoga teacher. It doesn’t make any sense. I’m joined now by Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn. Denita, this seems unbelievable. The very skills the Government needs to overcome this housing crisis, people like bricklayers, I heard a roof plumber on radio today, this advisory body Jobs and Skills Australia doesn’t see as much value as having a yoga instructor in the country. How can that work?

Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Only in Canberra is all I can say Steve. It’s quite incredulous, isn’t it? And, I think the Yoga Association came out today saying there’s too many yoga instructors. So, I don’t know where their data is coming from but it’s certainly not consistent with any of the data that we’re seeing. And we know that we need another 90,000 tradies in 90 days to have any chance of building 1.2 million homes over the next five years. The biggest reason why we’re having a 40 per cent increase in costs of building at the moment, is predominantly because of a shortage of skilled workforce. So, we know we need to employ more Australians, we need to get more in apprenticeships, but skilled migration is a critical short-term solution. So, I am absolutely perplexed as to how we got on the maybe list as opposed to the definite list.

Steve: Denita it just makes no sense. I mean, if you think about it in a practical way, you know if you’ve got a skilled up bricklayer, or a skilled up roof tiler or a plumber or sparky, living in the UK with a young family who thinks oh, well might be a nice thing to you know, go and spend a few years in Australia. Why wouldn’t you make it easy for those people to come here?

Denita: Well, common sense would say that Steve, but I’ve been around industry associations for 30-odd years and common sense doesn’t prevail all that often in Canberra, and this is another beauty of a decision. The big issue for us is that we’re in an international competitive environment at the moment. Both the UK and Canada have very much made it so much easier than we do to attract tradies. Canada’s got the best system where they are having an express visa category just for tradies. You can do your gap training and all sorts of things in Canada. We make it so incredibly hard. I don’t know about you, but I meet many an Uber driver that would love to be working in our industry, but that costs too much and takes too much time to get their skills assessed and gap training and the list goes on. So, we’ve got to be making it easier. Not harder. So, it just does not make sense.

Steve: You’re in my old hometown of Adelaide, I’m in Melbourne tonight. Are you seeing in South Australia people with skills in construction being sucked out of South Australia because of these massive infrastructure projects that are taking place particularly in Victoria?

Denita: Unfortunately, Steve, we’re seeing a huge number of skilled workforce around the country going into mining, going into infrastructure. I’ve even heard of stories of tradies in commercial industry going into the residential sector, because in some instances, the resi builders are paying more than commercial, which is very unusual, and it just shows the problems that we are facing. You talked earlier about insolvencies, it’s in part the reason why we’re having insolvencies. Fixed price contracts mean that the builder is bearing the brunt of skyrocketing costs of labour and we’re also seeing a situation in which good builders are now saying “no, I’m not going to tender for work. I can’t guarantee what price I’ll be having to pay for labour, if I can find labour in the first place.” That means a lack of investment in the industry, which is detrimental and totally contradictory to the outcomes we’re trying to achieve.

Steve: We see the PM’s $10 billion affordable housing for low-income families. They paid $24 million to external consultants and $6 million in executive salaries in the past year, and they haven’t built a single home. I mean, how angry should we be about that.

Denita: Well, there’s always that issue isn’t it, about its taxpayers’ money. It’s our money. I know that Housing Australia just had a first round of offers. It was oversubscribed. So, we’re hoping as an industry that that money starts hitting the ground because as the economy is still at high inflation, we saw construction today down yet again on our productivity numbers. Private investment, whether it’s mum and dad investors right through to large investors, are simply not spending money on construction at the moment. The dollars do not stack up. So, we desperately need government investment while we sort out the problem in the economy, to actually get private investment in the housing industry, and in building generally back up to scratch, because otherwise we’re not going to meet that 1.2. Government funding ain’t going to cut it.

Steve: Denita you’re doing a great job. Thank you very much for your time tonight.

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

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