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Interview with Tim Gilbert, Sky News


Event: Interview with Tim Gilbert, Sky News
Date: Saturday 18 May 2024, 8.15am AEST
Speakers: Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: Federal Budget; migration; housing supply

Tim Gilbert, host Sky News: Now, many people were hoping this week’s budget would bring them some relief in a very difficult economic time. Since it was announced, community and business seemed to be split on what they think. Joining me live is Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn. Denita, welcome to the program. What about builders? They’ve had a torrid old time the past few years since COVID. What’s the report card out of the budget?

Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Good morning, Tim. Well, the builders wanted some level of certainty, they wanted a reduction in costs, and they wanted increase in capacity. We got a little bit of it, but holistically not so great. So, in terms of the good stuff, skills, a lot of support for apprentices, a great deal of support for ensuring that we are skilling our tradespeople up so big tick there. The government also heard us in respect to ensuring that migrants in this country that are underutilised, that could be working in building are actually going to be supported through their skills assessment, and a great package about women in male-dominated areas. On the housing front, some really good stuff in terms of social housing, community housing but the concern that we’ve got is that if we’re going to build the 1.2 million homes that the government has committed us to, then we need to ensure that we have private investment in housing, whether that’s the owner occupier, whether that’s the small investor or whether that’s the large investor and they’re not in the market at the moment because of inflation, because of interest rates and because of the challenges of building at the moment including delays and so forth. So, we would have liked to have seen more, but a big tick to the Housing Minister, a big tick to the Skills Minister.

Tim: So, what would you like to see, Denita? It is a housing crisis. Whether we look at people trying to buy a house for the first time, we try to look at people trying to rent a place. It’s just difficult, every angle. What would you like to see?

Denita: Well, Tim, it’s all about supply. It’s the supply of housing. It’s as simple as that. It’s a problem that’s been decades in the making. We don’t blame this government, but we do recognise that they have said that we need to resolve supply. Our concern is that they are not pulling all the right policy levers in the right direction to get the outcome. So, we know for example, that we need to urgently solve our approvals process. We know that’s a state and territory responsibility. We know there’s a bit of money on the table from the federal government to assist them on things like critical infrastructure, but we do think more needs to be done in that space. We need more people, and it’s great that we’ve been able to focus on skilling Australians, but equally, we need a freed-up skilled migration system that focuses on tradies. We also need to ensure that we have smarter planning and zoning that enables us to go up as well as out and we also need a better industrial relations system. And kudos to the Opposition Leader who recognised that the significant changes made by this federal government have a handbrake on productivity and means that it takes us longer and it’s more expensive to build. So, we’ve also got to look at workplace relations reform as well. We’ve got to backtrack on what’s been occurring over the last 18 months, particularly with the removal of the ABCC, particularly with the curtailing of independent contractors. There is more debate in those spaces over the next 12 months as we lead into the election.

Tim: You’ve touched on it a few times. Where are we at with workforce shortages, of course, highlighted by the pandemic but that’s almost a couple of years now?

Denita: Yeah, materials are fine, but workplace shortages, just workforce shortages, just continue to become worse. We lose eight per cent of the workforce every year, but only replace it with four per cent. Part of that is because of the, you know, the baby boomers but part of it is because we’ve got to do better in our culture. But we need more people. We’re estimating another half a million new entrants over the next three or four years. BuildSkills said the other day we need, which is an agency of government, 90,000 new tradies in 90 days to meet the 1.2 million. These are huge, huge numbers of the current workforce of 1.3. million. So, we’ve got to do every effort we can to get people back into the industry, encourage them into the industry. And I’m still really concerned that our education system simply does not comprehend the opportunities there for our kids. Someone was telling me the other day they were going to, a builder, going to spruik the great thing about the industry, encourage apprentices, wrote to 45 high schools in his area only eight got back to him, interested in him coming and talking about trades. Huge opportunities for people of all ages, and of course we’ve got to encourage half the working population and that is women to the industry. And it’s been great to talk about women this week at a big lunch yesterday and seeing some amazing female tradies really trying to lead the charge in that space.

Tim: Oh, and they play such, women play such an important role, don’t they in the building industry? Building women’s careers program, I know that you’ve welcomes that. Of course, at every level, from management all the way to the tools.

Denita: Absolutely. The stories I heard yesterday, and we hear them around the country all the time. We’ve got a fantastic program, Women Building Australia. It’s been going now for five years. We undertake mentoring, attend careers expos, really trying to get women to understand the opportunities there. And it’s interesting in our recent publication, we talked about the fact that the majority of entrants into the building construction industry for women are actually those over 30. They’re looking at it as a new career opportunity. A lot of them want to set up their own businesses because of the flexibility you have of being your own boss. And that’s why we were scathing of the new independent contracting provisions that came through in February that have yet to be implemented in law, sorry yet to start, and that’s of concern to us.

Tim: Finally, on a bright note, it’s an industry that all Australians should be very proud of, isn’t it, the building industry? We do some remarkable work in this country.

Denita: Every single building we walk into is built by our builders, our tradies, the professionals that support them. It is quite extraordinary what we do in this country. We have, despite our frustrations, one of the best building codes in terms of safety and wellbeing of the people that utilise buildings. And we should be proud of it. And it’s an amazing industry. I’ve now worked in it for seven years. I’ve got family that have worked in it for a number of generations. I can’t think highly enough of it. I know I’m encouraging my boys to get into the industry, whether they do or not is another question, but huge opportunities that we’re encouraging people to do so. And as our population grows, there’s more to do. And I don’t know about you, Tim, but I think AI’s not going to be taking over the building of a school or a house anytime soon. So, there’s still jobs there for those but I don’t know about us.

Tim: Oh absolutely. My brother-in-law’s a builder. We’ve got it in our family, and they’re fantastic. I sometimes am in awe because I’m so hopeless with anything mechanical or beyond, probably talking. It’s quite an extraordinary talent that they do have. Denita always good to chat and let’s talk soon.

Denita: Excellent. Thanks, Tim, and have good weekend everyone.

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

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