Event: Press conference on Housing Australia Future Fund
Date: Monday, 11 September 2023
Speakers: Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia
Topics: Housing Australia Future Fund; Housing Accord; Industrial Relations
Denita Wawn, CEO Master Builders Australia: Good afternoon. Denita Wawn, CEO of Master Builders Australia. We commend the work of the Federal Government, in particular Minister Collins in negotiating with the Greens and a number of the crossbenchers to finally get the Housing Australia Future Fund Bill through and the other related housing Bills. This is critically important as we face the housing crisis in this country. They are vital pieces of the puzzle as we look towards building over a million homes over five years to ensure that every Australian is housed in a house that is fit and proper and in the right place. This has been a critical issue that has taken too long but at least we have got there in the end. The industry is ready to build these homes as we particularly are confronted by declines in housing approvals due to inflationary costs and also higher interest rates. This will be the gap filler we desperately need as we wait for the private market to return into the sector so we can continue to build upon the homes we need across the country. Thank you.
Journalist: In terms of actually building these homes, you know, part of the deal was a billion dollars for additional social housing in the next financial year. What will it take to get those homes built from an industry’s perspective?
Denita: Well first and foremost from an industry perspective, we need to ensure that building approvals are approved by local government as quickly as possible. Part of the supply problems we have at the moment relates to the issues and delays on building approvals and occupancy and also development approvals. That is a critical component of the National Cabinet decision to ensure that we can have as quickly as possible the capacity to build. The other big issue for us is the supply of labour. Certainly, we know as housing approvals in the private market are on a downturn, we think we will have capacity in the future particularly the calendar year 2024. Nevertheless, we have got to ensure that we are training as many people as possible and also we’ve got the right skilled migration levels as well.
Journalist: So you don’t think this will be inflationary at all? Has the issue around a shortage of building materials been resolved?
Denita: The issue around building materials is resolved by and large. We still are seeing higher prices for some products but generally they have gone down. The issue around inflationary pressures is of concern only if the demand was significant. It’s not. We have seen ongoing declines of building approvals and that has been of significant to the industry that is facing a rollercoaster environment going forward. So, if the Government can fill the gap that we have been foreseeing for 2024, now, then this will be a considerable capacity to smooth those bumps along the journey for the industry.
Journalist: On the ‘Closing Loopholes’ Bill, the crossbench want a number of elements split out and dealt with this year and the main Bill dealt with next year. What do you think of that plan?
Denita: Master Builders Australia opposes the Bill outright. If there is a view that the Government can get support from the crossbench on those less contentious matters, then we believe that you put aside the existing Bill because of the quagmire that it is and instead strip out specific issues that will get more support than the omnibus would do so. We commend the work of the crossbench and also the Coalition in deferring that Bill. It is 800 pages that we have all got to get through from the explanatory memorandum and the legislation. It was ridiculous to think that we could consider it appropriately within a short time frame and it’s great it has now been deferred until 2024.
Journalist: So, do you find like the discrimination law, industrial manslaughter, work health and safety, silicosis and PTSD, those elements could be dealt with this year?
Denita: Well, as we have said this is now up to the Government. They know that the introduction of an omnibus bill was fraught with danger to them. They have indicated that there are some less contentious components of it. It is up to them to decide whether or not they are going to start the process again, strip less contentious matters out and have those matters that are important to them dealt with accordingly. It’s always high-risk doing omnibus and we have seen historically it is much more appropriate to deal with issue by issue at a time. This is a government decision they need to make if they want to see some things through as quickly as possible.
Journalist: The ACT Government has announced that they are going to allow on big blocks of over 800 square metres you can build a second dwelling. Is this the sort of reform that you would like to see to increase density or does that not go far enough?
Denita: It’s a great start. The capacity to do dual occupancy on larger blocks in our inner suburbs, in particular, where we have historically had larger-sized blocks for detached housing. The importance to ensure we have a sufficient supply of housing in this country is looking about going up as well as out. It is critically important that we have greater flexibility for medium and high rise density that is an appropriate level for the community. And certainly, the inner middle ring where we should be seeing more medium density and in some instances higher density should be seriously considered by all governments around the country as the solution to our housing problems. There are large swathes of land that we should be using more effectively and certainly we commend the ACT Government in their decision to look at the capacity in greater flexibility in going up as well as out.
National Director, Media & Public Affairs
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