Building and Construction Industry

Mr CLARE (Blaxland) (17:00): We’re all stuck in them, most of us can’t wait to get out of them, and we need a hell of a lot more of them. I’m talking about housing. One of the many things we have learnt over the last few weeks is the importance of housing—safe and affordable housing. We often think of our homes as our castle. In the last few months, they’ve been our fortress. They have helped to keep us safe and have protected so many of us. That’s why a couple of weeks ago I called on the national cabinet to establish an eviction moratorium, a freeze on evictions, to make sure that people weren’t thrown out onto the street in the middle of a pandemic. It’s the sort of thing that was done in the UK and in New Zealand and I’m pleased to say that the Prime Minister and the premiers agreed do it. The states have now legislated or are in the process of legislating to put it in place. I sincerely believe it is going to help to save lives. It is going to help to keep a lot of people safe.

Just as housing has been important for keeping us safe in the middle of this pandemic, I think it can play a very big and important role in helping us in the economic recovery that we now embark upon. Housing was a big part of the recovery after World War II, with Curtin and Chifley building more homes. It was a big part of getting us out of the teeth of the global financial crisis—building more homes, keeping tradies working and getting the economy back on its feet. It’s something we need to think about again here too.

The housing industry has been warning us for weeks that work is fast running out and new orders have fallen off a cliff. They’re not my words; they’re the words of the Master Builders Association. They’re saying that work is fast running out and new orders have fallen off a cliff. It makes sense if you think about it, because, when the pandemic hits and you lose your job or you lose hours, and you see all those terrible pictures on the television, the last thing you think about is making a massive investment—the biggest investment in your life—by purchasing a new home. So, people have stopped making those investments and now, three, four, or five months after they would have made those investments, concrete isn’t being poured in the places around the country where new houses should have been being built.

What the Master Builders Association is saying is that, instead of 160,000 homes being built this year, it now could be as low as 100,000. If that happens, that means a lot of tradies and a lot of small businesses in the housing game are out of work or out of business. This is not a small industry. Almost one million people work in building homes for other Aussies, from carpenters, to electricians, to plumbers, to all of the businesses that produce the products: the bricks, the tiles, the plasterboard and the timber. If the industry collapses, if the industry is not building as many homes, you’ve then got a lot of people out of work in the months ahead. That’s why in question time today I asked the Minister for Housing if the government is developing a plan to make sure this doesn’t happen—to make sure that these people don’t end up on the dole queue. All we got was cricket—very little evidence that the government is developing a plan to stop this. The minister read out a list of the things the government has done, things we support, like establishing NHFIC and the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme. He talked about JobKeeper, but remember that JobKeeper ends around September. These tradies will be running out of work over the next few months. They’re going to be out of work around the same time that JobKeeper ends. Nothing he listed there is going to turn around that drop in houses built from 160,000 to 100,000.

The government needs to get its head out of the sand here. If no action is taken, we are going to have tradies lose their jobs in all of our electorates all around the country. That’s why this week the opposition talked of two of the things we could do. We can invest in building more social housing and repairing existing social housing and bring forward some of the things that are already in state budgets. State governments are already doing some of this, but we can do more. We have done it before and it works. It keeps tradies working and it repairs the sort of housing that needs repairing. Here’s another idea: we could build more affordable rental accommodation for frontline workers. If we’ve learnt one thing out of this crisis, it is just how important nurses, cleaners, bus drivers and supermarket workers are. They don’t get paid a lot and don’t get to work from home. They often travel long distances to get to work. There’s some projects around the country where they are building homes for these sorts of heroes—affordable accommodation closer to work. State governments and super funds are doing it and we could do a lot more of it. We’ve got to do something here or we’ll have a lot of tradies on the dole queue. I urge the government to think again and take action to keep these tradies working.