Construction jobs

Mr CLARE (Blaxland) (12:10): I want to ask the minister about construction jobs. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has reported that in the first six months since the pandemic hit the number of carpenters employed across Australia has dropped by more than 12,000. The same report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics has said that in the six months since the pandemic hit the number of bricklayers working has dropped by more than 9,000, the number of painters working has dropped by more than 10,000 and the number of sparkies, electricians, working has dropped by more than 11,000. That’s a lot of tradies out of work, and the projections for the next six months and beyond aren’t crash hot either.

The minister would be familiar with a story that was published in the Australian on Friday, ‘Builders facing jobs carnage’. That report refers to a report commissioned and published by the Australian Construction Industry Forum that came out last week. It’s forecasting that another 42,000 tradies could lose their jobs in the next seven or eight months. That’s a lot of tradies who work on building sites building houses and apartments for other Australians. Now, I know that the minister will say what he always says—that is, that HomeBuilder is the miracle cure-all for all of this. He’ll say, ‘It’s fantastic.’ He’ll say, ‘It’s extraordinary.’ But the problem is this: even if the HomeBuilder scheme meets the targets that the government has set for it, and 27,000 people sign up by Christmas, that in and of itself is not enough to save these tradies’ jobs.

Treasury, the minister’s department, have told us—they said it a couple of months ago and they repeated in estimates only two weeks ago—that they forecast the number of homes built this financial year will be substantially lower than last financial year. Last financial year, we built 170,000 homes across the country. Treasury are predicting that that will be as low as 140,000 homes. If fewer homes are built, that means that fewer tradies will be needed to build them. It’s important to remember here that these Treasury forecasts have the HomeBuilder scheme factored into them. In other words, even with the HomeBuilder scheme working as expected, the housing industry will still shrink, and that means job losses. That’s why I’m asking the minister and I’m asking the government to do more here. The housing industry has called for the scheme to be extended, and so have I. But that, in and of itself, is not enough. The scheme needs to be amended and fixed to deal with some of the problems inherent in it.

Sydney is a good example. Sydneysiders aren’t getting their fair share out of the scheme at the moment. New South Wales makes up about one-third of the country, but it’s only getting one-fifth of the grants. It’s not hard to understand why. It’s not easy to get a house-and-land package in many parts of Sydney for $750,000 or less. Members here will know that very, very well. So I’m asking the minister to consider making the same sorts of changes to this scheme that he recently made—and that we supported—to the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme. Lift the cap in places like Sydney where it’s needed, and the scheme will be more successful. But it’s not just that. Changes also need to be made to how the scheme works for apartment construction. If there’s one part of the housing industry that’s suffering more than most, it’s apartment construction. The HIA predict it to drop by about 40 per cent this financial year. If you’re buying an apartment off the plan, this scheme doesn’t work well for you at the moment. So I ask the minister to consider changes to that as well.

If the government really wants to help save these tradies’ jobs, it needs to invest more in social housing. Our international borders are shut. Migration has stopped, at least for a while, and that means that the population isn’t growing as fast. That suppresses demand for new housing. If you want to keep these tradies working, and demand for private housing is down, it makes sense to invest in public housing. There’s no lack of need or lack of demand there. I know the minister will say the same thing that he always says—that this is the job of the states. The states have already put an extra billion dollars into social housing. Ultimately, it’s not about whether it’s the job of the state government or the federal government; it’s about the jobs of those tradies: carpenters, electricians, plumbers, bricklayers—people who are running out of work, and the HomeBuilder scheme is not doing enough to save all those jobs. So, I ask the minister again: will the government consider investing more in social housing to protect the jobs of those tradies?