Australia and New Zealand need a joint strategy regarding pre-fabrication including an online portal in order to foster a competitive domestic prefabrication industry and ensure the building industry in both countries is able to maximise the benefits prefabrication offers, a key consultant to the construction and housing industry in Australia says.

In his Provocation: What about China and Australia paper presented at the Prefab NZ conference last week, David Chandler, chief executive of Sydney based construction advisory firm Resolution Services, said construction throughout the world is increasingly going offsite and becoming industrialised and globalised, but a business as usual approach in Australia is holding back the development of domestic prefabrication capability, inhibiting productivity growth and driving up construction costs.

Chandler told the conference New Zealand was ahead of Australia in terms of embracing pre-fabrication, and that procurement practices throughout the industry in the latter had been held back by a cutting back of informed buyer capability within the public service, a lack of national insights over what construction costs should be, variations in construction quality and certification and declining on-site construction experience on the part of managers and the return of fragmentation of construction governance and governance of industry associations.

He said many of Australia’s construction inputs are increasingly being sourced offshore, a phenomenon which is leading to challenges associated with compliance of imported products with Australian standards as well as more employment positions going overseas.

“The rate at which construction inputs are being sourced off-shore is rising steeply,” Chandler wrote in his paper. “These inputs include steel, curtain walls, engineered timber and these days extend to complete buildings in areas such as housing, student accommodation and hospitals.”

To turn this around, Chandler argued for greater coordination between Australia and New Zealand, including the creation of an industry portal that enables the supply chain to collaborate and allows clients and construction imitators to view all that is on offer, incorporate inputs of their choosing, quickly build a project design, manage scope and specification and view real time pricing and delivery schedules.

“This is more than BIM and it’s more than the current offerings in project information sharing,” Chandler wrote.

“It would be a portal for contractors and their suppliers to contribute efficiently and where innovation and best practice were distinguished by value for money benchmarks and demonstrated performance. Where the whole of the project team shared an integrated ITC platform. Where it redefined redundant transaction practices and B2B risks that have for so long damaged the industry.”

Chandler says collaboration of this nature could create greater momentum and commitment toward improving productivity and innovation in both countries, share accountability and help accelerate and ‘off-site’ industry of considerable value in the two countries.

He said, in Australia, this could largely be directed toward ‘employment holes’ left by the winding back of motor vehicle and other manufacturing industries in the country, and could generate up to 75,000 new jobs and add more than $22 billion per annum to construction industry GDP contributions in the two countries.

Held last week at the City Campus of the Auckland University of Technology, the conference featured 11 local and international speakers as well as a field trip to a prefabricated house on Waiheke Island.

A key feature of the event revolved around the launch of Prefab NZ’s Housing of the Future and Value Case papers, detailing how prefabrication can address the housing needs of an aging population and can save up to 15 per cent of the costs to build a 157 square metre house as well as delivering benefits such as quality, safety and time savings.