As the building and construction slowdown continues, a leading industry figure says housing is a significant issue at the federal election and that measures to improve affordability and boost home building activity are imperative if Australia is to avoid significant economic and social implications.

Housing Industry Association director of public policy Graham Wolfe says the current slowdown in residential construction means Australia is not building enough homes for its long term needs which, if not addressed, will have significant social implications in terms of housing availability and affordability.

He adds that the slowdown has not only cost jobs but has precipitated a scaling back of manufacturing capacity which has far-reaching implications in terms of increasing reliance on imported materials.

“The reality is that over the past two to three years, there have been a number of plants [bricks, cement etc.] that have closed down,” Wolfe said, adding that the type of facilities he is talking about are not readily recommissioned. “There are long-term implications [of these shutdowns] for jobs, long term implications for Australian companies and long term implications for our sovereign security to some extent in terms of our capacity and our capability to manufacture the goods that we need to build homes.”

“This means we are at risk to exchange rates, we are at risk to transport corridors and access. We are at risk to overseas manufacturers and what their business decisions are going to be.”

Under its Australia Needs Building campaign launched earlier this year, the HIA outlined 50 policies in six areas it says are necessary to promote an industry capable of building enough homes to meet the nation’s long term requirements.

Graham Wolfe

Graham Wolfe

First and most important, Wolfe says, is the cost of housing, which he says carries an overall taxation burden ranging from 38 to 44 per cent in different regions across the nation. Wolfe has called on both parties to comprehensively review this area and to address the current tax burden and ensure the burden does not increase going forward.

Another critical area, Wolfe says, is infrastructure. While larger ports and highways are all well and good, Wolfe wants more focus on localised infrastructure such as sewerage, water works and local road upgrades which support greater housing capacity in brownfield developments and medium-density greenfield developments, along with a national conversation about the timing of delivery that infrastructure and who pays.

Finally, the industry leader would like to see less reliance upon the big four banks in terms of finance. He is encouraging both parties to look at possible alternatives such as government bonds or superannuation to bring additional sources of finance to new home purchases or housing construction.

Asked about the relative merits of major party policies announced to-date, Wolfe says respective party leader responses to a question put forth at a recent people’s forum about affordability were ‘not particularly helpful’ in terms of addressing the 50 actions the HIA has spelled out in its campaign.

He says the HIA is encouraged by Coalition policies to eliminate the carbon tax and reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission and is somewhat encouraged by a recent government announcement regarding the streamlining of parental leave payments. He says, however, that the Coalition still needs to do more in terms of investigating and understanding the cost of housing and both parties need to do more to reduce red tape.

Despite those criticisms, Wolfe says a number of people in government appreciate the sector’s importance and messages regarding the industry’s impact upon affordability and jobs have resonated among voters.

“I  think in this election in particular, there is no doubt that the electorate is telling the parties that housing affordability and housing ownership, and the residential building industry and its impact on jobs and its contribution to the economy is in fact a very high priority,” he said. “Everybody recognises that as investment in the mining sector starts to or has wound back, one of the key ways we can maintain a healthy GDP and return Australia back to an economic prosperity is to go on the back of residential building and everybody also knows that we do need the extra supply.”