Though more needs to be done, the current Queensland government has made significant gains in a number of important areas of policy relating to the construction sector in its first term of government, the head of a leading building industry body within the state says.
As the state gears up for an election on January 31, Master Builders Association of Queensland executive director Paul Bidwell has lauded the Newman government for making sound progress in terms of reforming building industry regulation, moving toward a state-based code for industrial relations on public sector projects and placing sensible restrictions on the right of union officials to enter construction sites.
He said, however, that more needs to be done to reduce the burden of stamp duty on new housing, simplify planning and building approval processes and work with state and federal governments on a less prescriptive approach to occupational health and a more flexible training and apprenticeship system.
“There are some areas where the government have made good progress but there is still more to be done and others where there is more to be done but they have made some steps and indications are very positive,” Bidwell said. “So it varies between the two.”
“On key issues such as planning, building regulation, industrial relations (and) health and safety, we have bedded down some major changes which are very positive. But there is still more to be done on areas like the economic side of things and on training.”
Bidwell’s comments come as Queensland gears up for the state election later this month.
In its first term of office, the Newman government designated the construction sector as one of the ‘four pillars’ of the state’s economic strategy and set about replacing the former Building Services Authority with the Queensland Building and Construction Commission as part of an overhaul of building industry regulation, concluding an agreement with the federal government to eliminate federal/state duplication of environmental approval processes for infrastructure building projects, announcing a major privatisation program to free up funding for investment in public infrastructure and commencing work with industry leaders to develop a 20-year blueprint for the industry’s future.
Labor, for its part, says it will beef up investment in public housing and transport and overhaul the planning system around core principals such as liveability and sustainability.
Bidwell said the industry would like to see further change in a number of areas. In housing, these include reform of stamp duty to end a ‘double dip’ on speculative developments where the builder is charged upon purchase of the vacant land and then again when they sell the house and land onto consumers, the provision of exemptions for houses built off the plan as is done in Victoria, and planning reform to eliminate the need to obtain a separate planning approval to build a new house in a residential zoned area in addition to the building approval. In terms of training and occupational health and safety, meanwhile, he would like to see the state government work with federal counterparts to introduce more health and safety codes which are specific to Queensland as well as to revamp the apprenticeship system to produce a more flexible system based around core qualifications and transferable skills.
He added that the industry does not yet have sufficient information to assess the relative merits of respective party policies but hints that the LNP has in the past had the stronger performance of the two main parties in this area.
“We just don’t have enough information to assess what we (Master Builders) want against what they’ve promised,” Bidwell said. “It’s easier (to assess policies against what is required) for the government because they are the ones who have been in power making those changes (building regulation changes referred to above which have generally been well received).”
“That’s not to say that if Labour had been in power, they wouldn’t have done these things. But it’s fair to say that over the years they were in power we didn’t get much traction with them.”