Published: Letter to the Editor, The Australian, 13 December 2023

Modernising construction

By Jon Davies, CEO, Australian Constructors Association

Treasurer Jim Chalmers is rightly advocating for the modernisation of our economy (Modernisation drive key to new chapter of reform, productivity, 12/12) and what better place to start than the construction industry. Construction is Australia’s fourth largest industry and, arguably, the one industry stuck in the past. Infrastructure Australia dropped a truth bomb this week with its Market Capacity Report, highlighting the industry is in a slow-motion shuffle. Despite the reports and studies, the industry is dealing with a major workforce shortage of 229,000 workers, the industry’s productivity is heading south, and Australia is now one of the most expensive countries for building infrastructure.

To truly modernise construction, we need to stop thinking about incremental change. It is time for bold, transformative action in the form of a National Construction Strategy. We need a strategy that sets the rules of the game to become more productive so big projects like the $250 million Fitzroy River Bridge in WA that washed out in January this year and opened this week can be delivered. We need a National Construction Strategy that has a unified approach to construction data collection – so we can learn from project data and not reinvent the wheel for every project. And we need a framework for lifting the overall skill level of the construction industry so it can advance and adapt to emerging technologies and emerge as an employer of choice.

Someone needs to take the lead. How about we start with Australia’s largest infrastructure client, the Federal Government?