Australian Constructors Association is continuing to respond to the various state infrastructure strategies released across the nation to support initiatives aimed at improving the sustainability of Australia’s construction industry.

Most recently, Australian Constructors Association provided a submission to Infrastructure Western Australia’s (IWA) Foundations for a Stronger Tomorrow Draft State Infrastructure Strategy. We support the recommendations detailed in the strategy—in particular, those aligned to the three key pillars of a sustainable construction industry: equitable and aligned commercial frameworks, a positive industry culture, and sufficient capability, capacity and skills to execute the project pipeline.

Pleasingly, IWA’s strategy provides clear timeframes and worthy of notable mention is the move to establish a lead government agency for digital technology adoption within 1 year. Consistent with our response to Infrastructure Australia regarding the Australian Infrastructure Plan, the Australian Constructors Association calls on the WA government to bring forward the timeframes for reforms to procurement policies and practices.

Australian Constructors Association CEO Jon Davies said the pandemic has created a once in a generation opportunity for reform and the opportunity is now. “All levels of government are relying on the construction industry to lead the economy forward on the basis that every dollar spent on infrastructure has a $3 kick on to the wider economy. We cannot afford to wait 5 or 10 years; the record spend is happening now.”

Highlights from the submission include:

Digital-first approach 

Only one industry performs worse than construction when it comes to digital innovation—hunting. The proposed digital-first approach is welcomed and will not only assist in de-risking infrastructure investments but improve productivity and returns.

Recognising that the adoption of technology relies on transparent sharing of information, IWA are to be commended for pursuing opportunities to embed digital tools and thinking that will deliver benefits at every stage of the infrastructure lifecycle. It is important to also consider the opportunity to invest in the mindset of leaders and to embed deep capability and capacity throughout the supply chain.

Planning and coordination 

The focus on strategic planning of infrastructure investments, including two-way public and private sector information sharing, is to be commended.

As outlined in the strategy, industry can struggle to respond to peaks and troughs in infrastructure investment without longer-term pipeline visibility. Through careful coordination and management of the infrastructure pipeline, the WA Government will be in a better position to create market certainty and enable industry to build capability and capacity. 

Infrastructure delivery 

Australian Constructors Association strongly supports recommendations to implement reforms to project procurement policies and practices. These reforms will help unlock productivity enhancements and improve industry culture. The three pillars of a sustainable construction industry are interlinked. Adversarial commercial frameworks negatively impact on culture and a positive industry culture is a key factor in attracting people into the industry.

By way of commercial frameworks, we support collaborative forms of contract as they provide an opportunity for all parties to make informed decisions on a best for project basis. We are particularly pleased to see reference to the Project 13 concept of the ‘enterprise’, bringing together owners, contractors and technical support, working in more collaborate and integrated long-term teams, incentivised to deliver long-term better value. Collaborative frameworks can include achieving increased training and upskilling on projects which provide a legacy benefit for future projects, achieving local employment and diversity targets, and maximising local content and engagement of social and indigenous enterprise.

Australian Constructors Association also welcomes the development of a bid cost reimbursement policy for unsuccessful tenders for major projects, to support early contractor engagement and innovation in the tender process.

Opportunities for improvement

Australian Constructors Association supports the focus on delivering enterprise and opportunity for Aboriginal people. We also strongly believe that improved wider diversity, particularly gender diversity, will have a profound and positive impact on the culture of the construction industry. While the construction industry has made significant inroads into improving the inclusivity of its workplaces, more needs to be done to attract women to the workforce.

Working with NSW and VIC public sectors through the Construction Industry Culture Taskforce, we are developing a Culture Standard to improve the culture of the construction industry. The Culture Standard will provide a framework for clients and contractors to work together to address significant challenges facing the industry:

  • Long working hours: Hours of work are excessive, resulting in high rates of turnover, absenteeism, and stress-related leave.
  • Lack of diversity: Our industry lacks diversity with only 12 per cent of female workers across all jobs in the sector, meaning we are forgoing the talents of a large proportion of available workers. While many people of different backgrounds are part of the sector, diversity could be greater than it is now, including increased participation at all levels by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • Wellbeing: Research shows stress levels and suicide rates amongst construction workers are double the national average.

Consultation on the draft Culture Standard will commence in late September. Australian Constructors Association calls on the WA Government to support the cultural shift by adopting the Standard as part of their procurement requirements when it is finalised later this year.

Achieving the recommendations

At a time when the nation is preparing to deliver on an unprecedented infrastructure pipeline and fill an additional 118,000 jobs by May 2023, we need to act quickly to improve productivity by supporting our workforce and adopting a more sustainable approach to our work. We can only do this if we work together.

We support the WA Government’s initiative in publishing its long-term infrastructure strategy.  Reforms such as procurement frameworks selected based on project specifics rather than market cycles, projects awarded based on best value rather than lowest cost and compliance with an industry culture standard being a mandatory requirement of any procurement process will drive the much-needed outcomes for a sustainable sector.