Frustrations boil over as NT construction sector records worst month on record


January 10, 2019 18:30:13

Frustrations in the Northern Territory’s construction centre reached boiling point on Thursday as Chief Minister Michael Gunner attempted to spruik his Government’s stimulus program.

Key points:

  • The NT Government’s $100-million Public Housing Stimulus Program has started to roll out
  • It has been promised to provide benefits to “a thousand tradies”
  • The NT construction sector just suffered its worst December on record

As he visited a Darwin building supply business to announce the first works of a $100-million construction sector stimulus package were underway, he was confronted by a woman who said her business failed to secure any work under the scheme.

“I have applied, I’ve seen nothing … I was the second person registered, I’m still yet to see a job. Even a concreting, labouring job, nothing,” she told him.

“My family is crumbling and nobody cares, especially you.”

The Chief Minister, who said the woman had been supported by both the Treasurer and the Housing Minister’s office, urged her to be patient with the program, which remains open to applications.

“We’d love you to get work under the $100-million housing stimulus program, I just can’t physically promise you [that],” he said.

“I’m not telling you to promise me, I’m telling you to get out there and start helping people,” she interrupted.

Times ‘as tough as they’ve ever been’

It has been a trying time for the NT construction sector.

Master Builders figures show December was the worst month on record, according to the number of “Fidelity Certificates” issued — a key indicator of construction starts in suburban areas.

The number of certificates fell 44 per cent compared to the same period in 2017.

“The recorded data shows this is as tough as it’s ever been for construction in the Northern Territory,” Master Builders executive director David Malone said.

The Government says the sector is making up lost ground after the Inpex wind-down, but points to a bright future, with building works for onshore gas and its big expenditure on public housing, announced in November.

That project has been welcomed by Mr Malone, but he stressed the ailing residential housing needed a boost too.

“It employs about 40 per cent of Northern Territory construction workers,” he said.

“When you put money into residential building, you very quickly get that running through the economy.”

Opposition Leader Gary Higgins said the package failed to attract private investment.

“Governments should be spending money and enticing private investment to match it,” he said.

“This $100 million doesn’t do that … for Government to just go out and re-announce their stimulus package … is not going to solve the problem.”

Conservative lending practices hurting tradies

Mr Gunner also took aim at the banking sector, saying conservative lending practices prompted by the financial services royal commission were hurting Territory businesses.

“I think often these decisions from the banks reflect a non-Territory decision-making process,” he said.

“They’re often made by people who aren’t here; they’re made by people outside the Territory.”

Mr Malone said banking standards drawn up in major city boardrooms ought to take the Territory’s economy into account.

“We need each of the banks and their boards to come to the Territory and have a look at what’s here,” he said.

“Otherwise what you find is very conservative decision-making, and that goes right to the heart of whether we get a job and how our economy functions.”







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