GOVERNMENTS at the state and territory level must work together with the Federal Government "to fast track recent commitments on infrastructure, including both transport and social infrastructure projects, in light of today’s very mixed results for building activity,” according to Master Builders Australia chief economist Shane Garrett. 

ABS data released earlier indicate that the total volume of building work done in Australia dipped by 0.3 percent during the March 2019 quarter compared with the last three months of 2018. Compared with a year earlier, the total volume of building work is down by 0.9 percent.

“Commercial building is one of the economy's pillars at the moment," Mr Garrett said. "The amount of work done here rose by 3.2 percent during the March 2019 quarter and has reached a new all-time high.

"Strong population growth is boosting demand for new shops, cafes and restaurants with robust employment growth benefitting office and industrial building activity.

“In contrast, the volume of new home building has fallen to its lowest ebb since the end of 2013. This is mostly due to another sharp reduction in apartment/unit starts during the March 2019 quarter, meaning that high density dwelling commencements have lost 41.8 percent over the past year.

"Continued price falls, tight credit conditions and an absence of confidence have all contributed to the slump. As well as the obvious challenges for the building sector, the housing downturn is also holding consumers back, hurting demand in the economy," Mr Garrett said.

“The figures released this morning take into account activity only up until the end of March. Since then, there has been a bunch of very good news for the building sector with the April budget heavy on infrastructure commitments and the conclusive outcome to May’s federal election.

"We’ve had two interest rate reductions, a significant package of tax cuts passed, the relaxation of APRA’s mortgage rules -- and the new First Home Loan Deposit Scheme kicks off in January.

"We will keenly await building figures over coming months to see how all this good news affects the pipeline of activity," Mr Garrett said. 

“A real opportunity now exists to get all parts of the building industry moving again. We’ve heard lots of commitments on infrastructure in recent times but the challenge now is for federal, state and territory governments to fast track these major projects and get things happening on the ground in a real and tangible way."

www.masterbuilders.com.au

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THIS WEEK will be an eye opener for Brisbane and regional students when they rub shoulders with mining professionals in Mount Isa and embark towards a career in a trade or science technology engineering and maths (STEM) fields.

Queensland Resources Council (QRC) chief executive Ian Macfarlane said the students would take part in two education camps run by the Queensland Minerals and Energy Academy (QMEA) and supported by Glencore's Mount Isa Mines. 

“Queensland needs to encourage young people into STEM and trades to ensure the talent pipeline for future workforces is secured. Mount Isa is blessed with talented professionals with real-world experience who can kick-start blue sky thinking in young minds,” Mr Macfarlane said.

Thirty-three students from Spinifex State College, Cloncurry State School P–12, and Good Shepherd Catholic College will be guided by Glencore professionals to manufacture a motorised bicycle from abandoned bicycles supplied by Mount Isa Police.

Phil Bamber, the manager for human resources at Glencore’s Zinc Assets Australia said students who show an aptitude for a trade will be encouraged to apply for future apprenticeship intakes. 

“We are very excited to provide local high school students with the opportunity to engage in practical work through the QMEA program,” Mr Bamber said. 

Spinifex State College head of campus Chris Pocock said, “These events are highly valued by the students as they give them a good insight into trade careers, and what they need to be studying to achieve them,” . 

Fifteen year 11 and 12 students from all over the state, with first time students from Rockhampton’s Cathedral College and Brisbane schools Somerville House and Centenary State High School, will take part in the STEM camp.

The Make it Now in Engineering Challenge will be hosted by Glencore’s Mount Isa Mines and will challenge the students across academic disciplines.

Leanne Ryder, manager for human resources and training at Glencore’s North Queensland Copper Assets said Mount Isa Mines has a diverse workforce ready to inspire the next generation of young professionals in this industry-school partnership. 

“The resources sector has an increasing demand for STEM skills, and we’re excited to enable industry collaboration to continue to develop STEM in Queensland schools and also drive and grow the sector,” Ms Ryder said. 

The QMEA is a partnership between the QRC and the Queensland Government under its Gateway to Industry Schools program. It has 60 schools throughout Queensland. 

QRC is the peak representative body for Queensland ‘s resource sector. The Queensland resources sector provides one in every five dollars in the Queensland economy, sustains one in eight Queensland jobs, and supports more than 15,400 businesses and community organisations across the State, all from 0.1 percent of Queensland’s land mass. 

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EXPORT from the Queensland resources sector over the last 12 months have earnt $70 billion for the first time, based on trade data released this week.

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane said the sector, which employs more than 315,000 men and women across the State, has delivered 81 percent of Queensland’s record export earnings of $85.8 billion for the 12 months to May this year.

“In dollar terms, exports from the resources sector – coal, minerals and gas – are worth more than $190 million every day. That means more jobs and frankly more money going into communities across Queensland, including Brisbane and the south-east,” he said.

Mr Macfarlane said coal continued to be Queensland’s largest export earner at $36.9 billion, with an increase of 12 percent or $4 billion over the previous 12 months, and there was strong growth for minerals and petroleum and LNG.

“Queensland has what the world needs. With the stable policy settings, the resources sector can continue to grow and in doing so create more jobs and more opportunities for Queenslanders,” he said.

“The performance of resource sector exports highlights the importance of investments in last month’s State Budget in developing key export channels for the resources sector such as half a billion dollar plan to boost mineral freight exports on the Mount Isa Line and almost $200 million for the channel capacity upgrade for the Port of Townsville expansion.”

Mr Macfarlane said he backed the Premier and Minister for Trade Annastacia Palaszczuk when she noted Queensland was exporting more than Victoria and New South Wales combined.

“Those states have failed to develop their resources, particularly gas. Those States have allowed Queensland to not only do the heavy lifting on gas, but also has given Queenslanders the lead as beneficiary of the world demand for the resources our states have,” he said.

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COUNCIL workers who downed tools over safety concerns involving the use of potentially carcinogenic glyphosate weedkiller have welcomed a commitment by Blacktown City Council to launch a five-month trial of organic alternatives.

More than 500 workers at Blacktown City Council stopped work yesterday and again this morning in response to management’s refusal to examine alternatives to the controversial weedkiller following a series of international legal cases that have linked its use to cancer.

In an urgent hearing of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission on July 4, council representatives agreed to implement a trial of safer alternatives, with the review process overseen by a committee that includes worker representatives.

The move makes Blacktown the fifth large council to phase out glyphosate sprays, following decisions by Fairfield, Randwick, Georges River, and Wollongong councils to last month trial safer alternatives.

United Services Union general secretary Graeme Kelly OAM said the outcome was likely to lead to similar reviews among other councils.

“Our members are very happy that their concerns have finally been addressed and that Blacktown Council will carry out a proper review of safer alternatives to this potentially cancer-causing product,” Mr Kelly said.

“Weed spraying is a common task for outdoor council staff, so it is understandable that workers have been deeply concerned by international legal cases which found a strong link between the use of glyphosate products and developing cancer.

“It is unfortunate that some members of the public have been inconvenienced by this dispute, but they need to understand that workers only took the decision to stop work only after council management refused to carry out a review of safer weedkillers.

“We expect today’s decision will spark similar reviews at many other councils, but what is really needed is leadership from the NSW Government to assist the local government sector to phase out this potentially dangerous product and find safe, effective alternatives.

“Keeping parks and public spaces looking their best is important, but that should never come at the expense of the long-term health and welfare of workers or community members.”

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THE Queensland Resources Council (QRC) has welcomed the action by Australia Pacific LNG (APLNG) to supply 16.2 petajoules (PJ) of  gas to the Australian manufacturing market.

“Today’s announcement is yet another sign of the benefits that flow from a successful gas industry that has regulatory stability,” QRC chief executive Ian Macfarlane said.

“The Queensland gas industry is leading the nation with a proactive approach to easing the east coast gas squeeze.

“Queensland’s neighbours must take a leaf out of our book, instead of relying on our state to meet the gap caused by their failure to develop their own gas industries. Gas exploration has stalled in New South Wales and Victoria, despite the fact all jurisdictions have their own reserves in the ground.”

APLNG said explosives manufacturer Orica would receive 10.2 petajoules of gas over four years starting in 2021 while packaging manufacturer Orora would take up to 6 petajoules of gas over three years (at their option commencing from 2023).

“Queensland’s gas industry is doing its part to ensure domestic gas users have access to affordable and reliable gas supplies,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“The announcement is the latest that shows how the development of domestic gas helps jobs in Australian industry and manufacturing.”

Last month APLNG, along with its joint venture partner Armour Energy, announced it would enter into gas supply agreements with a number of Australian manufacturers including Incitec Pivot, with supply agreements totalling more than 50 petajoules of gas.

“It’s also important that Queensland continues its exploration program to pinpoint new reserves and new opportunities for jobs and investment. Yesterday Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham announced an Authority to Prospect (ATP) for gas on more than 1,510 square kilometres of land in the Surat Basin to a Santos/Shell joint venture and Bridgeport Energy,” Mr Macfarlane said. 

“The successful development of these new areas will depend on stable and predictable policy in areas such as resource development and royalty collection.” 

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THE announcement by APRA that the mortgage serviceability test is to be relaxed is "great news at a time when the potential exists for a recovery in new home building,” according to Master Builders Australia chief economist Shane Garrett. 

“Previously, mortgage loans were only to those borrowers who could afford to service the mortgage repayments at a hypothetical APRA ‘floor’ interest rate of 7.25 percent - regardless of how low actual market interest rates were,” he said. 

“Recent reductions in interest rates mean that this restriction is unnecessarily onerous and APRA’s announcement today means that the interest rate floor has been scrapped. In future, borrowers will only need to have the capacity to absorb a 2.5 percent increase in mortgage interest rates from current, all-time lows.

“Regulatory restrictions on home lending were one of the factors which contributed to the current downturn in new home building activity across Australia.

“Combined with recent interest rate reductions and the successful passage last night of income tax cuts, the relaxation of APRA’s lending rules will add further fuel to a potential recovery in new home building following more than two years of decline,” Mr Garrett said.

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THE Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) has commenced an inquiry into the impact of the exercise of law enforcement and intelligence powers on the freedom of the press.

The inquiry was referred by the Attorney-General, Christian Porter MP, on July 4, 2019, for the PJCIS to inquire into the Terms of Reference.

The Committee has been requested to report back to both Houses of Parliament by 17 October 2019.

Chair, Mr Hastie, said," The government has referred this inquiry based on concerns raised in relation to recent search warrants executed on members of the press, and the issue of balancing national security with the freedom of the press.

"This inquiry will allow the Committee to hear from the media, government agencies and other interested stakeholders as to the direct impact of these powers on civil society and their importance to both national security and the public interest. We will consider these issues closely and carefully."

The Committee has invited written submissions to this inquiry, to be received by Friday, July 26, 2019.

Further information on the inquiry can be obtained from the Committee’s website.

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POWER INDUSTRY unions have reached an in principle agreement with Essential Energy in the Fair Work Commission today that will see the company pause planned job cuts until further information is provided to workers and additional consultation takes place.

The agreement means no jobs will be lost before mid-August, with unions given an opportunity to propose alternative cost saving measures and initiatives that could avert the need for redundancies.

Essential Energy committed to distributing information to all employees by July 19 that includes: the justification for role reductions; the specific impacts of cuts on remaining team members; and details of the tasks or functions that will cease to be performed.

Essential Energy also committed to giving genuine consideration to alternative savings measures before any redundancy decisions are made.

Electrical Trades Union secretary Justin Page welcomed the outcome, saying it was vital that workers be given the opportunity to identify alternatives to yet more regional job cuts.

“This is a tough time for Essential Energy workers, their families and colleagues,” Mr Page said.

“After four years of deep staffing cuts at Essential Energy — which has not only devastated those workers directly impacted, but has had profound impacts on service delivery and regional communities — today’s reprieve is extremely welcome, but is just the start.

“It is important that Essential Energy have agreed to provide detailed information to workers about the reasons for specific cuts and their impacts on the remaining work groups, but better still is their commitment to seriously consider alternative options for cutting costs that would allow these jobs to be saved.”

Mr Page also welcomed the support of a range of regional MPs, including Nationals leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro, who have committed to fighting forced job cuts at Essential Energy, saying the union looked forward to working with them to find longer-term solutions.

“The ETU will work in a genuine and meaningful way with all parties and stakeholders to fight to protect these jobs,” he said.

“Essential Energy is still 100 percent publicly owned, so the NSW Government has the ability to take actions to stop this devastating loss of regional jobs.

“It is great to see so many regional MPs agree with us that these cuts are unsustainable, that they are going to have huge impacts on regional NSW, and that we need to work together to stop them.

“The ETU is in the process of developing a range of proposals that we believe are viable alternatives to slashing jobs and services in the bush.”

Essential Energy employees or their family members who required crisis support were urged to contact Lifeline (13 11 14 and lifeline.org.au) or beyondblue (1300 22 4636 and beyondblue.org.au).

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THE Queensland Resources Council (QRC) today welcomed Mines Minister Anthony Lynham’s decision to award three companies the Authority to Prospect (ATP) for gas on more than 1,510 square kilometres of land in the Surat Basin.

QRC chief executive Ian Macfarlane said the onshore investment by the Santos/Shell joint venture and Bridgeport Energy demonstrated Queensland’s ability to get on with the job of supplying gas.

“We back our resources industry in Queensland, and that means industry and government working together to increase the supply of gas for both domestic and LNG customers while supporting local jobs,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“The contrast between resources-friendly Queensland and the Southern States has deepened, with yet more investment in the local gas industry while other states remain locked up.

“How much longer will NSW and Victoria rely on Queensland to make the investments that keep their industries supplied with gas and keep their economies ticking?

“The Queensland gas industry is a great success story. It has created thousands of jobs and billions of dollars worth of investment in regional Queensland. It is also powering domestic industry." Mr Macfarlane said.

“Reliable and affordable gas is a must-have for Australian industries, including refining and manufacturing.

“To keep the gas success story going strong it is essential the Queensland has open and transparent regulation and that there are no sudden changes without full consultation with industry.

“The resources industry is still committed to working with the Queensland Government on its review of royalty taxes for gas.

“However, we believe it is in the best interests of all Queenslanders to delay the introduction of the proposed 25 percent royalty increase until January 1 2020, and to exclude domestic gas from the increase.”

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“THE NUMBER of building approvals for new homes across Australia increased during May, adding to evidence that Australia’s housing market is in the early stages of a recovery,” Shane Garrett, Master Builders Australia chief economist said. 

“ABS data published today show that growth was driven by a 2.1 percent rise in the volume of approvals for new apartments/units during May, the portion of the market worst hit by the downturn which began in 2017. Detached house approvals dipped slightly (-0.2%) during May.

“House price figures released earlier this week also support the view that we are at a turning point in the housing market. The latest rate cut from the RBA will help further in this regard. The quick passage of the tax cuts currently before Parliament would represent a big step forward,” Mr Garrett said. 

“In contrast to the residential side of the market, commercial building approvals dropped 6.7% during May,” he said. 

“The disappointing figures for commercial building again underline the importance of delivering government-led projects more quickly in order to support the many small building firms who are dependent on such work. A speedier roll out would do much to enhance confidence."

During May 2019, Victoria saw the largest increase in new dwelling approvals (+14.4%), followed by the ACT (+7.2%). 

The volume of approvals in New South Wales was unchanged during the month. The largest reduction in new homes approved affected Queensland (-6.3%), followed by the Northern Territory (-6.1%) and Western Australia (-4.7%). South Australia (-2.9%) and Tasmania (-1.2%) saw by more measured reductions. 

Compared with a year ago, the value of commercial building approvals in the three months to May 2019 grew strongest in New South Wales (+23.7%), followed by Queensland (+14.8%) and Victoria (+1.9%). The largest reductions occurred in Tasmania (-47.3%) and the Northern Territory (-34.4%). Commercial building approvals have also fallen back in South Australia (-10.0%), the ACT (-5.6%) and Western Australia (-4.2%).

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THE Queensland Resources Council (QRC) and the Greater Whitsunday Council of Mayors (GWCoMs) have signed an agreement to ensure a greater commitment to jobs and investments into the region’s economy.

QRC chief executive Ian Macfarlane said the new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) would bring three mayors under one partnership with the resources sector to ensure the Mackay region would receive its fair share of the sector’s economic benefits.

“This MoU with the mayors of Mackay, Isaac and the Whitsundays regional councils recognises that the Mackay region will continue to be one of the most important contributors to the resources sector. We want to maximise our partnerships with regional Queensland to ensure they benefit from the wealth they generate through primary industries such as mining," Mr Macfarlane said.

“Our sector contributes $9.3 billion to the region and supports more than 56,000 full time jobs both directly in resources and in associated industries. This partnership will encourage more investment and a shared commitment to support regional economies,” he said.

“The QRC works openly and constructively with the Cr Anne Baker (Isaac Regional Council Mayor, and Chair of GWCoM’s), Cr Andrew Willcox (Mayor of Whitsunday Regional Council), and Cr Greg Williamson (Mayor of Mackay Regional Council) and this MoU will further enhance and progress these working relationships.

“Over the last 12 months the sector has spent $3.4 billion with 1,810 local businesses and 261 community organisations who are represented by these three mayors. Our sector has a resolute commitment to working with local communities and delivering the benefits from resources to all Queenslanders.”

The GWCoM’s and the QRC agree to the following principles over the next four years:

  • promote the sustainable development of the Greater Whitsunday region’s mineral and energy reserves for growth in jobs, exports and investment;
  • Educate the wider population on the different types of coal and their associated use and the economic value the coal sector generates at local, state and national level. Support the industry’s sustainable growth through planning infrastructure and social needs recognising the impact on local regional communities ie maximising benefits
  • encourage community and industry to develop in such a manner that each supports the sustainable growth of the other through planning, infrastructure and social needs;
  • support local communities within the Greater Whitsunday region;
  • collaborate to ensure that royalties earnt from the Greater Whitsunday region are reinvested within the region in support of both the industry and the local communities;
  • work together as needed for a successful outcome for any individual items that may be in dispute between individual members and groups within the region

Queensland’s resources sector invested $62.9 billion into the State’s economy in 2017-18 while supporting the full time jobs of 316,267 men and women. All of the industry’s economic contributions were achieved while operating within a strict environmental management framework and using only 0.1 per cent of Queensland’s land mass.

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