Architects call for targeted stimulus to fast-track economic recovery

The Australian Institute of Architects is calling on government to implement a range of targeted stimulus measures in the building and construction sector that would help fast-track the economic recovery from COVID-19 with a focus on smaller businesses and local communities.

National President, Professor Helen Lochhead, said the Institute has put forward a range of solutions that draw on lessons learnt from Australia’s response to the Global Financial Crisis which are also pertinent to the ongoing response required by last summer’s bushfires.

‘The construction industry directly employs nearly 1 in 10 Australians,’ Professor Lochhead said.

‘This creates an opportunity for our sector to do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to the economic recovery from COVID-19, provided governments pull the stimulus levers available to them.

‘The Institute commends all Australian governments on the measures they have taken to date to safeguard both Australians’ health and safety, and their financial well-being.

‘As governments begin to turn their attention to the recovery phase, the Institute continues our ongoing support by offering solutions that will help stimulate the economy to protect and create jobs.

‘Foremost in the responses must be a focus on both SMEs and the regions with SMEs making up 98% of businesses in the building and construction industry. This means that stimulus efforts focus on programs and projects of a variety of scales and locations are essential.

‘One of the key lessons learned from the Building Education Revolution program during the GFC was that projects were placed in the hands of a few large companies, with small and regional businesses missing out on the downstream benefits of this stimulus spending.

‘Governments can fast-track existing health, educational, housing and infrastructure projects that are in the early stages of development to aid in a swift and strong recovery from the economic fallout of COVID-19.

‘In addition to major infrastructure projects, there should also be a focus on urgently rolling out a broad range of projects such as social and affordable housing, community facilities and public spaces, energy efficiency upgrades and most importantly, projects in the fire ravaged regional communities of Australia, geared around the principles of building back better.

‘Identifying a clear pipeline of future work will rebuild industry confidence. Streamlining approvals by freeing-up planning bottlenecks and speeding up approvals without compromising on quality would deliver significant economic benefit.  

‘More effort needs to be placed on ensuring the design, documentation and approvals work needed to underpin these projects gets underway as soon as possible.

‘Governments also need to put their significant purchasing power to best use with procurement processes that support Australian businesses with a “buy local” approach.

‘At this critical time, we want to reverse the trend of recent years where major contracts are often awarded to international companies. This includes bringing more fairness to tendering and design competitions and preferencing high-quality local expertise in line with the Institute’s guidelines.’

The Institute is also calling on governments to prioritise the delivery of more social and affordable housing to address the homelessness and housing stress pressures that the pandemic has exacerbated.

In considering further stimulus measures, the Institute urges governments to consider the multiplier benefits a program to encourage people to improve the energy efficiency of their homes would deliver. These same principles apply for new and retrofitted educational buildings such as schools, as well as for commercial and public buildings.

Governments occupy about 30 per cent of the commercial building space in Australia creating a significant opportunity to stimulate the economy, improve the long-term comfort for tenants while also reducing emissions through improved energy efficiency.

Economic stimulus measures could include incentives to retrofit privately owned commercial buildings to improve energy efficiency, an upgrade program for government buildings and a program to remove combustible cladding from residential and community buildings in all states.

‘Additional funding for local governments for community infrastructure projects in 2020/2021 and beyond from federal and state governments is critical and will yield long term dividends ,’ Professor Lochhead said.

‘We want to see paused projects, especially smaller scale ones in smaller and more regional areas restart as these will deliver some of the biggest benefits to local communities.

‘We have identified significant opportunities to invest in improvements to ailing local government infrastructure and amenities as well as green spaces and blue/green infrastructure, town centre upgrades and new design-led urban planning projects to support more sustainable, amenable, inclusive and walkable neighbourhoods.

‘Investing in upgrades to, and the adaptive re-use of, many underutilisied and neglected heritage places is another sizeable stimulus opportunity.

‘We urge governments to consider the medium and long-term benefits of all potential stimulus measures to maximise the efficiency of their investments working with our industry to achieve a timely economic recovery.’