In the early days of the pandemic a number of governments were giving very serious consideration to closing down all building sites. Alert to this risk, HIA lobbied intensely with governments in all states and federally to remind them of the importance of the housing sector and the ‘essential’ nature of our industry. HIA informed them of the implications of shutting down our sector to not only operators within the industry but our many thousands of customers. HIA also developed its ‘making space on site’ guidelines to demonstrate how the industry could continue to operate in a safe way.
Guidelines were produced for builders and trades on detached homes, renovations and repairs, small commercial sites and for consumers. They were also translated into a number of languages that are common on building sites. These guidelines were widely distributed and adopted by building regulators, other associations and the Insurance Council.
I don’t think I’m overstating it if I say that without this early and constructive intervention by HIA, then residential building sites may well have been closed across the country.
HIA also engaged early with governments to shape the support that they are providing to employers and employees in ways that suited how the building industry operates. This was particularly important in the development of the programs to support apprentices and in devising – in consultation with the Treasury – industry-wide measures to test eligibility for the JobKeeper program. The federal government is to be applauded for the initiatives it has taken to protect the jobs of apprentices in our industry, and thousands of jobs in all industries, with the programs it has announced to date.
The HIA Board also put a very high priority on keeping HIA’s activities and services fully operational throughout, with some taking different formats. For example, training programs were quickly moved to online delivery so that students were only delayed in their training for a couple of weeks. The 2020 HIA–Stratco Australian Apprentice of the Year Awards and the 2020 HIA–CSR Australian Housing Awards presentations were also made online rather than at more formal functions. Unfortunately, our National Conference needed to be postponed until 2021. My thanks go to all of the businesses that have supported our events in these most unusual times.
I’m pleased to say that unlike many other organisations, HIA has been able to maintain all of its staff, enabling our legal, industrial relations, technical, safety and other services to continue to be provided to members at a time of great need.
These past few months have demonstrated in an incredibly tangible way the benefits that belonging to an effective industry association can bring. It has been a great team effort across the staff and membership to achieve the results that we have.
By the time this column reaches you, the restrictions on business will have commenced to ease but there is still a long way to go to return to more normal trading conditions. It has been reassuring to see the massive improvement in the health statistics regarding COVID-19 infection rates and the like. As a result of the improved health risk environment, HIA staff are actively engaged with governments in developing and advising credible measures that can be adopted to stimulate the housing sector, and further protect and improve the outlook for jobs. We shall be advising details of some of these measures very soon.
In the meantime, we encourage all of our members to continue to not hesitate to contact any of our staff for advice and services. We also encourage non-members in the industry to do so. Our primary purpose is to serve our members and industry, and during these uncertain times all our staff are committed more than ever to doing so.