27 September 2023
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:36): I move:
That this council—
1. Notes that since January 2023, at least four major South Australian construction companies have gone into liquidation, resulting in:
(a) over 125 job losses;
(b) over 250 new residential buildings left incomplete; and
(c) over $50 million in unpaid debts.
2. Acknowledges that South Australia is experiencing a housing crisis, and it is the responsibility of the government to stabilise the building industry and to improve the supply of affordable and public housing stock.
3. Calls on the Malinauskas government to investigate the establishment of a publicly owned builder to:
(a) undertake construction of new public and affordable homes;
(b) provide maintenance to existing public and social housing; and
(c) intervene to complete houses that are partially constructed where building companies have collapsed.
This motion notes that since January 2023 at least four major South Australian construction companies have gone into liquidation in our state. That has resulted in 125 job losses, over 250 new residential buildings being left incomplete, and over $50 million in unpaid debts.
The motion acknowledges that South Australia is experiencing a housing crisis and that it is the responsibility of the government to stabilise the building industry and improve the supply of affordable and public housing stock. It calls on the Malinauskas government to investigate the establishment of a publicly owned builder to undertake construction of new public and affordable homes, to provide maintenance to existing public and social housing, and to intervene to complete houses that are partially constructed when a building company has collapsed.
The signs of this housing crisis are plain for all of us to see. We have people sleeping on our streets, we have people sleeping in tents, people couch surfing. There are 15,000 people on the public housing waitlist in our state, and across South Australia many individuals are grappling with skyrocketing rents, unattainable home prices, and the constant fear of eviction—and this problem is only going to get worse with our construction industry being plunged into crisis. According to reports in The Australian there have been over 60 building company insolvencies in South Australia in the last financial year alone—over 60. We have seen more than four major construction companies collapse in the last three months alone.
Let's look at some of those examples. In July 2023, we saw Felmeri Homes leave more than 100 customers in the lurch when it collapsed after amassing over $30 million in unpaid debts. At least 20 of those homes were left unfinished; those are South Australians left high and dry waiting for their homes to be completed. In August this year, we saw 7 Star Construction also collapse, leaving 27 homes unfinished, and Quattro Homes collapsed this month, with over 200 homes left unfinished and the loss of 25 jobs. Just last week, we saw 100 staff lose their jobs at the Wake Concepts business after they also went into liquidation.
The link between the housing and construction crises and the need for a public builder is clear. By investing in public sustainable housing projects tailored to the needs of our state, a public builder could directly address the shortage of affordable housing. It is the responsibility of government to step in when market failure occurs, and that is what we need to see here in South Australia. At its peak, the South Australian Housing Trust was building almost half of all residential dwellings in South Australia. It is time for the South Australian government to once again play a much more active role.
A public builder would stabilise SA's building industry and provide well-paid jobs and the opportunity to strengthen building standards. More public and affordable homes would mean fewer people being pushed into homelessness and fewer people needing to compete in the private rental market, also making renting more affordable.
As well as constructing new public and affordable homes, a public builder could step in and complete houses that are partially constructed in instances where a builder has gone bust. In those circumstances the state could acquire equity in that individual's home, and it could be paid back over time. There are examples of that in other jurisdictions around the world.
Currently, the housing system relies on contracts with private developers to address the housing demand, including some affordable and social housing within private projects. A publicly owned builder could intervene when companies such as Felmeri or Qattro collapse. By completing the construction of half-finished homes, the government could be then repaid over time.
In the United Kingdom, a program such as this was funded back in 2009. It was known as the Kickstart Homes program. The government then allocated £1 billion to kickstart housing projects that had been stalled during the recession—that was the GFC. The goal was to ensure that jobs were not lost, while unfinished homes could be completed. Developers were given five years to pay back loans, and they were used to complete construction. The program in the UK ensured that a total of 22,050 homes were completed over two rounds between 2009 and 2010.
There are other examples around the world of publicly owned construction companies. Germany has two publicly owned building companies, and Turkey is the same. In South Australia, Renewal SA is the state government's property development agency, but they do not actually do the building work themselves. They rely on private industry agreements to carry out their developments. Again, there is a risk involving these private partners if one of them falls into financial difficulty.
There are examples of that happening. For instance, back in October 2022, Oneconstruct, I understand, went into liquidation while working on a number of homes for the SA Housing Authority, along with school upgrades. Having a public builder would mitigate the risk of private agreements not being fulfilled.
There are other benefits to a public builder as well, such as ensuring construction jobs are considered public sector jobs, with the protections and conditions that come along with that. Of course, let's not forget that there is a backlog of more than $300 million in terms of maintenance works that need to be completed on our public homes. A public builder could step in and ensure that those things are done as a matter of priority. Such a builder would also have significant purchasing power that would be able to reduce costs for building new properties.
This motion calls on the government to investigate this idea from the Greens. I must say the government has a responsibility to step in and help those South Australians who have been left high and dry as a result of this construction crisis. It is not enough to simply say, as the government has said so far, 'Oh well, people need to read the fine print.' It is not enough to simply say, 'Oh well, it's a market matter, and the customer needs to read the fine print.' That is not acceptable. The government needs to show some leadership here.
Let's consider where we are. We have at least four major South Australian construction companies that have gone into liquidation over the last six months. We have hundreds of South Australians who have lost their jobs. We have more than 250 new residential buildings that are incomplete—South Australians left high and dry—and we have unpaid debts of more than $50 million. If this is not an example of market failure, I do not know what is. The Malinauskas government needs to show some leadership here and investigate this idea from the Greens.
Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.