Budget reply analysis
‘We can revitalize Australian manufacturing and power that manufacturing with Australian made renewable energy’ - Anthony Albanese
Labor’s budget reply engaged with a number of the shortcomings evident in the government’s 2022-23 budget. The renewed focus on climate change and building industries in the sustainability and renewable energy sector is welcomed. Similarly, infrastructure and advanced manufacturing remained headline items in Anthony Albanese’s budget reply which provides a healthy certainty for business. Engineers Australia remains a proponent of using infrastructure as a means to revitalize the Australian economy in the wake of floods, fires, and the pandemic. Ensuring supply chain resilience by building sovereign capability was encouraging but there was a lack of focus or articulated vision when it came to defence industry. Underpinning all of these commitments by Labor is a reliance on STEM skills, particularly engineers, to deliver and innovate. Given that, Engineers Australia welcomes the opportunity to work collaboratively to help solve the chronic skills shortage.
‘We will… transform our country into a renewable energy superpower’
Foremost amongst the Leader of the Opposition’s response was his Powering Australia Plan, to invest in renewable energy and make Australia a ‘renewable energy superpower’. Anthony Albanese forecast the creation of 604,000 new jobs by 2030 in this sector alone. Bold action is sorely needed when it comes to climate change for Australia to meet our 2050 net zero targets and preferably sooner. Engineers are at the heart of delivering on this commitment both for government and the private sector. Developing a domestic renewable energy sector will drive the need for engineers at a time when there are not enough to meet existing demand.
‘Too many businesses can’t find skilled staff’
There remains a critical engineering skills shortage which will affect Labor’s plans to deliver on sustainable energy projects.
The announcement to secure ‘more opportunities for training with more university places’ is encouraging but only a partial solution. Reforming Australia’s skilled migration program, including improving the support available to skilled migrants when they arrive in Australia, to encourage global talent to live and work here is a critical part of resolving this issue. Australia is competing with other countries to attract and retain talent - particularly in STEM fields. The skills shortage will increasingly hold back businesses, communities and government. Ensuring a healthy pipeline of STEM talent remains a challenge. Engineers Australia looks forward to seeing further detail concerning Labor’s six year plan and how this pipeline will be developed.
‘Our plans for a future made in Australia’
We welcome seeing the revitalization of Australian manufacturing as an ongoing theme of Labor’s election platform. Targeting advanced manufacturing to power the decarbonization of the Australian economy helps to tackle two of the most pressing issues facing the nation, that of vulnerable supply chains and climate change.
‘National reconstruction fund to turn good ideas… into new homegrown industries’
The Coalition Government’s plans for high levels of infrastructure investment were met with what appeared to be consensus with Labor’s plans, mirroring many of those already articulated by the current Treasurer. The budget reply did not go into depth concerning the details or nature of the infrastructure which will determine in large part what will be required to deliver on these projects. Engineers Australia is this month releasing a Directions Paper on Enhancing Productivity in Infrastructure and touches on these issues specifically.
‘Too many industries are… at the mercy of an uncertain world’
A focus on defence industry was noticeably absent. The only passing mention was outlining the general ‘need to increase Australia’s defence spending’. To meet existing government commitments concerning the manufacture of defence equipment, this must be an integral part of Labor’s six year plan. There were clearly concerns expressed by Anthony Albanese around defence spending that didn’t ‘lead somewhere’ or ‘actually improve technology and capabilities’. Given that concern, more detail and a long-term vision will be vital to building this area of the economy and addressing those issues.
Engineers Australia looks forward to working with our partners in government to build sovereign capability, beat climate change, and address the skills shortage.
Engineers Australia gives a voice to the profession on matters of public policy. We advance the science and practice of engineering for the benefit of the community by developing consensus views on policy matters from the engineers’ perspectives, informing and influencing community leaders, government agencies and political decision makers.
Challenges facing the supply and demand of engineering skills in Australia
The engineering profession in Australia is facing a skills supply challenge that, if not addressed, could put the nation at risk of perpetually recurring skills supply problems.
Engineers Australia is undertaking a project to look at how to develop a solution to deal with the current disparity the profession is facing. As part of this project, we have published Engineering Skills – Supply and Demand Discussion Paper (PDF). This paper is designed to provide a broad view of the situation and prompt thought and discussion.
The skills supply challenge is multifaceted, stemming from an increase of demand due to ongoing investment in public infrastructure, a re-emergence of demand for minerals, and a global transition to clean energy. Coupled with pandemic induced border closures, these issues have led to reduced migrant supply.
Engineers Australia’s Barriers to employment for migrant engineers (PDF) research shows there is a significant cohort of migrant engineers, already in Australia, who have long-term difficulties securing appropriate employment. A long-term solution needs to be multidimensional, involving investment in education, industry-led development of graduates, and community-wide understanding of the value of migrants.
Engineers Australia is seeking the views of our members, industry, government and the tertiary sector through consultation period and forums such as roundtables. This will be used to inform the development of strategies and actions designed to deliver tangible outcomes.
Members are encouraged to provide feedback on the paper by emailing [email protected] by Friday 22 April 2022.
Continuing work in building sector reforms
In February, Engineers Australia participated in a Victorian government-led public hearing to provide feedback on their Inquiry into Apartment Design Standards. The current review of Victoria’s building system alongside this inquiry provides opportunity to strengthen accountability across all construction processes, improve practitioner and industry performance, and enhance regulatory functions.
Engineers Australia welcomes the Victorian Government’s commitment to work collaboratively to deliver high quality, liveable apartment communities for the growing population. However, complex issues must be addressed to achieve this goal. Engineers Australia’s inquiry recommendations include:
- To consider the whole life cycle of an apartment building, including new builds and retrofitting of existing buildings to meet emerging requirements.
- To involve consultation with experts for a systematic approach to resolving specific issues identified in our submission such as with wind action, waterproofing, ventilation, fire safety systems and electrification.
- To collect data on liveability and exposure to undetectable but serious structural, and other back of house, deficiencies in buildings. Then to analyse the data to make informed decisions and educate stakeholders about any impacts.
Engineers Australia has made several submissions in response to the policy changes proposed by the Department of Energy and Public Works Queensland. We provided comments on issues including:
- Guideline for the construction of buildings in flood hazard areas
- Guidelines for inspection of class 1 and 10 buildings and structures
- Guidelines for inspection of class 2 to 9 buildings
- Guidelines for the assessment of competent persons
New South Wales
The NSW Government has published the Design and Building Practitioners Amendment (Miscellaneous) Regulation 2022.
In February, Engineers Australia participated in several government-led roundtables for the tranche II legislation reform. This included potential expansions of the Design and Building Practitioners Regulation to other classes of buildings, the review of the Home Building Act and the creation of a new enforcement bill. Public consultations for the bills and regulatory impact statements are expected in the second quarter of 2022.
Energy governance roundtables
In February, Engineers Australia hosted a national roundtable on energy governance and the engineering voice, designed to provide a forum for thought-leadership to inform actions and initiatives that Engineers Australia can advocate for.
The roundtable was attended by representatives from the Office of the Special Adviser to the Australian Government on Low Emissions Technology, the Australian Energy Market Commission, the Australian Energy Market Operator, the ACT Chief Engineer, the Australian Power Institute and the Chairs of many Learned Society groups.
The roundtable considered two main questions:
- The need for a national strategic energy transition plan and what it might entail.
- Whether engineering perspectives are being adequately considered in the lifecycle of energy systems projects.
Further roundtables on energy governance and the engineering voice will be held across Australia this year. Roundtables are also planned for infrastructure, technology and innovation and climate change.