by Chris Melham, Chief Executive Officer, Civil Contractors Federation National (CCF)

As Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to rise, our focus increasingly turns to the need to re-open Australian businesses in an agreed and coordinated manner.

As each day passes, industry edges closer to an environment where companies can get back to ‘business as usual’ as Australia transitions out of lockdown. This process is being guided by the National Plan to transition Australia’s National COVID Response, commonly known as the National Plan.

Jurisdictions signed up to this Plan earlier this year, and the expectation of industry is that it will now be implemented as per the agreement.

This four-phase National Plan transitions Australia from its pre-vaccination settings to postvaccination settings, and involves the implementation of different measures when the average vaccination rates across the nation have reached certain thresholds.

For example, phase three involves exempting vaccinated residents from all domestic restrictions, and phase four involves minimising cases in the community without ongoing restrictions or lockdowns.

Despite governments agreeing to the four phase National Plan, which was based on the Doherty Institute’s findings, industry remains concerned that governments will not adhere to the National Plan as originally intended.

This is of concern to the Civil Contractors Federation (CCF), the peak national voice for the civil construction industry, as it would have significant ramifications for businesses, the economy and Australian families.

Impact of restrictions

With civil construction investment providing an economic multiplier of 3:1, prolonged and unnecessary border closures would have a detrimental effect on the civil construction industry and the broader Australian economy.

Unnecessary or unwarranted restrictions would impact on the efficiency of the supply chain, affect the mobility of workers, and ultimately undermine business confidence. It is therefore imperative that governments adhere to the National Plan as originally intended.

As part of the CCF’s role to advocate on behalf of the civil construction industry, I have written directly to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to raise our concerns with the Government.

In the letter, I also acknowledge the important role suppression measures have played to minimise community transition when vaccination rates have been low, and the role CCF has played to actively communicate to industry the importance of vaccinations as a ‘pathway to work’.

Continuing to minimise cases

Our support for governments’ adherence to the National Plan takes into account modelling carried out by the Federal Treasury, estimating the direct economic costs of the COVID-19 management strategies modelled by the Doherty Institute.

Treasury did this through analysis of the direct impacts of activity restrictions and lockdowns used to manage the virus and contain outbreaks.

It found that, as vaccination rates rise, significantly less lockdowns and other restrictions will be required to continue to minimise cases of COVID-19, reducing the economic cost of managing the virus.

It also concluded that once 70 per cent of Australian adults aged 16+ are vaccinated, and assuming the spread of COVID-19 is minimised, outbreaks can be contained using only low-level restrictions. Once vaccination rates reach 70 per cent, lockdowns are unlikely to be required, significantly reducing the economic cost of managing COVID-19.

From a compliance perspective, the civil construction sector has adopted a proactive and responsible approach to dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 over the last 18 months, and we are  determined to continue this approach into the future.

Industry’s approach since the outbreak of the pandemic has been critical to supporting jobs and contributing to the economy during these difficult times.

The construction industry in 2021

In CCF’s recent report, Rebuilding Australia – A Plan for a Civil Infrastructure Led Recovery, it found that engineering construction activity was relatively insulated from domestic activity restrictions in 2020.

The lack of movement restrictions targeted towards construction workers has allowed pre-existing projects to progress steadily, and civil projects located outside of dense population centres have been geographically shielded from any direct impacts.

However, the report also points out that the industry is not entirely immune to the outbreak of COVID-19. Road engineering construction stalled more than previously expected in 2020, which was attributed to some productivity losses due to social distancing guidelines and lockdowns, as well as far weaker than expected public works commencements.

CCF continues to reinforce to ministers and bureaucrats that civil worksites such as road and rail projects are typically very large and therefore workers can operate at safe and appropriate distances from one another.

Because of this, civil construction worksites have adjusted to the compliance requirements  imposed on them by state and territory governments.

The proactive and responsible approach taken by industry in dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 through appropriate mitigation measures is consistent with the expectation of governments.

In return, industry expects governments to honour the spirit and letter of the National Plan to enable businesses to operate in a safe and responsible manner when vaccination targets are met.

The Civil Contractors Federation is the peak national representative body for the Australian civil construction industry, comprising over 1,900 civil construction companies across the construction supply chain.

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