Construction workers on site.

The Australian Constructors Association (ACA) has released a report which brings to light the poor health of the building industry and the need for urgent action to ensure the sector can continue to provide for Australia’s construction needs.

ACA CEO, Jon Davies, said the message is clear – the industry is in deep trouble, and the government must act now to create a more sustainable industry able to build the housing and infrastructure the nation requires.

“Building firms are entering administration at more than twice the rate of other industries,” Mr Davies said.

“Building sector profit margins have fallen from around 3 per cent to below 1 per cent and liquidity has collapsed from 15 per cent to below 5 per cent.

“Most concerningly, over half of all large builders are now carrying current liabilities in excess of current assets – a technical definition of insolvency.

“The building industry is a textbook example of market failure.

“The basic lesson is simple: fixed price contracts work well when the buyer knows exactly what they want, and the seller knows exactly how much it costs to produce. That market is not construction.

“In the building industry, all the uncertainty and risks are the responsibility of the contractor and, when those risks are realised, they are funded out of the contractor’s already razor thin profits.

“This practice of transferring all the risks to contractors under fixed price contracts has led to a deeply unstable industry.

“No contract can account for all the unexpected events that will complicate a building project as it unfolds, but it can incorporate mechanisms to encourage the client and contractor to resolve them fairly and reasonably.”

The ACA’s latest report, All risk, no reward, proposes government clients lead the way by committing to new rules of engagement.

The new guidelines recommend that building contracts become less transactional and involve the builder at the earliest opportunity to ensure an accurate price can be determined.

The ACA said this is to the benefit not only of the contractor but also the client who can be confident the builder will survive the delivery of their project.

“Changing current practices will create the conditions for improved productivity and a healthier industry,” Mr Davies said.

“A profitable construction industry is in everyone’s interests and should be a key priority for all governments.”

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