SPEECH: NZ Needs To Be Careful To Avoid A Grenfell Tower Disaster

Speech for opening BuildNZ 2017 Trade Show,
ASB Showgrounds,
Auckland.
Sunday, June 25, 8.45am.

It’s is a pleasure to open this prestigious trade show – New Zealand’s premier trade show for the building, construction and design industries.

A special thank you to David Kelly, the chief executive of the Registered Master Builders’ Association. To Astrid Anderson, general manager of Architectural Designers NZ.

To Brent Spillane, managing director of XPO Exhibitions Ltd.

And to all the professional industry bodies supporting BuildNZ. More than 6000 builders, architects and other industry professionals will be here over the three days - to meet and network, to learn of innovations, to update on health and safety - and address the problems and challenges facing your industry.

Proud history Before touching on these challenges, however, we must remember that this country has a wonderful history of construction.

Much of that history has, unfortunately, become blurred in the public memory. Past governments built dams, bridges, tunnels, motorways, office blocks and hundreds of thousands of houses.

When tens of thousands of soldiers returned from the Second World War, the government of the day set up a Rehabilitation Board and trained many of them into building trades.

When we had a much smaller population, around two million people, they built 10,000 state houses a year, laid out suburbs and erected amenities and landscaped open spaces. We had enterprise and initiative – and we didn’t look for outside help to solve our problems.

Auckland housing crisis

Compare that to today.

Last year only 7200 houses were completed in Auckland. This for a city with a shortage of 40,000 houses and with more than net 73,000 immigrants taking up permanent residency in New Zealand every year with most heading for Auckland.

Yet we have a government in denial over the housing crisis in Auckland and they are looking the other way on the challenges your industry is facing with labour and material shortages.

The fault for these shortages and the way in which your industry has been caught flat-footed, even after the Canterbury earthquakes which should have been a warning, lies firmly with government.

The problems have been there for years. Now, with out of control immigration, these problems have gone through the roof to use a building term.

It has been disturbing to learn several months ago, for example, New Zealand’s biggest builder, Fletcher Building Ltd, had a $110 million profit downgrade.

There must be a great temptation in your industry to cut corners and employ unskilled labour to meet tight market demands. One hopes that this trade show is a barrier to this happening.

Ticking time bomb of substandard construction and political oversight

On page A29 of the NZ Herald on Friday a managing director of an Auckland real estate firm issued a warning which every-one of you must see and pass on.

He was talking about today’s new buildings of substandard design and construction and the low quality of the materials being used.

He said New Zealanders were in for a harsh wake up (within the next 10 to 15 years).

When these buildings started to disintegrate, exposing non-compliant electrical wiring, shonky plumbing, cladding or roofing products and walls out of plumb.

The steel mesh in concrete foundation slabs and driveways won’t last.

Nor will some of the steel beams and girders.

Poor quality product is just flooding in and being dumped here.

He painted a nightmare scenario, much worse than the rotten homes that started being built in NZ in the 1990s. And the personal and familial tragedy that will rise from this will be dreadful to witness.

Ask Parliamentarians what their roll is in this, and they’ll cough and splutter and look the other way, and try to move on to a new subject. New Zealand has to be very careful – we do not want a Grenfell Tower disaster in our country.

Skilled workers

The government’s run-down of trades training has now come home to bite us.

The projection is we need 38,000 more skilled workers through to 2020.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment said the demand for construction workers over the next five years will be as high as 65,000 with about half needing to be trade qualified.

We would have planned for these needs. We would have training schemes and programmes and incentives to get young people into training and jobs.

Previous governments would not have seen the solution in overseas  recruitment.

They would have seen the 90,000 plus young New Zealanders aged from 15 to 24 who don’t have jobs and are not in training – and got many of them into the construction industry.

Conclusion

But there are positive signs for your industry.

Past generations have shown us the way with their ingenuity and ability to adapt to the demands they faced.

We can do it again. New Zealand First congratulates the organisers of this show challenging employers to pledge 1000 new apprentices.

That is a sign some of you are taking the bull by the horns. Congratulations. Enjoy your great show.