NSW construction industry looks to recovery road out of coronavirus

The State Government is concerned about the outlook for the construction sector when JobKeeper ends in September and current projects come to a close. 

Jobs in construction are a key focus for the NSW Government as it moves to the coronavirus recovery phase for the economy, with Treasurer Dominic Perrottet insisting they were "crucial" to help the state out of the crisis. About 310,000 employers applied for the JobKeeper allowance for their workers and almost 48,000 were in construction. That is more than any other sector.

"The cranes [in Sydney] mask the real situation," Mr Perrottet said. "The construction sites right across our city and state have played an important role in remaining open during our pandemic. "But out the back end of it, we want to make sure that pipeline continues."

It's the housing construction area that is cause for most concern for the Government.

John Oxley, who runs a home building company on the Sydney Northern Beaches, Sydney Beach Homes, says that for many "the phone isn't ringing" and there's a "shortage of work".

Most of his employees are on JobKeeper.

"Instantly we had enough work for just one person, so we had to stand people down which was quite traumatic for us," he said.

But one project has seen his company through and his outlook is optimistic.

"We're actually feeling incredibly lucky just at this point in time that these contracts that have been promised to be signed soon that will be a really positive thing for us," Mr Oxley said.

Residential housing construction was already in a period of decline before COVID-19.

There were 49,000 dwellings approved in New South Wales over the 12 months to April.

The figure is down from more than 70,000 the previous year in 2018-19.

For large building company Rawson Homes, it has been a "challenging period" but indications suggest a recovery.

"In recent weeks, we've seen a substantial bounce-back in activity which gives us a bit of confidence," said general manager of sales Doug Phillips.

He puts that down to Government stimulus at a federal and state level.

"When the Government and the industry gets its act together and puts in a place a positive raft of policies that stimulates the market, that does have a serious and profound effect," he said.

At the top end of town, the sentiment is the same.

"I think we are seeing generally that wherever Government invests, if the Government invests a dollar, the private sector invests five to 10 dollars next to it," said John Carfi, the CEO of Sydney developer Aqualand.

The company intends to build the next stage of the inner-Sydney Barangaroo project over the coming years.

He said there's still confidence in the large-scale investments in NSW in the long term.

"It might pause for a bit during COVID, especially to see how things play out particularly in terms of office requirements and residential needs or even retail needs for that matter," he said.

"But I think that pause will be short-lived."

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