National

There is an election in the air – although only the media and politician’s themselves seem to care. I am not sure if it is because of the long campaign or the quality of the debate, but the general public and many of our members, don’t seem to be overly excited or even interested.

I think many of us are waiting to get the whole picture and not just the drip feed of announcements we are fed each day. The recent “debates” have not added any value to our understanding, indeed they seem to be very superficial with participants largely dodging hard questions. I think our economy will remain in trouble for many years to come and there doesn’t appear to be an easy solution. We need to hear the hard truth and understand who has the willingness to implement the tough decisions required. I don’t see anyone, currently in key roles, who appears likely to do any of this. I have to blame elements of the media. To an extent, they are the ones driving public perception, news polls and subsequent political agendas. The media needs to focus less on creating headlines and place greater value on their responsibility to society.

Our own policy positions relate to investing in infrastructure, the de-bundling of major projects and borrowing the funding for these projects.

We talk about Workplace Relations, supposedly the reason for this election, yet nobody wants to raise it. Will we be prepared to fight for the Diesel Fuel Rebate if this is put at risk?

Our voice will be small in the scheme of things, but, hopefully, we will be heard in an influential manner for the benefit of both our members and the community.

We hope to focus on these issues and others with speakers from both political parties at our National Summit in Canberra on the 13th October. Clearly this will be after the election, but it will be at a time when we should be able to get past the rhetoric and one liners and get a sense of genuine policy implementation.

John has discussed the lack of Infrastructure maintenance in his column this month. It is, as he calls it, ‘a sleeper’. Many of us in the industry who have known and understood this for a long time and we know well the implications of ignoring it.  In my state, we have had a rash of burst water mains in  and the public is starting to see past the government claims; “It is normal for this time of year”, “It is our poor soil conditions”, “Our bursts are no higher than other states”. At least with road potholes you can see them developing and they are a visual reminder. Without a good asset management process of underground services, there is no notice, and the impact of sudden failure is catastrophic and the repair just a delay until the next incident. In 1980, when I started in a government infrastructure agency, the issue of maintaining and renewing our assets was well understood and incorporated into forward planning and future budgets. In 2016, I believe these issues are well understood by the agencies responsible, but I think governments have been ignoring and avoiding them, hoping they will stay hidden, at least during the current election term.

I sit on an Industry Advisory Committee for a local major project, with the purpose of trying to ensure that as many benefits as possible flow to local workers and construction companies. In general this is working well. At our last meeting it was of concern that a recent tender, sent to eight contractors, who had all previously expressed an interest, yet none of them submitted a tender. There were some complications relating to this work, but at a time when members are telling us that they need more work, it makes it hard to sell our message. In the follow up, the feedback was consistent, while they wanted work, the contractors had a very large tender workload and were concentrating on the jobs they thought would be easiest to win. This same message is coming from many of our members; smaller jobs are more competitive, are harder to win and hard to make money from. It is still a very tough market out there, so I continue to wish you all the best.

We recently held a strategic planning session for all of our branches in Canberra to discuss the best model for our organisation going forward. It is clear that while some of the fundamentals relating to the formation of the Civil Contractors Federation remain unchanged, the world today is constantly changing and we need to continue to review how we operate and deliver our services to members.

I am not a fisherman, but I recently found myself on a fishing charter. It occurred to me that fishing is a bit like contracting, with lots of planning and preparation, money spent to get everything you need and then casting your line when the tender goes in.

Then there is the long wait to see if you get a bite. Sometimes you leave with nothing, sometimes you land the big one, but mostly there are nibbles and lots of effort that might finally see you get something.

At least with fishing you get some satisfaction from the fresh air and exercise. I’m not so sure you can say the same about tendering!