Master Builders Australia (MBA) is the leading building and construction industry association in Australia and is the only association that represents residential building, commercial construction and engineering construction. Their primary role is to promote the viewpoints and interests of the building and construction industry and advocate on its behalf.
Founded in the early 1870s in Melbourne, Sydney and Newcastle, Master Builders is Australia’s oldest industry association. The movement quickly grew with Master Builders Associations being established in each state and territory of Australia. Master Builders was federated on a national basis at the First Annual Conference in November 1890.
CEO Wilhelm Harnisch joined the association in 1991. He started off as the Chief Economist and Deputy CEO before his appointment to CEO in 2002. With a background in engineering and economics, Harnisch has nearly 30 years of experience in the building industry. “I have a very strong passion for the industry, both from a practical and public policy perspective,” he says.
Over 30,000 members… and growing
Master Builders has over 33,000 member companies with representation in every state and territory in Australia. Their membership consists of large national, international, residential and commercial builders and civil contractors through to smaller local subcontracting firms, as well as suppliers and professional industry advisers. Membership represents 95 per cent of all sectors of the building and construction industry.
MBA provides services to members in a broad range of areas including training, legal services, industrial relations, building codes and standards, industry economics and international relations.
As a member-focused association, MBA’s central focus is providing their clientele with the best possible benefits. They examine their members’ needs and then develop services to help them. MBA gives their members an opportunity to have a say in the services and products they run.
MBA also recognises the efforts of their membership at their annual award ceremony. The prestigious and highly valued industry recognition is a public way to highlight the association and its members’ commitment to excellence, Harnisch says. Last year, there were more than 5,000 nominations for the Master Builder Awards – the best 42 received national awards.
“It’s a public recognition of our commitment to excellence and the excellence of our members to deliver value and quality products, particularly in the area of public buildings and infrastructure,” he says.
Positive government relationships
One of the main functions of MBA is advocating on behalf of their members, who heavily value their “wide influence with the government in terms of legislation, regulations and other government agencies related to the building industry,” Harnisch says.
MBA maintains a positive and long-standing relationship with the government – regardless of their political orientation. But it doesn’t mean that the government is always in agreement with members’ concerns, he says. “We provide high levels of advocacy in seeking to amend or have bills not go through because of the negative impact it has on the industry,” Harnisch says.
MBA has a long history representing its members in the various industrial courts, contesting the implementation of different industrial relations law.
MBA is active in influencing policies through the varied committees and councils they are a part of. They represent their members by providing input that gets their message across. For example, they participated in the National Tax Reform forum and Prime Minister’s Economic Forum earlier this year, and work closely with the various compliance agencies like Safe Work Australia and Fair Work Building and Construction.
Regulation is costly
One of the main policy issues for MBA is contending with regulations. The building industry is one of the most-heavily regulated industries in Australia – at all levels of government. Legislation that is passed is often contradictory to existing legislation. This creates a significant amount of unnecessary cost and uncertainty, Harnisch says.
The complaints they often hear from their members are about the number of obstacles of getting a project up and running. There are numerous processes involved including governmental and environmental approvals, as well as various occupational health and safety requirements. “It’s a miracle that some of those projects gets up and running when you’ve got all these convoluted and contradictory legislative and regulatory requirements,” says Harnisch.
While Master Builders strongly supports the environment and sustainable initiatives, it remains a challenge for the industry. Moving forward, Harnisch believes that there should be minimum government legislation in regards to sustainability standards. The best approach to energy-efficient buildings is through market-based solutions. “We’re concerned that a one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate. The community and the business sector have to get behind all of this,” he says.
In the long term, MBA wants the industry to be increasingly competitive and viable, and they want to continue to play a critical role in contributing to Australia’s economic and social welfare through legislative reform. Impediments to the industry can be removed by delivering a cost-effective approach to the construction of buildings and providing affordable housing. This will lead to more rewarding careers for young people in the building industry, particularly apprentices, Harnisch says.
“We see the building industry being critical as part of Australia’s productivity agenda because we provide the public and social infrastructure to make that happen,” Harnisch says. “The construction industry is important not only in Australia’s future economic development, but also for their prosperity.”