Building boom

Despite being in the midst of a national housing boom, Limestone Coast builders say they cannot get enough of the supplies they need to build homes.

The latest ABS data on building approvals show total dwelling approvals rose 3.5% in South Australia, in seasonally adjusted terms, with 1282 private sector house approvals for March. However, it remains difficult to secure timber for building materials in South Australia.

Speaking in State Parliament earlier this month, Independent Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell said he had received correspondence from members of the community “disappointed at the amount of raw product log being exported from the Port of Portland”.

“We face this situation in Australia where we have a housing boom occurring,” Mr Bell said. “A number of builders are contacting me saying they cannot get enough structural timber for the projects they have on their books, yet we have a booming market of raw product leaving our state, and in particular heading overseas as a raw product.”

Mr Bell said he would like to see a code of conduct for the industry, “where domestic manufacturing is the first priority” and for our state and federal leaders “to see what can be done to maximise that product being developed and finished in Australia – Australian logs for Australian jobs”.

“What is happening is that we are exporting the jobs overseas,” Mr Bell said. “The raw product leaves the ports of Australia, but then we need to import the structural timber back in, the timber that you would see in your house. “Those hundreds and thousands of jobs – tens of thousands of jobs when you add in allied industries – are all overseas.”

It comes after Australia’s softwood log exports almost tripled in March, despite Australia’s main timber export market of China remaining unviable, according to the Australian and New Zealand timber industry’s dedicated market intelligence provider IndustryEdge.

Shipments are “increasing to India and Korea in particular”, however, Australia’s softwood log exports “remain well below their peaks”, IndustryEdge’s data shows. Blue Lake Homes manager Jacinta Jones said builders probably have not seen the true impact of a domestic timber shortage.

“It certainly is starting to slow down because of the timber … but we have not had to stop any jobs,” she told The SE Voice, adding that more of her business’ time was being spent sourcing product.

However, there was a lot of uncertainty around sourcing supplies for builds, she said, with suppliers “extremely stressed” and “working exceptionally hard” to source materials. Mrs Jones said she was unsure if the shortage could be solely attributed to the impacts on demand for builds created by the federal government’s HomeBuilder Grant.

“I think the grant has certainly enhanced the shortage,” she said. “Whether it was always going to be an issue, I’m not sure. “I think the increased demand would also be affecting production.”

South Australian Timber Processors Association chief executive David Quill told The SE Voice he understood the shortage was due to the “unprecedented increase in housing starts which can be mainly attributed to the federal government’s home building stimulus scheme”.

“Processors, both in the Green Triangle Region and further afield, have the capability to produce more sawn timber for the construction industry,” Mr Quill said. “I know of at least three members of the association who would be able to produce more sawn timber but for lack of supply of raw material.

“This situation exists while forest growers continue to export material that could be sawn into building material, in spite of numerous requests by processors for increased volume over longer term.”

Mr Quill said the situation had been addressed by both state and federal government inquiries into supply constraints in the Australian timber industry.

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