Constructing Our World Wrap Up
By Dr Robyn Hardy 

The Australian Institute of Building’s first international conference in years was held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney’s iconic Rocks District (18-20 Sept 2019). We are happy to say the feedback was a resounding thumbs up. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed the program.

The three day conference started with four great site visits. Despite the weather (raining!) the tour group was treated to a very privileged view of the underground and behind the scenes activities and works of the Opera House, the Coal Loader Platform, Barangaroo and the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building at UTS. Our hosts at each venue provided fascinating insights into the construction issues at each site. We all got thoroughly soaked (the ponchos were appreciated even so) but came away happy we had all seen something we would not normally have had a chance to see as a local or a tourist in Sydney.

The themes for day one of the conference were “People” and “Process Innovation.” Delegates were welcomed to the conference with a message from the Commonwealth Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Hon Karen Andrews, MP, and challenged straight away by the brilliance of Adam Spencer and his predictions for the impact of technological change on the world and the building industry.

During the first morning the audience was challenged to continue their own self education and improvement by Tony Avsec from LendLease (and AIB’s Chair of the CPD Sub-Committee), and confronted by the disturbing statistics of mental health issues prevalent in our industry by Chris Lockwood from Mates in Construction. Prof Benita Zulch our first international speaker informed us of the challenges faced by South Africa in educating their building workforce. Adjunct Professor Chris Bulmer presented on how to build excellence in service delivery of a construction business through effective HR strategies and leadership.

The afternoon session of Day 1 was a celebration of innovation in projects, starting with the wonderful Franklin Po from Tierra Design Studio in Singapore and his multipurpose sustainable designs for infrastructure in Singapore. Shiva Ghazal and David Beslich from Hansen Yuncken then took to the stage and wowed us all with their presentation about transforming HY’s technology platforms. The sustainability theme was continued with another of our international presenters, Tan Szue Hann from MINIWIZ Singapore with his inspiring and informative talk about promoting recycling and the circular economy. Meriton’s David Cremona presented his philosophy on succeeding with today’s challenges and raised some of the issues which were to feature on day 2. The day finished with a wonderful presentation by Alastair Brook from PDC Engineering showing us examples of the use of BIM on large and small projects throughout Australia.

After a night of celebrating the year’s best projects, great food, wine and music, day 2 started with a very informative presentation from one of Australia’s best financial journalists, James Kirby.  His presentation was followed Neil Savery of the Building Codes Board, Graeme Birkhead (President of the NZIOB),  Jim Moschoyiannis (L.U. Simon Builders) and John Tansey (NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation) to set the scene for the building issues Mini Summit which was the highlight of the morning. Graeme Birkhead’s illuminating New Zealand perspective on what he called “the Australianization of the NZ building industry”, a process resulting from numerous bankruptcy and liquidation processes with NZ building companies was a sobering but familiar issue for the conference audience.

The AIB assembled an eminent panel of discussants for the Mini Summit including: John Tansey (NSW Government), Graeme Birkhead (NZIOB), Karl Sullivan (Insurance Council of Australia), Jim Moschoyiannis (L.U. Simon), Brian Seidler (Executive Director, MBA NSW), Stephen Williams (TAYLORs), David Burnell (AIB National President). The panel discussed the current issues facing the industry including concerns with defective buildings; cladding and standards for materials; issues with building certification, licensing or lack thereof; registration of builders; the education and training of builders and building supervisors; insurance coverage for builders, owners and building surveyors; the problems with delivery models such as design and construct and special purpose company vehicles(SPVs); incomplete and error ridden design documentation; responsibility for design; taxation treatment of research and innovation; the lack of regulatory coordination across Australian States and Territories and shortages of skilled labour. The delegates were informed about the progress of the NSW and Commonwealth building reform processes and members of the panel expressed their views about what might and might not be appropriate and effective responses by government to the current problems.

Having frankly hashed out our building problems in the morning the afternoon was over to our youth and the future leaders of our building industry from Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa, and wow! we were all amazed at how intelligent, articulate, and thoughtful each presentation was. There is hope for us all yet given the calibre of each of these young people! Delegates from each of these countries can be proud that their young builder representatives were absolutely impressive.

The three days concluded with a farewell from our hard working AIB National President David Burnell and a reminder that in 2021 the conference will move on to Singapore. We look forward to seeing you all there.

AIB CEO Greg Hughes, Dr Robyn Hardy and National President David Burnell