THE first week of the federal election campaign is bagging votes on big industry, but at grass roots level, Gold Coast builders are worried their plight will be ignored.

Once the Gold Coast’s key economic driver, the industry is now on its knees, despite public infrastructure projects such as the $1 billion light rail and the $144 million Carrara Stadium upgrade.

ABS statistics indicate the unemployment rate in the Gold Coast’s northern growth corridor was 10.3 per cent in April, up from 3.3 per cent the same time last year.

While industry bodies are quick to cast blame on successive interest rate hikes, builders such as Brian Duggan from BJ Constructions are seeking a voice to raise their concerns in Canberra.

“I am a builder who has lived and worked on the Gold Coast since 1989 and in my experience here it has never been this bad,” says Duggan.

“I watch the news and read the papers and it seems that no-one is concerned of our problem and they only want to talk about the mining industry. Tell me if I am wrong but I have always believed that the building industry is the driving force behind the nation and when we are not working everyone suffers.

“There are thousands of tradesmen and builders who are out of work and can’t get any work because, put simply, there is none on the Gold Coast. There are thousands of people affected, who cannot pay their bills, feed their kids, put petrol in their vehicles or get work because of the collapse of the building industry. Why isn’t this a forerunner for the election campaign?”

When asked whether he would raise the issues in Canberra, Federal Member for Moncrief Steven Ciobo, placed the onus back onto the Gillard Government and what he labels its ‘economic mismanagement’.

“I’ve been very concerned about both the property development industry and the tourism industry as they are the main drivers of the Gold Coast’s economy,” says Ciobo.

“The reality is that the Gold Coast’s building industry is suffering because the Australian economy is suffering. The most important part of getting the building industry back on track and creating jobs for those struggling builders is to elect a Federal Government who can get the Australian economy back on track.”

While local builders do not have confidence that Ciobo will effectively raise their concerns in parliament, newly elected Gold Coast UDIA president Steve Harrison says spiralling build costs and lack of funding continues to mothball projects in the sector.

“Six interest rates in nine months certainly didn’t help. Developers would employ contractors and ‘subbies’ to complete work, but as interest rates add to the cost of development they started slowing down again and unemployment figures shot through the roof,” says Harrison.

“Many developers were obtaining finance from second tier lenders who have since fallen over, and the big banks are saying ‘well you burned us so now we’re going to return the favour’.”

Liberal MP Ciobo says Gold Coast City Council has a responsibility to further cut development and infrastructure charges.

“The Gold Coast City Council needs to have a look at its pip charges which are driving investment away from the Gold Coast,” says Ciobo.

“People will invest their capital into new projects in Melbourne, Sydney or in regional Queensland areas such as Ipswich where they will get more return on their investment dollar.”

Harrison agrees but says action must be taken now, before the industry declines further and unemployment figures soar.

“Things have to happen now. Whether it’s the Gold Coast City Council or the State Government, they have to do what they can to stimulate the economy,” he says.

“Look at when the Council recently offered discounted infrastructure funding; they had 100 applications within the first hour – completely unheard of on the Gold Coast. If it takes another 12 months to make a decision, the flow on effect would be multiplied so the industry wouldn’t see any relief for three years.

“When the building sector directly employs one in seven people and indirectly one in four people on the Gold Coast, we don’t have the time to take three years to get back 12 months of procrastination.

“From what we’ve seen on the ground level, there is a lot of pain and suffering in the building industry. A lot of developers have gone to ground or into liquidation and right now, there is no light at the end of the tunnel or rainbow likely to appear over the Gold Coast.”

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