The recent announcement that the ACT Government will delay signing contracts for Stage 2A of the Canberra Light Rail will come as bad news to the region’s civil contractors, engineers, landscapers, suppliers and apprentices.
The ACT Government has made a strong commitment to building a light rail network throughout Canberra. In the lead up to the 2016 ACT election, it staked its re-election on the Canberra community’s support for light rail – and support it they did.
Even though Stage 1 of light rail hardly maximised local employment or training opportunities, according to the ACT Government Stage 1 has been a public transport success. The Canberra community now has an expectation that construction of light rail will continue, next to Woden, but ultimately throughout the city.
Due to the expectations set by the ACT Government, its announcement that Stage 2A will be delayed will hit the local construction industry hard. It will cost jobs. It will cost opportunities for local businesses. It will cost traineeships and apprenticeships.
Local contractors had worked closely with Canberra Metro throughout the bid phase and had high expectations that the next stage of construction would provide valuable economic stimulus for the local construction sector. Furthermore, the ACT Government had already budgeted for light rail Stage 2, and it would leave the Canberra community a public transport legacy which would provide benefits for decades.
The delay in signing contracts, and therefore delaying construction, comes at a time when the ACT Government has already delayed the release of its annual budget, and as a consequence has delayed the release of its four-year capital works program, leaving local contractors in the dark about their future pipeline of work.
This delay will cost jobs.
Already the ACT construction industry has contracted 6.1 per cent since peak employment in February 2020. This equates to around 1,200 jobs, including apprentices.
The ACT economy now depends highly on the private sector. The building and construction industry is the second-largest private sector employer in Canberra. The ACT Government’s delay awarding major contracts and delays releasing the four-year capital works program is costing jobs.
Our local companies deserve better support and are depending on support from the ACT Government like never before. A fully funded four-year capital works program directed towards awarding contracts to local companies is urgently needed before more jobs are lost.
Michael Hopkins is the CEO of Master Builders ACT.