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Western Australia’s procurement reform ‘not enough’ to meet construction challenges

Recently announced procurement reforms in Western Australia (WA) will not be enough to address the challenges facing the state’s construction industry as demand for new infrastructure projects grows, a construction law expert has said.

According to the WA government, the ‘safe and fair reform package’ for procurement practices intends to support the state’s construction industry and will be delivered in three stages over the next three years.

The reform will address enhancements to the WA Department of Finance’s tendering and contracting practices, supplier code of conduct, best practice principles for construction projects, further enhancements to the WA Department of Finance’s contracting framework, and enhanced pre-certification of suppliers based on financial and technical assessment and compliance.

According to David Ulbrick, a construction law expert at Pinsent Masons, the proposed reform is a timely response to procurement becoming an increasingly hot topic in WA as investment in infrastructure continues to grow. He added, however, that the package will ultimately not be enough to support the state’s construction industry in the long run.

“As the energy transition picks up pace over the next few years, Perth will capitalise on its reputation as ‘the Aberdeen of the southern hemisphere’ and re-tool from an economy based on traditional oil and gas, to new energy such as on and offshore wind and hydrogen,” Ulbrick said. “We are also likely to see an increasing focus on the skills needed for the decommissioning and repurposing of aging or redundant assets – another major forthcoming industry for WA.”

With other factors also driving further investment in infrastructure – such as escalating population growth in the Perth metro region – Ulbrick warned that the inevitable focus on procurement should not overshadow the need for further investment in WA’s construction workforce to meet the demand for new projects.

“Perhaps the better thing to have done would be to invest in training up the workforce to deal with the inevitable skills shortage that is going to face WA, as the state continues to invest in the energy transition, and as Perth continues to grow,” he said.

“Procurement will continue to be in the spotlight but it will be the shortage of boots on the ground that will be the problem,” he said.

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