The Federal Government’s controversial HomeBuilder program has intentionally excluded swimming pool construction from its list of industries to benefit from its building industry stimulus package.
Initially, swimming pool and spa industry members were excited to hear early clues about the Federal Government’s grant scheme to homeowners to carry out renovations. However, that excitement quickly turned to disappointment and bewilderment once the details of the HomeBuilder scheme were announced in early June with the specific exclusion of backyard pools.
SPLASH! contacted the office of the Minister for Housing and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar who has responsibility for the scheme, asking for an explanation for the exclusion of swimming pools.
The exclusion is more baffling considering the important role backyard swimming pools are playing in keeping families physically and mentally healthy during the current pandemic, during which many people are required to spend more time than usual at home. This will become even more crucial should a second wave of the pandemic eventuate.
A spokesperson for the minister said that a quarter of the HomeBuilder grant money is expected to be delivered to homeowners carrying out renovations and extensions. “…but only those big enough to see multiple trades on site and that improve the accessibility, safety and liveability of the primary dwelling.”
This response seems inadequate considering that swimming pool construction satisfies both those criteria – first, that it dramatically improves the liveability of a home, and second, it involves numerous trades across many skillsets.
Further, the reasoning behind excluding specific construction types has not been explained.
SPASA Australia COO, Spiros Dassakis, has contacted the prime minister’s office but has, as yet, not received a satisfactory reply.
Dassakis says the segregation, classification and exclusion of tradespeople within the same construction industry is a flawed philosophy and makes for bad policy. He believes the decision to exclude swimming pools is due to the “optics” of how the stimulus money is spent, not from practical purposes to do with keeping trades employed or helping families gain improvements to their properties.
Dassakis says he will continue to lobby the government to include swimming pools, and has appeared on national radio in two interviews putting forward the industry’s case.
Controversy over strict criteria
The HomeBuilder scheme has come under fire from numerous sources for a variety of reasons, mostly to do with seemingly arbitrary and strict criteria that will exclude many people who could benefit from the scheme, and many trades who could benefit from the work.
The $25,000 grants will be means-tested to exclude couples making more than $200,000 per year and individuals making more than $125,000 per year. New builds will be capped at $750,000 to build a new home as a principal place of residence and homeowners planning to substantially renovate their existing home as a principal place of residence can access the grants for renovations valued over $150,000 with the home not valued at more than $1.5 million before the renovation. Eligible homeowners must enter into a building contract between July 2020 and December 2020 to access the grant.
Considering the time taken to get council approval, there is much speculation about how many – or how few – applications will be ready in time to take advantage of the scheme.
SPLASH! asked the minister’s office how many applications had so far been received but at the time of writing had not received a reply.
It is still feasible that a renovating homeowner, being eligible for the grant, could separately include a new or renovated pool, now having increased funds at their disposal. Indoor pools and spas are presumably covered.
The response from the minister’s office
The full response from the spokesperson for the Minister for Housing and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar.
“The residential construction industry has made it clear that due to COVID-19 their pipeline of work will dry up in around late August, early September. Industry estimates 500,000 tradies jobs nationwide could be at risk if this occurs.
“To unlock the greatest amount economic activity to support keeping tradies in work in the second half of 2020, HomeBuilder is primarily targeted at new home builds. Treasury estimates 75 per cent of all grants will be used for this purpose.
“HomeBuilder also supports significant home rebuilds, but only those big enough to see multiple trades on site and that improve the accessibility, safety and liveability of the primary dwelling.
“HomeBuilder has been specifically designed to deliver timely stimulus to help build confidence and momentum in the residential construction industry.”
Image: Families who could benefit from the construction of a backyard swimming pool are being left in the cold