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The Lucky Industry

Annabel Crookes

Director Laing O’Rourke and Vice President Australian Constructors Association

In the 1964 classic, The Lucky Country, author Donald Horne depicts Australia as a lucky country, but one that is squandering its luck. If we look at Australia now, through a Coronavirus (COVID-19) lens, we are indeed still a lucky country and the construction industry is arguably the lucky industry.

But will we squander that luck?

Our industry was designated as essential by Federal and State governments across the country at the very beginning of this pandemic, and while our people have had to face many challenges and adopt to a new way of working, we have maintained our ability to operate and keep more than a million Australians employed while we have seen so many others suffer a far worse fate. With the devastating loss of life, unemployment rising to rates not seen in decades and small and medium businesses struggling for survival, it is important that we reflect on just how fortunate we have been.

The test for us as an industry, and indeed for governments around the country, is to ensure we learn the lessons from this pandemic where we have rapidly and successfully adapted and take the opportunity to make long-term changes to ensure our sustainability moving forward.

The construction industry is ripe for disruption and if we do not come together then surely, we will be disrupted.

Almost 98% of major projects worldwide are delivered late and over budget, and none of us need to look too far into our organisations, both public and private to find examples of this.

Productivity in the industry has decreased.

Margins are razor thin and contractors are taking on risks they can’t manage or sustain.

Since 1996, we’ve seen a 1% increase in women’s participation in the construction industry and even more worryingly the construction industry has one of the highest suicide rates out of all industries, most of them young men. 

This is not sustainable and there is no one to blame. We have all played a role in getting us to where we are today.

Isn’t it time that we take accountability and do something different, and ask ourselves, has this pandemic provided us with an impetus for change?

Our industry has sustained the economy through the pandemic, and we will play a major role in the recovery effort. But we can no longer play the short game, and we must instead work together to set a new standard for how projects are procured and delivered.

The Australian Constructors Association and the Construction Industry Leadership Forum are driving this agenda forward, and now is the time for us to throw our collective support behind the industry and move to a more collaborative style of operating that delivers improved outcomes for everyone.

The risk of doing nothing is too high.

Our approach must be holistic – and we must tackle the challenges from a commercial, a capability and a cultural perspective. Simply focussing on one, is not enough.

We have seen the benefits and opportunities when we get this right. The Victorian Government is to be congratulated for its approach to the Level Crossing Removal Project which has led to certainty in delivery for the government, the contractors and the people of Victoria. Its approach to procurement and collaborative project management has fostered an environment where our people can thrive, they innovate and deliver value for money outcomes.

Likewise, the NSW Government and its 10 Point Plan is committed to transforming the industry by changing the way it procures major projects and delivering productivity and efficiency gains sector wide. All of this ensures together we create a sustainability industry that can support the economy post the pandemic.

We must continue to support governments as they seek to reform outdated procurement processes and no longer be a part of the problem, but instead be the solution.  We must help provide examples of international best practice and support its delivery in Australia.

We are indeed the lucky industry, but let’s continue to make our luck and not wait for it to run out.

Annabel Crookes

Annabel has worked in the construction industry for more than 19 years and for the last 13 years has held a variety of leadership positions at Laing O’Rourke and now leads the legal, risk and company secretarial functions.

Annabel completed her MBA at the Australian Graduate School of Management in 2011, at the same time as stepping into a broader leadership role as General Manager of Laing O’Rourke’s Human Capital and Legal teams and Company Secretary.

Annabel is Vice-President of the Australian Contractors Association and an industry lead for the Construction Industry Leadership Forum, driving improvements in the development and delivery of major infrastructure projects in Australia.   She is also involved in a leadership role on Projects, providing a good understanding of the operational challenges projects face.

Annabel also leads several strategic initiatives in the Australian Hub.  She has led the development and implementation of the Responsible Decision-Making Framework and has a leadership role on the Hub Diversity Council and the RAP – Working Group that focuses on indigenous participation in Laing O’Rourke’s workforce.

Our members.

Acciona Infrastructure Australia
Bielby Holdings
BMD Constructions
Civil Mining and Construction Pty Ltd
CPB Contractors
Decmil Group Limited
Fulton Hogan
Georgiou Group
John Holland
Martinus Rail Pty Ltd
McConnell Dowell
Seymour Whyte Constructions