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Firstly, it is with some sadness that I write this article and make known that the tenure of the Chief Executive Officer of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (NT) Catriona Tatam, ended at the completion of our annual meeting 2 March.

I, along with the board and committee of UDIA, would like to express our thanks for Ms Tatam’s service and the position she leaves the organisation in.

UDIA is in the process of recruiting a new CEO with the assistance of Michael Psalios from Hays (Darwin). We have been overwhelmed by the number and quality of applications received. We will be excited to welcome the new face of UDIA.

UDIA’s standing with key stakeholders is evident in our membership base and the strength of relationships with stakeholders, including those on the “5th floor”. This was showcased at UDIA’s AGM, which saw a great number of developers and stakeholders present to discuss the road ahead for UDIA and the development industry. I thank those who attended and appreciate the feedback provided.

The organisation’s relationships and its work with stakeholders will be the focus of the next 12 months. As an organisation, we must ensure that the development industry moves forward and plays its incredibly important role in the Northern Territory Government goal of a $40 billion economy. The development industry’s importance is now more relevant and conspicuous than ever before.

UDIA released its Priority Policy Positions in 2022, which outlines strategies and the change required to enable advances in resilience, reform and liveability in the Territory. The position paper showcases what UDIA as an organisation are working towards and the scorecard by which we measure our success. I am pleased to say that the last 12 months saw UDIA make significant inroads in advancing and achieving those priorities.

The start of 2022 also saw an incredibly important report, Bringing Land to Market, report authored by Dick Guit released. We thank the Territory Government and Minister Eva Lawler for commissioning Dick to prepare the report and their willingness to engage with UDIA on critical issues.

It paves the way for important reform and the advancement of our industry whereby delivering better outcomes for the wider community.

Buy-in from key stakeholders is evident with the Land Development Committee now established. Work needs to be done and time is of the essence to legislate these essential reforms. The establishment of the Land Development Committee and the direction taken by key stakeholders illustrates the importance of reform.

For those who have read the report, it will be no surprise that the focus of this article is the time taken to reach practical completion and the money expended to reach that goal. UDIA has been tirelessly working with key stakeholders to bring about essential reform, which is needed to move the development industry forward with enabling legislation and infrastructure. I’m pleased to say there is progress in bringing these reforms to fruition.

ABS data for the Northern Territory shows that the monthly change for dwelling approvals in January 2023 decreased by 17.5 percent, which is the lowest in the country. This, coupled with dwelling stock growth in the June quarter 2022 showing an increase of 0.1 percent, which again was the lowest in country, indicates that there is a very real need to improve the systems in place to bring land to market.

This position is supported at length in the Bringing Land to Market report authored by Dick Guit and by market sentiment.

The time taken for developers to bring land to market and for end-users to obtain the required approvals to develop the released land provides a significant impediment to the viability of every project.

As many will be well aware, the time value of money in the current market is significant pressure felt from inflation, increased holding costs, increased need for consultant input (and with it costs) to achieve an outcome, and the Reserve Bank of Australia’s questionable monetary policy, which is driving buyers out of the market.

The cumulative effect of these factors hugely impacts on a developer’s bottom line and the viability of projects.

Some might not be aware that every dollar spent in housing, construction and development, delivers $2.90 into the economy. Further, for every $1 million spent in the construction industry, up to 12 new jobs are created. 

The development industry’s contribution to jobs, activity and wages is integral to the Territory’s upswing in our historical boom-and-bust cycle and can pull the economy into the next phase of growth with the right policy changes.

This capacity is being threatened across several fronts, and urgent action is needed to ensure this contribution to both key social infrastructure and the broader economy can be maintained. 

The three identified pillars are interlinked. It emphasises that the housing and construction industry’s contribution to jobs, activity and wages is central to the Territory Government’s goal of a $40 billion economy by 2030. Without the investment and work of developers, it can be said that the Government’s goal is little more than a dream.

As the rest of the country braces for weaker economic conditions in the housing, construction and development industry, we in the Top End are slightly more optimistic and buoyed by promised major projects, new industries and the influx of new Territorians chasing the endless summer and the promise of a bright future. 

I remain optimistic but challenged by the need for real change.