“It does not make any sense”: Tradies miss out on priority visa

Jarrod Brown
By Jarrod Brown
5 Min Read

Builders have been left “flummoxed” over the government’s baffling decision to leave tradies off the priority migrant skills list.

Despite industry experts urging the government to entice more workers into construction, yesterday’s draft instead opened Aussie borders to “priority” occupations like yoga instructors, dog handlers and “wellness professionals” over vital trade jobs.

According to the Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) advisory body, plumbers, bricklayers and other tradies “remain under consideration”, with decision-makers citing the need for further consultation with the industry.

But for a government on track to fall 90,000 tradies short of its ambitious plan to build 1.2 million homes in the next five years, Master Builders CEO Denita Wawn has been left confused by the obvious oversight.

“We know that we need 500,000 extra people into our sector over the next three years, if we’re going to build those 1.2 million homes, and the infrastructure around it,” Ms Wawn told reporters in front of Parliament House yesterday.

“Skilled migration will be part of the solution. So we are incredibly perplexed as to why most of the trades that we need to build 1.2 million homes are not on the definite list for skilled migration. 

“It does not make any sense.”

According to the organisation, labour shortages in construction are the main driver behind building costs skyrocketing by as much as 40 per cent since 2019. In 2024, the most recent ABS data puts the median cost for building a home anywhere between $611,298 and $1,020,556, depending on the location.

Prioritising wellness over housing

When asked about occupations like martial artists making the cut instead of trade jobs, Ms Wawn said that the nation needed to get its priorities straight. 

“I think the word I have used is flummoxed, that we have wellness instructors on the definite list, but not tradies,” she said.

“We have to house all Australians. We cannot build homes with wellness instructors, we need tradies, and they must be on the definite list for skilled migration.”

Without a massive influx of tradies into the construction industry over the next six years, the National Housing Supply and Affordability Council Australia says builders will fall 300,000 homes short of targets when Aussies caught in the cost of living crunch need them most. 

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton was also quick to call out the new draft, claiming the wrong professions were being prioritised.

“The government now is putting at the top of the list yoga teachers and knocking off the list carpenters, bricklayers and other tradespeople. It’s nonsense, this government is a walking disaster,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

“(Trades people) would be at the top of our list, we want to see more of those trades coming in because, as everyone knows, the cost to build a house in our country has gone up dramatically … people can’t find a builder for love or money.”

Will the draft be revised?

With Australia’s construction industry competing with other countries like the UK and Canada to attract skilled migrants, Ms Wawn said the industry was “well behind the competition” without a fast-tracked system.

But Skills Minister Brendan O’Connor assured Aussies that the draft by the independent agency wasn’t final. 

“There’s a very compelling case, I believe, to have the trades that you’ve mentioned, that are yet to be finally determined on the list, to be on the list,” he told ABC radio listeners yesterday afternoon.

“JSA is a very important body. It maps existing and future demand for the labour market. And I’m confident that the list once finalised will reflect that.”

However, O’Connor did say the construction industry’s history of dodgy visa dealings and worksite accidents could jeopardise the inclusion of trades.

“So, for example, there’s been, unfortunately, historically in the construction sector, some illegal underpayments of temporary visa holders. There’s been unsafe workplaces,” he said.

“These are the things which can be involved in the consultation with stakeholders so that we get this right. 

“But as far as the Albanese Government is concerned, the housing construction sector is a priority.”

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Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. He has a strong passion for new and emerging consumer technology within the building sector. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.