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Let property grow the Canberra economy

Catherine Carter

While most of us rarely stop to think about it, property touches the lives of all Canberrans.

The property industry is the ACT’s second largest – behind the public service – and accounts for 12.1 per cent of the Territory’s economic activity.

It employs 26,000 people across the ACT and builds prosperity by paying $1.4 billion in wages and salaries each year.

One in nine of us draw our income directly or indirectly from the property industry, and 290,000 of us have a stake in property through our super funds.

The property industry also pays 55 per cent of all ACT taxes, rates, fees and charges – more than any other sector of the local economy.

These are the headline figures from the AEC Group’s Economic Significance of the Property Industry to the Australian Economy report 2015, commissioned by the Property Council and released this week.

Canberra’s property industry has a proud story to share, and one I never tire of telling.

Thousands of people have lent their blood, sweat and tears to the task of building Canberra from a collection of farms.

We should recognise these people – because without them, we would not have the city that stands today, nor would we have an industry that is growing jobs, prosperity and strong communities.

You could say our industry was established when the first brick was laid and the first foundations poured. Construction workers were some of the first people to arrive on the site that would one day be the nation’s capital, and they began to build a city from scratch.

One of my favourite pictures of old Canberra is an aerial shot which captures Old Parliament House, the Hotel Canberra and West Block. Far in the distance, the Sydney and Melbourne buildings stand as solitary islands. Behind them lie paddocks dotted with sheep.

Creating a capital worthy for the nation was a great challenge, requiring visionary planning and design, smart engineering and innovative construction.

As the capital and the construction industry grew, it became an incubator for new building types and techniques, new materials and alternative delivery methods. It attracted architects, engineers, designers and builders, each of whom wanted to put their stamp on a unique and significant city.

In the years following World War II, ours became the “industry of opportunity”. Large numbers of immigrants settled in Canberra, finding easy work in construction and bringing with them different ideas and approaches.

These people started many of the family building dynasties that are well-known in Canberra today. For these families, contributing to Canberra is in their blood – and the buildings and precincts around our city are their enduring legacies.

The building of a national capital continued through two world wars and the Great Depression, through political upheaval and changes of government, through changes to ideology and recalibrations of focus.

During those years, the hands of our industry have touched everything from humble workmen’s cottages to imposing national institutions, two houses of parliament, churches and cathedrals, law courts and a national library, embassies and offices, dance halls and cinemas, hospitals, schools and shops.

Today, we’ve built a city that frequently tops the rankings as Australia’s – and indeed the OECD’s – most liveable. We have a city that is intimately connected with its natural environment.

We have buildings that remind us of the past and inspire us to a better future, and we have a vibrant property and construction sector that underpins Canberra’s economic growth.

We build the communities, homes and workplaces that the people of Canberra need to flourish. So, let’s honour the contribution the property industry has made to Canberra, and let it grow our future prosperity.

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia.

Images from the Museum of Australian Democracy archives. 


Catherine Carter

A lover of books and beauty, a seasoned traveller and a creative thinker, Catherine Carter is passionate about Canberra. Head of the Property Council of Australia’s Canberra office for more than a decade, Catherine now provides specialist business and communication consultancy services with a focus on urban environments, new forms of collaboration, community building and diversity. Catherine was the recipient of the Telstra Business Women’s ACT Community and Government Award in 2010 and the National Association of Women in Construction Crystal Vision Award in 2017. More about the Author

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