A new building services group is creating opportunities to boost Aboriginal employment in construction.
Gerard Matera is helping turn positive sentiment around Aboriginal reconciliation in the business community into genuine change through indigenous-owned building company Marawar.
Mr Matera, brother of former West Coast Eagles players Peter and Phil Matera, established Marawar Building Services about 12 months ago, responding to what he believed was a gap in the building and construction market.
Mr Matera told Business News that while there were widespread opportunities for Aboriginal people to engage in the mining industry in Western Australia, there was little participation in building and construction, particularly in Perth and the South West.
“In WA, there are approximately 33,000 apprentices in training,” he said.
“Out of those figures, only 741 apprentices are Aboriginal.
“And in Perth and the South West, in Nyoongar country, there are fewer than 90 Aboriginal people in the building trades.”
Mr Matera said there was considerable opportunity to increase participation, with large corporates and government agencies increasingly seeking better engagement with Aboriginal-owned businesses.
However, despite a willingness to engage, he said there had been challenges in turning sentiment into opportunity.
“A lot of the companies that are participating in government contracts and the private sector generally have some sort of achievement document or Reconciliation Action Plan, or some sort of guidelines that say they want to engage meaningfully with Aboriginal people on construction jobs, but no-one is policing it, no-one is really making sure that they are engaging and it is meaningful,” he said.
“A lot of times there is reluctance to give a contract to an Aboriginal business; it’s usually entry-level contracts that don’t really make a big difference.
“I’m looking for long-term contracts where I can employ tradies and apprentices, which is what we set out to do in the first place.
Mr Matera said his aim for Marawar, which is 50 per cent owned by building and development firm M/Group, was to become the WA building industry’s biggest employer of Aboriginal people.
“At the moment we are sitting at about 40 per cent Aboriginal participation, and that is through apprenticeships and traineeships,” Mr Matera told Business News.
“We are also employing Aboriginal tradies who are taking on an Aboriginal apprentice, which I think is really key.
“I don’t think anyone other than us is actually putting together an Aboriginal apprentice with an Aboriginal tradie. It makes a massive difference.”
Marawar recently signed a major contract that goes some way to achieving the company’s lofty goal, collaborating with M/Group’s M/Construction to build a Bunnings Warehouse in Albany on behalf of Wesfarmers.
That deal was followed by a contract with another Wesfarmers-owned brand, Officeworks, to refurbish and paint all of its stores in WA.
Marawar is also building social housing for the Department of Communities, a deal that Mr Matera said made the company the first Aboriginal-owned business in WA to build multi-storey apartment projects for people on social welfare.
In December, Marawar signed two more significant deals to provide maintenance work for the Department of Finance.
Along with the job opportunities, Mr Matera said Marawar was helping to dismiss negative perceptions of indigenous work ethic and Aboriginal-owned businesses.
“A lot of people think that Aboriginal businesses just get awarded these contracts, but you actually don’t,” he said.
“You have to be competitive and commercial and provide the right quality.
“Yes, we tick a box in that we are an Aboriginal business, but you can’t be more expensive and you can’t provide a crap service. It’s the same process.
“Being Aboriginal, and I’ve felt this personally, I think the client always thinks that we are not going to provide a good service and we are not going to provide quality.
“So there is a constant effort to try and change people’s perceptions of what an Aboriginal business actually is and what it can provide.”
M/Group managing director Lloyd Clark said the joint ownership of Marawar provided far-reaching benefits across the company’s entire operation.
“The introduction of Marawar has not only been embraced by the Perth business sector, it has also engendered a sense of purpose within our staff environment,” Mr Clark told Business News.
“Suddenly our work has taken on greater significance and there is a new level of pride in what we are achieving.”
Dan Wilkie, Business News
M/Construction’s Latest Completion – Quest Joondalup HotelRead more
Cutting-Edge Apartment-Hotel Project Consolidates Joondalup’s Burgeoning Growth
The last 20 years have been pivotal for Joondalup. As Mayor Albert Jacob notes, “The Joondalup city centre has flourished into a successful, highly liveable commercial, civic and cultural destination. Today marks another significant milestone in our journey, as work begins on this outstanding development.”
He was referring to Quest Joondalup, a new apartment-hotel property developed by M/Group and built by M/Construction that is strategically positioned in the primary urban centre of Perth’s outer northern suburbs. The city centre already accommodates the Lakeside Joondalup shopping centre, Edith Cowan University and Joondalup Health campus, as well as substantial local and international office and industrial tenancies.
Quest is Australia’s largest apartment-hotel operator for total properties, which are located in central business districts, and suburban and regional areas – with close proximity to head offices, business centres and key tourist destinations. The Joondalup location on Boas Avenue is seen as an excellent fit with Quest’s ongoing growth model in Western Australia.
Cutting-Edge Features for Contemporary Short-Stay Accommodation
Quest Joondalup is a 90 key hotel comprising studios and one and two-bedroom apartments. Its design concept takes advantage of the fact that studios are considered a great alternative to regular hotel rooms. They feature a comfortable king bed and kitchenette; while the one and two-bedroom apartments are equipped with a full kitchen and laundry facilities, providing a home-away-from-home experience that is ideal for families, professionals and larger groups.
The development is accessed off the street-front into a large entry lobby, including a central lift accessing all six levels, with commercial tenancies on the ground level (and the opportunity for a café/restaurant). The ground floor also includes a conference room, guest laundry and gym, plus on-site parking.
According to M/Construction Director Michael Read, the main challenges during construction included coping with busy traffic in Joondalup city’s main street. “This involved well-planned traffic management in advance due to council requirements and neighbours owning the right of way adjacent to the site, as they needed 24-hour access to the laneway for parking at their property.”
Due to the very tight construction program, the building design was modelled using a precast wall & floor system for speed and efficiency.
Hollow-core pre-cast concrete floor panels were used throughout the building to complete a floor each fortnight. This further facilitated the construction program, as the trades were able to gain access to the floor area below to commence their works under the main structure, which would usually be obstructed and inaccessible for a month by scaffold-props if the floor had been an in-situ suspended slab.
“As the design was progressing so rapidly we had to re-think how the balcony structures would be incorporated into the build. It was decided to be a post-fix bolt-on light-weight structure which enabled the main structure to continue unimpeded.
“In addition, the roof design was changed from a structural steel and sheeted roof to a flat concrete roof, which saved M/Construction a month in program time and ensured the building was watertight ahead of schedule and avoided the wet winter months. With the concrete flat roof, it also gave us the opportunity to re-locate all the mechanical plant and equipment as well as hot water services on the roof instead of being installed elsewhere, as there was limited space available within the property.”
Another challenge was the inability to lift or load goods and materials from the main street, so a designated area was created on-site to fit a tower crane and allow panel truck deliveries. “This was difficult with a limited lay-down area,” said Michael Read, “but was overcome by additional coordination and scheduling to ensure no clashes with deliveries.”
Also, when digging out the lift pit and crane base, rock pinnacles were discovered in the ground – slowing down the excavation process. Shared land with a church next door presented another new challenge, which was managed by regular meetings to ensure they were aware of all ongoing works.
Other significant features included:
- Protruding balconies incorporating bold colours to create a feature on the streetscape.
- A custom-designed floating deco-wood feature panel at entry, creating a delineation between the apartment-hotel and ground floor commercial tenancies.
- A fully-cladded lobby with feature wall panelling using a timber-look for a seamless transition from outside to the indoors.
- A landscaping design throughout the building inspired by the original site’s ground cover, which consisted of grass trees and other native Australian plants.
Committed to the Environment… and Enhancing Efficiency
As always with their projects, M/Group were focused on a firm commitment to sustainability. The landscaping featured Australian flora, easy to maintain and care for with minimal water consumption.
Minimum waste was also an important factor, according to Michael Read, and this was achieved by choosing specific products which were all accounted for during the build. “In addition, we used high-quality products and finishes to ensure the building’s longevity.”
The end result was recognised as a resounding success for all parties.
The project was completed on budget and on time, thanks to the implementation of construction suggestions for changes in materials aimed at building with greater speed and efficiency. Most of the changes in materials were structural components, such as the aforementioned pre-cast walls, hollow-core flooring, post-fixed balconies and concrete roof. The flat concrete roof also allowed the building team to waterproof the building faster and therefore create a safer environment for the near-finished apartments below.
As a large international operator, said Michael Read, Quest had strict briefs and guidelines in place. “We navigated these and worked closely with them to ensure these expectations were met to keep the client satisfied and achieve a positive outcome for all parties. We were also able to assist the client with last-minute design changes and upgrade requests; and regular safety and toolbox meetings were held to ensure all parties were informed throughout the build process.”
How to Improve the Occupancy and Profitability of an Investment PropertyRead more
While REIWA reported its September Quarter vacancy rate at an encouraging 2.9%, the stats drawn from apartment property management specialists, M/Property, were even lower at 1.97%. As experts in this sector, they believe there is always scope to improve the occupancy and profitability of an investment property.
M/Property is one of the only specialist apartment management and leasing companies in the State. With a dedicated leasing team and over 18 years’ experience in apartment management, the company manages over 600 apartments at any one time.
M/Property Senior Property Manager, Tammy Smith, says that even though the vacancy rate is low in WA, Perth apartment investors can still miss out on valuable and quality tenancies simply by not understanding what is important to the renter.
“We are experiencing a market shift in Western Australia towards long-term renting as a lifestyle choice. This represents an incredible opportunity for property investors,” she said.
“Unlike conventional homes where size and space are often the important factor, when it comes to apartments, location, presentation and flexibility are paramount to both the existing and emerging apartment rental market.”
Tammy says apartments close to community infrastructure, those with access to great facilities and ones outlooks tend to get snapped up, there are a range of other factors that a property investor can control to attract and retain great tenants.
- Sell the dream with professional photography
Rental properties traditionally don’t get the same promotional treatment as homes available for sale. However, in a competitive market, owners will get more interest and potentially higher rentals if they ‘sell the dream’ with professional photography during the marketing phase.
- Add value with furniture
While not for everyone, adding a furniture package to the mix can significantly increase the rental return. A well-furnished apartment can rent out for 25%-75% more than unfurnished apartments. The cost of furniture is also often tax deductable.
- Be flexible with pets
Pet-friendly apartments are increasing in demand as more renters opt for making their apartment a long-term home. In fact, many States across Australia are changing legislation to make it easier for pet ownership in rental properties. Why not get ahead of the game to lock good tenants in early.
- Engage an approachable team
There is nothing more off-putting to a renter than being made to feel like a second-rate citizen. Ensure your property management team are approachable and responsive to not only the renters’ concerns, but also yours.
Tammy says a property management team with a sound knowledge of strata management is also imperative for apartment investors, together with a good relationship with building/facility managers and a solid database of good tenants to source the best tenant for the apartment.
For more information on M/Property services visit www.mproperty.com.au.