May 15 - The most recent figures in an index tracking machinery imports paint a bleak picture of the construction sector in Australia, says freight forwarder Skelton Sherborne.

The company's March Shipping Index found heavy machinery imports fell 35 per cent since January, signalling major downturns in construction and housing sectors which were flowing on to equipment dealers and contractors.

"There is no doubt our latest figures paint a bleak outlook for the construction industry, with the residential and commercial sectors being the hardest hit," said Skelton Sherborne director Brad Skelton. "Lower building approval rates coupled with high interest rates are certainly not helping matters.

"Another possible reason for the decline in construction machinery demand is that most of the repairs to flood-damaged roads and infrastructure have now been completed."

Mr Skelton said the mining industry showed signs of resilience since the last index.