housing development with ducks

NSW, we think, is the standout on taking action on dodgy building, but for the rest of the nation…we’re still waiting.

Are plans to make plans the same thing as action? That’s the question on the minds of many industry stakeholders following the lacklustre approach to improving construction compliance demonstrated at last Friday’s Building Ministers Forum in Hobart.

As one stakeholder commented, the ministers have agreed to “plan to make a plan to ban a product which is already effectively banned.”

The topic of cladding again took the limelight, after the fire at Neo200 in Melbourne, but while the BMF Communique noted that combustible composite cladding products are not permitted for applications such as facades on high-rise buildings under the National Construction Code, it then went on to propose the BMF instigate a cost-benefit analysis and other busywork around an official ban on their use for some applications.

On implementing the recommendations of the Shergold + Weir report, the BMF said it would release an implementation plan setting out the directions of the proposed reforms of each jurisdiction by the end of February 2019.

While it noted that each state and territory is implementing its own suite of reforms to achieve the outcomes proposed by the report, the ministers collectively agreed that “wherever possible jurisdictions will adopt reforms consistent with those in place or proposed in other jurisdictions.”

The ministers had earlier queried an industry roundtable that included the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors, Fire Protection Association of Australia, Australian Institute of Architects, Engineers Australia, Building Products Industry Council, Master Builders Australia, Housing Industry Association on what steps they are taking to improve professionalism and compliance to implement relevant Shergold + Weir recommendations. 

But with no clear and decisive set of actions at the government level to progress the reforms the mood of some industry stakeholders following the roundtable was one of frustration.

Stakeholders said the report, commissioned by the BMF, was released almost 12 months ago now, yet progress  on implementing its expert recommendations has been sluggish.

Jonathan Russell, national manager of public affairs for Engineers Australia told The Fifth Estate that while EA supports the BMF announcing it will release an implementation plan, it wants all the COAG member states and territories to implement all 24 of the Shergold + Weir recommendations as a program for industry reform.

“Progress is slow,” Mr Russell said.

“Industry now needs to keep the pressure on.”

He said the entire suite of stakeholders are on board with the recommendations being the reform program.

NSW goes its own way but detail is scarce

Meanwhile, the NSW government has taken independent steps, announcing “strong plans to improve the building and construction industry.”

NSW minister for better regulation Matt Kean said NSW will be supporting “the majority of recommendations” in the Shergold + Weir report, however, no details were released on those it would not be supporting.

NSW said it will appoint a building commissioner with responsibilities including licensing and auditing of practitioners.

The new regulations would require building designers including engineers to “declare that building plans specify a building that will comply with the National Construction Code.”

How is this different or new?

How this is different to self-certifying that a building is designed to achieve compliance is unclear. It is also unclear how this differs to the current situation that buildings need to address code requirements in design so that they’re compliant.

The new rules will also require builders to declare that buildings have been “built according to their plans” but again it’s hard to see how this is different to the current situation where builders are legally obliged to deliver code-compliant buildings and expected to deliver buildings as specified in the plans.

Ah something new – registration

What is genuinely new aside from the promise of a building commissioner is the state government will now require building designers and builders themselves to be registered.

The lack of mandatory registration has been a concern in the industry for some time. Under the current rules, engineers do not need to be registered in NSW, nor do builders constructing commercial buildings. 

Compensation could be possible

In addition, there are plans to clarify laws to ensure there is an industry-wide duty of care to homeowners and owners corporations so that they have the right to compensation where a building practitioner has been negligent.

Mr Kean said the government is taking these actions to “protect homeowners.”

“We’re making tough new laws to ensure buildings meet Australian standards, and to guarantee that people who build and design buildings have the proper qualifications to do so,” he said.

“This plan will ensure those who control the risks – building practitioners – are held responsible for their work. People deserve to feel safe in their homes and have confidence that they are buying a quality building.”

The government will consult with industry and community stakeholders as part of “getting these reforms right,” Mr Kean said.

Registering engineers is a big item and key to Shergold + Weir list, let’s make it national

Mr Russell said that requiring registration of practitioners such as engineers in NSW is a “big item” and one of the key recommendations of Shergold + Weir.

However, what EA wants to see is a true mutual recognition system that is coordinated nationally for engineers.

Currently, Queensland already requires registration for anyone providing engineering services across a wide range of engineering sectors including buildings. NSW is now proposing it, Victoria has developed legislation that will hopefully be re-introduced to parliament soon requiring registration and the ACT has legislation in the early stages.

President of the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors, Troy Olds told The Fifth Estate that while all the details are not yet available, AIBS is “encouraged by the fact that all practitioners are going to be registered and therefore accountable for their component of the construction process, coupled with adequate auditing of all practitioners to ensure there is adequate oversight of the system.”

Mr Olds highlighted the importance of including the post-build phase in the new regulatory regime.

“We would hope that any registration goes through to include post occupancy essential safety maintenance to ensure that we do not have issues similar to the recent fire in Victoria where we understand that some of the fire safety equipment was not being maintained adequately,” he said.

AIBS hopes to work with the NSW government on the implementation of the Shergold + Weir recommendations to “ensure they are workable for all practitioners and implemented as soon as possible”.

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  1. How will we ever get proper legally compliant buildings and houses in Queensland (also Australia), when the Regulating Authorities are dysfunctional. The QBCC in Queensland commits offences in order to protect builders, certifiers, engineers and building material suppliers. that do not comply with the Queensland Building Laws. I have the proof and evidence of the above-mentioned offences, and I am still struggling in QCAT to try and make progress against all this unfairness and unlawful behaviour by a body that is supposed to protect the interest of the Queensland Community. Any help and advice with this will be appreciated.

  2. Good observation Ian, and something there are many in the industry have told me through the time I have been covering compliance is how much better a national approach would be.

    Lack of national harmonisation of rules is an issue for compliance, and also for energy performance, security of payment, supply chain accountability, professional certification [not in all professions, but in some key ones like engineering], rules around who is accredited to perform what job and what level of insurance they have to have [if any], also verification/auditing rules in terms of NCC compliance are different from state to state.

    The Federation model has some challenges, that’s for sure. One of them being what can appear like a perennial “are we there yet? are we there yet? Surely we are getting there soon?” scenario in terms of actually having an appropriate regulatory regime to ensure our buildings are fit for purpose. There’s actually more oversight and regulation/enforcement of the supply chain and supplier of a cup of coffee from a city cafe than there is for a building from what I can tell.