The Daily Telegraph was shocked at how David Chandler’s articles in The Fifth Estate have been so critical of the government but he still gets the gig as building commissioner. And some parting words from the man himself.
The Daily Tele was agog. David Chandler, our building industry correspondent of the past few years, with many frank and fearless articles behind him on what’s wrong with the building industry and how it should be reformed, is starting work tomorrow (Wednesday) as new NSW building commissioner.
We’ll miss Chandler’s continual but important needling of this over sensitive and deeply self protective industry – at the expense at times, it must be said, of the poor suckers who end up owning properties that can’t be lived in, insured or sold.
What needled the Tele was that Chandler could have been so critical of government and ministers in his assessment of the industry – and still get the gig.
In particular it pointed to his article in The Fifth Estate on 26 February when he swiped at the government saying ministers Anthony Roberts and Matt Kean were “a bit like a comedy tag team with a lot of platitudes and little policy substance”.
Another article in The Fifth Estate also clearly perplexed: a 19 February posting which said the national building ministers should mandate “unconditional 10 year warranties” on all new resi projects of three stories or more. Shocking.
“He even went so far to outline a to-do list for the new building commissioner,” the Tele marvelled.
Maybe Chandler was indeed musing about his own future job description…
And why not? No one else seems to be up to the job.
Certainly none of these articles managed to rile the Better Regulation Minister Kevin Anderson who told the newspaper he was “very familiar” with Chandler’s work. In fact, his articles had made him “ideally placed to take the industry to task over its failings”.
Chandler says the true message here is that the minister has “commitment to genuine reform”. Let’s hope. And it’s certainly looking like their intentions are good. If you want transparency and improvement it’s hard to go past the act of appointing your most severe critic to the job.
On Tuesday Urban Task Force chief executive Chris Johnson was keen to hose down fears that the problem residential towers were just the tip of the iceberg, as so many media outlets have reported.
That’s not to say that reform wasn’t needed: “The feeling is a lot of reform is needed and we need to introduce more rigour into the process,” he said.
But what could be achieved and in what time frame was open to question.
And it would be complex.
For instance, blaming private certifiers would probably not be beneficial. Mascot Towers was certified by council not private certifiers and the problems were more related to approving too many basement car parks that displaced the water table than intrinsic building problems, Johnson said.
“It doesn’t give you confidence that mandating council certification will work.”
Neither would it work to ensure that all consultants and structural engineers be registered. Major engineers who worked on some of the problem towers “could get registered with their eyes closed,” he said.
Thoughts on the new appointment from David Chandler
Firstly, I want to acknowledge the leadership and commitment shown by the Premier and Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation Kevin Anderson to implement a plan to build stronger construction industry foundations in NSW.
To date, there’s been many important contributions by those who have a stake in our industry that represents over 8 per cent of the nation’s economic activity, employs over 10 per cent of its workforce, and most importantly provides the built fabric of our community.
This industry plays a seminal role in the lives of all Australians.
Over the industry’s recent history, the confidence that the community should have in how buildings are made and how they perform has rightly been challenged.
I believe that part of the reasoning for this is that the construction industry has been a late starter in the customer facing transformations that have redefined other industries over the last 20 years.
Our industry is overly self-facing, it has an unsustainable culture of risk adversity and “what’s in it for me?”. This culture has too often become defensive and adverse to accountability.
It’s simply time for someone to step up and provide leadership at this critical time.
Leadership is key
The Building Confidence Report and the recent NSW government’s Building Stronger Foundations discussion paper have shone a light on issues that must now be addressed.
There ‘s been a lot said about the recommendations to turn the industry’s tarnished brand around, and how they should be implemented.
My own experience has been that there are many with a long list of opinions about what is wrong and what should be done to fix things up. Most of those people invariably point to someone else needing to change first. This defence must change.
The reality is that the situation we face is our collective making. The impact on the people whose lives that this situation has landed upon is both unsustainable and unacceptable.
Turning this around will not happen overnight. There are three priorities:
- The industry must reinstate the confidence and effectiveness of the certifiers and regulators to call out and deal with unacceptable and failed practices
- As an industry we must find a way to address the most aggrieved situations where property owners, occupiers and investors are the most affected
- The industry must reinvest in itself and bring its value proposition and capabilities into the 21st century – just as other industries and governments have done over the last 20 years. A good example is how the NSW government has reimagined Services NSW by bringing once fragmented and outdated administrative practices into an effective customer facing service platform. Construction can learn from this.
Once we have initiated these immediate priorities the next step will be to look towards what a modern construction industry should look like in five to 10 years.
I believe the political will and leadership to make NSW the “State of Construction” in Australia is achievable. This of course goes beyond the immediate actions that must be taken. There will be time to explore this goal with those who want to come on the journey.
Many of these aspirations have been discussed in my articles published by The Fifth Estate.
Plans for the NSW building commissioner role
For those who are unfamiliar with the scope that the minister has set for the role of NSW building commissioner, please visit the building commissioner web page that will go live this week.
For now, I want to outline how my attention will be focused over the next few months:
- going to the coal face of the problems and pursuing solutions
- where possible, make those responsible, accountable
- increasing the effectiveness of the regulatory rule book
- remaining very transparent and when informed, sharing my findings regularly
- establishing clear milestones and performance accountabilities to measure change
For those who may be in any doubt about the government’s intent to get on top of the industry’s current crisis, please let there be no misunderstanding.
There will be no need to build a large administrative bureaucracy around this role. There are already sufficient resources in existing arms of government. We will be collaborating and looking at ways to be more efficient and have a larger impact.
For those who have followed my career, it’s on the public record how I feel about the issues our industry needs to address. Clearly, those expressions are my own for now. I will seek to socialise these with the key players and to develop a widely shared plan to move forward over the next few months.
For those who want to remain in their traditional places of comfort, I simply ask a few things: criticism is welcome, but please make sure it’s evidence based. If all you have to offer is opinion, we will be relying on the collective wisdom of a small leadership group I will establish.
And if you are invested in the future of our industry, then let’s turn our collective minds to the constructors, professionals, regulators and underwriters who all need to play important roles.
I believe that the global construction industry will offer amazing new and rewarding opportunities for those who are future ready. We must now start to share that narrative. We must, however, not let these aspirations mask dealing with the here and now.
In a few years’ time, I hope we can all look back and say, “did the industry really once perform that way?”. We must embark on that journey if we are to attract the best talent possible.
Most of that talent is in primary and secondary schools today. Their parents and friends will need to see a brighter future in this industry for their children. We must win their confidence. At the same time we must also win back the confidence of the public.
In the end we should all believe our industry needs to be different, and that it will be.