The announced demise of the Victorian Building Commission (BC) in November 2012 came after the exposure of a raft of issues.

These issues included a culture of extravagant spending that in part led to a $3 million budget shortfall, conflicts of interest involving senior commission officials, and a failure to act on warnings that unregistered inspectors were approving questionable work on thousands of homes. The BC had initially been named the Building Control Commission (BCC), and for reasons unknown the word control was dropped and it became just the BC.

The Victorian Building Authority (VBA) was formed as a replacement with high expectations that this new entity would in fact be the silver bullet that would instill confidence and deliver a regulator that would apply its given powers to regulate and be seen to regulate an industry that had previously spiraled out of control.

Expectations of both builders and consumers was high and support was given willingly, but it soon became evident through the multiple failed appointments and the direction the new entity was taking that there may be a continuing issue with the building industry, including its management, and its delivery of expectations.

There is no doubt industry's concerns are being dealt with using only spin and tokenism.

On the other side of the equation, we have the consumers who are appalled with the current situation and the attempts of the VBA to shut them down by now rejecting some as they are not affected consumers.

On June 1, the VBA were served with the Range View Supreme Court writ. This action is unprecedented and its outcomes will determine the shape of the building industry for many years into the future.

How did it come to this for such drastic action to be taken by consumers?

A consumer building a home, which is a very personal undertaking, and expectations are high. In some cases, they may be too high, but in most cases the delivery is acceptable and issues are minor and resolved.

But in several cases the building process is a complete disaster that sees the building consumer compromised so badly, with issues languishing for so long, it almost becomes a vendetta for the consumer as he or she is pushed from pillar to post by an industry management regime called Builders Warranty Insurance (BWI) that delivers only despair in place of a resolution.  Justice is completely evaded.

Every sector of the Consumer Protection Framework in Victoria is at the very heart of the failure and collapse of the building industry consumer protection, as there is no element that can be considered acceptable. The management of our industry also fails to address the glaring issues of concern such as registration, where we have multiple training organisations competing for a share of the building industry training for builders. Of course, "training" is a term used loosely as profit appears to be the main focus for most of them, and for a fee you can become a builder in no time at all. VBA response is ‘not our issue!’

Then we have the conduct of some builders whose actions can be considered appalling but as the years roll on we fail to deal with them from a regulatory point of view. Some continue to wreak havoc for consumers, such as the builder exposed in a recent A Current Affair, who has taken some four years to be brought to a hearing brought on by the police and not the VBA.

The key plank to the Housing Industry Association BWI system implemented in July 2002 was for tribunals to deal with builder complaints. In Victoria we have VCAT, which was initially implemented to provide a forum for self-representation for both the builder and the consumer together with a timely process. However, over the years the legal profession and VCAT have morphed into a full on legal process that sees both sides expending huge sums that in most cases far exceed the cost of the initial dispute. Cases languish for years, keeping the lawyers very happy.

The emotional, mental, and financial costs to society is immeasurable.

In a recent ABC News story, the VBA's Prue Digby stated "The system has proved to be very difficult and complicated to navigate when they do have problems" but pointed to the number of building permits issued every year as evidence that the industry was not in disarray.

While a slip of the tongue by VBA could be attributed to the number of permits issued each year - 110,069 in the 2015/2016 year and 105,431 in the 2014-2015 year (those numbers include all permits both domestic and commercial) - the inference to the listener was that complaints to the regulator were so miniscule it was not an issue.

That certainly gives a false impression.

This style of presentation appears rife by the bureaucrats that are charged with administering our building industry. And it appears they are supported by the trade associations who under all circumstances want the status quo to remain to ensure their precious income streams from the provision of a product of dubious value but one that definitely holds sway of the builders of this industry and leads consumers into false sense of security.

Neither HIA nor MBAV have ever provided a position on the health of the building industry or its consumer protection. They remain seated on the sidelines and only speak out when the government of the day suggests the builders warranty scheme has failed and must be changed. Such a statement generates political threats and outrage from them and when the government of the day withdraws, all is quiet again as the status quo remains and our industry continues to suffer. This political abuse of power is undermining the role of the regulator.

The number of consumers affected by a builder’s failure is a closely held secret, if in fact VBA have any idea of the numbers, but there is no doubt the total is totally unacceptable irrespective of the number of permits that are issued. VBA are more than aware of the magnitude of this issue and all the issues surrounding the failure of the consumer protection and no amount of fiddling will ever resolve this issue.

Both the builders and consumers have had enough, and as the class actions mount, the VBA may finally understand the role of a regulator as the Supreme Court will be the final judge of their performance or the lack of it.

  • Good article PHIL. I am currently at VCAT having a BPB decision reviewed. The review has allowed me access to unbelievable evidence of cover-ups and impropriety at all levels, from investigators and VBA inspectors, through to Digby's head in the sand responses. I can also confidently tell you that the Vic Ombudsman is also complicit. I recently had a complaint foreshadowed as being escalated to investigation, only to have someone from above come in and re-write the report. While the VBA, in their new found egotism, even still refer to practitioners as 'our practitioners' when reporting on the changes. I think that alone says it all! HIA sham training is also back again via Tony Abbruzzese, who is doing an amazing job of protecting HIA members that pass in front of disciplinary hearings under his watch. Keep up the good work and drop me a line if you want hard evidence to add to future articles.

  • Great article yet again Phil. The corruption is rife right through to the very top of Government. Both parties are responsible and it will be very interesting to see how they react when the court hands down its decision. We can only hope that the Judges involved have not been "GOT AT" and are not accessory to covering up. VCAT as we all know is "questionable" and outcomes are farcical at best. We dont just need to get rid of Prue Digby, we need an ENEMA of massive proportion to go through the whole of the VBA.

    • Either it's a grand coincidence….or you need to put your real name to your talk! You speak truth and the more people doing it, the better. What I can add though, is that VCAT is soon going to have little choice but to step up. In 2013, VCAT was given more control over The Admin Review process. Up to date they have been tardy in falling into line, but that can't hold much longer, especially if decisions are reviewed and put before a higher court where precedent set by ART will need to be respected.

      My case is a tough one for VCAT to try and play politics with….asVCAT has already ruled on the same subject of the decision under review and is in a way, not actually review a decision but compare their own decision to that of the BPB. BPB/VBA decided no action warranted, VCAT made the builder demolish the house. !

      Through beurocratic incompetence and attempts to conceal impropriety, I am now being allowed to double dip on the litigation of my original building dispute, after having learned from the original ruling how to better litigate the matter. See : Draper v Simonds Homes. It is going to be messy……but hopefully it will begin to push the VBA and co in a better direction for all moving forward.

      As usual, the government don't change the captain of the team when the captain can't follow rules, instead they change the rules……but this time, they were not quick enough to get ahead of the wave of disaster that is always looking over the Comission/VBA. The same rules that the VBA relied upon to do harm, are the same rules that will now show them to have not acted in good faith, aiding and abetting offenders.

      Remove the fools, don't change the rules!

  • I hope the VBA is able to get its act together.

    No doubt there are many good people there who are doing their best, but things are not working as they should be at the moment.

    Let's hope the organisation is able to lift its game.

    • Great point Joel, although with such a strong 'click' within the organisation, it is more than likely that good people don't last long. Nor would they be able to get past the power brokers, especially if they wanted to keep their jobs.

      Perhaps if the VBA was run by ex-building industry experts who don't rely on litigators to cover off every mistake, something might change. Point in case though…….they don't believe they are doing anything wrong……which means they are unable to actually see where effort is required.

      Unfortunately, while we rely on ex-Police officers who attend fancy business schools to oversee industry compliance…..we are always going to be a step behind. You can't learn what you need to know in the world of building from inside a classroom…..the industry is just too fluid and progressive for that. Not wanting to be sexist at all here either, but……look at a building site… everywhere….yet in the VBA, half the top jobs are taken by females in the name of 'equal opportunity'. Seems very odd to me! Even guys like awes Douglass have no background in building……I think he was imported from some other random area based on Admin skills…not relevant building knowledge. I digress……. Wes Douglass appears to have been demoted and Joseph Genco is the next to have a turn………

    • …and it continues. It seems Genco was the Building Surveyor for City of Melbourne when the wall collapse killed people………how does the VBA handle it……….they give him a job as head of technical and regulation when they should be taking legal action for his failure to perform his role of protecting people. I think this type of thing sums up why we are in trouble……..

  • Shannon, you have a good grasp of the real issues from first hand experience, especially in relation to the VBA. In terms of the numbers of owners damaged, as Phil says this is a closely guarded secret. But we do know how catastrophic and that the numbers of consumers damaged is on a grand scale. in 2011 the Consumer Detriment Survey released by CAV, this conducted independently of CAV, provided the facts. In 2011, 256,000 building consumers suffered financial loss in the billions of dollars that year – or 38%! This is nearly 40% – or 4 in every 10.But these stats are outdated and no statistics have been made public since that time. However, the spiraling disaster to that time (charting from 2002 where it was 35,000 to 2011 where it was 256,000) has continued on the same trajectory and worsened accordingly. Our anecdotal evidence suggests that 5 in every10 owners at least are financially damaged currently in 2017 – and this without considering the health, emotional and psychological toll to those who survive their building nightmare.

    As you rightly point out, the VBA's role has been critical in the systemic and systematic failure that has damaged millions of owners. IT has managed to successfully fail consumers whilst protecting the rogue building fraternity. This 'policy', together with the total lack of any consumer protection is to blame. As the VAGO Report of 2015 highlighted, every element of the supposed 'consumer protection' framework has failed consumers – total failure for the last 25 years!

    On our website (Victorian Building Action Group Inc.) we have many of the key statistics and just some of the horror stories impacting owners over recent years. This is a massive man-made disaster that only you and a few others are prepared to talk about. We must unite and stop this scandalous ruination of lives and remove business based on the greed is good principle of profit at any cost to the lives of so many innocent victims. An invitation to come and join us!

  • Peak industry groups are registered organizations under the recent act. They border on criminal organizations. Don't see them being prosecuted though.

    If Vic is the same as QLD then it will be conflicted by association with VBA preferred lawyers .

    Court case coming in QLD too – be bigger – licensing issues . More to the industry than builders . Lawyers have done to the industry what they have done to our parliaments . If you want one hire one .

    • Spot on Les. VBA lawyers are already conflicted like no one I have ever seen, not to mention Victorias new 'independent ' Advice and Conciliation service still being vulnerable. They may be able to make orders to get sub standard works fixed, but the 'independent' inspectors still have to refer to and rely on the VBA for prosecutions…and we all know where that leads……straight back to the VBA using discretion as frequently as you and I breath air. (I am not sure if discretion is the right word…it seems to only ever go one way…which I think is more akin to abuse of power than discretion.) Here is some info that proves how true what you stated really is: I am currently having a BPB decision reviewed. Long story short, The VBA recommended an Inquiry into the builders conduct. The BPB refused this advice, even after they were the ones that asked the VBA to make recommendations. Instead of an Inquiry, the BPB decided a corrupt 'confidential' back room disciplinary hearing led by HIA reps, who allowed the offender to escape without even a reprimand. Now VBA lawyers are defending the BPB's decision not to hold an Inquiry, even though the VBA itself don't agree with the decision and beleive like I do, that the Inquiry is warranted. The justice system needs to be properly labeled as a 'legal' system. Justice is not the priority anymore! Nor can we ever trust the VBA when they refer to practitioners as 'our practitioners', while pumping out propaganda which declares that they are 'independent'.