Balancing new priorities with existing workload, managing expectations and engaging stakeholders will be important challenges for the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) in managing its new role in leading the charge to develop a nationally consistent approach toward building regulatory reform, the Board’s chief executive officer says.

Speaking on the sidelines of a conference hosted by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Council last month in Melbourne, ABCB chief executive officer Neil Savery spoke with Sourceable about the Board’s new and expanded role as given to it by the Building Ministers Forum (BMF) in July.

In its July meeting, the BMF – a forum made up of federal and state ministers who have responsibility for building and construction within their particular jurisdictions – granted the ABCB is leading role in driving a nationally consistent approach toward implementing the recommendations of the Building Confidence report prepared for the BMF by Professor Peter Shergold and lawyer Bronwyn Weir.

Under this expanded role:

  • A new team will be established within the ABCB – for a period of time – to develop a national framework which will guide the consistent implementation of Shergold Weir recommendations across states and territories.
  • The strategic plan of the ABCB will be recast to better reflect current challenges in the building sector; and
  • The Board itself will be expanded to include greater representation from industry.

Speaking of the ABCB’s new task of developing the framework, Savery stresses that the BMF has specified that this will not be an ongoing or permanent responsibility for the Board.

Rather, it is a recognition of an opportunity to use the Board as a national resource for a period of time to help to respond to the Shergold Weir recommendations.

Nevertheless, he says the new and expanded role will present challenges for the ABCB across several areas.

Most immediately, there is the need to balance resources and priorities.

On this score, Savery says there is a need to apply adequate levels of resources, skills and focus toward its new responsibilities without compromising its regular activities such as developing the National Construction Code.

Such challenges are compounded as some of the work associated with the new role is likely to fall outside typical tasks to which the ABCB is accustomed.

Any tasks which involve preparing model regulation, for example would differ from the Board’s typical work which involves writing technical requirements of the NCC but does not involve writing model regulation.

He says much of the reasoning behind the Ministers’ logic in awarding the new role to the ABCB most likely lay behind a desire to capitalise on the Board’s established structure and skill base – albeit with the potential need to top up these resources and abilities.

“In terms of a challenge, there is the immediacy of developing a national framework and the immediacy of how do you balance that in the context of your other core business and the other things which still have to be done, how do you resource that how do you get the right skill sets?” Savery said.

“I think it’s a challenge for the ABCB on the basis that it’s got to do its core business and it’s got to do this. How can we do it in a way that can actually optimise the synergies which exist?”

Other challenges include managing expectations and engaging with stakeholders.

On the first point, Savery says there were high expectations from several quarters at the time the announcement was made. This includes those who made the announcement, industry and the general public.

Several of these stakeholders, Savery said, may not fully understand the role and function of the ABCB.

Some may even expect that the Board by itself to resolve many or all of the issues on its own.

(Note: the ABCB is not tasked with actually implementing building reform itself or enforcing any reforms which are implemented. Rather, a team within the ABCB will develop a national framework for the consistent implementation of Shergold Weir recommendations. It is states/territories themselves who will actually implement and enforce the reforms within their own building legislation and regulations.)

On stakeholder engagement, Savery says there will be a lot at stake for governments themselves, industry and consumers or end users of buildings throughout the process.

Meaningful engagement with each group will be critical.

Asked about how the Board will approach its new role, Savery says the direction behind much of this has been set out by the ministers themselves.

As mentioned above, the BMF agreed that the strategic plan of the ABCB would be recast to reflect current challenges within the built environment.

To prepare for this, the ABCB itself has re-examined its strategic plan in light of its broader agenda and work priorities as dictated by the ministers. This strategic plan, Savery says, will drive the ABCB’s business plan and work plan. Following from this will be the identification of the resource capabilities required and strategies to develop any additional capabilities which are necessary as well as consideration of how resources and budget will be allocated to best deliver on the work program.

Now that the Board’s work on the strategic plan is completed, therefore, Savery says much now rests with the ministers and BMF, who may agree with the Board’s version of its recast strategic plan or who may request alterations.

“We’re really at the point now where the Board has gone away and done a lot of thinking about what it’s been asked to do put down on paper about how it thinks it can best do that,” Savery said.

“Now it’s with the building ministers to agree or disagree and ask it to be done in a slightly different way.

“Once that’s all in place, it’s just get on with it.”