Archaic Building Rules Must Go: Tas. Chief

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Friday, February 14th, 2014
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Long standing artificial demarcations within building regulations must be a critical area of focus in the recently announced review into construction industry regulation in Tasmania, the head of a key industry association in that state says.

Stuart Clues, the Housing Industry Association’s (HIA) regional executive director – Tasmania, warned that any changes should be accompanied by a regulatory impact analysis but said the state’s Building Act had been in place for around a decade and the opportunity to take a fresh look at whether or not it is operating efficiently is timely.

Asked about specific areas where improvement can be made, Clues said the system as it currently stands involves a considerable number of obscure and artificial demarcations surrounding the type of work people can do.

Drawing on the example of rules contained in the 1957 Plumbing Act which restrict the performance of certain types of roofing work to plumbers (as opposed to general builders), he said many of these should be re-assessed in terms of whether or not they represent the best way to deliver better quality and more affordable housing.

Stuart Clues

Stuart Clues

“That building practice hasn’t ever really taken place,” he said, referring to the aforementioned example. “It’s not representative of what happens in industry. So you have created this artificial demarcation that looks like something out of the 1950s when the Act was drafted and we haven’t touched it.”

Outside of demarcations, Clues says the state also needs a system to deliver fast and effective resolution of disputes – ideally one which sees the majority resolved within 10 or 20 days. As a first step, he says this would involve voluntary mediation. Should this fail, he says the HIA would like to see the issue go to formal Security of Payments processes, with a panel of experts going onsite to do a building report in cases where the arbiter deems the issue is one of workmanship as opposed to a contractual dispute.

The Tasmanian review comes as reform efforts in other states over the past 12 months have yielded mixed stakeholder responses.

In Queensland, a 10-point plan announced last year under which the new Queensland Building and Construction Commission replaced the former Building Services Authority was welcomed by industry bodies on the basis governance arrangements surrounding the new body provided for much greater accountability compared with those surrounding its predecessor.

In Victoria, by contrast, what is seen as a shambolic process which saw the former Building Commission replaced with the new Victoria Building Authority drew widespread criticism from industry and consumer groups alike. Industry groups said the reforms were introduced without consultation and created significant uncertainty as well as adding compliance requirements while consumers said the reforms did not address genuine consumer concerns.

Indeed, in Tasmania itself, intense opposition from industry saw a heavy-handed Bill proposing wide-ranging changes not only to contracts but also to procedures relating to workplace audit and inspection and building disputes thrown out of the state’s Upper House last year.

Clues said that fiasco demonstrated the need for open-mindedness on the part of those conducting the review.

“The government seriously needs to go into any of these reform exercises with an open mind and an open heart – not with a predetermined outcome,” he said.

“If you are going to do a review exercise, you can’t be entrenched in a particular position from the get-go. You’ve got to go into this with a view that you listen to the stakeholders, find out what’s wrong with the system where its breaking, listen to the options for fixing it up and then try and find some middle ground that finds a balance between industry and consumers or whoever the stakeholders are.”

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