Back in 2012, the assessment of a Parliamentary inquiry regarding the culture within the Queensland Building Services Authority (BSA) was damning.
The BSA, it concluded, was operating in such a way that intimidation and harassment had become ‘part of the culture’ and the organisation was known for ‘bias, rudeness, bad behaviour and incompetent decisions.’
Fast forward to today and the BSA has been replaced by the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) under a structure which the government says provides for greater accountability.
Nevertheless, reform of building industry regulation is not done, and the government is working on what it says will be a comprehensive plan for building regulation.
Toward this end, it has put out a discussion paper seeking ideas about how to improve security of payment, home warranty insurance, plumbing and drainage legislation, the Queensland Housing Code, the Queensland Lot Code, building certification, licensing, sustainability, product conformance, liveable housing and inclusive communities. Significant reforms suggested under the paper include the introduction of project bank accounts on developments worth between $1 million and $10 million and a consistent set of state-wide rules for siting of blocks.
This raises questions about how, if at all, building regulation in Queensland can be improved.
Michael Roberts, acting executive director of the Housing Industry Association (Qld), says there are a number of ‘pain points’ with current regulation as it stands.
Whilst not relating to any areas which are the subject of review, he said the QBCC has adopted an approach toward regulation which some HIA members are finding to be overly heavy-handed.
Meanwhile, whilst the introduction of private certification has been extremely beneficial, Roberts says the industry is frustrated with a continuing propensity on the part of the government to review the private certification regime, which has been subject to seven reviews over the past 10 years. Whilst acknowledging the regime is not perfect, Roberts said that no evidence of major problems has been identified and that the government should settle on what is a fairly good system.
In respect of home warranty insurance, Roberts says Queensland has close to if not the most comprehensive system in place throughout the country from the viewpoint of protecting consumers. Nevertheless, there are a couple of pain points in this area from a practical viewpoint in relation to the timing of the payment.
Whereas the QBCC requires the insurance to be paid within 10 days of signing the contract, the blocks of land to which the insurance relates often may not be ready for up to six to nine months. This creates a situation in which insurance has to be paid six to nine months prior to any work being able to commence.
By far the biggest problem, however, revolves around rules for siting a block of land. Throughout South East Queensland, Roberts says there are around 300 different sets of rules in this area. On what he says are conservative estimates, he says this is costing the industry $200 million per year in terms of wasted time, duplication, litigation and unnecessary applications. This affects several groups of people, including designers, builders, certifiers and others – each of which would be forced to expend considerable time just working out what the rule are for the sit in question.
Instead, he said the industry would like to see the government introduce a set of rules that will apply in this area across the state.
“All of the groups – the builders, the certifiers, the designers the real-estate agents – have to sit down and work out what the rules are,” Roberts said. “They are all doing it. Each and every one of them, they are all doing it.
“There is an enormous amount of time and effort into just working out what the rules are and there are a number of people who would do that for every house. And as you would know, people don’t do that for free.”
From a subcontractor perspective, Lew Williams from the Subcontractors’ Alliance welcomes the proposed introduction of project bank accounts but says reforms enacted to security of payment legislation in 2014 have created considerable problems. Those amendments, Williams said, removed statutory payment rights of which had been inferred on subcontractors along with penalties for failing to provide payment schedules.
Changes to the administration of adjudication proceedings, including the removal of authorised nominating authorities who provided support to the process, has been disastrous for subcontractors, Williams argues. The changes have also precipitated a spike in adjudication applications which ‘fall over’ prior to reaching adjudication as the QBCC has not failed to provide adequate levels of help and support.
Williams would like to see the return of statutory payment rights along with better support provided to claimants and greater regulation of construction contracts.
Some commentators, however, believe the legislation as it stands serves all interests well.
Phil Dwyer, national president of the Builders Collective of Australia, said Queensland’s building regulation is arguably the best in Australia. The first resort nature of the state’s home warranty insurance scheme, he said, provides greater protection for building industry consumers as they were able to proceed with claims even as the QBCC pursued any builders who had done the wrong thing.
Meanwhile, the competency and financial probity checks which are applied as part of the licensing process in that state are second to none, he said. Moreover, he said the overall building regulation environment provides a much more holistic approach compared with regulation which is in place throughout other states.
Asked what should happen going forward, Roberts would like to see a number of the issues which the government has been considering for years to be finally dealt with and resolved.
He also would like to see the government focus its efforts with regard to the weight it attaches to the various sources of feedback it receives. Due to the wide ranging nature of the process, he says the government might be subject to some responses which are coming from parties who are pursuing agendas in singular areas and may not be coming from a position which is as well informed as other parties.
“Moving forward, we would like to think that government would be listening to people who are actually informed about the issues,” Roberts said. “Some responses are going to be more informed than others.
“The government is about to embark on a fairly extensive consultation program in relation to this plan. We would hope that once they sit down at the end of the day to look at the responses that they get that they are actually taking notice of the responses they are getting from informed people.”