Will our industry be reformed successfully by implementing the recommendations of the Shergold - Weir report?

The short answer is NO!

The building industry operates under the one national code, yet its management and operation are a disjointed mess by the States and territories as some 70 reviews/inquires have found.

We must operate under one code (BCA-NCC) and the Commonwealth must have oversite for it to be effective.

The Commonwealth has distanced themselves from that role however it was Minister Hockey who took the lead to introduce the current system that has failed spectacularly.

The Building Ministers Forum (BMF) sat on the “Building Confidence” Report for over a year, until major hi-rise building failures came to light recently then this report suddenly becomes the panacea for industry reform according to the BMF.

The failure of industry has been extreme to date as we are exposed to media showing the ongoing failures in the Hi-Rise area and that’s where the focus of the Building Confidence report has been while the immense failures in the domestic arena have hurt thousands of our consumers they are not at the forefront of reform whereas they should be but they don’t possess the media interest.

The root cause of the industries failure rests entirely with the management of the overall industry who have not had the ability to understand its shortcomings and now a culture of them and us exists.

While the predatory practices of big business will always exist, their role must be removed entirely from the public policy of consumer protection for the building industry.

The authors of this report make the point their document was confined to the terms of reference and will not rectify the overall dilapidation of the national industry that has taken place over the past two decades. Place over the past two decades.

On page 9 the authors provide an insightful 1913 quote that:

“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants”.

They add:

“If the actions of individuals, organisations or government are visible, then pro-social behaviours are more assured and the need for legal or regulatory intervention is lessened.”

We all strongly espouse that ethos.

Our current industry is not transparent, and its management culture is not appropriate. We must change both aspects to be effective.

We believe the Shergold-Weir ‘Building Confidence’ report recommendations hold value and must be part of a complete reform package required to arrest the decline in building standards, quality, and integrity.

While the report makes 24 recommendations the authors have broken them down into 10 categories that appear at the bottom of this article.

The BMF must not be reactionary to the industry failures and instead, be proactive and ensure a package of reform that will rebuild an industry that is screaming out for robust leadership.

We can no longer afford to continually band-aid the existing scheme because you can’t fix it with the same thinking that created it two decades ago.

The Building Confidence recommendations suit modern thinking for a modern-day Australia and if implemented on their own would be a complete mis-match for the existing 18-year-old system bought in by private influencers on 1st July 2002.

Reform must start with the complete removal of private vested interests from the public policy of consumer protection and industry management as their role and influence over past decades has simply failed so badly it has removed virtually all confidence and integrity from our once proud industry.

The Last Resort builders warranty product and its criteria to be removed entirely from all jurisdictions including the MBA Fidelity Funds in the ACT and the Northern Territory and the suggestion it is a safety net for consumers is a furphy. We successfully removed it without replacement in Tasmania in 2008 without incident or backlash.

A clean stand-alone statuary fund must be established on a First Resort basis operated directly by governments and funded under the same existing costs but without the removal of any costs and commissions by outside influencers.

Dispute and Resolution currently is archaic and should be replaced by a panel of building experts from industry together with government, and if unsuccessful with a fall back to the courts at the consumers expense.

Licensing is to a great extent covered by the Shergold-Weir report however the short course system must be exposed as it is placing persons into the industry that don’t have the skillsets for the category they are licenced for.

Registration of all trades and professionals is imperative under the same national registration regime as the current systems utilised from State to State-Territory differ, the new system would also overcome the cross-border issue.

While this article could focus on the many more tentacles of reform, we must first overcome the influencers as these obstacles remain formidable with powerful interests.

Like other forms of regulation, it may attract too much attention to minor problems; fail to adapt to changing markets, science, or public priorities; be weakened by a lack of resources; or become obsolete.

The role of influencers may still see cognitive distortions and manipulation of data that may subvert its goals however we must look past these influencers for the future of the industry as their past role has let us down and put us where we are today.

Whether legislated transparency ultimately becomes an effective means of reducing failures/risks will depend on better understanding and of course political will.

Summary of the Shergold-Weir recommendations:

Recommendations 1 to 4 focus on the registration and training of practitioners. We recommend a nationally consistent approach to the registration of certain categories of building practitioners and compulsory Continuing Professional Development, which includes mandatory hours/units dedicated to training on the NCC and the establishment of supervised training schemes which provide better defined career paths for building surveyors.

Recommendations 5 to 7 address the roles and responsibilities of regulators. We recommend a focus on collaboration between state and local government and (where applicable) private building surveyors to improve regulatory oversight. We also recommend the provision of broad powers to audit building work and take effective compliance and enforcement action. We recommend that each jurisdiction implement a proactive audit strategy for regulatory oversight of the Commercial building sector.

Recommendation 8 goes to the role of fire authorities in the building design and approvals process. We recommend that, consistent with the International Fire Engineering Guidelines, jurisdictions require early engagement with fire authorities on designs which include performance solutions on fire safety matters.

Recommendations 9 to 11 focus on the integrity of private building surveyors. We recommend minimum statutory requirements for the engagement, and role, of private building surveyors, a code of conduct with legislative status and enhanced supervisory powers and reporting obligations.

Recommendation 12 addresses the issue of collecting and sharing building information and intelligence. We recommend the creation of a central database by each jurisdiction and collaboration to develop a platform that can provide for information sharing to inform regulatory activities and the work of the BMF. Information in the databases would also be accessible as appropriate, by authorised persons including owners or purchasers of buildings.

Recommendations 13 to 17 focus on the issues of adequacy of documentation and record keeping. We recommend that there be a statutory duty on design practitioners to prepare documentation that demonstrates that proposed buildings will comply with the NCC. We recommend a more robust approach to third party review of designs and to the documentation and approval of performance solutions and variations.

Recommendations 18 to 19 emphasise the importance of inspection regimes. We recommend that jurisdictions require on-site inspections for all building works and that there be greater oversight of the installation and certification of fire safety systems in Commercial buildings.

Recommendation 20 addresses the issue of post-construction information management. We recommend that for Commercial buildings, a comprehensive digital building manual be created for owners which can be passed on to successive owners. This would include all relevant documents for the ongoing management of the building, such as as-built construction documentation, fire safety system details and maintenance requirements.

Recommendation 21 relates to building product safety. We recommend that the BMF agrees its position on the establishment of a compulsory product certification system for high-risk building products.

Recommendations 22 to 24 deal with the implementation of the recommendations laid out above. We recommend commitment to a three-year timetable for the implementation of the recommendations. We recommend that the BMF establish a plan for implementation which is reported against by each jurisdiction annually. We also recommend that, to deal with the issue of differing terminology across jurisdictions, the BMF develops a national dictionary of terminology.