The revolving door at the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) saw CEO Prue Digby retire amid the controversy surrounding high-rise towers in Melbourne and the horrific tragedy of the Glenfell fire in London.
There is no doubt we should take notice and learn lessons from the London tragedy as its story is confronting and tears at the fabric of our being to the point where it cannot be ignored.
We have endured multiple departures of staff including senior staff and CEOs from the VBA in its short history which has seen all our efforts for reform being wasted time and time again.
Our Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, who has carriage of the management of our industry, is clearly not interested in the industry concerns that have seen the public’s perception of our industry reduced to that of a third world jurisdiction. And at this point, no amount of advertising such as the building confidence campaign will arrest the slide.
Industry has found the Andrews government full of spin and tokenism with little or no substance when it comes to how the building industry is managed, and what it delivers to those who work in it and those who use its services.
For builders who work in our industry, the vast majority accept the status quo as a situation that can't be changed no matter how much they might like it to. They believe the only course for change would be through the Master Builders (MBA) or the Housing Industry (HIA). But both associations' major income streams are though the current arrangements of builders warranty insurance (BWI) and they make sure any dissatisfied builder conforms through their ability to suppress dissent via the threat of insurance eligibility withdrawal. Without insurance, those builders will not be able to work in the industry, so the associations can control dissent through the power to decide who will work and at what level.
The uninitiated consumers that use our services (and most of them only ever build one home or one renovation in a lifetime, so they have no real understanding of how the industry functions) often find themselves entering into a contract without due diligence because they believe they have government mandated warranty insurance that will protect them if something goes wrong.
When something does goes wrong, both builders and consumers enter into the nightmare of their lives with the only method to resolve a building dispute being to employ lawyers and proceed to VCAT. This process removes logic and fair play and both parties have to endure years of hell and be financially destroyed without a logical outcome for either.
So why do we have the situation of failure on so many levels? Whether it be a simple renovation or a complex build of a high-rise building, the failures are immense. We have been presenting this outcome over years, and found governments are not prepared to listen as they feel they know best. With this lack of oversight, we will end up with an industry in crisis, and we have now arrived at the precipice of said crisis.
Since the start of privatisation in the mid-1990s and more particularly since the introduction of the Last Resort Builders Warranty Insurance (BWI) in 2002 courtesy of HIA, the building industry has been in decline and these are some of the reasons:
- Privatisation of building surveyors
- Collapse of HIH insurance in March 2001 (estimated at 5.3 billion)
- Introduction of BWI in July 2002 after that collapse
- Regulators sat back as insurers took the role of the gatekeeper
- Commercial high-rise builders were excluded from consumer protection
- Registered training organisations (RTOs) came to the fore and you could become a builder for a few gold coins in a few weeks
- The Victorian regulator (Building Commission) was even accused of selling building and plumbing licences by the Victorian Ombudsman in 2011
- The Building Commission (BC) was disbanded in 2013
- The Victorian Building Authority was established in July, 2013
- The VBA woes came quickly with CEOs coming and going
- Direction was all over the shop
- No personnel had industry experience
- It soon became obvious the BC culture was transferred to the VBA
- Senior personnel have come and gone as did any thought of reform
The state of play today is one confusion, mismanagement, and now anger as we stumble from disaster to disaster that is so acute it is now putting life at risk.
How could a once proud industry be reduced to the level we see today with the blame game being employed by our politicians who are supposed to be accountable to us as constituents, and our industry? It appears we don't count, and our industry is being used by those whose only interest is how they can benefit through manipulation to ensure their income stream is maintained.
Now we are faced with the CEO fiasco and no doubt there will be another appointed that most likely will have no building industry experience. We will muddle on while the industry remains in a free-fall that we will never arrest until such time we have a completely new culture and a regulator with personnel that understands the industry and those who work and participate in it.
As the anger mounts at every level, we see a class action levelled at the VBA because it is alleged they have simply not regulated the industry as they should have and have exposed people to loss, angst, and hardship.
The talk and researching of further class actions is currently underway by affected consumers who are at a total loss to understand why they have the issues they do, and they place blame directly at the feet of the VBA.
Industry itself is frustrated and now angry with what has been an abuse of our industry in the manner in which the VBA has conducted itself, and the current advertising campaign of building confidence is only rubbing salt into the wound.
Industry is now left with no alternative other than to confront the issue or roll over and watch as our once proud industry implodes.
The next few weeks may see action never thought possible eventuate and politicians may find themselves at the cross roads as industry may take back control of their industry, and sink the current rudderless ship.