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.

  • A realistic assessment of the situation in Victoria pretty much sums up the same for NSW with our Fair Trading bureaucracy. The news yesterday was all about how Australia should have a national space agency. Many pundits explained that whilst we have separate government agencies, universities and other commercial enterprises all doing their own thing, many opportunities will continue to slip through the gaps of the $40billion global industry. I looked at my wife and just laughed. We as a nation can't even manage to achieve a uniformity of purpose and function within our own building and construction industry sector, The abandonment of uniform national licencing and regulatory requirements in 2011 shows that the states simply will not let go of their perceived sense of authority even when every piece of logic screams that we should be doing so. We have a National Construction Code in name only. Australia is, as Donald Horne famously described, a 'lucky' country but it certainly is not a very clever one.

  • Phil, we live in hope. It begs belief that because it is Government there is no accountability and responsibility whatsoever. Minister Wynne, what an embarrassment he must be for the Government. He stood along side Prue Digby and read the same script saying all is well and the objectors didnt know what they were talking about. Premier Andrews, would you move your family and the families of all your ministers into the Lacrosse Building seeing Minister Wynne says it is safe to occupy.
    Lets not forget the sham investigation that is being chaired by John Thwaites and Ted Baillieu. Impartial and transparent, I guarantee not. Premier you have made mistakes, be man enough to stand up like we do and admit to them, work with the REAL INDUSTRY ADVISORS who know what they are talking about and fix the problem. The elections are just around the corner. Its not a matter of who will win but rather who is going to "TRUMP IT" and listen. The VBA in its current corrupt form needs to be cleansed and disinfected.

  • Can the VBA survive Phil, that is a very good question. Another senior SPECIALIST TECHNICAL ADVISOR has jumped ship to escape from the toxic environment of ex-coppers and would-be experts. Interesting speculation that they are still fighting over who steps into the role of CEO. Will it be Brian Welsh or Murray Smith.

    All aboard the TITANIC

  • Phil, 'Building confidence' is an oxymoron – a much more accurate descriptor for the VBA's legacy is that it has built a 'classified catastrophe'! Think cladding, cabling, glass, steel – and of course asbestos! And in tandem the VBA has abused its powers, protected the few over the many through its failure to penalize for recalcitrance and made a mighty contribution to endangering the lives of all of us. I agree that anger is mounting – but all the voices of reason continue to be met with a wall of silence. In my view the root cause is that those who pay for, reside and work in and visit our buildings – the 99% – simply do not count.

    Put simply, public policy for the 1% (for which the VBA is the enabler) is wrong. As Brett says, real industry advisors are key, but equally real, knowledgeable and experienced people who understand the appalling outcomes for the majority of users of the industry! Above all else, genuine reform would require an enormous shift in the current mindset which is money-driven and a commitment to govern in the best interests of the people. Unlikely any time soon!

  • What will it take for everyone to wake up! You cant illustrate any better the appalling misadventures occurring in our building industry. The last 18 months have seen 20,000klm dangerous cable, Houses falling into holes, Multi storey apartments building wrapped in flammable cladding, Legionella in warm water systems. Denials, spin tokenism. Unless we have public accountability it will go on forever. The public either find it to complex or have become conditioned to government failures and rhetoric. After the Grenfell disaster they rolled the Minister Wynne out. Prue from the VBA all telling us nothing to see. By night fall the fire brigade had abandoned there political line and contradicted any of what the planning department had conveyed. So next day the government shuffled some chairs and appointed a task force not to look at root cause (this would open a box that would never be closed) but non complaint cladding only. How do we keep the cat in the hat? Appoint the chair of the ABCB who the VBA has been pointing the finger at federal level for the last 3 years. Despite every building construction industry association apart from the HIA and MBA screaming out & being excluded from all enquiries we see the task force purely made up of the pied pipers followers. At some point we will wake up. I worry what event it will be!!!!!!!!!!

  • Excellent article Phil and from my experience, I concur with the points you make. We would never accept political interference in the police. We expect the police to uphold the law (book the premier if he is speeding or a judge or another policeman). So why then are not existing building laws and regulations enforced? The answer is political interference.
    Until we hand over building control to Construction Police to be enforced without fear or favour, until builders and developers go to jail or pay hefty penalties, there will be no improvement.
    I think that the time for soft options is over.