Privatisation, performance-based products, deemed-to-satisfy, and builders warranty have all shaped our building industry, and their impacts have been inflicted on three sectors: consumers, builders, and now regulators.
Builders warranty ostensibly exists for consumers, but it has been an unmitigated disaster, hurting far more than it protects. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been paid by industry with little of it passed onto consumers under the illusion of a warranty that has only three triggers to make a claim. Despite these three triggers, the vast majority who have issues are cast aside and they number in the thousands, with many financially and emotionally ruined.
The majority of the warranty funds go to private enterprises with little left to satisfy the intended purpose.
Small builders alone support the warranty scheme while the big builders escape from supporting any form of consumer protection and can build without any form of restriction as they appear to be politically immune.
The impacts on small builders are similar to those felt by the consumers. Businesses have been demolished without fear or favour under a draconian regime masquerading as consumer protection, and again, like consumers, many have suffered financially and emotionally.
The third sector
Australian law has roots in both the British legal tradition and Australian democracy, and it is reasonable to assume a precedent set in the UK will stand in Australia. On 29 July, the Herald Sun reported that British police have found grounds to bring corporate manslaughter charges over the Glenfell tower inferno.
In a letter to survivors, officers said Kensington and Chelsea council and the tenant management association that ran the block “may have committed the offence.”
The dramatic development means town hall chiefs face police interviews over accusations they ignored repeated safety warnings.
A residents group had predicted it would take a catastrophe to end “the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety.”
The speed of the police announcement just six weeks after the tragedy shows the pressure on senior officers to hold those responsible to account.
Australian regulators and officials
In Victoria, the Builders Collective representing the grassroots of industry has been concerned with health and safety over a number of issues in our industry and have continually presented those views, but there are none so blind as those who won’t see.
If we were unfortunate to suffer a tragedy in Australia, it is now reasonable to assume that those who have presided over the decline of our industry in the past decade and more may find themselves exposed to similar charges as those being considered in the UK at this time.
The current circumstances
The Builders Collective presented to the current Senate Inquiry, and put our views forward, and there are no doubt many in industry on the same page as all submissions shared many of the same concerns we hold.
The Senators, when accepting evidence from the Victorian Building Authority, challenged their explanations of deemed-to-satisfy and performance-based products, suggesting those components had the ability to turn black to white.
The chair rightly suggested “It’s a get-out-of-jail free card,” while Senator Nick Xenophon said “It’s not much of a code, is it?” Senator Kim Carr said “It’s not really worth a dab of glue, is it?”
If it wasn’t so serious, it would be laughable.
A task force has been set up in Victoria, and their charter is firstly to investigate the cladding. It will then expand to wider industry issues as they are concerned with how on earth we ended up with the industry in such disrepair.
Similar investigations appear to be taking place around the nation, confined to cladding only. However, it appears all regulators around the country charged with the responsibility of managing our industry have fallen short as the same principles of operation and complaint appear to exist in all jurisdictions.
The failure of the building industry has come full circle and returned to those who have been responsible for the state of the industry we see today. They have continually supported the status quo in conjunction with the two trade associations who support the bureaucracy, and when questioned on issues such as the cladding issue, the response is “nothing to see here!” This position has been particularly noticeable even in the face of significant support for reform from the grassroots of the industry, but the income stream from mandated regulation is far more powerful, as it has been for years.
Choice state the BWI is the worst insurance in Australia while the insurance industry says the system is fundamentally flawed and requires major reform.
There is no doubt the building industry is in dire straits, and yet our regulators appear oblivious to what everyone else can see. They continue on a path of self-destruction that may see them the subject of severe criticism and accountability if we see a precedent established in the United Kingdom over the Glenfell Tower fire. Surely we don’t have to have a similar catastrophe before we wake up to the reality.