For Whom Doth the Bell Toll? 13

Thursday, March 17th, 2016
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If the Andrews Government’s ‘Consumer Protection’ legislation before Parliament is passed, it will have seriously damaging, far-reaching consequences for all Victorians.

The bells have been ringing for more than a decade, but successive governments have muted the dissenters, ignored public protests and muffled the media. However, this time it is different. Along with building consumers, the entire community is outraged. Not only does this legislation void consumers’ human rights, it is disrespectful of us all. Cries through the community are sounding the distress signal and ominously warning the government: for whom doth the bell toll?

Government on the gravy train

The consequences of the current lack of ‘consumer protection’ have been well documented, the government fully informed on the magnitude of the disaster that has swept across the state for the last 20 years. It knows the shocking statistics from government reports – all on the public record. It is very familiar with the ever-escalating numbers of Victorians caught up in what is now the greatest consumer catastrophe in our history, leaving in its wake the destruction of more than 250,000 families each year.

In incremental steps over recent decades, successive governments have abandoned democratic principles and opportunistically boarded the gravy train. Increasingly self-assured and smug, they have locked ‘people’ out, and in defiance of the public interest, fashioned their policies to suit the vested interests.

But in cases like this, there comes a tipping point, a time at which the affront to those damaged incites anger, and anger morphs into action. Hence it is now that time with disadvantaged, exploited building consumers. This legislation is literally the final straw. Building consumers are determined to spotlight their plight and expose the truth of their traumatic stories so far largely covered up; these obscured by government misinformation and secrecy, suppressed under threats from building interests of ‘defamation’ and concealed by official ‘gag orders.’

This time the ranks of disaffected consumers have been swelled by others who are speaking out across the Victorian community. These include many who work in the building industry, local councils, other community organizations, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and ordinary Victorians.

They have taken umbrage with governments prepared to put profits over people, and in so doing,  consciously causing the public serious harm. As the voices of Victorians have been stifled, cynicism has turned to resentment, and animosity converted into calls for action.

The momentum is building as Victorians reflect on being victims of a lawless industry, one enabled by uncontrolled, unaccountable governments and public officials who refuse to govern in the public interest and for the public good. Community hostility has intensified toward our government, especially as the reality of our third world built environment has been revealed, along with the perilous dangers for people forced to live in unsafe buildings.

Vic Community Speaks Out

This ‘Building Legislation Amendment Bill (Consumer Protection) 2015’ is so reprehensible that on February 22, the Victorian Building Action Group wrote to the Premier and relevant Ministers on behalf of building consumers and all Victorians to express a vote of no confidence in the government.

The letter concluded that the reprehensible legislation is: “irrational, unfair and unlawful. It is also unconscionable, an indictment on the Andrews Government and its scandalous betrayal of trust.”

As always with consumers, this elicited no response.

Following the three Victorian Auditor-General’s Reports (2000, 2011 and 2015) and the Ombudsman’s Report (2012) all scathing of the building ‘regulator,’ in July 2015 the walls of a construction pit in Mt Waverly collapsed.

Another failure of the ‘regulator’ was highlighted, with the Manningham Council describing it as “alarming.”

At MAV’s governing council meeting in October 2015, the Manningham Council declared the councils’ and community’s “loss of trust” in the VBA, moving a motion of no confidence in the VBA, with a call to the Andrews Government to protect the community. As expected, the VBA’s CEO Prue Digby responded, saying that the council “had not ‘understood’ the role of the VBA” and that it had “met its aim of expediting building permits to reduce work delays.”

Astoundingly, the VBA’s self-perceived ‘role’ that no-one else ‘understands’ is not a ‘regulatory’ one, with increasing the number of permits the VBA’s ‘aim’ – not safe, compliant and quality buildings. Of course, consumers knew this long ago, but now councils and the community are cognizant too.

Since the Lacrosse building fire in November 2014, the Metropolitan Fire Brigade has spoken out continuously. When the building caught fire, it sent shock waves through the community, no one more shocked than the MFB who for decades were led to think that Victoria had a robust regulatory regime. Justifiably, the MFB was aghast. It had been misled and more disturbingly learned that the community and firefighters had a ‘regulator’ who has never done any ‘regulating.’

Over the past 15 months (not one person held accountable for the Lacrosse fire or other buildings with the non-compliant cladding), the MFB has been highly critical of the VBA – for good reasons. The MFB has published reports, appeared at the 2015 Senate Inquiry and tried to make the government listen. Deputy chief Adam Dalrymple has expressed “grave concerns” with regard to the flammable cladding crisis and “questions whether the VBA understands the extent or consequences of the problem or how to resolve it (Fire Brigade Slams Building Authority, The Australian, December 9, 2015).

Prue Digby’s reply was that she would discuss the “important issues it raises.” Such a condescending response underscored the contempt of officials, not only for the MFB but for consumers and all Victorian residents. Our money, our safety and our lives are of no import, our sad stories not of ‘interest.’

In the MFB’s report on the Reform of the Building Regulatory Regime published in November 2015, perhaps one of the most frightening issues raised was the future “unquantified public and consumer risk.” The MFB report applied the VBA “figure of up to 1% of building permit documentation showing serious non-compliance” and based on this figure calculated that “this means there were potentially 20,000 building permits issued based on documents which are seriously non-compliant.” However, this did not include “buildings built without a building permit, or those buildings where the documentation may have been compliant but the building work is non-compliant.”

For those familiar with the building industry, this is no surprise. But in light of the VBA’s highly unreliable ‘figures,’ one can but imagine the potential 20,000 buildings posing risk as very unrealistic. Scary!

We all know that those in power know the financial loss and heartbreak, the staggering numbers of Victorian deaths from heart attack, stroke and suicide and the impact on those forced into bankruptcy and homelessness through no fault of their own. Sadly and simply, such stories do not seem to register with those in charge.

Governments are spectacularly skilful. They have many helpers on our payroll. They can fool many people much of the time, but as Abraham Lincoln wisely remarked, they “cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

The bells are ringing, sounding rich in reverberation literally and metaphorically. The pealing portending: for whom doth the bell toll?

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  1. Maureen

    People providing shoddy substandard workmanship must be held accountable. They are ruining the lives of Australian families and getting away it. Authorities stand up and be counted and stop the rot.

  2. Dawn Clark

    Dont do it Dan, you cannot expect to have voters if you do this S–T
    We voted you in as a fair and honest politician please do not destroy that faith

  3. beverley-jane

    We are forced to pay rubbish insurances, fees and taxes to parasitic regulators and registration bodies who systematically back away from responsibility for the behaviour and substandard delivery of the construction industry players THEY ARE PREPARED TO LET LOOSE ON CONSUMERS?
    Pretty much like cats in litter boxes trying to cover their mess, regulators, politicians and premiers, attempt to cover their failings with ineffectual red tape and delay tactics, hoping to mentally or financially exhaust complainants (families).
    How many more expensive and damning enquiries will it take to bring this wrecking ball to a grinding halt?
    If you can't deliver what the consumers are paying you for, take your hand out of our pockets!

    • Tim Renouf

      For whom the bell tolls indeed.
      From a foil insulation perspective, I can tell all readers, that there are false and misleading Standards relating to thermal insulation performance claims.
      At the very top of the list is the utterly false claims made for insulation surrounding flexible ductwork used for carrying cooled air through Australian residential roof spaces. The underperformance case stories are massive. What is needed is mandatory RFL foil radiant heat "blast shields" around ductwork and fitted to all residential roofs, either as sarking foil OR retrofitted from beneath.

      The abuses OR failings found in buildings regulations and related Standards has to be addressed. They way things are going, even a Royal Commission wil be a waste of time.

  4. Irvine Becker

    I commend those like Anne who are speaking out on this disgrace. Thank goodness for the Victorian Building Action Group, the MFB, the Manningham Council and the many others courageously speaking out. At least we have these people prepared to speak for all of us. They know that we have a rotten industry, with third world buildings and worst of all so many lives are under threat.
    The Andrews Government and all the Ministers responsible should hang their heads in shame. A vote of no confidence is not strong enough. All prepared to continue hurting 250,000 Victorian families every year should be forced to resign.
    Imagine locking out all those who support and pay for the building industry, denying them any voice and doing this for 20 years! There is something very wrong with our Governments when they think that this is acceptable and that they can seriously hurt hundreds of thousands of families every year, and so that others in the community can become wealthy! As for the latest legislation and violating our ‘Human Rights’, it leaves me stunned. Such conduct demonstrates the incredible arrogance of Governments and the officials who advise them.
    Now is the time for us as a community to put a stop to being played for a fool. We are not fools and our politicians are expendable. We need to find new ones with some moral backbone and ethical principles. With the overwhelming destruction we are facing, it is frightening. We are running out of time and we must all unite and force change before it is too late.

  5. Mel

    Thus far the delay, delay, delay tactics of the regulators and powers that be have worked well. By the end of their 5,6,7 or more year battle home owners are so emotionally, physically and financially ruined they see no escape so settle for an insufficient sum all tied up in the pretty bow that is a non disparagement clause. However, once this culture is allowed to continue for longer and longer, and more and more home owners fall victim, the leaks in the boat start to appear as they have.

  6. Tina

    It is clear that something needs to be done to address this disgraceful situation without delay. In fact, should have been done years ago. Change can't come soon enough.

  7. Diarmuid Hannigan

    The "Consumer Protection Legislation" being pushed through parliament by the Andrews Government will make the position of our families even weaker than they already are. The people who have created this legislation are part of the vested interest that has failed to enforce the existing consumer protection laws. The people who create these laws are lawyers. We as a society are now dependent for our consumer protection on a legal profession that is not accountable to anybody, which creates legislation to aid and abet the exploitation of our families by the vested interests who they work for. The elected representatives within our government (THE ROBOTS) then pass this evil legal soup into law. Law that our families are forced to ingest, which results in the sickness of death suicide mental breakdown bankruptcy and divorce which are all food for greedy lawyers. Hence you see the spiral into destruction perpetuated by a greedy, self serving, heartless and evil legal profession.

  8. Andrew

    Once again Sourceable's coverage has hit the nail on the head. It seems to me that our elected officials and the public servants have no regard for the people that elect them.
    How can this government allow this to happen? This new legislation will further reduce consumers rights and more people will be put in harms way, with some dying or being caused injury.
    Keep up the good work Anne.

  9. Rose

    I write in dismay because it is inconceivable for the Victorian Government to be touting yet another case of detrimental effect on consumers. So much for opposing “oppressive powers” and “advocating greater law enforcement against corruption in the construction industry”, Mr. Andrews. Homeowners represent the bulk of constituents yet their voices and rights are smothered or routinely ignored at best. We need to make out voices heard and count. Well done Anne!

  10. Dubravka

    Anne, it is good to see that more people are speaking out about the government and the supposed regulator. But it seems not loudly enough yet. The voices have not stopped the government or the VBA from their path of supporting big business and failing consumers. The damage and suffering is now so widespread but to government it makes no difference.

    I too call on others to speak up and say that enough is enough. We need real regulation, the offenders to be punished and innocent owners to at least have some fair chance when building a home for their family.

    This current situation is shameful and the government is even more guilty than those who have directly caused the harm to so many owners and their families. Be sure that we the people are most definitely not being fooled.

  11. Mark Whitby

    This article should be on the front page of every newspaper in the country.

    The VBA needs to act decisively for consumers' rights… and Building Warranty Insurance needs to change to give the insurer the role of chasing builders who fail abysmally in their important role.

  12. Genna

    Both the successive Liberal and Labor Governments and colluding "building industry" regulatory authorities, and Insurers that Take' taxpayers money to pay for what has long been both privately and governmentaly reported on to be not working, regulating, and indeed wholly corrupt (20 YEARS NOW)- The Building Commission, now VBA, Builder' Practitioner's Board, VCAT, BCAV, and Consumer Affairs operating mostly in Builders, Lawyers & government Economic interests MUST BE TOTALLY OVERHAULED AND FILLED WITH EXPERIENCED BUILDING CONSUMERS, WHOM INTRINSICALLY KNOW THE PROTECTIONS REQUIRED, THIS IS WELL-KNOWN BY NOW, A GIVEN! TO SAVE THE MASSIVE FINANCIAL AND PERSONAL RUIN INCLUDING DEATHS TO VICTORIANS! Instead, with the NEW Legislation, JUST MORE COST TO THE CONSUMER! SHAME RICHARD WYNNE SHAME! SHAME DANIEL ANDREWS SHAME! When the Govenment fails in it's duty of care to the people, it is the people's duty to resist! Beginning by VOTING INDEPENDENT!