Queensland’s building regulator is set to undergo significant change amid scathing criticism of its performance from consumers and some media outlets.
Released last week, the independent report from the review into the functions and governance structures of the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) has made seventeen recommendations.
- Establishing an independent review unit within the QBCC that would manage the regulator’s functions for mediation, internal review processes and dispute resolution. The new unit would be separate from and quarantined from the rest of the agency.
- Transferring administration of the Queensland Home Warranty Scheme to another agency or department and transferring responsibility to prescribe technical qualification requirements for licenses to the Department of Energy and Public Works (EPW).
- Reforms to the QBCC Board including reducing the number of board members from ten to seven, publishing a conflict of interest register and requiring board members to undergo annual assessments of their expertise and performance.
- Revising the agency’s strategic plan and supporting documentation to support it to become more outcomes focused.
- New measures to improve the regulator’s reputation for decision making based on consistency, fairness and impartiality (refer recommendation 5 in the report).
- Replacement of various technology systems that are no longer fit for purpose with an integrated platform for information management.
The Government has accepted all recommendations (either fully or in-principle) and has published a list of actions to be completed within 90 days.
Among other things, the list includes nominations for the seven board positions (current board positions conclude on November 30), mapping of the customer journey in complaints, developing protocols for reporting of decisions and establishing the conflict of interest register.
An implementation group has been established to drive change. This includes representatives from the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Energy and Public Works, Queensland Treasury and the QBCC.
To promote accountability, the group will publish reports on progress at regular intervals.
Authored by lead reviewer Jim Varghese AM, the latest report comes amid ongoing criticism of the QBCC from consumers and media outlets.
A QBCC Action Group Facebook page has 3,542 followers and is calling for a Royal Commission.
Meanwhile, a Courier Mail article by Peter Gleeson on June 19 described the regulator as a ‘dysfunctional rabble’ which should be ‘blown up and totally reformed’.
Particular concerns involve potential or perceived conflicts of interest and a perceived lack of transparency, fairness, impartiality and consistency in decision making.
In his report, Varghese did not pass judgment on the regulator’s current performance.
But he acknowledged being inundated with ‘strong views, anger, frustration and suggestions for improvement’ throughout the review process.
Varghese said that throughout the review, ‘It was clear the industry and consumer stakeholders who contributed to the review felt the QBCC had not met their expectations in managing their specific matters.’
He says the recommendations will address concerns in several areas.
Establishment of an independent review unit within the QBCC for mediation, dispute resolution and internal review will help to address concerns that QBCC processes in helping to mediate and resolve disputes which arise between builders and homeowners are not transparent and that processes through which consumers are able to seek an internal review of QBCC decisions may not be free from individual decision maker influence.
Under this recommendation, the new unit would be clearly quarantined and separated from the remainder of the QBCC.
Meanwhile, the recommendation to refocus the QBCC’s regulatory role to simply focus on licensing and industry compliance responds to concerns that the regulator has too many responsibilities that create complexity and potential conflicts of interest.
Of particular concern is home warranty insurance.
Under current arrangements, the QBCC is responsible for administering the Queensland Home Warranty Scheme.
Yet the regulator is also responsible for investigating matters of potentially defective building work which may give rise to claims made under the scheme.
Transferring responsibility for administering the scheme to another agency or department would remove this potential conflict, the report argues.
Third, the recommendations relating to the QBCC board and governance respond to concerns that the board is too large; that the process for identifying, managing and monitoring conflicts of interest was unclear and that the board may lack the expertise necessary to run the QBCC.
Finally, the measures to improve decision making will help to address concerns about QBCC decisions and performance.
For instance, clearer communication about decision outcomes and reasoning should help to address concerns among consumers that decisions are often favourable to builders and that reasons for decisions are not clear.
One area of particular concern surrounds the complaints process.
Here, there are fears that QBCC staff are unclear about accountability for management of complaints whilst there is a lack of clarity among some parties as to who to contact about various stages of a complaint.
Minister for Public Works and Procurement Mick de Brenni welcomed the recommendations and said the review represented the continuation of a process of reform which began in 2017.
“The recommendations will make the regulator more customer and outcomes-focused,” de Brenni said.
“It will deliver structural and functional realignment and refocus the organisation on its licensing and compliance regulatory role.”
Master Builders Queensland welcomed the review outcomes, saying that the recommendations are broadly positive and will go some way to addressing concerns.
Master Builders is particularly supportive of the move to separate the Queensland Home Warranty Scheme from the QBCC.
Having the QBCC as both regulator and industry insurer has been a concern from Master Builders’ members for many years, the organisation said.
Still, Master Builders raised concern about a reference of a need to consider an alternative funding model.
Whilst there is currently no detail on what this could mean, the report raised the possibility of this being done through an industry levy.
This would be in addition to licensing fees which builders already need to pay.
Whilst he acknowledges the depth of feeling on the part of some review participants, Varghese says calls for a Royal Commission are misguided.
“The last thing anybody wants is just another review, or more dramatically, a call for a royal commission,” Varghese said.
“It is important to avoid politicisation of the QBCC and focus on implementing practical recommendations for change.
“We need to look forward with positivity and encourage bipartisan support for strengthening the contribution of the building industry to the Queensland economy.”