“Reckless and dangerous” describes how our biggest state governments are dealing with the current issues facing the building industry and what their questionable policies are now delivering or – more accurately – not delivering.
An army of spin doctors are able to smother the facts and present a position of "there's nothing to see here" but that is far from the reality of the situation as our industry sinks further into what can now only be considered a third world building industry.
Consider the outcome if the police were told to not enforce speed limits. Would it be reasonable to suggest that all drivers would obey the speed limits? Of course not! The majority may, but an element would disregard safety and create total havoc on our roads.
Removing speed limits seems like a silly proposition, yet the building industry appears to suffer such a circumstance through the introduction of various elements that allows developers or builders to turn night into day or, as Senator Kim Carr of the Senate inquiry into non-confirming building products suggested, black into white.
New South Wales is looking at the cladding issue. Some estimates suggest they have around 1,000 buildings that may have flammable cladding on them, but others suggest it is more like 2,500 buildings.
What is disturbing in NSW is the recent change to consumer protection, keeping in mind that Australia-wide there is no warranty insurance whatsoever on buildings of a rise of more than three levels. Such insurance was removed back in 2002 when the mandatory Home Warranty Insurance regime that the Housing Industry Association (HIA) put together was introduced.
The recent changes in NSW consist of five specific points:
- Building defects must be identified and compensation sought within two years.
- Flaws that make a building uninhabitable or likely to collapse can be classified as a "major defect.”
- There is a six year warranty for major defects.
- Builders and traders face up to a year in prison for repeated unlicensed contracting work.
- Minor work worth under $5,000 can now be carried out without a licence.
How these changes benefit the consumer is beyond comprehension, but on the other hand the benefit to developers appears to be immense.
Victoria has established a task force to deal with the cladding issue and it is suggested there are some 5,000 buildings that may be non-compliant. The length of time it will take to access these buildings will see considerable time pass by before we see an outcome.
We must be mindful the Lacrosse fire. It happened in November 2014 - almost three years ago - and the Victorian building Authority (VBA) assured all the building was safe even though it was still clad in the non-compliant cladding. The second fire in two years on the Torch building in Dubai suggests otherwise.
South Australia apparently has 77 of these non-compliant buildings. However, there may be some that are compliant as they move to phase two of their investigation to determine if people are at risk.
Queensland, on the other hand, appears way out in front of all the states as they have already passed legislation that will make suppliers of flammable cladding and other unsafe building products held accountable by Queensland's construction watchdog under new powers granted by State Parliament in August.
Queensland Housing Minister Mick de Brenni said the new legislation substantially expanded the QBCC's power to carry out new kinds of inspection and audits of non- conforming building products on sites, and to deliver sanctions if necessary.
"These products are a risk to Queenslanders when they gather at events, whether they gather at public places, whether they go to work in a modern office tower, when they visit a shopping centre and when they return to their homes at the end of a busy day," de Brenni told Parliament.
"As well as presenting a risk to safety, these products are harmful to our economy.”
The cladding issue is a major but only one aspect of the challenges our industry faces that we have been presenting over a number of years and it took the disastrous and tragic Grenfell fire to shine a light on the many failures of the building industry and these include:
- Consumer protection
- The need for a dedicated Housing Minister in all jurisdictions
- The return of democracy
- Fair and just regulation
- Equality to all practitioners
- Removal of mandatory regulation that affords entities to establish income streams from it
There is little doubt the many failures over the past have heightened the urgency for reform as the industry comes together to ensure we are listened to and the concerns are at last taken seriously.
Efforts for reform will escalate over the coming months as it is extremely obvious those who have been responsible for past building policies have failed spectacularly.
Enough is enough!