There is not one jurisdiction in Australia where building surveyors are required by law to be audited annually. Yet building surveyors perform the most critical role of any building practitioner under the building regulations, save for the builder who has to ensure that the building is built to both last and be fit for occupation.
It follows that legislation must have in place strong probity regimes designed to ensure that building surveyors do indeed abide by the public good imperative. This imperative is not indigenous to Australia and on point is the fact that three years ago I was invited by the Japanese Government to participate in a think tank that was invested with the responsibility of reviewing and overhauling Japanese building regulations.
The review was born of a controversy to do with a number of buildings where the engineering had been brought into question. My retainer was to advise on how to best improve the probity belts and braces that governed building control and the inspectorial regime.
One of my key recommendations was that auditing of certifiers had to be mandatory and annual, only to be informed that by the Japanese luminaries who stated that they had made auditing of building surveyors both mandatory and an annual requirement some years prior.
It is the building surveyor’s statutory duty to ensure that buildings are fit for occupation, and where there is evidence of recalcitrance on the part of building practitioners and owners, the legislature expects the building surveyors to issue enforcement notices and orders.
A building surveyor is very much like a regulatory policeman, there to police regulatory compliance. Although the building surveyor is not charged by law with the responsibility of guaranteeing all aspects of build quality, he or she must discharge his or her statutory obligations and ensure that the practitioners under his or her watch do likewise.
The building surveyor’s statutory mandate is so critical, it follows that high levels of probity have to surround the discharge of their statutory duties. It is expected that those duties are discharged impartially, professionally and in a fashion that always has the public top of mind.
When it comes to protecting the public or the consumer, it’s best to prevent or avoid the occasioning of misfortune rather than to react to misfortune once it has materialised. Those who fashioned compliance and probity regimes for lawyers understood this. If one applies the tried and true, the only way the legislature can best ensure this is to make auditing mandatory. So building policy makers need to look to the legal fraternity statutory compliance regime as a benchmark if they want to increase the probity standards of in the building industry.
Policy architects, however, are often hamstrung by the bean counters in Treasury, particularly those in the post-GFC world who are invariably ill disposed to such notions. They will say cash strapped building control regimes can’t afford to underwrite an army of auditors.
Well, they don’t need to, because if they use the legal fraternity regime as a template, they will find that the legal fraternity adopts a user pays system in that law firms that have to pay independent auditors whom are nominated by the Law Societies. The auditors carry out at least two audits a year (one of which occurs without notice) and audits the books. If everything is in order, which is generally the case, the auditor gives the law firm a clean bill of health. If the diagnosis is not so good, the auditor informs the Law Society of this fact and the ante is upped.
Australian state and territory building regulatory jurisdictions could similarly accredit a panel of auditors, and the Building Acts could be amended to make auditing mandatory, annual, arms length and user pays. If this regime is introduced, recalcitrance can be identified before the damage is done, rather than maintaining the complaint driven status quo that only finds expression when the damage is done.
This innovation would in a macro sense lower the mercury on the misery barometer and would without a doubt improve the quality of the as built product in a profoundly positive sense.