Some 20 odd years ago, many parents welcomed their sons or daughters into the building industry.
The sons and daughters relished the thought of being part of the industry.
However, those thoughts have been eroded. At the same time, our industry has been in decline.
Of course, our industry will recover. But the last 20 to 25 years has left a trail of destruction from which many of our consumers will never recover financially or emotionally.
Many have opinions on why we went off the rails and whose fault it was. Most of those opinions have an element of truth. A combination of all the reasons put forward made for a disaster.
Let us focus on Victoria. Start with the regulator being the Building Control Commission who later dropped the ‘Control’ to be known simply as the Building Commission (now the Victoria Building Authority). Among many other changes, they were responsible for self-regulation. This was never going to work, and it allowed developers/builders to determine use of products that were questionable but financially attractive. The most prominent of these was the cladding on buildings which overseas has led to severe fires and loss of life. In Victoria has led to fires but fortunately no loss of life. This has led to state enquiries and entities to deal with this major issue.
While cladding is an important issue, so are the defects in general buildings that in many cases are ignored by the original builders. Their consumers are left to try to and navigate the minefield of resolution.
That is the public face of the issues the industry faces. But the deeper issues receive little media attention and go largely unnoticed. These include the overall community cost of a new industry of consultants that present as experts and in many cases cause prolonged litigation that may see the consumer financially exhausted without resolution.
The whole of the industry operates under a notion of finger pointing and blame. Any industry participant who holds a PI insurance policy is targeted even if not justified in the hope the initial perpetrator may be excluded. Often, that is the case.
On a practical level, the builder must deal with sub-contractors (subbies) who often don’t have the required skills for their trade and whose poor work causes latent defects.
Many of these subbies have entered the industry for the dollars only. For many trades, a licence is not required licensing requirements vary across states/territories). When licences are required, skills are not necessarily part of the criteria to obtain that licence.
The general attitude of the new breed of subbies is to achieve maximum billable hours on invoice for the highest dollar value but to deliver the least number of hours on site. This cannot be sustainable in the long term.
Today’s builder finds his time and costs post final certificate to rectify defects are immense while the unlicensed subbie who has created the issue is long gone without any accountability.
Many have voiced opinions of where we have gone wrong. Elements of those opinions do make up the overall reason. But the fact is, we have got it wrong.
One major element is greed on many levels that has compromised the regulations and standards the industry held many years ago. This has led to what many refer to today as the cowboy industry.
The managers of our industry have led the way over these past years while the regulators have taken a back seat. We note the regulators are employing robust regulations to arrest the decline as fines alone cannot fix the problem.
Culture is a major element. Until the mindset is changed, we will be at the mercy of those that support the current arrangements.
It is suggested we are on the road to recovery after COVID-19. But the reality is that the impacts of COVID are yet to be played out as we are still benefiting from Commonwealth JobKeeper/JobSeeker stimulus packages. These are due to cease at the end of March. This may see a great impact on the community with the loss of employment and the inability to obtain work in a diminishing market.
This coupled with the $25,000 grant has kept the building industry going even though this grant is primarily geared toward larger volume builders.
Rumour has it that the travel industry may collapse due to border restrictions which are likely to be in place for the next 12 months at least. If that is the case, some 40,000 may lose their employment without the current Government assistance.
We believe the building industry is yet to suffer from the effects of the COVID-19. While we don’t want to see the industry suffer, it would appear the only way for a wakeup call is for the industry to realise there should be and must be accountability and a sense of balance that will give our regulators the chance to instil a culture of fair play, moral accountability, and a building industry we can be proud of once again.
More importantly we need to treat our consumers with respect. They are the ones that provide the income to our industry. If something goes wrong, we must have a system of support. This will involve the regulator not ignoring them but rather working with them to resolve issues.
We can and must do better.