While we all shake our heads in disbelief to what we hear and see in regard to integrity and accountability, it does create a very disturbing picture of our society and presents a view of greed, self-gratification, and the ability to use spin and tokenism to cover shortcomings.

Unscrupulous activity impacts directly on tens of thousands of ordinary hard working Australian families who work under and operate within an ethic that is morally and legally acceptable. Too often, the result for them is total devastation to the point where they may never recover. This can result in broken families, financially and emotionally. There are a plethora of areas where a lack of integrity and accountability have been uncovered:

The banks

Consider the families recently exposed by a Royal Commission of say the farmers who trusted and had faith in their bank but were then crucified by those banks. Generations of the farming community were wiped out by what appears to be questionable activity that is most certainly not the Australian way of a fair-go.

Financial advisers

The Royal Commission has exposed what appears to be parasites that have taken their profession to a new low where all that mattered was the ability to obtain greater commissions at all costs without a thread of guilt or remorse for their actions and, more importantly, the impact on their victims being ordinary Australians who trusted them.

The clergy and institutions

Irrespective of denomination, faith or position you may have adopted, the conduct recently exposed by a Royal Commission is nothing short of shocking and the outcomes on so many will be held for a lifetime. While we can condemn the perpetrators for their actions, it is the victims we should consider together with all those that have given a lifetime to their faith and been so badly let down by so few.

The bureaucracy

These are the leaders in convincing you that black is actually white! We have suffered a decade and a half of the bureaucracy convincing some within the management of the construction industry that black is white, and the recipients have been gullible enough to believe it or haven’t found the backbone to challenge it.

We are all aware of the importance of the construction industry to the well-being of Australia from the fiscal and employment points of view, and what we construct and deliver to ordinary Australians who find building or buying their home to be the biggest financial outlays of a lifetime in most cases, and yet that purchase comes with less consumer protection than buying a jar of vegemite at Coles.

The building industry participants contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to both state and federal governments to administer our industry on both levels, but the failure to do so is immense and sees the industry stumble from disaster to disaster at the hands of those who struggle with their positions and in the way the industry is structured and operates.

The bureaucracy, together with input from two trade associations, manage our industry – and therein lies the problem. There is no one from the coal face of industry to contribute to a healthy industry that may have elements of integrity, appropriate consumer protection and or pride in a trusted industry.

2018 has seen a further two reports that are relevant to the issue and damming for our industry.

The first is a federal government inquiry commissioned by the Building Ministers Forum (BMF) and undertaken by professor Peter Shergold and Bronwyn Weir, and it forms one of some 55 reviews/inquiries over the past decade and a half.

Its title is Building Confidence, and its findings are the same as most of enquiries that have preceded its publication.

The second report is from the NSW Ombudsman and is titled Is your builder fit and proper. It also addresses issues that have been on the table for the past 15 years but ignored by our regulators and dismissed by trade associations. However, there is one notable exception in this report, that being Recommendation one.

6.1.  Customers of the company Recommendation One

a) I recommend that Fair Trading issue a formal apology and make an ex-gratia payment pursuant to section 26A of the Ombudsman Act 1974 to the complainant and his family to compensate them, at least in part, for the losses and the distress they have experienced and the inconvenience they have suffered.

b) I recommend that the compensation should be assessed under the following heads of damage, and at a minimum be: • all of the quantifiable net losses related to the repair of building work over and above the compensation received through icare’s HBCF, and

•  a payment of an amount for the stress and disruption experienced as a result of the failure of Fair Trading to take appropriate action.

c) I recommend that Fair Trading write to each of the other customers of the company that entered into contracts with the company during or after March 2013 and invite them to submit a claim for compensation for consideration by Fair Trading.

d) I recommend that an independent assessor be appointed by Fair Trading to determine the quantum of the complainant’s claim and any other claims for compensation received.

e) I recommend Fair Trading make all reasonable efforts to determine the quantum of the ex-gratia payments within three months of the date of receiving itemised claims from any customers and to ensure any payments are made as soon as practicable after the date of the determination.

While the issue of the NSW ex-gratia payment is yet to be played out, there will no doubt be many thousands of consumers and builders who believe they could be a party to a compensation claim emanating from the same reasons put forward by the NSW Ombudsman in this report. There is also no doubt that there are thousands of consumers and builders in all states and territories that have suffered at the hands of their regulator in precisely the same manner.

One current issue is the matter of trades being registered and accountable. In Victoria, we don’t register trades as all other jurisdictions do, which gives Victoria the title of the worst industry in the nation. The Victorian government is currently looking at registration of some trades but not all. Why not?

Why don’t we register the trades in Victoria? Simply because the all too politically powerful Housing Industry Association (HIA) don’t want it. In August, Victorian executive director of HIA Fiona Nield was quoted in an interview as saying:

“HIA will watch with interest as the bill becomes available, as it is yet to be convinced that extra requirements for registering trades are justified and required.”

She said customers were adequately protected by current arrangements.

The current arrangements were concocted by the HIA and introduced in July 2002, and this legislation became the HIA’s income stream on a massive basis as they were the only source of the mandatory Builders Warranty Insurance (BWI) in the nation for over four years. Even today, it represents the major income stream for them.

This also gave them direct control over the nations builders, so change is definitely not on their radar.

These current arrangements do not protect either consumers or builders of our industry and therein lays one of the biggest travesties bestowed on an industry in its entire history.

This year of accountability may see the 15 years of dilapidation to our industry cease and the slow process of rebuilding to a credible industry with a little integrity take place.

The two trade associations – in particular the HIA – have been directly culpable in stemming the reform that our industry desperately strives for as the bureaucracy is slowly but surely being made accountable to the legitimate industry which will remove the past cosy arrangements between regulators and those two trade associations.

Our industry will prevail and succeed in its endeavours!