The Australian idiom of ‘she’ll be right mate’ suggests that ‘whatever is wrong will right itself with time’ and has been part of our culture and easy-going way of life.
This has happened as we have been insulated from outside pressures by geographic isolation and abundant natural resources. Along with this attitude comes a healthy disregard for rules and authority.
This attitude refers to a willingness to accept low quality, which may have been acceptable once, but the world has changed, is more complex, connected and now fiercely competitive. Poor quality and even unknown quality is immensely damaging to Australian industry and any competitive advantage we may once have enjoyed. How can we compete against products of unknown quality?
Perhaps it is the result of past resourcefulness and isolation, but this approach has helped lead to the current situation of poor quality in our building stock. Unfortunately once built-in, the problem of non-compliant and non-conforming products does not right itself but only gets worse, more expensive and harder to fix.
Aided by trade agreements, digital supply chains and globalisation, products from overseas of dubious or unknown origin, content or qualities are competing with local produce and devaluing our assets. At the same time, an expanding population and high levels of material wealth are driving strong demand for buildings and infrastructure.
Any room for complacency is gone and we now need strong regulation and enforcement of existing codes and to define minimum standards of acceptable quality. Enforcing these codes involves the legislature, the executive and the judiciary to define, implement and enforce those same codes and quality we expect and wish to enjoy. Today this not only requires appropriate regulation and robust enforcement mechanisms but also technologies to deliver transparency and accountability.
The technology approach will transition the ‘she’ll be right’ approach to one supporting future economic drivers such as the Internet of Things, smart cities and the circular economy. Verified data attached to product removes the subjectivity of traditional approaches and supports these data driven mechanisms, which remove or significantly lessen the risk of non-conforming product.
We do many things very well; in legislation, we have an excellent National Construction Code supported by a strong set of standards, which is given force through state-based legislation. On site, labour rules are given force through the Fair Work Act and occupational health and safety legislation, whilst enforcement is aided through the Fair Work Ombudsman, workplace safety authorities and labour unions. Add to this our innovative construction systems in new materials, science, factories of the future and prefabrication, which lead the world...or should!
Yet when it comes to products, we have goods coming in from many places with few modern mechanisms or technologies to ensure these meet NCC requirements, Australian standards or fair work practice. The consequences are serious, as we have seen glass panels explode from balconies and shatter in the street. We have seen water ingress into apartments, glazing failures, steel failures and dangerous and faulty cables go into thousands of businesses and homes. And we have seen dreadful fires both overseas and at home.
The Grenfell fire and Lacrosse before that proved things will not ‘be right mate.’ The task of audit and rectification, enforcement, disciplinary action and adjustments to current compliance certification creates a burden on consumers. Retroactively applying an enforcement regime to undo past wrongs is complex, time consuming and costly. The wrong will not right itself and will continue to harm.
This is not about fault or blame. It’s a market and regulatory failure, not a failure of any one party. If you create an environment where people can supply dangerous and inferior products without consequence, that is what you will get.
What is needed is an innovation system and technology network solution, which provides an incentive for stakeholders throughout the supply chain to comply. We need to baseline which products can be measured and the metrics and responsible authorities to define them. It won’t be any one party but rather a network of individuals, business entities and organisations interacting with one another in a controlled framework environment to solve the problem and outcomes be enjoyed.
We can be right mate and we can compete but to address non-conforming products, we need to attack problems at their core. This means market mechanisms and technologies to provide incentive for responsible behaviours.
To enforce compliance and wear the consequences after the failure where standards are not met is costly and, frankly, too late mate!