Back around the turn of the century, the domestic building industry in Victoria was gripped by massive upheaval as privatisation in 1997 was followed by the introduction of industry management in 2002.
Whilst many of these changes were billed at the time as enhancing consumer protection, in a number of areas they in fact largely had the opposite effect – witness, for example, the impact of Last Resort Warranty Insurance upon a significant number of builders and consumers.
Moreover, over time, these arrangements created a culture within the Building Commission that saw a gradual decline in standards of regulatory enforcement within our industry.
The extent of this was laid bare in the Victorian Ombudsman’s December 2012 report into the Victorian Building Commission, which found failures in the Commission’s inner workings including corruption, misuse of funds, inappropriate processes for builder registration, failure of governance and administration and questionable recruitment of staff.
In that report, not only did the Ombudsman conclude that the registration process for building practitioners had been poorly administered and that it was not possible to confirm that only those with the necessary and appropriate qualifications gained registration, he also found that:
- For a fee, third parties are able to complete the application and supporting documentation on behalf of a building practitioner applicant.
- Of 27 registration files reviewed by the Ombudsman’s office, the BPB had only sought to conduct a reference check of the building practitioner applicant on one occasion.
- Former Registrar Peter Brilliant might have placed himself in a position of conflict by assisting applicants with the registration process.
- In 90 per cent of applications, concerns had been noted in relation to the completeness of the Competency Assessor’s report.
To see the impact of this not just on builders but also ordinary Victorians seeking to engage contractors for construction and renovation work, one only has to look at the cost and duration of some of the disputes which have been dragged through the Victorian Civil Appeals Tribunal.
Worse, whilst the abolition of the Commission and its replacement with the Victorian Building Authority last year was billed as a fresh start, this process has been fraught with complications and setbacks. We at the BCA have not observed any material improvements in practices and continue to question the adequacy of the new arrangements to deliver the standards of regulation the industry and its consumers need and deserve.
Builders in the first instance and consumers ultimately fund every cent of compliance, consumer protection, and building industry management, and deserve much better than the current situation.
It is not rocket science. It is straightforward and can be delivered with a minimum of fuss.
To be done effectively, however, those who wish to manipulate the system for their own benefit must first be removed.