Wouldn’t it be nice if the VBA, the top building authority in Victoria (or their equivalent top authority in any state of Australia for that matter), got off their backsides and got down to basics to actually cure some of the enormous problems faced by the residential building industry today?
In an article in the The Age on February 17, 2016, the director of the VBA Prue Digby was reported as saying that she “did not believe the high rate of cladding non-compliance proved that the regulator had failed.”
Well somebody has failed, and the serious problems faced in Victoria seem to be experienced in the other states too.
So it must be the federal government that is to blame. After all, they are responsible for our standard building codes including the National Construction Code.
But each state could have cured many of its serious problems individually, so they need to cop the blame too.
The buck passing has to stop and there has to be a basic re-doing of legislation to stop the rapidly increasing blight on our economy.
According to an article in The Age, “In December (2015) the Metropolitan Fire Brigade questioned the competency of the Victorian building regulator,” questioning “whether the VBA understands the extent or consequences of the recent (flammable cladding) problem with fire safety breaches…or how to resolve it.”
The article also stated that the VBA was to instigate a further audit of construction projects which were worked on by builders, building surveyors, designers, and others who have seen the quality of their work come into question. But why not just come out and call it like it is? The practitioners have almost certainly been negligent.
This is quite likely to be a 50 points penalty for a first offence, which we understand means...a $7,500 fine! Wham! Cop that!
But what each apartment owner will be up for is something like $120,000. The difference is staggering. The legislation is strongly in favour of businesses.
Each head authority has been unable - or unwilling - to take the necessary basic steps that will stop incorrect (unsafe, flammable) cladding being specified.
And if further measures can make this cladding compliant, and the price including servicing of the extra measures is similar to that of alternative non-flammable products, and the product is made in Australia, creating jobs for Australians, then why not just ban the incorrect product outright because of the risk?
Unfortunately, that flies in the face of the main mantra of nearly every building authority in the country, where each authority aims to keep building construction and regulation “cost-effective” to keep building prices reasonable.
It was exactly that thought process behind the writing of the code for slabs and footings AS 2870, where the chairman of the committee admitted in Softleys V Metricon Builders that the constraints in that code were written in the full knowledge that the footings of a few houses would fail. The reason given was that it was very important that the average cost of footings be kept to a reasonable level.
What a rotten hidden agenda! And then the builder fights the home owners when the slab deforms grossly, and if he goes bankrupt, the insurer fights the poor old beleaguered home owners too.
We understand that over 4,000 homes in the outer western suburbs of Melbourne have suffered disastrous out-of-levels as a result of a similar sort of (perhaps cronyism-based) thinking, where builders perhaps instruct soil report writers to use cheaper methods to ascertain the classification of soil for each site.
And the chairman of the committee that wrote the code did not mention the ‘D’ word (defect) at all.
He did not say that Appendix D of the same code had to be used, or that the estimation method employed by the soil report writers for those house sites simply did not apply (and was therefore not permitted to be used) because the site conditions were not normal during or soon after the record drought that lasted almost 14 years and only ended in 2010.
Even today, sites in those areas are almost certainly not yet back to normal. But this has never been said by any authority to my knowledge. Have you ever wondered why?
Is it because each authority has been instructed not to mention anything that may end up increasing the price of housing (even though it could have prevented so many disasters)?
Perhaps this points to one major reason (perhaps the main reason) why we have so many problems in the building industry at present. There is nothing like a multi-storey building in flames to focus the public eye on the inadequacies of the building authorities.
But there are many more major problems out there. And they started considerably earlier that this cladding tragedy, and also before the leaky building syndrome with its associated rapid deterioration of framing and eventually claddings via rot and serious mould build-up, which threatened the health of occupants.
The massive problems in the lack of quality of housing started in earnest in 1994, worsened rapidly up until about 2006 and has remained at that really poor quality level ever since. And this coincides with the introduction of a new performance-based Building Code of Australia in 1994 which followed close on the heels of the privatizing of (relevant) building surveyors and (certifying) building inspectors in 1990.
Performance criteria in what was the Building Code of Australia (now the National Construction Code) were thought up to encourage innovative cheaper solutions that would keep the price of buildings to a reasonable level.
The inadequate cheaper flammable cladding has been a direct result of this performance-based way of thinking. It has proved too difficult to discredit new cheaper products and systems before thousands of them have been incorporated into our buildings.
Checks and balances have been proved to be grossly inadequate and it seems the onus of proof of safety needs to be passed back to the manufacturers, particularly for imported products.
Australia allows the importation of products and their accompanying application systems, where the codes for those products are different and have different levels of safeguards from that of our own codes for similar products.
It therefore seems that there needs to be a moratorium of (say) 10 years on each cheaper product to show that these products are actually compliant in every respect with our codes. And the expert opinion basis for approval of new products as a performance based solution (once called an alternative solution) may need to be removed altogether from our National Construction Code.
And it is undoubtedly true that there has been insufficient prudent thinking by registered building practitioners and developers who specify or preside over cheaper products being used in their buildings.
The same goes for inadequate soil reports that were instrumental in the inadequacies built into so many slabs in the outer western suburbs of Melbourne. We need a thorough - and not secretive - audit for this defect alone.
I do not remember hearing that the VBA (or the Building Commission before it) has prosecuted the many soil report writers, relevant building surveyors, and structural engineers for their obvious negligence associated with the 4,000-plus inadequate house slabs designed and built in the outer western suburbs of Melbourne.
And this obvious negligence is not even mentioned in the Guide to Standards and Tolerances.
Are businesses to be protected no matter what? Could this be the third major reason for inaction of our authorities? Why isn’t it considered vital to alter our legislation in these matters?
At long last, the VBA is looking into the matter of negligence of those responsible and involved in the inappropriate use of flammable cladding above 10 metres height on multi-storey apartment buildings. Will this audit include office buildings?
It’s been 23 years now, and there has still been no substantial audit carried out by the BCC or the VBA regarding general gross negligence of builders associated with abysmally poor quality work done on new houses.
I hope we are not just going to get more buck passing via the proportionate liability acts or whatever, which are bound to be different in each state.