The Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) has just given a private certifier (those people responsible for checking the quality and safety of new buildings) a serve for failing in his statutory duties. When the Stanhope government introduced private certification several years ago, many Canberrans were concerned (including LAPACs and neighbourhood groups) about the potential problems this would create. In NSW, one private certifier in six has been the subject of an adverse disciplinary finding, and the ACT has similar problems although rarely is formal action ever taken.
In this recent case (Hopkins and Construction Occupations Registrar  ACTAAT 28 (29 October 2008), the AAT President commented (inter alia) that:
- The applicant asserted reliance upon others for his failure to discharge the statutory obligations imposed on him. The deficiency in the building work which he certified as complete was pointed out to him by the Fire Brigade and was obvious. His contravention of the BCA is a matter for which he, as the building certifier, was solely responsible.
- It is a matter of high importance that those persons who accept the responsibilities imposed on them as construction practitioner licensees be discouraged from the kind of omission found in this case to exist.
- It is a matter of considerable importance that the public be protected by ensuring that standards designed to protect them and their property from damage are observed.
- It is desirable that the applicant be made responsible for his omission.
- It is desirable that the confidence of the public in the requirements of the COL [Construction Occupations (Licencing)] Act be maintained by taking action that responds appropriately and proportionally to any conduct that is a disciplinary ground.
- The applicant showed a high level of disregard for the need to take action for a most fundamental aspect of his responsibility as a building certifier.
This certifier has already been subject to disciplinary action, but it failed to make any difference to his behaviour. This is because certifiers are in a serious conflict of interest situation, being engaged and paid by developers who have expectations that flaws in quality, safety and other compliance requirements will simply be ignored. There are also severe resourcing shortages within ACTPLA’s compliance unit and very few reports of sub-standadrd certification are fully investigated.
Here’s hoping that the Greens will have some influence to either improve the quality of compliance, or are able to help roll back this private certification farce.