Back to the future: unit owners hail return of public certifiers

Ian Bushnell 22 July 2020 9
Minister for Building Quality Improvement Gordon Ramsay

Minister for Building Quality Improvement Gordon Ramsay wants to break the link between developers and certifiers. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Unit owners have welcomed moves for the return of public certifiers to improve building quality in the ACT, but say architects and engineers also need to be involved in project delivery from start to finish.

However, the ACT Property Council said the industry felt ambushed by Minister for Building Quality Improvement Gordon Ramsay’s announcement of plans to establish a team of public sector certifiers for large and complex projects as part of its reforms to restore confidence in the Territory’s construction sector.

Mr Ramsay said the new team would break the link between developers and the certifiers they use, and it would focus on multi-unit developments.

”With large and complex developments it’s the developer who is the owner and appoints the certifier,” he told the ABC. ”Clearly the risk is that the developers and the certifiers are too close.”

Mr Ramsay said legislated public certification for complex projects would complement moves to register developers and a new code of practice for building surveyors.

”With multi-unit developments, there are a lot of people who are affected if there is poor quality building,” Mr Ramsay said.

”It’s bad enough if you are the sole person living in a house and the building is poor quality but by the time it is affecting multiple people, that actually has a significant impact on the community.”

Owners Corporation Network ACT president Gary Petherbridge said Mr Ramsay was on the right track with public certifiers for multi-unit developments and developers having to be fit and proper persons to be in business, but architects and engineers should also have to be registered and involved in projects from the drafting of detailed plans to completion.

He said architects were often used to produce ”pretty pictures” for selling the projects and not retained throughout construction.

Mr Petherbridge, who began calling for a return to public certifiers a decade ago, said it was better late than never that Mr Ramsay now understood that multi-unit buildings were the issue.

”The developer isn’t going to be the owner when it finishes, there are going to be 600 owners, so they are the ones who need protection,” he said.

Mr Ramsay said the team would not be set up until after the election but work was continuing with the National Building Ministers Forum and National Construction Code to decide which buildings would require a public certifier.

For simple projects, people will have the choice of appointing a private or a public certifier, who will operate on a fee-for-service basis.

Mr Ramsay said that with construction to take a leading role in the post-COVID-19 economic recovery, it was important to get this right now.

”We think this is a very good time to be taking this next step to not only make sure that our building is of the highest quality but the confidence in the sector is the highest,” he said.

But the Property Council said it was disappointing to hear about such critical reforms via the media and accused Mr Ramsay of playing politics.

Adina Cirson

ACT executive director of the Property Council of Australia Adina Cirson said the industry was ambushed. Photo: File.

Property Council executive director Adina Cirson said the Council and other industry groups had been working collaboratively and constructively in the implementation of building reforms, both through the roll-out of the ACT Government’s 44 reforms, but also on the 24 recommendations made in the Shergold Weir Building Confidence report.

”We all want the very few in our industry doing the wrong thing to be held accountable,” she said. ”That’s why we support all of the reforms that the government has engaged us on.

”But not once has the government engaged with industry on the announcement made today in any of the forums in which we discuss the implementation of their reform program.

”It is disingenuous to say on one hand that you are cracking down on those doing the wrong thing, but on the other, have a Minister who refuses to engage and consult on measures which aren’t even on their own reform program.”

Master Builders ACT cautiously welcomed the ACT Government’s announcement but called for more detail about how the new system might work.

“The MBA has been calling for the implementation of building reforms in the ACT for more than a decade. Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction to improve building quality, provided the necessary consultation with industry experts and key stakeholders is undertaken,” Master Builders ACT CEO Michael Hopkins said.

“We understand consumers’ concerns about building quality and know that more must be done in order to improve building standards in Canberra.”

Mr Hopkins said private and public certifiers could work together, and this had been shown in other jurisdictions such as NSW, but the same standards must be applied to both to ensure consistency.

He called for more action to be taken on building quality including the implementation of the recommendations from the national Building Confidence report.

“Further steps to improve building confidence must be guided by the Building Confidence report and include requiring the registration of a broad range of building practitioners including engineers, designers, builders and site or project managers and that Continuing Professional Development training be mandated,” he said.

The ACT Greens called on the government to go further and expand the proposed scheme to go beyond large-scale residential developments, and that all buildings where the builder has been the subject of regulatory action should have to be assessed by a government building certifier.

The Liberal government of Kate Carnell scrapped public certification in the 1990s. There were predictions at the time that a privatised system would result in poor building practices.


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9 Responses to Back to the future: unit owners hail return of public certifiers
George Watling George Watling 12:37 pm 25 Jul 20

his switch back to public certifiers is to little to late from the the Barr and Rattenbury government. We should have had some thing in place to protect the rights of buyers and home owners way before today. I though that that the Labor/Greens were meant to be about protecting the health and well being of everyday people but under their watch a large number of everyday Canberrans have been stuck with unlivable and salable properties while government’s doggy brothers builder mates have sailed off into the sunset with peoples hard earned deposits and borrowings. Big question is how is this ‘too little too late’ on the scene activity going to help the poor folks who are stuck with badly built apartments and town houses now and how much is cleaning up this mess going to cost rate and tax payers? https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-20/canberra-construction-four-corners-apartment-quality/11431788

George Watling George Watling 12:35 pm 25 Jul 20

This switch back to public certifiers is to little to late from the the Barr and Rattenbury government. We should have had some thing in place to protect the rights of buyers and home owners way before today. I though that that the Labor/Greens were meant to be about protecting the health and well being of everyday people but under their watch a large number of everyday Canberrans have been stuck with unlivable and salable properties while government’s doggy brothers builder mates have sailed off into the sunset with peoples hard earned deposits and borrowings. Big question is how is this ‘too little too late’ on the scene activity going to help the poor folks who are stuck with badly built apartments and town houses now and how much is cleaning up this mess going to cost rate and tax payers? https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-20/canberra-construction-four-corners-apartment-quality/11431788

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 5:36 pm 23 Jul 20

“The Liberal government of Kate Carnell scrapped public certification in the 1990s. There were predictions at the time that a privatised system would result in poor building practices.”

And it’s only taken (almost) 19 years of Labor/Green government to talk about doing something about it – in the meantime, there’s hardly been a stone left unturned in the search for other things to regulate or ban, so the inaction until recently could fairly be taken as endorsement of the mistaken decision of the Carnell government (and not as a result of a preference for “light touch” regulation).

People who try to defend this government’s policy of large increases in annual rates to pay for a gradual reduction in stamp duty – because it might increase housing mobility – need to reflect on the extent to which serious concerns about building standards can act as a powerful disincentive to housing mobility.

Anthony Trump Anthony Trump 9:21 pm 22 Jul 20

I am no expert! But if there’s been no public certifierers since 1990, then I am assuming the Govt would need to recruit from the Private Sector - the very one’s the Govt has essentially just called “dodgey”. Q: is anyone else seeing the flaw in this logic?

    David Cassar David Cassar 9:54 pm 22 Jul 20

    I don't think certifying experience would be essential (though some building experience sure). From the certifiers I've met, half a brain and one eyeball is all that is needed - and the half a brain is optional.

    Rob Craven Rob Craven 10:11 pm 22 Jul 20

    Anthony Trump the issue is who the certifier is accountable to. If it is to Government as their employer (and therefore the public interest), self interest should be reduced as they won’t be reliant on developers for their next appointment. This is a far more complex issue than pointing the finger solely at certifiers - there are issues from top to bottom of the building and approval process.

    Mal Briggs Mal Briggs 9:38 am 24 Jul 20

    Accountability and a firewall between the interests of the certifiers and the developers is more important than who is actually doing the certifying.

    But, yes, some certifiers should certainly not be considered for the role given the need for this move.

Alex Troy Elsworth Adkins Alex Troy Elsworth Adkins 7:27 pm 22 Jul 20

Oh this roundabout just goes round and round again...

Charlie Karmenu Flask Charlie Karmenu Flask 6:54 pm 22 Jul 20

DO NOT hold your breath...smokes and mirrors prior the election...yeah right!!!

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