4 December 2020

No need for new building quality watchdog, says government

| Ian Bushnell
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More building quality reforms are on the way. Photo: File.

The ACT Government has officially rejected a call for an independent building quality watchdog, confirming its view that it would only duplicate existing functions.

New Building Quality Minister Rebecca Vassarotti has handed down the government’s response to an Assembly committee’s report into building quality issued in July.

It had recommended the establishment of a Building Commissioner as an independent statutory officer to ensure building code and standards are complied with, including inspecting sites and resolving disputes.

In July, the previous minister Gordon Ramsay had backed the current arrangements, saying the ACT already had a strong and independent watchdog in the Construction Occupations Registrar.

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The government response says the Registrar, which is overseeing a crackdown on building sites, is already independent and doing many of the jobs listed in the committee’s recommendation.

”Given the Registrar’s increased profile because of recent regulatory activity, renaming the role may also be potentially confusing,” she said. ”Creating a new officer with effectively the same remit as the Construction Occupations Registrar would duplicate existing functions.”

The government says that recent new legislation creates a separate statutory officer to oversee disputes, arrangements for which should be finalised by June 2022 after further consultation with the public and industry.

”At this stage it is not proposed the Registrar/technical building regulator manages or makes decisions in relation to all building disputes, but would continue to be able to investigate complaints about breaches of building standards and take regulatory actions as appropriate including to make rectification orders,” the government says.

The committee had also wanted a Building Commissioner to run a team of certifiers but the government says it is overhauling the certification model, including the restoration of public certifiers on a fee for service basis.

Rebecca Vassarotti

New Building Quality Minister Rebecca Vassarotti: reforms will be ACT-focused. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The government is also considering whether public sector certifiers should be required for certain types of development.

It will also set up an Australia-first licensing scheme for property developers, including the creation of a “fit and proper person” test and rigorously enforced penalty scheme, as well as a registration scheme for engineers.

The committee also called for an expanded audit scheme that would include random and scheduled inspections of high-risk work and a beefing up of enforcement staff, which the government says is already occurring.

Ms Vassarotti said reforms so far had focused on key areas such as design, stage inspection and supervision, licensing, auditing, and new powers for the regulator to take action when needed.

“The second stage of reforms will address issues around licensing and accountability of people designing, building, certifying and contracting for buildings off-the-plan; insurance and other protections for clients and building owners; implementing a residential building dispute resolution scheme; and security of payment issues,” she said.

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The committee also recommended that the government implement the recommendations of the Shergold-Weir Building Confidence Report, something Master Builders ACT has also urged, particularly calling for the ACT not to go it alone on it own reforms.

But the government says many of the report’s recommendations are already in place in the ACT, and others are dependent on work and decisions at a national level.

It says the ACT’s reform program has a broader scope and includes issues identified in the ACT’s own review such as dispute resolution, protections for building owners, contracting, and comprehensive documentation and practice standards for a range of practitioners.

”I will continue to work with building ministers in other jurisdictions on national building reforms and standards as recommended through the Building Confidence Report, where they apply to the ACT,” Ms Vassarotti said.

The government has agreed to 12 recommendations, agreed in principle with 20, noted 12, and rejected four, due to measures already in place that it says can deliver similar or better outcomes for building quality.

Master Builders ACT CEO, Michael Hopkins welcomed the government’s response and its general support for the Building Confidence Report, saying it was a critical step to improve the local building regulatory system.

“We are encouraged that the ACT Government will broaden accountability in the industry, including requiring the registration of a broad range of building practitioners including engineers, designers, builders and site or project managers.”

Mr Hopkins said the government should also prioritise training and education, and welcomed its commitment to increasing enforcement of existing building laws.

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