There is no better time now, than with the Gungahlin Drive Extension bridge collapse (not the first such construction event in the ACT) freshly in the news, to call for whistleblowers to tell us all (and the Government, which together with its “regulatory” agencies seems to be clueless) what goes on in the ACT construction industry. Especially in the housing sector, where homebuyers commonly find their NEW houses, apartments and complexes riddled with major faults: to name a few, living rooms permeable to rain from balconies, leaky roofs, inadequate hot water reticulation, substandard workmanship, materials, components and finishes, gutters chocked with building debris, and even fire code breaches and balcony and roof component crashes to the ground .
Don’t believe it? Didn’t see the ACT Stateline reports recently? They only dealt with the tip of the iceberg, but here they are.
Despite the predictable claims of the industry stalwarts, this is not at all a fringe phenomenon, and has been documented to happen very commonly in large and expensive developments planned and built by the biggest names on the local and national (and international) scene.
And these problems are only inevitable in an industry which in the last 20 years has increasingly cajoled and intimidated governments (“Regulation is inefficient!!” “Consumers will pay more!!” “Affordability… AFFORDABILITY!!” Well, it IS true that all the deregulation has made real estate increasingly affordable, isn’t it?) into giving it a free run to do as it pleases. Did you know that the building inspectors are paid by the builders to certify their work as adequate? And that, especially in a small town like Canberra, the inspectors inevitably come to have a permament, financial relationship with the people whose work they are regularly assessing, through ongoing work? Bet you’d have liked to hire your own examiner to mark your final school exams, eh? And, subject to satisfactory performance, the same one later for all your tertiary exams? This could have something to do with the vast disparity between duly certified construction adequacy and the flooded living rooms that people have been experiencing! Far from deregulation having delivered more affordable housing, buyers have started paying even more for shoddily built homes after purchase, with the costs of repairs, inflated maintenance and/or legal recourse likely to bankrupt the owners of many buildings built in the last 5-10 years.
I was talking to a housing construction labourer one Saturday night recently, who under the influence of alcohol told me that “everything being built is just going to fall down… the contracts are so cheap that the work is crap”. He really had no reason to lie to me, and he indicated another reason why building standards are so shocking : the cut-throat contracts let out to sub- (and sub sub-) contractors, to maximise profits. This is no doubt another – related – scandal only waiting to erupt. Just see what has begun to come out in Queensland recently.
The industry is now engaged in a desperate struggle with the ACT Government (who itself, through ACTPLA of Quayside fame, has been sitting on reports of shocking building standards for years now – and who was dragged kicking and screaming into paying attention after the Stateline reports a few weeks ago) to nip in the bud any plans – finally! – to return a bit of regulation and accountability to the ACT building process.
These meetings the Government has initiated with industry representatives have all the makings of a grand talkfest, with the industry almost allowed a role of free discussant instead of the defendant that it is, and I suspect that when public attention is deemed to have moved away from this important issue it will all be allowed to evaporate into nothingness.
So if you have been caught up as a consumer in a substandard home, or know someone who has, the Planning minister needs to hear from you and them, now: firstname.lastname@example.org
And we need more whistleblowers from the building sites past and present – there must be an awful lot of stories behind the endless frustration and exasperation experienced by so many homeowners and Body Corporates in Canberra. The time to spill it all to media and Government is now.