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What the Latest National Reform Means for Construction

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Confidence in Australia’s construction industry has taken a battering over recent years from incidents including the Lacrosse tower fire, Opal Tower defects, and the ongoing issues with non-conforming building products like Infinity Cables.

The Rebuilding Confidence Report by Shergold and Weir, commissioned by the Building Ministers Forum, aimed to address the major flaws in the industry’s processes and products. The BMF response has finally been released. It has taken the form of a plan for enacting reforms in each state.

The initial Implementation Plan prioritises six of the 24 Shergold and Weir recommendations for urgent action, as the ministers believe they will benefit from a “consistent national approach.”

Currently, licensing and registration requirements vary from state to state—some do not even require registration for key practitioner types.

These recommendations address the integrity of building surveyors, consistent registration, and training requirements for building practitioners and the responsibilities of design practitioners. Each state and territory is expected to develop consistent requirements for the registration of builders, site or project managers, building surveyors, building inspectors, architects, engineers, designers and draftspersons, plumbers and fire safety practitioners.

Currently, licensing and registration requirements vary from state to state—some do not even require registration for key practitioner types.

The new registration processes the states are to develop will require practitioners to have undertaken certificated training. It will incorporate relevant training on the operation and use of the National Construction Code.

The Australian Building Codes Board is contributing to this education element of the reform agenda.

It has already begun working on an education and awareness program that will look to develop digitally-focused resources for Continuing Professional Development units specifically for existing practitioners in the building and plumbing sectors. Partnership opportunities with industry bodies for developing content are to be explored and options examined for relevant bodies to have input into the curriculum.

In relation to building surveyors, the reform emphasises the importance of establishing minimum statutory controls to reduce the potential for conflicts of interest on every jurisdiction. For example, situations where the surveyor is engaged by the builder need to be taken under consideration. A code of conduct for building surveyors is also to be put in place and enhanced supervisory powers and mandatory reporting obligations instituted.

Improving building documentation is also on the agenda, with each state and territory to make it a requirement that documentation be prepared by “appropriate categories of registered practitioners” and that the documentation demonstrates a proposed building complies with the National Construction Code.

The plan document gives a snapshot of what progress each state and territory has already made toward reforms. It is particularly important in the critical areas of non-conforming products, high-risk products, inspection, compliance oversight and improving documentation processes.

It also outlines what steps each jurisdiction has planned to enact the priority recommendations and provides an indicative timeframe for actions.

In a number of states including South Australia, the ACT and Western Australia, the reforms will be occurring in conjunction with changes to allied regulations and processes, such as planning and the building approvals process.   

The Australian Construction Industry Forum (ACIF) welcomed the implementation plan, although it noted it comes more than 12 months after the initial Shergold Weir report.

It is also concerned about the speed at which reforms will be progressed.

“ACIF is concerned that the time frames for implementation of the recommendations are vague for many of the states, and some states say that several of the recommendations would be implemented in the ‘medium to long term’,” ACIF Executive Director James Cameron said.

On a positive note, Mr. Cameron said, no state or territory has indicated it does not support any of the 24 Shergold Weir recommendations.

He said the peak body would like the recommendations implemented by May 2021, per the report’s recommendations.

“Further, ACIF would prefer a quarterly or six-monthly update from the Building Ministers’ Forum on the progress of implementation, rather than an annual update.”

On a positive note, Mr. Cameron said, no state or territory has indicated it does not support any of the 24 Shergold Weir recommendations. However, there are a few recommendations some states are “still considering.”

The move toward more nationally consistent licensing across practitioner types is one ACIF has supported, seeing it as “a good opportunity to achieve greater consistency,” he said.

“ACIF also welcomes that the implementation plan states that the BMF will work closely with industry peak bodies and professional associations to implement the recommendations, in particular, those addressing professional development, career pathways, post-construction information management and the approval and review of designs/performance solutions.”

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