Recent high-profile defect issues in apartment buildings and the ongoing issue of non-compliant cladding have made the Building Minister’s Forum fast-track the implementation of reforms.
The State and Federal Building Ministers’ meeting on July 18 saw the ministers agree to address issues including growing difficulties around professional indemnity insurance. They will also progress the implementation of all 24 of the recommendations of the Building Confidence Report by Shergold and Weir.
One of the key issues is the insurers’ responses to the defects and non-compliance problem. They choose to limit the ability of builders and building surveyors/certifiers to obtain professional indemnity insurance.
Through a collaboration between New South Wales and Queensland, the BMF will soon be developing and releasing an options paper for consultation with stakeholders. The paper will outline a pathway for professional standards schemes and alternative insurance options.
Building surveyors, engineers and architects are “struggling to obtain the insurance they need to do their job, which in turn could seriously affect future building or construction activity.”
Ahead of the meeting, a joint communique from the Property Council of Australia, Australian Industry Group, Australian Construction Industry Forum (ACIF), Insurance Council of Australia and Master Builders Australia (MBA) noted that building surveyors, engineers and architects are “struggling to obtain the insurance they need to do their job, which in turn could seriously affect future building or construction activity.”
Therefore, the BMF’s commitment to take action on this and, more broadly, the suite of Shergold and Weir recommendations, was welcomed.
“ACIF is pleased that the Building Ministers will strengthen the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) and that the strategic plan of the ABCB will be recast to better reflect the current challenges in the building sector”, ACIF Executive Director James Cameron said. “It is also commendable that the ABCB will be expanded to include greater representation and engagement from the industry.”
Mr Cameron said ACIF has supported greater consistency and moves towards uniform licensing and registration in the construction industry across jurisdictions.
“With the release of the Shergold Weir Report, the implementation plan, and now the coordinated national approach announced yesterday, there is the opportunity to achieve greater consistency,” he said. “Industry associations, including ACIF members, will play their part by working to uphold and strengthen professional standards.”
Master Builders Australia CEO, Denita Wawn, described the BMF commitment as a “breakthrough.” According to Ms Wawn, it will “lead to improved enforcement and compliance with building regulations and standards throughout the building supply chain.”
According to Ms Wawn, it will “lead to improved enforcement and compliance with building regulations and standards throughout the building supply chain.”
Ms Wawn said it is important the state and territory governments develop the reforms “with urgency.” MBA will be calling for a timetable for implementation to be released “sooner rather than later,” Ms Wawn added.
The role and capabilities of building surveyors and certifiers have been one of the main pressure points within the supply chain.
The Australian Institute of Building Surveyors, while welcoming the BMF decision, noted there is nothing arising from the July meeting outcomes that will mitigate the problems building surveyors and others are currently facing with “unworkable” professional indemnity insurance policies.
“We know members are faced with huge increases in insurance premiums, massive increases in excesses, reduced cover and exclusions,” AIBS CEO Brett Mace said in a statement. “At the same time, there is a steep increase in claims against building surveyors regardless of whether they are directly responsible or simply being joined in disputes and targeted because they hold insurance. This is not sustainable. If the insurance industry cannot guarantee some relief in the immediate future, then the outlook for the profession is grim and there is significant risk of severe impact to the industry.”
Speaking with Jobsite, Director of Gardner Group and AIBS Vice-President Wayne Liddy said there are actions builders and their subcontractors can take immediately to improve construction outcomes.
“Early intervention is the best form of attack,” Mr Liddy said.
Quality issues stemming from the design and construction process are behind some of the defects in Sydney buildings that have been making headlines, he explained.
Building surveyors or certifiers cannot shoulder the entire responsibility for managing quality—they are only onsite for specific points in the process as set out in state and territory building regulations.
“A mandatory inspection [as required] does not determine the overall level of quality and finish,” Mr Liddy said.
It is project team members including site supervisors, project managers, leading hands and foremen who can take a major role in ensuring quality and compliance.
It is project team members including site supervisors, project managers, leading hands and foremen who can take a major role in ensuring quality and compliance. Some builders are already ahead on this front, he said, with robust quality assurance processes already in place.
Mr Liddy compared the whole-of-project quality control process to the commissioning certification process for fire control systems. Both visual inspection and ensuring supporting documentation is provided and checked are key.
“We need to look at what is happening and look at how we get early intervention into defects because they are a blight on the economy and on the industry,” Mr Liddy said. “Everyone [in the supply chain] needs to take some accountability. If people do what they do and do it well, hopefully, we will get a better end product.”