ACA President's Comment – April 2019

John Held , 28 April 2019

In light of the release of the Building Confidence Implementation Plan, ACA National President John Held revisits the recent history of regulation in the Australian construction industry and the challenge of timely reform and coordination between all states and territories.

Living in a Federation is messy. Since the 1970s there have been many attempts to rationalise and harmonise the regulation of construction across Australia, but with nine different jurisdictions it’s never been easy. Like a large squabbling family, it’s always someone else’s fault. The implementation of the Building Code of Australia (now the National Construction Code) is perhaps one highlight – but even then the number of variations when introduced was embarrassing. One would wonder why South Australians needed different numbers of toilets to Victorians, for example. Uniform licensing of trades has never been successful, so workers moving from one state to another had to re-register. In some jurisdictions, engineers don’t need to be registered. In others, painters do.

While the regulation of architects has had a chequered history, at least the requirements are uniform. There is really no good reason why national-based regulation could not be implemented, except for the fact all legislation is state-based. Even so, when discussing the woes of harmonisation with other parts of the construction industry, architects are held up as a beacon of what can be achieved!

Our brave new world of “light touch” regulation of the industry, where legislators responded to calls to remove red tape, has had a number of wake-up calls in recent years, including the Lacrosse, Grenfell and Neo200 fires and the Opal Tower reducing the public’s confidence in the construction industry. The Shergold Weir Report Building Confidence was a generally measured response and ACA has supported its recommendations, but it’s taken a year to even get a consolidated response from the various jurisdictions.

The ACA has asked its branches to comment on those responses: how is each jurisdiction responding? A few threads come through: progress is slow, jurisdictions are not particularly coordinating with each other, and restoring confidence in the industry is a long way away. For architects, we need to be careful to retain and build on what we have. Victoria’s requirement for wider registration of builders, building designers and the like under the Victorian Building Authority is a model that may be adopted elsewhere, but a separate architects registration system has been kept which ensures national registration is still a possibility.

The issue of legislated use of architects for tall buildings has also been raised recently. It’s a debate for another day – would it lead to better outcomes or would clients game the system? One which the new ACA Chat forum can take up in earnest, perhaps??