Around the Table – A QLD Advocacy Update
Immediate Past President of the ACA QLD/NT Robert Wesener provides a comprehensive update of the ACA’s advocacy efforts in Queensland.
For nearly two years, Robert Wesener has actively participated in discussions with the Queensland Government to consider many issues regarding the procurement of professional services. He has been joined in this challenge by Michael Lavery, Qld Chapter President of the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA); Bruce Medek, Chairman of the Board of Architects Queensland (BOAQ); and the Queensland Government Architect, previously Malcolm Middleton and now Leah Lang.
This journey started back in March 2020, when Bronwyn Weir, co-author of the Building Confidence Report (also known as the Shergold-Weir Report), was invited to speak at an ACA QLD/NT Lunch Forum about the report and subsequent recommendations for industry reform. The discussion covered how architects could respond to the challenges in the construction industry and once again re-establish their role in the development of well-designed and safer buildings.
Richard Cassidy (former Assistant Director-General, Building Legislation and Policy, Department of Housing [now Energy] and Public Works) attended this lunch and the ACA took the opportunity to start a conversation around concerns regarding the procurement of architectural services. However, soon after lockdown started, this proposed meeting took a back seat.
Around this time, the Queensland Government Architect, Malcolm Middleton, suggested weekly meetings between the OQGA, ACA, AIA and BOAQ to talk about the impact of COVID and workplace issues. These discussions then transitioned into a more general discussion around issues such as the procurement of professional services. Though the frequency of these meetings changed, they have continued until the recent retirement of Malcolm and now continue with Leah Lang.
Through the assistance of Malcolm Middleton, the group were able to again meet in March 2021 with Richard Cassidy, Logan Timms (Executive Director – Department of Housing [now Energy] and Public Works) and Peter Lacey (Acting Executive Director, Policy, responsible for procurement). At this meeting it was agreed that a workshop should be developed, which would involve people from the architectural profession, engineers and quantity surveyors, as well as key representatives from procurement portfolios such as Queensland Education and Queensland Health. Richard was to develop an agenda for this workshop; however, nothing eventuated.
National Registration Framework
During this time the ACA was also responding to the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) discussion papers, the key paper being the National Registration Framework. The ACA made a submission regarding the proposed framework and also contacted the ABCB Board members regarding our concerns with the proposed framework. The BOAQ and AIA also made submissions and this led to an opportunity for the ACA and AIA, at a national level, to meet with ABCB staff. The key issue was to not align architects and building designers at the same levels and to differentiate between them. The prime motivation behind the Building Confidence Report was to establish a national framework that provided additional protection to the general public when it came to the design and construction of buildings and failing to acknowledge the obvious differences between the education and experience requirements for architects and building designers seemed to ignore this objective. It is important that this issue is brought into the general discussion with Queensland Government as it will be their responsibility to take the recommendations of the ABCB and introduce or amend existing legislation to enable the framework.
Meetings continued between the Queensland Government Architect, AIA, BOAQ and ACA, and we also met with Peter Clarke (Ministerial Advisor for the Minister of Energy and Public Works) and Ainsley Barron (Department of Energy and Public Works and ABCB Board Member). At this meeting we discussed various issues but mainly the National Registration Framework. We learned that Richard Cassidy had been appointed to a role with the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) and we are yet to be advised who will be taking on his former role in the Department of Energy and Public Works. Regardless of the change in personnel, we will continue to seek an opportunity to meet and work with Government to develop a better understanding of the issues associated with the procurement of professional services.
We continue to meet as a group with Leah Lang and her office, and recently had the opportunity to meet with Sharon Bailey (Deputy Director-General, Qld Government Procurement), Peter Lacey (Executive Director Policy, QGP) and Brett Brogan (General Manager Major Projects, Public Works). This meeting was instigated by the AIA after sending letters to Sharon regarding a couple of examples of poor procurement practices that became evident just prior to the Christmas break.
Our concerns were taken seriously and all attending agreed that we needed to better understand and communicate the process of procurement. It is envisaged that this reconnection with Government will provide us with an opportunity to continue our discussion regarding the procurement of professional services and for all of the ACA and AIA members in Queensland. Some may question the value of talking with Government; however, this group sees this as an opportunity to develop appropriate guidelines for the procurement of professional services that can be used to demonstrate best practice to other levels of government and the private sector. We will continue to keep our members up to date with our ongoing advocacy work.
What started with our first interaction with Queensland Government nearly two years ago about the impacts of COVID created a catalyst for the ACA, AIA, BOAQ and OQGA to work together to raise the concerns of the architectural industry. Our collective achievements to date can be summarised as follows:
The State Government has shown an understanding and an interest in the issue of procurement (and by extension better practice) through their allocation of ‘procurement’ as a specific responsibility attached to a DDG (Sharon Bailey) under Minister Mick de Brenni. This understanding includes an acknowledgement that services (specifically professional services) need to be procured differently to goods. Progress, however, has been slow. Key personnel have moved on, COVID has either restricted meetings or cancelled them altogether in some cases, and as a result momentum has been hard to establish. More recent meetings, with a number of people in established positions and the support of allied organisations (OQGA/AIA/ACA etc) suggest that this issue might finally start to gain some traction.
ABCB updated legislation
Extensive consultation and comprehensive responses to a number of legislative change proposals raised by the ABCB have been ongoing (e.g., the National Registration Framework). Despite this extensive work (by numerous parties), the architect’s position has largely been overlooked, including the good information showing the potential for the industry to be safer and improved by elevating the architect in this process. The final result is unclear; however, it appears the Minister is unlikely to challenge the ABCB’s proposal nor is he likely to water down existing Queensland legislation. The best that can be said is that the outcome, for Queensland, is likely to maintain the ‘status quo’. Long term, however, these changes will need to be monitored.
Ministerial Construction Council
The Ministerial Construction Council (MCC – under Minister Mick de Brenni) has provided architects a voice at the same table as the larger builders’ organisations and unions. This has assisted architect’s voices being heard and it has shone a light on what others might be thinking. Specific issues have varied but have included the liveable housing initiative, the building industry fairness legislation, safety regulation, and various payments legislation (specific to Queensland) as well as current research groups with a remit to look at the role of Project Managers and Developers (the latter largely in regards to payments).
The final implementation of the updated criteria for registration remains in limbo (despite previous public statements to the contrary). The BOAQ and the AACA continue to discuss the remaining issues.
Architectural Organisations and Collegiality
Relationships at both a state and national level between the ACA and the AIA appear to be as strong as they have been in a very long time. The BOAQ and OQGA, along with the ACA and the AIA, have forged an excellent working relationship, agreed advocacy and a good communication chain with the advent of regular meetings.
Robert Wesener is the ACA QLD/NT Immediate Past President and Associate Director of Fulton Trotter Architects.