Building Confidence

John Held , 18 August 2018

John Held provides an overview on recent discussions at the COAG Building Ministers Forum regarding the Shergold-Weir Report, Building Confidence. 

In May I wrote an article on Building Confidence: The Shergold-Weir Report and its Implications for Architects. On Friday 10 August, the COAG Building Ministers Forum (BMF) met in Adelaide to consider, among other issues, their response to Building Confidence, a report by Professor Peter Shergold and Ms Bronwyn Weir. This report addresses the need to improve the effectiveness of compliance and enforcement systems for the building and construction industry across Australia in light of the Lacrosse fire in Melbourne and, more recently, the Grenfell fire in London. For the first time in over four years industry representatives were invited to be part of that meeting to discuss the report’s recommendations. I attended in my role as the deputy president of the Australian Construction Industry Forum and have reported back to ACIF in that role.

I noted that the voice of the industry was clear: there are failings in the industry, and there are also a number of issues arising from the lack of uniformity in both administration of the National Construction Code and its enforcement across nine separate jurisdictions.

There have been few issues where the response to a report has gained so much common support and a desire to work together to implement change. While there may be individual nuances in the response of ACIF members there is a desire to achieve change as outlined in its previous submissions to the inquiry.

The Chair of the Forum noted that there was a desire to consult more closely with industry and further meetings with Industry were planned.

The BMF communique issued after the meeting noted that: ”The BMF directed the development of a paper that sets out an implementation plan for reform, incorporating feedback from industry stakeholders, for consideration at the BMF’s next meeting. The paper will focus on recommendations 9 to 11, with further consideration of recommendations 1, 2 and 13.”

Recommendations 9 to 11 deal with building surveyors, while the remainder deal with the registration of building practitioners and the responsibilities of design professionals. This leaves eighteen recommendations unaddressed, including issues of consistency across jurisdictions.

Recommendation 13 is probably the most relevant to architects. It states that ”each jurisdiction requires building approval documentation to be prepared by appropriate categories of registered practitioners, demonstrating that the proposed building complies with the National Construction Code.”

Under the current system there is no requirement for competency to document a building. As architects are the only registered design professionals in many jurisdictions, surely this would be a good thing? Does it mean unregistered building designers cannot document work? What proportion of larger projects don’t have registered architects on board? If the documentation is outsourced to Asia or South America, does this meet the recommendation? Does the need to demonstrate compliance with the NCC increase risk?

As noted in the earlier article, both documentation quality and the ability to track changes and substitutions are an issue in the industry. Architects must come to an agreed policy direction on a way forward, and advocate strongly to ensure architects are not left out of the loop.

We must also not forget the other recommendations which are yet to be addressed. Many of these are about reducing risk, finding better and more logical ways of constructing and managing buildings, encouraging the ordered and widespread use of new technology throughout the industry as a positive way to improve the construction industry for overall economic and societal benefit for Australia. Architects have much to contribute, as long as our voice is heard loud and clear.

John Held is ACA – SA President and a director of Russell & Yelland Architects.