ACA President’s Comment – May 2021

John Held , 10 May 2021

New building legislation in NSW and proposed changes in Victoria will have wide-ranging impacts on the profession, and it’s critical that architects ask questions, give feedback and engage with government, says John Held.

As I write this, there is news of another cladding fire in a multistorey London Apartment block. This time it seems no lives were lost, but it reminds us the construction industry needs fixing. The political responses to this are widespread, and many will affect architectural practices in Australia.

Changes to regulatory regimes

The recent publication of the Regulations under the NSW Design and Building Practitioners Act for Class 2 buildings, to be implemented from 1 July, will be a major change for the role of the architect. In theory it gives the opportunity for architects to regain a central role from design through to completion, directly referencing registered architects in the legislation. The challenge is now to understand the devil in the detail, and the ACA will be working hard to understand those problems and resolve them through collective feedback and clarification with the authorities, the profession and the industry more generally.

At the same time the Victorian Government has issued the Expert Panel’s Review of Victoria’s Building System report for comment by 19 May. Directly referencing the Building Confidence Report and the Victorian Government’s Cladding Taskforce, it proposes a number of possible changes to legislation and covers practitioner registration, building approvals, regulatory oversight and consumer protection. Whilst it does mention procurement in passing, it focuses mainly on changes to legislation to achieve better building outcomes. It’s clear the panel does not understand the role and functions of the architect and the role of independent architects’ boards, not only in consumer protection but in maintaining competency standards, the accreditation of university courses and professional standards for architects.

One of the ACA’s major concerns is the proposal to consolidate all design practitioners into one regulator, which would mean major changes or abolition of the Architects Act in its present form. Advice from other Boards suggests this is a big risk – it’s easier just to get rid of it, rather than change it. From a national perspective, any change to one system imperils the whole national system. It’s worth remembering that the architect’s national registration and accreditation system is the envy of the rest of the construction industry, where negotiations on national licensing and registration have made little progress in decades. By all means, improve it! But changes in just one state could be enough to imperil the whole system.

ACA Victoria/Tasmanian President Paul Viney and his committee are working extremely hard at providing a comprehensive, measured response to the review. I encourage ALL of you – not just Victorians – to download and read the relevant sections of the report. It is important for us to engage with the review process. Please send through your feedback to to contribute to a joint submission. Being busy isn’t an excuse – if the changes suggested proceed, you could end up being less busy than you would like, as your skills and experience are further eroded.

Professional standards

These regulatory changes are just part of a number of interconnected activities that regulate the profession of architecture. These include:

National Registration Framework for Architects and Building Designers

One consequence of the Building Confidence Report, authored by Peter Shergold and Bronwyn Weir, was the move to common registration frameworks for most participants in the construction industry, including architects and building designers. The ACA, AIA, AACA and the State Architects Boards all submitted responses to the drafts to clarify the difference between qualifications and experience requirements for architects and building designers. It was pleasing to see that many architects made submissions to the drafts. Our concern is that because it is only dealing with knowledge of and competency in the NCC, it does not recognise architect’s other skills and roles, which could lead to confusion.

Automatic Mutual Recognition for Architects

Federal legislation is now in effect and from 1 July this year automatic mutual recognition of architectural registration (for individuals only) will apply between the ACT, NSW and the NT. It’s not known if and when it will apply in other jurisdictions or the mechanics of the scheme. There is concern that such schemes may affect the income of Boards (which are generally self-funded), because architects will only need to register in one state.

AACA National Competency Standards

Thanks to Denis Waring and Charmaine Kai for representing the ACA on this taskforce – the new standards are nearly complete and must be endorsed by the State Boards.

Transition to Registration

The AACA is now looking at ways to improve the transition between graduation and registration of architects – an important piece of work, which may include mentoring and additional educational options. Thanks to Denis Waring for representing the ACA in this work.

Pulse Check 5

Thanks to those who completed our fifth Pulse Check survey. We will publish the key findings early next week. The survey gives a fairly positive indication of the rebound from COVID and some of the unforeseen benefits of having to deal with issues such as workplace flexibility. The profession showed remarkable collegiality last year, and it’s important that we don’t lose that sense of common purpose as we redesign our future profession.