President’s Comment – September 2021
It’s been a busy month for the ACA! It ranges from expansion of the activities of the Architects Mental Wellbeing Forum to Industrial Relations Updates and thoughtful articles on The Value of Architecture to advocacy on issues as diverse as the National Registration Framework, CPD for professionals and ongoing issues relating to the pandemic. However, a recent roundtable sponsored by Deltek noted the biggest problem for some large firms was the pressure on margins due to staff shortages, internal costs, procurement complexities and fee levels.
Articles by Geoff Hanmer on COVID-19 and ventilation and our five questions with Ted Baillieu emphasise the importance of architectural design in creating healthy buildings, and the ACA recently participated in a roundtable with other industry groups, regulators and standards authorities to examine short- and long-term ways to improve ventilation in existing and new buildings.
There is a lot of information now being published on this topic, and it could be hard for architects to navigate until there are agreed standards and recommendations for both new and existing buildings. I believe architects must take a lead on this issue, and not just rely on their services engineers. We’ll aim to keep you up to date on information and on the responsibilities of architects in this area.
There has been much talk about mandatory vaccination and the legal and ethical implications of workplaces requiring vaccination. The ACCI Employer Vaccination Guide and Tom Earl’s August article cover many of the issues involved, and all architectural practices will have to decide on their own approach to the topic. This is a fast-changing area, but I’ve already been seeing directions from health and aged care clients requiring proof of vaccination before entry of our staff (as they already do for flu vaccination). How do you deal with people who can’t or won’t get the vaccine? There have been many examples of practices using carrots rather than sticks, with time off to get the vaccine, but as Tom notes:
“..at this stage, the advice remains that most architectural practices are unlikely to be required to make vaccination compulsory, although whether they decide to do so as part of their safety response (and what rights employees who refuse may have to challenge that decision) remains contentious.”
Seeing the word “contentious” when dealing with what could be a difficult issue for some staff and practices is not comforting. It would help if the Federal Government would legislate for certainty in a world full of “vaccine passports” yet ambiguous workplace laws.
In other activities, we have been working closely with the Institute, the AACA and the universities to respond to the final version of the National Registration Framework (NRF). The work of the Australian Building Codes Board, implementing Recommendation 1 of the Building Confidence Report, is complete and recommendations have been sent to the Building Ministers Meeting for implementation. We understand that Level 1 Building Designers currently have the same status under the NRF as registered architects. This is partly as a result of the NRF being purely a measure of competence in the National Construction Code, which as we know is only a small subset of the skills architects bring to complex building design. To add to the confusion, any framework must be implemented separately in each jurisdiction, and history says the chances of completely uniform legislation are fairly remote. Given the consistency of the architectural registration framework across the country, it is critical that a push to improve building quality and consumer protection does not dismantle a system that has generally worked well for decades and will soon be further improved by the updated Competency Standards. Unfortunately, this will need to be argued separately in each jurisdiction.
Thanks also to ACA CEO Angelina Pillai for coordinating responses amongst various architectural groups on the ABCB paper on CPD for building practitioners. Again, there needs to be coordination between legislative requirements for building practitioners generally and the existing architectural registration systems.
Finally, as our renewals season winds up, thanks to our Executive Officers and in particular Sascha Byrne for their tireless work, and thanks to our members for renewing their faith in our organisation. It’s never too late to join, or convince colleagues to join too!