Construction royal commission urgently needed, says Builders Collective

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APPALLING failures in Australia’s construction sector brought to light in well-publicised events show “the system” is broken and failing the people, according to Builders Collective of Australia.

President of the Builders Collective Phil Dwyer has called on the federal government to establish a royal commission into the sector, pointing out that the Opal Tower debacle, Lacrosse and Neo200 cladding fires are not one-offs.

“In addition, one only has to visit the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal building in William Street, Melbourne on any given day and look over the schedule for the day’s hearings. The Tribunal is virtually under siege from disputes between developers/builders and ‘Mr and Mrs Average’.

“Cases like these accounted for 72% of the hearing and conciliation time at latest estimate,” he added.

“Our legislators need to reflect very seriously on a mood out here in the land of Joe and Jill Average that is gathering momentum every time we hear or read of good, hard-striving, fellow citizens who have been dudded by bad dwelling design, greedy developers who have facilitated the cutting of corners, or builders who work purely on a basis of expediency, and that these failings have been made easier by a misguided ideology and the inaction by those with the power to have done something about it.

“The bad designer, the greedy developer, the ultra expedient builder/tradesman might win an argument in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal against Joe or Jill on the basis of bigger money buys the better advocate, but a properly constituted judicial enquiry ideally a royal commission with nationwide coverage would surely not be a place to dodge the fact that the system is badly broken and in need of a complete revamp,” he said.

Dwyer said last week’s VCAT judgment on the Lacrosse apartment cladding fire is the outcome “that we have been fighting for years – to make our practitioners accountable for their inappropriate actions by our regulator, which enforces compliance of the existing regulations that if implemented widely would create a compliant industry,”

“The judgement is a breath of fresh air and vindicates our long-held position. But this moment must be taken as a chance to move this industry forward.

“Conflicts of interest, poor oversight from regulating bodies, and seeming indifference from governments ensure that regulations, standards, and expectations are not being met in modern-day Australia.”

In a paper submitted to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the Builders Collective highlights key points that have emerged in recent years:

– The decline in strict compliance to standards in the building sector began with the deregulation/privatisation of the various inspection regimes around Australia, commencing in the mid 1990s;

– Privatisation of building certifiers/surveyors;

– The virtual collapse of Builder’s Warranty Insurance (BWI) in 2001 with the demise of HIH Insurance, only to be replaced by the HIA’s own scheme, and the developer-friendly “ten-point plan” that still poses as a BWI scheme.

Dwyer said consumer advocate Choice has stated BWI is of no value, while National Insurance Brokers (NIBA) has described BWI as a “house of horrors” and “notoriously flawed in most states”.

Furthermore, Dwyer said the Opal apartments fiasco, and cladding-fuelled fires at the Lacrosse and Neo200 towers demand a royal commission into the once proud building industry.

He said the economic costs of the key emerging points have been camouflaged by the fact that deregulation and privatisation are touted by many as money-saving ideology.

“That may well be so in the cases of who owns and operates airline companies, parking stations, port facilities, and tollways, but when it comes to personal and family wellbeing, security, and safety in the face of the elements, it is a dud theory; simply a means by which politicians and bureaucrats can dodge their obligations to their fellow citizens,”

Dywer said economic costs are incurred without a proper compliance regime in place including courts bogged down with disputes, loss of productivity and accommodation for people due to damaged properties such as residents at Opal and Neo200, increasing insurance premiums and government and public assistance grants.

Dwyer said the human cost can be immeasurable, and beyond the comprehension of those of us who have never faced the circumstances that have been canvassed.

“Australia needs an urgent Royal Commission into the national building industry before people start losing lives.”

Australian Property Journal

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