The New South Wales Government has released details of its proposed reforms to the building and construction sector, but key stakeholders warn the changes miss some crucial points.
The regulations were announced following a number of high-profile incidents involving the discovery of cracking and damage to apartments blocks, such as Opal Tower and Mascot Towers, both in Sydney, which required residents to be evacuated.
However, Engineers Australia warns that the changes do not adequately respond to the recommendations from Building Confidence, the landmark 2018 report into the sector by Peter Shergold and Bronwyn Weir.
Engineers Australia particularly wants to see the State Government implement a Shergold-Weir report recommendation that would require a compulsory registration scheme for the state’s engineers.
“Our concern is that the proposals as they stand today will only affect engineers who design certain elements within apartment buildings only,” Engineers Australia’s National Manager of Public Affairs Jonathan Russell told create.
“But a building is a system, and if you modify one seemingly innocuous aspect over here, it might have an unintended consequence on a safety-critical element over there. Our point is that by restricting the scope for the registration scheme within apartment buildings, you’re just making life more complicated for yourself.”
The proposed regulations would introduce a registration requirement for some of the state’s engineers, but only those who have to perform a “compliance declaration” for a Class 2 apartment building.
“This is a vital piece of law that will play a significant role in restoring quality, transparency and quality of work in the building and construction industry,” the Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation Kevin Anderson said.
But Russell believes this response is inadequate.
“Too much of what the State Government is doing is a rushed job,” Russell said.
“They’re pushing ahead to get a bill through parliament this year because they said they would, so they’re more interested in speed than getting it right the first time.”
Learn from what works
Russell said Engineers Australia wants to see New South Wales adopt a system of compulsory registration for engineers modelled after the requirements Queensland has had in place for the past 90 years.
Earlier this year, Victoria also passed mandatory registration legislation for five key sectors.
“Our advice to every jurisdiction is to always model the registration scheme on Queensland,” Russell said.
Another advantage for state and territories looking to adopt Queensland’s system, he said, is that it would improve regulatory efficiency.
“Because Queensland’s had it since 1929, it works, it’s been proven to be effective. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.”
Input from all corners
As of Wednesday afternoon, the NSW State Government’s draft legislation has been made open for public comment for about two weeks before likely introduction to Parliament in mid-late October.
Engineers Australia hopes that engineers and the New South Wales public will take advantage of this consultative period by insisting that the State Government embrace a more rigorous scheme.
“We’ve started a campaign to get the wider membership active to write to the Premier to make sure she knows that this is a big deal,” Russell said, referring to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
“It’s a public campaign; we’ve got advertising all over the internet to encourage the general public to click through to our campaign website, learn about the issues, and write to the Premier to tell them that as a citizen of New South Wales, they have a stake in this and they want better.”
As the campaign website states: “It is unacceptable that virtually anyone in NSW will still be able to call themselves an engineer, even if they have no relevant education or experience, and no commitment to maintain competency.
“This contrasts with other professionals like architects, doctors and lawyers, who all have to be registered before legally providing services.”
The difference, according to Russell, is that an incompetent or untrained engineer can have an even more damaging impact on society.
“Seemingly innocuous engineering work can have a devastating effect on people when it goes wrong,” he said.
“We know, and we’re very glad that most engineers are doing the right thing, working within their competency, and doing a good job. But it doesn’t take many bad apples to ruin the cart.”
Engineers Australia urges NSW residents to write to Premier Gladys Berejiklian about their concerns. Members in NSW will receive an invitation to attend an open forum later in October, where Engineers Australia will be seeking their views and sharing more information.